There were times when Dean woke up in the night. Eyes open wide, breathing slowly to calm his heart beating too quickly in his chest, he would scan the darkness of the room. As Sam slept, he would creep out of bed, reaching under his pillow for his knife as he did, and as quietly as he could, he would search the room. He started with the door, making sure it was still locked securely, then the windows. Then, with the kind of stealth that could only be gained from a lifetime of training, he would creep around the motel room, checking, just making sure, that nothing had gotten in while he lay there helpless.
Like a kid afraid of the monster in the closet, he slowly opened doors and drawers, checked under the bed, in the shower, and then looked outside to make sure there was nothing laying in wait. Then, and only then, he crept back into bed and lay there keeping his eyes open for as long as he could before sleep finally pulled him back down and his eyes flickered closed.
As Sam listened to Dean's breathing slow, his heart breaking for his brother, who was still protecting him after everything, he would finally allow himself to sleep again too. He never mentioned Dean's night time recon missions. It was just something he had to do, to feel safe, to feel that his family was safe, and Sam just couldn't deny him that.
It had been twenty seven days since Dean had checked himself out of the hospital against medical advice, angrily shoved aside the wheelchair that Sam had tried to make him sit in, and limped woozily out of the door, refusing even a supporting hand from his brother who stood helplessly to one side and watched. It was twenty eight days since he had punched the wall so hard it had left a permanent scar on the knuckles of his right hand, and twenty nine since he lad leapt a fraction of a second too late from the second story window of the building he himself had rigged to explode. Twenty nine days since the sound and sheer force of the explosion had completely shattered the tiny but oh so important bones of his inner ear.
To this day he couldn't be sure whether he had really jumped or whether the explosion had thrown him clear. Whichever it was, he was lucky to be alive, and he knew it. "Nobody's fault but my own, Sammy. At least we got it." he had said, slightly too loud and with an edge of fear that he never would have allowed to slip out had he been able to hear it, and Sam had shrugged sadly. Even if Dean could have heard his response, he wouldn't have known what to say.
The first few days he had just lay on his bed staring at the ceiling, in too much pain from his other injuries to do much of anything. Sam had watched him. Sitting at the table or on his own bed, pretending to be engrossed in the TV, or reading, or going online he couldn't help but sneak regular glances at his brother. He never closed his eyes. Not once, the whole time he lay there, did Sam see him sleep. His eyes flickered from the ceiling to the door to the window, constantly alert, watching for danger.
The fourth day he had gotten up and taken a shower, picked everything they had left scattered around the room and reclaimed the car keys from Sam. As he sat behind the wheel, a smile had spread slowly across his face and he looked ahead at the open road and sighed. There had been a slight flicker of emotion across his eyes as he turned the key and he missed the familiar sound of the engine firing up, and again when Sam had reached across to switch of the stereo he hadn't even realized was playing.
It was a momentary thing, something someone who didn't know him would have missed completely, but it was these little moments that broke Sam's heart. Not only the pain in his brother's eyes, but that he needed to cover it up. That it would make it so much worse if he knew Sammy had seen it. He couldn't let the mask slip. Not even for a second. Not even when faced with a life altering situation like the loss of his hearing. No, he just threw a lifetime's worth of worn out cassette tapes in the nearest dumpster, jumped in the car and carried on. Pretended like everything was normal.
Dean was a quick learner, he always had been. He didn't have the book smarts, college boy intelligence he mocked Sam for possessing. Well, maybe he would have if he'd had the patience for studying, but when it came to adapting there was no one better. He could read a situation or a person like a book, and it helped a lot with communication. Often, Sam didn't even need to speak. Just a quick glance and Dean guessed the words and responded before his brother had even said a word. Other times, something more was needed, and Dean took to lip reading like a pro. Never an exact science, he made mistakes, but every day he seemed to make fewer. Slowly, but surely, things had started to return to how they had been before.
Only two things remained different, the terrible silence in the car as they drove to the next job, and Dean's nightly patrols of their motel rooms. Sam hated both of these facts with a passion.
So much of their time was spent traveling from one place to another, talking, arguing, trying to hear each other over the music blaring out of the stereo, and now the music was gone. While driving, even the world's most skilled lip reader would find it impossible to hold a conversation, and so now they drove in silence, Sam staring out the window of the passenger side door so that his brother couldn't see the pain in his eyes. But silent car journeys didn't bother him so much as Dean's patrolling the room.
He had always been the protector, Dean was the one that had taken care of Sam, brought him up while their dad spent days at a time away on a hunt. He worried.
Unable to hear, eyes closed as he slept, anything could be happening without his knowledge. Sam understood that. If their positions were reversed, he would likely be doing the same thing, but Sam worried too. He slept lightly now, more lightly than he ever had before, and when Dean woke, he woke too. Every night he observed the ritual, stalking the room, looking for anything that might have gotten in. If they had put down salt, checking it hadn't been disturbed. Making sure they were safe, because he could no longer ever feel that they were.
To feel that insecure, that afraid, all the time...
Yet Sam continued to watch, every night. Not daring to let Dean know he saw him. Unwilling to break the illusion that everything was alright. Until now.
He didn't know what had changed. That it had been a month of sleepless nights, the permanent look of exhaustion and caffeine-induced edginess on his brother's face or that something had just finally snapped and he realized that they couldn't go on like that. He watched Dean climb out of bed and reach under his pillow once again, and this time also climbed out of bed. As he checked the door, Sam quickly walked over stood behind him. As Dean turned slightly to check the window, he froze
The knife in his hand raised, he first looked left and right for a means of escape, then glanced at Sam's bed to ensure his brother was safe. Realizing that the bed was empty he faced the intruder, waving his knife menacingly in front of him, and blinked in the darkness willing his eyes to show him what he was about to face.
Then he saw him. His mouth opened and closed in irritation and he lowered the weapon. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
San reached forward and pressed the light switch, leaving them both blinking furiously in the sudden light. "This has to stop," he said, enunciating clearly.
"What are you talking about, Sammy? Go back to bed,"
Sam shook his head, "There's no one here," he said, waving a hand to indicate the room, "We're safe."
Dean smiled, playing dumb, "Don't understand you, Sammy. Deaf, remember?" The bitterness only just revealed itself this time; he was getting better at covering.
The younger brother bit his lip and nodded, "But I'm not. Please, Dean. For once in your life, stop trying to protect me and look after yourself,"
"I am looking after myself, I need to do this,"
This time his voice was full of a more familiar emotion, anger, and for a moment Sam almost backed down, leaving his brother to patrol the room for monsters that weren't there just because it would be easier. "Dean, I know this is hard,"
Dean snorted derisively, whether to mean that his younger brother had no idea what he was talking about, or to express his usual discomfort at the idea of discussing emotions, Sam didn't know.
"I know this is hard, but you can't go on like this. You need to rest. For once in your life, let me look after you."
For a moment, he thought Dean was going to punch him, but then the anger drained out of his face and he shrugged. "Whatever, don't know what you're talking about, anyway." With that he flipped off the light and got back into bed.
The loss of the light robbing Sam of his only method of communication and the battle, for now at least, over, he also returned to bed. There he lay for over half an hour, listening to Dean's breathing slow as he fell asleep once again, and wondering for the hundredth time what it would be like to live trapped in a world of silence.
Eventually Sam slept too, and as he did, even more quietly than ever before, Dean crept out of bed and began checking the room again. Not for himself, he didn't care about himself. He had to take care of Sammy.