Title: Apple A Day
Rating: PG - wee!&teen!chesters - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: Dean is a little too good at hiding just how bad the flu can get...
John stared down at the dinner that he had told his boys several times to start eating.
Sipping what was left of his coffee he sat back in an effort to get away from the smells wafting off the table. A cooled bucket of fried chicken looked about as appealing as the white globs of congealed grease collected on its rim. The tub of cold mashed potatoes would have been paste like at its finest, but was now a hard lump under a layer of watery gravy. It had all been too hot to even hold when he was taking it from the restaurant doors to the car. The ten minute drive two days before the New Year had leached all the heat from the packaged food and his body.
He considered taking another couple of those comas in pill form to get him through the night.
The cool blue gel tablets promised relief for all your flu like symptoms and some chemically induced sleep on top of that. But at this stage of the over the counter medication abuse game, all John got was a slight decrease in headache and a fleeting respite of sinus pressure pounding behind his eyes. He watched Sam drag a sleeve under a runny nose and Dean start another fit of harsh coughing into the elbow of his flannel. It was thoughtful for Sammy to try to sneeze into one of the take out napkins but holding it in your hands and actually holding it over your mouth were too completely different accomplishments. He reconsidered Dean’s glazed eyes and flushed face. Asking him point blank if he was sick was superfluous. John only wanted to know what gradient of illness he was dealing with.
“You goin’ to school tomorrow?”
“Yes, sir.” Dean rasped, his sore throat turning his voice into a strained whisper.
John finished the rest of his coffee while studying the bloodshot eyes and hectic red splotches on his son's cheeks. If a day of insufferable school was still an option that meant Dean was still in the green.
Substantially more alert, Sam absently chewed on a rock like biscuit while leaning back to watch the television in the adjoining room. John had made a demonstrative show of putting a breast and a wing on his plate but he hadn’t touched either. He didn’t have much more than rank to pull when he nudged the card board container towards his oldest.
Dean wasn’t as conveniently seated as his ten year old brother was. Sitting back in the corner, he couldn’t pretend to tolerate family time by actually watching the weekend highlights on ESPN. He was slumped down in his chair and slowly rotating his empty plate with his fingertips. John kicked Sammy’s chair to snap his attention off the babbling blare of the tube.
Sam tossed down the shabby diversion of a biscuit and irritably yanked the bucket in his direction. With a little more vigor than absolutely necessary he grabbed a chicken leg and bit down hard into it. Savagely shaking it back and forth in his mouth he let the bone fall while he gnawed what came loose. As the kid chomped, he added some dramatic animalistic growls to further his point of dissatisfaction. John felt a grin coming on at the display of abidance that was so perfectly combined with a not so subtle suggestion that John could go fuck himself. But he efficiently stowed his amusement. Showing any genuine appreciation for inventive subversion only encouraged more of the same.
His attention went back to his teen that still hadn’t started to dig in.
“Not gonna taste any better later.”
As soon as John sighed he knew he had unwittingly given the unspoken signal that the parental skirmish was over. Dean was already sitting back to cough more comfortably in his seat and Sam had dropped his half demolished chicken leg. His older brother’s accepted insurrection a sure sign that the coast was now clear to jump on the band wagon.
“I’m not hungry either.” Sam informed him.
“If no one’s hungry than you two can bring in all that inventory from out back.” He stood up and calculated how long it would take to get more coffee and park it back behind his desk. “Didn’t buy all that ammo just to let the ice at it.”
John left them both to a collective groan of discontent.
He didn’t have to turn around to know his youngest was standing in the door.
John knew the tread of that step better than a finger print. The large oak table he’d made into a desk was brightly lit by a single lamp. It was the only light in the room and it made his strained eyes ache when he shifted his gaze off the bright pages and into the murk behind him.
“Those dishes done?”
“No hot water.” Sam mumbled. “Dean’s using the shower.”
“Good things come to those who wait.”
John shook his head. He couldn’t stand hearing the canned pearls of wisdom that came out of his mouth sometimes. It was one long series of mindless assurances and adages to ease, reprimand or simply move his mouth to hand out any answer at all. Stretching back in his chair, he gave his youngest son a look and realized that the continued linger in the doorway was slightly unusual.
“I don’t wanna wait.” Sam said. “He’s taking forever.”
John glanced at his watch.
“Leave him alone.”
“Don’t worry about it.” John murmured tiredly as he flipped a page. “You’ll understand in a few years.”
Unless the universe as he knew it had up and rearranged its laws since he sat down to do some research, there was no real call for action. There were always legitimate reasons for a teenager to spend excessive amounts of time in the locked sanctity of a bathroom. Although, from the sound of that hacking cough John thought his boy was most likely just practicing a desperate home remedy of scalding steam to regain the fun of breathing.
Sam had tentatively wandered over and situated himself between John’s desk and lap. Pulling the book to the side, it allowed room to take a seat on his knee and not block the view. Turning another page, he slid an arm around Sam’s waist and pulled the boy’s slight weight back up against his chest. Neither one of his sons sought physical contact very often but when they did he didn’t go calling attention to its rarity. He knew better than to tease a kid about quietly expressing the humiliating desire to be held.
Sam still always smelled vaguely like the day he’d come home from the hospital. Some mixture of pleasant warmth and whatever exactly home was. Shoving the uncomfortable nostalgia aside, John noted that the kid happened to be nice and toasty too. The heating in the place was as effective as the front door’s measly single bolt lock and John had no compunctions about using any available spawn as a blanket. Suddenly wondering if Sam’s loud sniffling might be accompanied by something more insidious like a fever, he slipped a hand over his forehead.
A little overheated but no reason to pull over.
He thought it was interesting how things had changed over the past year in regards to his boys. The younger one that had always enjoyed cruising solo realized that he had only liked it when it was on his own terms. As soon as his older brother started the abrupt turn into the moodiest days of adulthood, Sammy had suddenly found himself on the other side of a lot of locked doors. John had noticed a concentrated effort on Sam’s part to start forcibly acquiring his brother’s attention whenever the opportunity presented itself. He had spotted the kid a few times hanging around the sink while Dean was painfully trying to perfect the new act of shaving. Talking to a captive audience was better than no audience at all.
Although John wasn’t finished with the passage of pre-renaissance Catholic exorcism, his kid was already turning the page to get to the elaborate cross sectioned diagrams the footnotes promised. He let him do it, liking what passed for picture books to one of his sons. There was always a hidden held pride that the average tomes for children held little to no interest for Sammy at all. There was a keen fascination in things that John privately felt the same wonder for. He respected hearing the complicated ensuing questions just as much as he dreaded acknowledging the fact that he couldn’t always answer.
He looked at his watch again.
Dean had been in that damn bathroom for going on an hour.
As much as he didn’t want to think about it, there was the disquieting knowledge that the time would soon come that simple privacy wasn’t going to cut it anymore. He rubbed his aching forehead at the idea that he might actually have to have a detailed discussion about contraception with a child that used to beg to be picked up and carried in his arms. John’s thoughts wandered to Dean carefully shaving in front of the mirror. Not many traces of that child left these days. His other son seemed to read exactly what was on his mind.
“He was taking a shower.” Sam supplied. “Then he started taking a bath.”
John shared the look of confusion that was on Sam’s face.
Dean wasn’t really a soak in the tub kind of guy unless a good injury needed attention. Even if it was some new relaxing hobby complete with cucumber slices, he didn’t want to pay some outrageous water bill on the odd chance that they would ever receive one. John walked down the short hallway with Sam trailing closely behind. The ten year old was correct, the hiss of the shower was missing and the thunderous sound of water pounding down onto the ceramic was the only noise.
“Time’s up.” John knocked sharply so there would be no question of being heard. “Save some water for the rest of the planet.”
So much for fostering a young adult’s inherent right to solitude.
Opening the door let out a roiling cloud of steam so thick that the hallway fire alarm immediately went off. John stepped onto the wet tile, waving his arm in front of his face like he’d walked into a room filled with smoke. The first thing he saw was that the shower curtain was down.
The sheet was still new enough to make the smell of soap and humidity mix with its chemical plastic reek. Two steps closer and John saw the reason for the bath. The wire shelf that hung from the shower head had fallen, striking the plunger on its impact and switching the valve to the bath tap. Quickly getting down on his knees, he didn’t like how still Dean’s sprawled body was under the drape of opaque plastic, the scald of the water filling the tub only a few inches while it was in a steady process of draining. Sam’s voice was small behind him.
“It’s fine, it’s okay…” Flinging the dripping plastic away, he slid a hand under his son’s neck to check for any damage. All he could feel was a nice sized bump at the base of his skull. “Just hit his head, that’s all.”
It was like any other stream of comfort or fake confidence he gave when his children had none. Twisting the scorching faucet in the opposite direction, he sat Dean’s limp body up and stopped him from falling forward any further with a supporting arm across his chest. The water briskly went from steaming to icy, cutting the overwhelming heat billowing in the room. John’s mind allowed the thought of the same situation happening with the drain stopper firmly in place. The tub slowly filling while his son lay comatose on his back. The steady rise of water while his father sat one room away and read a goddamn book—
The first face full of startling frigid water did the trick.
Dean’s shocked inhale was followed by a fit of coughing so brutal that John had to double the grip on the heaving chest under his forearm. John wasn’t sure if it actually helped in these circumstances, but he supplied a few good hard claps on the back just in case. He stopped pummeling the kid with aid when it seemed like Dean was wheezing just fine on his own. Adrenaline stopped humming in his head long enough to realize that he was kneeling painfully on the curtain rod.
John had to smile a little at the baffled look his boy was regarding him with.
“Yer supposed to make it hot. Not crank it up like a boiler room and pass out.”
Sam was hopping from foot to foot with the discarded curtain rod in his hands.
“Go fill up a bag with some ice.”
The kid was gone before he could add anything else.
“Hold tight for a sec.” John said when Dean finally figured out where he was and decided he should get up.
Pulling a towel off the counter he got his son up onto unsteady feet and pulled the terry cloth over most of him so his body didn’t plunge into any more shock as soon as they left the temperate confines of the room. Holding him under the arms and one knee, he lifted him out of the tub. He thought briefly about skipping all pretenses and just picking the kid up all the way like he wanted to. One look at Dean’s aggravation at being even partly assisted naked towards his bedroom put the brakes on that idea real quick.
Passing under the steady screech of the deceived fire alarm, John yanked the cover down and pulled the battery. The sudden silence did a lot to soothe what was left of his sparking tension.
Sam was waiting at the ready with the ice pack which Dean grabbed himself to press with a wince to the back of his head. John pulled up the wadded blankets and frowned at the shivering Dean was doing along with the burning temperature of his skin. Some fluids and some meds would bring the fever down. Some decent sleep usually did the rest of the magic required. If that didn’t seem like enough by tomorrow then it was time to take a field trip to a doctor.
Knowing what a shot of almighty Nyquil could achieve, John watched his son choke it down along with a full glass of water. From the look on his face, the stuff might as well been battery acid on his scratchy throat.
“Get some sleep.”
Dean was already half way there.
Closing the door behind him, he saw his ten year old standing uncertainly in the dark of the hallway.
“I’d tell you, dad.” Sam mumbled angrily. “I’d tell you if I felt bad.”
John let a rough hand exasperate Sammy further by messing up the already fantastical tangle of his hair.
“I know, kiddo.”