A/N: I own nothing but some knowledge of North Texas and a deep desire to see John Winchester again.
Also, thanks for the reviews. It is always nice to know someone enjoys your work.
I also now realize that, given the dates on the show, John wouldn't actually have met Adam yet. Oops.
Butch Cassidy 3
They sat discussing the case for another half hour before Dean's eyelids grew so heavy he was losing the battle to keep them opened. John forced him to lie down and try to sleep, which didn't take long to claim him. With the case nearly finished, he relaxed back into trying to find the next interesting bad guy. Nearly two hours slipped away from him when he saw Dean sit up, looking utterly miserable. It took him less than 10 seconds to make a run for the toilet again. John tried to ignore the sounds but after a few minutes, curiosity or maybe parental concern got the better of him and leaned against the outside doorframe. He debated what to do when he heard another serious of unpleasant heaves and even a low groan or two. He almost opened the door but his general discomfort around sick people stayed his hand. Instead he sat back down, bouncing his leg and making deals with himself that "if Dean wasn't out in 5 minutes he would go check on him," and so on.
Luckily for him, Dean soon came out, looking even worse than he did when he went in. John watched him, at least giving him the dignity to not ask how he was doing. Dean curled up under his covers and shivered, suffering silently until he was able to fall asleep again. John made a special note, that he hadn't had anything to drink yet. He watched him shake and shiver in his sleep another half hour before he couldn't take it anymore and retrieved the extra blanket out of the back of the Impala. He tucked it around his son and was instantly met with glazed green eyes squinting at him. "Go back to sleep," John told him, and on a whim carded his fingers through Dean's hair. The look he was given was a mix of complete love and trust, so like the look Mary used to give him, when she told him that she loved him. It was like they were both just grateful for his mere existence. He had never seen that look from Adam and couldn't remember the last time Sam had worn it for anyone, even his brother. Then Dean closed his eyes and sighed, snuggling even lower under the blanket. John was almost painfully reminded of all the times he had done this, when Dean was a boy and conversely how long it had been since he had seen Dean as his boy and not his soldier.
He sank back onto his own bed and decided he probably shouldn't get too comfortable. He allowed himself to doze for nearly an hour and a half until he heard Dean stirring again. The poor kid was up and puking again and John wondered what the kid was bringing up since he hadn't eaten or drunken anything and if there were any bars still open. It wasn't that he didn't love his kids, it was just that he absolutely hated seeing them sick. And when John Winchester was unhappy in any way, it showed up as anger, which was usually taken out on Dean. Really, John wanted to get away to protect Dean, or so he kept saying to himself.
He leaned against the doorway again but this time actually opened it. He was met with the sight of his eldest crouched in front of the toilet, coughing and spitting up bile green sludge that reminded John of a mixture of buttermilk and antifreeze. One hand fisted in his hair, the other wrapped around his pitching stomach. John sort of felt like being sick himself, when Dean groaned and heaved again. "You gonna make, kiddo?" he asked, unsure what else to do. It had been so long since he was called upon to look after anyone but himself, especially Dean, who looked up at him, his eyes warring between sheer misery and attempted bravery. It too was just like Mary, when she had been pregnant with Dean. She had been dreadfully sick at first and he never quite knew what to do to make her feel better. She had known how bad he felt about that and always tried to downplay how horrid she felt. He often wondered if it was nature or nurture that made Dean notorious for doing the same thing.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine." He stood up, flushing his sickness away and John moved a step closer, worried the kid would fall. But he didn't, only swayed slightly and staggering over to rinse his mouth out. "I'm sorry, dad, I didn't mean to wake you up." He coughed, leaning over and dry heaving twice for good measure. John felt like bolting right then and there but he managed not to, barely. "Do you want me to get another room?"
"Don't be a fucking idiot!" He snapped. Did Dean really think he was such a jackass that he would want the kid to move to another room so as not to inconvenience him? Did he really think that John had forgotten all the times Dean had stayed up taking care of Sammy or worse taking care of him when he was shattered after a hunt or so drunk he couldn't even walk into the head to puke his guts out? And the kid hadn't complained, not once and now he thought John would kick him out because he had an upset stomach. He took a deep breath and tried to level his voice down from a yell, "no reason to be sorry, I was only dozing."
Dean met his eyes in the mirror, "you should get some sleep, you look tired." Which frankly was true and yet laughable considering how bad Dean looked.
"I will, if you will," John smiled and backed away, "and drink something. You'll start to dehydrate from all that horfing, if you aren't careful."
Dean dutifully sipped at his water and curled back up under his blankets in a shivering ball of misery. John watched him for a bit before shutting off the light and waiting for the next round and hoping it wouldn't come. He couldn't stop his mind from wandering to Sammy, when he was sick. Sam was the dramatic one of the family, especially when he was younger. If Sammy was ill, everyone from gas station attendants to school nurses was made aware of it. He always assumed that Sam did it to get attention and had eventually been proved right when he had been sick and Dean wasn't there. Sam had mentioned it but sucked it up and kept going just like Daddy and big brother did. Dean on the other hand would just suck it up without mentioning it. It really sort of annoyed John that Dean didn't seem to think he needed to know when his son was sick, which was better than the alternative that Dean thought John just wouldn't care.
After an hour he relaxed into a good sleep, assuming Dean was over the worst of it. He had been wrong. Just after 1am, something subtle woke him. He kept his eyes closed and breathing even, trying to discern what caused him to wake. His senses on high alert, he finally cracked his eyes opened and realized it was Dean that woke him. He hadn't gotten up or run to the bathroom but he was sitting up in bed, knees drawn to his chest and forehead resting against them. Pain lines were barely visible around his eyes from the faint lights above the vanity. There were slight tremors running through him, whether from pain or fever chills John was unsure. He seemed oblivious to his audience, for which John should have been disappointed but instead was grateful, when Dean rose slowly to wobble back into the washroom to be sick.
John could tell that he was trying to be quiet about it, in deference to his sleeping father. He felt sort of like crap that Dean was worried about waking him at a time like this. But then again, maybe it was just easier to concentrate on that than his stomach trying to turn itself inside out. This time seemed to persist even longer than the last, and John was getting really worried, when he finally heard the toilet flush and the door creak open. He still pretended to be asleep, at least giving that to his son. But he kept his eyes cracked slightly, so he could still see. He watched Dean stagger and barely catch himself against the wall and then slide down to sit on the floor, as if he was afraid he would fall on his ass any second. John couldn't take it anymore, when Dean hugged his knees, resting his head against them again, looking to all the world like a casually dressed cadaver.
He jumped up and was in front of Dean before the kid even noticed he was awake. "Dean, come on, let's get you back to bed." John took him by one bicep and hauled him up. They lurched towards the bed. John deposited him at the top of it and he immediately tried to curl back up under the covers. He pushed Dean's hair up off his forehead and nearly yelped at how hot his son was. "Christ, kiddo, you're burning up." He rummaged around in the first aid kit to find the thermometer. Dean didn't even fight him when he proffered it and John read the results out loud, "104.1, impressive." He opened the generic bottle of acetaminophen he had brought earlier.
"Yeah but not the worst I've had." Dean croaked at him. The boy's natural body temperature had always run high, especially after he hit puberty. It was usually well over 99.5 degrees so John never really worried unless he saw a number over 105.
"No, not the worst but judging from how cold you feel and those fever chills, I'm guessing it wants to go higher so," he handed Dean two extra strength tablets. Dean glared at them as best he could with his bleary eyes but unlike Sam, took them without any verbal complaint. He barely contained the grimace as he swallowed them and John could have kicked himself. Dean's throat must be sore as hell from all the vomiting and he had bought the cheapest uncoated pinwheel shaped pills he could find. Dean would have thought of that and bought the more expensive but practical gelcaps or maybe even liquid. "Try and get some more sleep. If you need anything, just call." He pet Dean's hair again, hoping to diminish some of the discomfort around his eyes. The kid must have a killer headache with that fever.
"Are you leaving?" Dean didn't meet his eyes. With Sam that meant he was lying, with Dean it usually meant he knew he wouldn't like the answer.
"No! I'm not going to leave you here to choke to death on your own vomit."
"I'll be fine, Dad, it's just a stomach bug."
John ground his teeth together, questioning why he had come back in the first place. Sam hadn't needed him, Dean clearly didn't need him. Hell, Adam probably didn't need him either so why was he subjecting himself to this? Instead of turning around and walking out, he savagely flicked Dean directly between his eyes, noting the exact moment pain exploded behind the kid's eyes. Dean was mostly unsuccessful at hiding the hiss and it strangely made John feel better. "Clearly just a stomach bug." He moved back to sit on the edge of his own bed. "Besides, it's nearly 1:30, where the hell would I go anyway?"
"Yeah, bars in Texas close at 2am." Damn, kid knew him too well.
"Dean, go to sleep. I'm not going anywhere." He looked at his father searchingly for a minute, then rolled over and went back to sleep. John didn't bother hiding his smile. Anyone else might be insulted by having a back turned on them but in Winchester speak it was a great show of trust. He was subconsciously telling John that he believed him, that it was ok to relax without his back to the wall.
John waited until Dean's breathing became even if very snuffly sounding and filled the small rubbish bin with a bit of water and put it beside Dean's bed. If the kid was that unsteady on his feet, he didn't want him making any more mad dashes for the bathroom. And it was a good choice too since no sooner had John lied back down was Dean stirring, looking decidedly green around the gills.
"You ok?" John ventured, ready to spring out of the way if need be but it was unnecessary, Dean sprang up instead from the other side of the bed and lurched towards the toilet. The rather distinctive sound of liquid hiding carpet, let him know the kid didn't make it in time. At which point he remembered the basin he had put down for just such an emergency. He shook his head, wondering again how Mary had talked him into this whole fatherhood thing. But to be fair, she had talked him into Sam, Dean had been a complete accident.
He watched Dean dry heave into the sink a few more times before dropping to all fours to clean up the mess he had made. John could clearly still see the form of the pills in a puddle of nothing but water and saliva. Luckily not really enough to make it stink the room up. Crouching over a pile of his own sick made the poor kid dry heave again but he cleaned it up like a pro, never once turning to John to ask for help. Years of keeping up with Sammy the tornado and a father that even by his own estimation could at best be classified as a negligent alcoholic had made Dean efficient in most things domestic and unpleasant. Apparently it didn't matter to him if he made the mess or not.
"Sorry about that." His voice was so rough it was barely audible. Dean took exactly two staggering steps back towards his bed then crawled on hands and knees from the bottom to the top, just like Sammy used to do when he was a kid.
"Don't worry about it. Guess I should have told you I put a bucket beside your bed." John gave him a weak smile, hoping to lighten the mood.
"Yeah, that would have been helpful." He could hear Dean's teeth chattering, even though he tried to hide it. John was almost uncomfortably warm and wondered if he should take Dean to hospital. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen Dean this sick but then again, he never really had paid much attention. It wasn't because he didn't care but more because Dean was his and Sammy's rock. Dean not being ok was like the Impala not running, such an infrequent occurrence that it through everyone for a loop.
His decision was made for him by the soft rhythmic breathing coming from the other bed. He wasn't about to wake Dean up just to embarrass him by over reacting to an upset stomach. He got comfortable again and hoped he might actually be able to get some sleep now. And he did for another two hours or so until he heard Dean stirring again. The poor kid was having a hell of a time trying to untangle himself from all his blankets. John handed him the basin, "here." Dean balked at it but soon had no choice and hugged it like a pro.
When he was finished, he again tried to struggle out of bed but John headed him off. "Let me take that," he took the rubbish bin away, trying to decide if the croaking sound Dean made was a 'thanks,' or something else. He left the water in the tub running and stuck his head back out and caught Dean with his water bottle pressed against his forehead. He lowered it the moment he noticed John was there as if he were embarrassed to be caught doing something to make himself feel better. John could have kicked himself even harder. The kid had a monster fever and a cool compress would probably feel like heaven. Man, he was rusty as shit with this type of thing.
He quickly wet a flannel and took it out to Dean along with the cleaned bucket. "This will probably feel better than a luke warm bottle of water," he proffered the moistened cloth, wondering if Dean hadn't gotten it for himself because he thought it would make him look weak or the promise of relief from a cold compress was outweighed by how shitty he felt and his desire to not move.
"Thanks," Dean rasped and at least managed to force sound into the entire word this time.
"Time for another temp check, I think." John turned on the thermometer.
"If the phrase, 'I'm fine,' come out of your mouth again I swear to god you will be sucking your supper through a straw for the next six weeks, kid." John snapped, tired of Dean's insistence that nothing was wrong and just plain tired. Dean didn't try to fight him again. "104.3, higher but not dangerous."
"I'll be Ok, Dad. It's not a big deal."
"Really, you normally spend half the night regurgitating?"
"No, but." Dean trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
"But what?" He failed at sounding non confrontational.
"Nothing, I was just kind of sick a couple days ago too but it went away." Dean concentrated on the ceiling, looking anywhere but at John.
"And? What exactly does 'kind of sick,' mean?"
"Nothing, I just had bad headache for a couple days and was sick to my stomach but then I got better."
"Were you throwing up then, too?"
"Not the last time."
John took a deep breath and let it out to calm himself before continuing the conversation, "this has happened more than once?" Dean nodded, not trusting his voice anymore. "Did you see a doctor?" Again a headshake but this time a 'no.' "Why not?"
"I was busy." Dean had to clear his throat to actually be heard.
"Busy?" John shook his head, "were you vomiting the other times too or just now?"
"A couple times, but like I said, it went away. I'm sure I'll be fine by tomorrow."
John rolled his eyes towards heaven and prayed for the strength not to strangle his pigheaded son. "And you didn't think I needed to know about it?"
"You were 1500 miles away, what could you have done?" Dean had him there but damn it he wanted to know if his sons were sick or hurt. What if there had been something he could have done? But he supposed the point was moot since he had basically kept Dean in radio silence for nearly a month while he had been with Adam. In fact, before he had called him and told him to come to Texas for this hunt, John hadn't talked to him in three weeks.
"Maybe nothing but I still deserve to know if you aren't up to a hunt before I bank on you being able to pull it off." He tried not to notice how pained Dean looked at the accusation he couldn't do his job.
"I'm sorry." He could easily tell Dean was sorry for getting sick not keeping John in the dark.
"Go to sleep." John snapped, not sure if he was more annoyed at Dean or himself. Dean complied and John tried not to grind his teeth.
It wasn't even 90 minutes later that Dean was up again. John felt a lot of his previous anger evaporate as he watched his boy struggle not to get sick again but fail miserably. He lasted through one retch before he sat down next to him and wrapped one arm around Dean's shoulders and used the other to steady the trash bin. The kid whimpered and pressed on his forehead, bringing up more hideous green slime.
"God, Dad, I fucking hate this," he groaned wretchedly.
"I know, I hate it too, kiddo, but it's ok, I gotcha, just relax. It'll be over soon." John pulled him a little closer, unconsciously planting a kiss on the crown of Dean's head. Dean leaned into him a little more, like a cold puppy trying to crawl into someone's lap to get warm. He was struck for a moment by the oddness of the situation. Normally it was Dean holding him up, when he was too drunk to stumble to the bathroom. But stranger was having Dean in his arms. He literally couldn't remember the last time he had hugged his eldest, probably sometime before the Shtriga attack, before he had lost so much respect for him. It felt strange but also right.
He had blamed Dean for that for so long, no matter what Bobby or Jim or anyone else told him. He wouldn't hear that is was criminal to leave a nine year old watching a 5 year old for three days. Nor would he listen that no one could possibly expect that much responsibility out of a such a young kid. He wouldn't even listen to hunter's logic that even if Dean had been in the room, he hadn't left consecrated iron rounds and all Dean would have done was likely gotten both him and his brother killed. He still remembered angrily shouting to Jim that he wished, "the insubordinate prick had gotten himself whacked because at least then he would have died following orders." To which Jim had shot back, "then maybe you should book a ticket to the Republic of Vietnam and re enlist, since that is the only place where a fucking10 year old could be accounted a soldier." John had stormed out and stayed away for 4 days and spent another 2 weeks giving Dean the silent treatment. After that, there relationship had changed considerably. Where before Dean had wanted to make his father happy, now he lived for John's approval. He never saw Dean play again unless he was keeping Sammy entertained. Even before Dean hadn't really been a child but after the Shtriga, he never saw he son do anything remotely childlike again, even though he could still be pretty childish.
And he had never really felt guilty about it. He had needed Dean sharp and focused so he didn't look a gift horse in the mouth. That was until he met Adam. At 12, his youngest wasn't half the man Dean had been at seven. It wasn't until he saw the utter light and life in Adam's eyes as he ran and played with his friends that John started to realize what a shit hand he had purposely dealt Dean. Sammy had almost as bad but he at least had an ace in the hole in his big brother. But really what could he do about it now? Dean would turn 23 in a little over a month and it was too late for baseball games and bounce-house birthday parties. But he decided the least he could do was hold the kid up so he didn't face plant into a bucket of his own vomit.
As he rinsed the trash bin out and kept an ear on Dean to make sure he was at least trying to drink, he mind churned on what could be wrong with his son. Dean by enlarge was healthy, or seemed healthy. John didn't bother considering him sick unless he noticed, which was not very often. The last time he could think of was probably 3 years ago, when he had had to have his tonsils taken out. He wondered if maybe Dean had a migraine since he had mentioned his head hurting but that wouldn't account for the fever and Sammy was the one who got migraines. More likely the fever caused the headache but what could have caused the fever, food poisoning maybe? It really didn't matter though, as soon as it was light out, John was dragging the kid to a doctor.
John came back out to find Dean curled on his side, one arm wrapped firmly around his stomach, the other holding his barely damp compress over his eyes. It struck him that even if Dean hadn't been quite this sick before, it still must have sucked the big one to have to deal with it all by himself. He sank down on his own bed, exhausted in a way he hadn't felt in ages. "Hey, kiddo, you need anything?"
Dean cleared his throat, "no I'm good." It sounded painful.
"Obviously," John mumbled. He noticed Dean had only had half a bottle of water since he had dropped him off that afternoon. That wasn't nearly enough. "You need to drink something." He held out the bottle, wondering if he should switch to Gatorade.
Dean shook his head slightly, "seriously, I don't think I can keep it down right now."
John bit his lip in indecision, trying to remember what he was supposed to do now. "There's a coke machine down the way, I can get you a Sprite."
"Dad," Dean growled, his voice sounding as gravely as a lifelong smoker, "I just want to sleep."
"Alright," he whispered, lamenting the return of pissy, sick Dean. He guessed that the poor guy was entitled to be a bit snappish considering how bad he felt.
Dean had another go just before dawn and John didn't even bother trying to go back to sleep. Instead he relaxed in bed for an hour or so then took a shower before heading over to the diner to get some breakfast and more importantly coffee. The same woman smiled at him and he took a seat at the counter, flipping his coffee mug up immediately.
"Good morning, rough night?" She asked, while pouring his morning drink. He was glad she didn't leave any room at the top and remembering he took it black.
"You have no idea." He nodded his thank you.
"Son still feelin' bad?" She stretched out the last word into two syllables. John never could understand why Texans insisted on finding new and interesting ways to mangle the English language. How could words like "bad" become "ba'had" yet "oil" and "fire" were mashed into little more than tonal grunts and don't even get him started on the way they said "pie."
"Yeah, by the way, do you know of any clinics 'round here? I need to drag his sorry ass to a doctor."
"Well, sweetie, there's a hospital not far with an emergency room. But if it isn't that serious your best bet is the CareNow down in Denton. With school out at the college it shouldn't be too crowded." She handed him a magnet with the company's logo on it from the side of the cash register. "Here, it's where I take my two when they're sick." It was a good enough endorsement for John so he felt no guilt in diving into his omelet the same way Dean did into muff.
As he was pulling out money for his bill, owner lady came back, handing him a neatly wrapped package. "Here's some dry toast and a few biscuits," John looked down to count out more cash but she stopped him, "on the house." He wondered if he should mention that his son was 22 and tougher than most combat Marines. "Besides, the big boys are the ones that are hardest to take care of." She winked at him and he didn't bother to hide his laugh. Sometimes he wished he looked like Elkins, Singer, or even Murphy. Anyone of the three of them could walk in here and no one would remember them from Joe. But him and Dean, that was a different story. Half women they met at any given place either wanted to mother them or fuck them. The dangers of having pretty kids, he guessed. He just thanked god everyday that Dean wasn't a girl. He didn't even want to think about how bad his "daddy issues" would be then.
On the way back he called to get directions to the CareNow and find out what insurance they took. Luckily they happened to have credit cards that matched accepted insurance so all in all the day was looking up. That was until he got back to the room. He flipped on the light between the beds and stopped. If he hadn't heard his son's congested breathing, he might have been tempted to put a mirror under his nose to see if he was even still alive. He was pretty sure he had burned things in coffins that looked more animated than his son did right now. Part of him wanted to let Dean sleep as long as he could because chances were rest was the only thing that would actually make him feel better but another larger part wanted to make sure they got an early start since this place was a first come first serve clinic.
Frankly, though, he was surprised that Dean hadn't woken up already but then again the kid was probably exhausted. But part of being a father was doing what had to be done, so he put his foot at the end of the mattress and gave the whole thing a good shake. "Up and at'em, kiddo, I need you showered, shaved, and ready to shag ass in 15." Dean moaned, actually moaned from the movement of the bed but sat up anyway.
"Where to?" It took him three tries to actually get the two simple words out.
"Clinic in Denton, it's about a 45 minute drive so we need to head out ASAP." He handed Dean a cold coke from the vending machine. "And drink at least half of that. I'm going to go grab a paper." He closed the door behind him taking mental bets on if Dean's need to please him and follow orders would override his desire to stay cocooned in bed.
By the time he got back, 20 minutes later just in case Dean was moving slow, his son was lying down at the end of his bed, with his legs hanging over it. He looked like he had started out sitting but was too tired to stay upright. He was, however, fully dressed and literally so pale he looked grey. John noticed he had consumed some of his coke but not half.
"Ready to rumble?" John asked as he walked in.
"What happened to the 24 hour rule? I haven't been sick for a whole day, just a couple hours." He had a point but John dismissed it unwilling to spend even one more hour cleaning rank, green vomit out of a motel trash can.
"Rules don't apply when you lie me."
"I didn't lie, I just neglected to tell you." John crossed his arm, feeling his good mood from earlier start to evaporate. "Come on, dad, can't we just wait a few hours?" He had yet to even drop the arm he had covering his eyes, much less move to sit up.
"No! So get up before I use my foot to propel your lazy ass out of the door." Dean moved his arm and John was met by bloodshot eyes with dark bags under them just adding to the death warmed over look his son had going on. He took mercy and held out his hand and pulled Dean up, when he accepted it.
When Dean was completely on his feet, what little color he had from his fever even fled his face and he wobbled sideways unsteadily. John deftly side stepped in case he spewed. He had to get him to a doctor post haste. There had to be something they could do. "Dad, can't we just wait a little bit?" Dean rarely asked him for anything and he might have almost been moved to give in, if he weren't so tired and cranky from the kid waking him up every couple hours to chunk.
"No, so stop arguing." He headed towards the door but Dean stayed where he was. Ok, now he was fully pissed.
"Seriously can't I lie down for a little while longer?" Had he not been so damn angry, he might have recognized that the kid was trying to tell him that he felt too sick at the moment for a car ride but frankly all he heard was disobedience.
He grabbed the front of Dean's shirt and yanked him towards the door. "Since you are not your brother, you damn well know my orders are not up for debate, so you better get into that car before the next thing you eat is the back of my hand," he snarled.
He managed to get Dean all the way to the door before the little turd dug his heels in and refused to move. "Dad," he whimpered, actually fully whimpered and John turned around. He was met with the sight of Dean partially hunched over with one hand over his mouth and his whole body shaking with the effort of not losing it on his old man's shoes. John let go and he took off like a sling shot towards the bathroom, coming to a skidding halt on his knees in the knick of time. Ok, maybe John sort of overreacted to Dean questioning him but who could blame him, he was tired and cranky.
Dean emerged a few minutes later and slumped over the sink, brushing his teeth again. John didn't give him a chance to sit down though, "you ready to go now?" Dean hung his head in defeat and shuffled after his father. John made sure to grab the ice bucket from the dresser, just in case, along with some more water he was going to force feed the kid if he had to.