Genre: gen, pre-series
Characters: John, Mary, Dean
Word Count: ~1200
Summary: Dean is born a little early, and John grapples with the ugly side of worry. Mary makes some promises she cannot keep.
Notes: It's glorious_spoon's headcanon, I think, that I borrowed for this fic. ♥ Written for the hospitalized!Dean Themed Week @ hoodie_time. Warning for ominous portents.
Mary won't come at first. And maybe that's John's fault; he shouldn't have called it the "high-risk" nursery. But he'd read the pamphlets. That was the term.
In the high-risk nursery, John eyes his son, who is purple and just as baby-shaped as the rest of them. He wonders if it's making his head flat, lying there. John had held him, briefly, under the supervision of some OB/GYN, and felt the soft spot at the back of his child's palm-sized skull. The doc assured him it was normal--there had been a name for it and everything.
But as John thinks about a way to convey this moment, this blotchy infant, to his wife, it occurs to him that there are names for a lot of things. Nasal prongs and an incubator, Mary, all in the high-risk nursery. Do you feel the love that I felt?
John knows he should not be the one to handle this; so he won't. It does not matter that there is no one else to fill that void. John cannot, and so will not; if Mary wants to know what it's like, she'll just have to come for herself.
John eyes his son. John eyes his watch.
"I'm not supposed to go into the nursery," Mary had mumbled. It had all been very vague, as though she wasn't sure why this would be so. But Mary had frowned, repeated herself, shifted to touch her back.
The doctor had told John there might be lingering soreness at the site of injection. And John, of all things, had asked if she still had a headache. He knew how Mary hurt, and where, and still that's what he said. He asked if he could get her some Tylenol.
"I'm not supposed to go into the nursery."
Mary doesn't want to love him, John knows. The baby. She is afraid to love this limp, quiet thing, wouldn't even name him when the nurse asked. But John also knows it's too late for that; it is probably 34 weeks too late for that. They know his name is Dean, and they know that he is theirs, he is their son.
John checks his watch again, because part of him is bored, and that part of him refuses to admit that that is really only another word for terrified. He is tired of making sure his family outlives uncertainty.
John watches a doctor speak to a middle-aged couple; he remembers seeing them in he cafeteria, in the john, in the hall, though never both at once. Side by side, they fit together like anguished puzzle pieces. Their babies are the size of their cupped hands--one a mug, the other a teacup. John honestly cannot tell whether they are the happiest people he has ever laid eyes on, or the most destroyed. He suspects it is a little of both. He suspects their family will not be four for long.
(Or are there others? Is there a grandparent, an aunt, watching after older siblings downstairs, or across town?)
"Sir." It's one of the nurses. It's not a kind address; instead it's tentative, but mostly annoyed. This is the third or fourth time she's come to him. The shifts were supposed to change; she's supposed to have gone home. He's supposed to have left.
Sir, she says. The doctors are making their rounds now. You need to leave.
"They're not leaving." John nods to the teacup parents. What's going to happen to them? The babies? he asks, in bits and pieces that don't add up to much.
"You can only ask questions about your own child, sir," she answers. Please leave, she means.
John assents. Of course. He has been a parent for all of nine hours and already, he is doing it wrong. Of course he should only want to ask questions about his own child; of course his own child should be the only one that matters. But he thinks of the teacup infant, thinks about how it's only the size of Dean's head, maybe a little more than that. He thinks about how much bigger Dean is, how much pinker, how much older, how much more alive, how much likely it is that Dean will live--
John leaves the nursery shaking with ugly thoughts about himself, about his imaginary competitions, about how much better he feels, that that's a competition he and Dean and Mary can win. Because he won't lie to himself. He feels for that couple and their twins, he does. But mostly he's glad that he is not them.
I'm selfish, Mary, John says to no one, and certainly not Mary. He's thinking about coffee and procuring some, and also babies, and also Mary, likely lonely Mary. He thinks about consoling her, keeping her company, at the same time he thinks about telling her about the teacup babies. Part of him wants her to tell him it's okay, it's natural to think that way, it doesn't mean anything. Part of him just wants her to agree with him, whether it means anything or not.
They pass each other in the hall. Heaven knows where John was going. Not to coffee.
Mary is going to the nursery. She points to the sticker on her chest; she already signed in. John touches his own.
By the time they retrace John's steps, the rounds are over, and the nurse who hates John (whom John disrespected, he amends) isn't there anymore. They exchange some words with the doctors, words that are mostly inconsequential, indeterminate.
Mary holds Dean, even though she still won't call him that. "Hey, Jude," she coos. She's not singing.
You take your time, son, John wants to say. You take your time and come home when you can. It's not going anywhere. But Mary's edged him out with her chatter; and for an instant John is jealous. Then, mostly, he's just in love.
The teacup parents are gone.
Mary doesn't say anything--anything that's not to Dean, that is--but John can tell by the way she scans the nursery that she is calculating. Weighing odds the same way she weighs Dean in her hands, cooing look at you, you're so big, you're so big and heavy, look at you, isn't that right, just look at you. You are so big and strong.
She kisses the soft spot at the back of Dean's head, and looks out over his crown at his small, purple neighbors.
Mary is no better than John is, and no more saintly, which is a comfort until John wishes she were. He wonders if the teacup parents' tragedy makes them graceful, gracious; if it makes their children holy martyrs. John knows in his heart that tragedy has always made him bitter, but maybe they are different. He doubts it.
"This is the hard part." Mary, to Dean. "Being born is the hardest part."
She kisses Dean's head again.
"We take you home, and everything will seem so easy after that, I promise. This is the hardest thing you will ever have to do. After this, it'll all be easy.
"Everything will be so easy."
If they were newlyweds, John knows, he and Mary would have argued about this until they were just as purple as any newborn in the joint. But this time, John keeps his mouth shut. Whatever it takes to keep fear at bay. Whatever it takes to keep Dean here, with him.
Whatever it takes.