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The receiver clicked as Bobby hung up on Dean after ten seconds of silence. Dean stared at the phone and then hung it back up with more force than was strictly necessary. At least Bobby was still alive.

It had been forty years. Four decades.

Up here, it had been just over four months. 

Dean hot-wired a car, his hands shaking almost too hard for him to touch the wires, and he headed onto the highway.

Dean oriented himself easily enough. He was eight hours from Bobby’s if he drove fast. He knew where he was going; he just had no idea what he was going to do once he got there, a fact which got harder to ignore as he got closer to Sioux Falls. Bobby would probably either shoot him or stab him if Dean just showed up and couldn’t say anything to convince Bobby he was real, and Dean had no desire to go back to where he’d just crawled out of.

He would just have to talk to Bobby. He would just have to make his voice work. That was all.

Dean almost made it to the Sioux Falls exit ramp before he panicked and pulled off onto the shoulder. Distantly he was aware that he was hyperventilating but he didn’t have the energy to stop. 

Dean had had his lungs ripped out multiple times, he can survive breathing fast. 

He came back to himself sometime later, his fingers clenched white around the steering wheel.

Dean opened his mouth and tried, desperately, to say something. Anything. Hi. Shit. Sam. His own name.

His throat just wouldn’t cooperate.

Dean was about to punch something when his gaze fell onto a stubby pencil in the cupholder. 

He found an old receipt in the passenger seat footwell. He pressed the paper down flat over his knee, the cheap ink facing down, and then found his hand frozen with the pencil hovering over the paper.

Just write something. Jesus, Winchester, it doesn’t have to be a fucking poem.

Dean hadn’t written in forty years but his hand still seemed to have the muscle memory to guide the pencil. In shaky, large, letters, Dean wrote,

Your name is Bobby Singer. You became a hunter after your wife died.

He stared at the words and painstakingly added,

You’re the closest thing I have to a father.

Dean drove the last few miles slightly below the speed limit.

 

Bobby did, in fact, try to kill Dean. Luckily he went for his knife first and Dean had time to leap back and raise his hands in a show of good intentions.

Bobby went for his shotgun. Dean desperately chucked the balled-up receipt at him. It bounced off of his chest and fell onto the porch.

Bobby raised his eyebrows along with his shotgun. 

“You got something to say, say it before I kill you, you son of a bitch.”

Dean frantically pointed at the paper and mouthed please, Bobby .

The shogun didn’t waver but Bobby did pick up the paper. He read the note and took his finger off the trigger slowly. 

“I’m gonna get a silver knife. Don’t even think about moving.”

 

Dean passed all of Bobby’s tests, which was a relief to Dean as well as Bobby.

Bobby pulled Dean into a hug. Dean almost froze up but managed to convince himself this contact was good, that it wouldn’t hurt. If Bobby noticed he didn’t say anything.

Bobby slid Dean an opened beer, a notepad, and a pen. Across his table, Dean took a swig of beer and scrawled Where’s Sam?

Bobby snorted. “If I had any doubts left about you being Dean that was the end of ‘em. I haven’t heard from him in… Hell, two months?”

Dean opened his mouth to demand what the hell, Bobby? and then stopped and took a sip of beer instead. Bobby had caught the motion, though.

“Yeah, why ain’t you talking?” Bobby asked, his eyebrows raised. “Did whatever brought you back do something?”

That was a convenient excuse and Dean shrugged rather than disillusion Bobby. 

He vaguely remembered this feeling from when he was younger, when he had still checked ceilings everywhere he went and hadn’t been able to sleep away from Sammy, as well as from those first few months after Sam left for Stanford. Now there was the familiar choking feeling in his throat, the paralysis in his limbs, the urge to fight or run at just the thought of trying to speak. 

It could have been something left over from what had brought him out of Hell, yeah. But the feeling was a little too familiar for Dean to believe that.

“All right,” Bobby muttered. He adjusted his hat and drained the rest of his beer. “We’ll find out what Sam did to get you out and then we’ll deal with whatever’s got ahold of your tongue.”

Dean knew, logically, that Bobby meant nothing by it. That Bobby was safe. But his gruff words warped, became Alastair’s low hisses.

“What’s the matter, Dean-o? Cat got your tongue? No pretty screams today?”

Dean blinked and he was back at Bobby’s kitchen table. Bobby was placing their beer bottles by the kitchen sink. There were a lot of other bottles by the sink. And everywhere else.

“I’m assuming you want to see Sam,” Bobby told Dean. “Like I said, I haven’t heard from him in a while. Said he was going to get you back or die trying. I tried to tell him that wasn’t what you wanted, but…”

Bobby trailed off. Dean nodded several times. Even though there was a hell of a lot about the past four months that he needed to find out, even though he still expected to see Alastair every time he blinked, he needed to see Sam.

“Figured as much. I’ll give him a call. You want me to tell him that you’re…?”

Dean wondered how that question was going to end. Alive, not talking, and six kinds of crazy all seemed like possible answers. Dean’s hand was shaking hard when he wrote YES

 

Sam didn’t believe Bobby at first.

“You ran all the tests?”

“What am I, senile? Yeah, I ran the tests.”

“And he’s not talking?”

“Nope,” Bobby said, glancing at Dean, who was leaning as close to the phone as he could while still sitting. “But it’s him.”

“Ask him what he told me when I left for Stanford,” Sam demands.

“He ain’t talking, that doesn’t mean he’s deaf, ya idjit. He’s writing now.”

Dean wrote as fast as his hand would let him. 

I said “take care of yourself. Check the salt lines. Call me or I’ll show up at Stanford guns blazing.” 

Left $568 in his duffel in the envelope with his acceptance letter. Gave him my favorite knife. Gift from Pastor Jim. Consecrated iron.

Bobby read Dean’s words to Sam. Sam was silent for several heartbeats. The hiss of dead air filled Bobby’s kitchen.

“What’s my favorite poem?”

Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman.

Bobby relayed Dean’s response.

“Why?”

Hell if I know, Sam, you know full well that shit gives me a headache.

Dean’s frustration grew with every word he had to write. It would be so much easier to answer these questions out loud, so much faster, and if Sam could hear his voice, surely he would know it was really Dean .

Bobby read Dean’s note and added, “If that ain’t Dean talking then I really am senile.”

Dean heard his brother’s sharp exhale and then Sam whispered, disbelieving, “Dean?”

Hey, Sammy, Dean mouthed, cursing his absent voice, and Sam was saying he’d be at Bobby’s in eight hours or less and hanging up.

He and Bobby stared at the phone for a moment. Then Dean wrote, I’m gonna take a shower, and almost knocked his chair over in his haste to be alone.

 

Sam made it from Iowa to South Dakota in six hours. He opened Bobby’s front door with so much force it bounced off the kitchen wall.

“Dean,” Sam breathed, and Dean pulled his brother into a hug in time to hide his watering eyes.

 

"So, uh, you can't talk?" Sam asked.

Dean shrugged and nodded. He was probably physically capable of speaking, but he sure as fuck wasn't going to.

"Okay." Sam raked a hand through his shaggy hair. Dean reminded himself to get Sam a haircut, at gunpoint if necessary. "Okay."

Okay what?

"Okay, we're gonna solve this."

Okay.

Dean watched some of the tension drain out of his brother's face.

If Sam needed to believe that everything had a solution, Dean would let him.

One of them had to keep hoping.

 

Castiel came into the barn-- and Dean's life-- in a swirl of sparks and trenchcoat.

Dean and Bobby fired. The stranger didn't seem phased.

Dean opened his mouth and choked on air at the thought of speaking. Sam shot him a look and spoke for him. 

That much was familiar. It had been that way for most of Dean's early life, much to John's chagrin.

"Who the hell are you?" Sam demanded. The stranger didn't look away from Dean.

"I am Castiel."

"Okay, what are you?" Bobby asked.

"I am an angel of the Lord. Dean Winchester, I am the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition."

Bullshit, Dean thought. He grabbed a knife.

"It is not, as you say, 'bullshit'," Castiel told Dean. 

Dean stared. Did he just read my thoughts?

"I can understand what you are trying to tell me, yes."

Sam looked between Dean and the "angel".

"What?"

Castiel sighed and pressed two fingers to Sam and Bobby's foreheads. They dropped.

Dean drove the knife into Castiel's chest. Castiel pulled it out and dropped it with no change in expression.

"They're just sleeping, Dean," Castiel said.

Dean stepped between Castiel and his brother.

Stay away from them, he thought furiously.

Castiel sighed again. He rolled his shoulders back and his eyes began to glow blue.

In the dim light of the barn, the silhouettes of vast wings spread across the wall.

Holy shit, Dean thought.

The blue light faded, along with the angel's-- Dean was beginning to believe Castiel was actually an angel, damn it-- wings.

"I would appreciate it if you did not blaspheme, Dean," Castiel said.

You're in my head, man, it's not like I can censor my thoughts.

"Since you will not speak, this is the only option."

Fine. Don't judge my fucking thoughts, then.

Castiel inclined his head.

What do you want?

"We have work for you," the angel said.

 

Hunting was different, but they made it work. Dean could still whistle and their hand signals had been thorough even before Dean stopped talking. 

When they interviewed witnesses, Sam told them Dean had sustained combat injuries in the Middle East and wasn't able to speak. It wasn't too far from the truth.

Dean hated the way most people looked at him. The pity, the sympathy, the fear-- it all made him nauseous. 

It was better than the truth, though. 

 

Once, Dean and Sam interviewed a veteran. Her name was Leigh and she looked at Dean with a sort of hard understanding.

"Where'd you serve?"

Hell, Dean wrote. Sam shifted and said nothing.

"Yeah," she said. "It sure felt like that, sometimes."

Leigh moved on. She described the flickering lights and apparitions without hesitation. Dean guessed she'd seen weirder. 

She came with them when they burned the bones. She helped dig up the grave and asked a lot of calm questions. Dean thought he and Sam might have made a future hunter. It was bittersweet. Leigh would make a damn good hunter and ally, but she'd also just lost her one chance at a normal life.

They went out for celebratory drinks after the bones were salted and burned. Sam ordered for Dean, like always.

When Sam went to the bathroom, Leigh spoke, her eyes on the condensation rings on the table.

"One of my friends didn't talk much after he got back," she said. "It wasn't quite the same. He could talk, he just couldn't really tell what volume he was talking at, you know? Got too close to an IED and…" Leigh raised her hand to her ear and mimed an explosion. "He'd yell all the time."

Dean pulled out a pen-- he carried one everywhere-- and grabbed a napkin.

I'm sorry.

"Yeah. He's got issues, but hey, every damn one of us does, right?" She took a long drink. "Point is, he has to use sign language for a while. Helped him out some. Maybe it'd help you."

Dean shrugged and she didn’t press.

 

Sam and Dean parted from Leigh with an exchange of phone numbers.

"Text me if you need anything," Leigh told Dean. "That's an order."

He saluted.

Sam waited five minutes before asking, "Why would you need anything from her?" 

Dean glanced over and pointed at the steering wheel. 

"Right. Sorry. Yeah, uh, please don’t write while you’re driving.”

Dean stuck his tongue out.

It was different, driving with Sam when Dean wasn't talking. Not too much, though. They still bitched at each other about music and food and everything in between. Dean just did it without speaking. 

Sam could still hear Dean just fine.

 

Cas dropped in occasionally. Sometimes he had jobs or news. Sometimes he didn't. Dean didn't ask why he was there on those occasions in case Cas might answer.

 

(Dean prayed, sometimes. Not the kind of kneeling with folded hands praying he'd seen Sam do once or twice. The kind of prayer that was stray thoughts and half-thought out intentions. 

Cas always heard him.

Cas was the only one who always heard Dean.)

 

Dean got so frustrated with himself after a particularly difficult hunt that he drove off and left Sam at the motel. Dean gave in and texted Leigh on the hood of his Baby.

how did your friend learn sign language?

She responded within fifteen minutes.

Hi Dean! I asked him and he said he got an app, practiced with his family, found some members of the deaf community and practiced with them too. Hope that helps!

He thanked her and shoved his phone deep into his pocket. 

 

When Dean got back to the room, Sam was waiting.

“Dean, I know this must really suck for you, but you can’t just take off like--”

Dean raised a hand and pulled out the page he’d written after Leigh’s response.

We should learn sign language.

Sam read the paper, looked at Dean, and read it again.

“Really?”

Dean raised an eyebrow. 

“I mean, sure!” Sam said. He sounded happier than he had in a long time. “I took a few classes in college, but I’ll have to brush up on it. We can maybe get some books or take an online course or something.”

Dean nodded and headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Sam continued to chatter behind him.

Dean found himself smiling into the mirror.

 

It was slow, but they learned. 

It wasn’t the same as speaking, for Dean. It was incredibly frustrating to have to struggle for the gestures when he knew the words in English, to have to spell out words when he didn’t know the motion in sign.

Despite that, it was nice to be able to speak without a pen and a piece of paper, as painstaking as sign could be while he was learning it.

It was slow, but it was good.

 

Sam did ask about Hell. Dean maintained he didn’t remember anything and Sam let it pass for a while, even if his concerned bitchface said a lot.

The thought of speaking was petrifying enough without thinking about talking about Hell.

Sam talked to Uriel and demanded to know what Dean actually remembered on a sunny day in Washington. 

There aren’t words, Sam, Dean signed. 

There weren’t words for what Alastair had done to him. Not out loud, not in sign language, not in the cheap, small notebook Sam had bought him at a gas station in Wichita.

He held up a hand when Sam began to protest.

But I can try. 

 

Sam got two pages into Dean’s description before he had to throw up. 

 

The demon on top of Dean tilted his head in mocking concern. “Come now, Dean, you can’t have forgotten me. We spent so much time together, after all.”

Dean dug his heels into the ground and tried to roll the demon off. It did nothing. He’d known it would be useless, but he was stubborn like that.

“Cat got your tongue?” the demon purred, the words blending with the screaming in the back of Dean’s mind. Dean swallowed. 

“Alastair,” he croaked, and his voice sounded as rusty as it had after years of screaming. 

Sam’s head whipped around. The betrayal on his face would have hurt if Dean could focus on anything besides Alastair.

 

“So you’ll talk to him?” Sam spat. Dean accelerated hard, gravel spraying away from under the Impala’s tires. “What, I’m just not good enough?”

Dean didn’t respond, out loud or otherwise. 

 

Sam apologized, after Anna was gone and the most immediate threat was dealt with. Dean jerked his head in a nod and didn’t bring it up again.

---

After Lucifer rose, after the two of them parted ways and after Dean told Sam he could come back, Sam heard Dean’s voice for the first time since their encounter with Alastair. At first he thought he was still dreaming, but then Sam blinked one eye open and saw his brother’s lips moving. 

“Give me something to believe in,” Dean sang, just loud enough for Sam to hear it. “Oh, if there’s a Lord above…”

Sam must have made some sort of noise, because Dean glanced over. Dean’s hands went white on the top of the steering wheel and Sam expected him to return to his silence. Instead, Dean took a deep breath and kept singing.

“And give me something to believe in…”

Sam’s eyes stung. He joined in with Dean on the next verse.