Summary: “No. No way. There's got to be a way to break it ourselves. I can't do a year of mime-Sam. And Sam's head is gonna explode if he can't talk, Bobby. We need to fix this.”
A/N: Set early Season 2.
Sam is already dressed when Dean cracks his eyes open, even though the sun is only just starting to creep through the curtains, his hair damp and curling around his neck, darkening the shoulders of his shirt with drips. One elbow is propped on the motel table, hand tucked under his chin to support his head. The laptop is open in front of him but the screen-saver is on and Sam is staring off into space, his eyes distant. Dean turns his head to squint at the alarm clock until the red blurs resolve themselves into the numbers 6:23. Jesus.
“You already showered?” he asks, voice gravelly with sleep, and Sam jumps a little, startling out of what was probably an impressive brood. “How long have you been up?”
Sam shrugs at him, glances at the alarm clock and holds up four fingers, which could mean he's been awake since four AM or for the last four hours. It's too early for the effort of clarification though and both options make him feel guilty enough to sit up and scrub his hands down his face, regretfully wiping away the remnants of sleep. He can't blame the kid for wanting to get going, even if it is disgustingly early.
“All right, give me ten minutes,” he sighs, throwing back the blankets. “I'll hit the shower and we can head out.”
Sam nods eagerly and all but jumps to his feet, closing the laptop and reaching for it's case. He's obviously been itching to pack up and go for hours, desperate to continue the search for answers. Dean grabs his bag of toiletries and decides to be ready in five.
It feels like they only just left Bobby's place (probably because they pretty much did only just leave Bobby's place) but well, whatever is going on with Sam isn't wearing off, none of the curse-breakers they've tried have helped, and they can't hunt like this. Dean figured that out after getting nailed by a flying tree branch on account of an angry spirit and Sam not being able to yell 'duck'. So yeah, Bobby's it is. Time to get this sorted.
He has to admit – not to Sam, of course, what does he look like, a moron? - that is was kind of... nice, at first. Like, okay, okay, being cursed, if that's what this is, is never a good thing, but after all of Sam's attempts to get Dean to discuss his feelings over the last few weeks, some quiet was refreshing. After all, Sam can't try to talk to him about Dad if Sam can't talk, and Dean was privately glad for the reprieve and the distraction, even if research and witchcraft are two of his least favourite things in the world. He had consoled himself by setting Sam the task of reading up on all things weird and silence-related while he asked around to see if anyone let anything slip, and secretly enjoyed the quiet.
That is, until they passed the 'week and a day' milestone at which most spells burn themselves out, without so much as a whisper from Sam – just a lot of agitated pacing and sighing and finally something close to what Dean imagines a panic attack would look like, until he calmed the kid down by promising to call Bobby and plead for help.
Anyway, he didn't let on to Sam but he was getting more than a little freaked out by their lack of progress himself. He was well passed teasing Sam about his inability to talk – only well-timed, sophisticated quips like 'Burgers for lunch, Sam? Speak up if you disagree' or 'Strip club tonight? Silence means yes', of course – and watching Sam silently melt down in frustration had lost its charm sooner than he'd anticipated.
Honestly, Dean is starting to really miss hearing Sam's voice. It's so quiet in the Impala, even with the radio on in an attempt to drown it out. Dean is used to driving in silence, Sam sitting shotgun, sleeping or reading or just watching the road, but this is different. This silence feels like a prison, heavy and oppressive. It kind of makes him want to scream, just to reassure himself that he still can, like mute-ness might be contagious somehow, and shit, if it's getting to him this bad, who knows how crazy Sammy's going alone inside his head?
Dean glances across the bench-seat at his brother. Sam's head is currently propped against the window and his eyes are unfocused as he watches the road vanish beneath the Impala's wheels, probably thinking up a storm. Dean has started to become uncomfortably aware of how much he relies on Sam's voice. Kid has a million and one expressions that all mean different things from 'I'm coming down with something' to 'I'm going to strangle you if you don't shut up' and Dean knows all of them but reading Sam's mind is challenging when he's in brood-mode and, without being able to poke and prod until Sam breaks and composes a novel about what he's thinking, Dean is kind of at a loss.
Sam's not happy about losing his voice, of course, and the lack of insight into the cause is obviously frustrating the hell out of him – Sammy's research skills don't fail him often and Dean has caught him casting a few betrayed looks at the laptop over the last week, or slamming books shut without the general care Sam usually gives them – but mostly he's been pretty calm and focused, scribbling theories down in an old notebook for Dean to read and follow up on, sinking into research mode like he would with any other case. Is the silence suffocating him the way it is Dean? Does Sam feel that crazy urge to scream, only worse, because he can't?
“Hey,” Dean says. Sam blinks out of his thoughts, turns his head and raises a questioning eyebrow. “You okay?”
Okay, that sounds lame. He can't blame Sam for the eye-roll and sarcastic thumbs up he gets in response (and how do you manage to make a thumb seem sarcastic, Sam, really? That's a talent). What was he expecting? Sam can't talk and Dean can't read Sam's scribbled notes while he's driving.
“Okay, I know, I'm sorry. I just...” What? What was he just? “You were kind of freaked out last night,” he finishes awkwardly.
Sam turns back to the window, a flush reddening his cheeks before he ducks behind his hair. He shrugs. Great. Now they both feel awkward. Breaking the silence isn't helping like Dean thought it would.
“I mean, I get it,” he stumbles on anyway.”The spell didn't break on it's own. It sucks but it just means we'll have to break it ourselves. And that's no biggie, we'll find something in Bobby's library and you'll be talking my ear off again in no time.” He offers Sam what he hopes is a reassuring smile but he may as well not have bothered because Sam's still hiding behind his hair and Dean gets the feeling that his attempts at comfort are just making the kid feel worse.
“I just don't want you getting lost in that gigantic brain of yours,” he says quietly. “It's a long drive.”
Sam shrugs again, which could mean pretty much anything. Dean sighs and turns the radio up.
Bobby does a bunch of stuff with herbs and incense that doesn't seem to do much other than make Sam sneeze a lot while he sits cross-legged on Bobby's kitchen floor inside a purification circle the older hunter had drawn up, but by the end of it Bobby has somehow managed to come to a few conclusions, though none of them are particularly new or useful.
“It's definitely a spell of some sort,” he confirms, frowning down at Sam. “Old, by the looks of it. Not something your average New-Ager has up their sleeve.”
Sam grimaces. Of course, old means complicated. Dean sees a lot of tedious research in his immediate future.
“Spells usually have a shelf-life though, right?” he presses. “So it could still wear off on it's own?”
“It could,” Bobby agrees carefully. He begins packing away his stash of herbs, spread over the table. “Could be you just need to wait it out a little longer.”
“But you don't think so,” Dean surmises.
Bobby pulls out a chair from the kitchen table and sinks into it with a sigh. “It's possible it will break on it's own, given enough time. Maybe another week. Maybe when there's a full moon. Maybe not for a year.”
“A year?” Dean repeats incredulously. Sam's mouth drops open in horror, eyes widening. He shoots Dean a panicked look that makes something in Dean's stomach clench painfully. “No. No way. There's got to be a way to break it ourselves. I can't do a year of mime-Sam. And Sam's head is gonna explode if he can't talk, Bobby. We need to fix this.”
“Well, think then,” Bobby orders gruffly. “If it's a spell, someone cast it, either on Sam or on something he's run into. A cursed object, maybe. Something set this off. We find out what, it'd be a hell of a lot easier to figure out how to reverse it.”
They both look at Sam, who rolls his eyes and folds his arms across his chest with a huff, because, duh, it's not like he's going to pipe up with 'oh yeah, I totally bumped into a witch last week and forgot to mention it.'
Dean scrubs his hands down his face. “I told you, Bobby, we've gone over everything, retraced all our steps. There's nothing. He just woke up like this.”
And hadn't that been a fun morning? Waking up to Sam frantically shaking him, all desperate gestures and panicked eyes, and there had been a lot of confusing miming before either of them calmed down enough to think of finding pen and paper.
Bobby adjusts his cap and gets to his feet. “I'll look through some of my books, see what I can figure out. You boys should get some rest, give me a holler if you think of anything. Or, well, get Dean to give me a holler, Sam.”
It probably says something about how disheartened they are, the way they both give in to the gentle order and trudge off to bed. Dean lies in the dark and goes over everything he can think of from the days leading up to Sam's sudden case of mute-ness, for what might literally be the millionth time. He had grilled everyone from the motel clerk to the chick he spent five minutes flirting with at Starbucks. Sam had researched the town, the motel, the ghost they were there to hunt in the first place. When none of that turned up anything, they had crisped the corpse of the angry spirit and back-tracked to their previous hunt so that Dean could grill everyone there while Sam repeated his geeking out process and learnt everything there was to know, which was a whole bunch of nothing helpful.
There was a depressingly long list of potential enemies to be investigated but none that made likely suspects and, Dean has to admit, if there's anyone who can manage to get cursed by pure coincidence, it's definitely Sam. But if it is dumb luck – or lack of it – where the hell do they even start?
Dean stares at the ceiling. Not so long ago, he could've called Dad for help. Dad always came through, when it was important. And now his number sits in Dean's phone, pointless, nothing but a recorded message waiting on the other end, and Dean has so much he wants to say and no one he can say it to.