Title: Daddy’s Little Soldier
Notes: Written for sexualoddity’s Sneezy Supernatural Boys Appreciation Society comment meme
Prompt: I'd love to see a fic where John comes down with a cold. Young Dean and Sam worry about him. And it's up to Dean to take care of Sam (because John can't do it) and take care of his dad as well.
Daddy’s Little Soldier
Dean wakes from his nap to find Sammy tugging at his sleeve. “Wha..?”
Sam’s been playing with some army men and they’re spread out across the seat and floor mats like he’s been preparing for some battle Dean’s just woken up in the middle of. Dean tries not to upset any of them as he stretches.
“Why’d you wake me?”
Sam looks warily from Dean beside him to the front seat of the car where their dad sits. He tries to explain without words, eyes wide, head cocked to the side. But Dean doesn’t get it.
Not until John takes a hand off the steering wheel and coughs wetly into his fist. And then Dean understands. Dad’s sick. And not the kind of sick he gets after a night of drinking. Dean nods at Sam, who seems to relax a little now that he’s told his big brother about the problem. Dean’s supposed to be able to fix anything.
Dean thinks about what to do for a while. Dad doesn’t get sick often. Once in a while he’ll have a headache or he catches something Dean or Sam brings home from school. But he never complains, never admits he’s sick.
“hurrrh-EHTChooo!” His sneeze is sort of like a shout, with voice and emotion behind it. He sounds miserable. And Dean isn’t exactly sure what to do. Whenever Sammy gets sick, Dean holds him in bed to let him know he’s not alone, stroking his hair back from a hot forehead or rubbing an upset tummy. He gives Sam the red syrup every six hours like clockwork and helps him blow his nose. He makes tomato soup with rice when Sam’s cold and makes sure he drinks plenty of orange juice when he’s weak and sniffly. But he can’t do that with Dad. Dad’s supposed to be old enough to look after himself.
He doesn’t know how Dad’s going to react if he says anything. When Dad’s sick after being drunk it’s best to stay as quiet as possible. Over the years, Dean’s perfected the technique of getting Sam to fall asleep quickly. But when Dad’s the normal sort of sick, it’s hard to tell what Dad needs.
“Dad?” he says tentatively. When there’s no answer, he speaks up louder. “Dad?”
John coughs and glances over his shoulder. “What is it?”
Dean isn’t sure what to say. He takes a deep breath. “Are you all right?”
John clears his throat. “M’fine, son.” There’s finality in his tone. He doesn’t want to talk about it. But he doesn’t snap at Dean about it either.
Sam looks up at Dean, worried. Dean hands Sam a book, glad the kid’s taken to reading lately, even things he’s read before. He ruffles Sam’s hair, trying to keep things light.
An hour later, they stop at a gas station for refueling. “Dad, Sammy and I are going to the bathroom.”
“Keep an eye on your brother,” John says with a nod. But his voice is rough and raspy and his nose is red. “We’re leaving in ten. No poking around in there. Got a tight cough schedule. Hah.. hah-URSchooo!” John rubs his nose on his sleeve and punches the fuel grade button on the pump.
Dean shakes it quickly then plants Sam in the bathroom. He’s got about five minutes, maybe six if Sam spends a good long time washing his hands the way Dean taught him to. He’s got a few dollars of pocket change, which he usually saves for the times Dad takes off without leaving them enough to eat. Because Sammy eats more than a boy his age should. Now, he spends it all but seventeen cents. He takes Sammy by the hand and walks him back to the impala while Dad’s inside paying for the gas. Dean leaves a pack of tissues on the driver’s seat.
It’s for John to use, but it’s also a test. John notices them, breaks open the pack and rubs one at his nose. He adjusts the rear view mirror so he can look at Dean. Their gazes meet for a second. He doesn’t say a word, just coughs and clears his throat and coughs again. Then he starts the car up and gets them back on the road. Dean considers it a victory.
When they get to a rest stop, Dean leaves a bottle of Tylenol on the seat. And after that, a bag of cough drops.
John doesn’t feel like eating when they reach town and check into a motel. He gives Dean a twenty and tells him to go get some fast food. He collapses onto the bed, coughing. Dean comes back with a full belly, a Sammy ready for bed, and a cup of soup from the diner down the street. John doesn’t say anything, but he eats most of it.
And after Dean tucks Sam in for the night, John climbs off the bed and puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “Dean… look after your brother. I’ve gotta go out for a little bit. There’s a job… hah-hah-ERTCHHHH!” He cups his hand to his face then rubs at his forehead and his cheek. The scratch of skin against stubble seems louder than it ought to.
Dean pulls away, digs through his dad’s duffle bag, finds his dad’s pajamas beneath the guns, and holds them out. There’s a lot he wants to say. He wants to tell Dad not to go, because Dad’s not up to hunting right now and could get hurt… or killed. He wants to tell Dad this whole tough act is stupid, because everyone needs a little help now and then. He wants to tell Dad he’ll make him soup and get him orange juice or whatever else he needs if Dad would just tell him what that is. But all he does is hold out the pajamas and hope Dad gets the message.
John considers. For a full minute he stands there. Then he takes the clothes and heads to the bathroom to change and wash up.
Knowing he can’t tuck Dad into bed the way he does Sammy, Dean double-checks the locks on the door, makes sure the salt line is intact around the door and on the windowsill. He fixes the thermostat to make it warmer in the room. And he finds the extra blanket and pillow in the room’s closet, putting them on his father’s bed.
Dean climbs into bed next to Sam and listens to the sounds of Dad coughing and sneezing, muffled through the bathroom door, almost masked by running water. He listens as the man stumbles through the room and collapses into bed again. And he stays awake until the coughs and snuffles go away, replaced by loud snores.