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i like your moxie, sassafras!

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SPN Fic: "A Work of Art" (gen, G)
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
Hi, everybody!

I can now own up to my spn_summergen fic, which I wrote for the lovely embroiderama. Pre-series fic starring hurt John, diapered Sam, and solemn Dean. John POV. I owe thanks to janissa11, beta extraordinaire, who deemed this ready to post.

Summary: John comes home hurt.

"A Work of Art"

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.

As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

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this made me tear up, and i just feel so bad for john. he's realizing his older son, who isn't that old, has to parent his younger son, because he himself isn't around to do it - 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. it's obvious that he understands and appreciates dean's caretaking, and it breaks my heart a little that he notices that dean has turned into this serious unsmiling kid but he doesn't seem quite sure why, or how to fix it. i also really like that dean won't complain about something but he'll give a report if john makes it an order, because yeah, that's how he is as an adult too.

on a more cheerful note, wee!sammy in all his obliviousness is really really cute, and "look, you can draw on daddy" made me grin.

I'm very glad that Sammy can be oblivious, though not at all happy that it comes at least partially at the cost of Dean having to be all things to both his father and his brother. I just want someone to take care of Dean, you know?

Thanks for reading!

Awww... Wee!Chesters are total love.

Highlights: John realizing that Dean knows more about what Sam likes than he does. Oh, John!

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. Snerk! Speech-impediment!Sammeh!

I love that despite the circumstances, this is a glimpse of the Winchesters doing something "normal"-ish as a family...the coloring, even if it is on the canvas of John's cast. And John's being so good with them, like Papa Winchester should be.... Hee. Good on ya, John!

Incidentally, I also have my own little community of pre-series fic, which is small, but I hope will grow. Check it out if you're interested: wee_chesters

I didn't want to make John any better or worse than I think he really was - someone who loved his kids but didn't put them first. I think it's to Dean's credit that he and Sam turned out so well.

That comm looks nice! Good luck with it!

That was simply lovely. Very painful to see tiny-mother!Dean, but very very well done. :)

Thank you so much! Dean does so much for his family, and it hurts to watch sometimes because so much of it is overlooked.

This breaks my heart in a million tiny ways, but what really strikes me is that Dean is instinctively--or maybe by trial and error, but do you have any idea how few people pick it up that way?--doing exactly what any early childhood development/education class would have told him to do. Asking permission before promising it to Sammy, and giving chances, but with clear boundaries. I mean, I realise I am hyper-aware of all this stuff because I'm working on my degree in it myself, but the thing is I can totally see a) Dean doing it right instinctively and b) Sam as the product of that. So, yes. I love this a lot.

And I have to agree with somebody above me--the really just grabbing thing about it is that this is a normal moment, for their value of normality, and it's schmoopy and sad at the same time because of that.

Oh, dude, I *love* this comment! Because when I wrote the piece, I wasn't even thinking of these considerations, but now that you've pointed them out, I have to agree that of course Dean raised Sam with an infallible instinct, and that Sam turning out so well is a credit to Dean. God, I just could not love Dean more than I do.

This one kind of broke my heart a little. Sammy picking out the bandage speaks of times past, and Dean looking tired due to responsibility that he takes so seriously. Sigh.

John's regret and acknowledgement of Dean's contributions bears the underlying truth of John's responsibility in the life his family leads.

Yes. Oh, yes. I didn't want to let John off the hook - wanted to make sure he was at least partially aware of what the life he's chosen has done to his sons.

Thanks for reading!

This is awesome, but at the same time you make us aware of just how much Sammy-raising Dean is doing. And then we remember that Dean is barely older than Sam, like John does. I can already see the beginnings of the adult Dean in this younger version, and it makes me hurt a little for what we know is coming when they grow up.

IN case it wasn't clear, lovely story. :)

Dean breaks my heart more consistently than any other character ever, I think. He's always trying so hard, and getting it right so much of the time, that his efforts usually get overlooked.

Glad this worked for you!

Hopping in to quickly read this, and to say how much I like it. I like how you show the drama that Dean went through from John's POV, after the event, having him realize what went on. John not knowing Sam likes to colour in is heartbreaking - you straddle that line between John as good but neglectful father well, I think.

As ever, your detailed description and evoking of a scene puts me to shame - first line especially. Lovely.

Oh, you're flattering me! Though that first line does make me laugh. I thought, would I get sucked into a story if the first line were Sammy is coming at him butt first? Yes, yes I would.

John is neglectful, and I believe that he thinks it has to be this way, but that still doesn't make it right. I'm so glad you liked this!

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you have a slice of the winchesters here. i love the final image you paint, the three of them close together. in a way they really are a loving family. john cares, but is injured physically and emotionally so he can't be there for his sons. dean steps in to care for them both the best he can. giving sammy the luxury to be himself, to complain and need to have rules explained to him and shapes drawn. no one gives dean that opportunity. and that's absolutely heart breaking.
but then (then!) you remind me that dean's complete trust in his father shows that he doesn't even know that he's being short changed in life. john realizes this when he decides not to apologize. dean's ignorance here is at the same time his saving grace and the most painful thing to behold.
beautiful piece.

Wow, you articulated this so well, I almost feel like the story is beside the point. Dean is asked to handle things no kid should handle, and he does, with such grace, that everyone kind of forgets that they've got no business saddling him with that burden. And Dean just thinks, well someone has to do it, and Sammy's too little and Dad's too busy, so it should be me. He doesn't see at all what his life has become.

Thank you so much! I adore having smart readers!

this was really great -- subtle and bittersweet.

Thank you so much! I'm especially tickled that you used the word subtle, since I thought that I missed it by miles.

not at all, you did a great job.

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