A/N: This is based on a prompt, which I ain't gonna tell you for fear of spoiling the story, though there's really not much to spoil. The theme has been done before, to tell the truth, though not by me. I hope you like my interpretation.
(By the way, the overly-grandiose title is from Simon and Garfunkle's song "The Sounds of Silence." Sorry. *wince*)
AAAANNNNDDD my friend fixed my laptop and I now have full review-responding capabilities! So, if you speak, I shall answer! Great joy.
Light spills from a doorway and Dean follows it, slides one socked foot in front of the other over the old wooden floor and pretends the light is a path, leading him towards gruff voices and the occasional clink of a glass. Two voices, one of which he recognizes as his father's, and so he figures that the other must belong to the man whose house they're staying in; the man with the fierce beard and the baseball cap pulled low so you can't see his face. Bobby. Dean had been frightened of him until he saw his eyes, and then he wasn't afraid anymore.
It's very late at night, everything dark and shadowed except for that strip of light, and Dean hopes Sammy doesn't wake up alone in the room they're sharing, because then he'll holler and be scared. Dean shouldn't be out of his bed in the first place, but he has to pee and he couldn't find the bathroom in the creaking hallway upstairs, and he saw the light and heard the voices and tiptoed downstairs and now here he is, standing outside of a half-open door, listening to his father talk.
He's talking about Dean.
Dean knows this because his father's chuckling, and he's saying, "Yeah, Dean's a trip, all right."
"A trip" means Dean says things sometimes that make his father snort coffee out his nose and shake his head, but Dean's not talking now, he's holding very still and not really breathing, because it's weird, to hear his dad say his name when he doesn't even know that Dean is there to hear it. It hadn't occurred to him that John could do that – would do that – would talk about Dean to other people, think about him like that when he's not right there.
"Seems pretty shy," he hears Bobby say, and Dean frowns. He's not shy.
"He's not shy," John says, and Dean grins, bounces on the balls of his feet. Loves his father. "He's just a little quiet around people he doesn't know," John continues. "But lemme tell you, that kid's got a mouth on him a mile wide."
Bobby laughs. "Just like his old man."
"Ah, fuck you," John says good-naturedly, and Dean can't help but blurt out a surprised laugh at hearing that word – and the voices stop abruptly. Dean steps away, heart pounding with the fear of discovery and the adrenaline-driven urge to keep laughing, and he shuffles quickly backwards, scurries back up the stairs before Bobby or John can open the door and find him there, listening, out of bed.
He still has to pee, and he finds the bathroom finally, closes the door behind him and waits for a minute, listening to see if anyone's coming. But there are no footsteps on the stairs, and eventually he calms down, grinning in partial terror and partial thrill. He turns on the bathroom light and pulls down the gym shorts he's wearing as pajama bottoms and pees, doesn't flush the toilet because he doesn't want anyone to know he's awake, and then he pulls over a low stool from the corner and stands it in front of the sink and climbs up to look at himself in the mirror.
A mouth on him a mile wide, he thinks, but his mouth doesn't seem any bigger than a normal seven year-old's mouth, except maybe his lips, which are poofier than some kids' but definitely not as poofy as others.
He smiles as big as he can, watches his mouth stretch huge, his cheeks swelling outwards and his eyes crinkling up 'til he can barely see the green, and even then he doesn't think it's that wide. It's kind of freaky, makes him look like a grinning jack-o-lantern, with his big new front teeth and round cheeks, so he relaxes his face and furrows his brow at his reflection.
He doesn't know what his dad is talking about.
His mouth is fine.
"You've got some mouth on you, you know that?" Dean's freshman year guidance counselor asks him, his own mouth quirking up just a little bit, like the guy's trying his hardest not to smile.
Dean smirks. "So they tell me."
"Well, how about you tell me something, then. You wanna explain to me why you told Mr. Holt to – what was that lovely phrase again? – to stick it where the sun don't shine."
"'Cause he's a dick."
"Care to be a bit more eloquent?" The counselor raises his eyebrows. "Care to explain why you've been late to his class every day for the past week, refused to attend your scheduled detention sessions, and then cursed at him when he suggested you pull your act together and go to detention in order to avoid suspension?"
"I don't care to do anything," Dean snaps. "I don't care that Mr. Holt thinks five minutes after the bell means I get forty minutes in that stinky-ass detention room, and I don't care that he's a self-righteous asshole who wouldn't know how to cut someone a break if I handed him a Bowie knife and gave him a fuckin' one-on-one lesson."
The counselor sighs, leans back, and Dean knows he's fucked, mention of violent weaponry notwithstanding. That is, he would be fucked if he wasn't moving the day after tomorrow, which really takes some pressure off.
"You know we're going to have to contact your parents, Dean," the counselor says, and Dean bites his tongue. Doesn't tell the truth, which is that his dad's out of town, has been out of town for the past two weeks, which means he's had to make sure Sammy gets safely on the schoolbus every morning, which is why he's been late for school these past weeks, and he can't stay after to do detention because he's got to be there when Sammy gets home, too.
He might have a mouth on him, but it sure doesn't do him any fucking good.
He still can't ever tell the truth.
"Why can't you keep your mouth shut?"
Dean looks up from the yellow plaid armchair he's sitting in, takes a swig of his beer and tries to keep his face expressionless as Sam storms into the living room, eyes furious, giant puppy hands balled into fists.
"What're you talking about?" Dean asks, feigns nonchalance though his stomach does a funny little flip of fear, which is stupid. He has no reason to be afraid of his fifteen year-old brother, even if he is kind of a fierce little fucker.
"You told Dad about soccer," Sam says. "You asshole, you promised, you promised not to tell, and now I'm never gonna be able to play again and my team is gonna lose next weekend and it's all because you suck, you suck, Dean."
"Sam," Dean says, placating, "Sammy, listen, man. I didn't – I didn't mean—"
"You know how he feels about sports, says they train us wrong, or some bullshit, but it's just because he doesn't like the idea of teams, he wants to keep us apart from everything, and you're just as bad as he is, you don't want me to do anything normal, you want to keep me as freaky as you and Dad so you don't feel so bad about being such a weirdo."
Sam is quivering with fury, skinny frame planted in front of Dean like he's gonna sock him if his brother makes a move, so Dean stays on the couch, tries to keep his voice low and soothing, tries not to give into his guilt.
"Sam," he says. "I was trying to help you out, man. Dad was telling me how he wants to take off for good next month, head up to Nebraska, and I thought – I thought maybe if I told him about your big game, told him how much you'd been practicing, then maybe he'd stick around."
"Well, thanks a fucking lot," Sam says. "This is the – the one thing I had, Dean, the one thing I wanted. So what if it was just for one more month? One month is better than never again."
"You can join a team in –"
"I liked this team," Sam says. "I'm good, they put me in every game, I know all the guys and the coach is awesome and – just – why'd you have to tell him, huh? I didn't want him to know. He – he twists everything up and makes it bad, and you – you just go along with it."
The fury in Sam's voice has given way to a kind of bewildered despair that twists Dean's guts into knots, and he looks down, rolls his beer between his palms. "I'm sorry, all right? I probably shouldn't have said anything."
"Fucking right, you shouldn't have," Sam says. "Just keep your mouth shut from now on, okay? Don't talk to me, don't talk to Dad, just – just shut up. Shut up."
He blows out of the living room, slams the door to the bedroom they share, a burst of powdery plaster raining down from the ceiling. The house they're in right now is a complete dump, moldy and mouse-infested and all the furniture smells like wet dog, and Dean suddenly can't stand it for one more second, throws himself off the couch and stalks outside to sit down hard on the crumbling cement stoop.
It's mid-March, still damp and a little chilly, and their neighborhood is quiet, run-down houses slumped dejectedly in cramped rows. Dean pats himself down for his cigarettes, lights one and exhales a breath of smoke into the air, watches it float away.
Lately it seems like everything he tries to do for Sam is wrong – seems like every time he opens his mouth, he's pissing someone off. Dad, Sam, both of them accusing him of being on the other person's "side," doesn't matter what he's saying, he's in the wrong.
He takes a drag of his cigarette, scrubs a hand through his hair. Sometimes he wonders why he bothers talking at all.
"Oh, oh god. Oh god. Fuck. Please, please – yes – yeah – oh, fuck, yeah, your mouth, oh my god, your fucking mouth, please, please, please – yes yes yes – oh my god."
The ride to the bus station is quiet. Dean should probably put some music on, but he can't bring himself to, still thinks that maybe, in the next fifteen minutes, he'll think of something to say, something perfect and brilliant, something that will let him turn the car around and take Sam home.
But he can't think of anything. He's already said it all – argued, hinted, hollered, cajoled… a million different versions of the truth. The truth, which he can't speak out loud.
Please, please, please, for the love of god, don't leave me alone, you selfish fucking brat I need you.
Instead he says, "You're bringing a gun, right?"
"Dean," Sam says. "You know they'd kick me out in a second if they found firearms in my stuff, right?"
"You bringin' a gun?" Dean repeats stubbornly.
Sam sighs. "I've got my Berreta."
"Good," Dean says.
Then they're silent again, Sam staring out the open window, hot August air ruffling his hair. Every time Dean looks away, and then looks back, Sam seems to have gotten a little older.
The bus is already there when they pull up, a sleek Greyhound idling on the cracked Iowa pavement, and Sam climbs out of the Impala, hefts his duffle out of the backseat.
Dean comes around the front of the car and looks at his little brother and thinks about eighteen years of loving one thing more than anything else in the damn universe. Sam's eyes are already fixed over Dean's head on some invisible California horizon, and Dean thinks maybe Sam left years ago, and this is just a spatial formality.
But then Sam looks down, and for just a second Dean understands that leaving and being left are varying degrees of the same pain.
"Dean," Sam says, like the word's been torn from the bloody lining of his lungs, and his lashes are already clumping together in damp spikes. "You could… We could…"
Dean shakes his head once, convinced and final, as if he knew what the fuck he was doing, and Sam looks away, nostrils flaring a little as he takes a deep, shaky breath through his nose.
"I'll call you, okay?" Sam asks, sounding like the scared four year-old who used to come running to Dean for every little thing. "You'll visit. Please – please don't – you'll answer, right? If I call?"
Dean nods, and Sam presses his lips together and stares up at the sky, eyes wide, as if he could get his body to swallow back the tears brimming there. Dean watches, wants so badly to give him something, to impart words of wisdom or crack a shitty joke or just say I love you, be careful, but he can't speak around the lump in his throat and he's afraid if he tries he's gonna lose it. So he nods again.
"Okay," Sam says, glances over his shoulder at the bus, makes an abortive movement towards his brother, and Dean meets him halfway for the first time in a long time, reaches up and pulls Sam down towards him, and even though Sam's a good three inches taller, somehow his head ends up pressed into Dean's shoulder, and Dean grips Sam so tightly he can hear his bones creak, and he tries to tell him everything he can't say out loud.
Then the bus driver honks impatiently, and they break away, Sam wiping furiously at his eyes.
I'm proud of you, Dean tries to say, but he just ends up clearing his throat, and Sam offers him a watery smile.
"Thanks for driving me," Sam says. "Thanks for… thanks."
And finally Dean manages to form words. "Not a problem, Sammy," he says. "No problem."
It's the biggest lie he's ever told.
Dad is planted in front of the television drunk off his ass when Dean gets back, no surprise there, and he looks at his son like he's stuck a knife in his guts and doesn't say anything. Dean hooks a bottle of Jack for himself and heads outside to the picnic table outside their trailer, starts drinking with real, serious intent, 'til his face goes numb and he's started lighting the wrong end of cigarettes. He's squinting at the bottle, engaged in an internal debate on the relative merits of passing out at the picnic table versus passing out in his too-small bed, when the metal door bangs open and John comes out, sits across from Dean and raises a disgusted lip at the shot glass Dean's been using for an ashtray, but he doesn't lecture Dean about it like he normally does when he catches Dean smoking. Usually Dean's much stealthier.
"Your brother get on the bus okay?" John asks, and Dean nods, pulls on his cigarette and sends a blurry plume of smoke into the hot, clear night sky.
John gazes at Dean with the steady, accusatory drunk glare he's perfected over the years, and then he turns and goes back inside.
Dean knows John thought he'd convince Sam to change his mind at the last second. Hell, Dean kinda thought he might, too. But he hadn't. Had failed, completely and utterly.
He's been failing this way for years now, never saying the right thing, always too slow and dumb for sharp, acerbic Sam, always too smartass and wisemouthed for his hawkeyed father, and it seems it would be so much easier if he just quit trying once and for all.
So easy, just to stop.
It's not exactly a conscious thing, but every time Dean opens his mouth to say something, he thinks better of it, and the words get swallowed back up inside him. It's not like he'd be saying much, anyway – it's just him and John, and John isn't talking up a storm either, so it isn't difficult for Dean to get along on nods and head-shakes and shrugs – though he can feel his father watching him thoughtfully, and it makes him nervous.
Three days after Sam leaves, John shakes Dean out of a hungover slumber and says, "Pack of Black Dogs in Denver. Time we got out of this shithole anyway."
Dean blinks himself awake and spits bile into the kitchen sink and they pack their shit and leave the last house they're ever gonna live in with Sam, and Dean has to sit back on his heels and stare at the ceiling for a while after he finds a pair of Sam's dirty socks under his bed. John's driving his new truck and so Dean's alone in the Impala, the noise of the highway swallowing him up.
They stop a few times to go to the bathroom, John signaling out his truck window, and Dean is in fear of the moment when his father calls his cellphone, and he has to answer, but John never calls, just waves his hand or flicks his taillights.
They have dinner outside of Kansas City, Missouri, and John kind of squints at Dean and says, "Hey buddy, you doin' okay?"
Dean looks up from his mouthful of burger and nods, raises his eyebrows.
"You've been awfully quiet," John says, and Dean takes another huge bite to keep his mouth busy, his insides suddenly frozen with fear. He needs to say something now, say anything, reassure his father, but for some reason he finds he can't, heart beating a mile a minute and throat closing up just at the thought.
That's when he realizes it's not a choice anymore. He just can't.
"Dean," John says, and Dean tries to think of something to say, but the thought of hearing his own voice aloud is suddenly terrifying. He feels, inexplicably but so strongly, that if he opens his mouth, he will lose an integral part of himself. Like maybe his soul will go flying from his lips and he'll be completely hollow, all of the good stuff given away to air and dust and the California breeze.
He gives his father an eye-roll, points to his mouth to show that he's chewing, then palms his cigarettes from the pocket of his coat and flashes them at his father, thumbs the air over his shoulder. He pushes back from his chair before John can say anything, and hurries out of the diner, pushing out into the muggy night.
Mosquitoes are buzzing and moisture pools in the hot air, a coming storm simmering on the night horizon. Dean leans against the warm brick wall to light his cigarette, tries to say something to the dark parking lot but no words come.
The door to the diner swings open, and John comes out, hands tucked in his jeans pockets, head swiveling until he spots Dean.
He comes over, leans up next to Dean, huffs a long sigh.
"Dean," John repeats, and Dean tries not to panic, tries not to feel cornered and trapped. This is stupid, he's not a freak, he can talk just fine. He's gonna say something, and it'll all be okay, and this thing will clear up and he'll be peachy. He takes a deep breath, gets the muscles of his throat ready.
"When the fuck are you gonna quit smoking?" John asks abruptly, and whatever Dean was going to say dries up in his mouth.
John seems to see that, because he winces and ducks his head, mutters, "We got a hunt ahead of us. Can't have you wheezing. Need you to keep up."
Dean nods, takes a last drag from his half-smoked cigarette and puts it out beneath the toe of his boot, heads back towards the Impala. John hesitates, then climbs into his truck, and they pull out of the parking lot separately.
Dean plays his music loud. He can still make plenty of noise.
Hear that, Sam? Plenty of noise without you.
The hunt goes all right until a Black Dog knocks Dean to the ground and sinks his huge fangs into the meat of Dean's right shoulder. Dean's conscious until the dog drags him to the edge of a ravine, and there's a brief, dizzying second where he's aware of falling, and then everything goes black.
He comes to immersed in water from the knees down, and his head in his father's lap.
"Dean," John is saying urgently. "Dean, wake the fuck up. Wake up, Dean. Wake up."
I'm awake, christ, Dean says in his head, but out loud he just gasps soundlessly, squints up at his father's face, pinholing in and out of focus.
"What hurts?" John asks. "Dean, where does it hurt?"
Where does it hurt. It's almost funny, that question. His shoulder, his ribs, his knees, his elbows, his head, his stomach, his lungs, his heart… it all hurts. His bones hurt. It hurts to think and breathe and to remember, and he doesn't see how he can tell his father any of this, because he's so damn tired and can't it wait 'til morning?
His vision goes white and he sleeps.
When Dean opens his eyes again he's laid out on a motel bed, soaked red towels spread underneath him. His shoulder is tightly wrapped in bandages, arm strapped to his chest, and his wrist has been splinted. He's in his boxers.
John is sitting on the next bed cleaning his gun, and he looks up when Dean shifts and grimaces at the bolt of pain the movement produces.
"Hey," John says, puts the gun down and comes over to perch gingerly by Dean's hip. "How you feelin'? You need something? What do you need?"
Dean shakes his head, carefully, because it's throbbing, and John notices the wince.
"You smacked your head pretty hard on a rock," he says. "Cracked a few ribs, broken wrist, not too bad, and your shoulder's torn to hell, but it'll be all right. You're all right."
Dean raises his eyebrows worriedly, nudges his chin at his father.
"I'm fine," John says, lets out a hoarse laugh. "I'm fine."
Dean nods, gets his good hand planted on the bed and starts pushing himself up, glares at John when he reaches forward to help him.
"You're gonna have to take it easy for a while," John says. "Couple weeks, at least."
Dean leans against the headboard, presses his lips together.
"What," John says, clearly going for jovial but falling flat. "Aren't you gonna bitch at me? I'm fine, Dad," he mimics in an exaggerated growl. "A mere flesh wound."
Dean smirks and rolls his eyes, but he can feel the questions behind his father's words, the accusations, and his hands start to tremble a little. There's a moment of silence, John gazing steadily at him, Dean plucking uncomfortably at his splinted wrist, and he braces himself for what he knows is coming.
"Dean," John says finally, exasperation and worry tingeing his voice. "Please, please tell me you're not gonna pull this shit again."
Dean blinks innocently, plays like he doesn't know what his dad's talking about, but his heart's going doubletime and his palms start sweating. He's got to say something, has to, but as soon as he opens his mouth a wave of panic overtakes him and he thinks for a second that he's going to pass out.
"Talk to me," John insists. "Jesus, Dean, say something."
Dean sucks in a breath, swallows, tries to force sound out past his lips, but he can't. He just – he can't.
"Dean, I need to know what I'm dealing with here. Is – is this natural? Or did you piss someone off enough to throw a whammy on you?"
Dean hesitates at that. He wants to think that, yeah, maybe he did get caught in the crossfire of some wacko spell, but he knows better. He remembers this feeling, vaguely, from the first year or so after his mother's death, remembers the blinding terror that would hit him whenever he thought about speaking. As if he needed to save his words like pennies so he could buy her back. As if he could only speak when she was there to listen. As if she'd come back to listen.
But he was just a fucked-up little kid then, and now he's twenty-two goddamn years old, with a trunk full of weapons and a set of particularly effective fighting skills. What the hell is his excuse now? He's just fucking crazy, is all. Goddammit.
He shakes his head, and his father's mouth goes tight.
"I don't have time to deal with this shit," John says, smacks a palm hard against the bed, but his eyes are more anguished than angry, and Dean flinches away from that as much as he does from the violence of the movement. "While you were out, I got a call from a guy about a poltergeist a few hours from here. I'm leaving tomorrow morning, and when I get back, you're gonna open your goddamn mouth and say hello to me, you understand?"
If he weren't so caught by the fact that his father's leaving, Dean thinks he might almost smile at that, at the way his father thinks he can bark orders at the universe and stars will melt into their proper positions as soon as he speaks. He wants to think that maybe it's true, that maybe his father will show up and Dean will say, Hey, Dad. How'd the hunt go?, as if nothing had ever happened.
So he nods, ducks his head a little. Maybe that's all he needs, a few days alone to pull himself together. Alone.
"All right," John says, slumps down a little like his outburst left him exhausted. "You need anything? Water? Pills?"
Water, oh god, yes. He needs water. He raises one hand to his mouth, tilts it like he's drinking, then realizes he's miming. For the love of…
"Hang on," John says, and pushes into a stand, disappears into the motel bathroom. Dean can hear the sink turn on with a sputter, and he lowers his head carefully back against the headboard, closes his eyes. His whole fucking body hurts, with light-up flares going off in his shoulder, wrist and head, a steady pound of cracked ribs.
"Here," comes his father's voice, and Dean opens his eyes as John pushes a few pills into his good hand. "These first, then water," he directs, and Dean obeys, swallows them down and then chugs the rest of the water, so fast he gets a little sick.
"Easy," John says, hovers a hand by Dean's good shoulder. "How you feelin'?"
Dean shrugs a little, which is just about the stupidest idea he's ever had, because it hurts so fucking bad he thinks he might puke.
And he does, little more than bile dribbling into the now-empty water glass, bitter with the pills he just swallowed, but his ribs scream as he gags, and he's sweating and panting by the time he stops.
Only when he feels his father's hand come off his back does he realize it was there in the first place. John takes the glass from him with complete disregard for the fact that it's barf, and Dean thinks about how he's only seen this kind of unconcern in parents – changing diapers, taking used chewing gum with their bare hands, cleaning scraped knees, blowing noses. It makes him feel strangely young, and safe, to see his father holding a glass of his puke. He wonders what that says about him.
"Best thing you can do now is sleep," John says, and Dean is inclined to agree, his eyes already fluttering closed. He starts easing himself down as John goes back into the bathroom, comes out with a fresh glass of water and sets it on the table next to the bed.
Dean wrinkles his nose, and his father snorts.
"I cleaned it out, Dean. Suck it up. It's the only glass we've got."
Dean shrugs, just his good shoulder this time, and he's pleased when there's no backlash of pain.
"You need another pillow?"
Dean shakes his head.
"Okay," John says, hovers for a moment like he isn't sure what to do next. "Okay."
He turns off the overhead lamp and the lamp next to Dean's bed, keeps his own lamp on. Dean stays awake long enough to see him spread out some paper, settle down to work, and then the world fades out and Dean falls into a dreamless sleep.
John leaves early the next morning, sticks around just long enough to change Dean's bandages and ascertain that he can do it for himself before he loads his gear into the Impala.
It's chilly, fall coming, and the sky is grey and heavy. Dean shivers as he stands in the parking lot, zipped up into one of Sam's old hoodies that he left behind, the right arm hanging empty by his side. It was the only thing he could get on without asking his father for help. A breeze sighs through the lot, and John pulls his own jacket tighter around his body, glances over his shoulder.
The motel is right on the edge of town, in close walking distance to a few bars and restaurants, since, as John points out bitterly, "You can't exactly call for takeout, can you?", and his dad leaves him a few twenties and the coordinates of where he's headed.
"I shouldn't be more than three or four nights," John says. "Call if you need anything. You don't – you don't have to talk. Just call, and hang up, and I'll come back."
Dean nods, a tightness in his chest that has nothing to do with his fucked-up ribs, and John sighs.
"And pick up if I call you, you hear? Pick up. I'll talk at you if there's something I need you to know."
Dean nods again, readjusts his arm in its sling, thinks about the bar a few blocks down and wonders how he's gonna order a drink without saying anything. Maybe that alone'll be enough to set him straight.
Lemme have whatever's on tap, he says in his head, practicing, and it seems easy, seems simple. Until he looks up and his dad's still staring at him, waiting.
Dean rolls his eyes and reaches out, claps John on the shoulder, gives him a gentle shove towards the car.
"I'm goin', I'm goin'," John says, climbs into the front seat. Before he closes the door he looks up and says, "Dean. You're not four, okay? When I get back, you're gonna talk to me. We clear?"
Yes sir, Dean thinks. Offers a sarcastic salute.
John half-smiles, slams the door, and pulls out of the parking lot, leaving Dean alone.
Dean doesn't really venture out of the motel that first day, just buys a six-pack of coke and a few bags of chips from the motel store and lays on his bed, hazy and vaguely nauseous from the painkillers. He throws his coke cans on the floor and smokes in the room and watches shitty action movies on the staticky television set, pretends he's glad that Sam's not there to complain about the terrible special effects and cringeworthy dialogue.
By the second night he can't take the silence anymore, heads down to the crowded bar and grill joint he'd seen, food overpriced but the beer cheap, and he sits down in a booth in the back.
He can do this. No sweat.
His waitress shows up after a while, tall and slim-shouldered and flat-chested, two rings in one delicate nostril, and he grins up at her appreciatively, liking the way her dark hair is falling free of its bun. Hey, sweetheart.
"Sorry for the wait," she says, tugging out her notebook. "How are you doing tonight?" Her eyebrows rise at his sling and the bandages peeking out over the neckline of his (Sam's) sweatshirt, and Dean freezes.
I'm doin' great, how 'bout yourself?
I'm just fine, but not as fine as you, honey.
I'm fuckin' hungry.
He smiles ruefully, makes a so-so motion with his hand.
"I hear that," she says, sighs. "Anyway, I'm Amelia, I'll be your waitress for the evening. Can I start you off with something to drink?"
Dean takes as deep a breath as his ribs will allow, feels like a complete jackass as he jabs his finger at the PBR poster above his booth.
He nods, can feel a flush creep up his neck. Fuckin' retarded, Winchester. Jesus.
"You need a couple minutes with the menu?"
He shakes his head, taps the photo of a cheeseburger and tries a smile.
"Cheeseburger? With fries?"
Onion rings, actually. He nods.
"Not real talkative, are you?" she asks, eyeing him curiously.
He shrugs one-shouldered, taps his throat and rolls his eyes.
"Oh, you sick? Like, laryngitis or something."
He points at her. Yahtzee.
"Bummer." She pretends to edge away. "You're not contagious, are you?"
He snorts a laugh, shakes his head. God, he hopes not.
"Phew." She wipes her forehead dramatically, grins down at him. "I'll be right back with your beer. You sure you don't want some tea with honey or something, instead?"
He doesn't know what face he's making, but she tosses her head back with a delighted laugh. "Sorry I asked!"
He inclines his head magnanimously, and she grins, scoops up his menu and swishes off.
Dean squinches his eyes shut and kneads his temples. Motherfucker.
Amelia reappears moments later with his beer, and he pretty much chugs it, has time for another one before his food comes. Maybe if he gets wasted enough he won't feel like he's gonna crap himself every time he thinks about speaking.
The french fries are easy to eat one-handed, so he goes for those first, drinks another beer before he tries his luck with the burger, which is stuffed full and stacked high. By the time he's gotten three bites in, it's come apart all over his plate, and he thinks maybe he'll just take it home and eat it there, where he doesn't have to worry about offending anyone with his manners.
He borrows Amelia's pen and note pad to ask for a take-home box, an order of onion rings, and another beer, and he's buzzed enough to find it kind of hilarious how hard it is to write with his left hand. He grins at her as she squints at his scrawl, reads it slowly back to him.
He nods, motions for the pad again.
Goin 2 smoke. Dont eat my onion rings.
She snorts charmingly, and he eases himself carefully out of the booth and out the door, settles himself on a bench, awkwardly fumbles a cigarette free of his pack and has managed to get it lit when his phone rings.
He snaps it open without thinking, sees too late the name on the caller I.D.
Sam. If he can talk to anyone, it'll be Sam. He believes this.
Nothing happens. His throat is working but not a sound comes out, he just breathes into the phone like some creepy crank caller, chokes a little on smoke. Dammit. Dammit.
His brother's voice is loud, and right there, and Dean closes his eyes, pretends for a second that he's not alone, half-drunk outside of some random-ass bar, pretends his brother's slouched next to him, about to tell him off for smoking, about to start bitching about the chill in the air and the sub-par onion rings.
"Dean?" Sam sounds annoyed now. "Dude, hello?"
Dean slams the phone shut, waits a couple seconds, then opens it again.
He texts: Screwy service. How r u? College good? Girls? Kegs?
He places his phone carefully in his lap, takes a few drags from his cigarette. Waits.
His phone lights up and he snaps it open before it can beep.
Im good. Roommates kinda weird and funny. Classes are sweet. Girls and kegs abound. Youd like it.
Dean grins. "Abound"? Maybe the kid does belong in college.
He texts back, Ok good. Dont drink 2 much an make ass of yrself. Litewait.
The answer is immediate. Youre a jerk. And its lightweight.
Dean snorts. They teach u spelling already? Advanced shit.
Sam sends back: F u.
And then a few seconds later, Ill call you soon. Pick up ok.
Dean flicks his butt away. Ok. Be safe.
He waits, phone in hand, but it doesn't ring again.
Dean wakes up the next morning with a pounding headache, a shoulder that feels like it's declaring war on the rest of his body, and a note from Amelia with a recipe for a salt-gargle. There's a wilted piece of lettuce caught between two of the fingers on his good hand, and he vaguely remembers stumbling home and stuffing his face with leftover burger.
He cleans himself up as best as he can, swallows a handful of painkillers and then changes his bandages carefully, smearing antiseptic over the ravaged flesh, trying not to look too hard at it, clumsily re-winding the gauze. It's tough work, takes the better part of an hour, and he's sweating profusely by the time he's finished, hair sticking up in damp spikes.
He rinses his face off and zips himself into Sam's old hoodie again, works his jeans painstakingly up his hips and shoves his feet in his sneakers, the laces loosely pre-tied by his father.
He heads outside and walks to the café down the road, manages to get a cup of coffee and a few pieces of toast without too much trouble, pointing to the menu with a sheepish grin.
It's strange, not talking. At first it felt as if he was keeping himself shut-up and safe, as if by closing his lips he could keep the important parts of himself contained – but now it feels like he's fading away, instead. Like he's blurring around the edges, going thin.
He clears his throat, mouths a few words to himself. Forks. Napkins. Motherfuckers.
When his breakfast comes, he dunks his toast in his coffee and eats slowly, watching the other people in the cafe. It's early, and most of them are, for some reason, old men, and it takes Dean a moment to realize why his stomach is folding itself into nervous, horrified little knots. But he sees with a start that it's because he's watching a roomful of people performing the same movements he is, like some fucked-up ten-way mirror – dunking toast in coffee, chewing slow, flipping absently through a newspaper. Alone.
Dean puts his toast down, suddenly sick, confronted with an image of himself sixty years from now. Silent, in some strange diner, the only one in his huge booth, drinking shitty coffee forever and ever amen.
He gestures for the waitress and pays the bill, smokes a cigarette as he walks back to the motel and then wishes he hadn't. The smoke tastes bitter in his mouth, his lungs feel bruised, raw. His throat hurts like he's been yelling.
He sits on the edge of the bed and pulls his bad arm close to his body, trying to relieve the pain a little. He flicks the television on to the sound of people shouting at one another. He shuts it off.
He thinks about being a kid, thinks about how he and Sam used to give one another the silent treatment when they had their most serious fights. It was usually Sam, clamming up stubbornly for days at a time, and Dean remembers now that it was the worst feeling in the whole world, to be stuck with a sullen, silent boy pretending he didn't exist.
And suddenly he knows, with a cold and horrible certainty, that his father is not coming back.
He panics almost immediately, heart jumping from zero to sixty in less than a second, pressure behind his eyes and the ceiling is pressing down on him. He draws in a ragged breath, holds on tight to his bad arm, tries to calm himself down, tries to tell himself how fucking moronic he's being, tries to convince himself that John hasn't left for good. But he knows it's a lie.
He grips his bad elbow tighter, tries to breathe, looks around the cold, beige motel room. Sees his clothes in a pile on the floor and sees the crushed coke cans and a few beer bottles and a dirty ashtray and a duffle full of weapons and his gun in the back of his pants and Sam was right to leave this. It was only natural that he'd wise up someday, smart kid that he is, only natural that he'd open his eyes and see how messy and messed-up their lives are, how messy and messed-up Dean himself is. He was right to leave, and now John's figured it out, too, and he's not coming back. Oh god, he's not coming—
The door clicks and Dean almost falls off the bed.
"Hey," John says, pushing into the room, and Dean didn't realize it was empty until now that it's full. His dad makes a face as he shucks off his jacket, eying the crap strewn around the floor, shaking his head. "Dude, I'm gone for two nights and you trash the place?"
Dean can only stare, relief breaking out in him like a wave, and he feels weak, limbs jelly, as if he's coming down off a massive shock of adrenaline.
"How's the arm?" his father continues, placing his gun on the table and coming over to where Dean is still sitting on the bed, dumbfounded.
Dean swallows hard. There's a beat of silence.
"Deano," John says after a moment, and his voice isn't gentle but it's soft in a way Dean hasn't heard in a while. He reaches out his hand. Puts it roughly on Dean's cheek. "I asked you how your arm was."
Dean pulls in a breath, closes his eyes briefly and then opens them, looks up at his father watching him. Waiting.
"It's fine," Dean says. "I'm fine."