Sam heard him before he saw him. Just a small click. Not much of a sound. But when you've been a hunter nearly all your life, your senses were finely tuned. You also knew how to move quietly. Dean didn't look up as Sam approached. He just continued to stare at his lighter, seemingly mesmerized by the process. A flick of the wrist, the lid clicked open, the flame flared bright, revealing Dean's brooding visage. Another flick, the top hinged shut. Darkness. Repeat.
Sam knew better than to sneak up on his brother. Surprising Dean would earn him a take down at the least. Maybe with a few punches and an angry lecture thrown in for good measure. It wouldn't initiate a conversation. And Sam wanted to talk, needed to talk to his big brother. It had been a hell of a day. Sam stopped short, ten feet from where Dean sat on the hillside above the bunker. Deliberately he cleared his throat. Dean gave no indication that he had heard him. Flick. Click. Flame. Darkness. Sam moved closer. Five feet away, he sqatted down on his haunches. Flick. Click. Flame. Darkness. Repeat. Sam waited.
At last he heard the heavy sigh, then the rumbled, "What do you want, Sammy?"
Sam took that as an invitation. He settled his backside against the embankment as he answered quietly, "Can we talk?"
Dean flipped the lighter closed, shoved it in the pocket of his jacket before he responded sullenly with a shrug. "Won't do any good. Won't change anything."
"It might make you feel better. I know it would help me."
Sam heard the small sounds of Dean shifting position. Without the brightness of the intermittent flame, his night vision could make out that Dean was leaning back, elbows supporting him as he looked up into the star filled sky.
"What do you want me to say? That I blew it. That I screwed up. That I wasted what likely was our only chance to be rid of Michael on-" Dean choked on what might have been a sob in a lesser man. "On bringing Dad back."
Sam mimicked Dean’s position. Direct eye contact would only make this conversation more difficult. “You didn’t blow it, I did. Should have known you wouldn’t think of yourself- your ‘heart’s desire’ would never be about what you need. You’re the most selfless man I know.”
“That’s a great line of bull crap you’re shoveling there, Sammy.” Dean snorted, threw him a disgusted look. He turned his face skyward again. His voice was little more than a whisper. “I made Mom cry.”
“You made her happy. Gave her one more day with the man she loves.” Sam shifted onto his side facing his brother, trying to see if his words had any effect. “Just like you gave Dad and me a chance to forgive each other.
Dean brooded in silence. Finally out of the darkness came quiet words of awe, “He said he was proud of us. That he loved us.”
Sudden tears blurred Sam’s vision. All these years, his brother had waited for their father’s approval, for that simple declaration that every child was due. His mouth tightened, a muscle in his jaw twitching. He wanted to say something to comfort his brother but his mind was blank. No words of wisdom when he needed them.
Dean's quiet words continued, "He said- he said that he always hoped that I would settle down. Have a family. Live a normal life. He never wanted, expected us to suffer through all that shit. To sacrifice-" The hushed voice broke. In the dark night Sam could see the trails of tears glistening on his brother's face. He was pretty sure Dean was thinking of Lisa and Ben, of a life that could have been his, but wasn't.
A mental alarm sounded in Sam's analytical mind. He frowned. That didn't sound like the Father he had known. John Winchester had been a driven man obsessed with revenge. Never, not once in all the years of his childhood could Sam remember John seeing anything in their future but fighting evil. He had trained them to be hunters, soldiers against the supernatural. Sam could recall nearly word for word John's lectures, tirades on a soldier and the liability of loved ones. John had even acknowledged that his sons were a liability, a weakness in his armor. In his memory that was the closest their Father had ever come to saying that he loved them. Sam rolled back onto his elbows, eyes wandering among the stars as he considered the implications.
Was it possible? Was that the answer?
Sam squeezed his eyes shut, denying the tears that threatened again. Hell, it wasn't just possible, it was likely. The John Winchester that had spent the day with his family hadn't been their real Father but the product of Dean's heart's desire- a loving, forgiving Dad from Dean's imagination or maybe some alternate reality. That would explain the physical differences, Sam concluded, as well as the emotional ones.
Sam chanced a glance at Dean. His brother was staring up at the stars once more. He had dried his tears. Regained his composure. Should he, Sam considered, tell Dean his theory? Would it help ease the pain? Or open new wounds?
That was something he would have to think long and hard on.