Pennsylvania in June is hotter than Arizona. That's not even fair.
It's not even just that it's hot. No, it has to be 80 percent humidity too. The air hangs heavy as lead, superheated by the midday sunlight, so hot that you can see the shimmer just above the asphalt.
They're on their way home from the library. Dean forged John's signature on the permission slip for the Summer Reading Program so Sam could get signed up, and Sam's currently in second place in the chapter book reading contest, having finished 67 young adult novels in four weeks. He's trailing Heidi Selcher by 13, because she has an adult library card and is allowed to take out 20 books at a time. Sam can't get an adult card because he'd need John to come in with him and sign papers. Sam wouldn't whine about it so much if Heidi would stop making fun of him about it. Dean's offered to "talk" to her, but Sam knows exactly what that means and he also knows that John would kill Dean for hitting a girl, even if she deserves it, so Sam hasn't taken him up on his offer.
Dean, on the other hand, has been spending his library visits downstairs in the reference section, hitting on one of the volunteers. According to Dean, her name is Noelle, she's seventeen, and she has boobs to rival a Victoria's Secret model. Sam doesn't actually know what that means, but he knows Dean steals those catalogs out of the Hendersons' mailbox every chance he gets. He asked Dean about it one time, but Dean just told him that if he had to ask, he didn't deserve to know.
Currently, Dean's sulking because Noelle not only shot him down but told him she'd have him banned from the library if he hit on her again. Sam's too young to be in the library by himself, so Dean has to find another way to pass the hour that Sam spends at those stupid programs. There's a reading program for teenagers, but the girl who runs it is, in Dean's words, a total dog--overweight, with frizzy hair and thick glasses. Besides, Dean doesn't even read the books that his English teachers assign, so there's no chance of him picking up a book for fun. Reading and fun don't belong in the same sentence.
"Can we stop at the Turkey Hill?" Sam asks, adjusting the strap on his bulging knapsack.
"No," Dean answers with no hesitation.
"Because we don't have money."
"Yes we do."
"Not extra. We have just enough for tonight and tomorrow."
Sam scowls and kicks a rock into the street. "It's not fair," he mumbles.
When they stop to cross the street, a green minivan pulls up to the curb. The driver, an older woman with curly gray hair, rolls down her window. "You boys shouldn't be walking in this heat," she says.
"We're fine," Dean answers. "But thanks."
A girl Sam's age leans over the steering wheel. "Hi, Sam."
"Hi, Harley," Sam replies.
"My mom wants to drive you home," Harley tells them.
Sam frowns. "I don't think we're allowed." He steals a glance at Dean, who nods slightly.
"I insist," says Harley's mother. "You'll get sick if you're out in the sun too long."
Sam looks up at Dean, worry etched in his features. "I forgot about that," he says in a small voice. "Maybe we should go with her."
Dean bites his lip. She has a point. They're only twenty minutes from home, but the heat index is over a hundred degrees, and Dean would never forgive himself if Sammy got sick because of him. So he sighs and says, "Okay. Let's go."
They walk around to the other side of the van and crawl into the very back seat. The air-conditioned van is such a change from the stifling heat that goosebumps rise on Dean's arms.
"What's your address?" asks Harley's mother.
"226 Hemlock Hall, Pineford," recites Sam.
Dean catches sight of Harley's mother's uncertain look in the rearview mirror. He bets that she's never been to Pineford before. It's not one of the nicer parts of town. Dean saw a drug deal in the laundry room once. He never told John about it.
Sam and Harley start talking about a book they both read, and Dean turns his attention to the changing landscape, watching the houses become smaller and shabbier the further they get from the town center. They cross the railroad tracks and enter The Village of Pineford. The name is a lot prettier than the run-down apartment buildings and crammed-together townhouses that make it up.
Dean directs Harley's mother to their building. As they round the corner, the first thing Dean sees is the Impala parked at the edge of the carport.
Sam opens his mouth to say something and Dean claps his hand over it, knowing that whatever Sam wants to say is going to make the old woman suspicious. "Thanks for the ride," Dean says loudly, climbing over Sam to open the door.
Dean shuts the van door behind Sam and pulls him into the shade of the carport. "Don't say a word. Let me handle it," orders Dean. "Got it?"
Sam nods, eyes wide. Dean jogs up the steps to the building, Sam following a few paces behind. As they climb the stairs to the second floor, dread climbs up into Dean's throat, choking him, making it hard to breathe.
Dean doesn't bother pulling the key out of his pocket. He twists the knob and cautiously pushes the door open. As he expects, John is waiting on the other side. And he is pissed.
"Save it," John snaps. "I don't want to hear it. Sammy, go to your room." When Sam doesn't immediately comply, he barks, "Now!"
Before Sam closes the door to the boys' bedroom, he shoots Dean a look laced with apology. John doesn't miss it.
Dean straightens his shoulders. "Dad, I--"
"Did I give you permission to speak?"
Dean's cheeks redden. "No, sir."
"How long have you been sneaking out?"
"We only go once a week," Dean mumbles.
"And that makes it okay?"
Dean swallows hard. "No, sir."
"You got anything to say for yourself?" Dean shakes his head, eyes cast downward. "Go to your room. I'll let you know when you can come out."
Dean nods slightly and walks away. He closes the door silently. John catches a glimpse of his face, sees the despair half-hidden by steely resolve. He sighs and reminds himself that he's doing this for them.
It's still dark the next morning when John shakes Dean awake. The ancient alarm clock on the nightstand reads 6:03. Dean's eyes flutter open. "Huh, wha--Dad!" Dean bolts upright, sparing a glance at the other bed to make sure he hasn't woken Sam.
"Get dressed. Training clothes. Kitchen, three minutes." John whispers the orders with crisp precision and walks out.
When Dean enters the kitchen, John is sitting at the table with the newspaper. He looks up. "Ten miles. Stay off the road."
"Yes, sir." Dean rubs his eyes once and leaves.
When Sam appears in the kitchen at 8:15, John is standing at the window, staring into the overgrown brush. He doesn't hear Sam until he speaks up. "Where's Dean?"
"Being punished," John answers without turning around. Dean should have been home ten minutes ago. His absence can only be explained one of two ways--either Dean got hurt or he got picked up by the cops for running on the railroad tracks. John sighs. Either way they're going to get noticed by CPS. John calculates how long it will take to leave town.
"Stay here," John commands, striding over to the door. "Keep the door locked."
When John opens the building's front door, the heat smacks him in the face like a sack of cement. It has to be at least 90 degrees and the sun's only been up for two hours. Shit.
It doesn't take him long to find Dean. He's bent over in the undergrowth next to the tracks, dry heaving into the weeds. A pang of guilt squeezes John's heart. He swallows past the lump in his throat and tells himself that Dean needs him and there's no time for fucking around.
Dean straightens up and catches sight of John. He tries to draw himself up to his full height but sways alarmingly. John rushes forward and catches him before he goes down. "Easy, take it easy," he says softly, guiding Dean to sit down on a railroad tie. "Put your head down." He rests a hand on the back of Dean's neck and is dismayed at how cool his skin is. He has to get Dean inside, but he'd like Dean to get there under his own power. He waits a few more seconds and then asks, "You good?"
"I think so," Dean replies hoarsely.
"Come on." John stands up and holds a hand out to Dean. Dean declines the help, pushing himself up with shaking arms. He wobbles a little but manages to stay standing. There's not a bit of color to his face, and he's breathing heavily. John nudges Dean forward and they walk slowly back to the building.
John knocks on the door, using their special signal. Dean slumps against the doorframe. Sam opens the door and his eyes widen when he sees Dean. "What happened?"
"Move, Sammy," John says, a little harsher than he means to. He pulls Dean into the apartment and settles him on the couch. "Get out of those clothes and then lay down," he orders as he moves into the kitchen. He turns on the hot water faucet, then reaches into the refrigerator and takes out a half-full jug of water. He sticks a finger under the faucet to test the temperature and turns on the cold water. He grabs a big plastic salad bowl from the cupboard and fills it with cool water. "Sammy, get a couple of washcloths out of the bathroom," he adds as he brings everything over to the couch.
John shoves the jug of water into Dean's hands. "Don't drink this too fast or you'll get sick," he warns. Dean nods slightly and takes a few cautious sips.
Sam returns from the bathroom with all the clean cloths he could find. He hands them to John without a word. John smiles. "Thanks, Sammy." When Sam doesn't move, John makes a "shooing" gesture with one hand. "Go back to your room. Let me take care of Dean."
Sam backs away and walks into the hall. However, instead of going into his room, he silently sinks down against the wall and turns watchful eyes on his father and brother. He can't just go away and forget about it. Not when it's his fault Dean's sick.
What Sam doesn't know is that out in the living room, John is thinking the same thing. He passes the wet washcloth over Dean's chest and arms, establishing a rhythmic pattern: up, down, up, down. Dean has his eyes closed, and John gently taps him on the cheek. "You okay?"
"I could use some Tylenol," Dean says quietly, not opening his eyes.
"You won't need it if you keep drinking water."
"I can't," Dean murmurs. "It'll make me throw up."
"Then it's ER time."
"No!" Dean's eyes fly open, and he struggles to sit up. "Not the hospital, please," he pleads, and it damn near breaks John's heart.
"Then you do what I tell you," John replies. He helps Dean sit up and hands him the abandoned jug of water. "Drink." Dean swallows hard and complies. When half the remaining water is gone, he caps the jug and hands it back to John. John squeezes Dean's shoulder. "Good, that's good." He goes back to wiping Dean down.
Fifteen minutes later, Dean's looking a hell of a lot better. Most of his color has returned and he's not slumped against the couch like a wet noodle. John nods approvingly. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah, lots," Dean answers.
"Good. Go put some clothes on."
Dean stands up without the slightest hint of a wobble and John grins. "I want you right back out here when you're dressed," he tells him. Dean nods and walks off. John takes the bowl of water to the kitchen and dumps it out.
Dean returns, Sam in tow, and flops down on the couch. "Finish that water," John instructs him. "I'm going to walk down to the store and get some more."
"Okay," Dean replies, and all the strength that belongs in his voice is back.
"You're to take it easy the rest of the day," John says. "And Sammy, your job is to make sure he does." John doesn't have to look at them to know that Dean's rolling his eyes and Sam is nodding with determination. "I'll be right back. Why don't you put in a movie or something?"
Sam jumps off the couch. "Ghostbusters 2?" he asks hopefully.
"Sure," Dean answers.
John closes the door and locks it. He steps out into the blazing heat. They dodged a bullet this time. Never again, John thinks. This didn't have to happen.
That's the thought that'll keep him up tonight.