A/N: Thanks to everyone for the reviews! They make my day extra shiny, they do.

This piece was one of the extras I wrote for devon99 when she 'bought' me for Sweet Charity.

He was fine. Truly, deeply. Sam was fine.

Sure, he had some throat issues. He wore his higher collared shirts to avoid being stared at, because his neck looked like he'd been tattooed a necklace of big hands. Still sore, but it just meant a straw for awhile, not full sips. Soups instead of sandwiches. Nothing that was crippling him.

And his back still smarted. Getting thrown into a table wasn't a picnic. Neither was it when it had been a follow-up to getting thrown into a bookshelf. So sitting was a little tough; meant he'd have great posture after it all. Fantastic posture. And that was good for him.

Then there was the head injury. Wasn't really a head injury, just a crack on the head. Nothing worrisome. Sam was fine.

Sure he was. Sam was the perfect definition of fine. In fact, he was pretty certain that if you looked up 'fine' in the dictionary, his picture would be right next to the word. No problems there. Really.

The car door opened, and Sam flinched before Dean slid in. Dean didn't seem to have seen it, but Sam was still cursing himself for it. Dean had certainly seen him shy away yesterday, seen him flinch the other day, and this was stupid. The shape shifter wasn't Dean. Hadn't been Dean in any way, and more than thirty seconds with the thing talking had proved it. And it was dead. His real big brother had taken care of it.

So what was his deal? Why couldn't he let it go?

"Uh, Sammy?"

Sam whipped his head around to find Dean closer than he'd anticipated. He jerked back in surprise, then hurried forward again even as hurt flickered quickly across his brother's face. "You startled me," Sam stammered, scrambling for a cover story that wouldn't hurt Dean more than he already had these past few days. "Geez, when'd you get in the car?"

"Just, uh, a few minutes ago," Dean said after a long moment. He gave a forced smirk he usually saved for authority figures and situations where he was trying to regroup. "Must've been pretty wrapped up in your thoughts."

Sam hated that smirk. Hated it even worse that Dean was giving it to him in not just an attempt to block himself off, but to help Sam, too. And this wasn't even Dean's fault in the first place, it was that damn shifter's fault, but Sam's brain wouldn't shut up. It kept betraying him, telling him that that face had sneered at him, those hands had hurt him.

"Yeah," Sam said quietly, giving a forced smile back. "Deep thoughts. Deep enough to swim in. And I forgot my swim trunks," he joked feebly but hey, he was trying.

A little of Dean's smirk got genuine. "Yeah, you did that once when you were twelve. I remember how that ended."

There was nothing feeble about Sam's mock-glare. "You were the one who took my shorts after I cannonballed."

"Dude, they came off in the first place because you did the cannonball," Dean said, chuckling at the memory. "And wasn't that girl there that you liked, what was her name, Rachel?"

"Rebecca," Sam said with a dramatic sigh. It sounded nothing at all like his usual sigh but they both ignored it. This was a good moment, more normal than they'd been in the past three days since the shifter. "And yes, she was there. And yes, she got a good eyeful of everything. If you'd just given me my shorts back..."

Dean gave him a cheeky grin, and for a second, all Sam could see was his big brother. No shifters filling his brain. Just one hundred percent Dean. "And deprive myself of some great entertainment? I don't think so, Sammy. Besides, it wasn't like I was hurting you or-"

The words froze in the air, and just like that, the tender balance was demolished. Sam felt his chest tighten for a reason that was stupid because it hadn't been Dean, it hadn't, and his heart knew that. Why couldn't his brain get on board? He had almost twenty years of memories that were all filled with his big brother, his hero, Dean. That should've trumped everything that shifter did.

Except those memories weren't as fresh as the shifter was, and that was the kicker. It was still too fresh for the both of them. Sam getting beaten and nearly killed.

Dean racing in to find himself killing his little brother. Wasn't something easy to forget, for either of them.

The silence was awkward, Dean's clearing his voice not helping lighten the tension. "So, uh, lunch," he said with fake cheer. Sam nodded enthusiastically and took the tall cup-shaped container Dean handed him. It felt warm to the touch, and Sam realized it was one of the on-the-go soups that the name brands were doing. Much more expensive than the small sandwiches the deli put together. The sandwiches were the norm, the soup not a usual thing they did. Just something a concerned big brother would do, and Sam felt his face warm in shame that he couldn't let this go for Dean.

The silence was still awkward as they drove away.

Hours later in their latest motel room, the silence wasn't as tense, but still pretty uncomfortable. And frankly, it was driving Sam nuts. He wanted things to be better. And he was fine, dammit!

Except his definition of fine was something completely different, like a polysemy. One fine meant great, fantastic, everything perfectly normal.

Sam's fine meant stomach twisting, heart hurting, don't know how to fix it bad.

The bathroom door opened behind Sam, a fresh plume of humidity coming with it. "You want it, it's open," Dean told him, and Sam was pretty pleased with the fact that he didn't jump at all. No flinching, nothing.

He still watched Dean move through the room out of the corner of his eyes, even as he cursed himself and told himself to stop. It was Dean. Sam couldn't be safer with anyone else. So Sam's brain needed to get that message and stop.

Dean's towel was carelessly tossed onto the bed instead of lobbed at Sam like it usually was, and the change, however lame it was, still made something inside of Sam twist. This wasn't right. This wasn't right. And he didn't know how to fix it, but he knew he was gonna have to take the first step.

He made a deliberate show of closing the laptop before he rose. The only sound in the room was the chair sliding across the carpet. Dean's eyes were locked on him, watching as he approached the bed. "Sam?" he asked.

Sam pulled his face into a grin. "So, uh, wanna get a beer?"

Dean raised his eyebrows. "You want to go to a bar. Seriously."

Okay, so Sam wasn't usually the one who initiated this conversation. Or, you know, had any interest in beer or bars at all. Whatever. "Yeah, seriously. There's gotta be some around here. I mean, I know we're only passing through, but hey, doesn't mean we can't have any fun, right?"

The stare that Sam got in return told him that his brother knew exactly what he was doing. "Sam-"

"Great, I'll grab my jacket," Sam said, neatly ignoring Dean's quiet start of a conversation. It was Dean who wanted to talk, and Sam who was avoiding him and looking for bars. When the hell had they switched?

He was almost at the door, not even caring that he'd unlaced his shoes an hour earlier as he moved, when a hand firmly caught his elbow. Sam twisted from the hold, fear spiking through his body. When he saw who had grabbed him a second later, he jerked even further away as if on fire. He landed back against the door, eyes already scrunching up tight at his mistake. Dammit. "Dean-"

"Yeah, you just want a beer," Dean said. Sam opened his eyes and found Dean gazing at him with a forced, sad smile. "If you seriously want one, I won't go with. Or I can go and you can stay here, whichever."

That wasn't anything near what Sam wanted. Sam didn't want them split up: he wanted them together again. "Dean, no, I want..."

Dean gazed at him patiently, waiting. Sam swallowed and tried to get his throat to work, to push out the last words. I want this over with. I want to be able to look at you and see my brother. His mouth refused to work, for once in his life, and Sam was left standing and staring at his brother.

Dean slowly nodded. "Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, I know, Sammy. Just, uh, takes time. That's all." He didn't sound convinced. Sam didn't feel convinced.

But a tiny part of him hoped that his brother had been able to hear him despite the lack of words. That maybe they'd be okay, and they wouldn't be screwed forever over this. That maybe it really did take time.

"Yeah," Sam echoed. He swallowed and cleared his throat. "So, uh, let's not do a bar tonight."

And actually, surprisingly, Dean looked relieved. "Yeah, let's not. I can grab beers, though: saw a grocery store coming in."

A little space for the both of them, with a promised return that wouldn't take more than fifteen minutes. Perfect. "That'd work," Sam said, and felt a little something relax inside of him.

It'd take time. But they'd be fine.

The bookshelf. The pool table. All demolished, all hit hard enough to leave bruises and blood behind.

Then, finally, the table. He could feel it through his back, the shock of pain slicing through him and causing him to cry out. The weight was heavy on top of him, pushing him down into the splinters and shards of wood.

Hands wrapped around his throat, tight, refusing to give. He pushed and punched and pulled and nothing gave. His lungs began to burn, his body desperate for air. Tears burned in his eyes but nothing let him move. His pulse pounded in his ears, slowing. Pump-pump. Pump...pump. Pump. Pump. His vision narrowed, tunneled to straight ahead of him, to the person that wouldn't let him breathe.

Green eyes filled with hatred he'd never truly seen before. Mouth pulled into a sneer. Hands tight and unyielding on his throat. The silver ring imprinted in the hollow of his throat as fingers gripped mercilessly.

The amulet he'd bought for his brother swinging from Dean's neck, a mockery of the love they used to share. The sneer spread into a smirk as Sam slowly drifted under, heartbeat fading out to nothing, vision blackening forever.

Then his vision came back in a rush as he sat up, gasping for air, hands reaching for his throat. The motel room was dark around him, silent save for his labored breathing.

Hands reached for him, silver ring glinting from the moonlight, and Sam gasped and tried to move away, tried to run. His body caught in the sheets, though, keeping him from getting away. He wound up almost catching his head on the small end table beside him, panting and trying to breathe.

But the worst thing was that the hands were pulling away quickly as if burned. Sam shut his eyes tight but felt tears leak through anyways. "M'sorry," he gasped, clutching at the sheets. "Dean, I'm sorry..."

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean said quietly, but the resigned tone in his brother's voice was suddenly too much. It wasn't okay. Nothing was okay, and this was stupid.

"This is stupid," Sam said, giving voice to the thoughts in his head. He pushed himself back up to sitting, his eyes searching for Dean in the dark. With the moonlight and the parking lights aiding him, he could make out Dean almost hunched in on himself, already retreating to his own bed. Probably going to try to go back to bed now that it was all done, that Sam was awake and not in a nightmare anymore, just like he'd done for the past three nights, and suddenly Sam couldn't stand it, any of it. "Dean," he called, almost desperately.

Dean stilled and turned back to Sam, though his eyes stayed on the floor. "I know it's not you," Sam said helplessly. It sucked as a conversation starter, no segue or subtle slide, but they were past subtle.

Dean just shook his head. "Sam-"

"I do, I swear."

"Obviously you don't!" Dean yelled suddenly, then bit his lip as soon as he did. "I didn't mean that. I know you can't help it. I just..." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't know what to do," he admitted with a bitter laugh. "I don't know how to help you, because I can't save you from me, Sammy. I can't help you when it's me that's the problem. I mean, I could...I could leave, but beyond that, I don't know."

"I don't want you to save me from you," Sam said before he shoved the sheets aside. Dean was just as lost as he was, and Sam had been right to push this. When Dean didn't complain about a chick-flick moment...yeah, things were bad. "I don't need saving from you, Dean. I...you're the one person that's always been there for me, through everything. You're the only one I've ever been able to depend on. Not Dad, not anyone. You."

Dean was looking at him now, at least. Sam took a few breaths before continuing on, voice quiet. "And I know that, man. My heart knows that. My brain's just..." And this wasn't going to help Dean or his sense of guilt any, but he knew Dean needed to hear it as much as Sam needed to say it. "He was the last thing I saw, when I passed out for a little bit," he confessed. Dean froze, stricken, and Sam pressed on. "I thought I was dead, thought it was over, and then I opened my eyes and he was dead and I...Dean, you saved me. As soon as you took your amulet back I knew. Knew that everything was gonna be okay."

And he hadn't even thought about it, truly, but as soon as Sam said it the memory came back. Terrified that the body, dead and bloody, was Dean's, even though it'd been that same face that had taken pleasure in killing Sam. Hope when another Dean had knelt beside the dead one, and relief when his Dean had taken his amulet back. His world had been tilted upside down and then right-side up within a matter of minutes, leaving him shaking and not feeling solid ground.

Still wobbly now, but not as wobbly as it'd been the past few days. Better then that afternoon, even. Maybe even a single step away from being even and level.

Dean was staring at him, a mixture of emotions on his face, and Sam could see him struggling to find the right one. "And I know everything's gonna be okay," Sam added when the silence remained. "Because it wasn't you, Dean. I know it'd never be you hurting me. I knew it wasn't you when he was strangling me."

"I shouldn't have gone down into the sewers," Dean said suddenly. "Shouldn't have split up with you when we chased it, shouldn't have let it get the freakin' drop on me in the first place." Shouldn't have let it take my face, was the unspoken message that was loud and clear.

"It wasn't your fault," Sam said firmly. Of all his fears and worries from this case, that was abundantly clear to him. This had been in no way Dean's fault. He let his determination show in his voice and face as he said again, "It was not your fault."

Dean gazed at him for a moment, long enough that Sam wondered if he was getting it. Just as Sam was gearing up to say it again, Dean reached out and took Sam's elbow in his hand. Instead of pulling away, like his brain was screaming at him to do, Sam pushed himself forward and into Dean's slightly surprised embrace. His arms folded around Sam without hesitation, though, and finally, finally, Sam's brain quieted. This, it knew. This wasn't something to be afraid of. This wasn't an attacker.

This was Dean, Sam's big brother, the person who would rather die than see Sam hurt, let alone be the one to hurt Sam. This was safe.

The silence wasn't tense or awkward, but simply silence, comfortable and right. Sam rested his forehead against his brother's shoulder and let his eyes slip shut. For the first time in days, every single part of him was relaxed. Nothing was tensed or ready to defend.

Dean's hands splayed around Sam's back, holding him gently. "You better not fall asleep on me," Dean said roughly. Sam's lips slid up into a smile. He was certain Dean felt like he was being forgiven for something, but there wasn't anything to forgive. It'd never been Dean. His brain had simply lingered on the face above him: his heart was smart enough to know the difference.

"I don't drool."

"Anymore. You used to. I bet you still do."

Sam's response was to turn his head until he could see Dean's other shoulder, forehead almost resting against the side of Dean's chin. The position was starting to feel uncomfortable, both of them stretching across the gap between the beds, but Dean wasn't attempting to move, so Sam wasn't, either. Not when Dean was finally starting to relax as well, and god knew how tight and tense he'd been since he'd found Sam on the floor, barely breathing.

"You okay?" Sam asked after a moment.

"Are you?" Dean asked in return.

"Yeah, actually."

"Really?" Dean pressed. "I mean, I wouldn't blame you if you weren't, but-"

Sam reached and lightly pinched his brother's arm. "M'okay," he said, and the yawn came from nowhere, disrupting his next words. "M'fine."

He felt himself being tugged and he went without resistance. Hands nudged him down onto the bed, and the careless press of the silver ring didn't even make him flinch. Sheets were pulled over him, and Sam's eyes closed without his permission. Traitors.

"You're sure?" Dean still asked, voice almost a whisper. Sam forced his eyes to open and found Dean's face inches from his as his brother knelt beside the bed. There was no sneer, no hatred, no tight face filled with anger. Only worry, concern, and love.

Sam gave a sleepy smile and closed his eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine," he promised. For the first time in days, he actually really felt fine. He was okay, Dean was there, and the shape shifter was dead. Sam was safe, protected, loved.

And that meant he was more than fine.