Author's Website: Alice_Alaizabel's LJ
BROKEN SHELLS IN AN EMPTY NEST
"Look, look, Dean, look what I've found!"
Dean peered obediently at his brother's outstretched hands. Resting on his palms were three, mostly intact, blue robin's eggs.
"Aren't they pretty?" Sam asked, eyes shining with delight.
Dean shrugged. At age eleven, he thought he was far too old to be cooing over 'pretty' eggshells.
"S'a nice colour," he conceded, when Sam continued to gaze expectantly at him. "Where d'you find them?"
"Over there." Sam nodded his head outside the kitchen door, at some vague area behind Pastor Jim's house. "They were on the ground. I didn't take them from the nest!" he added hurriedly. "You're not supposed ta touch birds' nests, 'cause then the mom doesn't come back, and all the babies die."
Dean wondered idly where Sam got all that stuff from.
"Are you gonna put them in your box?"
Their dad had given Sam an old tin box when he was going through his bug collecting stage. Sam had gotten over that, and now the box contained his 'treasures'. Pebbles, dried leaves, bits of string, and now soon, robin eggshells.
Sam nodded again eagerly, hair flopping about.
"I'm gonna give 'em to Dad when he gets back."
Dean doubted a couple of broken eggshells would impress their dad all that much, but it seemed to mean a lot to Sam, and John would probably humour his youngest, even if the shells did end up in the trash the minute Sam wasn't looking.
He didn't say anything out loud, though. What he did say was, "Cool," which got him another grin from his brother, before Sam went scrambling up the stairs, holding the eggs carefully. Dean watched him go.
# # #
Dinner that evening was quiet. Sam seemed distracted, the absence of his usual chatter leaving a noticeable hole, and Dean was too busy worrying about him to fill the gap in conversation. He couldn't work out how Sam had gone from being so cheerful that afternoon when he'd gone back outside, to being quiet and miserable in just a couple of hours.
"Is something wrong, Samuel?" Pastor Jim asked, dishing out a small second helping of mashed potatoes to both boys. Dean started to wolf them down eagerly, but Sam just poked at them with his fork.
"Samuel?" Pastor Jim prompted. "What is it?"
Sam sighed, then shrugged. "Nuthin'," he mumbled, sounding dejected. Dean paused in his eating to look over at his brother.
"Sammy?" he asked. "You're not eatin'."
Dean and Pastor Jim exchanged looks. Although Sam didn't have quite the voracious appetite of his older brother, it was still uncommon for him to turn down food when it was offered. Especially given John Winchester's rule about eating what was put in front of you and being grateful for it. Their dad didn't tolerate fussy eaters, and it was eat what you were given, or go hungry.
"You feelin' sick?" Dean asked. He leaned over to feel Sam's forehead, but Sam swatted him away irritably.
"Leave me alone, Dean!" he said, his voice getting higher in pitch, as it did when he was upset. Dean sat back, feeling a little hurt.
"Fine," he said, stung. "Don't eat then, see if I care. But you'll be in trouble when Dad gets back if he finds out you were bein' fussy about your food."
Dean expected Sam to scowl at him, maybe try to kick him under the table. What he didn't expect was for the little boy to burst into tears.
Pastor Jim was frowning at Dean now, making him squirm guiltily. He tried to fix whatever it was that was the matter.
"Hey, Sammy." He leaned forward again, to put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Don' cry. You won't get in trouble, 'cause I won't tell Dad, okay?"
But the soothing words seemingly had the opposite effect, because Sam just cried harder, shaking Dean's hand off his arm and running from the table. He disappeared up the stairs, and they heard the bedroom door slam.
Dean stared after him, agape.
"What the hell was all that about?"
"Dean!" Pastor Jim scolded, without taking his eyes off the stairs. "Mind your language."
Dean didn't bother apologising, even though it was likely Pastor Jim would tell his dad. He figured he was going to be in enough trouble due to having made Sam cry that a little cursing wouldn't change anything.
But he didn't know why Sam had been crying.
He slid out of his seat, then hovered.
"C'n I be excused?"
"May I," Pastor Jim corrected. "And yes, you may.
"Thanks." Dean headed towards the stairs. "I should go check on Sammy."
Pastor Jim nodded. "Good boy."
# # #
When Dean arrived outside the door of the bedroom he shared with Sam, he found it locked.
"Sammy?" he called. "Sammy, open up."
"Open the door, Sam."
More silence. It felt sullen.
Dean sighed, getting annoyed. If there was one thing Sam was good at, it was giving people the silent treatment.
"Sam, c'mon. Open the door." He waited. "Open the door or I'll tell Dad you were being bad."
Shuffling, then the click of the lock. Dean opened it to see a very pissy looking Sam scrubbing away the last of his tears.
"Go away, Dean."
"No. What's the problem?"
"Nuthin'. Leave me alone." He moved over to the bunk bed and curled up on the bottom bunk. He was clutching his treasure tin to his chest.
"Don't be such a bitch," Dean said casually, closing the door, "and tell me what's wrong."
"Leave me alone!" Sam repeated, with more force this time.
"Not until you tell me what's wrong."
Sam stood back up, still clutching his open tin, pulling himself to his full height and squaring his little shoulders
"You're a jerk."
Dean stepped back, not quite able to hide the hurt that flashed over his face before he schooled his expression into a scowl.
"And you're a little bitch."
Sam sucked in a breath, though Dean wasn't sure if it was because of hurt feelings or shock at the bad word.
He didn't have time to ruminate on it though, because Sam reached out with one hand and pushed him hard. It didn't faze him Sam couldn't set him off balance with two hands, let alone one but years of brotherly instinct had Dean pushing back almost without thinking.
Sam stumbled, tripped, and fell backwards. His tin burst open when he dropped it to the floor, scattering the contents across the carpet.
Dean stepped forward, not sure if it was to help Sammy to his feet or to knock him down again, but a crunching noise stopped him in his tracks. He moved his foot, to see the remains of Sammy's robin eggs, crushed under his sneakers.
Sam stared at the scattered debris of eggshells, eyes welling up dangerously. Dean shifted a little, feeling guilty, and opened his mouth to apologise, but he didn't get the chance.
"Boys!" Pastor Jim called up the stairs. "Your father's home!"
Sam sprang up without looking at Dean and pushed past him with a loud sniffle.
"You're a jerk!" he shouted from the doorway, before running down the stairs to greet their father.
Dean waited a long time before joining him.
"Dean, I don't have any clean t-shirts."
Dean didn't look up from the car magazine he was reading.
"There's one in my duffel."
He heard Sam padding over to his bag, then rooting around in it. He ignored him for the most part, but still noticed when the movement stopped.
He turned when there was no answer, to see Sam crouching over his duffel, clutching something tight in both hands.
"Dude, whatcha doin'?"
"I thought you'd thrown it away or something," Sam said quietly.
"What?" He was getting exasperated now. Sam stood slowly and turned, holding out the object in his hands. "
It was Sam's old tin treasure box. Dean felt an uncomfortable squirming in his gut at the sight of it, even after eight years.
"When I came back to the room and it wasn't there, I thought you'd thrown it away."
Dean said nothing.
Sam sat on the bed, and slowly opened the box. He began to rifle through the contents; a couple of pebbles, an old army man with the gun arm missing, three desiccated leaves, and finally, one tiny piece of blue robin's egg. He held it out on the pad of his index finger.
"Why did you keep it?"
"I don't know." Dean didn't. He never could explain, even at the time, why he'd scooped up the box and its contents, strewn across the floor, and stuffed them away at the bottom of his duffle. "I just
I don't know."
"I went back to where I found the shells," Sam said suddenly. "After I showed them to you. There was nothing there, just an empty nest." His shoulders hunched, like he was trying to protect himself from something. "I looked around a bit more, and I found a dead bird. A robin. It was the mom."
it made me think about where the chicks were, if their mom was dead. And then I wondered if their dad was with them, or if he was gone. Father robins do that, you know, they don't stay with their chicks." There was a moment's silence, and then, "Dad was gone a lot."
And finally, finally, Dean realised what the problem had really been.
you were moody because it made you think about Dad? And Mom?" Sam nodded. "And when I broke the eggs
"I was gonna give them to Dad. I thought he'd understand if he saw."
It was official. Dean was the worst brother in the world.
The idea of an eight-year-old Sam thinking that he could get his dad to stay with them if he could just get John to understand wrapped around Dean's heart and squeezed.
" Sam said, sighing, "I know you guys were trying to protect me, but it sorta made it worse, you know? Not knowing."
Dean's mouth felt dry all of a sudden.
"I mean," Sam continued, "I knew he was doing something. I wasn't that stupid, even when I was a kid. I knew he wasn't a salesman. The way we put down salt and had to wait for the phone to ring once before we answered it. I worked out pretty quickly that we were hiding from something. I thought
" he trailed off.
"You thought what, Sam?"
It was Sam's turn to squirm.
"I'm not telling you. You'll laugh at me."
"No I won't."
"I promise. Go on, tell me."
I thought Dad was running from the Mafia, or something."
Dean's lips twitched.
"See, I knew you'd laugh!" Sam said, looking annoyed, but still with a blush high on his cheeks. Dean fought very hard to control himself, and managed to swallow the laughter that was bubbling up.
"I'm not laughing," he said, when he felt he could say it without directly proving himself a liar. Sam eyed him suspiciously, but didn't make a big deal out of it.
"Anyway, I knew there was something dangerous out there," Sam continued finally. "I just didn't know it was literal monsters."
There was further silence; it hung weighted in the air, filled with things that wouldn't be said.
"Hit me," Dean said suddenly.
"What?" Sam startled.
"Yeah, hit me," Dean repeated, warming up to the idea. Sam just stared.
"Dude, I'm not gonna hit you. Why would I hit you?"
"I hit you."
"What?" Sam was giving him that Look he had perfected on their father, that Look that said 'you-are-being-very-stupid-and-it-tires-my-massive-brain-just-thinking-down-to-your-level'. Dean could understand why it drove their father to distraction. "When?"
"When we were kids. We were talking about it, just now." Well, Sam didn't have the corner on talking like his audience was being a bit slow. "You broke your eggs."
Sam blinked. "Dude, that was, like, nine years ago. You want me to hit you 'cause you pushed me almost a decade ago?"
"Well, it's clearly been bothering you all this time, or you wouldn't still remember it," Dean justified defensively. Sam shook his head, giving Dean the Look again.
"You're crazy," he declared, and headed for the bathroom. "I'm gettin' ready for bed," he said, clearly ending the conversation.
But Sam and John didn't corner the market on Winchester-stubbornness. Once Dean got something into his head, he clung onto it like a dog with a bone, and he'd latched onto this idea with the same tenacity Sam got about finishing homework before sparring, and Dad got about sparring before finishing homework.
Also, he really did want that release of guilt that a good, solid punch would bring.
"C'mon, Sammy," he said (he did not whine, nor did he wheedle, and anyone caught saying otherwise was a lying liar who lied). "You know you want to."
"We were kids!" Sam called from behind the closed bathroom door.
"I was an ass!" Dean insisted.
"Well, yeah," Sam agreed amiably, re-emerging in sweatpants and Dean's t-shirt, his day clothes bundled in his arms. "So what's new?"
Dean scowled, then turned away in what was definitely not a sulk.
Dean jumped, then stared behind him incredulously.
"Dude," he said, "did you just hit my ass?"
"You wanted me to hit you," Sam said, trying and failing to hide a grin.
"I meant a punch or something! Jesus, dude, that was "
"You wanted me to hit you for something you did when you were a kid. You don't punch kids, Dean."
The little bitch wasn't even trying to hide his amusement now, and Dean was helpless as ever in the face of those dimples. He wrapped an arm around the kid's neck and pulled him close, rubbing his knuckles over Sam's scalp. Sam squirmed away.
"You're a jerk," Sam laughed.
"And you're a little bitch," Dean shot back, and just like that, all was well between them again.
The sound of the Impala rumbling up the driveway had Sam's head perking up, and he trotted over to the door.
Dean grinned, and followed him to greet their father safely home.
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