Title: Speechless

Author: Philote

Fandom: Supernatural

Characters/Pairing: John, Dean, Sam, Bobby (gen)

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Supernatural do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.

Summary: In the aftermath of a hunt gone wrong and a rescue, Dean deals with a unique problem and John worries about a lapse into a very old habit. Pre-series.

Author's Note: Written for the 'mime' prompt at Taming the Muse and my spn25 table prompt 'speak.'

oOo

The injuries weren't that serious. He was a bit dehydrated, but John could have handled that at home. He would have avoided the hospital altogether if not for the voice.

But it was gone, completely. And there was something unsettling about watching your bruised, bloodied teenager panic as he realized he couldn't make any sound. Dean had grown increasingly distressed as he tried to croak out even a whisper, all color draining from his already pale features.

John had taken him to the nearest hospital.

It was ultimately unnecessary; the doctor informed them that the vocal chords were strained and just needed rest. Essentially, he'd screamed himself hoarse.

Though still an unhealthy shade of pale, Dean's cheeks flushed at that pronouncement. He studied the needle taped into his arm with a furrowed brow, and John placed a steadying hand on his shoulder as he thanked the doctor.

The police showed up before they could slip out, forcing John to pinch hit a story about bullies and a cruel joke leading to couple of days trapped in an abandoned building. Luckily, Dean didn't even have to sell it with his current infirmity. He just nodded in all the right places.

They escaped the scrutiny with little fanfare and false insurance cards. It was a two hour drive back to their current apartment, where Sam was currently holding down the fort and no doubt fretting. John handed Dean a jumbo-sized bottle of water and cranked up the volume on the tape deck to help counter the silence.

oOo

Apparently, his boys didn't need words to communicate.

Sam picked up Dean's gestures far more quickly than John could, easily interpreting answers and reading emotions. He had little trouble adjusting to Dean's silence; in fact he took it as incentive to stick even closer to his brother than normal. He cuddled up to Dean like he hadn't in years, and Dean allowed it. It might have looked like regression, but John believed it was the opposite. Sam sensed what his brother needed and gave it readily, setting aside the proprietary barriers of teenaged boys.

The interesting part was that Sam quieted, too. He still talked to John as much as was needed, which was about as much as he normally did. But with Dean he adopted the unique gesture language. They still had conversations, plenty of them, but they went almost completely silent on both sides.

It was a bit unnerving to have so little chatter in their tight apartment; more so that he often had no idea what was going on between them.

John couldn't help but remember the last time they were quiet for this long, in the aftermath of the fire when Sammy was too young to talk and Dean was refusing to. He knew that silence had been induced by the trauma of Mary's death. In many ways that was the hardest time of their lives, but it was then that Dean had been developing his fierce protectiveness and fully stepping into his role as big brother. It was then that they were first bonding. Whether Sammy remembered it or not, it was the basis for their relationship.

No, his boys didn't need words. Maybe they never had.

But it began to pose a bit of a problem. If Dean could communicate fine in silence, then he had no reason to speak at all. This too was reminiscent of that period in their childhoods. Baby Sam had no need for talking, and he was the one Dean interacted with most. John had eventually had to train himself not to interpret and anticipate his four-year-old's needs in order to encourage him to use his words.

He hadn't really been concerned with that now, as Dean was considerably older and more mature. This was just an injury like any other, and Dean was accustomed to dealing with the healing process. He should have shrugged it off and tried to rush back to 'I'm fine' status like he did with everything else.

But the days passed, and Dean didn't show any interest in trying to test his vocal chords. He didn't even bother opening his mouth for anything but eating.

John began to worry, just a little.

oOo

He hadn't fully realized where he was heading until he was only about forty miles from Bobby's. Calling ahead might have been a good idea, but he didn't. He just showed up on the other hunter's doorstep, letting Sam announce their presence with pounding feet and a quick, grownup-sort of hug for his 'uncle.'

Luckily, Bobby was used to Winchesters barging into his life. He welcomed them with only a raised eyebrow in John's direction. When Dean didn't say hello and Sam took it upon himself to explain, Bobby's expression shifted to understanding.

But he didn't ask, not even when they were finally alone on the porch, watching the boys play with one of Bobby's new pups in the yard. He simply retrieved a couple of beers and sat across from him, handing John a bottle as he popped the cap off his own.

John appreciated the restraint, especially since he knew Bobby cared a great deal for the boys and undoubtedly wanted to ask. Eventually he volunteered the story, telling him all about the hunt and the aftermath.

When he was through, they watched the boys in silence for several long minutes before Bobby spoke. "How badly was he hurt?"

"Nothing life-threatening." John took a deep swallow, and somehow couldn't stop himself from reciting the list running through his head. "Rope burns. Little cuts, shallow but precise, all over. Some distinctive bruises, probably from repetitive pressure."

Bobby swore softly. John shared the sentiment, but said nothing more as he tipped the bottle back and let the liquid burn his throat.

"Do these things usually play with their victims?"

"Yeah, to some degree. But this one? It was just luring the hunter who pissed it off. And having fun while it waited." His voice was tight with anger, useless now against a dead creature.

Bobby shook his head and let silence stand for a long minute. "His voice will be back soon. Right?"

"It's been two weeks."

"Really? Did you take him back to a doctor?"

"No. His throat feels better; he doesn't wince when he swallows and he can handle any food again."

"He's just not talking."

"He doesn't even try."

Bobby leaned back, considering him. "He's done this before."

Bobby didn't know them back then, but he'd heard most of their sordid history from one source or another. John just nodded, eyes still on his boys.

"He may want to be a hunter; he may even be well on his way. But he is still a kid, John. He was scared, probably still is—and he knows that you know it."

John bristled at the implication. "There's no shame in that. Fear is part of the instinct that helps keep you alive. It's when you stop feeling fear that you get into trouble."

"Why are you tellin' me? I know it; I'm not the one who needs to hear it." Bobby shot back. After a pause he added, "Have you ever told him that? For that matter, when was the last time he saw you show fear at all?"

"When I was untying him from that pole," he countered shortly. Frustrated, he added, "This isn't all about him being ashamed."

"No. He needs to talk about what happened."

"But he doesn't want to," John finished softly. "And he's got the perfect excuse."

oOo

They hung out with Bobby for a while, and though he tried, he also had no luck coaxing words out of Dean. Dean's favorite companion was Sam, who apparently hadn't pressured him to speak at all. John was beginning to think he would have to pull his youngest aside and use him to get through to Dean. He dreaded having to convince Sammy that he had to put pressure and probably upset his brother in order to help him.

One evening, he was watching the boys with the dogs once more as sunset neared. It made him a bit nervous actually; he knew Bobby loved those dogs like children, but they could be ferocious if provoked. He knew the boys were always careful, and he had no problem with them playing with smaller pups. But the older dogs were a different story.

When one's growling grew a bit too ominous for his tastes, he stepped in. "Sammy, be careful," he instructed as he approached.

"I'm not scared," Sam was quick to assert, though he did take a step back.

"A little fear is healthy," John admonished, words directed at Sam but eyes sliding to Dean.

Dean moved behind Sam, placing a protective arm around his chest and pulling him back securely against his own body. This message was clear—I was with him. He didn't need to be afraid.

Still, he didn't say a word.

"Sam, why don't you head on inside and get a shower."

"Aw, Dad…"

John nailed him with a stern look, then tilted his head slightly at Dean.

It turned out Sam was perceptive with more than just his brother. He blinked at John and then wriggled from Dean's grip, heading in without further protest.

Dean turned to follow, and John hastened to grip his arm. "Dean. Come sit with me."

There was a definite glimmer of apprehension in his eyes, but he obeyed. They settled into the rickety chairs on the porch, Dean perching stiffly on the edge of his. John took in the posture and took a deep breath as he leaned forward. Dean's eyes sought the colorful hues that started to grace the sky, but John knew he was listening.

"Dean…" he started, then stopped. He'd rehearsed this in his head, but now that he was actually doing it he decided it might be better to just jump right in and think with his heart. "When I couldn't find you, when I realized it had you…I was terrified."

That earned him attention at least. He continued, "Nobody knows better than me that there's plenty in this world worth being afraid of. I've been there…I hope you know there's nothing you can't tell me."

Dean's eyes skittered away again, down this time. John leaned so far towards him that he was barely in his seat. "I know this was hard. And I know you were scared. But it's over. You came through it in one piece, and it may not seem like it right now, but you're stronger for it." He paused, gently tapping Dean's chin. "I'm proud of you, son."

Dean's eyes darted up to his briefly, and he nodded. Other than that, he got no reaction.

He told himself to be patient and give it time. He knew he'd always been much better at being patient with hunts than with his sons. Clearly, he was going to have to work on that.

But after several long moments as the darkness crept forth, Dean went ahead and awarded his efforts with two little words, croaked and barely there.

"Thanks, Dad."

oOo