Wow, alright so let me just say that I hate writing final chapters. I always feel like I'm leaving out important details. So needless to say, this took me longer than I had expected to get finished, but with the amazing season finale I felt it necessary to finish up my own story for you all and stayed up the rest of the night finishing this. Hopefully it will be worth the wait. I want to express my deepest and sincerest gratitude for the amazing response I got to this story. Thank you all so much for starting and sticking with this story; I know it was an ominous subject matter for some of you and I really do appreciate the fact that you gave it - and me - a chance. Your reviews and support have been amazing; I can honestly say I wouldn't have finished this nearly as quickly if it wasn't for the continuous enclave of wonderful responses to the story. So, thank you thank you thank you for everything. I recieved enough excitement over the idea of a sequal that I will very likely continue the journey. But first - I'm off to finish "A Stroke of Bad Luck." Give me about a week or so to catch up on that story and then I'll start to post. And I've got another one in the works called 'Retribution' that I will post as soon as it's completely finished. Hope to see all of you in future stories. You guys make writing worth while. And the finale...

The trio made quite the image staggering through the woods like a bunch of drunken sailors on leave from their ship. Bobby's wound had ended up being superficial, going through flesh only. Although he still maintained a heavy limp, the pain was more an irritation than an actual hindrance, and between him and Dean they were somehow managing to support Sam. Dean's leg was killing him, and he was certain that it was now swollen to the size of a watermelon. Whether or not he would even be able to get the prosthesis off the residual limb without cutting through the carbon was fast becoming a very real fear. And that didn't even bring the issue of his shoulder into question, the stabbing pains from the three deep gauges stinging unmercifully as Dean strained it keeping Sam moving. But he'd pushed the pain to the back of his mind, his one and only concern that of getting Sam out of the woods safely.

For his part, Sam was barely conscious, only holding on enough to allow Dean and Bobby to guide him back to safety. The lack of lucidity was probably for the best because it was either that, or screaming in agony over the pain that wracked his entire body at every jolt and step. He'd given most of his weight to the older hunters, his feet barely skimming the ground as they walked. But with the broken ribs and wrist and the multitude of bruises all over it made finding a safe spot to support him quite the challenge.

Dean had bound Sam's ribs tightly, making Sam's breathing immediately easier, and he'd found a couple sticks to splint the broken wrist, although he had yet to reset the bones. They would let a doctor do that after a proper x-ray.

"How ya doin there, Sammy?" Dean asked for at least the twentieth time since they had started out over an hour ago. It was the only way to keep Sam awake, to engage him in conversation, yet it was equally difficult to maintain a conversation when they were all panting from exhaustion and injury.

Sam's head jerked up at Dean's voice and he flopped his head in his brother's direction, looking at the older man with glassy eyes. "Never...better," he panted. "You?"

Dean snorted. Sam was barely conscious, yet he was questioning Dean's status. "I'll be doing good once I get you out of the woods," he finally replied, effectively turning the conversation back to Sam.

But Sam wasn't done yet. He had another member of the party to worry about and he voiced his concern with one word. "Bobby?"

"I'm with Dean," Bobby replied. "I'm great just as soon as we get the hell out of this place."

"Dean..." Sam continued, lolling his head back towards his brother. Eventually he ended up resting his chin against his chest, unable to hold his head up any longer, but he was determined to continue the conversation.

"Yeah, Sam," Dean prompted, sidestepping a log in his way and stumbling a bit as the change in direction altered his center of gravity.

"I have a...confession...to make."

"What's that, Sammy, you forget to put on fresh underwear or something?" Leave it to Dean to make a joke out of any situation.

A smile peeked across Sam's face as he realized he didn't know how long it had been since he'd seen fresh clothes. They had left in a flurry of activity with no consideration of clothes or food or sleep. But that wasn't his concern right now; right now he had something to get off his chest, and he would say it.

"We followed you."

Dean nodded, somewhat confused. "Yeah, Sam, I kinda figured that much out. Actually, I pretty much expected you would be following me as soon as I set out for here."

Sam shook his head, forcing the lethargy out of the motion to signal there was more to it. He felt Bobby's grip tighten around his arm, warning him to think about what he was about to admit, but Sam was no dummy. This was by far the best time to divulge; Dean couldn't be mad when Sam was barely able to remain upright.

"Not to... Angonquin. Through Algonquin."

"I don't think I'm following you here, Sam. I know you followed me in here. You never would have found me if you hadn't followed me."

Sighing in exasperation, Sam forced himself to look over at Dean, allowing his eyes to belie the information Dean seemed too preoccupied to truly gather. This confession was taking a lot out of him, and Dean jumping to conclusions wasn't helping one bit. He tried again.

"Once we found...you. We followed you...for another couple...hours." There. He'd said it. Let Dean do with the information as he pleased.

Looking over Sam's head, Dean caught Bobby's eye and raised an eyebrow in question. The older hunter replied with a grim face and a shrug of the shoulders, neither action denying the confession Sam had just made. Dean didn't know what to make of it; didn't know whether to be mad at their lack of honesty or grateful for the space they had given him. But he knew one thing; no matter what he felt, he needed to keep his emotions in check for the time being. Now was not the time to be pissed off at Sam.

"So that's what I kept hearing behind me," Dean questioned, forcing the humor in his voice. "You know, I thought I was going crazy, thinking I was hearing the leaves crunching behind me yet never actually seeing anything."

"Wanted you to...finish...the hunt...on your own."

"Thanks for the sentiment, Sam. Didn't really do me all that much good, though."

"Didn't mean to...distract...you."

Dean frowned, listening more closely to Sam's labored breathing as they struggled through the woods. He seemed to be getting worse, the pauses in his speech becoming longer and closer together. "You doin' alright there, Sammy? Getting enough air?"

Sam nodded, eyes focused straight ahead as he worked on putting one unsteady foot in front of the other. "Chest feels…tight," he wheezed out, only taking the time to notice his own quandary once Dean called attention to it. In his nervous anticipation of Dean's anger, Sam had managed to forget all about himself, and it was only now that he realized just how hard it was getting to be to catch his breath.

"Should we take a break for a minute?" Dean's wild eyes shot over Sam's bowed head to once again look at Bobby, both men thinking the same thing. Punctured lung.

"We need to…keep…going," Sam insisted. He stumbled over a small branch as he spoke, his weight dragging at Dean and Bobby's necks in the process, the move doing little to alleviate the older men's fears over his well being.

"No," Dean replied firmly, already directing their footsteps to a clearing off to the right. "You need to stop and rest. I've got to get another look at you."

Sam was really in no state to argue, although he feared for what Dean might tell him if he had a chance to study his injuries any more. Growing up, he and Dean had often lived under the premise of 'what you don't know can't hurt you,' and when applied to injuries that meant that they inevitably would get worse the minute you knew what you were dealing with. If that's what was about to happen now, he didn't want to know.

"'M fine, Dean," Sam slurred. "Jus' keep goin'."

Dean shared another look with Bobby, unsure what to do. His gut told him to stop, to check Sam over, but he also knew that the more times they stopped the longer it would take them to get back out. He figured they were pretty close to the stream by now, but that still meant a minimum of another two hours once they had managed to cross it. If they managed to cross it.

"Sam, you can barely walk," Bobby protested. "And now you're having trouble breathing. I would hardly call that fine."

"If we stop…might not…get back up." Sam admitted. "We're all…tired. Need to keep…going."

The kid had a point. But still... Dean finally sighed and lumbered on, bypassing the clearing he'd been so eager to stop at a minute earlier. "Alright. We go until we hit the stream," he finally decided, grudgingly. "But then we stop. It's going to take a but to figure out how to get across anyway."

His companions agreed by submission, neither one saying okay, but neither one protesting either. They continued on their way, stumbling over obstacles as Sam grew heavier and heavier in his companions arms. Sam persevered, pushing himself to his breaking point in an effort to prove his capabilities. But as the stream finally came into view some twenty minutes later he was struggling for air and close to passing out.

"Hey man, how ya doin there?" Dean asked Sam as he and Bobby gently lowered him beside a large boulder at the side of the stream. He tapped at Sam's lolling head, trying to draw his weary brother into the present moment.

"C...an't...breath," Sam panted out, clutching at his chest as though he were trying to remove a giant weight that had ben settled on top of it.

"I know, man. I know. Bobby's gonna take a look at you. We're gonna figure out what's going on, okay? Can you hold on for me?"

Sam gave a weak nod, rolling his head across the support of the boulder he was leaned against and found Bobby off to the side, already pawing through their supply of first aid equipment before he had even examined Sam.

"Bobby-" Dean pleaded helplessly, worried eyes imploring the experienced field medic to do something about his brother.

Inching closer to Sam, pulling the first aid kit with him, Bobby settled onto the balls of his feet and lifted Sam's shirt to expose his bruised chest. Bobby began palpating the tender skin, feeling for anything more out of the norm than what they had already discovered as Sam hissed in protest every time Bobby's callused hands made any kind of purchase on his bruise mottled torso. Finally, Bobby leaned back on his heels and glanced at Dean, grim faced.

"I need to talk to you over there," he said in no uncertain terms. By now, Sam was so out of it it wasn't even necessary to sugar coat the anxiety he was feeling, yet the older hunter still didn't want to discuss the dire circumstances that surrounded Sam.

Dean was on his feet in an instant, nervously following Bobby away from Sam to the edge of the stream several feet away.

"Bobby, what is it?"

"Dean, I don't want you to worry–"

"Damnit, Bobby, it's too late for that," Dean interrupted anxiously. "I'm freakin' out here. What's wrong with Sam?"

Sighing, Bobby decided the only way to do this was to give it to him straight. Dean had been through too much in the last several months to assume he needed anything downplayed for him. So Bobby just came out with it. "His lung's been punctured, Dean. There's a ton of pressure buildup in there and it's just getting worse the longer he goes without help."

Sinking to his knees, Dean looked up at Bobby with a panic stricken face. He dragged a heavy hand through his hair and then turned back to face Sam, noting for the first time the bluish tint to his brother's lips and the stark paleness to the rest of his features. And then he was back in the moment, determined, emphatic. "So what do we do?"

"He needs a chest tube," Bobby admitted grudgingly, arms crossed tightly against his own chest to mask his nervous apprehension. "And he doesn't have time to get to the hospital to get one. If we don't do something for him now, he's going to die."

Dean's eyes went wide. "We don't have a chest tube, Bobby. We don't even have anything that resembles a chest tube."

"We'll improvise."

"How? Do you even know what you're doing? Have you ever even seen a chest tube put in?"

Bobby stormed back to the first aid kit determinedly. "Dean, we don't have a choice. It's that or let him die."

"Yeah, but Bobby..." Tears welled in Dean's eyes as he fought for control over the situation. When all was said and done he knew there was only one thing he could do, and he pleaded with Bobby to provide Sam's safety. "He's my little brother, man. This has to work. You're sure this will work?"

Pausing a second to contemplate his answer, Bobby finally nodded once, firm and convincing. "Yeah, Dean. This will work. It has to."

"Okay."

As Bobby returned to the first aid kit, Dean kneeled at Sam's side and prompted the young hunter to wake up and listen to him.

"Sam. Sammy, you've got to pay attention here. You with me?"

Dazed, Sam tried to focus on Dean's nervous face. He locked his gaze on Dean's familiar green eyes and nodded slightly. "Yeah."

"Kay, Bobby says you have a collapsed lung. He's cut to cut into your chest and insert a tube to relieve the pressure inside. It might hurt a little, but it's going to help in the long run."

"You'll...be...here?" Sam gasped, fingers trailing painfully slowly towards the hand Dean had set on his knee. He linked the tips, unable to force his hand to move any further, and Dean finished the gesture for him, his strong hand clutching tightly to Sam's weakened one.

"Yeah, Sammy, I'll be here. I'm right here."

And then Bobby was there, kneeling beside Sam and asking Dean to help him ease Sam to the ground, laying him in a prone position. Grim faced, he cleaned his pen knife with an alcohol swab and prepared a length of tourniquet tubing - the best they could do under the circumstances - the same way.

Dean readjusted his position, coming around behind Sam's head and gripping his little brother's good hand in his own as he used his other hand to stroke Sam's cheek. He was out of Bobby's way, distracting Sam from the process, but still able to keep a close eye on the task at hand. A quick glance in Dean's direction allowed Bobby to wordlessly ask if the Winchester brother's were ready. Dean nodded affirmatively, and Bobby began.

The pen knife went in smooth and fast, like slicing through butter. Sam winced and sucked in a breath of air he couldn't quite reach. His hand gripped tight to Dean's and Dean squeezed back.

"It's okay, Sam. I'm right here. It's gonna be okay."

Dean continued to stroke Sam's hair, his hands purposely falling low enough on Sam's forehead at the onset of each stroke that Sam had to keep his eyes closed to protect them. Bobby maintained a steadfast concentration on his task, squeezing the ends of the flimsy tourniquet tubing and sliding it into the hole he'd just created in Sam's chest cavity. It wasn't ideal, but he made the most of what he had, stitching the tubing into Sam's chest and leaning back on his heels to wait for the tightening in Sam's chest to recede.

It seemed to take forever before the tube did it's job, the waiting finding Dean and Bobby holding their breath along with Sam's shortened breaths. But finally enough air escaped Sam chest to let up on the hold it had on his collapsing lungs and he managed to take a full, deep breath. And then another one. And another.

Color returned to his cheeks and receded from his lips and fingernails as oxygen began to circulate throughout his body again, and Dean breathed a sigh of relief.

"Feel better, little brother?"

Sam nodded, reveling in the simple pleasure of real oxygen filling his system. He struggled to push himself back up as his brain returned to the initial problem - that they still had to get out of the woods - and Dean reached out to help him up. Big brother propped Sam against his chest, slowing bringing him vertical again as he turned questioning eyes back to Bobby.

"We've got to get him out of here. We're not getting anywhere the way we're doing this right now. One of us has to go on ahead."

Bobby didn't think long on the subject, quickly nodding his agreement to Dean as he began to pack the first aid kit back up. The question came to how; who would go on and race for help? Whose leg was the lesser damaged of the two? Dean would have happily cloned himself and done both tasks, because there was no way he was leaving Sam, but there was no way he was putting Sam's welfare in someone else's hands either.

In the end, though, it was clear how this would go down, and after carefully traversing the treacherous, slippery stream Bobby took off at a limping sprint down the trail as Dean and Sam followed more slowly behind. Dean continued to ignore his fast weakening limb and his throbbing shoulder in favor of keeping Sam upright and awake. He found that they had to stop more often now as Sam became weaker. The tube was working to allow him to continue breathing, but it was fast becoming clear that the pliable rubber wasn't the ideal piece of equipment. The walls were collapsing and air wasn't escaping as fast as Dean would have liked, but it was keeping Sam alive. That's what mattered.

Eventually the exterior world seemed to become obsolete to both brothers and the primary focus became solely on putting one foot in front of the other. So it was no surprise that the rescue team managed to sneak up on the two weary hunters. It was the snap of a twig only a few feet away and the yelling of their names from the eight rescuers directly in front of them that finally had Dean snapping out of his trance. He reached for his weapon as he pulled Sam closer to him, putting his himself between the entourage and his brother, his foggy mind having difficulty establishing the connection that this was their rescue.

Forever passed before the frantic voices of the rescuers managed to break through Dean's haze and convince the nervous hunter to stand down. And then everything seemed to happen in a flurry of commotion. Sam was whisked from Deans arms, several of the medics hooking him up to IV fluids and replacing the makeshift first aid Dean and Bobby had done with fresh bandages. His barely conscious form was laid on a stretcher and strapped in as Dean watched anxiously from his position seated on a rock several feet away.

Dean continued to refuse his own medical treatment, insisting he was fine even as he felt the prick of the needle as his own dose of IV fluids was started. He tried to ignore the shocked expressions of the medics as they discovered the prosthetic leg. Exclamations of amazement at how much he had accomplished began to spew from their mouths, quickly followed by clearly appalled utterances as they realized just how swollen the limb had become because of his extended trek. That pretty much sealed the deal that he wouldn't be walking out of there, and no matter how much he fought them there was nothing he could do. One of the medics had already removed the prosthesis from his leg, and even if he could have gotten it back there was no way it was going back on the watermelon that he used to call a limb.

Finally relenting, Dean laid back and forced himself to endure the ride through what was left of the trail. His punishment for not allowing him the dignity of walking out of there was to issue a constant barrage of How's Sammy's? and What's going on with him now's? that they were forced to answer quickly and accurately if they didn't want the volume of his already too constant questions to increase.

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Word spread through the hospital fast, that the two young men who had been rushed in near death three months earlier had just been brought in again. Trauma's such as Dean's, where a limb was lost, were few and far between and that combined with his not-so-subtle outbursts during his recovery meant that much of the ER and recovery wing staff remembered him. So when they heard that a young man with a recent amputation and his brother were being brought in after being pulled from the Algonquin woods it was pretty easy to put two and two together.

Dean lay in a panic in his ER cubicle, fighting with the young intern that was treating him as he insisted that he was fine and just needed to see his brother, when he heard the sound of the curtain being drawn. He looked up, his blank expression becoming one of recognition as his old doctor appeared in front of him.

"Dr. Hurley," Dean greeted, immediately assuming that his 'connection' with this man would surely entitle him to a free pass to trauma room 2 where Sam was currently having a real chest tube put in among a medley of other treatments. "It's so good to see you. You've got to get me in to see my brother. Sam is..." Dean trailed off, finally noticing the stern expression on the doctors face emphasized by the firm cross of his arms against his chest.

"Tell me, Mr. Winchester. Do you purposely go seeking trouble or are you just the unluckiest SOB that ever walked this planet?" His mouth drew up into a smirk, indicating that he wasn't quite as annoyed as he had initially appeared to be.

Dean matched the man's expression, adding a chuckle to the mix. "I'm gonna plead the fifth on that one doc. Just had some unfinished business to attend to. You know how it is."

Hurley shook his head, crossing the room to do his own examination on his ex patient. "Don't get me wrong, Dean," he began, pulling the sheet down and probing the swollen leg. "I'm glad you're making progress on your recovery. And I'm really glad that you got over you slump and put everything you have into healing. But I think making the decision to go out this soon for a day long nature hike in the middle of the woods with some creature out there killing people, which, I might add, has already done massive damage to you and your brother, was maybe a little bit stupid. Don't you?"

Dean cast a sheepish look at the doctor, unwilling to admit how right the man was no matter how much pain he was in or how injured Sam was. "If it helps...we got the damn thing," Dean tried instead, purposely avoiding the topic of what it was. "It's dead and buried now."

To say that Dr. Hurley was surprised would be an understatement. He blinked rapidly, eyebrows arched in amazement as he stared at his stubborn patient.

"You managed to get whatever was out there, killing all those people?" the disbelieving doctor demanded, sinking into a chair as he took in the news. Dean didn't know if the skepticism was more because Hurley knew just how dangerous the thing really was or if it was because his stubborn, one legged patient had been the one to put an end to the reign of terror, but the hunter chose to give his doctor the benefit of the doubt. He didn't have time or energy to waste on prejudices.

"Rabid wolf," Dean lied convincingly in response. Never mind the fact that many of the injuries and fatal blows could in no way have been caused by a wolf, rabid or otherwise. The Winchester's had long ago determined that most of the world would much prefer a plausible explanation over the truth. It was easier to wrap their heads around known possibilities than it was to accept supernatural fact.

Dr. Hurley was no exception to this fact; he nodded agreeably, with a sense of trust exhibited by most children. "And you actually managed to bury the thing, too? In your state?"

"Adrenaline can do some crazy things to a person. I never even felt the pain in my leg until those medics showed up." He glanced down at the mass of swollen black and blue that Hurley was once again fussing with, and winced. "So did I screw it up for good this time?"

"Quite frankly, Dean, I'm surprised that you were able to stay upright at all. I'm certain your therapist had warned you against going long periods of time on that prosthesis; your leg just hasn't healed well enough for you to work it that hard."

Dean smirked. "He might have said something to that effect."

"And what," Hurley pressed. "You just thought it was a casual suggestion?"

"People were dying," Dean protested. "And I had the power to stop it." He didn't know why he was opening up so much to this man, but he felt he owed him an explanation. The guy had brought him back from the brink of death once before, and this was the least he could do repay him.

"What do you have that someone else didn't" Hurley challenged.

"I think I'll let the facts speak for themselves. It's dead, isn't it?"

"Well, I really don't know. Until people stop dying out there all the proof I have is your word."

Dean shrugged. "Just trust me on this. It's gone. The woods are safe once again." He changed tunes, ready to get off the subject. "So my leg..."

"Is severely bruised and swollen," the doctor admitted, "but there's no permanent damage. I'm ordering you to stay off that leg until the swelling has completely receded, though. And there's no defying that, Dean. You keep up this recklessness and you're going to lose more of the leg. And trust me, you don't want to know what it's like to learn to walk on a prosthetic knee."

"Don't you worry, Doctor, I'll make sure Dean here stays off his leg." Both men turned toward the opening of the curtained off area to see Missouri standing there, arms crossed, smirk playing across her face. "If I have to hide those prosthetics until he's better, he'll let himself heal completely. You have my word on that."

Dean shot Missouri a look of annoyance, silently ordering her to butt out of his business, but the doctor seemed satisfied with her promise and that alone kept Dean from vocalizing his thoughts.

"In that case, I'll let them finish patching up your shoulder and let you be on your way. It was good to see you again, Dean."

"Yeah, you too, doc," Dean agreed, wincing as the young intern, who for the past several minutes had remained quiet and out of the way, returned to patching the gashes in his shoulder.

Hurley crossed the small space toward the door, but stopped just as he reached the doorway, turning around and facing his old patient once again. "But Dean?"

"Yeah."

"Do me a favor, would you?"

Dean nudged his chin toward the doctor, indicating his willingness to at least hear the request.

"The next time you want to come visit me just do me a favor and walk through the front door with chocolates and a bottle of wine like most normal people do, huh. No more of this transportation by ambulance crap. From now on, the ER doors are off limits to you, got it?"

Chuckling, Dean sat himself up a little straighter and smiled at the doctor. "Tell you what, doc. If I never set foot in Canada again, it will be too soon. How's that for an answer."

Hurley nodded, smirking. "I think that's an answer I can live with. You just take care of yourself, huh?"

"Will do, doc. Will do."

xxxxxxxxxx

Three days later, Sam's chest tube was removed and he found himself insisting on an early release from the hospital. In all honesty, he would have gladly stayed there another day or two to allow his weary body more time to recoup. But he could tell how antsy Dean was getting within the walls of the suffocating hospital and he felt he owed it to Dean to get the whole group out of there. Dean had, after all, saved his life back in the woods.

The four of them trooped out of the hospital, Bobby and Missouri leading the way through the halls as Dean tried his damndest to hover over Sam's weakened, stooped over body, while he struggled with his own crutches and injured shoulder. Sam's hand was in a cast, his ribs taped up tightly, and his left knee tightly secured by a knee brace as he hobbled down the hall, weight resting heavily on one of Dean's canes that Bobby had thought to throw into the back of the truck before they'd left. He would have been glad for the additional support, but it would have been like the blind leading the blind as banged up as Dean was. The older hunter could barely manage the crutch clutched beneath his injured shoulder, hiding a wince with every pull of the stitches, yet he still insisted of stalking his little brother as though he would be successful if Sam were to stumble and fall. Yet Sam now had no doubts that Dean would somehow make that move work - he would always be there to catch Sam.

The cars were parked directly in front of the hospital, ready for their occupants, and Dean quickly helped Sam into the passenger side of his car with a sigh of relief at getting his little brother to safety, before hobbling over to the drivers seat. With a curt nod to Bobby as the elder hunter pulled his own injured leg up into the driver's side footwell of his truck, Dean pulled away from the curb and pointed the car back out onto the main road. They were all heading back to Missouri's for a few more weeks of rest and relaxation before Dean and Sam finally moved on for good. They had had the discussion the night before, when Sam had announced he wanted to leave the hospital the next morning, and this was the compromise everyone had grudgingly come to.

Missouri wanted the boys to remain for another few months, wanted Dean to spend loads more time in therapy making sure he was really healed and fully ready to be using the prosthetics on an all day basis before she let the young man out of her sight. And that didn't even account for her concern for Sam and the fact that he still clearly got winded just walking from the bed to the bathroom and back.

But Dean was itching to get back onto the road, back to the hunt, and even Sam seemed anxious to move out again. So she had finally relented to them staying just long enough to prove they were healed, and then having to allow them to fly the coop. Like wild animals, the Winchester boys would never be tamed.

Bobby was only driving back to pack up the remainder of his stuff and head back home. He'd been away long enough, and it was clear by Dean's disappearing act to Algonquin, that the boys no longer needed him to help with recovery. The 'mental' issues - recalcitrance, obstinance, disobedience - were long ingrained in the boys' heads, and he knew there was nothing he could do about those.

Dean had reluctantly agreed to the terms that Sam and the other's placed on him, although if anyone were to delve deep into his psyche they would learn that he was secretly glad for the terms. They would start out small with the hunts, stick to minor league haunting's and possessions, things that were less likely to require long hours of standing or great distances of walking. He had to prove himself from one hunt to the next, and undergo intense scrutiny after every hunt, demonstrating a 'healthy' limb after each one before Sam would allow him to take on something more challenging.

It meant bypassing a lot of hunts, turning them over to other hunters that were nearby, but it was the only way Sam was willing to deal. His little brother had made the rules quite clear - all or nothing. And for once, Dean agreed to the terms without a fight. He would let Sam have his say on this.

"Hey Dean?" Sam spoke in a scratchy whisper as he rolled his head across the back of the seat to look at his brother.

Dean took his eyes off the road for a minute to return Sam's gaze and turned back to the blacktop. "Yeah, Sam."

"I think I owe you an apology."

"For what, Sam?" Dean queried, genuinely confused.

"I doubted you. I never should have doubted your ability."

Holding up a hand to put a stop to the conversation, Dean shook his head. "Sam, don't. Please. You were right - I had no business being out there." He rubbed absently at the remaining stump of his leg as the limb began to throb, as though reminding him of the trouble that had started this in the first place.

"That's just it, Dean. You totally saved the day out there. If you hadn't have been there, I don't think I would be alive right now. And that spirit probably would still be out there terrorizing the Algonquin woods. You were awesome."

"Yeah, and I paid for it, too," Dean scoffed. "I've set my recovery back by weeks; who knows, maybe even months."

"And saved a ton of people in the process. Just think how many people would have died if we had waited until we knew for sure you were ready." Sam failed to mention that he and Bobby were planning to take the thing out without Dean in the same time period as Dean had worked in, hoping his brother would have forgotten the circumstances that started this whole soiree in the first place.

Whether Dean simply chose not to mention it, or whether he truly had forgotten was debatable, but Dean stopped to contemplate the idea before finally nodding slowly in agreement. "I guess you have a point there," he replied humbly. "But it was still stupid, going about it the way I did."

Sam laughed, realizing the tables had just turned. Less than a week before they had each been arguing the exact opposite points. Now, Sam might as well be encouraging Dean to be heading out for a hunt, while Dean was begging off the job. But this was a far better alternative than chasing Dean through half of North America to save his sorry ass. Sam would take this option any day.

He sighed, looking to the other side of the car and studying his brother in silence for several minutes. Dean finally seemed relaxed, content, dare he say happy. He knew they had a long way to go before Dean's need for a prosthetic leg would become a non-issue between them. For months to come, maybe even years, Sam knew it would always be a point of concern for both of them. But Dean's stubborn determination to bring down the spirit in the Algonquin woods had done a lot to prove his capabilities; to prove he was still the old Dean Winchester. No longer was there the deep seated doubt that Dean wouldn't still be one hundred and fifty percent during a hunt. They both knew now that nothing could stop him from accomplishing everything he would ever desire to do, and as they sped down the highway on their return trip to Missouri's both brother's silently shared in the knowledge that everything would be okay; as long as they had each other.