Title: It Happens Quietly
Disclaimer: The shows or characters ain't mine, ok?
Characters: John, Wee!Dean, Baby!Sammy
Genre: hurt/comfort, angst, general
Word Count: 3,340
Summary: John struggles dealing with Dean's mutism and grief after Mary's death. But somehow an infant knows how to fix Dean in a way John never guesses.
A/N: Created for hoodie_time's .challenge 6, for a prompt that asked for: "Dean still hardly talks. I try to make small talk, or ask him if he wants to throw the baseball around. Anything to make him feel like a normal kid again. He never budges from my side - or from his brother. Every morning when I wake up, Dean is inside the crib, arms wrapped around baby Sam. Like he's trying to protect him from whatever is out there in the night." - John Winchester's Journal; Fic of this would be FANTASTIC. And, of course, if Sam ended up being the one to accidentally get Dean talking again, my heart might explode from happiness.
Four days after the fire, they give John and the boys the okay to return to the house.
John wants to go by himself (leave his boys safe in the custody of kind friends a few blocks down), but he can't shake Dean off his side if he tries. (Palms, so often clammy with anxiety, that they slide down John's bare arms. Still, John feels them trying their best to clutch the material of his jeans. Rough blue denim interwoven between small, soft, pink fingers.)
So, John cradles Sammy in one arm, bundled up in a knitted ski hat and scarf, nestled between John's forearm and ribcage. His balance is maintained by Dean, on his opposite side, as he grips his father's hand through polyester mittens.
And onward they walked, sullen and shaken still (because four days does not erase four years of a mother's love and a wife's compassion), huddling to keep the chilly November air at bay.
Within minutes, they approach the house and Dean's cheek press itself closer into his father's thigh.
Silent breaths taken as to not upset his sons, John opens the door (unlocked; unprotected, like the woman he loved that he left to burn).
Inside, the world seems darker. It's early afternoon and the sun is high in the sky, shining bright before the quick November dusk comes to take it away. But inside his home (his house, John reminds himself. This could never be a home to him or his children ever again), it's pitch black; (he feels the shadows of nameless creatures surrounding him in the foyer).
Even in the foyer downstairs, by the open door, the place smells of burnt meat. Sam coughs and grimaces.
John wants a world of light for his children so he makes a sharp right and enters the room with the most windows – the kitchen. He sees the chair with the booster seat still set up, straps Sam in, and positions Dean in the chair opposite his brother.
"Deano," John says, hesitantly, already knowing how monumentally bad this idea is. "Daddy's going to go upstairs for a few minutes, okay? I'll be back soon. Just shout if you need me."
John almost scoffs at his final order. The way Dean's been acting, that will be the last thing that'll happen.
Sammy's banging on the table with sticky palms and Dean's holding out his hands so Sam may hit them instead of the table. A short nod from Dean is John's only response.
With long strides, John quickly gets up the stairs and into his and Mary's bedroom. Four days ago, John would do anything to extend his stay at home; anything to sleep in late with his arms around Mary; anything to sit in a rocking chair with a drowsy Dean in his lap and Sammy in his arms. Now he just wants to run before the odor of gasoline and sulfur makes him gag.
John takes the empty bag he brought with him and opens it up; starts stuffing the bag with everything that hasn't been charred by the fire. (That's not much.) He moves around from room to room, hoping to salvage as much as he can.
John's putting the last of Dean's toys into the bag when he hears a creaking sound. Hypervigilance makes him whip around where he met by his pale and visibly frightened son.
"Deano. What are you doing up here, bud?"
Dean stands motionless in the hallway outside the nursery's door and says nothing. His body is stiffened and his eyes are locked on the ceiling, now black, chipped paint dangling like icicles.
His son is so still that John fears Dean's not breathing. He moves toward him, slowly, and urges, "C'mon, kiddo. I'm finished up here. Let's get back to Sammy, okay?"
Faintly, he hears Sam crying downstairs. John goes to pick Dean up, when Dean makes a sharp about-face and starts racing back down the stairs, his arms positioned as if he were cradling something (someone, John realizes).
Hot on Dean's heels, John sees his son lift himself up onto his chair. John immediately finds out that Sammy's crying because his diaper's wet. After changing it, John gathers up everything he needs to leave.
As Dean steps down from his seat, John notices the front of Dean's Smurfs pants are damp. John watches and Dean uncomfortably walks toward him, putting his arm around his father's leg.
John isn't good at handling these issues. He's the parent the boys come to when they're ready to play; he doesn't know if can handle being the responsible one now.
Frozen for a moment, John doesn't know what to do. Should he address it outright? Play it off as nothing?
A calloused hand makes his way to the top of Dean's head. "Time to go. All right, Deano?" He smoothes his boy's hair and adds, "'S'okay. It's all gonna be okay."
A quick clearing of his throat.
John thinks it might be the first lie he ever told Dean.
It's been three weeks and Dean sleeps in John's bed now.
They don't have much space in Mike and Kate's guest room. There's a full-sized bed and a borrowed crib tucked away in the left-hand corner of the room. (The first night they stayed over, John pushes his bed toward the right so he could purposely squeeze in the crib in the corner, away from the window and door, John serving as a barrier to any harm that may approach.)
When he isn't crying relentlessly, Sam sleeps fairly soundly, occasionally waking up to fuss for attention. When in bed, John and Dean both face him; Dean's closest to him, sandwiched between Sam and John. The house is large and the heater's on the fritz and little Dean in his Bugs Bunny PJs cuddles up next to his father for body heat.
Sometimes John wakes up around one in the morning. (Alert to any movement in the night, John now wakes to the slightest stir.) The cause of his awakening is his eldest, thrashing from side to side, sweating through his cotton PJs, despite the harsh winter. When John tries to wake his son with a firm hand on his shoulder, Dean only shivers at the touch and pulls away. His breathing is so rapid that John worries that he isn't really sucking in oxygen; his face so contorted in fear that John worries his features will be paralyzed that way forever.
(The first night it happens, John calls 911. Hangs up before uttering a word when he sees Dean turn toward him, visage at ease, breathing even, body relaxed.)
Every night, when it happens, John sits up in bed and waits for it to pass, his eyes swapping back and forth between his son and the alarm clock. Every night, when it happens, John counts down the seconds in his head (Mississippi's included) and makes mental note of how long this particular night's episode has lasted.
On good nights, it might all be over in eight minutes. They are the worst eight minutes of John's life. On the other hand, it means that Dean's been spared up to an additional seven minutes of panic and horror. For that, John is grateful.
On those nights, John plants kisses on top of Dean's tangled head (lingers there, with eyes closed, so he can inhale the scent of his boy's innocence that others may mistake for baby shampoo, before it's lost) and pulls the covers closer. He quietly rises from bed so he can check on Sammy and usually finds him on his side despite the fact that he laid him down on his back. (Just seven months and John can tell Sammy's inherited his stubborn gene.)
On those nights, John curls up back in bed next to a now-peaceful Dean and tries to convince himself that things are bad, no denying it, but then that means that they can only get better. On those nights, he does a pretty good job at believing whatever he whispers softly to himself in his near-stupor.
On bad nights, it might be over in fifteen minutes. There might be screaming. If it's loud enough, it might be accompanied by crying from Sammy. Those are the nights that John has to cross his hands over his head lest he calls 911 and ends up paying an expensive bill for a service that doesn't even help Dean.
John's always been a proud and capable man. But Mary's gone now and her boys are suffering in ways that their father can't even begin to comprehend and John just wants some help. He just wants something to make it better.
On those nights, John makes sure that Dean hasn't wet his PJs or the sheets and tries to settle down Sammy as quickly as possible. Then he leaves and has a secret tryst with a bottle of whiskey that Mike keeps behind the living room TV.
On those nights, John contemplates how it's just not possible for a woman to burn up on a ceiling; contemplates that the answer he is looking for to make it better is, maybe completely unexpected, but closer than he thinks.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. Night terrors. Sometimes traditional nightmares (those nights that Dean wakes up, shaking and crying and so dry-mouthed from all the water that left his body that a stranger would think Dean hadn't had something to drink in days). Additional interviews and testing necessary. Consistent therapy sessions.
They're all words that doctors have been throwing at John's way.
They all mean nothing to him.
People promised John that these things would help Dean; promised him that seeking this kind of help would make Dean talk again, smile again. What John hears is that these things would help make Dean a kid again, a kid who would give an enthusiastic approval in a squeakily content tone when his dad asked him to play ball, a kid whose biggest problem would be not getting to have his way when it came to sugar-saturated cereal.
Therapy and doctors do none of these things for Dean. They tell John that it takes time for Dean to come out of his shell, but John always believed what he could see for himself.
And thing John sees is Dean withdraw from the strangers' extended hands, concealing his nose and eyes from the outside world by burying them inside the pocket of John's jacket. He sees how Dean's clammy hands still are clasped tightly around John's thigh.
He remembers how Dean looks like when he wakes up from one of the nightmares. Speechless, but aware. Like John's old war buddies who had seen too much. Too much to describe, no matter how many years of schooling they'd had, no matter how eloquent they had once been … just too much madness to translate into logical things like sounds and words and sentences.
So John takes a step back with Dean attached at his side.
They told him fixing Dean would take time. John has time to give. If they need to do this, he'll do it his way.
There's bedtime routines now. Kids like routines, John knows.
But instead of making sure that his son is brushing his teeth and taking a bath, John establishes other routines.
Before sleep, the last thing Dean hears is his father's heartbeat, soft but steady, in pace with his. Before sleep, the last thing Dean sees is his baby brother with his finger in his mouth, staring back at him.
It helps. Dean usually sleeps through the night, still tossing and turning, but never completely arrested with the alarm and fear that John witnessed during his son's night terrors.
Without these elements, though, little Dean finds himself lost, awake for hours with eyes clamped tight, curled into himself to keep out evil from his soul.
Kate puts the boys to bed the first night that John is asked to work a night shift at the car shop.
Dean doesn't protest or fight Kate as many other children would when begging to stay up a little while longer. He does, however, fight sleep.
In the semi-darkness (the room only illuminated slightly by the dim hallway light), Dean doesn't see innocuous objects, but their sinister shadows, swaying with every step made outside the guest room by Mike or Kate. Dean hears the howl of the winter winds and every time he closes his eyes, with every attempt he makes to sleep, he imagines the wind gusting through the window, shattering glass, and whisking Sammy away from him.
Dean knows that if Sammy got lost, it would make his daddy sad, just like he was when he lost his mommy.
Dean doesn't want anyone else to be sad anymore.
So the second that Sammy wakes up and turns his head toward his big brother, fussing and pleading for attention, Dean sits up in bed. He steps down and softly walks the short distance between the bed and crib.
Wordlessly, Dean places his palms over the rungs of the crib. His fingers gradually edge closer upwards until he wraps both hands over the top ledge. Gently, Dean secures his left foot in between two posts and readies his right foot to meet his other. Pushing himself up, Dean carefully climbs into the crib, as Sammy watches above him, giggling inaudibly.
Once inside, Dean settles beside Sammy, who in turn, instinctively turns his face toward his older brother. Sammy's chubby fingers grab at Dean's pajama's sleeves and Dean covers them with his own.
Dean drapes his free arm over Sam's torso, binds it around him snuggly.
Whispering, Dean says, "Sweet dreams, Sammy."
Within moments, the heavy pull of sleep claims them both.
When John returns home in the early hours of the dawn, he learns that his heart, in fact, did not break when Mary died. It may have only cracked then because it is the image before him now of his two sons, intertwined like vines, that splits his heart in two.
Out of Mike and Kate's house, months after the fire, and Dean still doesn't talk much.
He'll answer questions that require basic answers, but there's no chance of holding a conversation, much less him starting one.
But John knows that Dean's a lot tougher than others make him out to be; knows that his boy is afraid, but will face down his fear in whatever way possible; knows that his boy is hurting, but channels that hurt into a productive means where Dean makes sure no one else will ever hurt like he does.
John sees a lot of Mary in their boy, now more than ever. And that assures him that Dean will prevail, slowly, maybe, but surely.
So John doesn't keep anything from his boy. When gruff strangers start supplying John with books about creatures and spirits, John lets Dean sit on his lap and look on.
The books are musty and Dean coughs when John first opens them up. The pages are descriptive, to say the least. The drawings, though only black-and-white sketches, are visceral and terrifying. So detailed that one can count the number of razor-edged teeth and give an accurate estimate of the length of the claws.
Dean watches the pictures on the books with a fixation that John's never seen on a child of his son's age. Soon, his fingers trace the outlines of the drawings. John wants to tell him not to touch such a rare item, but John is just as entranced with Dean as his son is with the illustrations.
Just loud enough for his father to hear, Dean mumbles "Daddy?" Eyes are still down, gazing at the illustration, fingers running over it, repeatedly. "Hurt us?"
John looks at the drawing of the Shtriga and then back at Dean. "Yeah, it can hurt us," he confirms. John's done with the secrecy, but not with the reassurance. (He's tries to provide it whenever possible because he's starting to realize that he can't offer it in many places.) John continues, "But don't worry. We won't let it hurt us, okay?"
Dean nods his head, barely visibly. He starts pushing against his father's hold on him, pushing down to that he can slide to the ground. John lets go.
The apartment that they rented just outside of Lawrence is not a particularly spacious one, but John is glad that there is adequate living room floor space. Sammy likes to play there even though he doesn't have many toys to play with. Truth be told, the highlight of his day is when Dean joins him.
Today is one of those days. After Dean releases himself from his father's arms, he exits the bedroom, ambles over to the living room and plops himself down beside Sam.
Dean isn't in a playful mood today, but that sure doesn't stop Sam from trying to engage him.
Hesitantly, Sam scoots his butt three paces over so he is close enough to touch Dean. Immediately, he starts teasingly smacking Dean's leg.
"Sammy!" Dean says quietly, but sternly. He crosses his arms, pouting.
The reaction only makes Sammy beam and giggle briefly. He may only be eight months old, but baby Sam still revels in the fact that he can get under his big brother's skin. (John notices it often, and despite everything that makes their lives utter crap, he smirks.)
Sam resumes his slapping, but Dean, serious and indignant, stands up and walks to the corner of the room. Somberly, he sits down, with his back to Sam, playing idly with the velcro on his Batman sneakers.
Within moments, Sam begins to whimper. Then, he begins crying. Within seconds, Sam's red-rimmed eyes are overflowing with tears; wails, loud, but unequal in length.
Dean turns around, eyes darting all over Sam to see if he is injured. Not seeing any harm, Dean cautiously stands and wanders over to Sam.
Kneeling, Dean stares with wide-eyes at Sam. His hand goes to Sam's small shoulder and pats it.
"It's okay, Sammy. Don't cry."
Sam doesn't heed Dean's words.
"Shhh, Sammy," Dean whispers, soothingly. "Shh, you don't have to be scared."
Dean gathers his arms around Sam until his cheek rests on Dean's shoulder. "Don't be scared. I'll protect you from all the monsters. Promise."
The crying mitigates, but does not discontinue.
"Let's play ball, 'kay?"
Dean throws a softball a couple of feet away from Sam. Sam sniffles away the last of his tears. He smiles and commando crawls toward the softball. Once he has it in his possession though, his lack of fine motor skills keeps him from doing much with it. Eventually the ball just rolls off his palm back onto the ground, under the couch.
Dean toddles over to retrieve it. As he pulls it out from beneath the couch, Sam starts to babble.
"Yeah, Sam. Ball. Can you say ball? Baaaaall."
Seeming almost disappointed, Sam tries again. "Babada ... dadadadadadada. Da. Da! Dada!"
"Daddy's in there," Dean says, pointing to the open door that leads to his father's bedroom. "Do you see him?"
But Sam, with perplexed eyebrows and a grimace, says once more. "Dada!" as he points toward Dean.
"No, silly! I'm not Daddy. I'm your big brother. Dean. Say Dean. ."
From the over the pages of an ancient book on creatures that eat human flesh and monsters that snatch children in the night, John sees his sons converse. Sees Sammy, with his finger in his mouth, smile at Dean with a two-teethed grin; sees Dean earnestly trying to teach Sam (or is it argue with him?) the pronunciation of his name; hears Dean laugh, a vigorous, belly-origin laugh, that John hadn't heard in a long, long time.
A breath of a relief, a swiftly-shed tear, and a flash of a smile that he doesn't feel even remotely guilty about for the first time in two months.
And John goes back to research.
Positive reviews are greatly appreciated; constructive criticism certainly welcomed as well. Hope you enjoyed the fic!