Author's note: Unbetaed so all mistakes are mine. Title is taken from the ever angst-filled Morrissey's 'November Spawned a Monster'.

Disclaimer: Sadly not mine (unlike the mistakes).

Genre/pairing: Gen.

Warnings: Bad language and angst.

Spoilers: Reference to events up to season 5. Takes place at a non-specific point in the future after that.

Pity, Sympathy and People Discussing me

Sam winces as, ahead of him, the door to their motel room slams shut, causing it to rattle violently in its frame. Amazed when it doesn't fall off in his hand, he opens it and follows Dean inside, half expecting something to be launched at his head despite the fact that Dean is not angry with him, not really anyway.

"Dean..." he says, but it's pointless because Dean can't hear him.

He knows this because Dean's two hearing aids are nestled snugly in the pocket of his coat, retrieved from where his brother threw them into the footwell of the Impala earlier on.

Dean has his back to Sam and he's digging through his duffel as if his life depends on it. After some frustrated searching, he pulls out the one thing Sam is hoping he isn't looking for because alcohol is exactly what Dean doesn't need right now, but his fears are confirmed when Dean takes a long pull from his hip flask, his face pinched in anger as he drinks.

Sam sighs heavily knowing conversation is futile. Even if Dean could hear him, his brother is too angry to take on board anything he might say, assuming he could come up with something profound and meaningful enough to negate the night's events. So instead he closes the door quietly behind him and moves to sit on the edge of his bed. Then he waits.

Eventually Dean moves to sit down. His now empty flask dangles loosely from his fingers and the silence stretches on for several minutes before he says anything. Sam's expecting something that will give him the opportunity to talk through what happened, but Dean looks at him fleetingly, sighs, and says: "I'm going to sleep. G'night, Sammy."

And that's it, leaving Sam to wish he'd never suggested going out.

It's been six weeks since a Banshee's scream caught his brother unawares and permanently destroyed his hearing. They'd both initially assumed the damage was temporary but after five days and no sign of its return, Dean had reluctantly acquiesced to Sam's repeated requests to take him to the hospital where the battery of tests and scans confirmed that Dean's hearing had been obliterated, with no chance of improvement.

Sam remembers the moment they were sitting in the consultant audiologist's office when Dean received his diagnosis. In theory it could have been a scene from a sitcom, if obviously any of it had actually been funny – I mean, how do you explain to a deaf person that they've gone deaf?

For one of the first times, he'd found himself thanking their father for the rather unique education they'd received growing up, which had included a special John Winchester masterclass on lip reading. The senior Winchester had figured it would be useful although he'd never actually explained why to his somewhat bemused sons.

Come to think of it, a lot of his father's 'essential' lessons had come with no explanation, but he wasn't about to knock this one because between that carefully-honed skill and good old-fashioned pen and paper, the consultant had managed to explain to his brother that, as things stood, he would never hear again.

In another rare stroke of luck given their shitty circumstances, their not-so-legitimate health insurance and a fraudulently obtained credit card with a zero balance on it had stood up to initial scrutiny, enabling talk to turn to assistive technology because even though Dean's level of loss was classed as profound, the audiologist was confident that he would get some benefit from powerful hearing aids and if Dean was in agreement, they could look at setting him up with them right away.

With such a debilitating injury there were assistance programmes that would help pay for Dean's hearing aids but when home vacillates between a car and a succession of flea-bag motel rooms and your ID will never be anything other than fake, they'd both known it would be a non-starter as soon as the audiologist had suggested it, leaving Kerry Livgren's Visa card to take the hit to the tune of several thousand dollars. Fortunately there were no Kansas fans on duty that day.

He'd studied his brother's profile at that point to try and get a read on him but the furrowed brow said all Dean's energies were focussed on attempting to follow the audiologist's words rather than actually analysing how he felt about what he was being told. When the medic left them alone for a few minutes he'd nudged Dean's leg to get his attention.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah... I guess," Dean had responded in that too loud voice that made Sam want to wince.

"Do you want to try the hearing aids?"

It had taken Dean a few seconds and Sam's impromptu round of charades before he'd understood and replied with a shrug.

"What choice have I got? If I want to hunt then I gotta have ears that work. They're no fucking good to me like this."

Sam had winced at that point but only because the consultant had chosen that moment to re-enter the room.

"You hunt?" he'd asked Sam with interest, clearly choosing to ignore the loudly spoken invective.

"Uh yeah, a little."

Fortunately there had been no request for details, which was good because he hadn't had it in him to come up with some believable bullshit while his brain was stuck screaming Dean is deaf Dean is deaf in a continuous loop that threatened to drown out all his other mental faculties.

He'd managed to pull it together enough to make some sense of the hours they'd spent with the audiologist but as the time passed he'd literally watched the energy drain out of his brother until, almost simultaneously, he and the doctor had suggested calling time on the session.

They'd both received Dean's patented death glare at that point, but in a measure of how justified they were for suggesting stopping, Dean hadn't actually argued to continue. They'd then been given an appointment for the morning at a private clinic the consultant had recommended where impressions would be taken for the ear moulds Dean would need in order to regain some sense of normality.

Dean had gone to fetch the car while Sam had finished up the paperwork. He'd sensed someone standing nearby and turned to see the audiologist wearing the slightly awkward expression of someone who has something to say but isn't sure how to broach the subject.

"My brother's gone to get his car," Sam had said, assuming Dean was the one he wanted to speak to.

"It was actually you I wanted to see, Mr. Livgren. You see, your brother's experience is highly unusual."

'No shit' Sam had thought, recalling Dean running the Banshee through with a cedar stake dipped in sheep's blood, but he'd nodded anyway, unsure where the doctor was going with his comment.

"Most people lose their hearing gradually but patients who experience a sudden hearing loss, especially one as severe as your brother's, can have a hard time adjusting to their new situation, even with the introduction of hearing aids. Depression and a sense of isolation are not uncommon, Mr Livgren. I can't emphasise enough how important your support will be over the coming weeks and months."

They'd parted company with Sam vowing to thoroughly research how he could help Dean deal with his disability and assuring the consultant that he would indeed have Dean's back through the difficult times ahead, because frankly, the two of them knew no other way; Dean looked out for Sam and Sam looked out for Dean – business as usual.

Following the appointment at the clinic the ear moulds had taken a week to arrive. Usually the turnaround was a fortnight but Sam had handed over the Visa card with only a negligible flicker of guilt and authorised the optional yet extortionate payment to have them rushed through. Still, a week had seemed long enough as it had started to sink in that Dean's injury was permanent.

There was no talk this time of looking for supernatural solutions. Sam knew it still weighed heavy on his brother that another man had died so that he could live following their encounter with the Rawhead, even though they couldn't possibly have known the consequences of their decision at the time. Dean would never risk a similar outcome so Sam wasn't about to anger him by suggesting it.

The fraudulent credit card had also kept them in beer and takeaways for that endless week as Dean had been adamant that he didn't want to go out, although he had strenuously denied it had anything to do with being deaf.

"We can't hunt so let's just chill out," Dean had insisted when Sam had passed him a note suggesting they go out for a couple of hours. "I mean, how often do we get the opportunity to just kick back and do nothing?"

Dean had had a point but it still seemed like an almighty coincidence that he should have chosen now to make it. The room had a TV and DVD player but Sam's suggestion that they find shows or movies with closed captions had been met with resistance. Instead Dean had insisted Sam rent all his favourite movies which he said he could still enjoy and follow without sound.

Eventually Sam had had enough of his brother's 'all time greats' and had used the credit card to buy them a second hand Xbox which restored a little harmony to their situation. They'd then spent the next few days blowing each other's heads off on Call of Duty until Dean had finally agreed to Sam's suggestion to do something practical while they waited and revise their knowledge of lip reading.

They'd then moved onto adding to the small collection of idiosyncratic signs that they'd developed for use on hunts where they needed to communicate but couldn't raise their voices because, as the consultant had warned, the hearing aids would only help Dean when he was at normal, conversational distance to a person – anything beyond that and he was still deaf.

Dean had however refused Sam's suggestion that they both start to learn American Sign Language. 'There's no need once I've got the hearing aids', he had said in a tone that indicated Sam would be extremely foolish to make the suggestion again. Sam had known that this was his brother's way of saying that he didn't consider himself a deaf person even though medical testing said otherwise and that Sam shouldn't either if he valued living. Sam had left it at that point.

The clinic had eventually called to say Dean's moulds were ready and they'd gone along for another mammoth appointment where the hearing aids the audiologist had recommended were fitted and programmed to meet Dean's needs.

The flesh-coloured devices weren't the smallest they offered but they were the most robust and, assuming Dean had requested these less fragile aids because he played sports, the technician had shown him how they could be taped in place once they were hooked over his ears for when he was indulging in more physical activities.

After a couple of shitty weeks, the look on his brother's face when he realised he could hear again was indescribable and it had gone some way to lessening his worries that Dean was using denial with a whiskey chaser as a coping strategy. Dean had grinned ear to ear and when he'd replied to the technician's questions and no longer at a volume that drew attention.

They'd talked Dean through the care and maintenance of the actual hearing aids even though Sam knew that his brother was more than capable of looking after them, given his talent for mechanics and miscellaneous electronics. Dean, who had fashioned an EMF meter out of an old Walkman would be fine with these devices although there was no way to convince the technician of that without straying into conversational territory that would have resulted in some seriously awkward questions.

They'd then been told to make a further appointment for a week's time so that any problems could be addressed and the aids re-programmed if necessary. Sam had hedged at that point and told them they'd check their diaries and phone later to arrange it; there was no point booking anything because the likelihood would be that they were long gone by that point.

To his surprise, Dean had suggested eating out to celebrate his return to the world of the hearing. They'd found a Biggersons about ten minutes drive from where they were staying and to Sam's relief and delight, his brother had been his usual self with their waitress, a fifty-something former dolly bird called Joyce who addressed them both as 'honey-pie'.

Dean had even gone as far as to point out his hearing aids, with an explanation of how he'd completely lost his hearing in a terrible accident that had had her hanging off his every word.

His tale of woe had resulted in many clucks of sympathy and an extra large helping of fries. When Dean had (truthfully) shared that he'd saved the lives of four children during the incident that had cost him his hearing, free pie had been a foregone conclusion.

If they'd been the kind of brothers that were a little more generous with their feelings Sam would have have told Dean how proud he was of him right then but instead he'd simply shaken his head and grinned whilst Dean lapped up the attention, clearly revelling in every minute of it.

Although it was early days, Sam couldn't help but think things might not be as bad as the consultant had suggested, after all, the doctor didn't know Dean and all the trials he'd survived in the past.

After that, Dean had been itching to find a hunt. They'd checked all the usual places until Sam had come across a human interest story in an online newspaper one state over that had all the makings of a haunting. Dean had listened with interest and then nodded his approval; people were being hurt and, averting the Michael/Lucifer prizefight notwithstanding, saving people and hunting things were still their primary motivators when it came to work.

Sam, for his part, was more than happy that their first job since Dean's 'accident' was most likely going to be a straightforward salt and burn although he'd never in a million years have said that to his brother because his face did not need rearranging no matter how many times Dean insisted otherwise.

And so they'd packed up the Impala, made the six hour journey across country and found themselves a motel for the night so they could start fresh in the morning. He'd watched Dean closely that evening as his brother had added his hearing aids to the inventory of weapons and equipment that he had checked and cleaned before turning in for the night.

It had been unfamiliar and unnerving that he could observe his brother more easily now Dean couldn't hear him moving around. They'd both been hurt on the job before but neither of them had sustained any permanent physical injury and to see Dean so... so normal in the face of such a life-changing injury was honestly taking some getting used to because he wasn't so sure he'd be taking it in his stride if it was him.

He realised that there was a part of him still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but as life and Dean moved on, he became less certain that it would happen and then he'd felt bad for doubting Dean's ability to be the unshakable big brother he had known all his life.

The following day they'd gone along to interview the family. They'd decided their cover would be posing as journalists from a paranormal publication but they would also infuse a thread of truth in that they'd tell the family that they might be able to help them with their... problem.

The Robinsons had been a stereotypically ordinary suburban nuclear family: two point four children, a golden retriever and a family sedan in the driveway of a well-kept if modest two-storey home. They'd interviewed the adults, who were clearly feeling the stress of their out-of-the-ordinary experiences, and fortunately had come away with something they could use with respect to working out who was haunting them and why.

Several hours' research later and they'd got themselves a late-night rendezvous with a rotting corpse. As they'd traded jobs, Dean taking over the digging as Sam held the flashlight aloft, Sam had found himself evaluating the day's events. It wasn't that they'd ever really fallen into the good cop, bad cop cliché when they'd interviewed people but it was fair to say that he'd often found himself mitigating the damage when, impatient to get answers, Dean had said the wrong thing or rubbed somebody up the wrong way.

Today had been different. Dean had been the one that had got the family onside. Although he hadn't said as much, Sam had sensed he was a little anxious going in so he had led, introducing themselves and their cover story before starting with the questions but then Dean had made a comment, asked a question and before long it had been as if Sam was no longer in the room.

The Robinsons had warmed to Dean, felt reassured by him as he concentrated on every word they said and, as a result, had talked freely, enabling them to uncover that kernel of information that had allowed them to complete the job with a minimum of fuss.

There had been a couple of occasions where Dean had misheard or hadn't understood something they'd said as a result of his hearing loss, mainly when Mrs. Robinson had become emotional recounting their recent upsetting experiences, but despite the couple's anxiety and concern they were patient, and Sam had seen Dean grow in confidence.

Later on as he'd watched Dean unearth the grave with a strength and speed borne of a depressing amount of practise, Sam had wondered then if it were wise to share with Dean that he thought becoming deaf had made his brother a better listener.

Although neither had admitted it, they'd both felt elated with the bones safely salted and burned. A quick call to the Robinsons had confirmed that, after all the lights in their house had blown simultaneously, the manifestations they'd been witnessing had stopped although Sam had equivocated when Mr. Robinson had enquired about what exactly they had done to stop it and if they would accept any payment for their help.

Sitting next to Dean in the Impala, he'd understood his brother's obvious jubilation. He'd known Dean would have been concerned that he could no longer do the job even though he'd have never shared his concerns, presumably for fear that Sam would have agreed with him.

And to be fair Sam knew he'd have been lying if he said he hadn't considered the same. However, with one job under their belts, the path didn't seem quite so impassable and so when Sam had suggested finding a bar to celebrate in, Dean had been more than agreeable.

God, he wishes he'd remembered at that point that Winchester good fortune only comes in half measures.

ooooooooo

As he lies on his bed studying his brother's sleeping form he can't help but play out the evening's events with a heavy heart because hindsight and Dean have a lot in common; they can both be as irritating as fuck when they reveal the obvious just a little too late to prevent disaster.

Like their trip to Biggersons, if he looks at it again with the benefit of such retrospection; Dean had chosen their table which wasn't unusual given his penchant for 'I'm the big brother, we do things my way', but this time he had gone for the section being serviced by the waitress who radiated 'kindly mother-figure' rather than the girl who would be likely to slip him her cell phone number along with the check.

He can see now that Dean's self-esteem and his apparent nonchalance at being permanently disabled were perched together on a very high but precarious ledge, making them easy to overlook when things were going well and he hates himself at that moment for not realising sooner.

After what feels like a lifetime he drifts off to sleep, but his mind won't let it lie and even in slumber he's right back in the moment when it all went to shit...

The bar they've chosen for their post-hunt celebration is the kind that Dean adores: all dark wood, neon beer signs and a healthy supply of imported beer, heart-clogging snacks served in unhygienic glass dishes that may or may not double as ashtrays, and, most importantly, women.

The music pounding the speakers comes from a jukebox in the corner that, without looking, Sam would bet contains a disturbing amount of mullet rock. All in all, this would be what he figured Dean's Heaven would look like if he hadn't already been there and seen it for himself.

It isn't a particularly rowdy bar but he glances at Dean to see if the noise level will prove an issue. Dean however is already pushing ahead to the bar, his head nodding to the music as he hops onto a stool and calls the bartender over with a flick of his hand. He's ordered two beers before Sam has even settled next to him on his own stool.

"Here's to us, back in business," Dean says with a grin as they bring the necks of their bottles together. His enthusiasm is infectious.

"I gotta tell you, man," Sam replies, "you've taken everything so well. I honestly don't know if I'd have been coping as well as you are."

Dean shrugs as he studies the bottle of beer in his hand. "It's not like I've got a choice and I kinda look at it like night vision goggles."

"Come again?"

"Well, your eyes are next to useless in the dark without them." Dean gestures vaguely upwards towards his hearing aids. "These things? They're just the ear equivalent of night vision goggles."

His brother's logic is crazy but Sam figures that if that's what it takes to help Dean deal with a life-changing injury then who is he to criticise? Dean's never really been one for navel-gazing so it figures that he'd view his new situation practically rather than emotionally.

"Well, here's to night vision goggles," he replies, offering his beer bottle to his brother to complete the toast.

Several beers later and Sam excuses himself to hit the bathroom. He's really glad they've come out tonight because for the first time in a long time it's felt like they're just two brothers out having a good time together. They've played pool for fun rather than profit, talked about stuff that has nothing to do with angels or ancient texts or work of any kind and they've laughed, because fuck-knows the last time life cut them enough slack to do that.

He finishes up, washes his hands and heads back out. Before he went to the bathroom they'd retaken their stools at the bar but he can see as he rounds the corner that Dean is no longer alone. His stool is still free but on the other side of his brother is a woman he would definitely describe as Dean's 'type' given that she's... well, a woman. Joking aside, she's attractive and apparently giving all the right signals and his initial response to that is 'good' because a little female attention is exactly what his brother needs right now.

As he draws close he catches a snatch of the conversation which has obviously just started. Shelley, as the shapely brunette has introduced herself, is meeting her friends here and they should be due any minute.

"Your friends all as beautiful as you?" Dean replies, ever the charmer, and Sam rolls his eyes as he settles back on his stool and starts on the fresh beer Dean had ordered for him while he was gone. It never ceases to amaze him that women go for his brother's well-worn lines.

"I hope not," Shelley replies, smiling and pushing out her ample chest in case Dean has gone blind as well as deaf. "Wouldn't want you to be more interested in them than me."

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"Sure."

The bar has gotten busy so while Dean is waiting to be served he introduces Shelley to his brother. Sam smiles and says hi then does the 'don't mind me' gesture when Shelley makes a comment about crashing their boys' night out. Maybe it's because she's looking out for her friends but Shelley has a habit of moving her head around as she talks and he can tell Dean isn't getting all of what she's saying.

Dean glances at him and Sam experiences a flash of something only later will he realise is anxiety because Dean's happy-go-lucky mask has slipped a little in the face of this unfamiliar difficulty. Sam gives him what he hopes is a reassuring smile and it seems to work as Dean gives him a nod that says 'I'm okay'.

Sam then swivels round on his stool to do a little people-watching, his typical 'Dean's pulled, what should I do now?' pastime, which he indulges in when he's happy to carry on drinking but doesn't want to interrupt whatever Dean's got going on.

As he completes his sweep of the bar he suddenly realises that Shelley is staring at Dean. Now it's a fact of life that Sam knows is up there with the earth being round and gravity making things fall: people, particularly women, stare at his brother.

Obviously Sam's not that way inclined but he's an intelligent man with eyes and he knows Dean is blessed with looks that command more than just a fleeting glance and if he didn't know, then the sheer amount of women Dean has attracted over the years would surely make the point for him, but this is different; Shelley is staring at his brother with something closer to confusion rather than lust.

He's about to lean in to try and catch some of the conversation over the music but then Shelley points to Dean's ear and he instantly knows what this is about. He hears Dean laugh, but there's an awkwardness to it that wasn't there before and Sam's initial flash of worry grows a little in the pit of his stomach.

"These?" Dean replies. "Well, you know those Secret Service guys that you see around the president that stay in touch with mission control via earpieces?"

"Yeah..."

"Well... these ain't them."

If possible Shelley looks even more confused. "You're in the Secret Service?"

Sam rolls his eyes and makes a mental note to remind Dean that if he's going to chase the kind of woman whose opening line may as well be 'check out my tits' then he shouldn't be surprised when his attempts at humour fall flat.

"No, Shelley, I'm not in the Secret Service. I was joking."

Sam realises he's holding his breath as he listens to Dean admit the real reason he's wearing the hearing aids.

"I... I kinda need them to hear."

Sam can't help but watch as Shelley's expression changes and fuck, she looks like someone's just told her they're gonna shoot her puppy or worse - that's she's gonna have to shoot the puppy herself.

"I'm..." And Dean stops, as if he can't bring himself to actually say the word. He huffs a laugh, makes a dismissive hand gesture and says, "Well yeah, like I said, I kinda need them to hear."

She studies him for a moment before her face breaks into a grin as she slaps him on his shoulder.

"Good one! You almost had me there." She rolls her eyes in an attempt at self-depreciation that she's been so slow to get the joke. "You can't be deaf; you can talk!"

Sam sees his brother wince at her use of the 'd' word and can sense Dean's irritation rising, as if by saying it she's suddenly reminded him of how exhausting it's got to be following this stupid conversation while music pounds in the background and everyone else's voices are amplified right along with the one he's trying to listen to.

He'll persevere though because Sam knows his brother has never been a quitter and Dean, or rather his libido, probably figures fuck it, she might be as thick as pig shit but she's got a face and body to die for and hey, he can take the hearing aids out and then he won't have to listen to her while they screw, so every cloud and all that...

And so he watches as Dean steels himself and finds a smile he probably doesn't really feel.

"No, I really am. I had an accident a couple of months back."

"Oh wow," she says, in awe, "I just feel so bad for you." She then pats Dean's arm in manner that Sam's sure Shelley thinks is supportive but it comes across as really patronising. "You're amazing. I swear, I think I would kill myself if I was deaf."

It's a thoughtless, throwaway comment that makes Sam want to tell her to fuck off and leave his brother alone but he's not sure if Dean has even heard her or is just choosing to accept that God left her short in the brains department because he lost track of time while he was giving her awesome tits and a face straight out of a porno mag.

What he does know for certain is the damage his intervening would do to Dean's confidence and as much as he wants to punch her right now it's obvious she doesn't mean for Dean to take offense as she's still smiling at him and giving him all the signals that says she intends for them to end the night in bed together. When Dean asks her if she wants another drink, she happily accepts.

Right then a mixed group approach the bar - Shelley's friends, evidently, as she turns to greet them enthusiastically. She embraces one of the girls who nods in Sam and Dean's direction when they pull apart. Sam hears their names so it's obvious Shelley's explaining who they are but she doesn't attempt to introduce them as he's not really relevant to the situation and Dean is busy trying to get the bartender's attention.

The girl, who is easily as pretty as Shelley, narrows her eyes as she gives Dean the once-over, then says something to Shelley, whose smile fades quickly. Shelley then replies and it's clear whatever her friend has said has changed the mood dramatically.

Still trying to appear like he's not listening, Sam manages to lean closer in an attempt to catch their words. The noise level in the bar frustratingly prevents him from following their conversation, but when he hears the words 'pity fuck' he knows he's already heard more than he needs to.

Now served, Dean hands Shelley her drink who takes it with obvious reluctance. Dean frowns, understandably confused, because Shelley's 'let's hook up' vibes have completely evaporated in the short time it's taken him to buy her another drink and she's clearly uncomfortable standing here with him. She's speaking before he can even ask her what's wrong.

"Look, Dean, I've been thinking. You and me... it just isn't gonna work."

If possible, Dean frowns even harder and Sam isn't sure whether his brother is trying to work out if he's heard her right, or he just can't believe what he's hearing. Evidently it's the latter, when Dean says with a laugh of incredulity, "Work? I'm not proposing marriage here, Shelley. What's not gonna work?"

Shelley looks as if the ground opening up beneath her would be an extremely good thing right now. After an awkward silence, she makes a vague gesture towards him and says something so quietly that even Sam struggles to hear it, so he knows his brother will have had no chance.

"What?" Dean asks, frustrated.

Shelley takes a deep breath, evidently steeling herself before she says, a little more loudly. "I've never been with a disabled guy before and I don't think it would be fair on you because I don't want to lead you on. Maybe you'd be better sticking with, you know, someone a little more... like you."

For a moment Sam wonders if he's going deaf as he sure as hell can't believe what he's hearing. Shelley is attractive, sure, but Dean is hardly chopped liver and yet suddenly, simply because he's deaf, he's suddenly punching above his weight? A quick glance over the girl's shoulder reveal Shelley's friends watching this interaction like it's good entertainment. A couple of the guys are laughing and Sam catches the word 'retarded' from one of them.

Before he can figure out who to punch first, his attention is drawn back to his brother who is looking at Shelley as if she's grown a second head.

"Wait? What? You mean I'd just be a pity fuck to you?"

"No!" Shelley replies, trying to look outraged that he would even suggest it but failing as her cheeks colour and Sam knows it's because Dean has inadvertently hit on the exact phrase Shelley's friend has just used to describe him while obviously trying to prevent her friend from committing some kind of social suicide by sleeping with a disabled guy.

"I just... I..." she trails off weakly.

"Forget it," Dean growls before he slams his untouched beer down and turns around. "Sammy, I'm outta here."

Sam's abandoned his own beer before his brother's even finished speaking but he doesn't follow Dean straight away. His own advice about not intervening in Dean's business promptly falls by the wayside but, fuck, he can't leave without saying something even if he can restrain himself from actual physical violence.

Shelley looks afraid as he looms over her and even her male friends seem reluctant to intervene because he can be a big scary-looking fucker when he needs to be and right now he's going to use his height to his full advantage. A quick glance right and he can see Dean watching him from the door. His brother shakes his head and leaves and Sam thinks what the hell, Dean is pissed with him now anyway so he may as well get a few things off his chest.

"You," he says, his finger in Shelley's face. "You stupid, shallow bitch. Where'd you get off thinking you're so much better than him, huh?" He can feel the rage in him building steadily. Dean has given so much throughout his life to protect people like this and this is what he gets in return?

"And you, you stupid fuck," he continues lunging for the smart-mouthed guy who'd used the word 'retarded' and grabbing him firmly by the lapels of his jacket. "Whispering insults about a deaf man doesn't make you look big; it makes you look like a dick."

He can sense people starting to question whether somebody should intervene so he shoves the guy away. "All of you..." he says shaking his head as he eyes Shelley and her shocked friends with contempt. "You carry on through life as a bunch of ignorant fuckers and pity fucks will be all you get."

Sensibly for them, none of them risk a parting comment as he leaves the bar.

The Impala is parked a couple of blocks away and he has to jog to catch up with his brother who is walking quickly, his shoulders hunched, hands jammed in pockets, hell-bent on reaching that place of safety. He calls Dean's name only when he's close enough to be certain his brother will have heard him but Dean still doesn't stop or turn.

"Hold up, Dean," he says again, this time catching hold of his brother's arm.

"Fuck off, Sammy," Dean spits angrily as he wrenches himself free and keeps walking.

Sam opens his mouth to speak but nothing he seems to have planned in his brain sounds right; they're all clichés and platitudes and yet it doesn't mean they're not true. She isn't worth it; she's an idiot if she thinks Dean is any less of a person just because he can't hear; her friends are all ignorant dicks. He knows he can say it until he's blue in the face but Dean isn't going to want to listen.

He walks beside Dean in silence until they reach the Impala. Dean slams himself behind the wheel but doesn't move to start the car, instead staring straight ahead, his face impassive. When he speaks, he doesn't look at Sam.

"I'm a fucking idiot," he says, his voice flat. "Why did I assume things could just be the same? They're never going to be the same, are they?"

Once again Sam finds the rage bubbling within him. Dean was handling this, he was, until that brainless bitch rejected him and, worse still, in front of her moronic friends. Somewhere beneath the fury he's thinking that's probably not completely true, but right now it's easier to lay the blame at someone else's door while he deals with the fallout.

"Dean," he says, knowing it's pointless trying to deny what his brother is saying, "you've gotta give yourself time to get used to things. Losing your hearing is life-changing, man, and you're doing amazingly, but you've gotta cut yourself some slack; things won't always go right but that would happen, deaf or not. You need to focus on the positives – we hunted successfully, didn't we?"

"A straightforward salt and burn, Sam. I was doing those when I was ten," Dean scoffs.

"Yeah? And when have we ever gone into any hunt knowing for certain it was going to be straightforward, huh? Hell, some of the ones that have looked simple have been anything but and yet you still were confident enough for us to take the job on."

Dean scratches at an invisible speck of dirt on the steering wheel angrily, his mind returning to more recent events. "I hate that people were staring at me. Why can't I have those little fucking hearing aids that fit in your ears so no one can see them?"

Sam sighs, feeling like a bastard when he speaks, despite his gentle tone. "You know what the consultant said, Dean. They're only for people with mild to moderate losses."

"Not like me, you mean?" Dean's silent for a moment, then he shakes his head wearily and sighs. "I'm deaf, Sam. I'm fucking deaf."

Sam doesn't respond and for a moment he's flashing back to other moments in their lives where Dean has opened up to him after weeks and months of stubborn silence about what's eating at him: how their dad died to save him; what had happened to him in hell; how he was sick of fighting a seemingly losing battle and was going to say yes to Michael.

All those times, just like now, there's very little he can actually say to make things better so he'll just be here for his brother and hope that, yet again, it will be enough.

"You're still you, Dean," he says eventually.

Dean seems to contemplate this for a moment before he nods and reaches up to pull both hearing aids off simultaneously. The car is instantly filled with shrieking feedback from the powerful devices, which Dean is oblivious to as he locates the controls and switches them off. He then throws them into the footwell beneath Sam's feet and moves his hand to the ignition.

"I'm just tired, Sammy," he says, then he starts the Impala's engine knowing that without his hearing Sam won't be able to make a counter-argument and the final word is his.

ooooooooo

It's morning now and Sam has been awake for about twenty minutes when Dean starts to stir. He wonders what it's like to come to in a world of silence where there's no traffic, no birdsong – in short, a complete void where the sounds of life should be as the world starts to go about its business at the start of another day. He then tries and fails to imagine what it's like when you've previously taken all these sounds for granted and then lose it all in the blink of an eye, just like Dean has.

He decides to feign sleep for a little longer in order to see what Dean will do next. Last night, once Dean had made clear the matter was no longer up for discussion, he'd set his brother's hearing aids on the nightstand between their beds. He has no idea whether Dean will pick them back up or not.

When he hears footsteps padding across to the bathroom he cracks one eye open. The hearing aids are still there, untouched, and his heart sinks. He's still contemplating what he can say when Dean returns and sits on his bed, facing away from Sam. Sam studies his brother's back and is about to fess up that he's actually awake when Dean reaches behind him and plucks the hearing aids off the nightstand.

It's hard to see from where he's lying, but Dean appears to be studying the devices as he holds them in the palm of his hand. He desperately wants to know what his brother is thinking but Dean has always played his cards close to his chest and he's learnt over the years that with Dean, it's better to be invited in rather than forcing entry, particularly when his brother's fragile self-esteem is concerned.

Dean's comments last night seem to indicate it's only just hit him that he has a permanent, life-changing injury – that the words 'deaf' and 'disabled' now apply to him and Sam knows he was right to worry that his brother seemed to be taking to his new situation a little too easily. Trust a girl to be his undoing.

He's just about to sit up when the silence is broken by the high-pitched squeal of Dean's hearing aids as, one by one, his brother turns them on and hooks them over his ears. Using his index finger to push the moulds into his ear canals silences the noise as the seal he creates breaks the feedback loop. When he's done he sighs heavily and Sam can't fail to miss the way Dean's shoulders slump in defeat.

"Dean."

The subtlest of movements is all there is to indicate that Dean has heard him. Sam sits up, scrubs his face and then moves off his own bed to sit next to his brother who offers him a sad, not-quite smile.

"Hey, Sammy. You can have first turn in the shower if you want," Dean says, standing suddenly and moving to his duffel as if he's about to look for something.

"Dean..."

"I'm okay, Sam," Dean says, a little too quickly. "Really... I'm okay."

The red-rimmed eyes and dark circles beg to differ but Sam doesn't call him out on it. Instead, he maintains his silence because he knows Dean and can tell when his brother isn't really done despite anything he says to the contrary.

Eventually Dean ceases rummaging in his bag, his hand resting on the contents as his head drops. He stays frozen like that for a moment before he covers the lower half of his face with his hand and breathes out a long, weary breath as Sam waits for the dam to break. When Dean starts speaking, it's a while before he actually meets his brother's eyes.

"I just don't know what to do anymore, Sammy," Dean says, the words tumbling out in a wave of despair. "Without the aids I hate the silence; I hate not hearing people talk or music or traffic or anything and I know I've got the hearing aids and don't get me wrong, they do help, but things you take for granted, like even just having a conversation, are really fucking hard work and that's when you're talking to people like you who know not to turn away and stuff, because most people? They've no fucking clue.

"When I went out the other day I almost got hit by a car because I didn't hear it approaching until it was almost too late and then I tried to do laundry but the machines weren't straightforward and when I asked the guy in charge how to use them I couldn't hear him properly because of the noise. I swear, Sammy, he looked at me like I was a fucking moron. In the end he just told me to forget it and did it himself.

"D'you know how many times recently people have told me forget it, Sam? I've lost count. Seems like I've gone deaf and suddenly I'm having nothing but unimportant conversations because when I ask people to repeat themselves they suddenly decide whatever it was they said wasn't worth telling me because they can't be fucking bothered saying it again. I feel like I'm stuck listening to everything underwater and I'm just waiting for the sensation to stop, only it isn't going to, is it? I'm exhausted, Sam. It's so fucking hard."

Sam studies his brother's face and believes it. Dean has shouldered so many burdens over the years it seems totally unfair that he should have to cope with one more, especially one as permanent and life-changing as this and he knows he'd give anything to be able to swap places with Dean. Wishing won't make his brother's problems go away though. He waits until Dean turns to look at him so his brother can follow what he's saying more easily.

"I wasn't lying when I said I think you're doing amazingly, Dean because I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to lose your hearing the way you have. But I'm on your side, man and I'll do anything I can to help you. You're my brother, Dean so let me help you, okay?"

Dean slumps to sit beside him on the bed. There's a heavy silence for several long moments while they each get lost in their own thoughts: one brother wondering how he goes forward in this new, unwanted life; the other wondering how he can help him do that.

"I think," Dean says, breaking the silence, "that it might not be a bad idea to learn some ASL." When Sam looks up in surprise he carries on. "I mean... I'm just thinking it might help to have an alternative way for us to talk, you know, if listening is too hard." He attempts a weary smile. "You can be my ears or something."

Sam smiles back and it's a genuine expression because this is his brother's way of saying that he's not ready to throw in the towel just yet. "I'd be honoured, Dean."

Dean nods, but he's not really listening as his thoughts have taken him elsewhere. "There's no point pretending, Sammy. I'm a deaf man now and I've just gotta get on with it." He makes a face as he pushes his ear mould in so it fits more comfortably. "And anyway, it's hardly like I can hide these, is it?"

"But you shouldn't have to, Dean, that's the point. Anyone that treats you differently because you're wearing them isn't worth your time."

"I know, I know." He looks at Sam now and it's clear that this talk has helped lift some of the shadows from behind his eyes. This is further confirmed when his mouth twitches with a hint of a smile. "Guess it's a good job I'm still such a handsome bastard, huh?"

Sam laughs. "I guess it is," he says and then adds with feigned solemnity, knowing the response it will get, "and, you know, if you were serious about hiding your hearing aids, you could always grow your hair like mine."

Dean's evidently heard that perfectly because he's making a face that says his little brother is an idiot, although there's a spark in his expression that hints at humour too. "I fail to see how me looking like a girl solves anything, Sam."

"Better than looking like you."

"Hey, Sam?"

"What?"

"Do you think there's an ASL sign for 'bitch'?"

ooooooooo

Epilogue- Ten Months Later

A man walks into a bar, but this isn't the makings of a crappy joke because it really happened, one night somewhere in a small town in Nebraska. The man is with a younger, taller guy with shaggy hair and they're a striking pair, handsome in different ways but with a commonality that marks them out as blood.

There's also a shared weariness they both wear like an extra layer of clothing that speaks of a hard life but they still smile and laugh with each other in a way that says they've accepted their lot and have made peace with their lives. The taller of the two is limping slightly and the other man has a gash above his eye that will heal with minimal scarring. They've just dealt with a Rakshasa, although there are very few people that they would actually share that information with.

Aside from those who appreciate beautiful things, no one else will give these two men more than a passing glance as they settle at the bar and order beers. This changes the moment the older one starts to communicate, a flurry of hand movements drawing the eye. The other man laughs and replies, also with his hands. Sometimes they speak, because although their movements are mostly fluid and confident, they both still have a lot to learn.

Some people start to watch; a few will make derogatory comments to their own drinking companions because that's what ignorant people do when they see something they don't understand. The two men at the bar seem oblivious to the interest they're creating, but they're not, not really, because despite their casual appearances they're ceaselessly vigilant and aware of what's going on around them, and the watchers would know that if they knew any ASL because right now they're also being talked about in less than complimentary terms.

An hour or so after they've arrived, the older guy strikes up a conversation with an attractive blonde. They're just passing through he tells her when she asks if they're new in town because she'd sure as hell remember seeing them if they'd been in here before.

The bar is noisy and he has to ask her to repeat herself a few times, but she does and never once does she tell him to 'forget it'. Occasionally the other guy will sign something to help him out. She asks him about the cut on his head and he grins and tells her he had a disagreement with the floor after a few too many beers. It's obviously a lie but she clearly doesn't care.

He tells her he's profoundly deaf and she shrugs and says 'so what?' and then, with a wicked glint her eye, comments that it shouldn't have any bearing on his performance in bed, should it? And he laughs and says no, but then adds that it does mean he's very good with his hands. The younger guy rolls his eyes at that but he's laughing too. He receives the middle finger from his companion for his input, which obviously requires no translation.

So this true story, that sounded like it was going to be the opening to a lame joke, ends with the attractive girl and the handsome guy leaving together approximately an hour later, destined for somewhere with the necessary furniture for what they plan to do next. The blonde is looking pretty pleased with herself and, given the direction his night has now taken, the guy's got a big grin on his face as well.

The tall, shaggy-haired man remains at the bar nursing his beer and although he's now alone, having been ditched for a roll in the sheets, he's grinning too.

The End