I'm incredibly sorry for the wait. I started grad school in June (2013) and haven't really had any time to write since then. Thank you for your reviews - they made me revisit this story. And thank you to everyone who continued to read and review this. I didn't intend for you to have to wait so long for a conclusion.

Dean knew there was something wrong. He had been unable to get warm ever since waking up in the hospital, but even so the sudden drop in temperature was especially noticeable. Dean shivered hard, eyes scanning the room, desperately trying to find the cause of the disturbance. He looked towards his clothes on the side table, just out of reach. He needed his cell phone. He needed to warn Sam.

Steeling himself against the pain he knew the movement would cause, Dean gingerly sat up, hand hovering uselessly over the stitches in his side. The change in position made him dizzy and he closed his eyes tightly for a minute until he was certain the room had stopped moving. "C'mon Dean," he mumbled angrily, inching his way towards the edge of the bed, fingers stretched out towards the side table, desperately trying to grasp the clothes. Just one more inch...

Dean's fingers closed around the piece of fabric and he released a deep breath, sucking in as much air as he could on the inhale. He bit his lip as he carefully pulled the clothing towards him, praying the cell phone wouldn't fall out in the process. When he could reach into the pocket, Dean wrapped his fingers around the cell phone. He dropped the pants onto the floor and scooted back towards the pillows.

Dean's hands were shaking as he attempted to dial Sam's number. The effort of retrieving the cell phone had exhausted him and he could hardly hold his hands still long enough. Making matters worse was the fact that all the numbers seemed to blur together. He closed one eye and began to dial, finding that easier than scanning through his contacts. Dean finished entering the digits and pressed send. He heard the ringing and closed his eyes, waiting for his brother's voice to answer.

"Dean?" Mark answered instead, and something about his voice was off.

"Sam?" Dean asked his friend, knowing somehow that something was wrong with Sam. But he didn't hear Mark's answer. Pain, white hot and all-encompassing, spread throughout his body, starting at his bandage-swathed side, where the surgeons had cut him open to remove his spleen. "Ahh!" he cried out, dropping the phone. A flickering figure stood at the side of Dean's bed, her hand disappearing through the white bandages. She turned her head to look at Dean, and her face reflected pure evil.

"Emily," he whispered, recognizing the apparition as the girl they had just watched die. The girl whose body was currently sitting in the morgue. Mark had said they couldn't get to the bodies to burn them but that the banishing spell would be enough. Clearly something went wrong.

Dean cried out again as Emily's hand reached deeper into his side. He felt as if his insides were on fire, and he was shocked by the lack of blood around the bandages. Even so, the world started to gray around the edges and he could feel the shaky warnings of shock setting in. And if he passed out, that was it. Mark and Sam couldn't make it here in time to save him.

Mustering the strength for one final act, Dean reached behind his pillow and pulled out the salt shaker he had snagged from the food cart as a precaution. "Die, bitch," he grunted, spraying salt across the apparition. Emily's cold eyes met him one final time before she flickered and disappeared. Dean fell back against the pillows, completely drained. She'd be back, he knew, and if he didn't call Mark again and let him know what had happened, he had no chance of surviving a second attack. But unconsciousness was welcoming him and there was no fending it off now. The last sound he heard was the shrill beeping of the hospital monitors, warning him that his life was slowly fading away.

"Dean!" Mark shouted a second time, feeling helpless as the sounds of a struggle and Dean's own pained scream echoed through the phone line. He heard Dean's hospital monitors screeching and then the phone went dead. "Dammit!" he screamed, prepared to hurl Sam's phone into the ground in frustration.

Sam started to stir then, and Mark returned all his attention to the younger Winchester. "Mark?" Sam asked, reaching up to put a hand to his head. "What happened?" he felt a trail of blood dripping down the side of his face and he lightly pressed against where it was originating, wincing at the sharp sting.

"Don't touch that, I think you may need stitches," Mark said gently, moving Sam's hand away from the cut. "It was Bill's ghost," he said in response to Sam's question.

"What?" Sam asked, immediately sitting up. He closed his eyes tightly as the world spun.

"You hit your head on a rock, split it open pretty good."

"Bill?" Sam repeated, slowly catching up and attempting to stand.

Mark put a hand on Sam's back. He wanted to tell the kid to slow down and take his time, but he couldn't get Dean's phone call out of his head. Instead, he nodded. "I don't think he was trying to hurt you, though. I think he was warning us. He just happened to knock you down in the process." Sam turned and looked at him questioningly. "We need to get to the hospital, Sam. I think Dean's in trouble."

That was all Sam needed to hear. Ignoring the dizziness, Sam pushed to his feet. "Emily?" he asked already helping Mark gather the rest of the supplies.

"Yeah," Mark said, obviously pissed at himself. "I should've burned the bodies. I thought the banishing spell was enough."

Sam stopped putting away the supplies to look at Mark. They didn't have time for Mark to feel guilty. "That doesn't matter right now, Mark. We need to get to Dean. Then we can worry about all this."

Mark agreed, quickly gathering the rest of the supplies. They hurried back to the car and Mark sped to the hospital.

Dean was in surgery when they got there, and the only thing the doctors could tell them was that there had been complications. Sam had wanted to argue for more information, but the dizziness and pain from the head wound were too overwhelming and he ended up fainting instead. He came-to in an examination room, a doctor carefully stitching the gash on his forehead.

It took Sam a few seconds to remember where he was and why, but once he did, he immediately tried to sit up, already asking where his brother was. "Whoa, hold up," the doctor - Dr Martinez, as his badge read - pressed a strong hand against Sam's shoulder, forcing him to stay down. Sam didn't have much of a choice and he closed his eyes as the room spun around him.

"Dizzy?" the doctor asked, and Sam just groaned in response. "You have a mild concussion, Mr. Wilson. You need to take it easy for now. Your brother is still in surgery. He lost quite a bit of blood but I think they caught it in time."

"What happened?" Sam asked, struggling a little to sit up again. Instead of holding him down, the doctor nodded for one of the nurses to raise the head of Sam's bed.

"The internal stitches from his surgery opened and he started to bleed out again."

"How could that happen?" Sam asked, knowing all the while that it somehow involved Emily's ghost.

Doctor Martinez shook his head. "We won't know anything more until he's out of surgery. Now, Mr. Wilson -"

"Sam," the younger Winchester corrected.

"Sam," Dr. Martinez repeated impatiently. "You really need to let me finish stitching up your head."

Sam relented, knowing he wasn't going to find out anything about Dean unless he cooperated. "Mark -" Sam started. "My uncle. Where is he?"

"The guy that brought you in? He found out about your brother and then said he had somewhere to be. He left a note for you," the doctor said, pointing to the side table where a piece of paper sat. Sam reached for it but Martinez stopped him. "One more stitch," he promised, finishing the stitch and tying it off. He placed a bandage on Sam's head and removed his gloves, reaching for the note. "Here," he said, handing Sam the slip of paper. "He also wanted me to give you this." Martinez pulled a long metallic bar from his lab coat. "He wouldn't tell me why, but he insisted." Sam took the bar from the doctor, recognizing the material immediately. Iron. "You should try and get some rest for now. You look like you haven't slept in a week. I'll send a nurse to find you when your brother is out of surgery."

Sam agreed offhandedly, distracted by the letter. "Thank you," he called after him, not looking up from the note. It was short and to the point. Mark had gone to burn the bodies and finish the ritual and he instructed Sam to stay at the hospital with Dean, to make sure neither of them experienced any further "complications" from the ghosts. Sam hadn't planned to leave his brother and at this point he wasn't even sure he could physically leave. But he was still annoyed that Mark had deserted him and he couldn't help but feel nervous that something else would go wrong. Still, he knew the bodies needed to be burned as soon as possible.

Ignoring the sign that clearly said no cell phones, Sam pulled out his phone and dialed Mark's number. After five rings, the call went to voicemail. Sam gripped his phone tightly, ending the call. Leaving a message wasn't going to change anything. He pushed up from the bed, intent on finding a nurse to take him to his brother, but fell back almost immediately, his vision spinning and his head pounding. Maybe rest wasn't such a bad idea. Sam leaned back against the pillows, closing his eyes. Just for a minute, he promised himself, before drifting off to sleep.

Mark sat outside the morgue, watching as the coroner locked up the building and headed to his car. The New Paltz morgue was small and, likely due to the lack of manpower on the police staff, wasn't staffed around the clock. Still, Mark knew he had to be careful. The sheriff already didn't like them and with all the deaths and suspicious activity going on, he was sure to be on careful patrol around the town.

A sharp rap on his window made him jump, but he quickly opened the door when he saw who had knocked. "Thanks for coming, Holgrum," he said appreciatively, taking in the older man's appearance. He looked ragged and weary, no doubt drained from their previous night's adventures.

Mark instantly regretted his decision to allow Holgrum to help him out with the salt and burn. It hadn't been Mark's idea - Holgrum had called him asking for an update. When Mark had explained the snag in their plan, he'd insisted on helping. To be fair, Holgrum's life was just as endangered by Emily's ghost as the hunters' - maybe even more so. And it was partially his fault this whole mess had started.

Holgrum nodded, looking around nervously. "How are the boys?" he asked, only knowing vaguely about the complications that had led them to this point.

"On the mend," Mark told him noncommittally. Truth was, he had no idea how they were doing, but he didn't want to share that with Holgrum. "But out of commission," he added in explanation for their absence. Holgrum seemed genuinely concerned and Mark felt a tinge of guilt for his half-truth, but decided to return focus to the task at hand. "So you haven't had any more weird experiences since we last saw you, right? No strange cold spots? No objects moving around?"

"No, nothing like that. It's been so quiet, I assumed you had taken care of everything."

Mark shook his head. "Almost. We need to burn the bodies, though. Emily's and Bill's ghosts are still around, and Emily is at least bent on revenge. As long as she's around, none of us are safe."

Holgrum didn't seem phased by the information. Mark had given him a brief rundown on the phone, but he was still surprised at Holgrum's easy acceptance of the bizarre. He guessed with everything that occurred, the dean was no longer skeptical of the supernatural. "So what do we do?"

"The bodies should still be inside. We're going to need to take them out of the morgue and salt and burn them at the burial grounds."

"Why the burial grounds?" Holgrum asked, shivering slightly at the thought of transporting the body of his one-time friend.

"Honestly, I'm not sure it matters, but I want to be safe. Sam and I performed a cleansing ritual there earlier, and since Bill and Emily both had connections with the Esopus, I think it's best we burn them on the land."

"Alright," Holgrum agreed, still reluctant. "I think we should wait a little longer, though. People may see us."

Mark nodded, knowing Holgrum was right. But dammit, he wanted to finish this now. He had been reluctant to leave Sam, but knew the kid would be able to take care of himself if Emily's ghost came back. Until they burned the bodies, everyone was still at risk. And with Dean in surgery, it could turn into a very dangerous situation. "Okay, then let's gather everything we need and work out a plan. We need this to go off without a hitch."

Sam stirred awake, putting a hand to his pounding head. He took a second to get his bearings before remembering where he was and why. "Dean," he whispered, sitting up, only taking a second to let the dizziness recede before standing up and heading to the nurse's station. The nurse they'd met earlier, the one Mark had been flirting with, recognized him and smiled widely.

"Where's your uncle?" she asked sweetly.

Sam smiled tightly, holding his tongue against the retort he wanted to add. If he wanted information on his brother, he had to be on her good side. "Finishing up a job. He should be here a little later," Sam said instead. "Do you know if my brother is out of surgery? My uncle wanted me to give him an update." Sam added the last part in as an afterthought, hoping that would entice her to help.

Sure enough, she immediately searched the computer for the information. "He's resting," she answered sweetly. "The surgery went well, but he'll be in recovery for another hour or so. I'll let you know when you can see him."

"So he's okay?" Sam asked.

She nodded. "He should be. The doctor will come to talk to you later, though, and give you more information."

Sam nodded. "Thank you so much - Alice," he added, reading her name tag.

She smiled again. "You're welcome. Tell your uncle I said hello."

Sam agreed before heading back to the waiting room. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and stepped outside to try Mark again.

To Sam's surprise, Mark answered on the second ring. "Sam? How are you doing? How's Dean?"

Sam felt his lips quirk up at Mark's obvious concern for the brothers. He really liked the man, and he was glad he'd gotten to meet him. "Surgery went well. I don't have any more details at the moment. Dean is in recovery for now, but at least he's still alive."

"That's great," Mark said, relieved. "We're going to finish up here soon."

"We?" Sam asked, confused. "You're with someone?"

"Holgrum's helping me," he answered, making eye contact with the older man as he said it. "Don't worry, we're taking every necessary precaution."

Sam didn't like the thought of Mark's only backup being the shady dean. In the end, Holgrum had ended up helping them out, but he was still one of the reasons the whole mess had started. "Are you sure? I can come down there and help. I can't go in and see Dean for another hour anyway."

"No, Sam stay there. Until the bodies are burned, you and Dean are still in danger. If you can, keep an eye on your brother. If Emily gets to him again, he's probably too weak to withstand another attack. Did you get the iron bar I left for you?"

Sam shuddered involuntarily at the thought, mentally kicking himself. He hadn't even considered the possibility that she would come back now while Dean was unconscious. "Yeah, I got it. Thank you, Mark. And be careful. Call me as soon as you're done."

"I will. Take care of Dean. I'll see you soon, kid."

Sam hung up, heading back inside. He went back to the nurse's desk and found Alice. "You talk to your uncle?" she said brightly.

Sam nodded, "Yep. He says 'hi,' and that he's really grateful to you for helping us out." Alice smiled widely and Sam paused for a second, waiting to make his request. "Listen, I know my brother is in recovery, but is there any way I could sit with him?" He saw the reluctance on her face and quickly continued. "It's just, I almost lost him twice in the last few days and I...I would just feel a lot better if I could see him. If I could see for myself that he's okay." Sam threw in his puppy dog eyes, hoping they would work just as well on Alice as they did on his brother.

Alice looked around, checking to see if there was anyone who could get her in trouble. She lowered her voice, but Sam knew before she even spoke that she was going to give in. Alice led Sam to his brother. "If anyone finds you in here, don't tell them I said it was okay."

Sam promised her that he'd keep it a secret and walked to his brother's side. If possible, Dean looked even worse than before. But he was alive and he was breathing, and for that Sam was grateful. There were no chairs around, but Sam didn't need any. He pulled out a small cannister of salt and stood watch, just daring the bitch to try something.

Mark checked his supplies for what felt like the thousandth time, making sure they had everything they needed. It was nearing 10 PM and he was ready to get the show on the road. "You ready?" he asked Holgrum. The older man had been incredibly quiet since they'd started the preparations, and Mark guessed the reality of what they were going to do was just setting in.

Holgrum nodded reluctantly. "As I'll ever be," he mumbled.

Mark led the way, circling the morgue to find the back door. He skillfully picked the lock, looking around once more to make sure they were alone before pushing open the door. The building was small and it was obvious the town was unprepared for the number of deaths that had plagued it in the last few months.

They silently walked down the hallway, easily finding the room that housed the bodies. Mark took out his pick, expecting the door to be locked, but instead it easily turned in his hands. So much for security, he thought wryly. There hadn't been any security cameras, either, and Mark was both surprised and grateful. He stepped inside, then beckoned Holgrum to follow.

"Won't the ghosts stop you from taking the bodies?" Holgrum questioned, looking around nervously, as if he expected to see apparitions hidden in the corners of the room.

Mark nodded. "Probably. But we have ways to ward them off. Take this," he said, handing Holgrum a salt shaker. "Salt repels spirits. If you see Emily or Bill or any other spirits, just throw some salt at them. It won't kill them, but it should give us time to move."

Holgrum accepted the shaker. "Are we going to transport them one at a time?"

Mark looked around the small morgue. Ideally, they would only make one trip. But there was only one gurney, pushed into the corner of the room. "Looks like we'll have to make two trips. I would say you could go look for another gurney, but I really don't think it's a good idea to split up."

"No arguments here."

Mark nodded. "Didn't think so. Let's get a move on, then." There were 6 drawers, stacked in two rows of three. The first two were empty, but on the third try, Mark pulled out the drawer containing Bill Watson. Mark heard Holgrum pull in a sharp breath, but he didn't look back. "You okay there, Holgrum?"

"Yea...yeah," he stuttered. "This is just so...surreal."

Mark nodded. "I'm going to need your help lifting him." They got Bill onto the gurney, keeping him covered with a sheet, and wheeled him down the hallways. Mark had pulled his car around to the back of the building, near the woods, hoping it would be less conspicuous. Still, he looked around anxiously as they hurried to the car. There would be no talking his way out of this one if the sheriff showed up.

They managed to get Bill's and Emily's bodies into Mark's car with little difficulty, and Mark let out a breath. Step one was complete. Now they just had to get the bodies to the burial grounds and salt and burn them with no one noticing. Piece of cake.

"Is it strange that Bill and Emily didn't try to stop us?" Holgrum asked when he was seated beside Mark in the car. "I mean, their ghosts?"

Mark nodded contemplatively. He'd been so grateful they hadn't run into complications that he hadn't even stopped to think about it. But now he could've kicked himself. The only reason the ghosts wouldn't have appeared was if they were occupied somewhere else. He took out his cell phone and dialed Sam's number, waiting as his phone continued to ring. "Dammit," he muttered under his breath. He snapped his phone shut, shoving it into his pocket. "We need to finish this. Now."

Sam's legs began to cramp after almost an hour of standing stock-still, just watching his brother breathe. There had been no signs of ghosts, no sudden temperature drops. He was starting to feel his eyes droop closed, but he snapped them back open. If Emily or Bill showed up, things could turn really bad really quickly. He fidgeted with his phone, shifting back and forth on his legs, trying to get the blood flowing. He ached for Mark to call, to let them know that the job was done, that this nightmare was finally over, that he could rest.

Sam had his eyes fixed on the clock on the wall when he caught movement in his periphery. He immediately looked back at his brother, surprised when he saw Dean's fingers twitch. He waited, not sure whether or not his exhausted eyes were playing tricks on him. But then Dean shifted his head to the side, moaning quietly, and Sam was at his side in an instant.

"Dean? Can you hear me?"

Dean didn't respond and Sam fell back on his heels, disappointed. He knew Dean needed to rest, but he desperately wanted to talk to his brother, to make sure he was okay.

"S..Sam?" Dean had his head angled towards Sam, his eyes half-mast and pain evident on his face.

"Dean! Hey man, how are you feeling?" Sam approached his brother's side, ready to get him anything he needed.

"Like I got," he croaked out, pausing to clear his throat, which was sandpaper dry. "Like I got filleted by a crazy bitch." He winced, putting his hand to his side where a new swathe of bandages covered the surgically-repaired wound. "I could feel her fishing around in there, Sammy," he whispered, shuddering. He coughed again and Sam handed him a cup, raising the head of his bed slightly. He frowned when he saw the cup contained ice chips and not water.

"Sorry man, no water yet. You just got out of surgery."

Dean rolled his eyes, but still tipped some ice chips into his mouth, his hand shaking slightly. He reached to put the cup on the side table, cursing when the movement pulled at his stitches.

"Take it easy, Dean," Sam admonished lightly, grabbing the cup from his brother and gently pushing him back against the bed. Dean had his eyes squeezed tightly closed. "What's the damage?" he asked. All he knew was that he felt like shit.

"Internal stitches opened up and you started bleeding internally again. Doctors can't figure out why. You lost a lot of blood, but you should be okay eventually."

Dean could hear the weariness in his brother's voice, and he opened up his eyes to study Sam, only now noticing the bandage that covered Sam's head and the way he looked utterly exhausted and done. And then he remembered the phone call and that dreadful feeling that Sam had been hurt.

"Did she do that?"" he asked angrily, attempting to push himself up farther, to get a look at his brother. "Are you okay? I'm gonna kill her," he muttered.

"Dean! Stop, calm down, I'm fine. I think the stitches were overkill anyway. Doctor's just covering his ass. Besides, it wasn't Emily."

Dean still looked angry, but he seemed appeased slightly. "Bill?"

Sam nodded. "I think he was warning us." A flicker of understanding crossed Dean's face. "About Emily. How'd you stop her, anyway? Last time I saw you, you could barely hold your head up."

"Salt shaker. I uh, stole it from the lunch tray. Just in case."

Sam silently thanked his brother's smart thinking, but cursed himself that it had gotten so close. They had let up their guard and Dean had almost paid the ultimate price.

"Don't beat yourself up, Sammy," Dean said gently, and Sam marveled at his brother's ability to read him so well. "Where's Mark?" he asked after a beat.

That brought Sam's attention back to the current pressing matter. "He ditched me," Sam admitted reluctantly, knowing Dean would be unhappy. "He left me this." Sam pulled out the note Mark had scribbled, handing it to Dean. He watched as Dean scanned the letter, a frown appearing on his face. "He and Holgrum are burning the bodies. He said he'd call when they're done. I don't know man, it's been too long. I'm starting to get worried." He could tell from Dean's expression that his brother was worried too.

"Call him," Dean said firmly.

Sam nodded, pulling out his phone. "No service. Dammit."

"So go outside then."

Sam hesitated, unwilling to leave Dean. "I'm sure they're fine," he said unconvincingly. "I'll call in an hour or so." When you're moved out of recovery, he thought, choosing not to voice that aloud.

Dean looked like he wanted to protest but instead nodded tightly, fingers worrying at the edges of the white hospital sheet. "He better be," he mumbled.

Mark had tried to call Sam three times, but each time it had gone straight to voicemail. He was having a hard time convincing himself that the boys were okay. But he kept his focus on the task at hand, knowing that at this point, getting rid of Emily's ghost was the best way to ensure Sam and Dean's safety.

The field was still deserted, with no sign that anyone had discovered their earlier ritual. Mark pulled his car up to the edge of the field, killing the headlights. He turned to his passenger, noting the older man's fidgeting, nervous behavior. "It's almost over, Holgrum," he reassured him.

He and Holgrum were able to get the bodies out with only slight difficulty, the down-hill trek to the burial site making their work a little easier. "Grab the lighter fluid," Mark instructed, pulling out the incantation he had recited earlier - the one he'd thought would be sufficient to end the curse. Holgrum poured the liquid on the bodies, and Mark began to read the spell.

It was a cold night, and the drop in temperature was almost imperceptible, but Mark's senses were already on high-alert. He sped up his reading, hoping to finish the incantation and burn the bodies before either Emily or Bill showed up.

He was two words away when he saw the flicker of a shape standing over the bodies, a glimmer of light in the darkness. He felt Holgrum trembling beside him, unsure what he should do.

"What do you think you're doing?" Emily's voice was low and eerie, resounding around them like an echo from the depths of hell.

Mark was unphased and continued to read the chant, shouting the last word triumphantly and turning towards the dean. "Light the bodies!" he shouted, seeing the older man frozen in place, eyes fixated on another figure that stood beside Emily. "Holgrum!" he shouted, hoping to break the trance. But the dean was transfixed by the sight of his dead friend, and didn't pay any attention to the warning. Emily was on him in an instant, flinging him across the field.

"Shit," Mark cursed, not only out of worry for his accomplice, but because he now had no lighter to finish the ritual.

He tried to scramble down the hill to reach the dean, but felt the icy tendrils of Emily's ghost holding him back. "You've been a real pain in my ass," she hissed, tightening her grasp on the hunter. "Well not anymore." She plunged her hand into his chest, squeezing tightly. He could feel his body weakening, the pain in his chest nearly unbearable. He was certain his heart was going to explode.

In his last moment of consciousness, Mark saw Bill's apparition beside Emily. The other ghost didn't say a word, but just like that the pain - and Emily - were gone. Mark fell back against the ground, the sudden release of pressure leaving him weak. Bill's image flickered once, before disappearing completely.

Mark stayed on the ground for a moment, catching his breath, trying not to think of how close he'd come to dying at the hands of Emily's ghost. "Holgrum?" he yelled, making his way over to the dean, picking up his pace when he saw Bill's ghost was now standing over the older man.

Holgrum stirred awake. "Bill?"

"I'm sorry," he said simply. "I didn't mean for this…" he trailed off. Holgrum nodded in understanding and forgiveness. "You need to hurry," Bill said, turning to Mark. Mark understood the implication. Emily might not be at the field anymore, but chances were she had gone after the other people involved in her death. The worry filled Mark with newfound strength and he crouched down to help up Holgrum.

"You okay?" he asked, relieved when the man nodded. "Good, let's burn the bodies then. And this will all be over."

Holgrum looked at his old friend one last time, then pulled out the lighter and hurried behind Mark towards the bodies.

"Go call him, Sam," Dean insisted.

Sam had been pacing around the recovery room, hoping to get even the slightest signal on his phone. He had a bad feeling about Mark and wanted some indication that the hunt had gone okay.

Sam turned back, studying his brother. Dean had been in and out of consciousness for the last 30 minutes, his body desperately needing to rest, but his stubbornness not allowing it. He looked terrible now, had taken to stringing together only short sentences to save his energy. Sam had lowered the head of his bed when it became obvious that Dean was feeling dizzy and nauseated from the blood loss.

"I'm not leaving you, Dean," Sam insisted, even though the phone burned in his hand and his fingers itched to dial Mark's number.

Dean pushed himself up on one elbow, wincing in pain and shutting his eyes tightly against the light-headed feeling. Sam took a step towards him, ready to force the issue of rest on his stubborn older brother. "Dean-" Sam was cut off abruptly by the sound of a metal cart crashing behind him. He spun around quickly, but his breath was stolen immediately by the feeling of an icy, vice-like grip on his chest. Emily's figure flickered in front of him, and he was brought back to his first hunt with his brother, when Candace Welch had nearly squeezed the life out of him. Dean had saved him back then and he knew without a doubt he'd do the same right now. Or die trying.

"Sam!" Dean could see his brother pushing himself out of bed, managing to stay standing because, even weak with massive blood loss and two surgeries in the last 24 hrs, it was in his nature to save Sam. And nothing else mattered.

"D...ean," the pressure on his chest was increasing and Sam could hardly breathe, let alone speak. Emily was saying something beside him, and though he couldn't make out the words, he felt chills down his spine at the tone. "Ahh!" he couldn't suppress the cry, not when the pain was so all-encompassing.

"Get off, him," Dean ordered. "You bitch." Sam knew that Dean didn't have salt - he could see the shaker still on the nightstand, some 40 feet away. And the iron rod had been flung to Sam's side when he fell, just out of reach.

But that didn't seem to stop Dean. Because sometimes you didn't need salt or iron to stop a spirit. Sometimes just pissing it off was enough to give you an opening - a chance to get away. What were you thinking, shooting Casper in the face, you freak? Memories of Jericho flashed through Sam's mind. It hadn't been rock salt that had slowed down the Woman in White, just the persistence of his older brother. Hey, saved your ass.

A split second, to gain the upper hand, that was all Sam needed. He could hear Dean goading Emily, trying to draw her attention away from Sam. And then he felt it - the slightest decrease in pressure on his chest, the eyes half turned to look at the person causing the disturbance.

Sam took the opportunity that the distraction afforded, stretching out his long arms to reach for the iron bar. Suddenly, the pressure on his chest released completely, and he fell back, confused. He turned to look for his brother, fear stealing his breath when he saw Dean on his back, Emily crouching over him, ghostly hand hovering over Dean's side, which was started to become saturated with blood.

Sam scrambled to his feet, reaching his brother in an instant and swinging the metal bar through Emily's apparition, relishing the pained cry she let out as she disappeared. He crouched down by Dean's side, pressing a hand against the steadily-growing bloodstain. "Dean, come on, man, talk to me," he insisted, trying to get his brother's attention, to get some reassurance he was okay, that he was hanging in there.

"S...am," Dean choked out, his eyes not focused on Sam. He lifted his right arm to hit weakly at his brother, trying to get him to turn around. "Em," he whispered, unable to finish the thought. But Sam understood, and quickly turned, just as Emily was upon him again, her icy grip trying to finish what she had started.

Sam braced himself for the pain, but it never came. Instead, Emily's ghost went up in flames, emitting a blood-curdling scream that resonated throughout the hospital. Mark, Sam thought, marveling at the perfect timing. He watched until Emily had completely disappeared, needing to make sure that she wouldn't come back, that she was gone for good.

Dean's pained gasp brought Sam's attention back to his brother, who was struggling under the pressure Sam was applying to his wound. "Hang in there, bro," Sam murmured, frustrated that all the commotion hadn't drawn attention to Dean's room. "I need help in here!" he yelled as loudly as he could, feeling Dean flinch beneath his hand.

Sam was convinced he'd have to go find someone, but then a nurse responded to Sam's shouting. Once she saw the state of the room and Dean lying on the ground, Sam applying pressure to his bloody side, all hell broke loose. After that it was a blur of doctors and nurses, and Sam was shuffled out to the waiting room again, with no clue how is brother was doing. He slumped in a chair, leaning his aching head back against the wall. After a minute, he felt a buzz in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, not surprised to see Mark's name on the caller ID.

"Sam? You boys okay?" he sounded out of breath, his voice urgent.

Sam let out a breath, worried his voice would crack. "Dean's in surgery again," he answered. Mark cursed on the other end of the phone.

"I'll be there as soon as possible. He's going to be fine, Sam."

Sam nodded. "I know," he responded, knowing he didn't sound at all confident.

"Hang tight, son. I'll see you soon."

Sam closed the phone and shut his eyes, finally giving in to his body's urgent need to rest.

As it turned out, Dean didn't end up needing surgery again. The bleeding had been a result of his external stitches tearing. Even so, he had still lost more blood and that, compounded with everything else his body had been through over the last few days, made his condition touch-and-go for a while. Sam hadn't left his side, even though he'd gotten into some trouble with the hospital staff after the incident in the recovery room.

"So how did Holgrum handle the whole body burning thing?" Dean asked. He was sitting up in bed, looking so much better than he had in awhile. He wasn't ready to leave the hospital yet, but Sam could finally look at him without thinking he would break.

"He fainted," Mark smirked. "I think it was all too much for him. I haven't seen him since we burned the bodies, but he did give me a trunkload of ancient books to give to you boys."

Dean smiled. "I bet that made you happy, Sammy."

Sam hit Dean's foot lightly. "Laugh it up, Dean. You'll be the one doing most of the research while you recover. Bobby assured me of that." Bobby had arrived in town a few days ago and had been helping Mark clean up the mess left from the hunt.

Dean groaned. "Shoot me now."

Mark laughed, enjoying the return of the lighthearted banter. "Alright boys," he said, standing up, "I'm gonna head out. Got a Werewolf up in the Catskills to take care of."

Sam stood up too, taking Mark's hand and clapping him on the back. "Thank you, Mark. For everything," he emphasized, hoping Mark understood that it was a thank you for the past too, for the times when Sam hadn't been there to watch out for Dean.

"Any time," he said sincerely. "Take care of yourselves. And call me if you need anything. I mean it." He strode to the bed, ruffling Dean's hair. "Good to see you, kid."

"You too, Mark." Dean's voice broke a little, reluctant to see the older hunter leave. "Be careful."

Mark nodded and turned, heading out of the room. Sam watched him leave, chuckling as he stopped to flirt with the nurses on the way out.

"So you ready to blow this joint?" Dean asked, but he didn't try to get out of bed, and there was no conviction in his tone. He knew he wasn't ready to leave yet.

"Yeah, I'd like to see you try, bro," Sam said lightly. Dean didn't answer, and Sam saw the distant look in his eyes, the one he'd seen for so long after their dad had died. "Are you okay, Dean?"

Dean didn't respond, because he truly didn't know the answer. Physically, he still felt terrible, but he felt better. Better than he had when Emily was practically tearing his insides out. Better than he had when he was throwing up blood in a rundown hotel. But every time he looked at Sam, he heard his dad's voice in the back of his mind. He said that I had to save you...and that if I couldn't I...I'd have to kill you. He said that I might have to kill you, Sammy.

Up until now, Dean had thought that this burden had fallen solely on him. But now he had Bobby and Mark, who had made it abundantly clear that they would help. Hell, even Ellen, a woman he hardly knew, seemed to care for the brothers. And Dean didn't feel so alone anymore. For the first time in awhile, he thought maybe things could be okay.

Dean looked up at his brother, seeing the concern in his face. "Yeah, Sammy," he said sincerely, "I think I am."

Finished! Again, I can't apologize enough for the delay. I hope that you liked the conclusion. Thank you again for reading and reviewing. I appreciate it so much. I'd love to hear your thoughts.