Prompt: Oh, Dean. It started off as just a cold -- annoying, but he can deal with it. And then there's a freak thunderstorm and maybe a tornado warning and the closest refuge is the animal shelter. On cat adoption day.
The windows on the far wall went bright, illuminated for a single second. “Thunder,” Dean whispered instinctively. Before he could start counting, he saw the little turtle stick its head out from under the rocks to stare at him. “Thunder?” Dean repeated. “Is that your name, little guy?” Its head raised a bit further, long brownish-green neck straining. Then the clap of thunder sounded and its head ducked back down.
“Yeah,” Dean said, glancing around. “I don’t blame you, buddy.” He leaned back against the wall, feeling the familiar tickle rising up in his nose. “huff-KUHTchuhh! h'KITCh! H’Chish!”
* * *
Dean had a cold. It wasn’t much of a cold any more. It wasn’t a big deal, really. He’d fought his way through the worst of it while fighting a couple of ghosts about a hundred miles down the road. But the hunt wasn’t done just yet.
Neither was the cold, for that matter. The usually empty seat in the Impala beside Dean now held everything he needed to keep going. A cup of coffee and a glazed donut in a carryout container. A badly-folded road map. A jumbo-sized bottle of Aspirin. A bag of cough drops. And two boxes of tissues—both open. Without taking his eyes off the road for more than a second, he swung his arm over, pulled out a tissue, and brought it to his nose. A painful routine of wiping and sniffling and wincing and swearing commenced. He’d sneezed so much he’d rubbed his nose raw over the past week. And even though the worst of it seemed to be over, his nose still ran, his throat still tickled, and, yeah, he still sneezed some. “heeee-EHChuhhhh! EpTuush! Ah… damn it.” Dean tossed the soggy tissue into the backseat and pulled out a new one to blow his runny nose into. It felt like this was never going to stop.
How was he to have known the cold was going to hang on for a whole damn week? For that matter, how was he to have known the ghost wife’s beloved wedding ring had been sold at an auction a year ago so the salt and burn of her bones wouldn’t work? And, while he was at it, how was he to have known there would be a sudden thunderstorm today?
Okay, okay, he could have checked the weather report that morning before checking out of the motel and putting foot to pedal, rubber to road. But nothing could have predicted the storm would come on so quickly and so strangely. Dean had seen a lot of thunderstorms in his time, and this one was like nothing he’d ever encountered.
It was only two in the afternoon when everything had gone dark. Storm clouds rolling in turned the sky a sickly, unnatural yellow. Then the wind had picked up. And up. And up some more. Unsafe didn’t begin to describe the driving conditions. So Dean pulled off the interstate onto a local highway. The trees on either side cut some of the wind but caused a whole new set of problems. Leaves blown off the trees littered the road so he almost missed a turn. Add in rain that fell hard and fast, whipped around by wind in every direction, and you had pretty much zero visibility out on the road. The impala’s windshield wipers were going as fast as they could, but Dean still found himself hunched forward, squinting, trying to figure out where he was going at twenty miles an hour. Then fifteen. Then five.
Rain pelted the car from all directions. Sometimes he hit a dip in the road or a pothole and water drenched the side of the car like a wave. He switched off the tape deck and the blaring melodies of Metallica were replaced by the harsh, hard rain and by his own miserable sniffling. He grabbed another tissue and, instead of wiping his nose again, he rubbed it against the inside of the windshield, which was fogging up. That helped, but he still couldn’t really see.
Then came the tree. A bolt of lightning tore straight down the center of it, cracking it into two fiery halves and tipping it onto the road in front of the car. Dean had only a moment to react, but lightning only ten feet away wasn’t the kind of thing you could easily miss. He swerved into the other lane, and the car hydroplaned.
It skidded to a stop, but only after diving straight into a ditch. Dean slammed the car into reverse, making the wheels just spin uselessly. At an angle, only two of its wheels even touched the ground, and one of those was more in a pool of water than actually on the road. Dean dragged his sleeve against the driver’s side window, wiping off the fog and condensation. He could make out a few freestanding buildings—the outskirts of the town. With any luck, one was a garage that would be able to tow his baby out and put her right.
Dean glanced over at the passenger seat. The coffee had of course spilled over everything, though one of the tissue boxes was doing a good job of sopping the spill up already. Dean grabbed a fistful of tissues from the other box, stuffed them in his jacket pocket, threw open the door, and made a run for it.
Halfway between the car and the buildings, he stopped in his tracks. Off in the distance, he could see a dark, angry funnel spinning recklessly toward the town. Swearing, Dean not only ran but sprinted.
As he got closer to the buildings, he saw what they were. The one on the right side of the street was a sheriff’s station; the giant gold star on the sign waving back and forth madly in the strong wind was a dead giveaway. On the other side of the street there was a small parking lot filled with cars, several of which were so tall they almost blocked the sign in the window advertising pet adoptions. Cops or dogs—that was his choice.
Lighting flashed right in front of him, followed shortly by a deafening crash of thunder. In a second, Dean made his decision and bolted for the door. He threw it open and stumbled inside… much to the surprise of the families, employees, and animals huddled inside. He stood just inside for a moment, rain running down his face and clothes and dripping onto the floor, breath and heart both racing, eyes adjusting from natural to florescent lights. Then he raised his hand to his nose, scrubbed with the back of his hand, and sniffed. “You’re going to need to board up this door. There’s a tornado headed this way.”
Looking back on that moment days later, Dean realized telling everyone that had been a mistake. The twister had been at the forefront of his thoughts at the time and if he had been able to get in so easily, he figured the tornado would have it just as easy. What he hadn’t counted on was the mass hysteria the mere mention of a tornado would cause inside the place he’d just chosen to take cover. Animals were already barking or squawking or howling, children were already crying, adults were already worried. His words only amped up the levels of panic by a few hundred percent. There were screams and shrieks, shouts and yells. People started running every which way, and the animals seemed to be in everyone’s way.
Dean found himself a safe enough spot against a side wall and tried to stay out of the way when people pushed through with plywood, hammers, and nails. Standing next to a shelving unit of glass aquariums was probably a bad choice as well, but at least he was out of the chaos going on in the center of the room. Animals that had been out of their cages ran free. Children wailed uncontrollably. Static blared on a portable radio someone was trying to find a station on. Compared to all that, death by broken glass seemed pretty good.
After about fifteen minutes, the animal shelter employees had things in order once again. Children were calmed. Parents were worried but silent. And animals were rounded up. Apparently, everyone had gathered in this part of the building for safety, as the halls and rooms leading off of this big room all had windows. People were herding animals in from all sides. But Dean didn’t notice the biggest threat at first.
He might have noticed right away if a volunteer hadn’t come over to him with a blanket for him. Feeling soaked straight through, he accepted the blanket at once. It didn’t really dry him off, but it was a warm layer against cool air and did stop his shivering, which was something. His toes curled in his boots. His arms wrapped around his middle in a tight hug. He was as warm as he could be… which wasn’t very. But between braving the storm in his car in a ditch at the side of a road and this place, he would still choose this place, even with the headache all the barking and mewing was causing.
Meowing. Dean looked around now, looking for something in particular and finding it. Finding them. So many of them.
Cats were everywhere. Actual cages, carriers, even cardboard boxes—all filled with hissing or crying or mewling cats. Some were curled in the arms of people in the large room. Others ran free or huddled in corners, shaking. Dean might have felt some kinship with those ones if he didn’t hate cats so much.
Because that’s when it happened: his nose started to tickle with a sudden, fiery, maddening fierceness. He pulled a hand out from under the blanket to rub at his nose, his rough knuckles and rings rubbing against his already sore, red nose. That did nothing but hurt. He fished in his jacket pocket for the tissues he’d stashed there and found nothing but a soggy mess. Desperate, he lifted his arm to sneeze into the crook, burying his nose in the blanket that was still wrapped around him. “h’Chiff! huhShuhh! H’Shihh! Heh-SChuhh! H’Kitchhh!” The sneezes were strong and fast, rapid fire. Instead of relieving some of the tickle, each one irritated his nose and made him feel like sneezing even more. “heh-Ketchhh! h'chffff! ehhKschhh! Hitchuhh! HEHTChhhhh!”
He gasped for breath and nuzzled his face to the side, searching for a drier spot on the blanket to rub his runny, tickly nose into before snapping forward again. “HEHPTshhhh! H’shhhh! Heh-Ketchhh! heh-Chshhh! ehhShuhhh!”
He lifted his head, blinking blearily but angrily at the cats. This was all their fault. “heh-KTchhhh!” With their fluffy little tails. “hehhh-KIHTchhh!” And their furry little paws. “h’Ktchihh!” And their innocent little eyes. ”huh… huh-TShhh!” And their… little bodies all curled in up blankets that looked a hell of a lot like the one wrapped around his shoulders right now. “Oh shihh… hih-IHShhh!”
Dean pulled off the blanket and, shivering, tossed it aide. Then he retreated back into the corner as much as he could, hands both up and covering his nose and mouth now. The wind and rain struck the animal shelter with merciless fury. The animals and people inside were still noisy. But all he could hear was the sound of his own sneezes. “ihhShuhh! H’Kshhh! Heh… hehShuhhh! Huh… huhchhh!”
Finally, the sneezes started to back off. Instead of one every five seconds, they came at one every twenty, then one a minute. His head throbbed. His nose burned. His eyes itched. But he could breathe again. Just in time for the storm to get worse.
The turtle’s nose poked out from its shell, followed by the rest of its head and its insanely long neck. It looked around, as if surveying the scene and wondering why everyone was crammed into this room all at once. Then it looked back at Dean, as if nodding at him with sympathy.
Dean blinked at the turtle, his mouth open behind his hands, nostrils twitching. “huhh-Shuhhhhh!” The little turtle did not retreat and, instead, moved forward toward Dean. Maybe it was hopeful. Or concerned. Or maybe just mildly curious. Probably not a lot of people with cat allergies wandered into an animal shelter on cat adoption day.
“heh… huh-Chshuhhhh!” Dean sniffed wetly and rubbed his nose on his jacket cuff, even though it was wet from the rain still. His nose stung at the touch and he shivered, almost wishing he’d kept hold of the blanket. Almost. “huh-KShishhhh!”
Just as he sneezed, the lights went out. That wasn’t his fault, though the timing made him laugh. The townspeople freaking out now in the darkness wouldn’t be able to see him in the almost total darkness or hear him above the sounds of everyone freaking out and the sound of the storm raging outside. In a perfect world, Dean would step up. He would take charge and save them all; he had faced much worse in his life than a little bad weather. But between the cold and his intense allergy, he could barely keep from sneezing every minute.
“hah… hah-KTShhhh! HuhChuhhh! Huhshhhhh!” At least the darkness kept everyone from watching him when he sneezed. So maybe that was a fortunate turn of events.
Then the emergency generator kicked in, and dim light flooded the room just above the doors. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to see by. “Everyone remain calm!” shouted one of the animal shelter employees who didn’t look at all calm as he held a frightened, shaking cat against his chest. Dean looked over at the turtle, which had managed to walk like a ninja all the way to the side of its aquarium, as close to Dean as it could get without passing through the glass walls.
Just then, a station came in clear on the radio, and they all listened to the alert, despite the rattling the building was doing and the great roar just outside. Any moment now, the roof would fly off or one of the walls would come crashing down. “hehh-Uhshhhh! Shehhhh!” And, when that happened, Dean would be helpless to stop it, just as he was helpless against his sneezes. Dean Winchester did not like being helpless. “hehh-KTchhhhh!”
“…is changing course and heading north…” Dean heard on the radio, followed by cheers from several people in the room, which set off excited barking from a half dozen of the dogs. After a minute, the rattling stopped and the roar outside died down as well. Dean stood in the animal shelter, sniffly, shivery, and perfectly safe now.
It was that same feeling he got after a hard salt and burn or after taking down a demon or creature that had fought him every step in the way. It was relief rushing through him, telling him he’d dodged yet another bullet, but he couldn’t expect it to keep going like this forever… certainly not if he kept at it alone.
“hehhhShuhh! Hershoooo!” He rubbed at his nose, sniffling. The danger might have passed, but the tickle was still there. “hehhShuhh! ehhhKShhhh! Ktchhh!”
An employee passed by him, two ginger kittens in her arms. Dean watched in horror as the woman stopped just a few paces away and then turned and came back to him. “Are you okay?”
Dean nodded. And sneezed. “hehhKTschhh! H’shuhhh!” He was sick with a cold he hadn’t been able to shake yet while on a hunt alone. His car was stuck in a ditch and probably too banged up to drive. And he was trapped in a building with furballs that made him sneeze. But nothing was actively trying to maul him. So, yeah, he was definitely okay. He cleared his throat—four times—then pointed his thumb toward the turtle tank. “H’shhuhh! How much, sniff, for this little guy?”
Two days later, Dean was lifting Thunder out of the bathtub in his cheap motel room. He ignored it dripping on the obnoxious shag carpeting as he carried it out to the car. He set the turtle down on the passenger seat, which he had cleared off. The turtle sat, motionless, its legs inside its shell but its head stuck out so it could look around. It nodded its head slightly, as if approving of what he could see. What the turtle couldn’t see was that the Impala’s front and side were pretty well smashed, but it wasn’t anything Dean couldn’t fix after a weekend at Bobby’s. First, though, they had a wedding ring to track down and a ghost to get rid of. “Hope you like Metallica, buddy,” Dean said, turning the tape deck on and hitting the road.