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And That Felt Like Hope

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Tommy wiped his brow, smearing charcoal dust across his forehead. He had been collecting ores for Sam Nook. Iron, coal, as well as cobble and stone, the basic nitty gritty of construction work. He’d also managed to find a few diamonds he got to keep for himself. Nook had told him any other materials he found outside what he asked for, Tommy could keep.

They’d been shoved into his enderchest almost immediately. It was pouring rain by the time he left his mines. The cool rain helped wash away the smudges of dirt off his face, he knew he would still need to take a shower when he got back to his house.

He tossed the pickaxe Captain Puffy had helped him make a week ago into his inventory and pulled out his trident in its place. The sheep hybrid had approached him a few days after he finished his chores with Sam Nook with an offer to help him make a good pickaxe for himself so he didn’t have to keep asking for one.

He’d been wary and suspicious at first but he found himself relaxing around Puffy. He’d never been good at enchanting, much to Tubbo’s annoyance since Tommy always made his friend do his enchanting for him. But Puffy was nothing if not a patient teacher. Even when Tommy began getting annoyed and irritated with the sigils and lapis dust she managed to calm him down and get him to explain what was frustrating him. He ended up returning home with a newly enchanted diamond pickaxe, his heart a little bit lighter and throat sore from more talking than he’d done in a while.

Tommy’s hands were nearly blackened with coal dust and dirt as he gripped the trident- that was once Dream’s- and launched himself up into the sky. He breathed in the cool rainy air deeply, he found himself doing that more often lately. Stopping to metaphorically sniff the roses, because he didn’t smell flowers. He definitely hadn’t saved the allium Ranboo had given him, pressing in the pages of his future publications.

After all, there was a point Tommy was sure he’d never see this again. The sensation of falling used to be exhilarating, before exile. A game of chance, like gambling with lady death herself, a water bucket a second too late and that was that. Now it just reminded him of Dream and weeks alone with only him as company.

Tommy placed down water as he touched down in front of the construction site. “I got your shit, Nook,” he said, opening the bag at his waist to reveal the raw materials of coal and cobble inside.

“WELL DONE, TOMMY INNIT,” Sam Nook said in animalese, a language Tommy was fluent in thanks to his days playing in Animal Crossing. Sam had told him in the beginning that the robot had become stuck on that language and was surprised when Tommy understood it. Even Tubbo wasn’t as fluent in it and had to ask Tommy on occasion why Sam asked them to bring him ‘sky fish feathers’ when he meant chicken feathers.

“PLEASE PLACE THE IRON AND GOLD INTO THE SMELTERS AND WE WILL BE DONE FOR THE DAY.”

“Can do, Big Nook!” Tommy said, moving towards the big smelters stacked against the side of the scaffolding. He piled in the stacks of iron and gold into them and brushed the coal onto his pants.

“WELL DONE, REST UP TONIGHT, WE HAVE A LOT TO DO TOMORROW.”

Tommy paused and grinned at the robot. “See you tomorrow, Nook. Sleep- or charge, I guess- well.”

“THANK YOU TOMMY INNIT, YOU AS WELL.”

Tommy held the trident in one hand and a water bucket in the other and launched himself into the air towards his house. The familiar buildings passed below him. As the teenager got closer the air began to get smokey and his stomach dropped when he saw flames consuming what remained of his house. He angled himself downwards and in his rush he stumbled and nearly fell on a loose piece of rubble.

For a moment he stood there, mouth open, inhaled deeply then shouted out a, “What the fuck , man!?” that would have woken up his neighbors if he had any. But there was no one else around and no sign of who had done it. At least Dream had been upfront about destroying all his shit and home.

Tommy’s house had been blown up. Recently, the fire was still going strong even in the rain. He could pick out the smell of gunpowder and it nearly made him gag, the air was so thick with it. It reminded Tommy of his family, and recently, the only positive connection he’d made with the scent was Sam.

Creeper hybrids always carried the faint smell of gunpowder. If Tommy didn’t have a few raccoon traits he wouldn’t recoil so badly when the winds turned and blew the smell into his face. Perhaps that was why this was such a torturous task, his hybrid side came with a strong sense of smell.

Tommy pulled the bandana off his neck and wet it, going through the motions of ringing it out and pulling it over his nose to keep the smoke out of his lungs and set about putting out the fires. Unfortunately the flames had already spread to most of the downstairs and his chest room. He hurried to salvage what items he could before they burned too. The problem was that he no longer had a roof and his bed was a burning husk.

By the end and the fires were out Tommy’s eyes stung. He was covered in a sticky oily feeling of mud and soot. The teen’s hands and arms were slightly reddened and blistered from trying to pull important things from his chests. His clothes were definitely ruined beyond repair and most of his other clothes had been too. He’d found a single pair of pants and two shirts that hadn’t been ruined beyond repair, he found a place to change and discarded.

With a sigh Tommy tried to assess the damage done to his place of residence. Most of his chests had been burned but he’d found enough wood to make a double chest big enough to hold everything he’d managed to salvage.

He leaned against a wall tiredly. As much as he wanted to collapse in bed for a few hours until the nightmares woke him up, Tommy’s was ruined, and he didn’t want to lay on the charred floors. Every time he closed his eyes he saw a floating grid above a ruined country raining down tnt or a burning Tnret.

Unless he wanted to spend the night repairing a house that had just surpassed his two week record of not being destroyed he had nothing else to do but stand in the rain and mope. Well, not nothing. He glanced at the ruined house and told himself he’d work on fixing it tomorrow. He quickly built a makeshift shelter over the chest with his only surviving belongings and pulled out his trident.

He threw himself in the air with a little more force than strictly necessary but he got himself to the construction site landing quietly in a puddle. He paused to cough harshly, the smoke made his throat scratchy and burn as he tried to catch his breath. Shakily he picked himself up, thankful the rain had come to a complete stop. No more using the trident, he thought to himself, but it was probably for the best since his arms currently felt like jello.

Tommy pulled out a few carrots that he’d prepared for dinner and had forgotten about in the sudden destruction of his house. He started nibbling on them as he made his way to the hotel site and Sam Nook’s charging station. A bit of pickpocketing later, a skill Tommy definitely hadn’t honed to give himself more chores. The teen managed to get the list Nook gave him every day with his tasks on it.

Tommy took a seat on the nearby scaffolding and unfolded the piece of paper. He scanned the list of supplies he’d need to gather and winced. Wood, smooth stone, more fucking dye, the list went on. It was probably double what Tommy’s usual tasks for the day were. Nook hadn’t been kidding when he said they’d have a lot to do tomorrow, or well- a quick glance at the moon told him it was past midnight- today.

But he could probably have the tasks done before Nook finished charging in the morning. Tommy knew it would help his hotel the quicker he got the supplies he needed, so he started walking. He needed to get more fucking poppies for dye.

It was hard to cut down wood and defend himself when Tommy’s limbs didn’t want to cooperate with him. But he kept pushing himself to keep going even though he was running on fumes and moving felt like he was trying to run through rapidly rising water.

Without the distractions he usually faced during the day by the time he managed to finish the last task, the sun was already rising. He had just set the finished list on the nearby workbench when he heard a beeping sound and turned to see Sam Nook activating.

“GOOD MORNING, TOMMY INNIT. YOU ARRIVED EARLY,” Nook said, the robot took a few steps off the charging stand and came to stand in front of the construction sign.

Tommy wearily waved to the robot and stood up slowly. “Morning, big Nook.”

“INDEED. DID YOU SLEEP WELL, TOMMY INNIT?” The bot asked.

Tommy raised a hand to scratch the back of his neck and stalled. “Well, I uh, I- Not very well, Nook man.”

“OH? YOU APPEAR TO BE VERY TIRED, AND COVERED IN SOOT AND THE COAL DUST FROM YESTERDAY. ARE YOU NOT SLEEPING WELL, TOMMY INNIT?”

“No rest for the wicked, Nook the crook, I got shit to do.”

Nook was silent for a minute, the robot scanned the chests. “IT APPEARS EVERYTHING ON THE LIST HAS ALREADY BEEN DELIVERED TO THE CONSTRUCTION SITE.”

“I got everything last night.”

The robot was silent. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU GOT IT LAST NIGHT? DID YOU NOT LEAVE THE CONSTRUCTION SITE?”

Tommy paused, he pulled on the bandana around his neck nervously. “Well, yes. I mean I did, technically. To get stuff done. But it doesn’t matter, let’s just get on with tomorrow’s tasks,” Tommy said, he didn’t really want to explain what had happened. “This is a good thing ‘cause we can get started with the construction quicker.”

“I APOLOGIZE TOMMY INNIT, BUT I CANNOT ALLOW YOU TO WORK TODAY,” for a robot, Nook did seem actually sorry, it would be like Sam to accidentally create emotions. “I HAVE BEEN INSTRUCTED TO CONTACT SAM IF THERE ARE INSTANCES LIKE THIS.”

Tommy’s eyes widened and he felt a jolt of panic rush through him, he was now a lot more awake than he had a few seconds ago.

“Waitwaitwait- shit! There’s no reason to contact Sam, look we don’t have to do anything today!” What if Sam got angry at him? He was supposed to listen to Nook, instead he’d disobeyed very clear instructions. “Look I’ll be a good worker! Please don’t get me in trouble!”

The world around Tommy felt like it was pressing down on him and he gasped as the panic left him breathless.

“TOMMY…” The robot started, “YOU ARE NOT IN TROUBLE. THESE PROTOCOLS ARE FOR IF I REASON TO SUSPECT YOU ARE IN DANGER.”

“I’m not- I’m not- I’ll be good!” But Tommy could barely hear the robot over his racing heartbeat pounding in his head and the apologies spewing from his mouth. He clutched his head tightly, digging his fingers through his hair and scalp in an attempt to ground himself.

Sam was- Sam would-

He could hear a new voice join in with Nook’s but he couldn’t make it out. It felt like there was cotton stuffed in his ears making everything muffled and his head was dizzy. Probably, his rational brain added, due to the fact he wasn’t breathing.

There was a familiar voice talking next to him, and he nearly screamed when a hand touched his shoulder. Instead he made a panicked sound and threw himself backwards to escape. His back landed hard against some scaffolding which wobbled and the unsteadiness brought him back enough to realize who was in front of him.

Sam. Creeper mask expressionless and hand outstretched. Tommy squeezed his eyes shut and covered his face with his arms. He flinched as a hand settled on his knee.

“-my, Tommy, can you hear me?” Sam’s voice broke through the panic and Tommy nodded his head once. “I need you to breathe, kid, please.”

Tommy tried and he let out a sputtering sob. He couldn’t do this. Sam cursed above him. “Can I touch you? Just to put your hand on my chest.” Tommy didn’t move, afraid of what was the wrong answer. He gave the barest of nods, terrified but the back of his mind screamed to trust Sam.

Sam didn’t grab him harshly. He took Tommy’s wrist in a loose grip and pressed the boy’s palm to his chest and took a deep exaggerated breath. He could feel the rattling wheeze of creeper lungs. It took a couple tries to get a strangled breath in. “Can you name me three things you can see?”

“Y-you,” Tommy stopped to take another shuddering inhale. “The Prime path, the- the scaffolding.” He caught his breath, unsteady and shaking.

"Two things you can hear?”

“My heartbeat, I can- I can hear the gears in Nook ticking.” Tommy took another hitching breath and let it out slowly.

“Good, good,” Sam said, rubbing circles on Tommy’s back. “What happened Tommy?” His voice had softened and the change was evident enough Tommy looked at him weirdly.

“Nothing,” Tommy pushed Sam away, he felt so relieved when the creeper hybrid easily moved back without fuss. Dream wouldn’t have done that. He would’ve smothered Tommy in his overbearing presence.

“You sure about that, Tommy?” Tommy’s heart ticked up a beat, but Sam didn’t sound mad. He couldn’t see the man’s entire expression. But unlike Dream he didn’t keep his entire face hidden behind a porcelain mask. Tommy glanced up, not making eye contact but more like a prey animal scanning the surface for danger.

Sam’s brows furrowed and his green eyes were looking him over. “Nook here says you didn’t sleep much last night. Is that true?”

Hesitantly Tommy nodded, looking more like he had a crossbow pointed to his head than he should when faced with innocent questions. It makes dread curl in Sam’s stomach.

“D’you want to talk about it?”

Tommy hesitated. Would Sam be mad if he didn’t? His… freak out- he refuses to call them anything else- had left him tight lipped. He shook his head, the barest of movements.

“Nook told me you didn’t leave last night?”

Tommy knew lying to Dre- Sam, it was Sam, not… him. “I technically left.”

Sam huffed. “Alright, he said you didn’t go to your house.”

Tommy mumbled something under his breath. Sam hummed in question. “I can’t. Some bitch burnt down my house.” He gave a dry laugh like he was trying to lighten the subject.

Sam blinked in surprise. “We’ll address that in a minute. Why didn’t you go to someone?”

“Who would I’ve gone to, Sam?

“Me,” Sam said gently. He tilted his head down to look up at Tommy’s face underneath blonde bangs. The teen stared at him, the gray in his eyes more prominent than ever. His mask was off, Tommy realized blearily. The creeper scales on his neck and face glimmered in the sunlight. He felt a bit of fear at the hissing rattle of his breath before he settled at the worried expression on his face.

“Didn’t want to bug you, you’ve got better things to do than help me rebuild a house that’ll just be destroyed in another week,” Tommy stated. He broke his staring contest with the floor to look out in the general direction of where he lived.

Right. Sam would handle that. For now though. Tommy looked listless where he sat, somehow looking impossibly exhausted. More than on what Sam would usually call his good days. At least, he’d thought they were good days. Now, he stared openly at the teenager that just had a panic attack, he wasn’t so sure Tommy had had one in a long time.

He felt waves of protectiveness rise within him and he was unable to stop himself from the next words to leave his mouth not that he regretted them. “Let’s get you to my base. You look tired.”

Tommy looked up, eyes somewhat foggy but there was a spark there. “No way ,” he stressed. “I was dumb enough to not sleep I’m not letting my hotel suffer because of it.”

Sam sat down and scooted closer to the boy when he didn’t move away. “Tommy,” Sam said, pouring as much care as he could into the words. Tommy looked at him, confused but paying attention. “No building was going to be done today. All we were doing was gather material today. The building was for tomorrow because I had assumed we’d want a long rest by the end of it. You already got everything we were doing today. It’s time to rest.”

Tommy’s expression wavered and he dropped his head so Sam couldn’t see his eyes. For a few seconds he sat, tense, and Sam wondered if he’d done something wrong, then the teen’s shoulders slouched. Before he finally nodded exhaustedly. Sam got to his feet and watched as the boy picked himself off the ground. Tommy wobbled on his feet, flinching when Sam reached out to help him. Sam quickly put his hand down and gripped his trident tighter.

“You remember the way to my base,” Sam questioned, his voice low and even like he was talking with a cornered animal. Tommy felt a spark of annoyance before it was snuffed out with thoughts of what Dream would do when he talked back. Tommy nodded numbly, eyes not leaving where they were locked onto the scuffed work boots Sam had given him.

Sam tried to get a look at the boy’s face but he was hunched over. Sam let out a small breath, trying to not show the intense worry on his face when Tommy tensed up. “Okay,” he said instead. “Let’s get you home.”

He led the way, occasionally glancing back to make sure Tommy was following. All the while he was making a list of what he needed to do.

Get Tommy to his home and clean him up, and get some food for him. The boy was still achingly skinny. Even months after his exile had ended, the effects it still had on him were prominent. Then Sam planned on getting him to sleep and ensuring this would never happen again.

Maybe it was the tension in the air but the walk home seemed to take forever. Tommy grew steadily more listless. To the point he brushed against Sam’s arm every now and again for support. Finally though Sam caught sight of the dirt mound his home lay beneath.

He had a hand outstretched, slowly moving away from Tommy. “Stay here kiddo, I’ll be right back.”

It was true to how exhausted he was that all Tommy could muster was a small scowl that looked more like a pout. Sam hid his grin beneath his mask as he walked over. Flattening the grass and sending the redstone into motion.

He moved back to Tommy’s side, almost jumping in surprise when the teen's head hit his shoulder. In no time the complex door was open. Cautiously he moved an arm behind Tommy. Relieved when some of the tension left the teen’s shoulders and Tommy let himself be steered into the doorway.

Barely listening to the redstone shut behind him because he heard barking. Fran! He perked up and looked around just as the large dog tackled him to the ground.

Tommy heard hissing laughter and wiped away the dog slober. Tommy looked over to see Sam hanging his gas mask on the rack of them by the doorway.

“Well,” he sounded far too amused and fond, “I’d say Fran missed you.”

“Of course she did,” Tommy cooed at the dog, giving her scratches behind the ear. Sam beamed at him. Animals seemed to be the way to Tommy’s heart, he noted. Between Henry and all his other various pets Sam made a note to get Tommy a few pets and he himself would ensure they stayed safe and sound. Just like his kid- Tommy. He shook off the warmth of his thoughts and kneeled down next to them both.

Fran was on her back, getting belly rubs, wagging her tail and practically her whole body at the attention. Sam pulled out a bag of treats and quick as lightning was fixing him with puppy eyes.

Spoiled, he thinks fondly.

Then Tommy started speaking quietly to the dog. Good as prime in the most  gentle voice he'd ever heard from the teenager . It took everything in him not to bring attention to it because he knew Tommy would bristle and hiss.

He nudged Tommy with his elbow and he looked over to him. He opened the bag and pulled out a treat. He moved his hand up and down and Fran knew what this meant. Sam tossed it into the air and the dog caught it. Tommy clapped enthusiastically.

“What the shit, that’s so cool!”

“Would you like to try?” Sam asked.

Tommy gasped and looked at him with stars in his eyes. “Can I?” He asked seriously.

"Of course." Sam handed him a treat as well as a few brief explanations of what Fran knew. Three treats later Sam shooed Fran off and stood, dusting off his pants. He extended his hand to Tommy who was watching Fran go mournfully. He flinched back from the hand for a second before taking it and standing on wobbly feet.

“So, food, shower, and then sleep?”

Tommy blinked tiredly at him. “Hm?”

Sam’s brow looked pinched as he pulled Tommy along. Deeper into his base and stopping once they got to his more personal quarters. It was a kitchen with a dining table. A sitting room, a bathroom or two, a couple closets that were filled to the brim with everything from spare leashes for Fran to pistons and boxes of redstone. His own bedroom a few spare guests were down an adjacent hall to the kitchen.

Puffy and sometimes Ponk stopped by on occasion so they had their guest rooms. And after seeing the state of Tommy’s house he was thinking of offering him a more permanent place in his base.

But first, he needed to take care of Tommy and get him back on his feet. Sam pulled out a chair and ushered the teenager

Tommy sat down and Sam left the room briefly before coming back with a plate piled with whatever food he had spare that he didn’t have to cook. He may be a genius with redstone but everytime he cooked it turned into wet goop or burnt stuff he had to scrape off his pans.

Tommy looked at the plate warily and then back to Sam. “I-” he cleared his throat. “I don’t think I can eat all this.”

Sam jolted, he hadn’t realized Tommy might not have much appetite. “Oh! You don’t have to, eat as much as you want and we can put whatever you don’t back for later.”

Tommy nodded, seeming satisfied with the answer and started eating, shoulders tense but gradually relaxing. Sam busied himself, he got Fran some food and refilled her water bowl and tidied up.

Puffy and Ponk didn’t mind the mess, hell most of the time all three of them contributed together. But it was something to keep his hands busy. And when that failed he picked up one of the redstone devices on the counter and began messing with it. Taking it apart and assembling it or making something different out of it.

When he looked back over the boy looked listless. Almost swaying in exhaustion and appeared to be one minute away from falling asleep face first in his food. “Do you want to take a shower before bed? When you’re ready, I mean. You can take one when you wake up if you want to just sleep. That’s understandable too-”

Tommy was staring at him blankly, hands twisting the green bandana throughout Sam’s stumbling words.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, studying the expression on Tommy’s face. His brow furrowed and a small frown. Hesitancy. He wanted to ask something.

Tommy paused, “I just- are you sure you want someone like me here? You don’t have to pity me, I’m doing fine on my own.” He absentmindedly rolled his knuckles across the table. But truthfully it was more of an excuse to keep his eyes on the table and not have to look at Sam.

Anger rose in him and there was a hissing noise coming from the back of his throat. He quickly swallowed it when he saw Tommy’s almost panicked look.

“You’re more than welcome to stay here, Tommy. I’m happy to have you for however long you want to be here. And if you’re ever in trouble I want you to know you can come to me.”

Tommy looked conflicted and eyed Sam wearily. “You don’t- you don’t have to do that Sam. The only reason I didn't rebuild my shit last night is ‘cause it was really late.”

“Tommy… When you were-” he cut himself off and looked at Tommy who’s face seemed to lose what color he had left at even the slightest hint of his exile. Sam cleared his throat and continued. “Yeah. I told you that you were welcome at my house. That offer never expired.”

Tommy shifted and he seemed to come to a decision. “I don’t- no that’s not- not right. I just, I don’t want you to feel like you have to do this. I don’t want your pity, I’ve done just fine on my own.”

“I’m not doing anything out of pity, Tommy. I’m worried for you. I know others are too,” Sam said. Which seemed to be the wrong thing to say because Tommy’s expression darkened and he scowled at nothing in particular.

“Now I know you’re lying. No one actually gives a shit about me and you won’t fool me with that.”

Sam blinked in surprise behind his creeper mask. “No, Tommy- No that’s not right at all. What about Tubbo? I wasn’t around L’manburg very often but I talked with him often. You came up a lot in our conversations. Not to mention Ranboo or even Quackity? I know Puffy’s been looking out for you too.”

“They- They’re-”

“Tommy,” he said gently, and the boy stopped immediately like he’d lost the ability to talk. Or it was a habit drilled into him by a manipulative green bastard. He hadn’t known Tommy much before exile, even in that time he knew Tommy had a very unique personality. But now he had these moments where he was the complete opposite of that person.

“My offer stands. Even if you don’t take it now, it will stay. If you decide to leave and not take me up on the offer, you can always come back. I want you to feel at home here.” Sam hesitated. He didn’t want to scare Tommy off but he needed to know how much the people worthy of him loved him. “You’re like a son to me, Tommy. I want you to be safe and happy.”

Tommy’s eyes were wide, mouth parted in a small ‘o’ shape. Like someone, caring about him was an otherworldly concept to him. Then he nodded once and then again as if assuring himself of the honesty on Sam’s face.

A wary smile appeared, it held a part of his old charm that could never be stamped out. “I hope you know I will be taking you up on this. But you might end up regretting it,” Tommy murmured, voice low but not unkind. If anything it sounded like a warning.

“Never,” Sam said, grinning.

"Can I-" Tommy hesitated and the creeper hybrid hummed encouragingly. "Could I have a hug?" He hunched his shoulders, half expecting a denial.

Sam blinked before opening his arms. "Of course Tommy. Always." He was relieved when Tommy relaxed and stood, stumbling into the hug and squeezing around Sam's middle as tightly as he could. Sam rubbed Tommy's back a few times before the teen stepped back, muffling a yawn in his fist.

Sam smiled fondly. “Now please take a shower, you’re making Fran sneeze.” As if to prove his point Fran, the traitor, sneezed.

Tommy squacked. “Oh, fuck you ! Not Fran though, she’s wonderful. You on the other hand are a wrongin’!”

And it was loud unfiltered Tommy. Sam threw his head back and laughed. It seemed to make Tommy screechier and more pissed as he mockingly mimicked the creeper hybrid. Which set off Sam into hysterics again.

This wasn’t easy. One half-asleep heart to heart wouldn’t heal the mind. No, that took time, a lot of it. But... It was a start. Sam knew it was a waiting game that required patience.

And if it helped Tommy heal he’d wait as long as it would take. Sam wanted to help Tommy, because he was a gremlin and a troublemaker, but an endearing one at that. The adults on this server had failed Tommy and the other children of the server. And that included himself.

He wasn’t in harm's way here. Sam couldn’t prevent every hazard on the server. But right now, Tommy was asleep, tucked away in bed inside the safety of Sam’s base. He would be okay.

And that felt an awful lot like hope.