Dean knows he's the odd man out.
He can see it in the way his brother and his father talk over his head, like he's not even there. Both of them screaming at each other, "He's your son, and you don't even care!" and "Shut up, Sam! You walked out on Dean and me. You walked out!" Dean's the omega of the pack trapped between two alphas, and it's no place to be.
He can see it in the way that they're both so alike. Stubborn. Strong. Dean's not like them. They both survived the loss of a loved one. He knows that if he ever lost either of them…he'd probably curl up and die. And he wouldn't even mind.
He can see it in the way they look alike. Square jaws and dark hair, eyes that say it all. He's not like them, not with his blonde hair and green eyes and skin that's so fair it freckles in the sun. He looks like Mom, and he wonders sometimes if that was why it was easier for John to pretend his son was one of his soldiers. Dean wishes he could look more like them and less like her.
He can see it in the way they hunt. Sam has a conscience the size of Texas, but even so, when it comes right down to it, he's just as ruthless as Dad is. Dean's seen Sam take the head right off some creepy-crawly with one machete swing. But even the ruthlessness doesn't explain it. Dean will step right into something's way. Sam says its because he's heroic, but Dean's pretty sure it's just because he's impulsive. He'd rather kill the thing and be done. If a little blood's spilled in the process, well, luckily enough he's usually got a couple extra pints left over. Not Sam and Dad. They think. They plot. They plan.
He can see it in the way they lead. Both of them know exactly what they want, and they get it. Not Dean. He knows what he wants (please, just the three of us again, please, please) but he wouldn't fight for it, no, because not to go back to Stanford would break Sam's heart, and Dean's not strong enough to do that.
No. Dean's not like them. And that hurts.
Sam knows he's the odd man out.
He can see it in the way his brother and his father act with each other, like a two man platoon, or like two pieces of one machine. It's like they're always thinking the same thing, anticipating each other's every move. They work so well together. Not like him. With Dean, he's always worried, always watching, always a little awkward from the four-year Stanford-esque gap. With Dad, he's angry that he's being delegated to second-in-command, humiliated, and not sure what to do with the urge he has to throw his arms around his father's shoulders and hug him until all the bad feeling between them melts away.
He can see it in their consistency. They hunted with Sam, and when Sam went away, they kept right on hunting. Every once in a while, John will say something like "…and when we were in Texas…" and Dean will nod, knowingly, because he was there. It's like some huge joke that Sam can't understand the punch line to.
He can see it in their looks. Dean's fair and John's dark, but there's something there that puts them together. It's a certain swagger, full of confidence. It's a certain look, dark eyes and pursed lips. It's a certain way of moving, alternately smooth or gruff when the occaision calls for a lie.
He can see it in the way they hunt. They're fearless, not like him. Dean's the one who acts as bait, standing in the clearing calling the monster out with the scent of his own blood…and never once wavering. John's the one who steps right in the way of a banshee and lets it get within a hairsbreadth of his face before he shoots it…never once backing down. Sam's a good hunter, but he's no hero. Not like them.
No. Sam's not like them. And that aches.
John knows he's the odd man out.
He can see it in the way Dean and Sam work together. It's no flawless machination, but a genuine team. Dean will bring an idea to the table and Sam will hash it out. Sam will find a solution and Dean will find a way to make it work. They argue and they agree. There's no yes sir, no sir between them. They're equals. John wishes he could take down the wall around himself and let his boys stand on the same level as him, but he can't.
He can see it in the way they define family. The Winchesters are fighters, in John's eyes. The three of them are a tool against the darkness, against the evil of the world, to be utilized and used like any other resource. Not them. Sam is the most precious thing in Dean's whole universe, and Sam has the same idea about Dean. John's seen his oldest jump right in the way of a pouncing beast and take a bite for his little brother, like it's nothing, like it's something he's expected to do. He's seen Sam take double, triple watches so Dean can sleep even though his leg is bleeding rivers and there are dark circles under his eyes, like it's nothing, like it's something he wants to do. They protect each other out of love. John protected them because he was afraid for himself if he lost someone else, and now, watching his boys, that feels so wrong.
He can see it in the way they live life. There's joy with his boys. They still laugh at a stupid joke on television, still grin at each other over a cold beer, still do their stupid pranks until a temporary truce is laid down. John lost his joy when he found out things really do lurk in the dark, but somehow, Dean and Sam found a light in the darkness. When he looks at them, smiling, singing off-key to Styx, he sees hope, for the first time in twenty years.
No. John's not like them. And that burns.