Summary: Pre-series – Sick Sam / Surprisingly Awesome John / Big Brother Dean – "He's sick, and it's only a matter of time before neither of you can ignore it anymore."
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Usual language...and is it possible to OD on h/c and angst? If it is, this story certainly needs that warning, too. 'Cause Sam is one sick puppy. And comfort and angst abound.
A/N: I know you're thinking, "Marianna, don't you have three works in progress that you should complete before you write yet another oneshot?" And yes...you are absolutely correct. But one – I've accepted long ago that my muse has ADHD, so I just roll with it; two – I've recently developed a pretty hot-and-heavy crush on Papa Winchester and needed to write something that featured him being awesome (because there's not nearly enough of that in the fanfiction world); and three – it's been a crappy, somewhat angsty weekend, and I needed a little h/c in my life. So, here we go. Hope you enjoy; it certainly made me feel better...
Now the time has come. There are things to realize. Time has come today. ~ The Chambers Brothers, "Time Has Come Today"
John awoke to the sound of running water.
That was his first clue.
Already knowing what he would see, John turned his head toward the bathroom door – finding it closed, a sliver of light shining beneath – and then turned to look at the bed across from his – finding it empty, the sheets a tangled mess on the floor.
That was his second clue.
John sighed, continuing to lie on his back – the mattress uncomfortable, the sheets scratchy, the comforter unusually thin – and listened.
Because it was not just one source of water running in the bathroom; it was two.
John could hear the steady flow from the faucet producing a gurgling sound as it rushed down the sink's drain. But he could also hear the scattered spray from the showerhead splashing on the dingy tile and then splattering on the moldy plastic shower curtain before swirling and disappearing down the tub's drain.
That was his third clue.
The running faucet would make sense if Sam had gotten up to take a piss and was washing his hands before returning to bed. But the water had been running at least two or three minutes. And even Sam, with his borderline OCD tendencies, did not wash his hands that thoroughly.
The shower, on the other hand, made no sense at all. Unless they were returning from a hunt, it was not normal to shower at – John glanced at the bedside clock – 2:08 in the morning.
But what made even less sense was that the faucet and shower were running together at the same time.
So, that meant...what?
John sighed, wishing – not for the first time – that Dean was there and not away with Caleb on a hunt one state over.
Not that John begrudged Dean the space.
Since his oldest had turned 18 last month, John knew it was time to start cutting the proverbial apron strings. Dean was strong, smart, and capable; he had proven that he could handle himself in any situation against any opponent, and John was damn proud. Hunting with Caleb was just one step away from Dean hunting by himself, and John smiled at the thought of his oldest achieving that milestone.
And even though John had readily given his permission for this hunt, he now found himself slightly regretting his decision. Not for Dean's sake but for his own; because Sam was driving him fucking crazy.
Not that it was entirely Sam's fault.
John had to admit that somewhere along the way – between losing the love of his life and transforming into the man he never thought he would become – he had lost his touch in how to be a father. The hunter's life had hardened John in a way that seemed to endear him to Dean but alienate him from Sam; the distance between father and youngest son seeming to grow wider as Sam got older.
John had noticed it for years now.
When Sam first walked, it was straight into Dean's waiting arms. When his youngest had first spoke, it was Dean's name on his lips...over and over. Even now at 13, when Sam was sick or injured or in any distress, it was Dean he wanted; never John.
And John could not blame Sam; had made his peace with it; was thankful Sam had Dean.
Because John knew he had not been as present and as involved as he should have been during Sam's formative months and years; had instead been consumed by grief and distracted by revenge and had thus deflected his parental role to a four-year old Dean...who amazingly enough seemed to be more than capable, even at that age, of doing what needed to be done without complaint.
John smiled sadly as he shifted on his back and remembered being surprised – and immensely relieved – when he realized Dean actually thrived in his role as caretaker of his little brother.
As a child, Dean had been remarkably gentle with baby Sammy and extraordinarily watchful as Sam had become a toddler; always anticipating Sam's next move and steering him away from potential hazards.
Throughout Sam's childhood, Dean was patient, tolerant, and amazingly intuitive; knowing when to tease and smack around his little brother; when to teach and offer advice; and when to just sit still and listen.
Even now, as Sam was entering what was sure to be a bumpy adolescence, Dean had not lost his touch; could look at his little brother and instantly know what was wrong and what was right; what needed to be fixed and what would be fine if left alone.
And if Dean were there right then, he would have known exactly what was going on; why Sam was running water at – John glanced at the clock again – 2:11 in the morning instead of sleeping and thus letting John sleep.
John sighed, wondering if he should check on Sam in the bathroom – knowing if Dean was with them, he would already be in there – when he received his fourth and final clue: the unmistakable sound of throwing up.
John's heart momentarily stopped as the clues – empty bed...running faucet and shower – came together allowing realization to suddenly dawn; Sam was sick and was trying to cover the noise of his misery.
The sound of retching came again – sounding particularly violent – and John immediately sat up; his heart now beating erratically as dread and panic spread through his chest.
Because what the hell was he supposed to do with a sick kid?
John had faced down creatures most people did not even know existed and had not even blinked, but this? This was much worse, and John was unnerved by how helpless he felt as he listened to Sam throw up once again.
"Shit," John hissed; tossing back the bed linens and rubbing his hand over his face.
He was so fucking stupid; for taking so long to figure out what was going on with his own son and for not listening to Dean, who had already seemed to know just six hours ago when they had spoken over the phone.
Sam had talked with Dean for a few minutes, and while nothing had seemed out of the ordinary to John, Dean had thought otherwise.
"What's wrong with him?" Dean had demanded as soon as Sam had handed the phone back to John.
John had frowned and had glanced at Sam as his youngest had stretched across his bed; then had slightly curled on his side with one arm tucked under his pillow and the other around his waist, staring at the television. "Nothing. Why?"
"Are you two at it again?" Dean had further questioned.
"Dean..." John had sighed.
"You are, aren't you?" Dean had accused.
"No," John had answered honestly; because even though Sam's moodiness and overall withdrawal had been driving him crazy, everything else had been going surprisingly well in Dean's absence over the past two days.
Sam had softly coughed and then had shifted on the bed, immediately drawing Dean's attention...even one state away.
"Did he just cough?" Dean had asked, and John had pictured the phone pressed tightly against his oldest son's ear.
"Barely," John had confirmed and then had chuckled; had turned away from Sam before his youngest realized they were talking about him. "Relax, Dean. He's fine."
"He's not," Dean had countered, his tone clipped. "Has he been eating?"
John had rolled his eyes at the continued interrogation. "Dean..."
"Has he?" Dean had pressed.
John had shrugged. "You know how he is about food."
Dean had been silent for a moment, taking that answer for what it was worth. Sam was picky about his food on normal days, and when Dean was away, the youngest Winchester's appetite seemed to leave as well. "Has he been sleeping?"
John had glanced at Sam again, had been startled to find the kid's eyes closed when seconds before he had been watching television. "Yeah. I think he's asleep right now, actually," John had reported and then had inwardly cringed, knowing Dean would take that as further proof of something being wrong; because Sam was not known for sleeping well, especially when his brother was gone and especially that early in the evening.
"Something is definitely off," Dean had asserted.
"He's just tired," John had corrected and had wished Dean would drop it. "I've been keeping him busy with research, so we'll know what we're dealing with in this next hunt and be ready to roll when you get back in a couple days."
"No, it's more than that," Dean had insisted. "Does he have a fever? Does he look flushed?"
John had quirked a smile, had been genuinely amused and yet touched by Dean's single-minded focus on this little brother.
"Dad?" Dean had called, had sounded impatient.
"I don't think so," John had replied. But he did not know for sure because he had not been paying as close attention as Dean would have.
And Dean had known that.
There had been an awkward beat of silence; Dean's opinion of John's parenting skills clearly conveyed. And while Dean had never judged – had only accepted it as the one disappointment he had ever experienced in John – John had freshly felt the sting.
"He seems fine," John had lamely defended as he had glanced back at Sam, still asleep on the bed. "He hasn't said that he feels bad."
Dean had snorted. "Well, that makes me feel better," he had remarked sarcastically; because it was well-known that Sam would not complain if he was ill. "Seriously, Dad. You need to pay better attention to him. How can I leave him with you if I can't be sure you're taking care of him? I can't focus on a hunt if I have to worry about Sam getting sick right under your nose and you not even noticing."
John had sighed, had been frustrated with himself and annoyed with Dean's borderline impudence, 18-years old or not. "Dean..." he had growled and then had lowered his voice when Sam had shifted in his sleep. "I've got this. I can take care of my own son, and Sam is fine."
"He's not," Dean had asserted again, and his tone had been equally annoyed and not nearly as affected as it should have been by John's growl. "He's sick, and it's only a matter of time – maybe another few hours – before neither of you can ignore it anymore."
John had scowled and then had tilted his head at the familiar sounds on the other end of the line. "Are you packing?"
"Yeah," Dean had answered distractedly. "Caleb's on a food run, but when he gets back, I'm leaving. We've done pretty much everything we came to do. He can finish up without me."
John had felt his blood pressure rise, something usually only Sam could do. "Dean..."
"I'm several hours out, but I should be there in time for breakfast," Dean had continued. "Don't eat without me, keep an eye on Sammy, and call if he needs me."
And then Dean had ended the call, further pissing off John; because Dean had not only hung up on him but he had also defied an indirect order to stay put; an order John knew Dean had heard in the way John had said Dean's name.
John blinked from the memory, refocusing on the bathroom door as Sam coughed deeply and then made a sound that could only be described as a whimper.
And whether or not he sucked as a father, John could not ignore such a sound from his youngest.
John sighed – steeling himself against what would most likely be Sam's rejection – and stood, crossing to the closed door; the sliver of light from inside slipping beneath the door's crack and illuminating his bare feet as he paused.
"Be gentle," Mary had reminded him as he had stood beside her bed in the hospital, reaching for his newborn son; was reminding him even now. "He's different from Dean..." – she had known even then, Sam barely an hour old – "...so remember to be gentle."
John nodded – as he had the first time she had told him – and swallowed the emotion that always resurfaced whenever he thought about her; whenever her words would drift to him in a whispery echo, as though he would turn and see her; his Mary.
Dean was so much like her; gentle and tender with Sam; was possessive and protective to the point of being dangerous – or putting himself in danger – if he thought Sam was at risk.
Just like Mary.
John shook himself – strangely reminded of Pastor Jim's wise counsel to "stay present in the present" and Bobby's gruffer "take your head out of your ass, Winchester" – and could hear the water still running in the bathroom but nothing else.
John exhaled a silent shaky breath and rapped his knuckles against the peeling yellow paint on the bathroom door; his eyes tracking the few flecks that floated down to the matted brown carpet; his gaze remaining on the sliver of light he found there, shining on his toes. "Sam?"
Dean would have said "Sammy," but there was no way John was trespassing into that territory. Sam seemed to like that childhood nickname less and less these days – only allowing Dean the occasional privilege – and John knew his boundaries.
Sam made no verbal response, but John was watching the crack at the bottom of the door and saw his youngest son's shadow move at the sound of his voice.
"Sam?" John tried again. "Are you okay?"
And John hated how detached and unsure his voice sounded; as if he was politely inquiring about the health of a stranger but did not really want to get involved. Because that was not how he felt – not at all, not even close – but that was certainly how he sounded, and Sam would waste no time dismissing him.
John watched as Sam's shadow shifted again.
"Do you hear me, or what?" John barked before he could stop himself; never knowing how to deal with worry; a trait Dean had picked up as well and yet seemed to manage better than his father.
"M'okay," Sam softly assured from inside the bathroom, even as the kid's breath hitched
"Bullshit, Sam," John immediately responded, his clipped tone sounding more pissed-off-drill-sergeant than concerned-compassionate-gentle-dad.
But fuck! He had no idea what he was doing; this was Dean's gig. If Dean had been there, he would have already handled this, because Sam was obviously not okay.
And yet John hovered outside the door like a...
John's thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the sound of Sam throwing up...again.
And while John was no doctor, he had been around long enough to know vomiting four times within a 10 minute period was not a good sign. In fact, it was a really bad fucking sign, and John was instantly done with being a panicky, unsure, hands-off father.
Sam needed him.
And that was all he needed to know.
"Sam, I'm coming in," John warned and then pushed open the door; eyes squinting in the sudden brightness of the light within the bathroom; nose wrinkling at the unmistakable stench of vomit and swallowing on reflex.
Sam was sprawled on the floor; legs on either side of the toilet as his torso curled forward; head bent over the porcelain bowl as his back arched; both arms resting above his head on the seat.
John did not understand how Sam had anything to throw up since the kid had barely eaten anything over the past two days; but that did not seem to matter to Sam's body as his youngest continued to heave.
John swallowed again – because no way in hell was he going to let this affect his own stomach – and reached for a washcloth from the shelf above the toilet. Passing the cloth under the running faucet, he shut off the water – finally – and squatted behind his son; sliding the cool wet fabric on the back of Sam's neck, under the fringe of sweaty hair, and holding it in place as Sam took a deep breath.
"Easy," John soothed when Sam flinched at his touch and then turned to shut off the shower while keeping his other hand on Sam's neck.
The small bathroom was suddenly quiet with the absence of running water, and John wiped his wet hand on the leg of his green sweatpants as he turned back to his son.
Sam coughed, then spit, then coughed again; breathing heavily through his mouth as his head stayed down.
John reached to flush the toilet and felt his anxiety return when Sam did not answer him; having no clue what to say beyond calling Sam's name.
There was silence.
And John wondered if maybe he should call Dean. Because John readily acknowledged he had no idea what he was doing; and even over the phone, Dean could do better than him with comforting Sam.
The silence continued for several seconds.
John cleared his throat. "Are you done?" he finally asked, because it seemed like a logical question.
Sam shook his head once, still curled over the toilet.
John nodded – no surprise there – and removed the washcloth from his son's neck; his knees popping when he stood to rinse the rag in the sink; taking his time completing the task because at least it gave him something to do.
There was more silence.
John froze, his hands wrapped in the saturated cloth; the running water the only sound in the small bathroom. Although he had expected it, had even tried to steel himself against it, Sam's whispered request – his polite rejection – was an agonizing stab in John's heart.
Because Sam would not have asked the same of Dean; would have clung to his brother, not pushed him away.
John inhaled slowly. "Sam..."
And John was startled when the word came out as a breathless sob.
Sam was begging him to leave.
John stood by the sink, his hands becoming numb from the rush of cold water over them. "Sam, I..."
"I don't..." Sam attempted to interrupt; his voice like a muffled echo since his face was still hovering over the toilet. He coughed and swallowed hard. "I don't want you..." He swallowed again and then shook his head – beyond words at that point – and covered his head with his arms, furthering obscuring his face from John.
John's heart beat painfully hard within his chest.
I don't want you.
It did not get much clearer than that.
John nodded and stared at himself in the mirror; feeling strangely detached as the water continued to run over his hands and down the drain.
John sighed and shut off the water. "I'm going, Sam."
"...don't be mad," Sam continued as though John had not spoken. "I just..." He sniffled miserably, his face still in the toilet. "...don't want you to see," he quietly confessed, as though the admission hurt his own feelings. He shook his head again, seeming to become even more upset. "Please..."
It was another sobbed word, and John's heart freshly broke; only not for himself, as it had seconds before, but for his son.
Because Sam was not rejecting him; Sam was embarrassed.
Sam was mortified and upset because he did not want John to see him throwing up. Hell, the kid had not even wanted John hearing him throw up – given all the water that had been running a few minutes ago – and here John was mere inches away; sharing the same space that was no bigger than a large closet; close enough to hear, see, and smell the gory details.
And for a sensitive, private kid like Sam – who was used to John being more of a commander than a caretaker – it was too much to handle right now. Sam would rather suffer alone than endure the embarrassment of showing weakness in front of John; would rather agonize in solitude than be a burden to what Sam perceived as a reluctant father.
John stood motionless, staring down at his youngest; the realization alarming, enlightening, and devastating.
"Ah, Sammy..." John sighed.
Which seemed to upset Sam even more.
John frowned, wringing out the washcloth and crossing to his son. "Hey. Easy," he soothed, once again squatting beside Sam. "You need to calm down, kiddo, or..."
But the warning came too late.
Sam's hands braced on either side of the toilet seat as his body lurched forward, gagging loudly; the spasms worse this time, due to Sam's emotions or the nature of whatever illness he had, John was not sure.
When the retching ended, Sam's entire body sagged, and John immediately placed his hand on his son's sweaty forehead, supporting the kid's head.
"Whoa, buddy." John's hand splayed on Sam's back; his fingers brushing the washcloth still on Sam's neck as he maneuvered himself from squatting to sitting. He paused, dropping the rag into his lap. "Listen...I want to sit you up for a minute, okay? I need to look at you."
Sam made a noncommittal noise and swallowed.
John took it as an affirmative answer – or at least an indication of understanding – and carefully lifted his son up and back; turning Sam to face him and steadying his youngest with one hand on each of the kid's thin, bony shoulders; wondering – not for the first time – if Sam was so small for his age because of malnutrition or poor healthcare or something else John had unintentionally neglected to notice.
John sighed as his gaze swept over his son; taking in the flush of fever on otherwise pale cheeks; the mauve circles and tiny broken capillaries under his hazel-green eyes; the fine sheen of sweat on his forehead along with the damp bangs; the run of snot from his nose; and the remains of vomit on his chin and around his mouth.
Saw swallowed, blinking sluggishly at his father and feeling fresh tears begin to well. He could only imagine what a mess he was and what John could be thinking.
John shook his head – surprised that he actually knew what Sam was thinking – and smiled warmly. "It's okay," he assured; his voice deep, soothing, loving as he grabbed the washcloth from his lap and gently swiped it over Sam's forehead.
"M'hot," Sam reported needlessly, as if reminded by the coolness of the cloth on his overly warm skin.
John nodded. "Fevers do that," he commented, remembering Dean's questions from earlier – Does he have a fever? Does he look flushed? – and allowed the cool washcloth to linger on the kid's red cheeks; feeling his son lean into his touch.
Sam closed his eyes and sighed.
John smiled, instantly understanding why Dean never complained about taking care of Sam. Because the kid repaid tenfold just in the amount of trust and love he returned for the smallest gesture extended to him. Sam could make anyone feel like the most important, appreciated person in the world without saying a word, and it was no wonder Dean loved his little brother as much as he did.
John swallowed the unexpected emotion that lodged in his throat – because while he loved his youngest, he knew he had missed so much along the way in understanding what made Sam, Sam – and sighed.
Sam sighed as well, opening his eyes and staring at John as his father finally rubbed the rag over Sam's nose, mouth, and chin – wiping away the final remnants of sickness – and effectively ending the moment between them.
Sam ducked his head, freshly embarrassed at being cleaned up by his father like he was a helpless two-year old. Hell, even when he was two-years old, he did not remember John doing this.
A fresh sob tore from his throat and he shook his head. "M'sorry..."
John frowned and tossed the soiled washcloth into the sink. "For what, Sam?"
"This," Sam said simply, not meeting John's eyes.
John smiled sadly and reached for his son – ridiculously happy when Sam did not resist – and pulled his youngest forward until Sam's forehead was resting on his shoulder. "You can't help it if you're sick, Sam," he gently reminded.
"I know, but..." Sam sighed shakily, not seeming interested in continuing his train of thought.
John rubbed his son's back, allowed Sam a few moments to relax. "Do you feel bad anywhere else besides your stomach?"
Sam shook his head.
John nodded, marginally relieved. "Rate it."
Sam swallowed. "It was an eight." He swallowed again. "But I think it's a nine now."
John nodded again. Throwing up as much as Sam had in the past few minutes would certainly make it hurt worse. "How long has your stomach been hurting?"
Sam did not respond.
John arched an eyebrow. "Before Dean left?" he ventured.
"No, not that long," Sam quietly assured.
And John believed him; because Sam had no reason to lie; and because Dean would have known and would have never left if Sam had shown any signs of feeling unwell.
John blinked. "You've felt sick since yesterday morning?" he clarified.
Sam nodded, closing his eyes as he leaned more heavily against his father's chest.
John smiled softly – touched more than he would admit by such a trusting gesture from his youngest – and continued to rub his son's back; thankful that Sam had not been suffering in silence with level eight pain for the past two days. But the relief was short-lived because Sam had been ailing for all of yesterday – and John had failed to notice.
"S'okay," Sam whispered. "You didn't know."
John blinked again as tears unexpectedly stung his eyes. Because even as miserable as Sam was, he was trying to comfort John; was trying to defend John against himself. That was the kind of kid Sam was, and John felt an overwhelming swell of love for his and Mary's youngest child.
They sat in silence for several minutes until Sam swallowed and then moaned, pressing his forehead hard into John's shoulder.
John glanced down, knowing even before Sam slurred the word "sick" and helped the kid turn back to the toilet, once again supporting Sam's head while his other hand rested between his son's shoulders.
Sam made good on his prediction – throwing up twice back-to-back – and had barely had time to catch his breath before the bouts of dry heaving began; Sam's body insisting on turning itself inside out.
John rubbed Sam's back and clenched his jaw, hating how sick his youngest was; wishing he could take the illness away from his son; and willing the spasms to pass.
Sam coughed harshly, seeming to almost choke and causing panic to momentarily seize John's heart.
Sam gagged, coughed, swallowed. "'Kay," was all he managed but John knew it was meant to be a reassurance; meant to be "I'm okay."
John nodded as Sam retched again – dry heaves apparently over as actual vomit made another appearance – and John winced in sympathy, increasingly worried about how severely sick Sam seemed to be.
Several seconds passed before Sam gasped loudly and then moaned, thoroughly spent.
Knowing his cue, John flushed the toilet and then resumed rubbing Sam's back; once again noticing how thin and scrawny Sam was – much smaller than Dean had been at 13 – and thinking Bobby Singer was full of shit when he had predicted that Sam would one day be bigger than John and Dean.
There was silence, and John sighed.
It was going to be a long night...or morning...or whatever. Time really did not seem to hold much meaning since it felt like hours since he had entered the bathroom, but according to the clock on the wall, it had only been about 20 minutes.
John glanced into the main room – deciding what he was going to do – and then turned his attention back to his son. "Sam..." he called, carding his fingers through the kid's hair; the shaggy locks slightly curled from the dampness of sweat.
"Think you can sit up again?"
Sam sighed. "Try."
John smiled. "That's my boy," he praised and carefully eased his youngest up and back, so that Sam was resting against the side of the tub.
Sam sighed again.
John's eyes swept over his son. "Listen..." he gently wiped Sam's mouth with his own hand and then rubbed the mess on the towel hanging from the wall. "I need to go grab a few things from the other room. Think you can manage for a couple minutes?"
Sam nodded once.
John nodded as well and then stood, leaving the bathroom door open as he crossed to his bed; grabbing the two pillows along with the top sheet and comforter before dragging them over to the bathroom and dropping them to the floor.
Sam watched with disinterest, wrinkling his nose and swallowing hard.
John arched an eyebrow. "You good?"
Sam lifted his hand, palm facing down as he rocked it back and forth; indicating the situation was tenuous at best.
John nodded. "Okay, hang on..." he urged, returning to the main room once again to grab a fresh shirt from Sam's duffle – since the kid's current shirt was drenched in sweat and stained with flecks of vomit – and then turning to grab a bottle of water from the mini fridge in the corner.
"Dad..." Sam called, his tone alarmed and strained.
And John knew what was about to happen even before he heard the familiar sound that followed Sam's gasp.
"Shit," John hissed quietly, jogging the few steps back to the bathroom in time to see Sam throw up again; but as an added mortifying bonus, doing so all over himself this time.
There was a beat of silence as Sam coughed and then stared down at the mess on his shirt before looking up at John, completely horrified.
"It's okay," John automatically soothed; stepping over the bed linens in the doorway and entering the bathroom; setting the shirt and bottle of water on the counter beside the sink as he crossed to his son.
Silent tears coursed down Sam's flushed cheeks as he continued to stare at his father. He opened his mouth to speak but sobbed instead and closed his eyes against the surge of fresh tears and overwhelming emotions.
Because Sam could not believe what had just happened; and even worse, was that John had not only witnessed it but now had to help clean him up...again.
John dropped to one knee, his paternal instinct to sooth his child and to make everything right never being stronger. "Sam..." he called softy, gently lifting his son's chin. "Look at me."
Sam's eyes squeezed tighter, tears slipping through his lashes as he shook his head.
John quirked a smile. Leave it to Sam to be sick as a dog and still be stubborn as hell. "Fine, don't look at me. Just listen..." John amended, thumbing the moisture from Sam's cheeks. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. A stomach virus will kick anybody's ass." John paused. "And I mean anybody's," he added meaningfully and was not surprised when Sam opened his eyes, curiosity overpowering stubbornness.
Sam looked at his father questioningly and blinked, jarring loose a few fresh tears.
"Yep," John confirmed. "Even mine."
"R-really?" Sam asked, his voice a wreck.
"Really," John replied, remembering quite vividly his own experience a few years back; thankful even now that the boys had been staying with Pastor Jim that weekend.
Sam stared at John as though he had just revealed one of the world's most guarded secrets – that even John Winchester had occasional moments of weakness – and sniffled.
John smiled, remarkably unbothered by his revealed vulnerability; he was human, after all. And it was nice to be reminded – and to remind his sons – of that fact once in a while.
"So..." John sighed, sweeping Sam's damp bangs from the kid's sweaty forehead. "What d'ya say we clean you up and make ourselves comfortable in here, huh?"
Sam exhaled shakily as he wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand and nodded; strangely comforted by how similar John's speech pattern was to Dean's in that moment; wondering if his dad even realized. "Okay," he agreed.
"Okay," John repeated and placed his hand on Sam's shoulder, leaning his son forward as he lifted the back of Sam's shirt and pulled it over the kid's head and off his body; effectively removing the shirt while keeping the mess contained.
John tossed the shirt in the sink with the soiled washcloth from earlier and stood long enough to snag a fresh cloth from the shelf above the toilet. He dropped to one knee again, leaning over the tub to dampen the fabric under that faucet and then turned back, handing the rag to Sam.
"You good?" John asked, eyes sweeping over his youngest; knowing his independent son would want to do the task himself if he was up for it.
"M'good," Sam replied tiredly and accepted the washcloth; rubbing it over his face, down his arms, and across his chest.
John nodded his approval and stretched to grab the fresh shirt and water bottle from the counter. "Think you can manage some of this?"
Sam eyed the plastic bottle wearily as he took his shirt from John.
John chuckled. "Not the whole bottle. Just a few sips."
Sam swallowed and pulled the shirt over his head before slipping his arms through the sleeves; his movements sluggish from fatigue. "What if it doesn't stay down?"
John shrugged. "Then we'll try again later." He paused. "I don't want you getting dehydrated, Sam, and I'd say you're definitely heading in that direction right now after everything you've lost within the last half hour."
And also considering how small Sam was, which John left unmentioned.
Sam wrinkled his nose but nodded as he smoothed the front of his shirt over his chest and reached for the bottle with a slightly shaky hand.
John exchanged the water for the washcloth and watched as his son took a few cautious sips before handing the bottle back to John.
There was silence, and Sam closed his eyes, swallowing several times as though he was trying to hold the water down.
John swallowed himself, as if he could somehow help, and set both the washcloth and the water bottle back on the counter; an uneasy feeling settling in his own stomach from the way Sam's face contorted.
Anticipating what was coming, John reached for his son, helping Sam lean over the toilet as the water came rushing up; bringing thick saliva and slimy bile with it and then setting off another round of dry heaving.
John supported Sam's weight as he had before and sighed, feeling his son's back tremble beneath his hand from the strain of emptying an empty stomach. "Easy," John soothed, his deep voice filling the small bathroom. "Easy, easy, easy..."
And Sam seemed to respond to the rhythm of John's voice as the kid's body gradually relaxed; the latest bout of sickness ending as abruptly as it had begun.
Sam coughed, then spit and sagged forward with a moan; it was becoming their routine, and he hated it.
"I know," John agreed, because he hated it, too; not for himself – he would sit on the floor all night and comfort his son if that was what Sam needed...and strangely enough, would be glad to do it – but hated it for his youngest, because Sam was miserable.
John glanced at the bed linens still heaped in the doorway – mere inches away since the bathroom was no bigger than a large closet – and was reminded of his plan from a few minutes before.
Keeping a steadying hand splayed on his son's back, John reached for one pillow, then the next; keeping them vertical as he propped them in the corner created by the edge of the tub and the wall.
John was turning to grab the sheet and comforter when Sam gasped harshly, the sound unusually loud as his voice echoed over the toilet.
John froze, instantly refocused on his youngest. "Sam?"
Sam made a strangled sound and then shivered but made no other response.
John felt his heart begin to beat faster. "Hey. What's going on? Talk to me."
Sam made another sound – half moan, half whimper – and John carefully lifted his son up and back – not caring if Sam threw up on him – and ducked to look at Sam's face since his youngest had bowed his head.
"Sam..." John called, willing himself to stay calm. "What?"
"Cramp," Sam gasped, squeezing his eyes shut. "Kinda..." he winced and swallowed, both arms wrapping around his stomach. "...hurts," he admitted, biting his lower lip.
John nodded; remembering exactly what those kinds of cramps felt like and knowing "kinda hurts" was a euphemism for "I can barely talk from the amount of pain because it feels like I'm being stabbed in the stomach."
"Breathe through it," John coached softly. "It'll pass..."
And then, without even thinking about it – whether because the action felt natural or because he had seen Dean do it so many times over the years – John kissed the crown of Sam's head and wrapped his arms around his son, completely enveloping his youngest within the protection of his strength.
"I've got you," John whispered. "Just breathe through it..."
Sam whimpered again as another stab of pain shot through his stomach; his arms no longer protecting his torso but reaching for his father; burying his face into John's chest as his hands bunched the fabric of John's grey t-shirt.
John wrapped his arms tighter, holding his son – and his breath; more tempted to pray in that moment than in any moment since Mary's death. Because he had never been this close to Sam's suffering; had always remained on the perimeter – either literally or figuratively – while Sam would reach for Dean and Dean would handle the crisis...nightmare, injury, or sickness.
And although Dean as on his way, his oldest was not there yet; which meant Sam was depending solely on John.
John closed his eyes, momentarily overwhelmed.
"Dad..." Sam gasped breathlessly, pressing his forehead painfully hard into John's shoulder as another wave of pain washed over him.
"You're okay," John assured, opening his eyes as he felt his youngest shudder in his arms. "Everything's going to be okay," he promised; one hand splayed on the kid's back while the other cupped the back of Sam's head; his callused fingers buried in his son's shaggy, damp hair.
They sat that way – each holding onto the other – for what felt like hours before Sam began to relax; his fingers loosening their grip on John's shirt; his shoulders drooping as the pain began to subside and the tension melted.
Sam sighed, and John did the same; immensely grateful their current crisis had finally passed.
"Better?" John asked; his voice muffled as he spoke into Sam's hair; already knowing the answer but needing Sam to affirm it.
Sam nodded but made no other movement; seeming content to stay in John's arms.
And John was startled by the urge to cry; because it had been so long since Sam had not pushed against him and resisted him but instead sought him as a refuge.
In fact, John could not even remember the last time he had had contact with Sam before tonight that had not been related to training; either through demonstrating sparring techniques or by his hand covering Sam's smaller hand as he instructed his youngest on the use of an unfamiliar weapon.
John sighed, wondering if it was too late to change; to get back some of the man he used to be.
Sam swallowed audibly and rubbed in face against John's chest. "Dad..."
John lightly rested his chin on his son's head. "Yeah, Sammy?"
And John momentarily wondered if Sam would balk at the nickname; but he did not.
"M'tired," was all Sam responded, his voice barely a whisper.
John smiled. "I'm sure you are," he agreed, sliding into the corner and leaning back against the pillows he had set there earlier; maneuvering Sam so that the kid was no longer resting against his chest but instead tucked against his side.
Sam roused at the movement. "No," he weakly protested, feebly shoving at John's arms. "I might throw up on you."
"I've had worse things happen," John assured, keeping his tone light. "Like this one time I was hunting a Lexie..." He shuddered dramatically, much like Dean would in the years ahead when he remembered that waitress from Tampa.
Sam frowned. "Lexie?" he repeated, his voice cracking over the word from sickness and fatigue. "What's that?" he asked as he once again relaxed, resting his head on his father's chest and shifting against John's side.
John quirked a smile, ridiculously pleased with himself. It seemed Dean was not the only master of distraction when it came to Sam.
"What's a Lexie?" John paused, feeling Sam shiver against him. "Well..." he reached for the sheet and comforter already stretching halfway through the bathroom's doorway and pulled the linens closer. "That was the only one I've ever seen," John continued, covering himself and Sam with the blankets. "It looked like a cross between a Wendigo and a black dog, if you can imagine..."
And that was as far as he got before John realized Sam was asleep; his youngest feverish and sick but safe and content.
John glanced at the clock on the wall beside the sink – 3:38 – and could hardly believe it had only been a little over an hour since he had first entered the bathroom.
John sighed, gently brushing Sam's bangs from the kid's eyes and glancing down at his son's face before sighing again and closing his own eyes; telling himself he would rest for just a few minutes...
But as John opened his eyes at the rumble of the Impala in the parking lot, he realized three things simultaneously – that Dean was back, Sam was still asleep, and it was now 4:56.
John yawned and glanced down at Sam – who was feverishly hot against him, but otherwise seemed fine for the moment – and listened to the Impala's driver's side door creak as Dean exited the car. Dean seemed to pause – most likely grabbing his duffle from the backseat – and then John tracked his oldest son's steps until Dean reached the sidewalk; where John could then see the teen's shadow silhouetted through the window.
John narrowed his eyes, seeing that Dean did indeed have his duffle slung over his shoulder but that his oldest was also carrying what looked like a grocery bag.
In the next instant, John heard the teeth of the key slide into lock; biting and turning the deadbolt as the knob also turned and the motel door was pushed open, revealing Dean.
TBC – This story ended up being close to 13,000 words, so I decided to make it a twoshot instead of a oneshot. Chapter two will be posted either tomorrow or Wednesday…