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The Impala broke down two miles from the motel,  and John cursed his way through all two miles. Not a long trek--hell, he jogs that with the boys most mornings--but he's tired and achy and wants to get back to them.

And the bottle of Johnny Walker that’s snug at the bottom of his duffle.

So he trudged the two miles and comes up on the motel and he's already tired and lonely and hungry.

But he stops. About halfway across the parking lot, he goes still and stares.

Dean’s got the curtains to their room open, probably at Sam’s insistence. The kid likes sunlight and bright things and Dean likes for him to be happy.

So he can see, a literal window into their lives, the side of them that he never gets to see, never gets invited into.

John Winchester is a shitty father and he knows it. He knows that his oldest is more solider than son, and his youngest dislikes him on the good days and hates him on the worst. He's seen the way Sam’s eyes go furious and then blank, chillingly blank, when Dean stumbles in from a hunt bloody and bruised. He sees the angry accusation in Sam before he busies himself caring for Dean.

They always care for each other, and John is left to his own devices.

He knows they revolve around each other, in a way that has excluded John, and have for years. Maybe since that fucking night, so many years ago, when he shoved Sam into Dean’s arms and pushed them both out of the burning house.

Still. It's disorientating. To see them like this.

Sam is leaning over a book on the table, his hair hanging in his eyes, a smile turning his lips. Dean is stirring a pot of something and gesturing at his brother and Sam laughs at him, this full blown thing that even though John can't hear, he knows.

It's the kind of laugh that kid gets. All loose and happy and carefree and his eyes are bright when he meets Dean’s gaze.

Seeing Sam happy isn't strange though. It's Dean. Dean who swaggers through the room, dancing between the bed, shaking his ass, tugging Sam’s hair when he slaps a bowl of dinner down next to the kid. Grinning and loose and so fucking young it almost breaks John’s heart.

Because this isn't his Dean.

And that isn't his Sam.

The sons he raised are hard and brutal, with their first kills under their belts before they hit double digits.

They're hunters, the next generation in a war that John knows now will never end.

And they are damn good at it, even if Sam hates the job.


They aren't this.

They've never been this.

This Sam and Dean belong wholly to themselves, to the careless comfort that they've built and that Sam jealously guards. They're a family, right now.

Not hunters.


And John isn't welcome here.

He knows it.

Knows that if he crosses the now dark parking lot, the laughter will die. That Dean’s slouch over a beer--where the hell did he get that?--will straighten into a rigid salute, waiting for orders.

Knows that Sam’s smile will vanish and his lore book--when did Sam start reading lore without orders?--will slip into a bag and he'll sulk and mutter behind a novel and not even Dean will be able to coax him out.

He knows that the way they move around each other, like they belong there, like there is no other place they could belong will stutter into unease and discomfort until they are separated by the bed and the room and the weapons that Dean cleans to keep his hands busy and his gaze off his angry brother.

John knows.

If he steps into their world, it'll shatter.

Not forever. But for tonight.

For the next day or week, or however long it takes for him to find another job.

He's not a good father. His oldest is a windup toy solider and his youngest dislikes him--on a good day.

And watching this strangely domestic scene play out--the boys are wrestling for the remote now, and Dean is only barely able to pin his baby brother--he wants, desperately to go to them. To slide into the scene, into this family, that he lost the night Mary died.

But he doesn't. He turns away and trudges to the gas station, fills up a plastic tank and begins the two mile hike back to the Impala.

He leaves them, for a little while longer, to their peaceful night with each other, because they've never needed more than each other.

He's not a good father. But sometimes, he can be.