Set near the beginning of season 6. Sam is soulless, poor guy. =( Dean's POV.


Different

Did he always walk like that?

Dean crinkled his nose and watched as the monstrous form of his little brother strode toward the Impala, his arms swinging lithely, his strides long and purposeful. Sam had always been slightly gawkish, and ever since he had hit his growth spurt when he was thirteen, that awkwardness had been reflected in the way he walked. To Dean, it had always looked as though Sam was just a little too big for his skin, just a little uncontrolled in his movements.

The big puppy dog.

Dean smirked, but the pleasant memory was short-lived as he continued to study his brother. Sam's walk was different now. Slightly stiffer. He seemed much more rigid, his movements more deliberate...more mechanical.

Dean cocked his head to the side and frowned, wondering for the millionth time exactly what had gone down in this past year. What had Sam been up to? He'd gotten an answer, sure, but it wasn't nearly enough to go on.

"What have you been doing?"

"Hunting," had been the short reply.

Sure. Hunting. Awesome. But what the hell had happened? Dean could tell that something intangible had shifted within his little brother, and he knew he wasn't getting the full story. There was more to it, something Sam wasn't telling him. And that was just slightly terrifying. Because Sam was all about the heart-to-hearts. The kid was practically the king of bearing his soul at this point. So if Sam wasn't sharing, that meant something had to be seriously wrong, right?

Pulling himself from his silent assessment, Dean strode after his brother, dreading the long drive ahead with this "new" Sam; this stranger that now rode shotgun.

The overwhelming grief of losing Sammy, of watching him tumble into the cage, was still fresh in Dean's mind, and even now as he pulled out of the mini-mart, it felt as though he still hadn't fully recovered his brother. The Sam he knew would never abandon him for an entire year, right? He would never turn his back on his brother.

Right?

And even though Dean could maybe understand how Sam had wanted him to have a chance at a normal life, he still felt as though, somewhere along the line, somewhere in the past year, sometime after Dean had already lost Sam, Sam had also lost himself.

God why wasn't I there? Why wouldn't you let me be there Sammy? Dean thought, glancing at his stoic passenger.

Sam turned, meeting Dean's eyes with an easy smile. But that smile was different too, wasn't it? The corners of Sam's eyes were only slightly crinkled, his usually prominent dimples barely visible. Dean returned what he hoped was a convincing smile but what he guessed probably looked more like a grimace, and then focused his eyes back on the road once more.


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