It's been a year since Carthage. Six months since Detroit. Four months since Sam found himself topside with no clue how he'd gotten there. Two months since the last time he was close enough to Cicero to check on Dean from a safe distance. The Campbells are waiting for him at Mark's place on the far side of Indianapolis, but he just... needs to see how Dean is doing. He's all too aware that the foremost memories on Dean's mind will be their first Thanksgiving without Jo and Ellen and that whacked trip to Heaven where Dean caught up to Sam in the middle of a memory of Thanksgiving dinner with his first crush and her family.
Observing the house in broad daylight is risky, but Sam has good reason to believe both that Lisa will be serving dinner around noon and that enough of the neighbors will be gone that he won't be noticed. To be safe, he parks the Charger a few blocks away and walks to Lisa's house, then finds a comfortable spot from which to watch through the dining room window without being seen from inside. He won't stay long, he promises himself, but he needs to be sure that Dean's okay.
And sure enough, Dean's color is better than it was last time, and he looks better rested and his smiles are coming more easily. Ben and Lisa look happy, too, talking animatedly with their hands and laughing at jokes Sam can't hear.
Sam firmly quashes the part of him that longs to be inside. Dean's better off without him.
He's just about to leave when Ben says something and Dean blinks in confusion, looking hard at Ben for a moment before wiping the backs of his hands and turning to Lisa. Lisa chides Ben and then... starts signing for Dean. And Dean inclines his head in comprehension.
How had Sam missed this? He keeps watching as Ben sets down his utensils and signs Sorry before continuing to talk—literally—with his hands. As Dean had requested with the Hands sign. Kid must have been talking with his mouth full.
How long has Dean been deaf?
Sam wracks his brain as he walks back to his car, hoping not to have missed the clues when he'd been there before... but no, now that he thinks back, he had seen Lisa ask Dean if he was okay by fingerspelling "OK" that first night, when the streetlight went out. Which means...
... dammit. Stull.
Thanksgiving with the Campbells is nice, but it's too much of a reminder of old times at the Roadhouse, and even after twenty years in Hell, the loss of Ellen and Jo is still too fresh for Sam to enjoy himself much. Still, he hangs around the edges of conversations until after dark, when Samuel snags his elbow and tells him to go back to his brother.
Somehow he manages to hit traffic on the way through Indianapolis, so it's nearly 9 by the time he gets back to Cicero. This time he parks in the alley behind Lisa's back fence, planning to try to work out which room Dean sleeps in. But no sooner does he look over the top of the fence than he sees Dean on the back porch, staring at a half-empty bottle of Jack like he doesn't know what to do with it. Sam suddenly remembers Cas confiding to him quietly on the way down from Blue Earth back in April that the encounter with Famine had left Dean too depressed to even get properly drunk.
How had Sam missed this? How had he failed to see how badly hurt Dean still was? Had the signs been there all along, just like the signs that Dean was deaf? Could he really be that blind—or no, is it that he's spent too much time on Amon Hen, watching from afar, seeing everything but not hearing the context that would put the lie to his belief that Dean was doing okay?
"Fool," said I, "you do not know
That silence like a cancer grows..."
He's halfway across the yard before he's even aware of what he's doing, but he falters for only a moment. His hands caused this; his hands can make it right.
No reaction. Of course not, says Sam's inner Bobby. He's deaf, you idjit.
Sam's about ten yards away from the porch when Dean becomes aware of him, looking up sluggishly until he realizes who he's seeing. They both freeze for a moment, staring at each other with wide eyes, until Dean reaches up with an S-hand and taps it over his heart twice:
Sam doesn't know what sign Ben and Lisa have chosen for Dean's name. But he doesn't think anyone else knows that Sam's sign echoes Dean's sign for him, a D tapped over the heart twice. They'd chosen those signs way back when they were first learning ASL at Pastor Jim's, the summer the youth group planned a mission trip to help a deaf ministry in Colorado and Pastor Jim insisted that signing could be useful on a hunt.
His eyes bright with tears, Dean pulls a silver knife out of his back pocket. Sam offers his left wrist and fingerspells Holy H2O? with his right after Dean makes sure the cut doesn't burn. Dean hands him the flask, and Sam drinks as if from a sports bottle so Dean can see the water going into his mouth.
"Sammy?" Dean says again as Sam hands the flask back, his voice a hoarse whisper.
Yes, Dean, Sam signs. Me.
And Sam suddenly has his arms full of silently sobbing older brother. He doesn't want to get blood on Dean's jacket, so he hugs back with only one arm... but he hopes—oh, how he hopes—that Dean can feel and take comfort from the I love you sign Sam's pressing into his back.
A/N: Amon Hen, the Hill of Sight, appears in The Fellowship of the Ring "The Breaking of the Fellowship"; Frodo, under the influence of the Ring, has a silent vision of events happening far away—but as Ralph C. Wood points out in The Gospel According to Tolkien, sight without hearing leads to skewed perception.