Tomatoes and Baby Birds
Disclaimer: The brothers, the car, and the concept belong to Kripke. The love belongs to us.
Beta'd: By Phx. Thank you so much for all your help!
I played after she beta'd so any and all errors are mine.
Dedicated: To Caroline, who said I should.
Time Line: Sometime early season 5, I imagine. :)
Mild Season 4 spoilers
The dark clouds rolled in as the Impala did. Dean pulled up to their temporary home, room 7, at the small, old motel turned apartment building. They'd been here for almost two weeks and tonight a particularly nasty and elusive, but thankfully much smaller, cousin of the cuidach had finally been dealt with properly. Sam watched as Dean lugged the weapons bag into their room, pausing only briefly in the doorway, presumably to make sure Sam was following. He had noticed the half-glances Dean sent his way, but his brother wasn't offering help if Sam wasn't asking and Sam wasn't asking. Ribs groaned in protest and muscles tight from injury and enforced inactivity for the last hour cried out for relief. He slowly shuffled out of the car and into the room.
Dean had the shower running, but he hadn't made a move to undress. He nodded towards the bathroom in a wordless offer granting Sam first dibs. He didn't turn it down. After nearly an hour, hot water had eased all but the most stubborn of muscle pain. He'd need ice for his side though; it was turning black and blue even as he stood in the warm spray. He twisted to see the scrape on his side, but it was shallow and superficial, the bleeding stopped while he was showering. Curling tendrils of steam looped through the humid air as Sam dressed. He hadn't stopped for clean clothes, but his favorite, comfortable blue t-shirt was laid out on the counter and his bloody, ripped shirt from earlier was missing.
Sam bit his lip as he fought a wave of melancholy. The unspoken truce with his brother, the unsure footing, and the elephant in the room they alternately danced around or fought about, were in direct conflict with the return of familiar gestures. Little things at first, like the t-shirt, or his favorite espresso, or the places Dean picked to eat that offered more than just hamburgers and pie. Later came things that mattered more to Sam, much more, like not questioning him a hundred times before a hunt in the guise of checking Sam's understanding, but what seemed to him more like Dean reassuring himself that his brother really had his back, and the first time Dean introduced him to a witness as 'my brother, Sam.'
Forgiveness on both sides had come quickly and easily, it was trust that was slow growing. Something they'd both taken for granted their whole lives and it was missing in a way that hurt to his very soul, because Sam hadn't forgiven himself. While Dean had been distracted by the angels, he'd been completely and utterly deceived by the demons, by her. She'd saved him while he was drowning in grief and he'd latched onto every line she fed him, all her words that sounded like concern for Dean had been calculated, every misstep designed as she simply guided him in the right direction so he could make the 'right decision.' He felt like the world's most incredible fool.
Being forgiven by Dean was huge, it meant everything, but it wasn't enough and the fact that Dean trusted him more than he trusted himself didn't help. Some days he was overwhelmed with indecision over something as seemingly uncomplicated as which shirt to wear. He certainly didn't trust his ability to see the lines of gray in their world. From now on, that was Dean's gig, because he was worthless in that arena anymore.
A hard knock on the door caused Sam to fumble his toothbrush and he spit into the sink. "You know, when I offered you first crack at the shower, I did think you'd be coming out of there eventually."
"Sorry, almost done," he apologized. Dean sighed loud enough that Sam could hear it through the door. He closed his eyes. Dean was tired of him apologizing. "I'm fine," he added, to reassure his brother. He opened his eyes and wiping condensation off the mirror, gazed at the reflection of his haggard face. "Just sore."
"Yeah, okay." He tossed his toothbrush haphazardly into his toiletry case, kicked the wet towel into the corner, and opened the door. Steam followed him as he passed Dean, shoulders brushing in the tiny space. "The water pressure's great."
"Awesome," Dean said, with a smile.
Sam couldn't help but return the smile. Dean took such joy in simple pleasures. "You hungry?" His brother's screwed up 'what the hell?' face cracked Sam's grin momentarily wider. "Yeah, of course you are. Pizza or burgers?"
"Pizza, order in." Dean disappeared behind the bathroom door and Sam sat down heavily on his bed, groaning as he jostled his side. There it was, a simple statement from his brother, but Sam didn't know if it was because Dean didn't trust him out by himself, or if he was simply being overprotective.
Deciding that in the short run it didn't matter, he leafed through the local phone book and called the first pizza joint in the yellow pages. One large pepperoni to be delivered in less than thirty minutes or it was free, mission accomplished. He fished through his discarded jeans and searched the bottom of his duffel until he came up with enough change to get two sodas out of the vending machine. Snagging the bucket for ice and slipping on clean jeans and shoes, he traipsed across the small lot to the machines.
Ice thudded into the plastic receptacle as lightning flashed across the starless, cloudy sky. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three… Thunder rolled low, menacing in its promise of a growing summer storm. The wind picked up, rustling ancient, dead leaves in the corner of the alcove. Selecting two sodas from the dispenser, Sam hurried back to the room as lightning lit the sky again.
Stalwart thunder answered the capricious lightning before Sam shut the door. In the short time he'd been gone his brother had managed the fastest shower in recorded history. Dean sat on the bed flipping through channels on the grainy television. "Where'd you go?" he asked, casually.
Sam held up the bucket of ice and tossed Dean a soda in response. He took the ice with him into the bathroom, wrapped several scoops of it in a hand towel, and walked to his bed. He sat gingerly against the headboard. Sliding the makeshift icepack under his shirt, he held it in place with one arm draped across his chest. "Pizza should be here in a few minutes."
"Sam," Dean started with exasperation in his voice and then shook his head apparently changing his mind, "I think we'll hole up here a couple more days. Bobby wants us to meet him at his place, but he won't be there until Friday."
"Okay," Sam said. He didn't want to talk, he just wanted to take the maximum dose of ibuprofen and fall asleep under the soothing influence of melting ice. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he closed his eyes, mentally calculating the distance between him and his duffel bag and decided it was too much effort to get up.
"Here." Sam opened his eyes to see Dean's hand hovering inches from his face. He held up his hand and his brother dropped four pills into the palm of his hand.
"Thanks." He popped open his can of root beer. Swallowing the pills, he closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. A knock at the door signaled the arrival of pizza. He listened as Dean paid the delivery guy, cracked a wiseass joke about the weather, and locked the door. The smell of cheese and tomato sauce wafted in his direction and his stomach roiled, rebelling against the thought of food.
He'd barely made up his mind about sleep sounding far better than food when the deafening cacophony of hail hitting the roof jolted him from a light doze. His eyes popped open and found Dean, who stood at the window watching the storm. "I've never seen hail come down like this before," Dean said, wonderment in his tone. These days, all things seemed to point to signs of impending doom. "They're the size of gumballs."
Sam eased off the bed, walking over to join his brother at the window. Rain came down in sheets and hail pelted off the pavement, the neighboring businesses, and the cars. "Will the Impala be okay?"
"Sure hope so," Dean replied, an instant before the wind picked up and the hail came down even harder than before. Larger chunks of ice, some the size of ping pong balls smacked the ground, bouncing over six feet into the air. It came down so fast they clogged the gutters, causing water to pour over the eaves. Branches fell from trees and hail filled the streets. As suddenly as it began, the ice and rain stopped. "Well, that was just freaky."
Dean handed Sam the cooling slice of pizza in his hand and walked out the door. He stood at the window, absent-mindedly chewing on the crust while he watched Dean examine the car. Before he knew it, the pizza was gone and the older man was back in the room. "Well?"
"We got lucky. It's fine. The guy in eight has a busted windshield." Dean grabbed the pizza box off the table and settled into bed. He waited until Sam climbed into bed to switch off the light and turn the television volume down a notch.
Sam fidgeted under the covers trying to get comfortable. Turning off his mind would be next to impossible. Sleep had become elusive, which was just as well. Sam's dreams were nothing to look forward to and he knew Dean's still weren't much better. Between the two of them, they probably clocked less sleep than one night for an average person.
He curled inward, wrapping his arm around the pillow to prop his head up slightly, and blinked lazily at the television. Dean was watching an old rerun of The Rockford Files. Sighing as the familiar homey sounds of the old detective show, combined with Dean's running commentary lulled him to sleep.
Sam heard his brother leave the room only an hour or so after dawn. He thought Dean had gone out to check on the Impala and maybe grab them some breakfast, but when the unmistakable engine never started, Sam's curiosity won out over his desire to remain in bed. Walking out the door, he squinted against the morning sun as it glistened brightly, oblivious to the storm the night before.
He didn't find Dean at the car and Sam shielded his eyes, searching for his brother. Instead, Sam found an older woman three doors down trying to lift two planters filled with cherry tomato plants. "Let me help you with those," he offered.
"Oh, thank you," she said, turning intelligent blue eyes in his direction. "I'm Mildred." She dusted a soil covered hand off on her jeans and held it out to Sam.
"Sam," he said, shaking her hand.
She nodded to the plants. "The hail last night ruined the entire bunch and they were only days from being ripe. I might've been able to salvage some of them, but the ants found them first."
Sam stared at the cracked and oozing tomatoes covered in crawling black insects. He understood how they felt. Once you'd been ripped open, the scavengers were just waiting to dive in for a nibble. He snorted at his pathetic, woebegone thoughts, earning a strange look from Mildred. "Sorry," he apologized, "where were you headed with these?"
"The dumpster over there," Mildred said, pointing to the brown trash bin near the front office. "Thank you so much, Sam. They're pretty heavy. Lucky for me, I have strong neighbors." She smiled, patting him on the arm.
"You're welcome," he replied, carefully lifting the large planters. He was pleasantly surprised when his side barely protested, just bruised then, nothing broken. After throwing the tomatoes away, he renewed his search for Dean and found him crouched low in front of the Lynch girls, Jen and Jasmine, the former of which had a budding crush on his older brother.
They were out by the tall shade tree on the corner of the grassy lot. Several leafy branches were scattered on the ground, causalities of last night's storm. The youngest, Jasmine, was no more than nine. She cried as if her heart was broken and Jen had an armed wrapped around her little sister trying to comfort her.
Dean had his back to Sam, but he could tell his brother was at ease. Dean wasn't the least bit uncomfortable partially surrounded by hysterical girls and in spite of his rather gloomy outlook, Sam smiled. While his soft spot was dogs, Dean's had always been kids.
He slowly made his way over to the trio, picking up on the conversation at what was obviously the middle. "But the mama bird sat on them through all the hail. Daddy said they'd be okay," the youngest girl hiccupped.
"She tried, Jazzy," Dean said. As Sam edged closer he could see the tiny, abandoned nest resting in his brother's large hands. "The storm was too much for her and the hail got through her wings."
"That's what I told her," Jen interjected, nodding knowingly.
"But they were babies and so, so little. They didn't have feathers or anything yet," Jasmine said, wiping tears from her face. "It's not fair."
"I know," Dean said. "It isn't fair. Sometimes though, no matter how much we want to protect someone, we just can't."
Sam struggled to breathe past the lump in his throat. The emotion in Dean's voice wasn't just compassion. "It doesn't matter if she tried, they still died," Jasmine said, the pitch of her voice rising.
"It does matter," Sam said, his voice hoarse. He stepped around his brother and Dean looked up, noticing his arrival for the first time. "It makes all the difference. They knew she loved them enough to try."
The brothers exchanged a knowing look and, in that moment of understanding, a slow, wide smile graced Dean's face healing the cracks in Sam's heart just a little. Things weren't perfect, they weren't even all that good, but every day they were getting better.
Mrs. Lynch stood in the doorway of their apartment and called the girls in for breakfast. "Bye, Sam! Bye Dean!" The girls shouted in unison as they ran home.
Dean slowly straightened, standing close, but not crowding. "Come on, Sammy," he said after a moment or two of silence. "Let's go to Micah's and get pigs in a blanket. I'm starving." Sam watched his brother walk away, jogging to catch him as Dean neared the Impala.
It made all the difference in the world.
AN: I fully blame Caroline for this fic. When I told her about the summer storm we had (and yes, our tomatoes and the baby birds shared the same fate) she said it sounded like a fic to her. She might have had a sweet Wee!chester fic in mind, but this is what popped out!