"When you help, you see life as weak; when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole."
(Rachel Naomi Remen)
First Chakra: Earth
When he wakes up, there's no light.
There had been, when he got conked over the head – bright June sunshine – but now it's dark as pitch, which means it's dark outside now, and he's been out a long-ass time. Still hot, very hot, but it is much later, how fucking long has he been unconscious? Six or seven hours?
And quiet, god almighty it's quiet. No birds, no insects, no sound of some critter in the underbrush. No wight, no nothing.
Dean sits up sharply and gasps, reaching up to touch his forehead. His fingers find a lump, no sticky blood, and in that instant he knows something's really wrong. Something's way, way wrong. He isn't bleeding, he didn't hit his head hard enough to do more than stun him for a few seconds, and it CAN'T be dark outside. It's hot because he can feel SUN on his face, his arms and shoulders, and that means --
His heart feels like it contracts and expands, several times very fast. Not pounding: like it's about to maybe explode or something, from sheer adrenaline. His mouth tastes like hot metal. He can't see a goddamn thing. It is black as pitch to his eyes, no matter how hard he blinks, strains, rubs them with fast impatient knuckles.
And it is so goddamn quiet.
"Hello?" he says, and hears nothing at all. Not his own voice. Not anything. Feels it, inside his throat, words shaped on his lips, but there is no sound at all. It is as if sound has simply ceased to exist.
"Jesus," he whispers, or supposes he does. Can't tell, can't fucking TELL if he's saying the words out loud, except the air in his lungs, his throat, the feel of words passing his vocal cords. "What's going on? Sammy?"
He holds his head stiffly, cocked to one side; it's uncomfortable and yet he can't stop, listening for the return of his missing hearing. Blinking over and over again, because if he does it long enough his eyes will start working again. Only they don't. They feel fine, his throat feels normal, everything is there but none of it WORKS.
He smells smoke, fire. Superstitious fear boils up in his gut like lava, and he scrambles to his feet and flings his arms wide, smacks his right hand against something hard and scratchy and much, much too close, and he has no idea if he's screaming or not.
He sees Dean go down in the middle of the chase. Lagging behind Sam's sprint, never was quite as fast, and then the wood wight sends Dean spinning, crumpling in that boneless way that tells Sam he's been knocked out. How badly, remains to be seen, but he's down for the count, and that means Sam's on his own.
Sam tops the ridge, crashes down through heavy undergrowth, and stops. He grins through the blood in his mouth, and calls, "Over here!"
The wight snarls, obsidian fur absurdly beautiful in the hot June sunshine, and lifts its arm again, maybe a gesture, maybe a fuck-you-I-just-knocked-out-your-partner-and-nothing-you-can-do-about-it thing, lumbers into full view, and Sam fires.
Right between those pretty evil eyes. The wight goes down just like Dean, only in this case, Sam is pretty sure it's permanent. Glossy black fur is already smoldering, and he thinks about the silver eating the creature from the inside out, Jesus, how PAINFUL that must be. Then it's burning, jaws open in a dog-whistle inaudible scream, and Sam grimaces and thinks about Dean, and there is another scream. He hears this one just fine, and he's running without considering it, fast as his legs will take him.
It's Dean's voice, yes, but Sam has never heard this tone before. Heard him bellow with pain more than a few times, and scream once or twice, but this is new, this high, piercing shriek that just goes on and on. It makes Sam's insides feel loose and watery, hearing that level of terror. The wight is DEAD, they got the job done, but there must be something else, something worse, and all he has is the revolver, the knife in his boot-sheath, that's it that's all.
He tops the ridge and skids down the other side, barely missing a few scattered sycamores, eyes narrowed and searching for Dean. Here, soon, here's where he fell, and when he sees the brown of Dean's jacket he nearly pisses himself from sheer relief. Dean standing, flattened against another sycamore, clinging like a man on a storm-battered ship. Mouth open like the wood wight's had been, and making that unbearable noise.
"Dean!" Sam surges forward, frowning when the weird ululating scream doesn't stop. Dean isn't listening, and Sam barks his shin on a hidden tree stump, doesn't even cuss because it's all WRONG. Dean doesn't make sounds like this, Dean doesn't hold onto a tree for dear life and scream as if the world has come to an end and he's just now realizing it.
"Dean," Sam says breathlessly, hands out as he slows and comes to a wary halt a couple of feet away. "Man, come on, what is it? Jesus."
Dean's wide, stunned eyes arrive at him and keep right on going. Searching, his head held high and to the right, a posture of such acute searching that it makes Sam's gut quiver all over again. Dean draws a hitching breath and screams, "SAMMY!"
"I'm right here." His own voice sounds funny to him now, shocked and shaking. "Dean. Look at me, I'm right –"
Dean's head darts right and left, and Sam walks up, saying, "Man, HERE I AM," and puts his hand on Dean's shoulder.
Dean gives a hoarse wordless cry and his fist comes out, punch going low and to the left but only by a millimeter or two. There is no recognition on his face, only terror, incomprehension.
"Dean, don't –"
Then they're going down, Dean flailing madly in another totally out-of-character move, blows never really connecting, as if he's fighting in the dark, hoping for a lucky shot. It isn't dark, though, and Sam is scared enough now – what foe does Dean think he's facing? the wight is toast, doesn't he know that? – to take advantage of Dean's absolute panic and go for the dirty holds, flipping Dean onto his back and using his greater weight to simply bear him down. Panting, pinning Dean's wrists against the ground and leaning over him, staring directly into his face.
"Calm down," Sam says, wishing his voice would actually sound calm. "Dean, it's okay. I got it."
Dean isn't struggling as hard, but the panic hasn't left his face. He's trembling all over, breathing in tiny asthmatic sips, eyes flickering all over and never connecting, never focusing.
"Sam," Dean says, so hopeless Sam's chest hurts hearing it. "Sammy."
"Yeah. It's Sam. Who'd you think it was, dumbass?"
But there is nothing on Dean's face. It's as if Sam hasn't spoken at all, and Dean takes another strangled gulp of air and wrenches his left hand free, reaches out and touches Sam's face. His hand is smeared with dirt, bitten nails ragged against Sam's cheek while his fingers shiver and trace his features, fumble up to catch in his hair.
"Sam," Dean says loudly. His eyes are suddenly filled with tears. "Sammy, I can't see anything."
Sam draws back an inch, stares down at him. "Dean –"
"And I can't hear anything, nothing. Sammy, is that you?"
Dumbstruck, Sam nods slowly against Dean's palm, and Dean's other hand catches the collar of Sam's jacket and clings like he's a lifeline.
He can tell, now, that it's Sam. Sam's smell, Sam's hair, something else that isn't quite his skin or his lips or his sturdy body but a bigger thing that just says, Sam.
The relief is staggering. Sammy's here, Dean is not alone, there is someone in the darkness he knows and trusts. It isn't just absence of light and sound, he is somewhere beyond those things, a place he's never been and doesn't want to be now, a world where the only input is smell and taste and touch. The sour flavor of his own spit, and the acrid stink of burning fur.
He can feel Sam's jaw moving, the fast beat of his heart in the vein beneath Dean's fingers. "I can't hear you," Dean says silently, draws a breath and says it again. I can't, there's nothing, there's just your face, your skin, what are you saying? I don't understand.
Sam's hand grips his fingers and places them over his lips. Moving, saying something, and Dean thinks it just might be "It's okay." Asks, and Sam's head nods, and Dean thinks he says, "It's not okay, it's not fucking okay."
Sam pulls at him, and Dean sits up, but it's like vertigo, he has no sense of where he is, upright or lying down. SAM is sitting, therefore Dean is sitting, too, and he fumbles to touch Sam's shoulders, feel where he is. "Am I sitting?" he asks, and Sam nods. There's body language here, if Dean can just feel where it is. Sam's nodding fast, more than once, over and over again, like he wants Dean to understand, and that works. Yes, I am sitting.
Yes and no. Sam's touching Dean's face, tilting his head back, and Dean swallows. "Do you see anything?" This time Sam's shoulders lift and fall once, limp, and that is a no. There is nothing, but Dean risks letting go for a second, pushes his knees hard against Sam's to keep that sense of where-I-am and explores his own face. He can't feel anything wrong with his eyes. They're wet, which means maybe he's been crying and at any other time that would bug the shit out of him, but right now he really FEELS like crying, so who cares. His eyes are okay. His ears. Still attached, they don't hurt, nothing hurts but the lump on his forehead, near his temple. Hit his head dozens of times in his life, had way more concussions than anyone should have, and maybe this is some kind of final straw. Maybe you knock the brain around one too many times and things like this happen. Things like waking up in a tiny shrunken world.
Sam's breath puffs the air. He's talking, and Dean shakes his head miserably, fights down the instant dizzy vertigo and searches for Sam's face again. Sam's cheeks are wet, too, and that's wrong, Sammy shouldn't be scared like this, certainly not because of anything Dean has done. "It's okay," Dean tries to say. "We'll figure this out."
Sam is shaking. And feeling it, Dean starts to shake, too.
Getting to the car is a flat-out nightmare. Dean can barely walk. Still holding his head at that weird angle, holding onto Sam like some kind of bewildered inexperienced guide dog. But even then Dean dips and bobs like he's had too much to drink, like a sailor taking his first steps on land after years at sea. One hand flung out as if he expects to run into a wall at any time, even though the field is wide-open, just grass and scrubby underbrush.
"Did it say something to you?" Sam asks, and wants to scream because he keeps not thinking about the fact that Dean can't HEAR him. Can't see his lips moving, can't make out the concern and fear in his voice. Dean is blind and deaf, somehow, completely, and it doesn't even matter yet how, just the fact that the terror on Dean's face is impossible to bear.
Sam grips Dean's shoulders tightly, steadies him when Dean takes another wavering step forward. "It's okay," he says mindlessly. "You got it. Just keep going. Not too far."
"Sammy," Dean says in that too-loud harsh voice, and Sam thinks about people wearing headphones and trying to speak. Always too loud, because they couldn't hear themselves, didn't know to temper their tone. Dean's perfectly normal hazel eyes search without seeing, wide and shocked and so afraid.
Sam pulls Dean close enough their heads touch, Dean's cheek to Sam's chin. "It's okay," he repeats. "It's okay, Dean. I got you."
Dean trips and staggers against him before Sam thinks to warn him about the things he can't see. The stubby little bush that shouldn't have been an obstacle, but is. The ups and downs of the ground, holes and rocks and all the kinds of things Sam just avoids without thinking, that Dean can't perceive any longer.
They're both soaked in sweat by the time the low black form of the Impala comes into view, and Sam's kind of crying and Dean's breathing so fast it sounds like hyperventilation. His face is chalky-pale, and he looks like he's gonna puke.
Sam takes Dean's ice-cold hand and places it on the Impala's front fender. Dean hitches a sigh and says, "Oh," leaning forward against the car and patting it gently with both hands. SEEING it, Sam thinks grimly, the only way he can at the moment.
Dean works his way from hood to side panel, fingers flickering over the side mirror and up the curve of the roof, down to explore where exactly the door handle is. "Guess I should let you drive this time," he bellows, but it's impossible for Sam to do more than smile. Dean IS smiling, but his hands are shaking and when Sam doesn't do anything more, one of those hands seeks him, pats his chest and then up to his face. "Sammy?" Dean asks, and Sam nods.
Inside the car is immeasurably better. Limited space, familiar to both of them but even more to Dean, who has practically lived in this car for so many years now. Looking over at him in the passenger seat, Sam doesn't see him not seeing, not hearing. He just looks like himself. A little bruised, nothing new there. Fidgeting like even blind and deaf he really doesn't like riding shotgun.
Then Dean turns his head to the left, says, "Sammy, you still there?" And all that illusion wafts away like smoke on a breeze, because touch is the only way to tell Dean anything at all. Sam takes Dean's hand and places it on his shoulder, leaning to the right a little so Dean can keep that contact.
When the engine starts, Dean's fingers tighten and he bellows, "Back to the motel?"
Sam reaches out and places a finger on Dean's open lips.
Tapping, Dean, not so loud, you don't have to yell. And a moment later Dean says in a slightly lower voice, "Am I yelling?"
Sam smiles and nods, pats Dean's sweaty cheek before taking his hand back.
"Motel?" Dean asks at a little more tolerable volume.
Sam shakes his head, and thinks, Jesus, how will I tell him anything? We can't do yes-and-no questions forever. He grabs Dean's hand and pauses for a moment, then flattens Dean's palm and writes a slow, careful capital H.
Dean's unseeing eyes narrow. "What are you doing?"
An O, and an S, exaggerated and slow, and Dean says, "Hos. Hospital?"
Sam nods against Dean's hand.
"Wanna get me checked out."
Nod. Of course I do. Sam swallows new fear and flattens Dean's hand again. Traces an E and an R, squeezes Dean's fingers for emphasis.
"You said -- There's nothing wrong."
Nothing I can see, Dean. Sam touches the bruise on Dean's forehead, and he flinches back a tiny bit, but he's nodding. "Gotcha. Like, head injury or something."
"What if that isn't it?" Dean says shakily. "What'll we do then?"
Sam doesn't even know which words to laboriously spell. He pauses, and Dean gives a little snort. "Yeah, me either."
The car feels good. The car feels safe. Outside the car, not so much, but inside he doesn't need his eyes or his ears to tell him where things are, what is what. It's like company in the emptiness, so reassuring. Sam is here, and they're in the car, and all of that is as it should be. Nothing bad will happen to him here. It's the closest he has ever had to hallowed ground, and now it is a crushing relief.
Of course Sammy figures out a way to kinda-sorta communicate. This is Sam, this is his brilliant little brother. Would have taken ages for Dean to think, Oh, yeah, Helen Keller time, but Sam made the connection in a few minutes.
It's weird, interpreting what Sam's finger is saying. It tickles, makes his brain hurt like he's using a part that's been lying around popping bonbons the last couple of decades and got all fat and lazy, and now it's suddenly jostling around going, What the fuck, dude? Give a body some warning next time.
"Hospital." He feels Sam's quick nod, and part of that newly awoken set of brain cells whispers, That's a relieved nod, but the rest of him is appalled. Jesus, is he really HURT? Was he right, he popped something that shouldn't be popped, or creamed some little area of the medulla oblongwhatever because he had some kind of fucking STROKE or something?
Talking is trippy. He knows he's talking – he may have been shouting, if Sam's little tetchy reminder was true – but he can't HEAR it, has no sense of what he sounds like, just feels the rumble in his throat and chest, uses up air, makes words in the way he always has and hopes they come out sounding like English instead of gobbledygook. Sam understands, though. That's good, right?
"Head injury, maybe," Dean manages, and Sam nods, but when Dean asks if maybe it's something else, Sam doesn't have an answer. Stillness communicates, Dean thinks with the latest in this endless series of shocks. When people go motionless like that, it isn't good. Sam doesn't know, Sam hasn't got a goddamn clue. And if Sam doesn't know, what are Dean's chances?
If it bugs Sam that Dean keeps his hand practically wrapped around his face, he doesn't seem to show it. The idea of letting go is beyond preposterous at the moment. If he takes his hand back, Sam goes away. It's stupid, because Sam's still sitting next to him, operating the car, but the feeling of it persists: Touch is the only thing that tells Dean he's not alone.
"Guess you can play whatever crap music you want to now," Dean says weakly, tries to laugh. "Even find you some NPR or something, right? Deaf guy shuts his cakehole."
Sam's hand covers his own and grips painfully tightly. His jaw is moving, but there's no telling what he's saying.
Dean thinks maybe that's good, because he thinks Sam might be crying. And if he is, well, Dean is probably not far behind. Not far at all.