John was startled by how tall his oldest looked standing there, framed by the doorway of the motel room, and watched with pride as Dean's eyes swept the room, quickly performing a customary once-over; taking in the bathroom light flooding the main room and noticing the two empty beds. An unreadable expression passed over Dean's face at the realization, and his attention immediately tracked back to the bathroom; his gaze finding John through the half-opened door.
Dean tilted his head – as though slightly confused and surprised by what he saw – and then he blinked; his expression instantly concerned. Because if John was camped out on the bathroom floor with Sam, then this was bad; perhaps even worse than Dean had originally thought.
Stepping over the salt line and finally entering the room, Dean set the paper grocery bag on the table by the door and dropped his duffle in one of the chairs before removing his leather jacket and tossing it over the opposite chair as he crossed to the bathroom.
John sighed as Dean approached, surprisingly anxious about his oldest son's reaction to what was surely an unexpected scene.
In the next instant, Dean was standing in the bathroom's doorway; barely sparing his father a glance before focusing on Sam. His eyes swept over his brother, taking in every detail; his expression a mix of relief – because Sam appeared to be resting peacefully – and worry – because sickness permeated the room, and the kid was definitely ill if he was allowing John to hold him like that.
Dean's attention shifted to John, and John resisted the urge to squirm under his oldest son's scrutiny; impressed by the intimidating intensity of Dean's gaze.
John remained silent, knowing Dean was piecing together the events of the past few hours and waiting for his oldest to speak first.
"So..." Dean began, still framed by the doorway; his gaze flickering from John to Sam before he stared at John meaningfully. "Believe me now?"
"Yeah," John admitted and smiled apologetically; because he never should have doubted Dean, not when it came to Sam.
Dean nodded. "Ask Sam...you always trust a big brother," he advised, crossing the threshold and blinking in the light as he entered the bathroom and crouched beside John; eyes once again sweeping over his brother.
John watched in silence; knowing that while Dean was primarily examining Sam's current condition, his oldest was also looking for signs to help gauge how well John had taken care of the kid in Dean's absence.
"He does look flushed," Dean commented, as though he still could not believe John had not known the answer to that question earlier. He reached across John's chest and slid his hand under Sam's bangs, then down to cup the kid's cheek; frowning at the heat he felt all over his brother's face. "Is his fever up or down?"
John watched as Sam shifted in response to Dean's voice and turned ever-so-slightly into Dean's touch.
And although it was probably silly, the minor interaction caused a pang of loss to slice through John's chest; because he knew the guard was about to change. Dean was back and was already resuming his position – and Sam was already responding to his brother even in his sleep – so, it was only a matter of minutes before John was once again relegated to the position of "backup parent."
And even though he had been content with that arrangement for the past 12 ½ years, tonight had shown John what he had been missing, and he did not want to resume that chain of command.
John blinked, realizing Dean was staring at him. "What?"
Dean sighed, looking annoyed that he had to repeat his question, and withdrew his hand from Sam's cheek; his elbows resting on his knees as he continued to crouch. "Is his fever up or down?"
John shrugged, feeling Sam's head lift with the motion. "I didn't take his temperature earlier, but it seems to be about the same."
Dean nodded. "When's the last time he threw up?"
John tilted his head questioningly.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Dad, it reeks in here," he stated flatly. "Anyone would be able to tell what's been going on over the past couple hours. And besides, I knew this was gonna happen. Sam barely said two words on the phone earlier, and he's only unusually quiet when his throat hurts, he's upset about something, or he's gonna hurl. And since his voice wasn't hoarse and you said everything was cool between you two, I knew it was only a matter of time before he puked."
John nodded in understanding of Dean's logic; thinking how obvious it sounded once Dean explained it and feeling unexpectedly embarrassed that he had not known his youngest well enough to have figured it out on his own; freshly realizing that Sam had been quiet and withdrawn not because his youngest was being moody or difficult and trying to be a pain in John's ass but because the kid had not felt well.
Dean studied his father, a rare expression of sympathy crossing his face. "It's okay," he said, not realizing he was repeating Sam's words from earlier. "You didn't know."
John smiled sadly but said nothing. Because what was there to say? His sons seemed to know him better than he would ever know them and that hurt in a way he could not explain.
Dean sighed, shifting his position as though he was becoming uncomfortable or restless or both. "So, when's the last time he threw up?" he asked again.
John glanced at the clock. "A little over an hour ago after he drank a few sips of water."
Dean arched an eyebrow. "You gave him water?" he repeated and smiled in that amused way parents do when told of how others tried to take care of their kids. "Let me guess...that stayed down for about five seconds."
John snorted. "Maybe even less."
Dean nodded knowingly. "Yeah, Sammy doesn't handle water very well when he's like this. Seems counterintuitive, but that's Sam for you."
"I got it covered," Dean interrupted his father, gesturing vaguely over his shoulder at the grocery bag on the table. "Stopped on my way in and picked up a few things. He'll be fine," Dean assured with the confidence of an experienced parent, the kind of parent who knew his kid.
And John did not know whether to beam with pride over what an amazing young man Dean had grown into; or to sob from soul-wounding sorrow and regret. Because in his attempt to do what he felt was important at the time of Mary's death, John had inadvertently given up the most rewarding and satisfying job in the world; caring for his sons.
And now it was too late.
Dean had raised himself; had reached an age where he no longer needed a father in that capacity. And Sam, though still a child, did not need John, either; because he no longer belonged to John; had not truly belonged to him in years.
Sam was Dean's; and Dean was Sam's; and that left John back where he had always been – on the perimeter.
John sighed, his gaze finding that of his oldest as Dean once again stared at him.
Dean said nothing because his expression said it all – he understood John's regrets; he forgave John's faults; and he agreed it was too late. Because if Dean was anything besides protective of his little brother, he was possessive. And Sam belonged to him. It was the only issue over which he would ever challenge John.
And strangely enough, John understood. If he had the kind of bond that Dean had with Sam, he would not want anyone encroaching on it, either.
The conversation passed in silence until Dean blinked, effectively ending the moment.
"Okay..." Dean sighed, shifting his focus to Sam, who was still resting against John's side on the floor. "If he hasn't thrown up in over an hour, I think it's probably safe to move him back to bed. He'll be more comfortable there, and we'll keep the ice bucket close by just in case."
John nodded. "Sounds good," he agreed, even though he knew he was no longer running the show; that Dean was not asking for John's opinion or his permission; his oldest was simply laying out the plan.
Dean at least had the manners to smile as if he appreciated his father's input and then inched closer to John in order to lower himself in front of Sam. He reached for his brother, brushing Sam's bangs from his eyes as he once again placed his palm on Sam's forehead. "Sammy..."
Sam stirred instantly; having already sensed his brother's presence from the first time Dean had spoken and had checked him for fever a few minutes earlier. "D'n..." he responded sleepily, even before his eyes fluttered open.
Dean smiled warmly, wondering how one scrawny kid mumbling one slurred word could make him so happy. "Hey, kiddo," he replied, his thumb lightly rubbing between Sam's eyes as his little brother blinked sluggishly. "You with me?"
"Mmhmm," Sam sighed, then paused. "Back?"
John frowned. Back? What the hell did that mean?
But Dean did not miss a beat. "Yep, I'm back," he affirmed without further explanation.
Sam swallowed. "Okay?"
Dean's smile widened; because only Sam would be barely awake from being severely sick and yet still be worried about Dean.
"Dean?" Sam prompted, seeming more alert; his brow creasing as though he was concerned Dean's hesitation meant something was wrong.
"I'm fine," Dean assured and nodded to reinforce his words, carding his fingers through Sam's sweaty bangs. "How 'bout you? How you feelin'?"
Sam wrinkled his nose and swallowed, as though just the question made him nauseous. He rubbed his face on the fabric of John's shirt and then paused; seeming startled by John's presence as he realized he was still leaning against his father, was still camped out on the bathroom floor.
Sam looked up at John, feeling panicked as he suddenly remembered everything.
John smiled reassuringly; knowing that while part of Sam had been comforted by his presence, another part of his youngest was still embarrassed by having to endure such indignities under John's watchful eye.
Dean observed the silent interaction between his brother and father, his expression unreadable; and yet John knew his oldest knew exactly what had transpired, right down to the ruined t-shirt in the sink.
There was a beat of silence.
"Hey, Sammy..." ...you okay?
Sam blinked and looked at his brother, tears beginning to well.
Which gave Dean his answer; Sam was feeling overwhelmed.
A lot had happened over the past few hours, and since everything had always seemed a little more sensitive for Sam when the kid was sick – including his emotions – Dean knew he had to distract quickly before they would be dealing with an epic meltdown.
John watched Dean watch Sam – as if his oldest was literally reading his youngest – and was freshly fascinated by their bond; by how seamless they seemed sometimes.
There was another beat of silence.
"Well..." Dean sighed and glanced at John. "I think I'm gonna crash," he reported matter-of-factly and then looked back at Sam. "I know you wouldn't understand, but being an awesome badass is pretty exhausting."
The corner of Sam's mouth twitched in a smile. "Whatever," he huffed and then sniffled.
Dean arched an eyebrow. "How 'bout you? I know you've been sleeping in here, but dude...Dad's pretty old to be sitting on the floor..." Dean pointed out, glancing at John again; knowing his father would realize what he was doing.
"Dad's not that old," Sam quietly defended, his eyes no longer harboring tears when he shyly glanced up at John.
Dean shrugged. "If you say so..."
"Gee, thanks," John replied dryly, even as he smiled at being included in his sons' banter; wondering if they knew how much that meant to him.
"...and don't even get me started about how gross this floor is," Dean added.
And John watched as Dean shuddered dramatically; his oldest son's antics causing Sam to laugh tiredly as the kid further relaxed...just as Dean knew he would.
Dean paused, smiling at his brother. "So, what d'ya say we get you back to bed, huh? You can bunk with me."
Sam sighed tiredly – as if the idea was simultaneously appealing and exhausting – but nodded and feebly pushed against John to sit up.
"Whoa..." Dean and John cautioned at the same time, both reaching for Sam when the kid suddenly sagged backwards.
"It's not a race, dude," Dean reminded Sam; his hand lightly gripping his brother's bony shoulder as he suddenly realized the bathroom was too crowded; that Sam would push himself harder if John was there to see.
Dean sighed, feeling a quick pang of guilt at what he was about to do; especially since, amazingly enough, John seemed content to be sprawled on the floor with a sweaty, sick kid tucked beside him.
The whole scene was...weird – but nice...and tender and sweet and all the other words that were not generally associated with John Winchester. And while Dean was still concerned about Sam, he found himself enjoying the rare family moment and was sorry he now had to pull rank on his own father; but Sam came first, so...
Dean glanced at the blankets on the floor before looking back at John, staring at his father meaningfully and then tilting his head toward the main room.
John felt his heart drop even as he nodded once; knowing he was being politely dismissed and feeling strangely childish as he wondered if it was because of something he had unintentionally done.
John sighed and offered a small smile – hoping the expression appeared less forced than it felt – and then released his hold on Sam; reaching instead to untangle the linens from around himself and his youngest.
Carefully maneuvering Sam to a sitting position, Dean felt his brother list against him as they watched John gather the sheet, comforter, and two pillows from the corner.
"I'll go get things ready," John announced and then stood, staring down at his sons.
"Thanks, Dad," Dean responded in a tone that implied the idea was completely John's.
John nodded again – a strange mix of emotions spreading through his chest – and carefully stepped around Dean to exit the bathroom.
Dean waited until he heard John moving around in the main room before turning back to Sam. "Alright, Speedy Gonzales." He forced a smile of his own. "Ready?"
Sam sighed. "Think so," he replied tiredly, grasping the edge of the tub to help push himself up even though Dean was already lifting him to his feet.
Dean steadied his brother as Sam swayed, frowning as the kid leaned forward and rested his head against Dean's chest. Not a good sign. "Sammy..."
Sam did not verbally respond but swallowed audibly three times; his hands bunching the hem of Dean's shirt.
Dean arched an eyebrow – he knew that warning sound and that comfort-seeking gesture – and reached behind himself with one hand to slide the soiled washcloth and t-shirt from earlier out of the sink and onto the floor beside the toilet.
Sam swallowed again. "Dean..."
"I know," Dean assured, and carefully eased his brother over to the sink. "It's okay."
Sam braced his arms on either side of the counter, head down as he breathed shallowly through his mouth.
Dean shook his head. Sam's avoidance strategy never ended well. "Stop fighting it, Sam," Dean advised, standing beside his brother. "Let 'er rip, huh?" he encouraged, rubbing the kid's back.
"No." Sam practically sobbed the word. "I don't..." He swallowed. "...wanna throw up..." He swallowed once more. "...again."
Dean nodded. He could certainly understand that. But that outcome was not looking favorable. "I know, kiddo," he agreed. "But I don't think you get a vote, so let's get this over with. The quicker you puke – "
"Don't say 'puke', Dean," Sam groaned, his nose wrinkling.
Dean chuckled, tempted to say it again just because he could. "Fine," he acquiesced, continuing to rub Sam's back. "But the quicker you do this, the quicker we can both get to bed."
"No," Sam replied and swallowed hard. "No bed. I might..." He paused, spitting as he felt saliva begin to pool in his mouth. "...throw up on you."
Dean shrugged. "It wouldn't be the first time."
"Just sayin', Sammy."
Sam opened his mouth to respond but gagged instead; nothing happening for his efforts except the sound attracting John's attention from the other room.
"Is he okay?" John asked, approaching the bathroom's doorway.
"We're good," Dean responded calmly, not even turning to look at his father standing over his shoulder; his body obscuring Sam from John's view. "Just give us minute..."
John felt another sharp sting of dismissal but also warmth spread through his chest the way he always did when Dean was asked a singular question but responded in plural; always "we" and "us".
John lingered for a few seconds at the bathroom door – surprised by how much he wanted to help, whereas usually he would just leave it to Dean – and then turned away, knowing he was no longer needed and that the boys were fine as long as they were together.
Dean sighed as he sensed John moving back into the main room. Still rubbing Sam's back – waiting for the kid to realize he was not winning this battle – Dean shook his head, slightly confused by the vibe he was getting from their father. It was as if John suddenly wanted to be involved in Sam's care, and that was just...
Dean shook his head again. He would figure it out later; right now he needed to focus on...
Dean's thoughts were abruptly interrupted as Sam lurched forward – finally allowing his body to do what it wanted to do – and violently retched into the sink.
"Whoa..." Dean commented; startled by the force with which Sam threw up. "Easy, kiddo."
Sam heaved again, watery vomit splattering in the sink, before he coughed and then sobbed in distress.
"Shhh...you're okay," Dean soothed and kept one hand on Sam's back as he turned on the faucet and watched the water swirl the mess down the drain.
Sam gasped noisily and then shuddered, his head bobbing forward.
Dean instantly slid his hand under Sam's bangs, blocking the kid from smacking his forehead on the faucet as the water continued to run.
Sam sagged into Dean's touch, and Dean frowned at the amount of heat radiating from his little brother; Sam's fever was definitely climbing.
Sam turned toward his brother's voice but then immediately turned back to the sink as he threw up once more. He coughed, then spit, then swallowed...then moaned deeply; his eyes squeezing shut and his hands curling into fists on the counter as a familiar, breath-stealing pain twisted his stomach.
Sam moaned again, his body trying to curl in on itself. "Deeeean..." ...make it better.
Dean felt a brief flutter of panic – the way he always did when Sam was in this much pain, was this sick – but then quickly pushed it down; reminding himself he could handle it.
"It's okay," Dean whispered, still supporting Sam's head as he carefully pulled his brother closer and smoothly slid his hand from the kid's back to his stomach. "Breathe through it," Dean instructed, not knowing he was repeating his father's words from earlier, and splayed his hand across Sam's rigid abdomen. "Just relax..." he continued to coach; his palm applying light pressure, his fingers gently coaxing the kid's tense stomach muscles to unknot.
John stood motionless in the main room, feeling helpless as he watched the current crisis unfold; wanting to help comfort his youngest but knowing Dean had it handled and would not-so-politely dismiss John if he intruded again.
Because while Dean undoubtedly appreciated John's efforts to care for Sam while he had been away, Dean was back now.
And taking care of Sam was Dean's job.
"You're such a good big brother, Dean," Mary had praised as she had sat in her hospital bed with Dean tucked beside her; the four-year old expertly holding newborn Sam. "Mommy and Daddy are proud of you," she had whispered into Dean's hair and then had beamed up at John as he had stood at her side. "He's a natural," she had proclaimed then; was reminding him now.
And John could not argue that fact. But his heart still ached in a way he could not describe.
John sighed and glanced around the room, looking for something to do to distract himself when he heard Dean's voice.
"Yeah," John immediately responded, more thankful than he would admit at the possibility of being needed in that moment.
"We're gonna hang out in here a few more minutes," Dean casually informed, even as he continued to hold Sam's head above the sink and gently massage his brother's stomach.
John nodded his understanding, his gaze flickering from Sam to Dean; vaguely aware of the role reversal; that he was the one waiting for orders.
"Do us a favor..." Dean's voice trailed off as Sam coughed harshly and then made a distressed sound; one of the kid's hands blindly reaching for his big brother. "I'm right here," Dean soothed, holding his brother impossibly closer against him.
The sound of Sam's harsh, shallow breathing mixed with the rush of running water, the gurgling drain.
Dean paused and then turned back to John. "Bring us the ginger ale and the liquid Tylenol from the grocery bag and then get a fresh shirt from Sam's duffle. And I also need my duffle in here, too."
John nodded again and turned back to the main room; listening to Dean murmur to Sam as he collected the requested items.
Dean was aware of their father moving in the room behind him but remained focused on his brother, feeling the kid's body gradually relax. "That's better," he praised, giving a final light pat to Sam's stomach. "Now rinse," Dean instructed, reaching around Sam to cup his hand under the running water and then holding it to his brother's lips.
Sam did was he was told – sipping just enough water to swish and spit – and then coughed.
"Easy." Dean shut off the water and carefully lifted Sam up and back, staring down at his brother and shaking his head. The kid was a mess. "Okay..." he sighed, reaching to close the toilet and then maneuvering Sam to sit on the lid. "Arms up."
Sam lifted his arms lethargically. "M'hot," he mumbled even as he shivered when Dean removed his sweaty, vomit-splattered shirt.
"I know," Dean agreed, tossing the t-shirt to join the other one on the floor and grabbing a hand towel from the rack above the toilet. "We'll take care of that in a minute," he assured as he turned to the sink, wetting half the fabric while keeping the other half dry, and then turned back to his brother.
Sam sat still, knowing that at 13, he should probably be embarrassed by being cleaned up like a baby by his big brother. But he felt miserable – could not even remember the last time he had been so sick – and was exhausted and strangely comforted by Dean's ministrations. Because no matter how bad he felt, Dean always made it better.
"I'm glad you're here."
Dean paused – always momentarily overwhelmed when Sam said things like that – and then smiled warmly. "No place I'd rather be, Sammy," he replied honestly and ruffled his brother's hair with the towel before tossing it on the floor with the other soiled rags and t-shirts.
Sam smiled tiredly, his gaze focusing beyond Dean as John returned and dropped Dean's duffle inside the bathroom's doorway.
John's eyes swept over his youngest and then back to Dean. "Everything okay?" he asked conversationally.
Dean nodded. "For now," he replied.
John arched an eyebrow, and Dean glanced at his brother; taking in the kid's slouched posture and closed eyes.
"He's just resting," Dean assured quietly and reached to take the Tylenol and small bottle of ginger ale from John's grasp.
"That was already opened," John reported, indicating the drink and sounding slightly concerned. "They all were."
"Yeah, I know," Dean agreed setting the bottle on the counter. "Flat ginger ale is best, so I went ahead and opened the entire six-pack when I bought them, so they'd be ready. And since Sam's gag reflex is pretty sensitive when he's like this, there's no way he's swallowing pills. So, that's why I always use this..." Dean further explained, holding up the bottle of liquid Tylenol and then expertly measuring a dose of medicine into the small plastic cup.
John nodded, having always known that Dean took good care of Sam but never realizing until that moment just how good; impressed that Dean literally thought of everything and paid attention to details that would not even cross John's mind. No wonder his oldest was such an excellent hunter.
Dean held the medicine cup up to the light – double-checking the dosage he knew by heart – and then turned to his brother, smiling affectionately as Sam's headed bobbed and the kid's eyes snapped open.
Dean chuckled. "Hey..."
Sam blinked owlishly up at his brother.
"Nice nap?" Dean asked, squatting down in front of Sam.
"Mmm," Sam sighed and then looked at the small cup in Dean's hand. He wrinkled his nose and swallowed, looking back at Dean and shaking his head.
Sam shook his head harder.
"Stop," Dean gently admonished, pinning his brother with a hard look. "I'm not asking you," he informed and handed the cup to Sam. "If your fever climbs any higher, you'll spontaneously combust, and that's not cool with me."
Sam stared at the cup in his grasp as if it would bite him. "What if – "
"It won't come back up," Dean interrupted confidently. "Liquid Tylenol with a ginger ale chaser is pretty much your signature cocktail when you're like this." Dean reached behind himself and grabbed the ginger ale bottle, unscrewing the cap as he turned back to Sam and pointed to the medicine. "Let's go."
John smiled softly, admiring how expertly Dean handled his little brother; reminded of the tough love Mary used to employ when dealing with a whiny Dean or a stubborn John.
Sam sighed loudly – clearly not enthused about this idea – and closed his eyes as he brought the cup to his lips and gulped it down; throwing his head back like the medicine was indeed a shot of liquor. Without opening his eyes, he exchanged the cup for the bottle of ginger ale and took a few cautious sips.
There was silence.
John held his breath, willing the liquid – all of the liquid – to stay down, while Dean looked unfazed.
There was more silence as Sam's face contorted in a way that John had seen a few hours earlier.
But even that did not ruffle Dean's composure.
"Think again, Sammy," Dean warned good-naturedly. "Don't you dare make a liar out of me. Keep it down, kiddo. You can do it."
And despite his concern, John smiled; strangely reminded of similar words said during many of the drinking games he used to play with his comrades while in the Marines; when he used to drink for fun instead of drinking to forget, to cope.
It seemed like a lifetime ago.
"You good?" Dean was asking Sam when John blinked back to the present.
Sam swallowed and nodded once, offering a small smile as he looked at his brother.
Dean smiled in return and patted Sam's knee. "Told you," he replied and took the ginger ale bottle from Sam. "Maybe later you can have some applesauce," Dean commented as he set the bottle on the counter.
Sam's smile widened and he nodded hopefully.
John tilted his head. He had seen the applesauce in the grocery bag – along with Gatorade and a few other items – and had wondered about its significance. But based on this exchange, applesauce was apparently another essential when Sam was sick.
Dean glanced at John and held out his hand toward his father.
John looked down, remembering he was holding a fresh shirt for Sam and passed the clothing to Dean.
"Thanks," Dean said distractedly, shaking the shirt out and then rolling up the hem to the neckline to pass over Sam's head.
"I can do it myself," Sam grumbled, making a half-hearted grab for his shirt.
John arched an eyebrow. That was certainly a good sign.
But Dean was unimpressed. "Good to know," he responded and slipped the shirt over Sam's head anyway. "How 'bout I let you do the arms like a big boy?"
Sam scowled; the expression weak and tired.
Dean laughed as he stood and watched Sam slowly put his arms through the sleeves and then reached to smooth down the front of his brother's shirt.
Sam glanced up at Dean through his fringe of bangs and gave a lopsided smile to which Dean answered with a wink.
John felt his heart constrict as he observed his boys interact; thinking how proud he was to be their father; how lucky and incredibly blessed he was to have them in his life; and how much he wished Mary could see them.
"Okay..." Dean sighed, turning to reach for his duffle resting just inside the bathroom's doorway. "I'm gonna change real quick, and then we'll get you to bed."
"I can do that," John asserted, surprising even himself. "You change, and I'll get Sam settled," he elaborated and nodded as his oldest looked at him.
There was silence.
Dean tilted his head slightly as though he was confused and then narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Christo," he whispered and then grinned to let his dad know he was joking.
Sam laughed softly, still sitting on the closed toilet behind Dean, and John shook his head, feigning annoyance.
"Very funny," John replied dryly and then smiled, displaying a rare glimpse at his own dimples; one of the few outward traits he had passed on to his youngest.
Dean and Sam smiled back at him, causing John's smile to widen; his heart overflowing with love for his boys; wondering what took him so long to realize how much he was missing by removing himself from this part of parenthood; and thankful that it seemed like Sam and Dean were willing to let him into this part of their lives, at least for night.
Dean held his father's gaze, still unsure what had caused John to suddenly want to be actively involved in caring for Sam – especially a sick Sam – but deciding to let it pass for now.
Although John had been remiss in not noticing Sam becoming ill, as far as Dean could tell, John had done well with Sam in the time since he had noticed and had thus slightly redeemed himself in Dean's eyes.
And amazingly enough, while Sam had seemed uneasy and embarrassed upon waking in John's arms a half hour ago, Sam seemed to be warming up to John as well; receptive to their father in a way Dean had not seen in years.
Dean sighed and turned to his brother. "You good?"
Dean returned the nod. "Good. Let's stay that way when you stand up, okay?"
Sam nodded again and allowed Dean to pull him to his feet.
Dean watched his brother as the kid stood in front of him, narrowing his eyes when Sam swallowed hard. If the kid swallowed more than three times back-to-back, there would be trouble.
But Sam only swallowed once and then exhaled shakily, looking up at Dean.
"Still good?" Dean checked.
"Yeah," Sam answer quietly and yawned.
Dean smiled softly, wrapping his arm around his brother's shoulders and shuffling the kid the few steps to the bathroom door; handing him off to John. "Take it slow," he advised, his eyes meeting his father's.
John nodded his understanding that while Sam seemed okay at the moment, the kid's condition was still fragile.
Sam sighed, seeming oblivious to the silent communication literally occurring over his head, and yawned again; actually leaning into his father's touch when John wrapped his arm around Sam's shoulders and steered the kid toward the beds.
Dean watched his father and brother for a few seconds before shutting the bathroom door halfway; still providing light in the main room and still allowing him to hear what was going on, in case he was needed.
Sam yawned once more as John eased him down to sit on the edge of the mattress.
"Still good?" John asked, crouching down to be eye level with his youngest.
Sam nodded and blinked sluggishly, already half asleep.
John smiled warmly, just staring at his youngest son; hoping Sam knew how much he loved him.
Sam stared back, tears suddenly rimming his eyes.
John frowned. "What's wrong?"
Sam shook his head. "Nothing. Just..." He swallowed, overwhelmed by how loved his father had made him feel over the past few hours. "Thanks, Dad," he whispered and closed his eyes as tears slipped down his flushed cheeks.
John felt the sting of tears in his own eyes and reached for Sam, gently folding his son into a hug and holding his child against his chest; the gesture conveying more than words ever could...especially since John Winchester was not good with matching emotions and words.
Light spread further into the main room as Dean, freshly changed into his sleep clothes, opened the bathroom door and froze; taking in the scene across the room.
Sam opened his eyes and blinked at his brother.
"Sammy..." Dean called; concern evident in his tone when he saw the glisten of tears on his brother's face. "You okay?"
Because no matter how much family bonding they had accomplished over the past few hours, if John had said or done something to upset Sam...
Sam sniffled and nodded as John eased him back; his father giving a final rub to his thin arms before standing and facing Dean, who had crossed to the bed.
"He's fine," John assured and cleared his throat. "We were just having...what do you call it? A 'chick-flick moment'?"
Dean's gaze flickered from John to Sam, his expression relaxing as he realized everything was indeed okay; that Sam was not upset about something bad but was just being his normal emo self.
"Yeah, Sammy will suck you into a chick-flick moment like that," Dean agreed and snapped his fingers for emphasis. "Won't you, Sammy?"
Sam gave a watery smile and wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand even has tears continued to flow. He sighed shakily and looked up at Dean, seeming confused and on the verge of becoming even more upset because he could not stop crying.
Dean smiled; the expression surprisingly tender. Because a sick, overly tired Sam had always resulted in an overly emotional Sam.
"You're okay," Dean soothed, brushing Sam's bangs away from his eyes. "You're just tired."
Sam nodded and ducked his head, sniffling and swallowing; making an obvious effort to pull himself together.
Dean glanced at the bedside table, double-checking the placement of the ice bucket just in case, and nodded his thanks to John before closing the gap between himself and his brother.
"Alright, kiddo..." Dean sighed, one hand gently pushing against Sam's chest. "Get settled and calm down, huh? We have an ice bucket, but we don't wanna use it...am I right?"
Sam gave another watery smile and nodded, understanding Dean's message; to calm down before he got sick again.
Dean watched as Sam laid back and situated himself; his little brother wallowing his head on the pillow to get comfortable and then closing his eyes with a shaky sigh.
Dean smiled affectionately – because he loved this kid so damn much – and pulled up the sheet and comforter from the tangled mess on the floor and covered Sam, who was already asleep.
There was silence as Dean and John stood side-by-side staring down at their youngest.
"Thanks for taking care of him," Dean said softly.
John nodded; appreciative of his sons' gratitude and yet saddened that they both felt they had to thank him for something he should have been doing as their father all these years.
"My pleasure," John replied quietly; not knowing what to say and hoping that response did not sound too formal or detached.
Dean quirked a smile and nodded, seeming to understand.
There was more silence.
"Well..." Dean sighed. "Guess I'll clean the bathroom and then – "
"No," John interrupted, shaking his head. "I'll do that. You've been driving all night, and besides...Sam needs you. I'll handle the bathroom."
Dean arched an eyebrow, tempted to whisper "Christo" again. "You sure?" he asked instead.
"I'm sure," John affirmed and roughly patted Dean's back – a masculine display of love and affection – and then nodded toward the bed.
Dean hesitated for only a moment before crossing to the other side and carefully climbing in beside his brother; lifting his arm as Sam automatically rolled towards him and sighed.
Dean paused – making sure Sam was still asleep and settled – before relaxing into his own pillow and pulling the blankets higher over himself and his brother.
Sam shifted and snuggled even closer into Dean's side; his head resting on Dean's broad chest as his small hand grasped the amulet mere inches from his face.
Dean smiled softly – always touched when Sam reverted to that childhood gesture of comfort – and glanced up at their father.
John shook his head and quietly chuckled. "He still does that?"
"Only when he's sick, hurt, or really tired," Dean reported and lightly rubbed Sam's back through the blankets as the kid shifted again in his sleep.
John nodded in the silence as he continued to stare at the gold charm clutched within his youngest son's hand.
The amulet was undeniably significant to Sam and Dean's relationship, but John had always wondered about its origin. When he had returned from a hunt one Christmas a few years ago, Dean had been wearing it – "Sam gave it to me" being the only explanation John had received – and his oldest had worn it ever since.
John blinked as Dean sighed.
"Night, Dad..." Dean called softly and closed his eyes; his arm protectively wrapped around Sam.
"Night..." John returned quietly and crossed to the bathroom; lingering in the doorway as he glanced back at his sons sleeping peacefully together.
"They love you," Mary had told him as she had stared at him sleepily from her hospital bed, watching as John had sat in the nearby chair; one arm holding a four-year old Dean while the other had cradled a newborn Sam; both children asleep.
"You think so?" John had asked and had grinned back at his wife.
"I know it," Mary had responded confidently and had smiled warmly; had been exhausted from delivering Sam only hours earlier but had been too overcome with joy to sleep. "They love you," she had repeated, as if she had known even then that John would be unsure of that fact. "They love you...and so do I," she had told him.
And she was reminding him even now.
Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!
There will definitely be more caring, awesome John in the future...'cause I think I'm hooked.