Betas: calamitycrow, sleepwalker1015, and Carlos (who still doesn't have an LJ)
Fandom/Genre: Supernatural, Gen, hurt/comfort, pre-series
Rating: R for language, fairly graphic violence and medical discussions
Word Count 7,265
Prompt:# 6: John, Dean (gen): After having been really, really sick or badly injured (like really life-threatening), Dean is still very weak and needs help with a lot of things. Freaked out!and massively worried!John who actually takes care of Dean would be awesome. And yes, I'm actually more interested in the aftermath and the taking care-part and Dean being out of commission for quite a while and yes, please, be as schmoopy as you want!
(Pre-series or Stanford-era would be prefered. And of course feel free to include Sam!) Prompted by rei17
A/N 1: Written for the Dean-centric hurt-comfort challenge on hoodie_time
A/N 2: According to Wikipedia a "Lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning."
A/N 3: I am so sorry for the wait. This fic and my other fic for this challenge totally got away from me, and real life was um, crazy. So, I really hope this is worth the wait, and answers the prompt in a way that makes rei17 happy!
“Dad?” came twelve-year-old Sammy’s squeaking voice, a timbre of urgency in it.
John took a deep breath, bracing himself, “Yeah, Sammy?” he asked, almost keeping the quaver of worry at bay. He didn’t look back, not yet.
“I think Dean needs more pain meds, and maybe his nebulizer,” Sammy replied, his tone questioning, “and its time for him to eat.”
John squeezed his eyes shut as if it would block out the flash of blood on snow; the ferric tang in the air; the broken, anguished cry of Dean’s voice that assaulted John’s senses every time he was reminded of that day, that moment that changed their lives, maybe forever.
He couldn’t put it off any longer; John had to face his sons, accept their future; he needed to be strong for them, like Mary would want. “Okay, Sammy,” he said, voice false in its steadiness, as he turned to face his sons.
Sam was standing beside the open front passenger door of the Impala, the hood of his jacket pushed back in deference to the unseasonably warmth of the early April afternoon, revealing too-long curls. Sam was starting to look a little gangly and awkward as his baby fat melted away and his height slowly but surely started to shoot up. He still looked young for his age, John realized as he reminded himself Sam would be thirteen soon. But Sam looked healthy, only his eyes were too sad-old-burdened to belong on a face that young.
John smiled at his younger son, his eyes pained, and expression bittersweet, trying to project hope and encouragement, but feeling as if he was failing miserably. As his eyes drifted past Sam to where Dean lay propped up on pillows in the back seat of the Impala, John’s smile faltered, and a wave of guilt crashed over him.
It had been a birthday present for Dean’s seventeenth birthday, which had passed just two days before. It was hardly the first hunt Dean had gone on, but it was the first time John had let Dean plan and research the entire hunt himself.
Something was preying on hunters and campers in the northern Minnesota woods, and based on the description—claw marks, intelligence, speed—and the revelation similar attacks had plagued the region at widely spaced, but regular, intervals, it was pretty clear they were hunting a Wendigo.
It was strange enough for a Wendigo to be active in the winter, but after two groups of snow campers went missing and a team of ecology grad students was decimated with a similar story, it was pretty clear they were facing a Wendigo with a particularly nasty sense of timing. Hunting a Wendigo was dangerous enough, but add to it short days, frigid temperatures, and deep drifts of wet snow, and they had a recipe for potential disaster. Hunting couldn’t wait for spring, either. Even if every researcher, hunter, and camper heeded the warnings the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was posting, there were still people missing. Just because John and Dean knew those people were likely already Wendigo chow, the civilian search-and-rescue teams wouldn’t stop looking, putting themselves at risk.
Only it wasn’t that simple. Or so Dean’s research had turned up. An interview with the most recent survivors revealed that the Wendigo wasn’t the only thing haunting the woods.
A few interviews and several exhausting hours of scrolling through microfiche later, it was pretty clear they were dealing with a Wendigo and the ghost of someone it had killed. The ghost seemed to be haunting the Wendigo, trying—unsuccessfully—to kill it, but also attacking anyone else that came its way.
“Maybe it’s angry at all the people who go hiking and camping in the area who’ve never managed to kill the Wendigo or find the ghost’s remains?” Dean had suggested with a shrug. “Do you think we’ll need to find the ghost’s remains and do a salt and burn, or will taking care of the Wendigo be enough to get the spirit to let go?”
Looking down at his son’s eager eyes, John had been filled with pride, not fear, impressed with how keen and intuitive a hunter Dean was turning out to be. “I’m not sure, Dean, we may have to salt and burn the Wendigo’s lair.” John had paused, smiling, “What do you say we bring another hunter along?”
Dean had looked up at John skeptically. “You really think we need someone else, Dad?” he’d asked in a tone John should have recognized as many things, not the least of which was dashed hope for a special father-son bonding session.
But John had replied, “I think it would be good, Dean. Extra protection. The other hunter can focus on the ghost and we—you—can focus on the Wendigo.”
“If you say so, sir,” had been Dean’s reply.
The sad thing was, John was so accustomed to Dean’s unwavering obedience and knee-jerk respect, he hadn’t heard the note of disappointment in Dean’s voice. And it hadn’t occurred to him that Dean might think he doubted his son’s abilities.
The hunter had come highly recommended from a friend of a friend of a contact.
John was never going to speak that hunter’s name again, and if not for the contact’s profuse apologies and offers to ‘deal with’ the hunter and the mess he’d made, John would have never spoken to the contact again either.
“Hey Dean,” John said, voice catching as he took in his seventeen-year-old’s eyes—pain-tight, even in sleep—gaunt frame, and fever-pink cheeks. Dean had lost about forty pounds, and he still spiked a fever every afternoon like clockwork, but the doctors had insisted he could go home, that it would be good for him. They gave John a list of signs to look out for, made sure he knew how to administer all Dean’s meds, and sent them on their way with a pat and a smiled it will be good for him to recover in familiar surroundings. Only ‘familiar surroundings’ were the purr of the Impala’s engine and the steady ca-thunk of expansion joints under the Impala’s tires as they crossed another state line in the dead of night, and Dean wasn’t going to be able to enjoy either of those for a long, long time.
Dean hadn’t moved, his body held tight, rigid, as he slept, shallow breaths coming in little puffs followed by a delayed, exaggerated wheeze. Sam was right. Dean definitely needed the nebulizer. John only wished he didn’t have to wake him.
“Dean?” John asked quietly, resting a hand gently on Dean’s shoulder to rouse him.
Again, Dean didn’t stir, but this time let out a faint whine of pain that made John’s heart clench in his chest, Dean’s eyes rolling behind his lids suggesting he might be in the grips of another nightmare.
Dean still said he couldn’t remember anything, not even the Dreams. John knew Dean had talked to the psychologist about them at their mandatory twice-weekly sessions, but as far as John knew, Dean had only discussed remembering feelings and sensations—fear, pain, falling, flying… John couldn’t help but wonder if the stress and disorientation and claustrophobia of being airlifted out of the woods had added to Dean’s psychological trauma. The poor boy had already hated flying before… Probably, it wouldn’t be like a Winchester to actually catch a break.
“Come on, Dean,” John said more forcefully, giving Dean’s right shoulder a solid squeeze—it was one of the few places on Dean’s body John could confidently touch without causing his son pain.
Dean’s eyelids fluttered as he let out another strangled, wheezing moan, and finally popped open. The fear and—agony—in the boy’s eyes told John he wasn’t really seeing yet.
“Hey sport, you’re safe,” John murmured, patting his hand against the over-warm skin of Dean’s cheek, ignoring the emptiness in his own promise of ‘safe.’ They were never safe; John had always known that, which was way he’d been training Dean, and now Sam, to be hunters. It was just that this time the danger hadn’t come from where he expected it. And they would all be reeling and paying the price for a long, long time thanks to John’s mistake.
Dean had planned the hunt flawlessly. Packed salt and iron crowbars and flares and flare guns, even supplies for making Molotov cocktails should the need arise. He’d memorized every Anasazi symbol and the best configurations for the protective markings.
Since it was late January in northern Minnesota, and the woods were buried in snow and more snow with melted snow on top as the season shifted from mid-winter thaw back to deep freeze, Dean packed emergency blankets and waterproof matches—and for extra safety, got Bobby to hook them up with a cellular phone, just in case. John had thought it was overkill; no way they’d get a signal anywhere it was useful. But Dean had pointed out the Wendigo’s hunting ground was close to a popular trailhead and recreation area, complete with a ranger’s station and brand new cellular antenna. So, John quieted his complaints, impressed with the thoroughness of Dean’s research.
If John had known how those supplies would actually be used…
“Dad?” Dean whispered with another wheeze when recognition finally returned to his eyes. Dean’s voice sounded tired, scared, and younger than it had in years.
“Yeah,” John answered with a bob of his head. “We’re here,” he added, feeling a little lost.
Dean’s eyes widened as he tried to take a look around. He couldn’t see much, John was pretty sure, at least not from the line of sight the foam donut and the mountain of stabilizing cushions filling the Impala’s back seat provided. Dean seemed surprised and wary, and John had no idea if the source of his son’s emotion was the pain and fear of moving, or the unfamiliarity of staying in a house.
John’s nausea returned, his stomach churning and flipping with the surge of guilt. He was a horrible father. Possibly the worst father in the history of parenting. He couldn’t keep his sons safe—hell, he’d actively encouraged Dean into a situation that had very nearly cost him his life. John shuddered. It still might cost Dean his ability to walk, or feel his right foot, or have sex… not that John wanted to think about his son and sex in the same sentence, but he was a realist and Dean had been developing into quite the sexually adventurous flirt these last couple of years, and Dean should have his whole life ahead of him, not be staring down months or years of rehab with an uncertain future, because of John’s mistake.
“Dad?” Dean said again, catching John’s attention. “This is where we’re staying?”
“Yeah, Dean,” John answered, fighting against the prickling in his eyes and the lump in his throat. He plastered on the biggest smile he could manage. “We’re living here.”
Dean’s face fell, and John didn’t want to think about why.
“For a while at least. Give you some time to recuperate,” John stammered, struggling to wipe the crestfallen expression off Dean’s face.
Dean still looked very uncertain. Guilty almost.
Dean was probably thinking he was a burden. That he was keeping John from hunting. That he was—oh god, how could his son think that? Couldn’t Dean see this was John’s fault? “It’ll give me a good home base for hunting for a while, and… and Sammy will get to go to the same school for a while.”
Dean’s features smoothed, and he actually smiled a little at the mention of Sam. “That will be good; Sammy’ll like that.” Dean nodded with more enthusiasm John had seen since...
There was a pregnant pause. Dean kept staring over the front seat of the Impala at the faded-white clapboard-sided one-story home with it’s tired, grey wooden stoop that extended into a small short ramp, just shallow enough to carefully roll a wheelchair up.
“Ok, kiddo,” John whispered. “Time to get you inside; check out your new room.”
Dean grimaced, looking very apprehensive, and John was sure that was due to the certain pain of moving.
“Dad?” Sammy’s voice made John jump, drawing his attention back to his younger son, who was now standing just close by, behind the Impala’s trunk. “Keys?”
He handed over the keys, and reached in to carefully, gingerly unbuckle Dean. His body was cushioned from the sharp, taut belt with strategically placed foam. The slightest bump or jostle would cause excruciating pain, at best, further injury at worst, so John wasn’t about to fuck up and hurt Dean. Not again. When the belt was free from Dean’s body and carefully resting back against the seat, John glanced over to see how Sam was doing.
Sam was standing to John’s right. His back straight; expression solemn and dutiful. Dean’s wheelchair was assembled; the complicated foam donut that helped evenly distribute his weight and keep Dean from developing pressure sores was in place along with the accompanying back cushion that helped stabilize Dean. Sam had the zippered cloth bag of Dean’s meds, including the nebulizer supplies, slung over his shoulder.
John nodded at Sam before turning back to Dean. “Ready kiddo?” He knew he should stop calling his son by the childhood nickname—that it was infantilizing his nearly grown-up child—but he couldn’t help himself. It was a touchstone of reassurance and comfort, and if Dean’s answering hesitant nod was any indication, it soothed him too. “Alright, on three. One, two, three.” John heaved and tugged, slowly taking as much of Dean’s weight as he could, while Dean braced himself against the seat with his arms. Together they eased Dean to the edge of the seat as Sam maneuvered the wheelchair into position for the transfer.
A minute later, Dean was in the chair, sweating profusely, eyes clenched shut in pain, while John panted with the exertion, and Sam looked on, big, round eyes, hurting at seeing his family in pain.
John wanted to scream. He wanted to pout and stomp his feet and shake his fists at the sky and demand why. But he didn’t believe in god. And this was hardly the first time the universe had decided to fuck over the Winchester’s collective ass. But John was suffocating under the guilt and responsibility and regret. As he resolutely turned Dean’s wheelchair around and headed towards the ramp, he repeated the mantra over and over again in his mind: it could be worse; Dean survived; he might walk again; he might be ok; Dean was alive. If alive might never mean the same life they’d had before—well John was working on that.
Life as John—as Dean—knew it went to hell in a flash.
The hunter was supposed to be managing the ghost—tracking it, using salt and iron crowbars to keep it at bay. John had been playing bait for the Wendigo while Dean hunkered down in the relative safety of a salt circle with his flare gun at the ready, waiting for John to draw the Wendigo into his line of fire.
Neither of them realized the hunter had carelessly broken the salt circle in his haste. Neither realized the hunter had actually herded the knife-wielding ghost back towards Dean.
Dean hadn’t any warning.
John didn’t even see it. His own son’s life… and it was almost snuffed out without him there to catch Dean as he fell.
Dean remembered nothing. Or so he said.
John remembered hearing the whoosh of Dean’s flare gun and the dazzling flash as the skeletal, inhuman Wendigo glowed red and lit up like a Christmas tree. Then a blood-curdling scream. A whistling sound. And a bone-crushing thud.
His heart had leapt in his throat, skipping two beats before shakily stuttering and then surging into a frantic staccato, percussive taps so hard he thought his ribs would break. But John couldn’t really care as his mouth filled with the metallic tang of adrenaline and no matter how hard he tried the air wouldn’t seem to fill his lungs.
John didn’t remember starting to move, but suddenly he was tearing, stumbling, sliding in sticky-wet snow, broken tree branches tangling around his ankles as he rounded a stand of winter-worn alders and slipped into sight of the small clearing where Dean had been moments before…
Just in time to see his son—for a split second—suspended in air, left side crushed against the trunk of a tall pin oak, before falling… falling… from ten feet up and landing with a sloppy, sickening, muted splash face down in a murky puddle of melted snow at the tree’s base.
John had felt the anguish no parent should ever feel: the certainty that comes with knowing your child is dead or dying… He could already see the red of blood on snow, the pool tainting darker with the fluids draining from Dean’s body.
Everything was silent for a moment as John’s world ended, time ticking by in slow motion, slower, slower, as even the bitter winter wind stopped and grew silent. And for a split-second, time stood still.
Then everything came roaring back, the volume turned on high as the pounding of his heart, the gusting of the wind, the creaking of the branches, even the wayward caw of a lonely crow—all the cacophony of the living world had come crashing into John as the force of the wind whipped at his skin and threatened to knock him off his feet.
John had scrambled, tripping and sliding, towards Dean, unable to spare a thought for the whereabouts of the ghost, or the useless apologies and protestations of innocence that fell from the hunter’s lips.
He had rolled Dean—slowly, carefully, terrified to move him; certain he was killing his own son; wincing with guilt and regret as he heard bones shifting, grating; gagging as he saw the glint of bone and sheen of viscera through the deep, jagged gashes in Dean’s abdomen, now laid bare where the shredded scraps of Dean’s once-warm jacket fell to the ground. But roll Dean he did. Dean’s face had been immersed in water, and John had known that any chance Dean had was no chance at all if he couldn’t breathe.
After that, John had remembered nothing. Not finding the cell phone and calling for help. Not the frustration of struggling to get the call to go through. Not shooting the flare gun to alert the medivac team. Not holding his child’s intestines in with a folded emergency blanket. Not the terror of seeing the chopper take Dean away, nor the certainty he would never see his son again. Certainly not getting a ride from the local sheriff first to the local hospital while they tried to stabilize Dean, nor the even longer trip to Hennepin County Medical Center. John only knew what they told him had happened later on when Dean was between surgeries in the long days that stretched to weeks and now months that John thought would never end.
John had called in every favor he had to take care of Dean’s medical treatment, the house, and now Dean’s ongoing needs. John didn’t know how Jim Murphy and Bobby Singer had worked out the paperwork so Dean had actual insurance that wouldn’t raise red alerts as fraudulent and would be there for him for however long he needed it, which given Dean’s current prognosis could be for the rest of his life. John pushed the thought from his mind. He wouldn’t dwell. Couldn’t dwell. He had to focus on helping Dean now. On taking care of him and Sam, and getting through the now, not worrying about ‘what ifs’ in the future.
Jim Murphy had arranged their six-month lease on the tiny house in the outskirts of Bloomington, Minnesota. It wasn’t much—two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and living room—but it was built with accessibility in mind, so Dean could actually take his wheelchair into the bathroom when he was able, and shower on the shower chair and not have to worry about bouncing over steps or thresholds or stray bits of carpet or molding. The location was also a nice compromise between being close to Dean’s doctors in Minneapolis and not too far from Jim if they needed help—Blue Earth was about two hours away, and even that relatively short time and distance felt overwhelmingly large at times.
“How you feeling?” John asked, once they were inside the home’s sunny kitchen with its glaringly cheery yellow wallpaper; oak cabinets; and scuffed, beige linoleum floor. He parked Dean’s chair alongside the small, round table, and took the medical bag from Sam’s outstretched hands.
Dean actually whimpered a little as he attempted to shift in his seat, no doubt trying to alleviate the pressure on his still-fragile left hip. “Hurts,” he admitted with a weak scowl.
“Well, it’s time for your meds,” John said, voice sounding falsely eager and chipper to his own ears. He set the bag down on the table and opened it, digging through and pulling out the all-too-familiar vial and syringe. Dean could handle oral meds now, but they weren’t working fast enough and didn’t adequately manage his pain, so for the next few weeks or so, John would still be giving his son injections. Hell Sam even knew how to administer the medications. John tried not to dwell to long on that, because if he did it would surely trigger another unproductive wave of guilt and self-beration.
Dean didn’t even flinch when John swabbed his forearm and injected the needle. That taken care of, John returned to the bag and began assembling the supplies for Dean’s nebulizer treatment.
“Dad,” Dean whined, his speech punctuated with a wheeze and hacking cough. “No, can’t I wait?”
A few months ago, John wouldn’t have tolerated that kind of backtalk from either of his sons. A few months ago, Dean wouldn’t have had any reason to give it. Dean hated the nebulizer, possibly more than he hated every other procedure, treatment, and limitation he was currently coping with, and that was saying something. Still… John shook his head before meeting Dean’s eyes. “I’m sorry Dean, but you know what the doctors said. We’ve got to keep your lungs clear, and make sure your oxygen levels don’t drop so low.”
Dean grimaced, but didn’t respond.
“You don’t wanna have to go back to the hospital, do you?” John half-growled, hating himself the moment the words opened his mouth. Sure, that would get Dean’s compliance, but it didn’t mean John wanted Dean to go back there any more than Dean did, or that he wanted to watch his kid miserably puffing on chemicals so his lungs would stay open enough for him to breathe.
“Fine,” Dean wheezed, as he let John fit the nebulizer mask over his face with a resigned cough.
Once Dean was settled, John set about making dinner. Sam had gone back out to the Impala—without needing to be asked—and had retrieved the results of his and John’s grocery shopping from the trunk. Healthy food. Nothing too hard to digest, especially not while Dean’s digestive system was still… adjusting. John didn’t want to think about the scars hidden under Dean’s loose clothes, especially not the still-healing one on the lower-right side of his abdomen. John tried to focus on pureeing the vegetables in front of him with the new food processor Bobby had given him, but he couldn’t stop his mind from drifting back there…
The first thing after cradling Dean’s lifeless body in his arms that John remembered clearly was pacing back and forth in the OR waiting room at Hennepin County Medical Center waiting for news about Dean’s condition. He felt ragged, frayed, torn apart inside, yet he had no choice but to keep going. He had a vague recollection of wandering over to a pay phone and placing an incoherent, broken call to Jim Murphy. Sam was there with Jim. John didn’t know what to tell Sam. He was acutely aware that while he’d probably just lost one son, he still had another son to look after, to protect. He couldn’t lose himself. Not now. Not yet. Not ever. So he just mumbled out his uncertainty in heaving gasps on the phone, and absorbed that Jim was coming and taking Sam, and he wouldn’t say anything definite until they got there, but Sam had to know. He was old enough, and close enough to Dean that hiding the situation from him would only cause more harm than good.
By the time the surgeon came out to meet him, looking for the family of Dean Winchester, John was shaking, his body jerking and lurching and wobbling with each step. He wanted the doctor to come closer. He wanted to know. And yet he wanted that doctor to turn around and never come back. Because as much as the torture and uncertainty of not knowing was eating away at him, for at least a little while longer, he could pretend maybe this was all a bad dream. Maybe Dean was really live and whole and going to be okay. It was still a shock when the doctor called for him though, so accustomed to hearing an alias in a hospital setting. He wasn’t sure why he’d blurted out Dean’s real name, but later when he thought back on it, he realized it had something to do with the finality of the situation—if Dean was going to die or wind up permanently injured or disabled, John wanted to give his son the respect he deserved and actually acknowledge him for who he was. He didn’t think he could bear it to lose his son under a fake name.
Vertigo almost overcame John as the surgeon led him to a family consultation room. When he doctor told him to take a seat, all the blood had drained from his head, and a strange buzzing noise like a swarm of angry bees had filled his ears. He gripped the table so hard he thought his fingers might break, and almost missed it when the surgeon told him his son was still alive.
John reached up and pawed at his face, tears suddenly streaming from his eyes as he struggled meet the surgeon’s eyes. It was so much more than he had hoped for, but it didn’t make hearing the recounting of Dean’s injuries any easier.
Dean was a ‘polytrauma’ case the surgeon said. The animal attack and fall had messed him up in so many ways John found himself struggling to believe anyone could survive all that, let alone his seventeen year old son. He hadn’t heard anything that impossible since ‘Nam, and wasn’t that sick that he had to draw on the horrors of war to wrap his mind around what had happened to his kid?
Dean had broken his left forearm, fracturing both the radius and ulna, but they were simple fractures, not even displaced, and had been easily set and casted. That was the least of his worries. The impact—either with the tree or the ground or both—had broken five of Dean’s ribs, which had punctured his left lung. They’d surgically repaired the lung, but Dean had also aspirated a lot of contaminated meltwater and debris. He was on a vent and they were very worried about infection and long term respiratory problems. The ‘animal’ that had attacked him had perforated his large and small intestines, and they’d had to resection his small intestine and create a temporary ileostomy.
John had gasped at the revelation, unable to suppress the panic that Dean would never have a normal life would never be able to do something as simple as take a shit again, only calming down when the surgeon reiterated that it was temporary, and once the repairs they’d made to his colon had healed, they could reverse it.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of Dean’s woes, because in true Winchester form, he couldn’t catch a break. Dean’s pelvis was shattered, a ‘combined mechanism’ injury—a combination of vertical shear and lateral compression—the result was a very unstable injury that had both lacerated his bladder and pinched his L5 and S1 nerve roots. John only very vaguely grasped what the meant as the surgeon pressed on to explain they’d repaired the bladder injury and there was a good chance the nerves would heal over time as the swelling went down, but for the time being Dean would probably have numbness in his left foot and trouble controlling the muscles in his foot and calf. Not to mention, until Dean’s other injuries healed enough that he was stable, they couldn’t surgically repair his pelvis with screws and plates, so for the time being they were treating it with external fixators. They had him on IV antibiotics and were monitoring for signs of septic shock, but so far he was hanging in there.
As the surgeon droned on about the risk of permanent sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, and the uncertainty of whether Dean would be able to walk again, or the possibility of him needing a surgical hip replacement at some point in the future, John sank further and further into himself, nausea building, lungs tightening, the image of Dean—his baby boy—with tubes sticking out of his mouth and belly and rods screwed into his hips haunting and taunting him, until he had to make a mad dash to the trash can in the corner, falling to his knees as his stomach emptied itself over and over again.
The surgeon had the nerve to say “Your son is actually doing remarkably well considering his injuries.”
If John had been feeling stronger, he would have decked the guy then and there.
Dean ate, at least a little, of the pureed vegetable soup and protein shake John had made. Sam ate the soup and grilled chicken breast John had prepared for Sam and him without question or complaint. John had to admit, the soup actually wasn’t bad. Pretty tasty, in fact. Dean had just never gotten his appetite back, and it was starting to worry John. The doctors had given Dean tube feedings for the first several weeks he was in the hospital, while Dean was—thankfully—more or less out of it, and then they’d been very careful about his diet because of the ileostomy, but the nutritionist had stressed to John the importance of slowly working Dean up to a more normal diet. Without adequate nutrition Dean’s recovery would lag and he’d be more likely to get additional infections. Dean was having enough trouble keeping his lungs clear. He’d had a new respiratory infection every other week it seemed, as soon as one cleared up another came to take its place. But Dean was still struggling just to eat a half-bowl of soup and most of a shake at dinner.
John felt powerless and guilty, but he didn’t know what else to do. He realized now, there was no bouncing back from this. He wouldn’t be hunting for some time, even if he’d told Dean that fib about setting up a home base. No, he needed to stay home with his boys. Help Dean out with ‘activities of daily living’ and then, when he was stronger, take him to PT sessions and make sure he never missed a doctor’s appointment. He needed to give attention to Sam, make sure his younger son didn’t feel neglected and start acting out.
“Dad?” Sam asked, getting his attention. Sam’s voice had that tentative, cautious timbre it seemed to carry so often these days. John understood—Sam was the one holding them together right now. He’d kept his head while Dean withdrew and John tore himself apart, and the voice was Sam’s way of treating John and Dean with kid gloves… gentle and coaxing, no loud or sudden noises to shatter their fragile psyches. It broke John’s heart, but at the same time, he was so proud of Sam for having the strength and emotional wherewithal to do it.
John put down the spoon he’d been holding as he stared off into space and looked down at his empty bowl before meeting Sam’s eyes. “Yes, Sam?”
“Dean needs to use the bathroom,” Sam’s tone was nonchalant and confident, while still being gentle.
John snuck a look at Dean, who was looking down at his hands.
“If it’s ok, I can help him, show him the awesome bathroom we’ve got,” Sam suggested.
“You—” John was going to ask if Sam was sure he manage helping Dean with the transfer to the toilet, but that wasn’t fair because it ignored Dean and his feelings, and besides, Sam had been helping at the hospital. He’d been much more comfortable helping Dean learn new ways of going about his life than John had—another point of guilt. “Dean, is that okay with you?” he asked instead, shooting Dean an encouraging smile.
“Yeah,” Dean answered with an almost imperceptible shrug.
“Okay then,” John agreed, smiling at first Dean and then Sam.
“Awesome!” Sam exclaimed, sounding genuinely enthused.
John watched as Sam pushed Dean—after getting his permission—out of the kitchen and towards the bathroom at the back of the house, babbling the whole time about how cool the toilet was and the grab bars and the shower seat, and how cool it was that the tile even had a cherry pie theme.
John rose, cleaning up the remnants of their dinner, and set about portioning out Dean’s evening meds. There were too many prescriptions for one person to have. Dean was still on oral antibiotics thanks to his persistent lung infections, but at least he was doing better. John just panicked every time he heard Dean wheeze; it brought him back to the hospital and the endless days of relapses and waiting.
At first, it seemed like Dean was recovering okay. The risk of septic shock had passed, and the doctors said his bowel and bladder injuries were healing well. The damage to his lung was healing, and they were starting to wean him off the ventilator; all things considered, everything seemed to be going okay. The doctors thought they’d be able to operate again within a couple of days to affix hardware to better stabilize his pelvic injuries.
Then Dean had spiked a fever and went into respiratory distress. Thus started the seemingly endless string of respiratory infections. First it was bacterial pneumonia, probably from whatever was in the water Dean had aspirated. When that started to clear up, he developed bronchitis with inflammation so bad they had to put him on steroids for a while just to keep his bronchi open. Then a bout of viral pneumonia that was difficult to treat and damn near was too much for Dean’s battered body to handle.
Through it all John and Sam and Jim and even for a while—Bobby—kept vigil in rotation while Dean was stuck in the ICU. John was just grateful Sam was over twelve and therefore old enough to visit his brother. John was pretty sure listening to Sam talk was the only thing that kept Dean fighting after the first week or two.
Finally, Dean’s lungs cleared up enough for him to breathe on his own. But that meant it was time for him to endure more surgery for them to surgically repair the pelvic fractures. The surgery went ok—and boy was John glad to see those awful fixators gone—but the stress led to yet another infection and further delays in Dean’s recovery and release.
By the time Dean’s medical team—and wasn’t it sick it took an entire team to care for him?—was comfortable releasing Dean to continue his recovery on an outpatient basis, it had been over three months.
John was left feeling woefully inadequate as a parent. The doctors had confidence in him to care for his son, but he didn’t. How could they trust him after he’d invited the hunter into their lives, after he’d led his son into harm’s way, after he’d failed to protect him? How could John ever trust or forgive himself?
Once Sam and Dean finished in the bathroom, and Sam helped Dean transfer to his new bed—a hospital bed courtesy of Jim Murphy’s parishioners—John knew it was time to suck it up and face his fears. He had to give Dean his meds, and he needed to try to talk to the boy… apologize, try to make amends—it all felt woefully inadequate after John had failed so miserably, but he’d been to chicken-shit scared to even raise the subject of the hunt with his son. He needed Dean to know how much he regretted his decision.
Slowly, stiffly, he walked down the hall to the room Sam and Dean were sharing. He paused in the doorway, looking in on his boys. Dean was lying down in bed, and Sam was showing him all the cool things that came with their new room—including their own closets, something Sam had never really had before. Dean was smiling, almost ready to laugh as Sam went on and on about how huge the space was. John knew he was holding back because laughing hurt.
Finally, he cleared his throat, letting the boys know he was there. “Boys, enjoying your new room?” he asked hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Sam answered enthusiastically.
John caught his eye meaningfully.
“But I’m going to go and do some homework now—don’t wanna get more behind—I’ll be back in a few, Dean,” Sam said smoothly, catching John’s meaning and not missing a beat. He bent down and gave his brother a gentle hug before slipping past John and out of the room.
John waited until he heard the faint hum of the television turn on—John wouldn’t normally let the boys watch TV while doing homework, but he knew the noise was for his benefit, not Sam’s, so he was hardly going to object—before stepping into the room.
“Hey Dean,” he said gently as he sat down on the edge of Dean’s bed. Careful not to bump him. He could see by the way Dean was lying that Sam had slipped the cushions in under his hips, so the pressure would be distributed in the least painful way possible. “Brought your meds for you,” he held out the handful of pills and a glass of water, and waited while Dean solemnly took both and downed them.
Dean handed him back the empty glass and he set it down on the floor.
John let his eyes played over his son’s weary, slender form, taking in the smattering of freckles on his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes. He’s so young, John couldn’t help thinking again. “Dean—” John started
“Dad,” Dean interjected, his voice clearer and stronger than John had heard in months. “It’s ok. I know…” Dean sighed, his eyes downcast. “I know I screwed up. I should have paid better attention to the salt circle; should have had the weapons more ready. Should’a had your back.” He sounded guilty, anguished even, and when John looked, he could see tears slipping down Dean’s cheeks.
“What— no,” John started, but Dean just forged on.
“I know you weren’t confident in my abilities, that’s why you brought in—” his voice trailed off and he swallowed hard before continuing, “but… but you gave me the chance to plan the hunt anyway, and I blew it. Almost got myself killed; put you in danger; and now you and Sammy are stuck here with me, waiting for me to get better, instead of out there hunting.” Dean paused again and opened his eyes, meeting John’s at last with an expression so haunted John couldn’t suppress a gasp. “I know I might not get better, Dad, and it’s not fair to you to be stuck caring for my crippled ass. So, if you want to go. You can go. I can… stay with Pastor Jim or maybe find a rehab place or—”
“Dean,” John cried, his voice braking. “No,” he whispered. Then stronger, “Just, no. I… I never didn’t trust you. Your research and planning were flawless. You did better than I would have done. You figured it out and planned for every contingency. I was so proud of you. I just thought it would be easier to hunt a Wendigo and a ghost if we had a third person. I… I was trying to protect you,” John managed, his chest heaving. It was too much. He couldn’t bear the guilt… and Dean, Dean had thought that John was mad at him? That John would hate him? Blame him? Want to abandon him—Dean, his own son? “I’m so, so sorry,” he stammered as tears came to his eyes. He was breaking, flying apart, crumbling like he did after the fire, after Mary—
“You… it wasn’t my fault?” Dean asked his voice tiny and unsure, his eyes hopeful and tear-filled. “You forgive me?”
“No, no Dean. Of course it wasn’t your fault. There’s—there’s nothing to forgive. It was my fault. I’m so, so sorry I ever brought someone else to the hunt. I… I can’t forgive myself. You deserve better, and I would never, never leave you. You’re my boy…” He reached out with a shaking arm and squeezed Dean’s right hand, reassured by the live warmth of his fingers.
Dean squeezed back, “Dad, it’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known what would happen. I’m not mad at you; there’s nothing to forgive,” Dean echoed softly.
Dean was wheezing a little now, and John felt a new wave of guilt over that, but then again, John also heard his son for the first time. Dean didn’t blame him. Dean forgave him. “We’re gonna be okay,” John said softly, then with more certainty. “We’re gonna be okay, no matter what happens, I’m gonna take care of you, and make sure you’re okay. We’ll get through this… as a family.” John wiped at his eyes, and squeezed Dean’s hand a little tighter.
“Sammy?” Dean asked, looking over John’s shoulder.
John turned to look, and sure enough, Sammy was in the doorway, looking on with mixed fear and relief. John raised his hand that wasn’t gripping Dean’s and beckoned Sammy over, pulling him into an embrace.
The future might be uncertain and fraught with challenges, but for the first time since Dean’s birthday, John actually felt hope. Maybe together—“We’re gonna be alright,” he said. And he believed it.