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.”
Dean wakes up at some God-awful hour on the third night at Bobby's, his Sammy-senses tingling despite the lack of sound from the next bed. It takes a moment for him to realise that the silence, the absence of Sam's breathing in the dark, is what woke him. He looks over to Sam's bed, blinking as his eyes adjust to the darkness, and knows it's empty before he manages to focus on the rumpled sheets, blankets tossed aside, and fuck, Dean is tired, maybe Sam just got up for a piss or a glass of water or something, maybe he'll be back soon and Dean should just go back to sleep where he doesn't have to think about spells or Sam or the fact that Dad is gone...
Groaning to himself, Dean swings his legs off the bed. He stumbles his way out of the bedroom, rubbing sleep from his eyes and yawning as he conducts a brief search of Bobby's house before figuring out that Sammy's on the porch, curled up on the seat with his notebook in his lap, even though there's no one for him to write to. Maybe he anticipated Dean. Maybe he just doesn't like being without the only voice he has.
“What are you doing out here?” Dean asks as he sits down next to Sam. It's cold and Sam's arms are covered in goosebumps, dressed as he is in nothing but sweats and a t-shirt, but he doesn't seem to notice. He twists a pen around in his fingers without acknowledging Dean's presence, until Dean elbows him in the ribs (that's what you get for ignoring your brother when he's freezing his ass off hanging out outside with you at five in the freaking morning) and gestures at the notebook. “Come on, spill.”
Sam shoots him a dirty look, rubbing his side pointedly, but he stops twiddling the pen and flips the notebook open to a fresh page.
It's getting worse, he writes in slow, careful letters, tilting the book towards Dean so he can see. Dean frowns at the words, trying to figure out what Sam means. He can't exactly get more mute, can he?
“What is?” he asks.
Sam thinks for a moment, then flips the notebook back to the first page, the start of their written conversations. He taps the page with his pen, then flips forward several pages and does it again. Dean frowns at the writing.”What, your handwriting?” It does seem to get messier as the pages go on but it's not like Dean is handing out points for neatness. As long as he can read it, what does it matter?
Sam shakes his head. He turns back to the latest page.
Words, he writes slowly, don't make sense.
“Words don't make sense,” Dean reads aloud, a sense of foreboding putting down roots in his gut. “What do you mean? You know what I'm saying, right?”
Sam shrugs. Mostly, he writes. I forget what words mean. Have to think.
Dean stares down at the notebook in dismay. “Fuck.”
Sam nods miserably. Dean elbows him again, gentler this time. “Hey. We're going to figure this out. We'll put it right, I promise.”
Sam nods again but he looks far from convinced, biting his lip and avoiding Dean's eye. He twists his pen around in his fingers again and ducks behind his hair as he scribbles one more word.
Reading it is like a kick to the chest. Dean can't think of anything to say and what's the point of saying anything if Sam might not understand him? He doesn't know what to do but then Sam glances up at him from under all that hair and he looks so much like he did when he was four and had skinned knees or grazed palms and looked at his big brother like he had the power to fix everything, that Dean forgets about trying to find the right words and reaches out instead. He pulls Sam close and wraps him in his arms and holds him, and they stay like that until the sun starts to rise.
Two days later, Sam pushes away the book he's been staring at and drops his head into his hands. As far as Dean and Bobby can figure, he can still understand most of what they're saying but the written word has become indecipherable. It makes him restless, not being able to help with the research, and he takes to jogging around the car yard, when he's not pacing Bobby's house. Dean gets it; the kid needs some form of release, but the more time Sam spends alone, the more Dean worries. He's not sure why exactly, just... it feels like he's losing Sam, just like he lost Dad, and he can't figure out how to stop it.
They try, though. A lot. Bobby's books hold spell-breakers and counter-curses galore so when Sam isn't jogging or pacing or brooding, he's sitting in some form of magic circle while Bobby chants at him and burns nasty-smelling herbs. Dean tends to take over the pacing during these inevitably useless attempts at spell-breaking and he's pretty sure that, between him and Sam, Bobby's not going to have any carpet left by the time they figure this out.
“We will find something,” Dean promises, for what might actually be the hundredth time, while Sam dismally wipes off the sigils Bobby had traced onto his chest and neck with some kind of oil. “One of these spells has to work eventually.”
Sam just sighs and pulls his t-shirt back on.
“Not necessarily,” Bobby says grimly, after Sam is out of earshot. “We're working blind here, Dean. We don't know what spell we're trying to break, who cast it, or why. There's no guarantee that any of these spells will work.”
“One of them will,” Dean insists, because one of them has to. It just has to.
The problem is, Dean tore towns apart trying to figure this out and Bobby's library is brilliant but they're tearing that apart too and nothing is working. Dean does his best to keep Sam connected, reading out loud and asking him questions he can answer with nods or head-shakes to help him feel involved, but more and more Sam looks at him like he's speaking a foreign language, confused and lost and freaked out. Some time during the start of their second week at Bobby's Sam takes to curling up in the back seat of the Impala with Dean's cassettes playing in the tape deck. Dean figures that the rhythms are familiar even if the words have lost their meaning, and there's something about Sammy seeking comfort from the songs Dean usually annoys him with that makes Dean feel a confusing mix of heart-warmed and heart-broken.
“I can't take much more of this,” he vents to Bobby after Sam has turned in for the night, drifting off towards the bedroom with a vague goodnight wave in Dean and Bobby's direction. “I'm losing him, Bobby. I don't think he understands a word I'm saying anymore.”
Bobby rubs his eyes and reaches for his coffee mug. “I found a couple more things I can try in the morning.” He downs the last of his coffee in one gulp. “We can rule out a cursed object, something like that would leave a trail we could follow. Sam must've had a run in with someone powerful, and they wiped his memory so he wouldn't remember who cursed him. I have some more memory spells...”
Dean tries to help, he really does, but he's too agitated to focus after days of staring at musty old books and getting nowhere, and he definitely doesn't share Sam's desire to run to blow off steam so finally he grabs his jacket and his keys and tells Bobby he'll be back in an hour.
Driving always helps when his thoughts are running too wild to tame. Drinking helps too, which is how he finds himself at the bar of a crappy little dive, nursing a beer and a bad mood.
The music is a little too jaunty for his liking and the beer isn't the greatest but it's quiet tonight, not much of a crowd, and he's glad for it. He just needs a moment, just needs to take a breath and have a drink before going back to Bobby's, where Sam's silence is so loud it's become deafening.
“Aren't you a ray of sunshine?” an insultingly cheerful voice teases from his left. Typical.
“Just having a drink,” he says pointedly, without looking up from his beer, but the owner of the voice doesn't take the hint. Instead she slips onto the barstool beside his and crosses her – admittedly impressive, Dean notes from the corner of his eye – legs.
“That's what you said last time,” she says.
That gets his attention. Dean looks over at the newcomer. Sandy blonde hair that sits straight on her shoulders, blue eyes and a smile that reveals slightly crooked teeth. She's dressed in yellow, holding a bright blue cocktail, and is completely unfamiliar.
Which isn't really a surprise. “Look, I wasn't in a great place last time I was here,” he says, hoping that will make up for the lack of recognition. He came here a few times while they were staying at Bobby's after Dad... after the accident, mostly so he could get blind drunk without Sam breathing down his neck and pressing him to talk and, man, what he wouldn't give right now to hear Sam bitch about how drinking his feelings is bad for him.
“I remember,” the woman says, not looking at all offended at being forgotten. She sips her drink, smiles at him, and asks, “How are you and Sam now?”
She says it casually, without a hint of malice or malevolence, but the hairs on the back of Dean's neck are suddenly standing to attention, a prickly feeling of unease sliding down his spine. He stares at her, a whiskey-smudged memory nudging at the edge of his mind.
“What did you do?”
She raises an eyebrow, infuriatingly coy. “Do?”
“Don't play games.” He remembers now, remembers being sloppy drunk and ranting to a stranger about how Sam wouldn't leave him alone, how he wanted to talk about his feelings and Dean's feelings and Dean had wished, fuck, Dean had wished out loud for the kid to just shut up for once. “What are you?”
“Someone who gave you what you wanted.” The woman drops the act and the smile. She leans in conspiratorially. “It is what you wanted, isn't it? You made yourself pretty clear.”
Dean's mouth opens and closes soundlessly three times before he manages to find a response. “I was drunk. I was just letting off steam. I never wanted...” He falters. This is on him. He did this to Sam.
“To be ignored?” the woman who is definitely not just a woman suggests, too innocently. “Shut out? To feel like no matter what you say, your brother isn't listening?” She sips her drink again. “Sounds lonely.”
“I... you...” Dean's stomach sinks even further as her meaning settles in. “What are you?” he asks again, unable to keep the horror from his voice.
His stammering makes her smile again. “Perceptive.”
“Fix it,” Dean blurts. What she is matters less than what she does next. “Fix it now. Sam doesn't deserve this. You can't just do this to him.”
She meets his gaze evenly. “Who said anything about doing this to Sam?” She reaches across the bar and rests her hand on his. “This lesson is for you, Dean Winchester.”
“Please.” Dean isn't above begging when it comes to his brother. “Please, give him his voice back. I get it now, okay? I learnt my lesson.” It's a struggle to keep his voice from breaking. Is this really how Sam has felt since the accident? In desperate need of a brother who grows more distant by the day? Guilt churns Dean's stomach, squirming amongst the grief and fear and anger that has plagued him since Dad left him with an impossible burden that Sam's presence reminds him of every single day. Pushing him away was so much easier than facing everything, or at least, he had thought it was. But he had left Sam alone, shut him out, and now he was losing him completely. “Please, I just... I need him.”
The woman squeezes his hand gently, then releases it and slips off her barstool. “I think you should tell him that,” she says.
“But Sam can't-” Dean starts to protest, trailing off as he turns to find that he's speaking to thin air. He spins in his seat, searching the bar but the woman has vanished, her empty glass the only sign of her existence, and Dean still doesn't know what she was, but maybe...
Hope swelling in his chest, Dean tosses some cash on the bar and all but sprints to the Impala, peeling out of the parking lot with a screech of rubber. Impatience stretches every minute of the drive into what feels like hours but finally he pulls up outside Bobby's place and throws the car into park. He leaves the drivers door and Bobby's front door wide open as he bolts into the house and up the stairs, ignoring Bobby's startled spluttering from the library. He slams his hand against the light-switch in the room Bobby set up for him and Sam so many years ago and all but throws himself onto Sam's bed as brightness floods the room.
“Sam! Wake up, Sam!” He grabs Sam by the shoulders and drags his startled, blinking brother upright so he can look him in the eye. “Sam, I need to talk to you. I. Need. To. Talk. To. You.” He says it as firmly and deliberately as he can, enunciating clearly, and God, please let this work, otherwise he just woke his bewitched little brother up to yell gibberish in his face and that's probably not going to be great for the kid's already shaky mental state, so it has to work, it has to work because if it doesn't he has no idea what will, and he means it, he swears he means it, he'll talk, they can have as many chick-flick moments as Sam wants, as long as this works.
Sam squints against the sudden brightness, sleep-dazed and confused, and Dean feels his heart sink but then -
“Dean?” Sam asks sleepily.
They both freeze, Dean's hands clamped around Sam's shoulders, one of Sam's hands half-raised to shield against the light. “Dean,” he says again. His eyes widen, his hand drops and he stares at Dean in astonishment, all traces of exhaustion gone. “Dean. Dean. Oh my God, Dean, what did you do?”
Dean almost collapses under the weight of his relief. He throws his arms around his brother and pulls him close, hugging him so tight that Sam squeaks and it's so fucking awesome to hear sound come out of Sammy's mouth again. So. Fucking. Awesome.
“I'll tell you everything,” Dean promises.