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Even in the bleakest night a summer's heat could not be extinguished, only stilled, becoming that much more unbearable with it hanging like heavy shackles on everything it touched.
These kind of nights have always made me restless. They send me back nearly thirty years to a wet, steamy jungle in Vietnam and all its horrors, so I always find myself prowling in the early morning hours.
Tonight I'm in the middle of a prowl when I come across them sprawled out on the cool linoleum floor of the kitchen. It probably wasn't the most comfortable sleeping arrangement, but it had been a last ditch attempt to escape the humidity upstairs.
Sam is on his stomach with a pillow under his head and his long limbs askew. Dean lay close by on his back with his right arm flung across his brother's back. Not enough to be uncomfortable from shared body heat, but enough to know Sam was there.
I smile softly at the sight and swallow a lump in my throat. No matter how much time passed, no matter how old they got, the rush of love I feel when I look at my boys would never change. My boys. Mine and Mary's boys. So similar, and yet so different.
Both have that stubborn Winchester streak and set their jaws identically if angered, but after that the similarity they share manifests itself in different ways in each of them. Sam is more inclined to brood or just lose his temper and yell when set off. His weapons are his words and he used them well.
Dean, on the other hand prefers to settle things with a good old fashioned brawl. Where Sam uses words he uses actions. It was usually clean and quick and got his point across with no misunderstanding. It not that he's all brawn and no brain, he's just blunt and dislikes going around in circles.
When Sam was a boy I thought him to be more like his mother. He had her hands, hands that would dart nimbly sometimes to fast for the rest of his body. He spoke with his hands animatedly, so much like Mary and when he would hold my hand he would unconsciously stroke the side of my hand with his thumb like his mother used to. He used to do that to Dean as well until Dean slapped him once and shook loose. Maybe it was because it reminded him of his mother or maybe he just found it annoying I never knew, but Sam knew it bothered him and after that would make a conscious effort to keep his thumb still when having to hold his brother's or my hand.
He was gentler than Dean or I, spoke softly, and when he met people on the street he would actually look at them and smile. At a time when a teenage Dean's famous sarcasm had begun festering, I cherished my youngest son's quiet spirit and wished to any higher power that his brother hadn't inherited so much of my "talk first, think later."
But as the years passed and Sam began fighting against me, I realized I was fighting a mirror image of myself. From his dark looks right down to the way he held his fork, he was definitely my son.
Perhaps that was why we have always been at odds with each other. The fighting had been fruitless. We both used the same blows to hurt each other and in the end it had been a stalemate. When he left, it had almost been a relief for everyone, including Dean.
Dean…he's been the balance point of our family ever since he told me everything would be okay while we sat on our lawn and watched our house burn. At four he was already such an old soul.
I overheard Sam ask him once what he wanted from life and Dean had just shrugged. He had never aspired be anything greater than a good person. He never talks about the future, but I occasionally catch him watching children intently. That's all he wanted. A simple life with a woman who loved him and children to whom he could give a childhood to. Family was his greatest possession and in some ways he had wanted a normal life more than Sam.
When he was born, Mary commented on how his eyes seemed to drink the world in. He was born ready to take it on and the first time I had let him down out of my arms to walk, he had taken off giggling down the driveway as fast as his little legs could go.
That smile and those eyes had been his mother's and on the rare occasion that he lets out a truly heartfelt laugh I can hear her lilt in the inflection of his voice. I told him that once when he was ten and after that he seemed determined to fill in all the holes in our family. He made sure Sammy got to Stanford despite his hurt at being left behind. He never stopped looking for me despite his dislike of the hunt.
Oh, I know he hates the hunting. He doesn't have the thirst for revenge like Sam and I do. He was the one that never lost sight of the reason for the whole bloody crusade. His brother and I hunt out of rage, but he does it in memory of his mother and to spare others the hell our family had been through.
My boys are better men than I could ever dream of being. They get that from their mother. In life Mary had made me want to be a better man and she's still doing it through our sons. Even if we do eventually destroy this demon, I'll never be able to escape her.
It's in these moments that I let myself ponder the might have been. What if I had let life take its course? What if I had the raised the boys the way I know Mary would've wanted? We had always planned on being in the stands at the football games. Or in Sam's case the spelling bee. Had always dreamed of clapping when they graduated high school and smiling at their weddings. We had planned on doing these things together, but could I have done them alone? I should have.
If I had, Sam might've been the lawyer I know he still dreams of being. By now Dean might be married and the great father I know he could be. I want this not only for my sons, but for me as well. Mary and I planned it all so differently. I want to see Sam succeed and I long for the grandchildren Dean would give me. They deserve that much.
But shadows creep back in on my dream until I'm standing in Missouri's kitchen again with my boys at my feet. And looking at their faces I know there are some things that might never be.
I could've tried to give them stability and normalcy but in the end the same battle would've been fought. It had been after Sam that night and would have never stopped hunting for him whether we had lived a different life or not. And it would have killed him long before this had we lived our lives in ignorance.
I raised them the best way I could. Mary wanted me to protect them and I have. But it doesn't stop me form mourning for them in these moments. I lived a fulfilling thirty years before I lost my wife, but Dean had his entire world ripped from him when he was four. Sam has never known anything else.
My life is over. When this fight is done, I will be able to rest and be content, but my sons are at the point in their lives when they should be embarking on their own paths, not clinging to the one set before them by their father.
But they will never be able to separate themselves from this life. Sam has already tired and the cost nearly destroyed. Something has changed between us. We share the common pain of losing our loves before our very eyes. We also share the unbridled rage that it kindles.
Normalcy seemed rather meaningless after Sam lost Jess and Dean would never turn away from this life, not when there were still forces to fight. Sam's rage and Dean's pure heart would never allow them to return normal.
I break out of my thoughts and Dean's sleepy eyes study me with concern. He gets that from Mary. "Go back to sleep," I whispered. "I'm fine."
He turns onto his side but murmurs, "Well get some sleep then. You look like hell."
I smirk. He gets his mouth from me.
Sam shifts and I back away, not wanting Dean growling at the both of us. Sam's a light sleeper and once awake is up for the rest of the night. He gets that from me. But the way he rolls closer to Dean and settles again is definitely his mother. Neither one of the boys would ever admit to being cuddlers, but Mary was the same way.
"Dude, unless you grow tits in the next three seconds, you had better get away from me," Dean muttered with his eyed closed. As if he heard, Sam rolled back to where he was, but Dean kept an arm on his back and patted it fondly.
I grin and step back in to the shadows knowing no matter what might have been, some things will always be. "Night boys."