Spoilers for season 9, brief mention of implied character deathAuthor's Notes:
For the prompt, Literally anything where Dean somehow becomes injured permanently but not in a life-threatening way, and is forced to settle down, with Sam or whoever.Summary:
Sam and Dean rely on the familiarity of old habits to provide a false kind of comfort when the future remains uncertain.
Sam can hear the radio blaring from Dean's room — too loud, as has become common in the days of the lull into which they currently find themselves forced. Sam glances up at his TV with an exasperated expression that no one is around to see. It seems, in retrospect, silly that even after settling into the bunker, he and Dean have no real concept of a living room. There are places to research and to cook food, places to sit and places to store vehicles, but still Sam has a TV in his room — and still Dean holes up with music and hangs out on his bed. Which is all he really does with the bed at all these days — his sleep schedule permanently screwed by late-night alcohol binges that are now so familiar Sam doesn't even bother questioning if Dean has slept when he finds him in the morning, narrow-eyed and focusing on a laptop screen full of cases he won't be pursuing.
If Sam had to explain it, he'd say that the reason he and Dean still treat their rooms like living rooms (and even dining rooms, more often these days) is because they are accustomed to living in tight quarters, and old habits of having everything they need right there — bed, TV, music, weapons, and all — are difficult to put to rest. Work is one thing — if it's related to tracking down hunts, they will spread out wherever necessary. But downtime is something to which he and Dean are still trying to adapt.
Even now he goes to his room to watch TV or read a novel. Even now, if they're going to watch something together, he and Dean occupy the space of a bedroom and ignore the fact that they could easily make one of the bunker's study rooms into a living room.
Sam sighs to himself, tossing his book on his bed as he stands and makes his way out of his room, heading toward Dean's. The music gets louder, and not just because Sam is increasing in proximity. Dean is turning it up, to the point that Sam can feel it reverberating through the hall.
He doesn't waste his time on knocking. He just opens the door.
Dean is sitting on his bed. The stereo is positioned beside it. He sees Sam, watching him approach with an expression that stays set, as though Dean isn't enjoying his listening session at all.
"Sammy." He doesn't yell it over the music, but Sam can read it not only in his lips, but also in his features, the way his face takes on an edge of concentration as he pronounces the word.
"I'm turning it down, Dean," Sam says loudly, even though he knows that Dean won't hear him and his movement to the stereo will make it hard for his lips to be read. Speaking out loud is a habit.
He and Dean have a lot of those.
Sam turns the volume knob just in time to catch Dean saying, " —an't hear you, Sammy."
He knows that.
Dropping his hand and straightening his posture, Sam looks back at Dean. He thinks about saying something, making some kind of statement, but he can't settle anything more than, "Dean."
"Don't gimme that," Dean replies, shifting his weight on the bed so that he can reach toward the stereo. He rests his hand on it, briefly, and then hits the power button. "What's for dinner?" He asks without bothering to look up.
Sam doesn't answer. Instead, he just goes to grab his jacket.
They go to a diner.
There's no reason to, really, but diners have punctuated their everyday lives for so long that they keep up with the tradition even when they aren't hunting, albeit not as frequently. They're seated and Dean looks down at the menu only briefly — he already knows what he wants. Sam takes a moment longer.
The waitress is cute but young, probably fresh out of high school. She smiles as she asks what they would like to drink. Dean is ready for the question, watching her closely as she speaks and giving her one of those smiles that Sam has seen finalize pickups far too often for his liking. This time, though, it has nothing to do with picking her up — she's too young even for Dean, who tends to be more paternal toward girls in her age bracket. Instead, it has everything to do with distracting her.
It works. Dean orders a beer — seamlessly, without missing a beat — and if it comes across a little too readily prepared, the girl doesn't notice. Sam asks for the same.
"I'll be right back to take the rest of your order," the girl promises, eyes lingering on Dean for a moment before she's off after their drinks.
There was a time where Sam may have raised his eyebrows or delivered a quip directed at the self-satisfaction that Dean radiates as the waitress walks away, but there is nothing about this that should be taken lightly.
When Dean looks over at him and sees his expression, there is a minor shift in his own, something only Sam could notice as Dean holds fast to appearing laid back about the whole thing.
"I'm getting good at this," Dean declares. There's a slight challenge in his tone, daring Sam to go ahead and say what he's going to say. Good at denial
, Sam signs, exaggeratedly, with some petty little-brother hope that the girl — and everyone around them — will notice that this
is how Dean is communicated to these days. Not through speech. For good measure, Sam doesn't say the words, forcing Dean to watch his hands instead of his lips.
When it comes to sign language, they have a long way to go. Dean has the alphabet and a good set of words and phrases down, but words like denial
don't commonly enter their conversations (although it should
), so Sam spells it out with his fingers, forcing Dean to recognize the meaning. He doesn't know how much ASL studying Dean does when left to his own devices, but Sam feels as though it would be pretty damn convenient for him to miss a few signs here and there.
Dean decides to be a smartass and signs denial
back at Sam, raising his eyebrows. "Deaf and stupid aren't the same thing, Sammy."
"I'm not saying you're stupid, Dean," Sam replies, now speaking as he signs not stupid
, trying to move his fingers to match his words as closely as his own limited knowledge will allow. He is a little surprised to find that Dean knows the sign, but he doesn't let that distract him from his point. "I'm saying you gotta give up the act." Sam leans in and lowers his voice automatically, though it makes no difference to Dean.. "Stop pretending everything is fine."
Pretending that he can hear is only going to get Dean in trouble — whether it hurts his pride or not, Dean needs to face this.
They've had variations on this conversation before — most recently when Sam insisted that Dean start studying sign language and Dean played it off like Sam was making this to be made out into a bigger deal than it needed to be.
Sam knows better. He can see through Dean. He knows this is huge for him, that Dean is well aware that he is vulnerable, that everything is different now.
He just wants Dean to admit it so that they can work on the problem together, instead of turning everything into an uphill battle.
fine," Dean replies, looking up when he sees the waitress approaching in the corner of his vision. He puts on that smile again, but she's looking more unsure than she was a few moments ago. Which means she saw the signing.
"Are you ready to order?" she asks with some hesitation after setting down their beer bottles, only briefly glancing at Dean before direction her attention to Sam, since, as she has now assessed, he's the hearing one.
Sam is about to ask for another minute, but Dean launches right into his order without giving him the chance.
"A burger for me," he says over Sam's attempt to speak. "Heavy on the onions."
Sam orders a salad. The waitress smiles awkwardly as she collects their menus and walks off, avoiding prolonged eye contact with either of them.
"This isn't going away," Sam both speaks and signs, this time with calmer movements.
That gets to Dean. Sam can tell because Dean's expression changes. Darkens. The permanence is what they both
are still grappling with — not just Dean, but Sam, too, is having trouble just accepting that this is the way it is now. It's the way it will be — for good.
There are supernatural fixes, sure. Deals and sketchy solutions, the give-and-take of magic, the lure of an imperfect cure. But they promised: No more, never again. They took things too far too many times. Sam has been dead and revived, soulless and then insane, scarred mentally in ways that he doesn't like to think about too deeply. And Dean — Dean has been to Hell, has experienced what it is like to be a demon through and through, humanity sacrificed in the name of cleaning up their messes, in restoring a status quo, in fixing
No more supernatural fixes.
If Cas were still around, it would be different. Sam has his suspicions that this is something even he couldn't fix, being that this is one of the sacrifices that Dean had to give to be made human again — pieces of himself twisted and yanked away during a cure that involved not only restoring humanity to a demon, but also removing the mark — but they can't test that theory. Cas is gone, seemingly for good this time, and neither Dean nor Sam will call on any other angel to lend a helping hand. Not after what happened with Gadreel.
Sam still looks for answers. There's a part of him that still believes there has got to be a way to get Dean his hearing back, to fix what they broke when they brought him back to humanity. He doesn't tell Dean that sometimes he can't sleep, either, that he stays awake buried in files and tries to figure out an answer that won't require any more loss. He wonders if Dean looks, too, on those nights he drinks too much and sleeps too little.
Whether he does or not, they're essentially in the same position: neither of them wants to accept that this is the end. But they can't live that way. They — Dean especially — need to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate Dean's disability. They both need to face it for what it is.
Pretending that everything is normal is not the way to get to that point.
Dean shakes his head — just once, to himself — then he takes a long swallow from his beer, settling back into the seat and directing his attention to the restaurant around Sam. He's shutting Sam out — ending the conversation by turning a literal deaf ear on him.
They eat in silence.
Two nights go by in the pause that has become their lives. Time moves on, but neither of them do. It's as though they're both waiting to pick back up and head on the road, like this break is just a matter of waiting for a wound to heal or taking a breather before the next big problem. Sam doesn't remember how to relax, and he's had a lot more practice than Dean, who compulsively cleans weapons, paces, and takes drives that wind up being big circles that lead him right back to the bunker. They get under each other's skin and spend more time taking advantage of the quiet that Dean's position allows than they do trying to communicate with each other. They rely on the familiarity of old habits to provide a false kind of comfort when the future remains uncertain.
Once, Sam thought that a break would give him the opportunity to go back to school, to fulfill stale dreams to which he clung for so long just because they were something
and he needed them to help him get through the rough patches. He doesn't even delude himself into looking at school websites or determining application requirements. He doesn't look at job opportunities or try to meet widows in motels or forge any kind of life for himself.
Dean doesn't, either.
They're both conditioned to know better.
On the third night, Sam can't sleep. Nights like these are always rough for him, because they remind him of the time during which Lucifer was stuck in his head and insomnia was symptomatic of something far more serious. Instead of sleeping, he spends half the night researching Dean's situation. There's very little to go by, even within the bunker's files, because curing demons wasn't exactly commonplace back in the Men of Letters' heyday, and curing demons with the Mark of Cain simply had no precedent.
Sam looks over everything again anyway. As usual, he comes up empty.
At 3 a.m. he walks blearily to the kitchen for something to drink. Dean is awake and sitting at the table, a few files spread out and a laptop in front of him. He doesn't hear Sam and doesn't manage to see him in his peripheral vision, so Sam has to step in front of him to get his attention without catching him by surprise. Surprising Dean in general is never a good idea, lest Sam wind up with a knife to his throat. Now that his hearing is impaired, Dean is even jumpier.
"What?" Dean asks gruffly, rubbing a hand over his face and shifting his position in the chair.
"Sleep," Sam mouths without bothering to vocalize.
"I'm getting to it." Dean clears his throat, then turns the laptop around to face Sam. "Check this out. A case, not too far from here."
Sam turns his hands up, raising his eyebrows, asking clearly, So what?
The look Dean returns is narrow-eyed, annoyed and directed at Sam as though Sam is being slow to catch on. It's a big-brother expression that Dean, instead of losing it as they grew older, has perfected.
"Someone needs to go," Dean tells him, turning the laptop back when it's obvious Sam isn't interested in the case.
Maybe it shouldn't catch him by surprise, given how Dean has tried to play everything off as though their situation is normal — as though he
is normal — but it does. Dean hunting is a terrible idea. He's going to get himself killed.
"No," Sam says and signs at once. "Not happening, Dean."
Dean doesn't bother to watch Sam finish his protest. He reaches for the glass that's sitting beside the laptop and drains the whiskey.
Sam can't stand it when Dean talks at him, but shuts him out by turning his attention elsewhere. This tendency to avoid allowing Sam to take the conversation where he
wants it to go has always been there; it's just that Dean is even better at closing avenues of discussion now.
Sam stands there, annoyed and tense, waiting until Dean finally looks at him again. And when he does, Sam signs deliberately, you
and then deaf
"Equal opportunity, Sammy."
"Right," Sam replies sarcastically, not signing this time because he doesn't know of a sign to adequately convey how idiotic of an idea this is. "'Cause being deaf isn't going to hurt your ability to hunt at all."
"If you'd listen and stop bitching," Dean tells him, even though he's effectively missed the bitching by keeping his attention on the laptop instead of on Sam, "I was gonna say it's just a salt and burn. Nothing big. Open and shut case. Should be easy, even for the hard of hearing."
Dean looks up just in time to catch Sam's lips communicate those words nice and clearly. "Jesus, you'd think I'm an invalid with the way you're acting. Deaf doesn't mean 'useless.'"
No, it doesn't, but deaf is a pretty big deal when being able to hear something behind you can save your life.
"Exactly. You're not useless. There are a lot of things that you can do." Sam signs as best he can, but he also speaks slowly so Dean can follow his lips. "But hunting? Dean, come on. You know that's a bad idea."
They don't need to remove themselves completely from hunting. They have resources to help hunters, and Dean, for all his complaints, is good at conducting research and solving cases. There are options. Options that aren't as close to life or death situations as hunting.
"Then what?" Dean asks, growing more irritated. "What's next? 'Cause I can't keep living this and neither can you."
"There's more than hunting out there. You know that." He signs more
, but it seems useless. Dean gets the gist of the conversation — enough to argue, at least.
"You gonna give me another speech about how there's a light at the end of the tunnel? Gotta tell you, Sammy, I don't believe you believe that anymore."
"There's more than this. We can start something new. Get the Men of Letters back up, really get it going again. Help other hunters. We have access to a ton of research that make a difference."
Dean rubs his eyes tiredly, missing half of Sam's speech. "It's not enough."
Sam falls silent. There's no adequate response to that — nothing Dean would want to hear, at least. Sam could say it wasn't Dean's fault, what happened while he was a demon, but Dean would disagree. He took the mark willingly, without questioning the consequences. He could say that Dean had no choice, but in the end it was Dean's choice and his choice alone that put the mark on his arm, regardless of the reasoning behind it.Can
Sam finally signs. It can be enough for them both. They can make it work.
"I'm going tomorrow," Dean states, shutting the laptop and standing up. "With or without you."
Then Dean walks out of the room.
He goes on the hunt. Of course he does. He thinks it's a bad idea, but Sam isn't going to let Dean go by himself regardless of his feelings. Not when hunting alone can get Dean killed. If nothing else, Sam can be his ears.
It turns out to be unnecessary. The hunt goes fine. They salt and burn the corpse, and nothing goes wrong. Dean doesn't get hurt, and they find themselves driving back to the bunker in one piece, successful.
Sam stays quiet as he drives, eyes on the road. He's annoyed, and finds himself almost wishing something had
gone wrong, just to show Dean that they can't keep this up. All this successful hunt will do is encourage Dean.
Dean doesn't seem triumphant, though. There are no I told you so
statements, nor does he start rattling off plans for other hunts. He stays quiet, attention directed out the window so that even if Sam did feel like talking, Dean wouldn't be able to notice.
When they make it to the bunker, Dean gets out of the car and doesn't bother glancing at Sam as he heads inside.
A few days go by and Sam and Dean don't talk, but that's become fairly normal for them. They don't discuss the hunt and instead just exist beside each other instead of with each other, the only occasional meeting in the hall or kitchen spurring minimal interaction.
Which is why Sam isn't expecting Dean to suddenly come into his room one afternoon, take a seat on the bed, and declare, "You're right," out of the blue. "I'm done."
He knows exactly what Dean is talking about, but he still signs, Done?
hoping that Dean will elaborate.
"I can't do it anymore," Dean replies, looking miserable as he speaks. It's a painful admission, because hunting has been their lives for so long. Because Dean feels like he needs to do it to make amends for all the bad that has come out of their choices. And because, when you get down to it, their attempts at not
hunting have never ended well.
Sam is quiet for a moment. Eventually, Dean turns his attention to him again, waiting for a reply. OK
, Sam signs. We're done.
Then, verbally, he adds, "We'll figure it out, Dean. We've got plenty of time to get through this."
Dean nods, and though he doesn't necessarily looked convinced, Sam thinks that this is a step in the right direction. One toward healing and moving on. Adapting to life the way it is now and learning how to deal with it.
They can do this.
Things don't get better overnight. The next day, there's still tension and guilt, and Sam knows Dean is still struggling with the way things are. He's struggling, too. But they'll get there. They can break their old habits and start something new. They have to.
Sam's phone rings and he grabs it from the diner table to answer it. Dean watches him without pausing to stop eating, and even though Sam stands up and walks away from the table so Dean can't read his lips, he knows his body language is a tipoff that this isn't a good conversation.
It’s the kind of conversation that ends in a hunt.
Sam promises Linda Tran that they'll be right over.
When he hangs up and goes back to Dean, Dean doesn't ask who it was. He sees enough in Sam's expression.
"We don't get to have an ending," Dean states before picking up a piece of bacon and biting it.