Sammy is coming at him butt first, indestructible sippy-cup clutched in one cookie-crumbed hand and in the other, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, extensively annotated in crayon. John braces himself against the cool, comforting wall and holds out his good hand, knowing there is no way he's going to be able to keep Sammy out of his lap; the kid can squirm like an eel, droopy diaper notwithstanding. But Dean's quiet voice drifting out from the kitchenette saves him.
"Sammy," Dean says, "no." Sammy freezes in a squat and John can just see his mind racing. Sammy has learned that listening to Dean always gets him something - if not the thing he'd originally wanted, then something better - but Sammy doesn't believe in easy victories. At least not for anyone else. Next thing out of the kid's mouth will be why? - over and over - until he gets an answer.
Dean seems to know that too, because he explains even before he is prompted. "Daddy's got a really bad boo-boo, Sammy. You can't sit on his lap, okay?" Dean emerges from the kitchenette wearing his old red t-shirt, faded and too tight, and sweatpants with the legs rolled up so his feet aren't hampered by excess material. His face looks clean and tired, and his hair - darkening from blond to brown - is spiking in every possible direction.
Sammy's brow puckers in thought and he turns around to assess John. "Boo-boo?" he asks, swinging back to face Dean. He takes off for the door on chubby legs, his mess of curls flying; he scatters his cup and book along the way. "Wolls?"
"No rolls," Dean replies patiently, liberating the gauze bandage from his brother's fist and replacing it in the messily packed big blue duffel sitting by the dingy front door. "But you can color with Daddy."
John frowns at that. He can't do much with just the one hand - how does Dean expect him to measure up to Sammy's exacting standards? The kid is awfully particular about some really weird stuff. And when had the bag of supplies made its way to the door anyway?
"Mahkehs!" Sammy pronounces gleefully as he digs up the pack from the side pocket of the duffel. If only for the sake of their last name, John hopes his younger son will someday embrace the letter R, apparently the most elusive in the alphabet.
Dean nods at him, so John quickly agrees, "Yeah, markers."
"Dad, can he draw on your cast?" Dean asks under his breath. "He'll really like it." There is a stack of scrap paper in the kid's other hand in case John says no.
What he wouldn't give to see Dean smile again; he'd been such a happy baby. "Sure. What's the point of having a plain white cast?" He unhooks his arm from the sling and tucks the material under his leg for safe keeping.
But Dean is too busy to smile, apparently. He turns back to his brother. "Sammy, look, you can draw on Daddy, okay? Only on this arm from here to here, but you can draw anything you want."
Sammy's eyes go wide in delighted disbelief and then his face splits into a toothy grin. "Dwaw!" he commands, holding out a marker to his older brother.
Dean looks up at John apologetically, like he wants to reassure him that he's only doing this for Sammy. "Is that okay? He doesn't like to make up his own stuff, but he likes to color in."
John hadn't known that. He knows that Sammy has definite preferences - the kid never kept any secrets - but he hadn't paid enough attention to realize what they were. He swallows and gives Dean his permission. "Yeah." He should say something else, to acknowledge how hard his son is working. "You're a good big brother, Dean."
Dean goes a little pink in the cheeks and ears but just keeps drawing, big easy shapes blooming on the cast in black marker. Sammy hovers impatiently, dancing a little as he leans over to try to see what his brother is drawing, red and blue and green markers already uncapped in his hands and making a mess of his yellow t-shirt, one of Dean's old favorites.
Dean finishes his geometric designs - a playground of circles and squares and triangles, dotted with a few stars - and puts the marker down, but John grabs him before he can vanish into the background and pulls him down next to him on the floor. "Are you okay, kiddo?"
Dean nods, somehow making it look like a shrug. John looks at Sammy, tongue poking out of his mouth as he concentrates on staying within Dean's thick lines, and then back to his older son. Dean won't complain, but he will report; John has to make it an order. "Tell me what happened. Why is the bag near the door?"
Dean's eyes aren't quite meeting John's and he tugs at the fraying collar of his shirt, too tight around his skinny neck. "I called Pastor Jim, one ring then lots of rings, but nobody answered." Of course Jim hadn't picked up - he'd been too busy hauling John's stupid ass to the hospital. And John had already been two days late by that point. "An' Sammy wanted milk real bad, and I'm not s'posed to leave without a weapon." Dean pauses, not for drama, but to signal the end of the story. When he starts speaking again, it is evidently a new one he's telling. "Then you came home."
And they all lived happily ever after is what Dean's voice is saying, letting him off the hook without resentment or bitterness, and John knows that apologizing will only confuse the boy. "You did real good, Dean," he says instead and kisses the top of his head. Dean looks up at him and gives him a smile.
That's almost the smile Dean used to give Mary. He can't tear his eyes away from it, just sits there and looks at his son while Sammy burbles away happily, squirming across his lap to get into the best coloring position, chubby cheeks smudged with color. He finds himself laughing too. His cast is going to be a work of art.