Author's note: This one comes with thanks to Ziggy for all the encouragement she gives me with my writing and also for the one-woman PR machine that she is, tirelessly recommending my stories to virtually everyone she meets! It's much appreciated :)

So anyway – hope you all enjoy the story.. It's a bit angsty, but then Asylum was hardly a happy/smiley episode! I always felt the boys needed a bit of closure after what happened, so here is my humble attempt at that...

"I got it, Sam."

Sam pulled his hand back from the bag he'd been reaching for, as if stung. Dean's tone of voice was harsh and as he picked up the bag himself he didn't even glance in Sam's direction.

Sam swallowed. He knew Dean was pissed at him and he also knew his brother had every right. All the things he'd said in the asylum, not to mention the small fact that he'd actually shot him.

Sam was pissed at himself right now.

Not knowing what he could say to even begin to apologise, Sam picked up his own bag and shut the trunk of the Impala. Dean was already halfway to their room, striding ahead like he hadn't a care in the world.

Truth was Dean was amazed he could even put one foot in front of the other. His chest was throbbing like crazy and black spots kept dancing across his vision from where his head had connected with the floor when Sam shot him. He shuddered and had to swallow the bile that had suddenly risen in his throat.

When Sam shot him.

He'd never in a million years imagined he'd one day be thinking those words, let alone living with the results. He supposed he should be grateful it was just rock salt and that the second gun had been unloaded, but right now he didn't feel grateful. He felt hurt, and angry, and a thousand other things he couldn't even quantify.

He was trying not to take it out on Sam, but it was pretty hard given the fact he could still see his brother's face as he fired the shotgun, still hear that sneer in his voice as he told him how pathetic he thought he was. That had hurt more than the rocksalt that had slammed into his chest, sending him flying through the air and crashing to the ground in more ways than one.

That said, the physical impact of the attack was now making itself known in many ways. All he wanted was to have a hot shower, go to sleep and try to forget this whole fiasco had ever happened. He briefly wondered if he should get his chest looked at properly, but he quickly dismissed the thought. It would be kind of difficult to explain exactly how he'd come to have so much salt buried in his chest and he didn't want to risk attracting any attention from the law. Not to mention the fact he didn't really want Sam to know exactly how much damage he'd done.

He'd seen the guilty look Sam kept throwing in his direction as they'd driven and even now he could still feel that same look following him as he walked across the parking lot. As angry and hurt as he was with his brother he still wanted to protect him and that meant acting like it was no big deal, that he was absolutely fine.

It wasn't like he hadn't had plenty of practice at that particular scenario his whole life.

Unlocking the door to their room he threw the keys on the table, shrugged off his jacket with a wince and headed straight into the bathroom. As soon as the door was closed he dropped the bag and literally slid to the floor as he felt his legs give way. He brought his knees up and put one hand on his chest, feeling the sticky blood that had seeped through his shirt. He could feel his throat aching with the effort of holding back tears that threatened to escape now he was out of Sam's sight and he swallowed several times, closing his eyes tightly. How the hell had it come to this? It should have been a straightforward job but instead they'd ended up here, Dean feeling like his heart had been ripped out and separated from his brother by more than just the flimsy door that stood between them.

On the other side of that door Sam stood in the middle of the room, at a loss as to what he was supposed to do. There was no rule in the hunter's handbook for what came next when you'd shot your own brother, and he realised he'd never felt more alone.

Even at Stanford there had always been the possibility of contact with Dean. Sam knew that all he'd had to do was pick up the phone and his brother would be there for him. And vice versa. If the call that Sam had dreaded so much had ever come, from John or even from Dean himself, then Sam would have dropped everything and gone running to wherever his brother had been. But now – the blank, guarded look that Dean kept giving him coupled with the icy silence in the car as they'd driven told Sam all he needed to know about how much he'd hurt Dean.

And he wasn't talking just physically.

He could still feel Dr Ellicot's presence in his mind, the way he'd taken the normal frustrations Sam felt and blown them out of all proportion. Yes, there were times Dean drove him nuts but that was just part of what family was. He was fairly certain there were times Dean wanted to throttle him too, but it didn't mean anything. What was important wasn't the little niggles, the usual irritations that came from living in each other's pockets on the road. What mattered was the true feelings that ran deeper than everything else. The feelings of love and affection and care that went along with being brothers. But what Ellicot had done had ignored all those and instead magnified the minor issues until suddenly Sam had been standing there pointing a gun at Dean's head. It was like some horrific nightmare except Sam knew he wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, dropping onto one of the beds. He really didn't know how to fix this, and that scared him more than anything that had happened in the last few months. Even when he and Dean had argued as kids the bad feeling had never lasted long. Neither of them had been able to handle it very well when things weren't right between them, and invariably they'd always end up with the whole thing dealt with and forgotten within a few hours.

But this felt different. Sam prided himself on knowing Dean better than anyone, even after the time they'd spent apart, but he genuinely didn't know what his brother was thinking right now. He felt like he was treading on eggshells and he just wanted to go to Dean and tell him how sorry he was, to make him understand that that wasn't how he really felt and to make sure he was ok. But something told him Dean was far from ready to hear that right now. Well, he'd do whatever it took to fix this and if that meant waiting until Dean was ready to deal with it, then that's what he'd do.

Steeling himself he got up and decided to try and find something useful to do. Walking over to the window he glanced out, his gaze scanning the parking lot until it came to rest on the Impala. Suddenly an idea came to him and he smiled to himself.

10 minutes and one conversation with the motel owner later he was working up a sweat as he washed the Impala, concentrating on it like it was the most important thing he'd ever done.

Which right now, it felt like it was.

Unaware of Sam's endeavours, Dean was still sitting on the bathroom floor, trying to work up the energy to actually deal with the wounds on his chest. He could hear John's voice in his head, telling him to pull himself together and get on with it. But he just couldn't. This felt different and he just couldn't seem to gather the energy he needed to get a grip.

He took a deep breath but that just ended up sending shooting pains through his chest that actually made him stifle a sob.

Ok, so now even breathing was out. This day just kept getting better and better.

As hard as it was though, at the end of the day he was a Winchester and that meant he couldn't – wouldn't – give up. With supreme effort he pulled himself up off the floor and stood swaying for a moment as he waited for the bathroom to come back into focus. When he was sure he could move without falling flat on his ass he went over to the sink and began to fill it with warm water. He pulled off his t-shirt, biting his lip as the material that was stuck to his chest tugged itself free. Turning off the taps he forced himself to look at the damage in the mirror.

It actually wasn't quite as bad as he'd been expecting. Although his entire chest was starting to turn interesting shades of purple, there were fewer pieces of rocksalt embedded than he'd thought there would be. Sitting on the edge of the bath he dragged his bag over with his foot and reached in – slowly – to find the first aid kit. After a few minutes of painful probing with the tweezers he'd managed to dig out all the pieces. His chest was now throbbing even more than it had been before and with shaking hands he managed to open the bottle of Tylenol and dry swallowed two of them. Hoping they'd kick in sometime soon, Dean soaked his flannel in the warm water and gently began to wash away the blood.

By the time he was done Dean was pretty sure he was going to pass out if he didn't lie down in the next 5 minutes. Rubbing antiseptic cream into the cuts as quickly as possible he managed to bandage his chest, pull on a clean t-shirt and shorts, and sweep the evidence from his efforts into the bin. Shoving the ruined t-shirt into his bag to be disposed of later, he opened the door and went out into the main room. Glancing round he saw Sam wasn't there and couldn't stop the clench of fear in his stomach. Dropping his bag next to the bed he went over to the window and let out a sigh of relief as he saw his brother was outside.

Cleaning the Impala in the fading light.

Dean stared for a moment, unable to stop the soft smile that tugged at his lips. He knew why Sam was doing what he was, and it did actually make him feel slightly better that his brother was obviously trying to make things up to him in the only way he could think of.

Plus of course it meant the Impala was going to be spotless by the time Sam was done.

Satisfied that Sam hadn't gone far Dean made his way back over to the bed and sat down, gingerly. Pulling the covers back he sank down into the bed with a sigh. Even when he closed his eyes he could still see Sam's face, twisted in anger, staring at him down the barrel of the gun. He clenched his eyes shut and tried to put aside the images but it was so hard. Added to that the fact that the motel room was spinning like a Ferris wheel, all in all Dean was feeling pretty crappy right now.

Outside Sam had at last finished drying Dean's beloved car and was now polishing her, putting all his effort into making the paintwork gleam like it had just left the showroom. Finally he was satisfied with his work and stood back, admiring the glow from the lights in the parking lot glinting off the black body and the shining chrome. He smiled – Dean would be pleased with the way his baby was looking at least.

Clearing up the stuff he took the bucket and hose back to the motel owner and put the cleaning cloths and polish back in the trunk. Heading back over to the motel room he let himself in and stopped as he saw Dean was in bed. Quietly closing the door behind him, he walked over and stopped just short of the bed.

Dean was lying on his back, eyes closed, his breathing fast and shallow. He was far too pale for Sam's liking and he felt the guilt wash over him again in waves. Part of him wanted to check if Dean was ok, but he didn't want to disturb him in case he was asleep. He certainly hadn't reacted to Sam coming back into the room.

Biting his lip, Sam sighed quietly and went back over to his own bed. Taking off his jacket he threw it on one of the chairs. Grabbing his bag he went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. As he waited for the shower to heat up he caught sight of himself in the mirror. He barely recognised the haunted stranger that stared back at him. Whatever good feelings he'd briefly had after taking such good care of Dean's car had disappeared as soon as he'd seen just how bad Dean looked. On top of that he couldn't get the sight of Dean's shocked expression as he'd pulled the trigger out of his head – something he was pretty sure that was never going to leave him. He felt his eyes sting as the tears started to build and he wiped them away angrily. He didn't have the luxury of crying, not when he was the one who'd done the damage here.

Striping off his clothes he stepped under the now hot water, scrubbing away at himself as if he could physically wash away everything that happened in the last few hours. By the time he was done he could feel the exhaustion setting in, a bone weariness that made it seem like he was 100 years old. Picking up his stuff he quietly opened the bathroom door and stepped back into the main room.

Dean was still lying in exactly the same position he'd been in when Sam left him. He couldn't help stopping and staring down at his brother, feeling the guilt wash over him again. He reached out and pulled the blankets up so they were covering Dean properly. His brother shifted slightly but he didn't wake up and Sam wasn't sure whether to be disappointed or relieved.

Going over to the other bed Sam switched off the light and slid beneath the covers. He lay in the darkness, staring at the ceiling and wishing with all his heart that he could go back and change what had happened. Knowing that however much he wished it that wasn't possible, he fell into a fitful sleep.

When Dean woke the next morning for a brief moment he actually felt ok. It was only when he shifted and felt the muscles in his chest contract painfully that the memories came flooding back. He closed his eyes again briefly. It would have been nice if it had just been a dream, but sadly he never was that lucky.

Pushing aside the feelings before he became mired in self pity, he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he didn't feel as bad as he'd expected. The pain in his chest had settled into a dull throb and the pain in his head from where it had impacted with the floor had all but gone.

Maybe today might be a good day after all.

By the time he came out of the bathroom Sam was awake too. He was already dressed and looked up so fast Dean was pretty sure he must have got whiplash. He regarded Dean slightly warily.

"Hey." he said, awkwardly and Dean gave a half smile.

"Morning." he said, putting away his sleeping clothes and wash bag while Sam watched.

Tense silence filled the room and Sam desperately racked his brains for a way to bring up the inevitable discussion without sending Dean running from the room. Then it came to him.

"Do you remember the time I wanted to go to Sarah Young's birthday party?" he said, softly.

Dean looked up at him wearily. "Sam, I am really not in the mood for a trip down memory lane right now." he said flatly.

"Please." said Sam, pleadingly, and Dean sighed.

"Alright, fine – you're gonna have to give me a little more to go on though if you're determined to relive some childhood trauma." he said, sounding more than a little exasperated.

Sam knew he had to do this, however hard it was. It was the one way he could think of right now to get across his true feelings, and it was beyond important that he make Dean see the truth.

"I was about 7, and we were staying in that small town in Massachusetts – I can't even remember the name of it." he said. "A girl in my class, Sarah Young, was having this big birthday party at the end of the week to celebrate the end of the school year as well. All the kids were going, it was gonna be huge. So I asked you if I could go and you said no. When I asked why you had to tell me it was because we were leaving on Saturday. Dad had already told you a few weeks before but you'd been waiting for the right moment to tell me because you didn't want to upset me, remember?"

Dean swallowed as he nodded. "Yeah, I remember."

It was hard to forget – he'd never seen Sam so upset and angry at that time and with John out at work he'd borne the brunt of it.

Sam continued, his face pained as he was transported back 14 years. "I got really upset and I started yelling at you, and you tried to be reasonable at first but then you lost your temper too and said I had to grow up and learn I couldn't always have things my own way. And then I.." Sam paused, and had to swallow as his mouth became suddenly dry at the memory of what he'd said next.

"I said I hated you."

The words hung in the air between them and Dean winced as the memory came to mind in all it's glory. Sammy's face, tearstained and red, as he stared at Dean through puffy eyes and literally screamed that he hated him. The total shock as the words had sunk in and the feeling in his stomach, as if he'd just been punched.

"Is there an actual point to this story Sam, or are you just trying to make my week even better?" said Dean flatly and Sam felt yet another stab of guilt as he saw how the memory still affected his brother even after all these years.

"Yes, there's a point. As soon as I said it I ran off to my room and when Dad came home he found me shut in there, practically hysterical. I couldn't even tell him what had happened and in the end he had to get you to come out of the bathroom to try and talk to me."

Dean didn't point out that he'd been in the bathroom because he'd been in tears himself. At 11 years old you were supposed to be past crying, but when your little brother – the person who was the centre of your world – turned round and told you they hated you all the rules went out of the window.

Oblivious to Dean's thoughts Sam carried on. "You came out and as soon as you saw the state I was in you weren't even mad anymore. You just kept trying to get me to tell you what was wrong."

Dean nodded. He could remember it as if it was yesterday, Sam curled up in the corner, ignoring John's pleas to move, sobbing his heart out and hiccuping every time he tried to speak. Dean had been worried he was going to make himself physically sick and the hurt he'd felt at Sam's words had been swept aside by absolute concern for his little brother.

"In the end I managed to get out that I hadn't meant what I said and that I was sorry. I remember I just kept saying it over and over again – I was so scared you wouldn't believe me." said Sam softly, and Dean shook his head.

"You finally came out of the corner and launched yourself at me. Wouldn't let go either, just kept saying sorry like a million times."

If he closed his eyes he could still feel Sam's arms wrapped vice-like around him, feel the wetness seeping through his t-shirt as he'd buried his head in Dean's chest. At 7 years old he'd been a little big to be sitting on his brother's lap, but in this case it hadn't mattered. Dean could remember too how John had to steady him at first, so he could adjust to having all of Sam's weight in his arms suddenly. When he'd managed to lean back against the wall he'd sat there for ages, stroking Sam's hair and telling him it was ok. Poor John hadn't even really known what had happened, but he'd sat there with them, his hand on Sam's back, patiently waiting to hear the whole story.

Dean was pulled from his memories by the sound of Sam's voice again.

"I knew I didn't mean it as soon as I said it, but once the words were out there I was convinced you'd never forgive me. It was one of the worst feelings I'd ever had." he said, his voice thick with emotion. "But you just kept telling me that it was ok, and that made it worse. You were being so good about it I felt like the most horrible person in the whole world."

Dean rolled his eyes, a slightly fond smile pulling at his lips. "You always were dramatic." he said dryly and Sam flushed a little.

"Hey, it was a big deal, especially when I was 7." he said defensively and Dean grinned in earnest, despite the seriousness of the situation.

Ignoring the grin Sam carried on. "The point I'm trying to make is this is just like that. What I said then I said because I was angry and hurt, and I had no one else to take it out on. But I never really meant it. I could never have hated you, just like I could never mean all the things Ellicot made me say. He took every little irritation, every fight we've ever had, every issue I've had with Dad and our lives and he blew it out of all proportion. Think about some of things you must have thought of me when I've been pissing you off – that's what Ellicot latched onto, Dean. The guy was supposed to be a psychiatrist but he was only interested in rage and anger, he didn't want to know about the truth. You're my brother, man – it doesn't matter how much we fight or how much we disagree on things, that's the one thing that never changes and it never will." said Sam fervently.

Dean looked away, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. They were straying far closer to chick-flick territory than he was comfortable with, but there was no backing out now. He wanted to believe Sam, he really did, but he couldn't get those words out of his head. It didn't help that they played on the fears he kept hidden deep inside about what his brother really thought of him.

Sam got up and moved forward. He sat down on the bed nearest to where Dean stood, leaning forward until Dean had no choice but to look up and meet his gaze.

"I swear to you, on Jess's memory, I do not really think those things. I don't know how else to say it, Dean. Do you want me to sit here and tell you what I really think? How I really feel about you? Because I will." he said, sounding more earnest than he ever had before.

Dean grimaced and held up his hands quickly. "God, no Sam! I'd rather you just shoot me again." he said and Sam paled.

"That's not funny, Dean!"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Fine, I get it ok? I do, really." he said and Sam stared at him, searching his face for the truth.

"Honestly?" he said anxiously and Dean thought about it for a second.

Sitting there with Sam in front of him, seeing in his eyes the pain and guilt that his brother was feeling. He found suddenly he was telling the truth – he did believe Sam hadn't meant what he said. No more than anyone ever meant the things they said in anger.

"Honestly." he said, and he made sure he let his guard down for once to let Sam see that he really did mean it.

Sam literally sagged as the truth hit home. He leant back, running his hand over his face and feeling giddy with the relief that swept through him. He reflected it was a good job he was already sitting down – passing out gracelessly at his brother's feet was something he would never live down.

He looked up again. "I'll never forgive myself for shooting you." he blurted out, taking them both by surprise. Dean shook his head.

"It wasn't your fault, Sammy. You said so yourself, Ellicot was the one controlling you. Do you really think I'd let you walk round with a gun all the time if I honestly thought you might shoot me? Dude, I'd have been dead long before now if you did that every time you were pissed at me." he said wryly.

Sam still wasn't able to see the funny side of it though. "How can you be so calm about it, Dean? I shot you! I could have killed you!"

"It was just rock salt, Sam." said Dean but Sam cut him off.

"Yeah, that's only because the other gun wasn't loaded!"

"It wasn't you Sam – end of story. You really need to get past this, I swear." said Dean, exasperated.

It wasn't that he didn't appreciate Sam being so worked up about what he'd done. He'd have been pretty upset if his brother hadn't been bothered by it. But it had been Ellicot, not Sam. He was convinced of that now if nothing else. And he had to make his brother see this otherwise it was going to eat him up inside.

"Sam, listen to me – you have GOT to let this go, man. Me getting shot was no different to me getting hurt by any of the other things we hunt. We both survived and that's all that matters, right? So please, please don't go all brooding and emo on me about this would you?" he said.

Sam raised his eyebrow. "I do not go all brooding and emo." he said, unable to let that go despite the circumstances.

Dean snorted. "Oh, you so do! I swear you could be in one of those lame ass videos where the guy wails on about how awful his life is."

"Ok first off, how do you even know what those videos look like?" said Sam and Dean looked indignant.

"We got stuck in that crappy motel with the TV that was stuck on one crappy music channel, remember? I had to sit through them while I was trying to fix the thing. I gave up before I ended up shooting myself." he said.

Sam shook his head, aware they were getting off topic.

"So we're really ok with all this?" he said hesitantly and Dean looked at him with a tired smile.

"Of course we are, Sammy." he said and Sam couldn't help the smile that lit up his face, not so much at the words but at the nickname he secretly loved despite his outward protests. That more than anything told him Dean really did forgive him for everything that had happened in the asylum.

"I'm still sorry about shooting you though." he said quietly, cutting off Dean's protests before he could even speak.

Dean rubbed a hand over his mouth and looked at Sam as he tried to think just how to get across to his brother that he was not going to hold a grudge against him over this. Then he smiled as it came to him.

"You know this memory you've been going on about, the one you've been so keen to analyse to death?" he said and Sam glared a little at the description but nodded anyway.

"Well, do you remember what I said back then, when you asked me if I hated you because of what you'd said?" said Dean softly.

Sam thought about it for a second, then felt his eyes sting as he remembered his brother's exact words.

Dean saw the moment the memory came to Sam, but he waited expectantly, wanting him to say it out loud anyway just to be sure.

Sam's voice was raspy as he spoke and it was all he could do to get the words out.

"You said there was nothing I could ever say or do that would make you hate me."

Dean smiled, that rare soft smile he reserved for moments like this with his brother.

"That still stands, Sam." he said and this time Sam really didn't trust his voice at all so he just nodded, marvelling at what he'd done to deserve a brother like Dean.

Dean meanwhile moved towards the door, not wanting to give Sam a chance to say anything sappier than he already had. He was glad they'd cleared the air and he felt much better than he had before.

But that didn't mean he hadn't reached his limit with the Dr Phil moments.

Opening the door he looked out at the gleaming Impala. He felt Sam come over and join him, and he nudged him gently with his shoulder.

"Nice job, Dude." he said approvingly and Sam ducked his head, a pleased look appearing on his face.

"I figured it was a while since she'd had a proper polish." he said, shrugging as if it was no big deal. He suddenly realised what he'd said, just as a triumphant grin appeared on Dean's face.

"You just called her 'she', little brother." he said, gloating as Sam groaned and shook his head.

"It's only because I have to listen to you go on about it so much." he said, trying to defend himself and knowing he was fighting a losing battle. Dean's grin didn't fade though and he patted Sam on the shoulder briefly.

"You can use whatever excuse you want, man – I know you love my baby really." he said and Sam let out a long suffering sigh.

"I prefer to think of it as humouring my scarily obsessed brother." he said but he couldn't stop the grin that tugged at his lips. It felt good to be teasing like this again, to feel things slipping back into the 'normal' state of things that was uniquely theirs.

"So what do you want to do now?" he continued, keen to change the subject.

Dean shrugged and glanced at him. "I don't know. I was thinking we could get back on the road – put a few more miles between here and us then see about the next job." he said.

Sam nodded. Dean would get no arguments from him about putting as much distance between them and the events of the last few days as possible. As far as Sam was concerned he never wanted to visit this particular area ever again.

Aloud he said. "Fine by me, but you're not driving. Not with those ribs."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Ok, I'll drive with my hands then like I normally do." he said dryly and Sam snorted despite himself.

"Hilarious. I mean it, Dean – I'm driving. You need to take it easy for a few days, at least until the bruises start to heal." he said firmly.

Dean sighed but knew he might as well give in now. Sam had a tendency to employ the Winchester stubbornness when it came to Dean's health, which was both totally annoying and pretty comforting.

Although there was really no need to tell Sam the last part.

"Fine, you're driving. I'm still picking the music though." he said as he turned round to go grab his stuff.

Sam rolled his eyes this time but smiled affectionately as soon as Dean's back was turned.

This was what made things alright in his world.

Arguments with no malice in them about whether the Impala had an actual personality.

Disagreements over the choice of music while driving.

Battles about Dean's health and his frustratingly cavalier attitude to it.

And knowing exactly what his brother was going to say before he even said it.

This was what made Sam's family, what made their family, and it was something Ellicot had never even come close to understanding.

Listening to Dean hum as he gathered his stuff together, Sam knew he felt exactly the same.

And that was what mattered. They'd get past all this, just like they always did, because when it came down to it there was nothing this world could throw at them that would tear them apart.

Childhood memories.

Words unspoken but understood regardless.

And simple gestures that said 'I love you' better than words ever could.

They were what counted. Everything else they could overcome – together. Just like they always had.