Title: All the Tomorrows in the World (Can't Make Up for Yesterday)
Summary: Sometimes, no matter how much he loves his kids, John Winchester ends up dropping the ball. Especially when November comes around.
Characters: John, Sam, Dean
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Warnings: Swearing, sick kids and questionable parenting choices.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: So this is shameless, shameless, self-indulgent h/c. I decided it had been far too long since I wrote Sam with asthma/respiratory distress, so that's what happened. ;)
Neurotic Author's Note #2: I love John Winchester to bits. He's a strange, complicated, infuriating man. He clearly loves his boys to bits, but he broke them thoroughly when he raised them, all the while doing the best he knew how with a life that literally crashed and burned around his ears. I have no idea if I'm doing him justice with this story. I hope I am.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: Totally unbeta'd, again. Also, this story is a little short on Dean, though I did whump him a little bit too. (No one gets neglected!)
It starts with a job over Hallowe'en. Jim Murphy calls with a name and an address and a vague assurance that these are people in need, and God help him but John has never been able to say no to the man, even when it means putting off actual paying work in order to do it. Pastor Jim, as he's known to most, is the main reason that John and his two boys are alive and together today. It's hard to refuse the man who sheltered your kids when you had nowhere else to go, when you had nothing to your name but a car and the clothes on your back and the surefire knowledge that there was something else out there, something dark and terrible that had come into your home and ripped out its very heart as you watched.
So John pulls Sam out of school amidst a flurry of protests that alternate between whining and sulking and occasionally bordering far too close to a tantrum for his liking. At least Dean took his GED last year —it makes it that much less complicated to pick up and move on when there's only one kid's enrolment to worry about instead of two. Dean is also there to corral Sam when necessary, all fourteen years and five feet four inches of him. He's just starting to grow, looks like he might actually gain a few inches after all, but for the moment he's still scrawny enough for Dean to toss him over his shoulder like a kicking, screaming sack of potatoes when necessary.
The hunt is straightforward, at least: a previous homeowner whose husband shoved her down a flight of stairs and broke her neck. Another happy family, he thinks bitterly, trying to get Sam and Dean settled while he takes care of the problem. They're given a free room above the family's garage in which to stay, but it's obvious that these people weren't expecting John to arrive with two teenaged boys in tow. There's only the one bed, but they have an air mattress in the car for situations like this. More problematic is that the room isn't heated and hasn't been cleaned or aired out in a very long time. It's a matter of less than an hour before Sam is coughing, hunching over self-consciously, as though that'll somehow make the sound less loud or less disruptive. Dust and mould have always made his asthma act up, ever since he was a little kid barely able to string words together. It's yet another source of stress in a life filled with it, the constant nagging worry about whether Sam's breathing properly at any given time, the constant worry about refilling the damned expensive medication that keeps him breathing properly when sometimes it's a struggle just to keep them all fed and clothed.
"This shouldn't take more than a couple of days," John says by way of conciliation as his youngest rummages through his kit for his inhaler. "Don't get comfortable."
Sam snorts. "Not much chance of that. I'm missing my midterms," he adds, as though he hasn't already done nothing but complain about those damned exams for the past day and a half
It's enough of a warning, and Sam lapses into a sulky silence while Dean finishes blowing air into the mattress with the bicycle pump from the trunk.
"There you go, princess, you can check for peas later." He punches Sam none too delicately in the shoulder. Sam punches him back before twisting around to cough harshly into his elbow, and immediately Dean is all over him like the kid's about to break. "You okay, Sammy?"
Sam straightens up with an roll of his eyes. "Fine. And it's Sam."
John breaks I before they can really get into it. "Okay, I'm going to talk with the family, see if they have a lead on where the remains might be. I want you fed and asleep by the time I get back, got it?"
Dean nods. "You sure you don't want me to come with?"
"Not for this part. If I don't make any headway, you boys can help with the research. You'll be coming with me to find the remains, anyway."
That gets a frustrated murmur from Sam, who's never been a fan of the whole digging aspect of the hunt, but it's quiet enough that John can pretend he hasn't heard and therefore avoid yet another fight with his youngest. He leaves without slamming the door, at least secure knowing that Dean will take care of things if he needs to. By the time he gets back the lights are out and his sons are both tangled in each other under the thin cotton blanket on the air mattress, Dean's arm slung over Sam's waist. Sam is coughing in his sleep, each breath wheezing slightly in his lungs, a sure sign that they shouldn't stay long in this place unless John wants to end up taking him to urgent care again. He crouches down next to the bed, his knees protesting the treatment, and brushes the hair away from Sam's face, looks over at Dean, more peaceful in sleep than he ever has been while awake. Sometimes it's these quiet moments that threaten to take his breath away, when he has time to simply stop and look, time which is a luxury in his world. He shakes his head, goes to stretch out in his own bed and wait for sleep.
The hunt goes south. They all do, inevitably. This time, it's not so bad, but the spirit tosses him hard in the graveyard and he lands awkwardly on his left arm, sending pain jarring through him. His last insurance card is toast, which means he can't get the shoulder checked or even try to refill the bogus prescription for pain medication he has sitting in a small lock-box in the trunk. He's got a few pills left over from last time, it'll have to do.
"Dad," Sam leans forward from the back seat, "are we stopping at a drugstore?"
He shakes his head. "Maybe the next town over, Sammy."
"Not now, Sam," he growls, trying to adjust himself in his seat so his arm isn't screaming in pain while he drives them out, and Sam lapses into sulky silence.
Dean has the good sense not to talk at all for the whole drive except to offer to take over and to ask once, diffidently, if he needs John to take a look at his arm.
They land at a crappy little motel on the morning of November 1st. It's only marginally better than where they were staying before, the main advantage being that it's heated. Dean quickly and neatly steers Sam to the nearest diner for breakfast, leaving a grateful John alone with his thoughts. There's enough money to keep them for a few days at least, long enough for his arm to heal up so he can look for the next job. Maybe something paying for once, though he probably can't count on that. There are few people willing to come right out and say that their house is haunted and fewer willing to pay to have someone come in and take care of it. The ones who are willing are usually new-age types who are always shocked at the lack of sage and other herbs in John's arsenal. As if 'smudging' will somehow make the vengeful spirit decide the house smells too good to stay in anymore.
By the time the boys get back from breakfast he's managed to get the pain down to a dull roar with a combination of what's left of the pills and several shots of the cheap whiskey he keeps on hand, and he's grateful that Dean manages to keep Sam quiet as they move around him. Dean gets the other twin bed, and for once there's a pull-out bed that Sam can fit on, so the boys don't have to share. There's a quick, hissed argument that he pretends not to hear, the creak of bedsprings and, later, a muffled bout of coughing from the pull-out bed before the whole room lapses into uneasy silence.
Somewhere around one in the morning John finds himself staring at the ceiling, trying not to think of flames, Dean's breathing in the next bed a little too carefully even and controlled for him to be truly asleep. After a moment John gives in, sits up in the dark, finishes off the bottle until the buzzing in all his limbs eases off, replaced by a gentle fuzziness in his mind that extinguishes the flames always licking at the edges of his life. Then he flips over onto his stomach, lets his eyes close, and lets himself sink into darkness.
The boys are gone when he wakes up, somewhere close to noon. He doesn't bother looking for them or even calling Dean's cell. They're not far, just staying out of his way, which is for the best as far as he's concerned. He can't take the hollow-eyed looks he gets from Dean, not on this day of all days, can't bear to look at Sam who has no idea anyway because he never knew her. All that Sammy's mourning on this day is the loss of 'normal,' which appears to be his favourite word in the entire universe. There's no such thing as normal, anyway, but apparently there's no way for John to convince his youngest of that neat little irony. By the time evening rolls around he's halfway through another bottle, barely notices when the door to the room opens and Sam slips in, trying to be unobtrusive even though the room is so small he can barely go by without tripping over his father's feet.
"Where's your brother?"
Sam clears his throat, his voice rough when he speaks as though he's forgotten how to form words. "Uh, he said he'd be back later."
John snorts. "Girl?"
"Cindy," Sam confirms, expression caught halfway between amusement, scorn and embarrassment. "Or possibly Mindy. He called, but it was loud where he was."
John gives a grunt of acknowledgment, stares into the glass he's just refilled, realizes Sam is still hovering uncertainly next to his bed rather than going to sit down somewhere out of the way. He scrubs a hand over his face, almost surprised by the feel of several days' growth of stubble against his palm, doesn't remember it being that long since he took the trouble to shave.
"Uh…" Sam starts, but John holds up a hand to stave him off.
"Whatever it is, can it wait until tomorrow?"
He can practically hear the slump in Sam's shoulders. "Yeah. Sure, Dad. Sorry."
There's plenty enough to feel guilty about without adding this to the list, but whatever. Someday John is pretty sure someone somewhere will step out of the shadows to hand him his World' Shittiest Parent badge, but Sam would try the patience of a saint, always picking the worst damn possible times to have his newest teenaged crisis or to try to have some sort of heart to heart which John is pretty sure he must have learned from watching too much afternoon television. God knows Dean was never this complicated at that age, he thinks bitterly, or if he was at least he kept it to himself. He's never figured out where it is that Sam got this predilection for talking things out. He definitely didn't get it from his father or brother, that's for sure.
Dean, of course, brings his own very special brand of difficulties with him. Seventeen years old, newly filled out with muscle and brimming with excess energy that hunting only seems to exacerbate. At least the boy is careful, but even careful doesn't eliminate all the problems that a seventeen-year-old boy with an apparently unlimited libido can bring home. John supposes he should be grateful that, this time, it's only the flu that he brings back. Somewhere around five in the morning Dean drags himself back to the motel room smelling of booze and cigarette smoke and not a little of sex, looking pale and sporting circles under his eyes so dark that, if John didn't know better, he'd swear he was on the losing end of a fistfight. He crawls into his bed without so much as looking at his father and all but passes out, hugging his pillow like it's his best friend in the whole world.
By the time the sun is fully up Dean's running a fever so high he doesn't even know his own name anymore, curled into a ball under his sheets and breathing as hard as if he's just come back from a ten-mile run. Sam is already up and fetching the Tylenol from the first aid kit along with a water glass from the bathroom. The dance is a familiar, if depressing one. Dean doesn't get sick much, but when he does it's always the same: the fever hits fast and hard, as though his body is trying to burn the sickness right off like water on asphalt on a summer's day. Sam's getting better at convincing his brother to sit up and take his pills, at breaking through the delirium, but sometimes the only thing that works is having John force his son upright and shoving the pills past his teeth, forcing him to swallow like a recalcitrant cat.
By the time evening begins to set in Dean is thrashing and whimpering and asking for his mother in that small, desolate voice that John only ever hears when gets like this, and nothing John or Sam can do does anything to soothe him. And that's it, the final fucking straw in this whole damn mess of a week. He wants to haul Dean into his arms and shake him, remind him that he damn fucking well can't give him the only thing he wants –the only thing they both want– because nothing about this has been fair for the last fourteen years and nothing about it is ever going to change. Instead he grabs his keys, ignores Sam's quiet protest and bursts out the door and into the open air, pausing only long enough to bark that he'll have his cell phone open before taking refuge in the nearest dive bar he can find.
Sam doesn't call, nor does John expect him to. He ignores the bartender's indifferent questions, just slaps a bill on the table and instructs him to leave the bottle. When the bar closes he doesn't bother trying to make it all the way back to the room, finds a secluded bench and waits for the place to open up again. He's not surprised to find he's not the only one waiting, but neither he nor the two other men so much as look at each other. Eye contact isn't what they're here for, nor company or solidarity. There's nothing they share except maybe grief and impotence and that's hardly reason to seek out each other's company.
He gets back long after the sun has gone down, finds Sam asleep in Dean's bed, arms and legs wrapped around his big brother like a diminutive octopus, hanging on for all he's worth, like Dean might up and float away if he lets go even for a second. He's out like a light, breathing noisily as he sleeps, but Dean is awake, watching the door with eyes that are mercifully fever-free. Even so, John puts out a hand that's none too steady after this latest bender, brushes the back of his fingers gently against Dean's forehead, checking for himself that he's over the worst of it.
"Everything okay, sir?" Dean's voice is little more than a rasp, and it makes John's stomach roil. Ever the good soldier, it seems. Even after more than a day of being out of his mind with fever, the first thing on Dean's mind is the welfare of the unit.
"Fine, Dean," he says quietly, mindful not to wake Sam, as much because he doesn't want to interrupt his rest as because he doesn't want to face whatever reproach his youngest's eyes will hold this time around. "How're you feeling?"
"Like warmed-over crap. I'll live," Dean shrugs. "Think Sammy's coming down with whatever this is," he adds, idly stroking Sam's hair. "He feels kinda warm."
"Great," John sighs. "You think you can sleep for now?"
"Sure," Dean agrees easily. "You going to turn in too?"
He scrubs a hand over his face, wonders if he shouldn't just give up and grow out his beard. "Yeah. Been a long day."
"There's clean glasses in the bathroom," Dean says, his voice quiet.
The implication is clear, they both know John is still drunk off his ass, likely still will be by this time next morning, given just how much he's had to drink. Dean's never said a word about it, not once their whole lives, unlike his brother who seems to have an opinion about everything. John nods, doesn't bother to wait to see Dean settle back down on his bed to try to sleep. He makes a token effort to drink a glass of water, lets himself pass out on his bed shortly afterward.
He's awoken by the sound of Sam trying to muffle a coughing fit coupled with Dean's hissed warning to be quiet. He lies very still, thinking maybe he can go to sleep, when Sam's voice breaks right through the haze.
"It's not like I'm doing it on purpose," he whispers fiercely. "Fine, I'll just go outside. I'm so sorry the fact I can't breathe is disturbing your goddamned beauty sleep!"
"Drama queen," Dean mutters as the door opens and shuts with an audible click. "Shit, Dad, did we wake you?"
He sits up, doesn't bother answering. "Get your stuff packed. We should head out. Got a job lined up, I think, if Jim's last message is anything to go by." He doesn't bother adding that he was still drunk when he listened to it, but he was sober enough that it sounds like exactly what he needs to take his mind off things.
"I'll get Sam."
If there's one good thing he taught his boys, it's how to pack efficiently. They're ready to go twenty minutes, Dean lugging the last of their duffels to the car while John does a last sweep of the room and Sam takes care of cleaning up the salt lines. He's still not quite sober, which is a depressing thought, so he tosses the keys to Dean as they head out. Dean's still looking pale and a little shaky, but he figures breakfast will go a long way to helping with that, and he's not wrong. Sam, on the other hand, is sulking, picking at his food until John snaps at him to either eat what's on his plate or be done with it.
"Dean's still sick," Sam says instead of apologizing when they get back in the car. "We shouldn't be going."
"Never you mind that, runt," Dean says sharply, sliding into the driver's seat while John lets his head fall back, sunglasses shielding him from the worst of the sun's glare. "I'm fine."
Sam coughs harshly into his elbow, hard enough that John wonders if whatever Dean had isn't already manifesting itself, complete with extra pulmonary symptoms, because every single cold and flu that Sam ever gets always seems to settle into his lungs before long. After a moment, though, he pulls in a thin breath, and whatever it is seems to pass.
"Can we at least stop at a drugstore?" he asks plaintively, God only knows what for. It's not like they can afford any of the over-the-counter flu remedies, not to mention that they don't do much more than rest, liquids and ibuprofen will accomplish in the same timeframe.
"First aid kit doesn't need restocking except for the prescription stuff, and we can't deal with that until the next drop-box," John tells him.
"Whatever it is, it'll have to wait, Sam!" John snaps.
Sam subsides into the back seat with a huff, arms folded over his chest, and leans his forehead against the window, bangs falling into his face. Well, let him sulk, John thinks tiredly. It certainly beats having to listen to him complain about having to move yet again for the next hundred miles. Dean puts in a Skynyrd cassette, and John settles back in his seat, eyes closing, and lets the road simply roll by while he sleeps.
Dean shakes him awake sometime in the evening, just hard enough to make him forcefully aware of the hangover that's taken up residence behind his eyes. "I found a motel, Dad. You wanna stop here?" John checks the time, notes to his surprise that it's still relatively early –not even six o'clock. Normally they'd keep going at least another couple of hours. Dean gives him a sheepish look. "Sammy's not looking good, and I could sort of use a break, to be honest."
Dean looks like hell, John realizes once he's shaken off the last cobwebs of sleep, pale and sunken-eyed, obviously exhausted. He feels a twinge of guilt, two days too late he thinks bitterly, then nods. He grabs one of the duffels out of the trunk, opens the back door and nudges Sam by the shoulder, but Sam is out, hair matted to his forehead with sweat, breath whistling in his lungs. So he carefully hoists him onto his hip, staggering under the unexpected weight and carries him into the motel room Dean acquired. He drops the duffel, uses both hands to lower his kid onto the bed, feeling a pang that his Sammy is pretty much too big to carry now. Dean drops tiredly next to his brother, holding the bottle of NyQuil in his lap. By the looks of it he's already swallowed a dose, and he pokes and prods at his brother until Sam rouses long enough to swallow one of his own with not much more than a murmured complaint at the taste.
Sam isn't as badly off as Dean, luckily. He runs a fever for a few hours that night, but nothing too worrisome, and Dean keeps an eye on him until they both fall asleep. By the time morning comes around again John's hangover is gone and Dean no longer looks like death warmed over. The only sign that Sam might still be feeling the effects of the bug he caught from his brother is the fact that he's still coughing more than usual and won't talk except in monosyllables. Given the way most of their conversations have been going of late, John is willing to take the newfound silence as a blessing. Silence means that at least they're not arguing about stupid shit that shouldn't get argued about anyway.
John takes the wheel of the Impala, keeps the same cassette tape that Dean already had in there, and starts driving toward the drop-box where he's pretty sure their next set of cards ought to be waiting. The job is in the same area, thank goodness for small mercies, which means that they'll at least be better off in terms of cash flow once they get there. Sam curls up in the backseat, buried in the grey zip-up hoodie he's taken to wearing almost all the time, hands shoved into the front pocket. He doesn't bother pulling out a book to study the way he usually does on long car trips, which is probably the biggest indicator he isn't feeling well, so John pulls out a blanket from the trunk, a bottle of water and what's left of the Advil.
"You need to stop, you just say so," he tells him, and Sam shrugs and nods. "All right. Hang in there, we'll be at the next stop before dark." He ruffles Sam's hair and ignores the glare the gesture earns him.
Sam sleeps most of the way in the car, doesn't so much as touch the food they buy at a drive-through just after one o'clock in spite of Dean's worried nagging. Dean fusses until John has to step in and order him to quit hassling his brother.
"He's old enough to handle himself, Dean."
"Enough!" John silences him. "Stop babying him."
The rest of the drive gets him treated to mutinous silence from both his sons, which is just fan-fucking-tastic. He leaves them to their own devices once they get to the motel so that he can finally get to his drop-box, the increasing tightness he's been feeling in his chest easing up almost immediately as soon as he has his new envelopes in hand. New names, new cards, and more importantly a credit card with a higher limit than usual. Whoever Anton Gomez was when he was alive, he obviously had a great credit score.
He gets a new prepaid card for his phone, calls up Jim Murphy for the details of the hunt, figures that after a straight-up skinwalker case he'll be able to find a good place to settle down in for the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Sam at least will enjoy the opportunity to stay in one spot for a while, and he and Dean will be able to focus on training for a while, give them all a well-deserved break. By the time he's finished making arrangements and heads back to the room it's already dark. Night always comes depressingly early this time of year. Dean is sitting on the bed by the window that he's probably going to end up sharing with his brother until John can find them an apartment to live in, carefully sharpening one of his knives on a whetstone, trying to look nonchalant and failing.
"Where's your brother?" John asks, and immediately feels foolish when he hears the sound of the shower running. "You boys eat yet?"
Dean shakes his head, shoots a worried glance at the bathroom door. "He said he wasn't hungry. He's been coughing non-stop since we got here," he adds meaningfully.
"How long has he been in there?" Sam's always had the tendency to hide himself in the most secluded corner her can find when he's not feeling well, reminding John of nothing more than a sick dog crawling off somewhere to wait either to die or get better. It's not a habit he encourages, but at least it beats the whining he's heard coming from other people's kids.
"Okay," John knows a plea for help from Dean when he hears one and goes to knock on the door. "Sammy, you've used up enough of the hot water. Come on out!" There's no answer, and he feels a surge of irritation at this latest passive-aggressive display of adolescent histrionics. Dean was never this hard to manage at that age. "Sam! Turn that off and get out here!"
Still no answer, but this time he thinks he can make out the sound of coughing, muffled by the patter of water against tile. Enough of this, he thinks, and tries the door. Normally he tries to give his boys the minimum of privacy that their lifestyle can allow them, but there are limits even to that. The door doesn't appear to have a lock, opens easily enough when he twists the handle, and he's met by a cloud of steam, as though Sam has been running only the hot water for as long as possible.
"I'm coming in! Sam?"
It only takes a moment to realize Sam isn't in the shower at all. He's sitting on the floor next to the tub, curled up against the wall with one leg tucked under him, one hand pressed up to his chest, eyes screwed shut with pain, hair plastered to his face from the humidity. John steps into the tiny bathroom, turns off the hot water, drops to a crouch next to his son.
Sam's eyes snap open and he coughs weakly. "'s not helping," he says, voice barely above a rasp. "Can't breathe…"
Shit. "Okay, Sammy, it's okay, I gotcha," he pulls him up into his arms for the second time in as many days, half-drags him out of the bathroom to seat him on the closest bed. "Dean, get your brother's inhaler!"
Dean's already moving, but Sam shakes his head. "No, Dad… s'empty."
Sam coughs some more, choking as his airways protest the contact with the colder air of the bedroom. "Ran out…"
"Shit, why didn't you tell me?"
Sam raises his head at that and gives him a flat look, and John thinks he might be sick. He shakes himself. There will be plenty of time for recriminations later. For now, he's got a bigger problem on his hands than the fact that he hasn't been paying enough attention lately.
"Okay, Sam. Hang tight, we're going to the ER," he finds himself rubbing circles on Sam's back, hoists him easily into his arms to get him out to the car. "Dean, keep an eye on your brother."
The instruction is unnecessary, but Dean nods anyway and climbs into the back seat with Sam, who's curled in on himself like a snail, one hand clutching the door handle and the other balled into a fist and pressing against his sternum like he's trying to simply will air back into his lungs. Dean gives his knee a reassuring pat, talks to him in a low voice all the way to the emergency room, ten nerve-wracking minutes away, while each breath gets increasingly shallow and desperate-sounding.
The only good thing about going to an emergency room with a kid in respiratory distress is that it tends to make everyone spring into immediate overdrive. It's a matter of minutes before Sam is whisked past triage and set up on a gurney with a nebulizer mask strapped firmly in place while a paediatrics nurse gives John a look that's simultaneously sympathetic and disapproving, which he thinks is actually pretty impressive, as expressions go. Sam is still struggling for air after the first treatment runs its course, and John finds himself relegated to the side as the doctors and nurses set up an IV line and obsessively monitor Sam's blood oxygen levels. It takes another nerve-wracking thirty minutes before the doctor taking care of John's baby starts looking a little less grim, and not before he mentions the word 'intubation' more than once, which makes John's blood practically freeze in his veins.
Spending the night next to a hospital bed waiting to make sure his boy keeps breathing is just about at the bottom of the list of things John ever wants to do, but he's come to realize in the past fourteen years that what he wants and what happens are two entirely separate and often opposite things. Dean is asleep, head pillowed on his arms on the other side of Sam's bed, looking haggard and careworn, far older than his seventeen years. One of Sam's small hands is clasped loosely in his, only the pulse oximeter on the tip of his index finger visible from where John is sitting. It's a stark reminder of the myriad ways he's managed to screw things up over the past few days. He fiddles with his empty coffee cup, wondering if he dares risk stepping away long enough to refill it, then decides against it. Every time he's left his boys this week has been a mistake that he can't begin to fix.
Sam stirs a little on the bed, eyelashes fluttering, and John leans over, places one hand on his arm, smooths the hair back from his forehead. "Hey kiddo."
Sam blinks at him a little blearily over the oxygen mask he's still wearing, shifts uncomfortably and sighs quietly, fogging up the mask, turns his head a bit so he's leaning into John's touch, the gesture so damned trusting after everything that's happened that John isn't sure his heart isn't about to burst. There's nothing in Sam's body language of the tense desperation from before, just bone weariness borne of illness and exhaustion. For all he keeps trying to think of Sam as being on the cusp of adulthood, moments like these bring home the fact that he's still a child in so many ways that matter.
"How are you feeling?" he asks.
Sam shrugs and pulls his hand free in order to make a 'so-so' motion. John smiles ruefully.
"Yeah, I'll bet. You gave us a scare, kiddo."
Sam shrugs again, and not for the first time John wonders just when he and Sam stopped talking. Or, maybe more accurately, when he stopped listening because he didn't like what Sam had to say most of the time.
"I passed the hunt off to someone else," he says, the 'I'm sorry' that's echoing in his head drying up before it can ever pass his lips. "And I lined us up a place to stay that's not far. I think you'll like it –it's pretty big and within walking distance of school so you won't have to wait for Dean to pick you up every day. Jim's got some work lined up for me that should keep us here until after the New Year. How does that sound?"
Sam's face scrunches up into an expression that suggests he's not entirely convinced, but he nods anyway, recognizing that this is probably the closest he's ever going to get to an actual apology, and John smiles.
"Attaboy. Tomorrow morning, soon as you're in the clear and the doctors say we can go, how about we go to breakfast? I saw an IHOP not too far," he adds, by way of a peace offering. They don't go there often, but it's always been one of Sam's favourite chains.
Sam's gaze flicks to Dean, then back to John, and he nods again, eyelids already beginning to droop.
"Go back to sleep, Sammy," John says quietly, never moving his hand away from where it's cradling his son's head. "I'll be here when you wake up."