Disclaimer: refer to chapter one

NOTE TO READERS: Thanks once again for the review! I really have been surprised by the reader turnout for this story. I have received so many kind and enthusiastic reviews. I appreciate them all. There have been a few requests to keep going, but I had always intended for five chapters and I'm sticking with it. I sincerely hope you enjoy the final chapter. And, now with this story finished I'll be able to start another when the moment strikes. Thanks again for reading!

Chapter Five

Quintessence

By Dawn Nyberg

Dean smiled so wide his mouth hurt. He quieted Sam as he feebly resisted the ventilator. He was too weak to really even contest its intrusion in his throat. "Shh… it's okay. Hey, little brother, I'm here," he whispered softly as he stroked Sam's bangs. Sam's tired dark eyes focused on Dean and his brother's comforting words. Dean didn't care that he felt tears slipping down his cheeks once again as he smiled softly at his brother. "Thanks for staying," he whispered quietly as he leaned in and kissed his little brother's forehead.

Three Hours Later

Dean had adamantly refused to leave his brother's side. Dr. Rosen and Dr. Paquet had both been in to see Sam and exam him. Dean smiled down at his sleeping brother. Sam had the entire ICU unit talking about him and his miracle survival. Ellen and Jo had both been in to see Sam briefly, but Ellen had still been hesitant to intrude. Sam was incredibly weak and Dr. Rosen had said he was guardedly optimistic about Sam's condition. Sam stirred and Dean stroked his thumb across his brother's forehead trying to offer some comfort as he woke slowly. He still wasn't able to speak because of the breathing tube. Dr. Rosen had deemed Sam not ready to come off the ventilator just yet, but that they would try weaning him slowly over the next few days.

"Sammy?" Dean leaned in close and whispered. He watched his brother's dark eyes open and regard his big brother softly. He couldn't speak, but his eyes spoke volumes to Dean. "Hey there kiddo," he greeted. Sam squeezed his brother's hand gently. "You're going to be fine Sammy," Dean encouraged. "It's okay to close your eyes. You need to rest. I'll be here." And, he watched his little brother's eyes slide closed and he resumed his gentle stroking of his brother's forehead and bangs. He felt compelled to keep some form of contact with Sam, as if he thought in losing that physical link he'd lose Sam and he'd slip away.

One Week Later

Dean had been officially released, but Sam was still in the ICU. Ellen and Jo had moved to a local extended stay hotel across the street from the hospital. The place was mostly filled with families that had a loved one in the hospital. Ellen had asked a family friend to keep tabs on the roadhouse in her absence. She had no intention of leaving Tempe until both of the boys could. She had forced Dean to take care of himself, so that he could be there for his brother. Dean had a room next door to Ellen and Jo not that he was there much. He showered and slept for a handful of hours and would be right back by Sam's bedside. Mostly, though he opted to sleep in a chair in Sam's room.

Sam had had a lot of difficulty coming off the ventilator. Dr. Rosen had assured that the contusions to Sam's lungs and his weakened condition were the cause. Sam's vent settings had been changed over the last few days where he had partial ventilation, but was taking breath's on his own too. It was still worrisome to Ellen that he still had the breathing tube though and she'd be glad to see it gone. She also knew that Dean most assuredly was 100 times more bothered by the fact his little brother was still having his breathing assisted. However, despite everything Sam made improvements each day. They had been little at first. Perhaps, his blood pressure had come up or his heart rate stayed above the 60's. They all took what they could get. But, it wasn't until the sixth day that they had all been excited when Sam's blood counts had finally normalized and his liver enzymes had been given the green light. Sam was healing. Sam was living.

Two Weeks Later

"Sammy calm down," Dean asserted as Dr. Rosen stood nearby. "Sam I know its hard, but just take deep slow breath's its okay." Dean watched Sam struggle to take a decent breath. The doctor had removed the breathing tube a short while ago and Sam struggled.

Sam turned panicked eyes to his big brother. It felt like he was trying to breathe while someone sat on his chest. His diaphragm struggled inside his chest and the effort to take in a full, clean breath was causing him to panic. There was a trace of beaded sweat on his forehead. His pulse OX monitor had started to beep. Dean turned wide scared eyes to the doctor. "He can't breathe," he barked. "It was too soon." Dr. Rosen stepped forward.

"Sam," his voice was gentle yet commanding. "This is normal," he assured. "Look you need to calm down. Your muscles for breathing are a little weak after being on the ventilator. It's just going to take time. Easy…" he encouraged. He watched Sam's oxygen levels continue to drop and his concern peaked. "Dammit," he hissed.

"What? What is it?" Dean shouted in alarm.

"Calm down Sam," the doctor ordered as he lowered Sam's bed and grabbed an ambu bag and placed it over Sam's face and began squeezing the bag giving Sam extra ventilation. "Easy," he encouraged. "If you calm down you'll be able to breathe easier. Sam I don't want to have to intubate you again. Come on try. Dean," the doctor said and looked pointedly at the young man. Dean stepped up.

"Listen to the doc Sammy. You don't want that tube down your throat again, do you?" Sam managed to shake his head as he continued to struggle. He had clamed down a little when Dr. Rosen began ventilating him. "Easy Sammy," Dean urged. "That's it," Dean smiled as he watched Sam calm himself and try to concentrate on his breathing. Dr. Rosen removed the ambu bag from Sam and studied his oxygen levels. He reached over and put an oxygen mask over Sam's face.

"That's it Sam," Dr. Rosen encouraged. "Now just let the oxygen help you okay. You've got this. You're doing fine."

"Dean," Sam rasped out and winced at the pain it caused. It was his first word since having the tube removed a short twenty minutes ago.

"Hey," Dean smiled. "You might want to take it easy on the talking … your throat might be a little sore."

"Your brother's right Sam. The breathing tube was in place for two weeks, so you're going to be tender for a few days. You can talk, but just don't go giving any speeches in the next few days, okay?" Dean offered his brother a reassuring smile.

"'Kay," Sam whispered through a wince. Dean just rolled his eyes at his stubborn brother.

Another Two Weeks Later

Dean walked toward Sam's hospital room. He had been moved from ICU over a week and a half ago into a regular room on the critical care floor. Today was Sam's release day and Dean could feel the anticipation of it in his gut. His little brother had been in the hospital an entire month and now he was finally able to have him back officially. Dean walked into Sam's room.

"You need some help Sammy," Dean saw his brother struggling with his button down shirt he was wearing out of the hospital.

"Nah, I got it," Sam answered with a sheepish smile. He turned his attention toward his gym shoes on the floor as soon as he had his shirt sufficiently buttoned. Dean chuckled.

"There's no way you can bend to get them kiddo. The doc said your outer sutures have dissolved, but that you can't do any major bending or lifting for another month. Here let me help." Dean grabbed the shoes from the floor easily. Sam looked pensive. "What?" Dean asked with an innocent face. "Come on give me your left foot," Dean pulled a cotton sock out of the shoe and put it on his brother's foot.

"Dean I'm not a kid. I can manage someway or the other," Sam complained. Dean smiled and couldn't resist making a plane noise as he started to put his brother's foot in the shoe.

"Come on the little plane needs to go in the hanger," Dean laughed. Sam shoved his foot into the shoe. "Oof," Dean grumbled. "What was that for?"

"You have to ask?" Sam gave his older brother an incredulous look. Dean offered a mild smile.

"Okay, fair enough, but you can't blame me." The other sock and shoe were put on without any humorous preambles.

"Where are Ellen and Jo?" Sam asked. He had been glad that Ellen was around mostly because he could see her being around seemed to make Dean less tense. He knew she had taken care of a lot while both he and Dean had been in the hospital, but most of all he knew Ellen had been there for his big brother when the doctors had thought all hope was lost and had told Dean to basically prepare himself for his brother's death.

"In the lobby," Dean answered as he helped Sam with putting on a light jacket. "So, you okay with us staying at the roadhouse for a while?"

"Yeah, if you are," Sam offered. "You know we could stay at a motel Dean. I'm cool." Dean shook his head. He wasn't blind. Sam was pale and shaky. He needed home cooking and a real bed. A crusty old motel wasn't where Sam needed to heal. His brother was still on pain meds and antibiotics. The doctor had also prescribed one very fat horse pill of a multivitamin for Sam, as well. The antibiotics were only for another week, but the pain meds and vitamin were another story.

"Nah, Sammy, I'm good. We worked things out remember I told you we did," Dean assured. Sam nodded. "Look we're staying at a hotel across the street for a couple days, so you can rest and the doc can see you one last time and then we'll go to the roadhouse. Are you going to be okay on the drive?"

"I'll be fine," Sam assured. "Are we all driving back together," Sam smirked remembering the last time all four of them had been in the Impala together. It wasn't pleasant, but then again that had been a different circumstance.

"What?" Dean chirped. "Hell no," he assured. "Ellen and Jo are going to fly out the day before you and I check out of the hotel. Ellen said something about wanting to get things ready."

"Ready? Geez, Dean I don't want to put anyone out. It's not like an invalid or something."

"No, I know," Dean agreed. "Ellen knows too, but dude, you gotta cut us some slack. I mean, you lost a part of your liver man, and had more than one major surgery."

"Dr. Rosen said my liver would heal completely."

"Yeah, but you still had a piece an organ chopped out dude … humor me, okay?"

"Yeah," Sam conceded. An orderly showed up with a wheelchair in the doorway with Dr. Rosen and Dr. Paquet behind him.

"I just wanted to make sure you had his discharge care notes. These list his limitations and how long he should keep from doing certain things. I spoke with your aunt and she gave me the name of a local physician who I spoke with about your follow up care and appointments once you're back in Nebraska."

"Thanks for everything doc," Sam smiled.

"Yeah, thanks," Dean replied with his own smile. Sam looked around Dr. Rosen to Dr. Paquet.

"I wanted to thank you too, Dr. Paquet … you know for saving my life in surgery," Sam extended his hand. The surgeon smiled and took Sam's hand.

"I just cut and stitched Sam," he assured. "You're the one that pulled off the miracle. You saved yourself." The doctor glanced at Dean and smiled. "Although, I think you may have had some help." Dean dropped his eyes momentarily as Sam and the doctor's looked at him. Sam gave a small laugh.

"Yeah, I know you're right about that," he popped his big brother on the shoulder with an open hand and a lopsided grin. Dean felt warm at the sight of his little brother's lopsided dimpled grin.

Three Weeks Later, the Roadhouse

"Sam honey, I'm not talkin' to a wall. I know you hear me," Ellen complained as she watched Sam sweeping the floor in the main part of the roadhouse.

"I hear you," Sam relented. "I can sweep a floor," he groused.

"That's not what Dr. Peters in town said. "He said nothing strenuous or labor intensive for another couple weeks."

"I just can't sit on my ass," Sam offered bluntly. Ellen offered a rueful smile.

"That's exactly what you can do, and will do," she asserted. Dean walked into the main room through the swinging door that led from the kitchen carrying a box of beer from the freezer. It was Friday and they were always busy on Friday nights, so he was getting stocked before opening. He had felt compelled to help out around the roadhouse as much as Ellen would let him since he and Sammy had been staying. But, he knew Sam needed this right now, and as soon as he was ready to return to the open road he'd take his little brother out of here. "Let's ask you're brother," Ellen threw a hard look to Dean. The eldest Winchester sibling glanced at his younger brother and saw the broom.

"Now, Sammy," he began in a matter of fact voice. "I know you're not stupid and you heard the same thing I did about what the doc said you shouldn't be doing … and that includes sweeping and stuff. Damn just sit and relax while you can. I don't need you setting back your recovery. Go talk geek stuff with Ash."

"I heard that," drifted into the main room of the roadhouse from the direction of Ash's back room. Dean chuckled.

Dean walked over and took the broom from his brother's hands with a sympathetic look. "Alright, I get it okay? You're climbing the walls, but you gotta take it easy and maybe in a couple weeks the doc will be ready to loosen the reins a little." Dean offered. Sam offered a reluctant nod.

"Sam, sweetie," Ellen's voice softened at the younger man's crestfallen look. "How about you help me in the kitchen? How are you with a knife?" She asked with a glint in her eye. And, as Sam passed her to go into the kitchen she met eyes with Dean and winked. He mouthed a silent 'thanks' to her and went about finishing with stocking the beer.

A Month and a Half Later

"I don't want you boys to be strangers, you hear me?" Ellen and Jo stood side by side as Dean finished closing the trunk to the Impala.

"We'll call and touch base, I promise," Sam offered.

"Yeah," Dean came to stand next to his brother. "Yeah, we will." Dean gave a small smile to Ellen and Jo. "Look," he began. "Um, Ellen thanks for everything you know." She understood that the thank you was for so much more than just letting them stay at the roadhouse. She smiled.

"No problem. You boys always have a place when you need it," she paused. "You don't need an excuse to come, okay? The door is always open."

Both brothers nodded. She moved in quickly and gave them both a quick hug and pat on the back.

"Bye guys," Jo replied.

"Yeah, bye Jo," Dean answered. Sam simply smiled and nodded. "We'll see ya around," he offered lightly. "You ready Sammy," Dean asked.

"Yep," Sam answered opening the passenger door. "We promise to keep in touch Ellen," he assured. He leaned in and offered the woman another hug as Dean walked around to the driver's side of the car. "Thanks for taking care of him," he whispered in her ear as he pulled away. She patted him gently.

Dean looked over at Sam as they pulled away causing the dust to billow up around the car wrapping it in tendrils of fine dirt.

"You sure you're ready?" Dean asked meeting his little brother's eyes as the road opened up before them. He felt good to be back out on the road, but part of him was afraid for the next hunt whenever that occurred. He couldn't handle it if something happened to Sam.

"I'm good," Sam assured. "The doc said so."

"I know what he said Sammy and it wasn't exactly a free pass to run a marathon. You're still supposed to hold off on running and major stuff for another month or so."

"Look if you're going to stress out on whether I'm ready to be out again then let's just go back to the roadhouse until I can do everything." Sam huffed. Dean sighed. He wanted to have Sam to himself for a change and he had missed that over the past couple months or so. First the hospital had him and then Ellen … sure he had taken care of most of Sam's needs while they were at the roadhouse, but he hadn't had Sam under his sole care and he missed it.

"No, I don't want to go back there. Not for a while," Dean assured. "We'll just take it easy, okay? It's just … Sam …" he pulled off onto the shoulder of the vacant road and put the car in park.

"Dean," Sam stopped his brother from saying anything else. He looked at his big brother with warm soulful eyes. There was a long pause in the car and neither spoke. Sam bridged the gap of silence with an unexpected statement. "It wasn't your fault." Dean's head jerked toward his brother at his words.

"Sammy," Dean pushed out through his tight throat.

"No, Dean," Sam replied. "I mean it. It wasn't your fault. It happened and its over, but it wasn't your fault."

"I almost got you killed."

"No, a wendigo almost killed me, but you killed it and even with a severe concussion you still shot that ugly mother with a flare gun and saved my ass."

"Stupid luck," Dean hissed.

"Luck had nothing to do with it Dean. I didn't die in those woods because of you. It wasn't your fault."

"But…"

"No but, Dean," Sam smiled. There was another moment of silence. "I heard you that night you know or at least I think I did." Sam's sentence was out of context and Dean wasn't sure what he was talking about.

"Heard what? What night?"

"I was in the dark, maybe it was a dream. You sounded really far away, but the more I concentrated on hearing you I could tell you were getting closer," Sam looked at Dean and their eyes met. "You were telling me to fight, but what I remember came through the clearest was you asked me to stay … to stay for you." Dean turned his face away suddenly as he felt hot tears stinging his eyes. And, his mind tried to process the fact that his little brother had heard him that night when he was near death. "Dean?" Sam studied his brother's turned head. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Dean's voice was rough as he held his emotions in check as much as he could.

"You sure?" Dean nodded and turned his face back toward his brother. Sam could see the glassy eyes, but no tears had broken free.

"I'm sure," he smiled. "You ready?"

"I was born ready," Sam quipped with a raised eyebrow.

"Hey, you stealin' my material little brother?" Sam laughed as his brother pulled back onto the road. Dean reached over and flipped Sam in the ear.

"Ouch," He yelled as he rubbed his ear. "What the hell was that for?" It was Dean's turn to laugh now.

"Don't know," he offered. "I figure I owe you for something I forgot about," he offered with a wide grin.

"Jerk."

"Bitch."

Three hours later on the open highway Dean glanced at his sleeping brother and smiled. The brief thought that he could be looking at an empty seat right now sent a chill though him, but the cold was quickly dissipated because he hadn't lost his light, he hadn't lost his Sammy. The shadows in his soul drew back once again under the presence of his little brother and he accepted the warmth.

The End

I hope you liked the ending of this story. I managed to keep to my five chapter goal. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and reviews. And, once again, thanks to everyone that has taken the time to leave a review for any of the previous chapters. I appreciate it.

READ and REVIEW!