King of the Hill
Dean Winchester was doing his best to keep Sam quiet, hoping to avoid punishment and a lecture from their exhausted father. But what was quiet to his six year old brother wasn't quiet to a man who had been out hunting all night. Dean quickly put his hand over Sam's mouth to try to stifle the cry of delight when the little boy's token reached the top rung of the ladder. He realized his effort was in vain when a groan from the back bedroom was followed by a growl of anger, sure signs of Dean's failure.
Transferring his hand from Sam's face to a skinny arm, Dean gently pushed the smaller boy to his feet. "Sammy, would you get me a glass of water?"
"Sure." Halfway to the kitchen, Sam stopped and pointed to the game board. "No cheating."
Dean raised his right hand and folded his thumb and little finger across the palm. "Boy's Scout's honor."
"You weren't a Boy Scout." Sam put his hands on his hips and stomped his foot.
The grumbling grew louder indicating their father would appear soon. Dean anxiously waved Sam toward the kitchen. "I promise. I won't cheat."
His excitement at the possibility of beating his brother communicating itself through his feet, Sam skipped away. He had barely disappeared through the door when John Winchester stumbled into the living room. Dean tried not to flinch when he saw the blood-shot eyes, the black stubble covering the worn face, and the dried blood flaking off the right temple. He tensed as he studied the injury, only relaxing when he saw a small cut peaking through the scab. One of the first things he had learned after his father started hunting was that head wounds bled a lot. This one couldn't have been too bad, judging by the small amount of the red fluid staining the collar of his father's shirt.
"Dean, what did I tell you to do when I got home this morning?" demanded John.
"Keep Sammy quiet so you can sleep," Dean meekly answered.
"Have you obeyed orders?"
"What happens when you don't obey orders?"
His head dropping to his chest, Dean whispered, "I'm punished."
"There will be no television for the next week." John tiredly rubbed his hand across his face.
Dean wasn't happy with the judgment, but he knew it could've been much worse. "Yes, sir."
"I'm going back to bed. I expect you to obey my orders this time."
"Dad." Dean rose to his feet and took a couple steps toward his father. "Could we play outside? If we're noisy out there, it won't disturb you."
John crossed to the window and looked out onto the street. Dean knew what he would see: a peaceful boulevard with almost identical small, box-like houses. The only thing distinguishing one house from another was its color. Dean marveled that residents found their homes in the dark. But what was surprising was that more of the cheap little dwellings were being built on the next street. It made him wonder if the new development matched the old because of lack of money or imagination.
"All right," John finally agreed, backing away from the big picture window dominating the room.
Holding up a hand as Dean eagerly turned away, John cautioned, "You stay close by and you watch out for your brother."
"Yes, sir." Dean would've agreed to anything if it gave him the chance to leave the stuffy house. These restrictions were not ones that would impede their fun. There were no stores or parks within walking distance to entice them away. And for Dean, watching after Sammy was as natural as breathing.
John left the room without a backward glance, barely acknowledging Sam's existence as the little boy entered carefully carrying a glass of water.
"Goodnight, Daddy," Sam whispered, waiting until his father disappeared before tiptoeing to Dean's side. "Here ya are, Dean."
Though he really wasn't thirsty, Dean took the glass and emptied it before asking, "Do ya wanna play outside, Sammy?"
Sam's eyes widened with pleasure. A squeak had barely left his lips when Dean's hand slapped across his mouth preventing any further noise from escaping.
"We have to be quiet," reminded Dean, dropping his hand.
Rubbing the fingered-shaped red marks on his cheek, Sam whined, "You hurted me."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." Dean quickly apologized knowing to do anything else would lead to a long – and loud – argument.
Reluctantly accepting the show of contrition, Sam pouted as he followed his brother out of the house. "You don't wanna play Ladders anymore 'cause you were losing."
"The game'll still be there when we get back," assured Dean. "We can pick up where we left off."
"Even though you're losing?"
Dean nodded. "Even though I'm losing."
"I'm gonna whip yer ass." Sam rubbed his hands together.
Frowning, Dean warned, "Don't let dad hear you talking like that or he'll slap you harder than I did."
"He talks like that all the time. Does he slap himself?"
Even if he had wanted to, Dean couldn't have stopped a smile from curving his lips at the image his brother's question invoked. "There are daddy rules and there are kid rules. We have to follow daddy rules."
"No fair," sulked Sam.
While Dean secretly agreed, he didn't dare voice his opinion. He knew his little brother. It wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that Sam would march back into the house and demand impartial treatment from their father.
To redirect Sam's attention, Dean asked, "What do you want to play?"
Both boys looked up and down the deserted avenue. Since it was Sunday all was quiet with most of the residents at church or sleeping late. A few were mowing their lawns, but they were down at the end of the street, the noise of their machines barely reached the ears of the two little boys.
Sam shrugged his shoulders. "There's nothing to do. I think we should go back in and finish our game."
When his brother took a step towards the house, Dean felt disappointment start to choke him. He really didn't want to go back into the gloomy house, and he really didn't want to be punished again. But Sam was right. They didn't have any outdoor toys. Their father tended to be a little overprotective. He rarely let his sons leave the shelter provided by himself and the heavy salt lines in front of every window and door.
Dean's desperately questing gaze rested on the new house going up on the lot behind their own. With the constant hammering and sawing it was the bane of John Winchester's existence during the week. But on this day of rest there wasn't a single workman on the premises. Mounds of dirt excavated for the basement lined one side of the lot. Excitedly indicating the small mountains, Dean suggested, "Let's play King of the Hill, Sammy."
"We'll get dirty," Sam logically pointed out, even as he eagerly followed his brother.
"Then we'll do laundry before dad wakes up."
Even as he charged ahead to climb the pile of dirt, Dean kept one eye on his little brother. He hadn't needed to be told to watch out for Sam. He didn't know how not to. Reaching the peak first, Dean planted his feet and put his hands on his hips. "Look at me, I'm the king."
"Not for long," panted Sam, both hands pushing against his brother.
The pressure wasn't enough to make Dean falter in his stance. Sam pushed several more times, each blow a little harder. Knowing his four years younger brother would never honestly dislodge him, Dean allowed himself to stumble. On Sam's next push, Dean pretended to lose his balance and rolled down the hill.
Upon reaching the bottom, he immediately picked himself up and ran back up to challenge Sam's supremacy. The crown continually changed hands as the brothers defended their title.
The sun was directly overhead, beating down on their exposed heads when Dean realized he would have to call a halt to their fun. Through the dirt and sweat coating Sam's face, pink was shining through. The skin on Dean's own nose was feeling a bit tender to the touch. Even if they’d had sunscreen it was too late to put it on. The only solution was to return to the cool, dark interior of the house. Dean could only hope Sam would be too tired to raise his voice above a whisper.
"Time to go in, Sammy," said Dean.
"Do we have to?"
"Yes, unless you want to rival the color of a lobster."
"I don’t care."
"You say that now, but when you start to feel that sunburn you'll be sorry."
Climbing the last few feet to the top of the hill to stand beside his brother, Sam said, "I bet I can roll to the bottom faster than you."
"I bet you can't." Dean moved a safe distance from his brother and laid down preparing himself for the challenge. "On the count of three."
Mimicking his brother's position, Sam agreed, "On three."
"One. Two. Three!" Dean pushed himself off before tucking his arms in close to his chest. The earth spun dizzily from the brown dirt, to the beige wooden frames of the new houses, to the cloud-speckled blue sky. He didn't even try to suppress the cry of joy; a cry that turned to a scream of pain when something dug into his left knee and continued to burn a path down his calf.
"Dean, are you hurted?"
Lying still at the bottom of the hill it took a moment before Dean could fill his lungs with enough air to speak. "Sammy, my leg."
"A piece of wire is sticking out of it, Dean."
The fear in his brother's voice was clearly audible. Dean knew he had to be strong for Sam's sake. Gritting his teeth, he slowly sat up so he could see the injury for himself. A thick barb of wire had gouged a path from the top of his knee to just above his ankle. Through the blood gushing from the gaping wound, he could see the white of bone.
"I'll get Dad." There was a quiver in Sam's voice that belied the courage of his words.
Dean quickly grabbed his brother's arm. "No!"
"Dean, you're hurted bad."
"I'll be all right. Dad's had lots worse from his job. I can take care of it."
"Whadda gonna do?" Sam skeptically regarded his brother.
Taking several deep breaths to prepare himself, Dean grabbed the wire with his right hand and pulled it out of his leg. He was barely able to suppress another cry of agony. Only when he heard a hiss of pain did he realize his other hand was still wrapped around Sam's arm and had reflexively tightened, almost crushing the thin limb. Forcing his grip to relax, Dean apologized, "Sorry, Sammy."
"Please let me get daddy, Dean."
The plaintive plea almost broke Dean's resolve. But he knew if their father found out one of them had gotten hurt they would never be allowed to play outside without supervision again. The prospect of the summer days ahead confined to their small house was enough to firm Dean's resolve. "Help me home, Sammy."
"You're gonna tell daddy?"
Almost broken by his little brother's hopeful appeal, Dean shook his head. "I can't."
"Just trust me. I can't."
Sam unhappily nodded and gently tugged his arm free. Positioning himself under his brother's right shoulder, he helped ease Dean up to his feet.
As soon as he put weight on his leg, Dean started to question his decision. Several times on the walk back to their house he was tempted to sit down and let Sam get their father. It took every ounce of courage he had to fight the urge.
Blood flowed down his leg, collecting in his sock. Dean was glad he had been wearing shorts. At least he hadn't destroyed a pair of pants. With any luck, he would get the wound cleaned and bandaged and their clothes washed before their father woke up. It just meant Dean would have to wear long pants for a while to hide the cut.
When they finally reached the house, Dean limped into the bathroom and closed the door behind him and his brother. Sitting on the toilet seat, he allowed himself to rest for a few seconds. The short journey had taken more out of him than he had expected.
"Whaddya want me to do, Dean?" asked Sam.
Dean pointed to the cabinet under the sink. "Can you get me the first aid kit?"
"Sure." Sam slid the cabinet door aside and grabbed the converted tackle box with both hands. It was too heavy for him to lift, so he dragged it out.
Wincing at the loud noise the metal container made as it hit the linoleum floor, Dean held a finger to his lips. "Shh, Sammy. Remember, we have to be quiet."
"Sorry." Now that he was able to use his whole body, Sam was able to lift the box a few inches off the ground. Stumbling with his awkward load, he crossed the short distance to his brother's side. "Now what?"
"Get me a wet washcloth."
Without a word of complaint Sam ran out of the room to the linen closet. A few seconds later, he returned with several towels in hand. He laid them next to his brother before holding a washcloth under the faucet, soaking it thoroughly. "Here you go."
"Good thinking, Sammy," praised Dean, placing one of the towels under his leg to soak up the dripping blood."
His face glowing with pride, Sam asked, "What should I do now?"
"I'll tell you in a minute."
Taking several deep breaths, Dean prepared himself for the pain he was about to inflict. No matter how much it hurt, he knew he couldn't make a sound. His father seemed to have special hearing when it came to his sons. He always came running when he heard a cough, even one smothered beneath a thick blanket.
Water dripping from the wet washcloth Dean swabbed his leg, cleaning off the blood. But as soon as he thought he'd wiped it clean, more oozed from the torn flesh. The square fabric was quickly saturated. Handing it to his brother, he said, "Sammy, rinse it out."
Reluctantly taking the disgusting cloth, Sam held it under the faucet until the water ran clear. Handing it back to his brother, he pleaded, "Please let me get Daddy, Dean. You're still bleeding."
"No." Though he was beginning to worry himself, Dean shook his head. With school out for the summer, there wasn't anything to do in this boring town, he didn't want to lose another week of television. "I can do this."
Several more times, Sam was forced to rinse out the washcloth. Beginning to get scared, Dean leaned over to press the terry-cloth wad against the spot where the bleeding was the heaviest. The lights seemed to go out and he suddenly found himself sliding off the toilet seat and onto the floor. He heard Sammy sob his name and felt the small hands shaking his shoulder, but he couldn't force any words past his lips. He closed his eyes to block out the spinning room.
"Dean, easy son, I've got you?"
Dean wanted to be mad at Sammy for disobeying him, but he felt so awful he couldn't. His father's reassuring voice was exactly what he needed to hear right now. He moaned when something was wrapped around his leg.
"I'm going to pick you up now, Dean," said John.
Prepared, Dean didn't lash out as he might have if he had been surprised. He had done it before, which was why his father always warned him before he made physical contact.
Expecting to feel the softness of his bed, Dean was surprised when he was gently settled on the front passenger seat of the Impala. "Dad?"
"I'm taking you to the hospital, Dean."
"Can't you stitch it up?" whined Dean.
"You need more than stitches, you need blood."
As his father got behind the wheel of the car and turned on the engine, Dean cautiously opened his eyes. "Are you mad?"
"We'll discuss this later."
"Yes, sir." Dean dejectedly allowed his eyelids to roll down. All his father had asked for was a little quiet so he could sleep, and Dean had failed him – again. First there had been the Striga, now this. His father would never trust him now.
A small hand rested on his shoulder, offering support. Dean wanted to thank Sammy for his encouragement, but couldn't muster the strength to turn his head.
The drive to the hospital was all too short in Dean's opinion even though he was finding it increasingly difficult to stay alert. His heart felt as though it was going to beat right out of his chest, and breathing was becoming more difficult than it should have been. If it wasn't for the presence of his father, Dean knew he would be finding it hard to keep his composure.
He tried to open his eyes when his father stopped the car. The familiar screech of the Impala's squeaky hinges was echoed by his own door when it was opened. Once again, Dean found himself in his father's arms. He tried to focus on the comforting feel of the strong clasp, but the pain throbbing along his leg made it impossible to concentrate on anything. Dean swallowed a whimper, but its twin followed in such rapid succession he was unable to force it back down his throat.
"Hang in there, Dean," urged John. "You'll feel better soon."
Embarrassed by his inability to control his pain, Dean hid his face in the space between his father's neck and shoulder. He heard strange voices barking orders as he was carried along, but he ignored them. The strong odor of disinfectant filled his nostrils, making him wrinkle his nose in distaste.
Dean felt himself start to drift until he was gently laid upon a soft bed. When the security offered by his father's arms suddenly disappeared, he tried to open his eyes but even that small feat was beyond him. Panic swelled inside him demanding an outlet. He tried to stop it but a cry of fear escaped his lips.
"It's all right, Dean," John soothed.
When a hand rested on his shoulder giving it a reassuring squeeze, Dean calmed down.
Tenderly John said, "The doctors are going to fix your leg."
Despite the effort his father exerted to keep his tone encouraging, Dean could hear the underlying apprehension that always deepened his father's voice when his sons were sick or hurt.
Dean squinted through partially opened eyelids when he felt a pinch on the back of his left hand. He saw a needle had been pushed just beneath the skin and was being taped down. Another needle punctured the flesh just below is elbow. Tubes led from both needles to pouches hanging from metal poles. Frightened, Dean tried to pull his hand free, but found it impossible to move so much as a finger. He knew this should frighten him even more, however all he felt was a strange stupor envelop his muscles.
"Go to sleep, Dean. When you wake up you'll feel better."
The last thing Dean felt as he unwillingly followed his father's order, were fingers gently caressing his cheek.
A dull ache in his left leg pulled at Dean. That, along with smells he couldn't associate with cheap motel rooms, clamored at him to open his eyes. Fighting the strange lassitude urging him to go back to sleep, Dean allowed his eyelids to slid up. Bright light made them quickly slam back down.
"They opened, Daddy."
Sammy's cry made Dean wince.
"Did you see, did you see, Daddy?" asked Sam.
"I saw," John confirmed.
"That means we can go home now, right?"
"If Dean feels up to it we can."
What Dean really felt like doing was going back to sleep. However, the short exchange between his father and brother told him he wouldn't have that luxury. With a barely audible sigh, Dean rolled back his eyelids. The first thing he noticed was the absence of the IV lines. Next, he saw his left leg was encased in a thick bandage from thigh to ankle. A hand rested on Dean's arm drawing his attention.
"How do you feel, buddy?" John Winchester inquired.
Dean tried to push up on his elbows. "I'm good."
"Whoa," cautioned John, gently pressing Dean back down on the bed. "Not so fast. The doctor said you could go home when you woke up if you felt like it."
"I feel like it." Knowing they didn't have the money for the treatment he had already received, Dean pushed against the hold to try to sit up.
John's eyes studied his son's face before he finally nodded. "All right, I'll go get the paperwork filled out for your release. You stay put and keep an eye on Sammy while I'm gone."
The door had barely closed behind their father when Sam climbed up the bed and over the protective railing to lie on the mattress beside his brother. The movement sent a wave of pain washing along the length of Dean's leg. He swallowed the groan, unwilling to cause Sam distress.
"I's sorry, Dean." Sam hesitantly cuddled up to his big brother's shoulder.
Dean carefully turned his head to rest a puzzled gaze on Sam's sad face. "What for?"
"I got's Daddy when you told me not to."
"It's all right, Sammy. You did the right thing."
"Nuh-uh." Sam struck the bed with a clutched fist. "They stuck needles in you and made you sleep."
"Sammy, they didn't hurt me. They made me better."
"We c’n all go home now?"
"Yeah, Dad's making sure we're all going home."
Sam exhaled noisily. "And I did good?"
"And you did good." Dean forced a smile.
"I don't like it here." Sam snuggled closer.
"Me neither." Recognizing the signs of exhaustion in his younger brother, Dean suggested, "Sammy, why don't you take a nap while we wait for Dad?"
"You, too?" Sam asked, gently rubbing Dean's arm.
"Sure," approved Dean, "I wouldn't mind getting a little more rest."
"Daddy will wake us?"
Dean assured, "He'll take care of us."
"Ok—" Sam's eyes closed before he finished voicing his agreement.
Though Dean fully intended to watch over his little brother, he found it difficult to keep his eyes open. He fought the weights pulling his eyelids down, but it was a battle he was destined to lose. A yawn cracked his jaw, making his eyes water. Resting his head against Sammy's, Dean stopped fighting and allowed himself to relax. He had complete trust in his father's ability to watch over them.
The next time Dean woke up, he found himself in his own bed. The morning sun was shining through the curtains making him squint. He felt calm and relaxed until he turned his head and saw his brother's bed was empty. Sitting up with a start, he jolted his leg. Pain gripped him so tightly it made him feel dizzy and weak. A groan rose in his throat, but he quickly suppressed it when the door to his bedroom opened.
"It's about time you woke up, sleepyhead," said John, entering the room.
Afraid of what would come out of his mouth if he opened it, Dean shrugged his shoulders as nonchalantly as he could.
"Ready for some breakfast?"
"I guess." Dean was proud of himself. He'd spoken without a cry of pain escaping and lied convincingly if the look on his father's face was to be believed.
"You'll probably be hungrier if you take these." John handed him a couple of pills and a glass of water.
Dean hesitantly took the proffered items. "What are they?"
"Pain pills, bet you could use them about now."
Throwing the pills into his mouth, Dean swallowed them down with a grimace. He emptied the glass but it wasn't enough to dispel the bad taste the medicine had left behind.
"You want to come out and watch cartoons with your brother?"
Hanging his head, Dean reminded, "I can't watch TV for the next week."
"Considering the circumstances, I think we can suspend your punishment." John carefully sat on the end of Dean's bed.
"Really?" The last syllable of the word rose in pitch as Dean keenly regarded his father.
"Yeah, really," smiled John. "I think I may have been a bit hasty doling out punishment in the first place.
Dean ducked his head. "I disobeyed orders."
"Yes," John agreed, "but the orders weren't fair."
"You always said orders were orders."
"It wasn't fair to give you orders and then punish you when Sammy disobeyed them."
Squaring his shoulders, Dean said, "You put me in charge. It was my responsibility. That's what you always say."
"That's true." John bit his lip and nodded.
Dean studied his father's averted face, suddenly realizing the expression he had been trying to decipher was remorse. "This wasn't your fault."
"If I hadn't yelled at you, you wouldn't have been playing outside. You would've been safe in the house."
"I wanted to play outside," insisted Dean. "Dad, there are other things that can hurt us besides monsters or demons."
"So, how about those cartoons?" John rose to his feet and helped his son to his feet.
"We're going to have to move again, aren't we?"
Nodding his head, John said, "It won't be long before they discover I gave them a fake name and credit card at the hospital."
"But you didn't catch that Water Baby yet."
"We'll stay in the next town over until I do."
His eyes studying the small room he had shared with Sammy, Dean realized he was going to miss the sparsely furnished house. It wasn't often they stayed in one place long enough to splurge and rent a house. He knew his brother was going to be particularly disappointed. "What are you going to tell Sammy?"
"I'll think of something."
What little appetite Dean had vanished. It wasn't because he didn't believe his father could tell a convincing lie. Just the opposite. It was because Dean hated lying to Sammy. It had started out as a safety measure to prevent baby Sammy from saying something he shouldn't. Now, the only thing that made the deceit bearable was that Sammy was having as normal a childhood as their father could offer – and that Dean could manipulate.
Dean just hoped it wouldn't come back one day and bite them in the ass.