A/N: This chapter takes place immediately after the season 1 episode "skin". Basically, what would happen if Sam wasn't so well-adjusted and was suddenly frightened of Dean?

"…Deep down I never really fit in."

"Well, that's 'cause you're a freak." Sam and Dean, "Skin"

Sam glanced at Dean, who was gripping the steering wheel in a half-hearted kind of way, eyes and mind up towards the sky. Still, there was something to be said for a brother's instincts. "Quit looking at me, bro." Dean murmured, flinging one hands towards Sam's arm.

It was something automatic, a left over knee-jerk response that came out of near-death experiences. Sam flinched away, pressed himself against the door. Every feeling he'd had for the last sixty miles came to him in a rush. "Don't touch me!" He snarled, as tough as he could get, hand already clenched in a fist.

Dean looked directly at him, eyes wide, mouth part open in surprise. "Sammy…"

Whatever it was that had snapped in Sam refused to leave. He was looking at Dean --- he knew it was Dean --- but he couldn't shake the feeling that it was also, impossibly, the demon, the twice-damned shifter. "Just…give me a second."

The road was a clear, empty expanse in front of them, equally deserted behind. Dean pulled over to the side, put the car in park, made everything stop to look at Sam.

"'M sorry, Dean, keep going." Still, something was missing from the scene. Sam's eyes no longer had that innate, impractical trust that had always been placed in Dean. He barely even looked at the older man. "Really, I'm okay."

"Hell you are." Dean's voice came out low, cold, menacing. All wrong, to Sam. He flinched again, straightened himself out.

"Keep going."

Dean ran a hand through his dark hair, a habit he'd long forgotten. He hadn't meant to sound like that, hadn't meant to be so…mean, impatient, whatever. He was just so angry. Not at Sam --- even when Sam deserved it, Dean could never stay mad at him. Not even when they were kids. "Listen, little brother, I would never…you know it wasn't me back there. You told me that you knew it wasn't me."

Sam seemed to get only one thing out of that sentence. "Don't call me that."


In response, Sam unlocked the door and got out, squinting in the bright day light. Dean mirrored this on the other side of the car, never taking his eyes off the boy. "Don't call me little brother."

"Why?" Reduced to questions, single syllables, desperately trying to figure this all out. He'd been calling Sam that since Sam was a baby…he'd remembered being four, looking forward to having a baby brother. Looking forward to it. That was something he would never be caught dead telling Sam, or anyone else for that matter.

Sam still looked distressed, still wouldn't meet Dean's unsettlingly direct gaze. "That's what he called me."

An irrational wave of frustration and anger rolled through the older Winchester. What right did that spirit have, anyway? Who was he to make his brother more paranoid than he already was? Demons were the reasons they were so screwed up in the first place --- both of them. Dean was honest enough with himself to realize that he was pretty much in the same boat as his brother, there, as a freak of nature.

It wasn't fair, really, none of it. But Sam should never, ever be afraid of him, Dean, the older brother. It was Dean's birthright to be protective, over-protective, whatever it took to keep Sam out of danger. How could he do that if Sam had been roughed up by his twin for the better of three hours?

Dean hesitated for a fraction of a second --- he wasn't good at this kind of thing, psychology and all that junk. Sam was Mr. Joe College here. Still, he took a deep breath, rounded the top of the car, was within three feet of Sam and didn't come any closer. "You know how I ended up tied down in that sewer?" He was aware that this was another question, but it was actually leading to a somewhat intelligent conversation that would, hopefully, ultimately get them out of this heat, in the car, going somewhere together.

"No." Sam still wasn't looking at him. This hurt Dean right where he claimed his heart wasn't.

"He looked like you, little bro." Sam didn't flinch at the nickname, which was good because Dean liked it. Liked to rib Sam, remind him who was older, remind him that there was someone in this world that shared the same path and blood. "Came right up to me in the street, cool as anything."

"You guess?"

"Of course." He would never admit weakness, and this was actually truth. Mostly. "You're pretty much one of a kind, Sammy. Not even that mind-reading bastard could imitate your particular brand of freak." Was it the heat or was that a smirk? Sam always did like his sense of humor. That used to come in handy.

Sam talked. He didn't look at Dean, didn't even look in his direction, but he talked. "When I was in that room…he knocked me out a couple of times. I don't know….I mean, I knew it wasn't you." He glanced at Dean, quickly, a hopeless, lost-puppy look.

Usually Dean was against the chick-flick, teenaged girl type of mush, but sometimes it was necessary, especially when your brother half-believed you had wanted him dead. "Sam…bro, you know I'd never hurt you. Not permanently, anyway." He looked pointedly at the partially healed cuts that littered Sam's arms, the larger gashes that were hidden by his shirt.

Sam continued as if Dean hadn't spoken. "I knew it wasn't you, but you --- it --- kept talking. I almost believed it, near the end, when he was on top of me. I didn't fight back because I didn't want to kill you." Something was left unspoken, unsaid. Neither Dean nor Sam ever acknowledged the fact that if one of them died both of them would. There just would be no point in living any more.

"It wasn't me." That tactic obviously wasn't working, so what would. "What did it say to you?"

This time Sam's glance was nervous, almost protective. "Nothing interesting. Nothing I can remember." Bull. Sam had the best memory Dean knew.

"You're lying." Dean called easily, hard. "Spill."

Finally brown eyes met grey, stayed there. "He said some stuff about you…resenting me. For leaving."

Dean froze.

This was, of course, completely true. Dean did --- had --- resented Sam for leaving, for going to college living a life. Of course, now that he'd finally gotten Sammy to look at him he had to look away.

Dean opened his mouth, shut it again, couldn't find the words. What was he supposed to say, "Yes, Sam, I hate you for leaving me?" While true, they were cold, callous, and more than a little childish, however rational. He'd lost his mother at four, his father had ditched him even after they'd worked together for years, but Sammy…he'd always thought Sam would be there, if only for Dean to protect.

There had been times…more than a few times…when Dean wished Sam would be miserable at college, as empty as Dean was with him gone, and come back. That was immature. He'd wanted Sammy back as a companion, as someone to take some of the responsibility that seemed to be settling more heavily on Dean's suddenly-too-small shoulders.

So the truth was officially scrapped. Dean chanced a look at Sam. The puppy-dog look was gone, replaced with curiosity and something that was coming all-too-familiar in those eyes.

"Look, bro, it isn't your fault that you're afraid of me." Ha, he'd changed the subject. "You know, you seem to have a knack for feeling guilty 'bout things that you can't control, no matter how much you want to."

It was Sam who took a step forward. The gap between them became smaller. "I'm still sorry."

"Idiot." This is where he usually tousled Sam's hair, punched his arm, had some physical contact. They weren't quite there yet.

Sam didn't feel like playing, still had an agenda to get everything out in the open. "What about your nightmares?"

Dean froze, thought back to the previous night after all the crap with the shape-shifter. God, he hadn't even known Sam was awake, didn't know how he could be awake will all those pain killers Dean had given him. "It's nothing. You're the one who won't come near me."

Sam took another step. Dean hated to admit that he had to lift his chin a little to look his little brother in the eye, but it was true. Sam was about three inches taller than him. It would have been unfair if Dean hadn't been the more handsome of the two. They were almost touching now. "Tell me." Realizing he was in no position to give orders, Sam's voice softened, pleaded with the same old kicked-puppy look. "Please. I'll guess if you don't."

Guessing would drag up a lot of old, long-buried memories that Dean didn't particularly want back. "I…I don't know. It was a long day, I was having a bad night, having to wake up every hour to make sure you hadn't died on me. Freakin' concussion boy." Great, Dean, he mentally kicked himself as soon as the words were out of his mouth, just make him feel even more guilty.

Sam saw right through him. The kid was psychic or something. "You were dreaming about killing yourself."

Dean was a good liar. He made good money from betting in poker. Still, he wanted to get out of this heat, wanted to be in the car with his brother an not have Sammy look at him like he was some kind of monster. "Yeah. Yeah, I might have dreamt about that. What does it mean, Mr. Psych 101?"

"Can't be one of the most normal experience, killing yourself?"

Dean gave a short, barking laugh. "Normal isn't part of our lifestyle, bro. We're freaks of nature, remember?"

"Yeah." Sammy smirked, crossed the remaining distance between them. "Freak." He slapped Dean on the shoulder with no force. A three-year-old could have done better. Still….

"Jerk." Reaching over, still somewhat cautious, Dean tousled Sam's hair, causing the younger boy to duck, not flinch, out of the way.

"Asshole." The word was punctuated by a yawn as Sam's next blow landed feather-light on Dean's chest.

Dean gently removed the hand, noticing at once both how tired his brother really had been and how much weight he'd lost in the past months. He would rectify both problems as soon as he could. "Get in the car, bitch."

Sammy yawned, opened one dark eye knowingly. "Love you, Dean."

Later, when the car was moving and both Dean and Sam were full of Johnny Rocket's burgers, the older boy glanced over a Sam, sleeping in the passenger seat. He always looked so vulnerable, much younger than his twenty-two years. Dean smiled and smoothed back Sam's matted hair. "Love you too, little bro."

Ah, Dean's our macho man, though you have to say that any brother willing to go through all Dean did is worth something.

I totally forgot how much we love this series until we started writing this. One shots are the perfect length for wrapping up the loose ends of the episodes.

Anyway, please review.