WORDS: appx 2300
SPOILERS: None (season 9 if you're good at reading between the lines)
A/N: For a prompt at tarotgal's sneezekink meme for the prompt: Teenchesters. Dean comes down with a terrible cold and a really high fever. John feels bad for pushing him too hard and tries to do what he can to make Dean feel better. Of course, I had to go and angst it up.
Rania's daughter has coffee ready in the kitchen. Small clay mugs with geometric patterns painted in gold and silver. She points to the stack of newspapers on the little dinged-up table and hands John his drink, dark and spicy-sweet. Like there's no other way to do it.
"Son?" she asks, her english still a little rudimentary. Myriam's not supposed to be here, according to Rania. Was kicked out of her French boarding school in Tangiers for writing pornographic poetry about one of her teachers. Kids.
"Still in bed I guess. Your mom?"
"She go get... how you say... l'aspirine?"
"She say Dean is needing this," Myriam shrugs, like she expects John to know about it already.
John squints back towards the living room, where some batik fabric's been hung to divide off a small sleeping area for his son (more to preserve their modesty than his). He'd been sneezing on the way back here last night—after their 6 hour "stake-out" in the rail yard. John hadn't thought much of it.
As if on cue, a loud sneeze echoes through the apartment, followed by some low coughing noises.
Mug of spiced coffee in hand, John makes his way over. Myriam watches from the kitchen doorway, arms folded.
It's still pretty dark behind the curtain, no windows in the living room. But there's enough light to see how pale Dean looks, curled up like a hedgehog on his pallet.
John sets his coffee down on the little bookshelf Dean's flanking, and kneels down next to him.
"Dean?" John whispers, "You awake?" Closer now, he can see Dean's eyes are a bit wet. They open slightly, blink at John's knees.
"Mmmmuh," Dean grunts, rubbing at his face with the back of his hand. "Harrisburg?"
"Bridgeport. Boo Radley, remember?"
"Hey. Don't rub it in."
Dean smiles a little, and John shakes his head. He hates wild goose chases. Hates it even more when he's fooled into leading one. Dean hadn't believed those kids for an instant. And if John hadn't been so desperate to find a hunt—
"HhhhhssheeeeeeEEH! Ahcchhhw! Hshweh!" Dean's neck whips back and forth with every violent sneeze. And when it's over, he groans and closes his eyes once more.
"Christ. Sounds a hell of a cold, Dean."
"M'okay. Just need'ta sleep."
"I think you need more than sleep," John says, finally daring to touch him, wiping a tear off his cheek with his thumb. The poor kid's so out of it, he doesn't even notice, just curls into himself, shivering under the old woven blanket Rania probably brought with her from Morocco 10 years ago.
Slowly, John moves his hand to Dean's forehead, brushes some of his dark hair out of the way and presses down gently, long enough to feel the unnatural amount of heat trapped under his skin.
Jesus. How did he get so sick so damn fast?
He thinks about last night—how cold and miserable the kid looked out there on the train tracks, waiting for a monster that turned out to be a security guard with some nasty scars on his face. Walton. Nice guy, though a little socially awkward.
With no case, nothing else to do, he grabs his coffee and sips it down while he rubs Dean's back. Not his traditional MO, but surprisingly, kinda nice.
The front door to the apartment creaks open, and he hears Rania and Myriam speak to each other in quick, hushed French, hears the rustling of plastic bags, some clatter and water running in the kitchen.
He hears Rania’s leather slippers crossing the apartment. “John. May I enter?” she whispers, just behind the curtain.
“Sure,” he says, standing to greet her. She slips into the small space holding a tray with some typical cold and flu supplies. She’s so close he can smell her—almonds and orange peel. Her wide brown eyes look straight past him, to Dean.
“How is he?” she asks, setting the tray on the floor by the foot of Dean’s make-shift bed.
“Has a fever.”
“I know. You should take his temperature,” she instructs, plucking something off the tray. She holds it out to him. “Here,” she says. It’s a digital thermometer.
The last time he took Dean’s temperature must have been when he was 6 years old. Ended up in the hospital with a case of the mumps.
This isn’t that dramatic. “I don’t think we need to—“
“If it’s above 103, you must take him to a doctor.”
“Please. Just do it, John. He doesn’t look well.” There’s something frantic about her. She’s more disheveled than she was yesterday, no make-up, jeans and an over-sized sweater. Her black and silver hair in a loose braid.
It feels like he’s missing something.
“It’s just a bad cold.”
But Rania persists, grabs John’s wrist and places the thermometer in his hand. He’s not sure if he should be worried or annoyed.
“Alright,” he sighs. He shakes Dean’s shoulder a little, and the kid peers up at him bleary-eyed.
“Hey, bud. Think you can keep this sucker under your tongue for a minute?”
Dean sniffles a little, coughs weakly, and nods. He unfurls himself slightly, lets John slip the metal tip between his lips.
John turns back to Rania, gives her the happy now? glare that’s usually reserved for Sam.
But Rania’s focused on Dean. “Sit him up,” she says, as serious as a mugger with a loaded automatic. “He needs to drink.”
There’s not much for Dean to lean on. John coaxes him onto his back and slips his arm across his shoulder blades, pulls him up, and holds him there. Dean wiggles a bit in a kind of half-hearted protest, but he takes the glass of water Rania hands him, and John plucks the beeping thermometer from his mouth.
The numbers blink on and off like a countdown clock on a detonator.
Rania doesn’t say anything, just shakes out a couple of pills and hands them to Dean.
He’s a little slow on the uptake, but soon enough, Dean pops them in his mouth and takes a small sip of water. His hand shakes a little, so John covers it with his own, coaxes him to drink a little more.
“That’s it, slugger.”
Dean manages about half the glass before he starts coughing and sniffling again. From the look on his face, there’s another big sneeze creeping up on him, so John sets the glass aside and hands him a box of tissues, while Rania makes herself scarce.
Dean makes a face like someone’s just waved rotten meat under his nose, and then explodes with a dramatic “HHHHAAAkkchhhaa!”, Kleenex raised just in time.
The kid looks spent, so John lowers him back down, adjusts his pillow.
“Dad…” Dean says, hanging on to the small cardboard box like a broken piece of raft.
“It coulda been true, what they said. S’good we checked. S’okay.”
Christ, he knows John too well. Knows he’s pissed at himself. Knows just what to say to smooth things over.
“Yeah. Guess the real monsters are all at the beach this week, huh?”
“Mmhmm. You ain’t been ‘til you been high in Montego Bay…” Dean says, half singing the cheesy old song, half coughing it.
“Whatever you say, Deano.”
John offers to take Dean to a hotel, or head back to Sam and Caleb and the RV park outside Harrisburg. Rania looks at him like he’s lost his mind and insists on moving Dean to her bedroom.
“Are you sure? This feels like a bad time,” John says, watching her fold laundry on the kitchen table. “Myriam’s been here, what? A week?”
“I can handle Myriam. That’s not your concern.”
“Oh yeah? Then where is she?”
“She went to the library to get some English language books.”
“The library? Oh, that’s a real classic,” John says, grabbing a seat at the table.
Rania pauses in the middle of folding some pants, furrows her brow in thought for a moment, and then whips the pants down on the table. “Zut alors, Myriam…”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
Rania shakes her head. “She wants to stay, you know.” She gives up on the laundry, takes a seat across from John.
“You want her to?” he asks.
“I didn’t think so.”
“And now, you and Dean come along,” she tells him, waving her arm at him. Frustrated. “And I see how close you are to him, how much he trusts you. And I wish…”
“Listen, it hasn’t been easy on him. Or his brother.”
“I know. Why do you think I left her in Tangiers?” Rania asks. She runs her fingers along the bumps in her braid, where it hangs over her shoulder “Perhaps I’m just being selfish.”
“Oh, John. I didn’t mean to say…” she starts, biting her lip.
“It’s fine. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m the one who fucked it up,” John admits. Not like he doesn’t consider that as a possibility on almost a daily basis. No point denying it.
“But he adores you. And you’re his father. How can that be a bad thing? I’d give anything for Myriam to see me as Dean sees you.”
She sounds so desperate. It’s not really something John’s ever stopped to be thankful for, but he does so now. But there’s only one reason he can think of that that’s happened—
“You want her to be a hunter?”
Even with his hand clinging to John’s shoulder for support, Dean doesn’t make it more than a few steps before he gets too wobbly to stay on his feet. John hefts him into his arms with a heavy grunt, and carries him the rest of the way, with Dean so resigned to the fever that he presses his cheek into John’s shoulder.
When they step through the threshold, Dean gazes dreamily at the weapons hanging over the headboard—a few antique sabers, a beautifully polished Saharan Takouba sword, and Rania’s weapon of choice, a set of custom-made iron nunchucks.
“Awesome,” Dean breathes, as John lowers him onto the bed. John’s instinct is to agree. Even though the reason all these weapons are here is most definitely not awesome.
The room is far from the typical Spartan hunter style. There are lots of trinkets and old books, candles and little jars of unidentified herbs. It feels oddly crowded, as if she’s recently moved a lot of things from other rooms into this one. Easier to keep track of all the dangerous stuff if it’s all in one place, keep curious teenage girls out of trouble.
It’s about time Dean finally looses the jeans he’s been wearing since yesterday, and John orders him to do so. But Dean only gets so far, with the fever weighing him down, and John has to grab the ankles and drag them the rest of the way off. He pulls Dean’s white tube socks half way off in the process, and tries to tug them back on but Dean kicks at him, more interested in worming his way under the big down comforter.
“Sorry kiddo,” John says, tossing it aside and leaving only the sheets. “We need to show this fever who’s boss.”
Dean scoots up a little, propping himself up against the headboard. His jaw tightens, and he nods as if thinking of the fever as an opponent lends him strength.
Looks like they found a fight after all.
Rania looks past him, at the window where the rain is still beating down.
“She wants to be a hunter.”
“Of course she does.”
“What should I do?”
“Look, with Sam and Dean… it’s complicated. If I hadn’t kept them with me after Mary… well, lets just say I had a few bad nights staring down a bottle of pills and if I hadn’t had a crying 2 year old in the next room, that would have been the end of side B.”
Rania nods. She’s watching him so closely now, and it feels strange to be telling her all these things, but she needs to know. For Myriam.
“And now… well it’s complicated, but I need to keep an eye on Sammy. And Dean… I-I tried letting him go once. Wanted him to have a chance at being a semi-normal kid, you know? But it was too late. I couldn’t hack it without him.”
Rania’s left a basin of cold water and a facecloth on her nightstand, along with Dean’s beloved box of Kleenex. Before long, Dean’s already putting the latter to use. It’s the longest round of sneezes yet, each one stealing a little more of Dean’s energy. When it’s over he blows his nose and still sounds like he can hardly breathe.
“You’re a mess, you know that?” John says, taking a seat on the edge of the bed, pulling the soft flannel sheet over Dean’s shoulder. The kid gives up on being even partially vertical and slides down into bed so that he’s flat on his back, and closes his eyes.
John soaks the facecloth and wrings it out, cleans off Dean’s neck and face and then folds it across his forehead.
“Dad….” Dean rasps, one eye cracking open to peek up at him.
“Thanks... fer… Thanks fer not….”
“For not what?”
“Not sendin’ us to boarding school.”
It’s the kind of laugh that comes out when you’re trying not to cry.
He feels restless, so he leaves his seat to go stand over Rania’s kitchen sink and stare out the window. The rain is coming down in sheets, the wind blowing so hard that the trees creak and groan and scratch at the window pane.
“I’m a shitty excuse for a father. Hunters can’t be real parents. And I am surely no exception. Dean hasn’t got that figured out yet, but he will. One day, he will. And with any luck, it’ll be after I’m dead.”