Two months later

The call had been clear and concise. Trolls had been spotted in Lakewood Cemetery and they had apparently attacked someone. How the hell the woman on the phone had known to call him wasn't a point Dean really considered too much. She had sounded upset enough to convince him it was real and she had mentioned Bobby by name, which made all the difference.

"Call Sam. Tell him to get his ass out to Lakewood," he said while grabbing what he thought he might need from the hidden compartment in the rear of the hallway closet.

Michelle stood by, arms crossed over her chest, and watched him with a slight frown. "Shouldn't you wait until he gets back?"

"No, I shouldn't. Someone's in trouble out there," he countered, picked up his gun and eyed it for a moment, then stuffed it into the back of his jeans. "Trolls," he growled. "I'm getting pretty fed up with trolls."

"Dean," Michelle tried, but he stopped her by turning around to face her.

"Chell, babe, it's not that big a deal. Just call Sam, tell him to get to Lakewood and we'll take care of it. This is what we do and you know that," he said.

"I know," she agreed and relented. "Just ... be careful, okay?"

He smirked. "Aren't I always?"

"No, you're not always careful," she muttered, then rolled her eyes.

He couldn't help a chuckle. "Chell, babe, I love you to bits. You know that. There's no way I'm going to get killed by a damned troll. We've spent the last three years hunting and killing them and the worst I've ever gotten out of that was the cut I had on my palm the first time I met you."

"Yes, I know that," Michelle said. "And it was raining like this that night too. I have a bad feeling, okay? I know you have to go and I know this is what you do, but I can't help worrying."

He grabbed her face with both hands. "Stop worrying. Nothing's gonna happen," he said and kissed her. "Don't wait up. It could get late." With that, he grabbed the duffle and left the house.

He did love her to bits for worrying about him like she did. What he loved even more was what the relief of his safe return did to her. He grinned expectantly and swore he was going to get those damned trolls out of the way as fast as he could.

***

Despite every word of reassurance, despite all the previous successful hunts, Michelle couldn't stop worrying. She hated it when he went after prey that big. The smaller things were just as dangerous, but trolls ... well, according to the tales the guys shared after their hunts, trolls were huge and that worried her beyond reason.

"Mary Lynne," she said and turned back to face the toddler sitting on her play mat in the middle of the livingroom floor. "Let's go over to Auntie Izzie's." If she had to worry, she at least wanted to worry with Izzie close by.

And, as usual, her best friend was waiting for her with a calming smile, her infant son cradled in her arms. "I was wondering when you two would turn up," she said with a smirk.

"Don't get cheeky with me, Izzie," Michelle warned, but couldn't help a smile. "Dean wants me to call Sam and tell him where to go," she added and closed the door behind her.

"Call Sam? Why? He's already on route to the cemetery," Izzie countered.

Michelle briefly eyed her friend and noted that she looked a little tired, a little frayed. But then, babies did that to you, didn't they? "Why does Dean want me to call Sam if Sam's already going there?"

Izzie turned back to face her. "I don't know. Sam called about fifteen minutes ago, said someone had called him with a plea for help and to tell Dean to meet him there."

Michelle sighed. "Whoever the caller is, they're covering all bases, aren't they?" she mused, then shrugged. "Well, good. That means I don't have to try and get a hold of that flighty boyfriend of yours," she said and settled down on the couch. Mary Lynne wiggled out of her arms and waddled over to Izzie, reaching her arms up. She didn't want to be carried, she wanted her cousin. Izzie smiled and put the baby down on the blanket on the floor.

"What I don't get is why there should be trolls in Lakeview. It's a tiny cemetery," Izzie said and settled herself comfortably on the couch.

Michelle frowned. "You mean Lakewood, right?" she asked.

"No, Sam called and said he was heading to Lakeview Cemetery," Izzie countered. "Are you telling me that Dean's heading to Lakewood?"

"Yes, that's what I'm telling you," Michelle said, pulled her cellphone from one pocket and speed dialed Dean's number. It went directly to voicemail. "Shit," she muttered, which caused a giggle from her daughter. She gave the girl a warning glare, which had about as much effect as it had on her father. "I'm sure Dean said Lakewood."

"And I'm sure Sam said Lakeview," Izzie intoned. "Which one's wrong?"

Michelle glanced at the windows and the rain coming down in torrents out there while that bad feeling intensified. "I think Dean's got the right cemetery. Lakewood has been their base of operations for the past three years. That's where the trolls usually turn up," she mused, then met her friend's serious eyes. "He's going up against trolls alone, Izzie. I need to get a hold of him, warn him."

"What are you gonna do, Chell? Go after him?" Izzie enquired, her tone disclosing how silly she thought that idea was.

But it put the idea in Michelle's head. "That's exactly what I'll do," she agreed and got up. "Watch the kids, will you?" she asked, to which Izzie nodded. "And call Sam and tell him to get to Lakewood as fast as possible."

"You're nuts, Chell. You're not a hunter," Izzie proclaimed and got up. "What if you get in the way of one of those trolls?"

"I won't. Besides, Dean's there to make sure it doesn't happen. Call Sam," Michelle insisted and left the house again to get her coat and car keys.

The drive to Lakewood took longer than she liked because of the weather, but she was relieved to find Dean's Impala sitting in the parking lot. Slightly annoyed by the continued downpour, she got out of the car and hurried into the cemetery, then stopped to listen. According to Dean, trolls announced their presence by roaring. They weren't exactly stealthy creatures.

She blinked water out of her eyes and strained her ears to hear something above the rain and the distant sound of cars. And then she heard it. It sent a chill through her, the thought of finally seeing what it was Dean was up against. Content in the knowledge that she might one day make a good hunter too, she headed in the direction the roar had come from and soon found a scene which stopped her dead in her tracks.

"Come on, you ugly-assed bastard!" Dean stood on the muddy path, a machete in each hand, his back to her, and the creature he was taunting just took her breath away.

"Holy crap," she muttered. Trolls were big. Huge, even. Ugly as sin, too. It reminded her of far too many movies with weird critters in them. And this one was carrying a huge hammer too.

"What are you waiting for, you dim-witted piece of crap?" Dean yelled.

The troll roared hatefully and started moving. It was like watching a huge boulder rolling down a mountainside. It just picked up speed and thundered toward Dean, both its heads down, its massive body hurtling forward in a rather uncontrolled line.

At the last possible moment, Dean veered out of the troll's trajectory and swung both machetes upward, which lopped the troll's heads off. The body hurdled onward for a few more steps, then hit the ground, feet and hands still moving.

Dean turned to follow its course and stopped short when he caught sight of her. "What the hell are you doing here?" He sounded stunned more than angry.

"I took Mary Lynne over to Izzie's. She said Sam had received a call too and that whoever it was sent him to Lakeview, not Lakewood," she said and glanced at the huge body.

"What?" He started toward her, soaked to the bone. "Why the hell ..." He stopped right in front of her. "Chell, you gotta get out of here. Trolls may be dim-witted, but they're still big enough to cause serious damage," he added.

Michelle opened her mouth to respond when she caught movement behind him further up the path. Lightning chose that moment to brighten the sky and she felt her heart constrict at the sight of that woman, who had a gun aimed at Dean. Her response was instinctive, the need to protect the man she loved, so she grabbed his shoulders and pushed him sideways. He had no idea what was going on and allowed the move the same second as the shot rang out, which was accompanied by the roar of another troll nearby.

***

There were three things that slammed into him at once with enough force to topple a skyscraper. The look in Michelle's eyes, the sound of another troll roaring and the gunshot. Her instinctive reaction to push him out of the way had devastating consequences when her head snapped back and then she fell, her hands slipping off his shoulders, and he couldn't think for a moment. Then the second troll bashed him out of the way, threw him into the bushes along the path. He heard another shot while he struggled back to his feet, noted the shooter and identified her mechanically, then charged the second smaller troll and took its head off in one smooth go.

And then the world stopped revolving. The rain pelted the ground, the troll bodies lay across from each other and the three heads had rolled in three different directions. Thunder boomed overhead, followed by another flash of lightening which briefly lit up the scene in stark contrast.

He was running on auto-pilot right now, observing things with clinical clarity, noted that the shooter had left - probably because of the troll - noted that the trolls were not going to get back up and then he stopped functioning, because the last part of recent events was the part he neither could nor would acknowledge.

The machetes dropped out of his hands, hitting the muddy path with wet splats. He started moving, his feet feeling lead-heavy. Any drive he'd had was gone. Any will to move on had evaporated. He couldn't think, because thinking would lead to devastation. He was stunned, felt caught in that moment of surprise when the troll's massive fist had connected with his sternum and he had felt his feet leave the ground. He didn't even feel the wet and cold mud when he dropped to his knees beside her, didn't register the squelching sound. She was just lying there, in the mud, rain soaking her to the bone, her blonde hair fanned out around her head, her eyes open and staring while raindrops hit them over and over again. All he could think was: 'Why doesn't she blink? She's getting rainwater in her eyes. Why doesn't she blink?'

***

Sam had driven as fast as he had dared, a bad feeling brewing in the pit of his stomach. The heavy downpour intensified when he reached the parking lot, saw the Impala and the Prius, both cars familiar, and his concern for what he was going to find when he arrived grew proportionally.

The Cherokee came to a skittering halt when he slammed on the brakes and he was out the door before the car had completely stopped. It hadn't rained like this in over two years and he was quickly drenched when he stormed in through the gates to the cemetery, desperate to find his brother and the scourge he was facing. He heard a gunshot, then a roar in the distance, then another gunshot, and he immediately changed direction toward the sound. The rain obscured visibility, cutting it down to a few feet and he had no idea what he was walking into until he came to a skittering stop on the already muddy ground.

For a second he just took in the scene. Two trolls, one of them massive, were lying on the ground, headless. The bigger one had been a two-headed monstrosity, but they were both down for the count, their heads too far away from their bodies to do them any good any more. It would take a bit before the bodies started to disintegrate and about half an hour before the heads followed in their wake.

The reason for that it took him this long to focus on his brother was because he knew he would have to acknowledge what he had only glimpsed upon arrival. Finally, though, he focused on Dean, who was kneeling in the mud next to the unmoving form on the ground. He wasn't touching her, just knelt there in the pouring rain and stared at her.

Sam swallowed convulsively. It was dark and the torrential rain was cutting down on visibility, but he didn't have to see exactly what Dean was staring at. He knew. Some part of him knew that the worst possible scenario had happened. "Dean," he tried and had to clear his throat to be heard.

A slurping sound followed by a crackling that sounded like small twigs breaking under a heavy weight briefly distracted him away from what he as of yet did not want to acknowledge. The troll bodies were breaking down and would soon leave no sign of the massive creatures other than some odd, greenish slime. But even that the rain would take care of.

He took a hesitant step forward, not sure how to react. "Dean," he tried again, this time a bit louder.

Whether Dean hadn't heard him or had chosen to ignore him in favor of the gruesome sight he was staring at was beyond Sam and it really didn't matter much anyway. All that mattered was the body on the ground and the rigidity of his brother's posture.

Sam glanced over at the massive hammer, which would remain as the only proof of the troll, while he tried to piece the scene together in his mind. He wanted to dig his phone out and call an ambulance, but he didn't have to be a doctor to know that no human means would ever make this right again. Even in the darkness and the rain, he could see the hole in her brow, the black spot leaking blood down the side of her face. In want of words that would make a difference - because there were none - he stepped up beside Dean and grabbed his shoulder. Dean himself looked like he'd had a run-in with that hammer and Sam knew how cops looked at things like that. The fact that Dean was here, armed, looking like he had been in a massive fight, and there was no other proof around that this had been anything but premeditated murder, would convince the cops instantly of Dean's guilt. They didn't know him, didn't know that he would rather kill himself than ever hurt family, and that alone kicked the practical part of Sam into gear while he observed the scene in the light of logic because it was the only way he could stop himself from breaking down right now. The loss of Michelle would be hard enough to bear, no doubt about it, but the real killer was what this had to be doing to his brother.

With sudden determination and the knowledge that he had to take charge of this or they'd be here until Judgment day, he grabbed a hold of Dean's arm and hauled him to his feet. "Get out of here. Go home, Dean. I'll handle this," he said and yet again had to clear his throat of the lump that kept insisting on blocking his voice.

Dean just stood there and stared down at her, not moving, and Sam felt the greatest urge to slap him to make him snap out of this funk he was in. But he didn't. He had no intention of adding insult to injury right now. What was necessary was to get Dean out of here and then call the cops. There was no question that this hadn't been an accident and they couldn't just make her body disappear. Too many people would notice and Sam had the distinct impression that Dean would violently oppose that idea anyway.

Practicality aside, Sam knew he had to act before he reacted. "Go home," he insisted and pushed Dean in the direction of the exit. For a few seconds his brother lingered, then he turned and walked away and he didn't look back even once. Sam assumed he was shell-shocked, that the reaction to this would come once he pulled himself together, and Sam intended to be there when that happened. But he needed to deal with the practical side of it first.

He stood still for a moment and listened, hoping he might be able to hear the Impala's engine roar to life, but there was nothing but silence out there. Silence and rain. Then he shifted his attention back to the form on the ground and he struggled against his surging emotions yet again while digging his phone out of one pocket. He dialed 911 and let the barriers fall.

***

By the time the cops showed up, the troll bodies had turned to sludge and Sam had moved the heads into some bushes to avoid them being detected. It would be too damned hard to explain what they were and he was having a hard enough time keeping it together as it were. The majority of law enforcement officers did not believe in the supernatural, even after the events that had taken place a few years ago, and there was no sense in testing whether they would understand or not.

There were a lot of questions and confusion. The cops instantly determined that the murder weapon was a gun and Sam was grateful that he'd left his firearms at home. Guns did no good against trolls, after all, and that was what they had been after. Unarmed as he was and with a cover story in place that sounded plausible, the cops didn't even suspect him of this crime. The paramedics turned up and eventually managed to move Michelle's body onto a gurney and carried her out of there. The cops wanted to talk to Sam some more and he was really in no condition to refuse them right then.

Once at the police station, he answered distractedly, stuck to saying yes or no at appropriate places, gave them a bullshit story about Michelle having called him because of the weather and that her car had broken down just when she had reached the cemetery and that she had told him she'd be at her parents grave site and that he had found her there, dead, with that hole in her head. And he asked what had done it, pretending to have no prior knowledge of gunshot wounds, and the cop he spoke to explained it quietly and gently. And Sam cried, unable to keep the sorrow and hopelessness at bay. It wasn't a matter of being convincing, because he felt it all.

They asked him about potential enemies, wanted to know if Michelle had any, and he stuck to the story and said that she had met a lot of people through the ER. He laid it on thick, questioned the sanity of humanity and groaned at the thought of having to tell his brother about her death. Finally, after a few hours of questions that left no room for accusations, they finally told him he could go and asked if they should send an officer out to tell Dean about it. Sam told them no, he would be the bringer of the bad news, and the cop actually looked relieved, that son of a bitch.

He was still soaked to the bone, but had no sense for his own discomfort. Instead he got behind the wheel of the Cherokee, which one police officer had driven to the police station for him - they had decided that he was too upset to drive at the time and he actually had been - and drove home. In the commotion, he hadn't been attentive enough to check if the Impala had been gone, but he thought it had been, so he expected to find Dean with Izzie and was a bit surprised to find the house dark.

Izzie turned up when he stepped inside, blinking sleep out of her eyes. "Why so late?" she asked, then eyed him critically. "You're soaked."

Sam just stood there and stared at her and she obviously realized something was wrong. "Where's Dean?" he asked instead of replying.

She met his eyes, hers widening a bit with growing concern. "I don't know," she said. "Michelle brought Mary Lynne over earlier, said she had to catch up to him. Something about a call." Her brow wrinkled in a frown. "Sam, what's going on?"

"Shit," he whispered while his gaze roamed aimlessly over the hallway for a moment without seeing it. Then he met her eyes again. "Iz ..." He stopped, that lump rising in his throat again, and he pressed his lips together into a thin line. "Shit," he repeated, cleared his throat and took a step toward her. "Chell's dead."

She gave a hesitant little snort, the corners of her lips quirking upward in an attempt at a smile, telling him that she didn't believe what he was saying, no sir. But the smile died before it even came into existence and her expression turned stony while she shook her head lightly. "No," she said, her tone steely with conviction. "No, she can't be. She was okay just a few hours ago. She was ... no. No, please, tell me it's not true. This is a joke, right? A bad, bad joke?"

It broke his heart. Michelle had been like a sister to Isabel, they had been through almost as much together as he and Dean had. He sucked in air, tried to steady himself. "I'm sorry, but ..." He couldn't repeat the words. They were too painful. "No joke," he whispered instead.

She clapped both hands over her mouth while her eyes overflowed and all he could do was to pull her into a hard embrace and hold her. She shivered in his arms, pressed against him and shivered, and there were no words to cover this, no platitudes that would make this better.

He gave her time to calm down a little while he couldn't help thinking about where Dean was. Had he gone home? Was he next door? Or was he out there somewhere, walking around? Or had he found a bar and was drinking himself into oblivion? "Iz," he whispered into her hair. "I need to find Dean. He was there when it happened. He's ..." He trailed off, not sure what Dean was right now.

She nodded, pushed back and sniffed. "I'll stay here with the kids," she said, her voice heavy and thick with sorrow.

He wrapped his hands around her face and kissed her brow. "I'll be back as soon as I find him. I just can't leave him alone right now."

"Go. Find him," she agreed and grabbed his wrists. "Be careful, Sam."

It was her mantra, something she said whenever he stormed out the door to go hunting with his brother and he always took it to heart. He had grown more careful since meeting her, had become much more aware of the dangers lurking out there, and he had upped his vigilance over his brother as well. The thought of having to return home to let Michelle know something had happened to Dean had been an impossibility. He had never envisioned it the other way around, though.

Now that it had happened, he could honestly admit that he had no idea how to handle the situation. He strode across the lawn to the next house and let himself in with his key. "Dean?" he yelled, hoping against hope that his brother was just sitting in the dark, trying to come to terms with the loss. But the house was empty and Sam couldn't sense Dean anywhere near. "Shit," he muttered again, turned right around and left the house again.

***

He drove around all night, from one place to another, searching for his brother. He checked every single bar he knew Dean had ever been to in town without luck and he was more than a little distraught by the time he finally found him. How Dean had managed to get halfway across town in the driving rain without his car - the Impala was still sitting at the damned cemetery - was beyond him. But he had to admit to himself that seeing Dean sitting there on a bench raised an overshadowing sense of relief in him.

Well aware that he himself didn't look too good at this point in time, it was still a bit of a shock to see his brother. Dean was pale and soaking wet - the rain had persisted most of the night - and he just sat there and stared ahead of himself.

Sam approached him cautiously, well aware of how volatile his brother could be under such circumstances, but finally he settled himself next to him. A part of him wanted to yell at Dean for disappearing like this, but he understood it too. It scared him like nothing else could though, that Dean just sat there and stared, that he didn't react. He didn't look like he had shed any tears either. "Dean," he tried, not sure what to say at first. And Dean said nothing, just sat there and stared. "Look, man ... I'm sorry." And there it was, wasn't it? He felt guilty because he hadn't gotten there fast enough, because he had taken it slow because of the weather. "I ... I'm so damned sorry," he nearly whispered and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. Not that it gave him any warmth. It was chilly this morning and his clothes were still damp. Dean's were dripping wet and muddy.

He had expected something. Maybe an angry outburst, maybe even a fist to the chin, but Dean didn't respond. He just continued to sit there.

"Man, you gotta snap out of it," Sam tried. "We need to get home and get dry. It's freezing out here."

And still there was no reaction.

It took Sam precious moments before he could decide what to do. He wasn't used to taking charge where Dean was concerned, wasn't used to being the one that took point. But Dean was unresponsive and they couldn't just sit here. After a moment, Sam rose, took a hold of Dean's arm and hauled him to his feet. Again he expected a reaction, either angry or upset, but he got none apart from that Dean got in the car himself. But he was mum and he had yet to look at Sam.

Once they got back home, Dean got out without a word and walked toward his own front door. Sam followed him halfway up the path, then stopped dead. "Dean," he tried. "What about Mary Lynne?" He knew it was unfair, that he shouldn't drag the kid into this right now, but he needed Dean to react in some way. Dean's gait hitched, but only for a second. Then he let himself into the house and closed the door almost quietly behind him.

Sam just stood there and stared at the heavy oak door with it's intricate patterns carved into the heavy wood, patterns that to most looked like decoration, but served as a block to anything evil that might want to enter their homes. Dean had effectively slammed the door on him, no matter how softly, the soft tick of the lock clicking shut telling him without words that he should stay away right now.

Defeated by nothing but a turned back and a closed door, Sam slowly turned and headed toward his own home and his girlfriend and the two kids. Mary Lynne was two and a half years old and smarter than Sam thought she had any right to be. But would she understand that her mother was gone and that her father had hit rock bottom? Mary Lynne clung to Izzie as much as she did her own mother, but would she understand that she wasn't coming back?

He stopped in front of his own front door and stared at it. It was adorned with much the same patterns as the oak door next door. It would seem, though, that no matter where they went, evil would always find them and tear them down. He reached a slightly trembling hand out to touch the wood, the carvings, then leaned forward and pressed his brow against it, unable to go in, to face the devastation one single shot had left in its wake. Nothing short of a demon deal would be able to bring Michelle back and there were no demons around any more to make deals with.

For the next few days, he would have to be strong, would have to keep the family together and sane. He had his own issues to deal with, but they were less important right now. What was important was to prevent his brother from spiraling down so hard, there would be a loaded gun at the end of it.

He bolstered himself, pushed back a little, then opened the door and stepped in. Izzie was there, with Mary Lynne in her arms, and she looked terrible, pale and drawn like she was in physical pain. "Did you find him?" she asked quietly.

"Yeah." He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the hook inside the door, then turned back to face her. "He's at home right now. I think he wants to be alone."

"He needs time, Sam," she tried, valiantly trying to be strong. Izzie wasn't exactly that. She was a bit naive, a bit gullible, but she was sweet and open-minded and willing to take precautions others would think were ludicrous, and she loved him. And that was all that mattered in the end. She was smart in all the ways that mattered and she was funny and hard to shock. She was a great mother and a wonderful friend and she loved her job and her life despite the persisting danger. Some part of him had hoped that this life would last forever, but he realized now that he had always known, from the very first time he had laid eyes on her and felt his heart flutter, that there was no such thing as a happy ending for a Winchester.

"I know," he agreed quietly. "I need to get out of these clothes. I'm still wet," he added and briefly stopped to kiss her, to let her know he was as fine as he could be given the circumstances, and it seemed to settle her a little when he stuck to the routine of their life together. "I'll be right back. I need to call Bobby and Grace. And ..."

"That cop you talked to called. He wanted to know how to handle the body," she said, her voice small and strained. "I'll deal with it, Sam. You take care of Dean. He needs you right now."

That was why he loved her. She knew when to take part of the burden, knew when he needed space. It brought tears to his eyes and he nodded mutely because he didn't trust his voice right now. They needed to deal with this, needed to make all the arrangements, because it was a given at this point in time that Dean wouldn't. And Sam understood that at least. If Dean took action, if he made the arrangements, he would have to acknowledge that Michelle was gone and Sam knew it would break him in two.

What worried him even more, though, was Isabel's reaction. Michelle had been like a sister to her. They had grown up together, Michelle had stayed with Isabel and her parents after Michelle's parents had passed away. And Isabel just took control? He couldn't even tell if she had cried.

"I'll grieve when the time is right," she said, obviously able to see what was going through his mind. "If I give in now, I'll have a breakdown."

Despite his sodden clothes, he pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. "I'm so sorry, Iz," he whispered.

"Don't," she begged against his chest. "I need to keep it together until the funeral is over at least."

He just held her and feared the future. Dean's reaction to losing Michelle was pretty much the same he had mustered at four years old when mom had died. According to dad, he had stopped talking and hadn't opened his trap for a year. But Sam couldn't focus solely on his brother. He had to focus on Isabel as well. "Anything I can do, you just tell me," he said and pulled back. "You hear me? You're not carrying this burden alone."

Her smile was pale, her complexion ashen, and he knew that this was more than grief shining through. She was a fighter, as tiny as she may be. But some things even her tenacious nature could not overcome. And if there was on propellant for disease in this world, then grief was it. "Go get out of those wet clothes before you catch a cold," she countered, shoving his concern aside. Like she always did.

"Isabel," he tried, but she cut him off by raising one hand.

"I know. Just ... we have to get this over with first, okay? I can't function if I give in to this right now. Let's just ... do what needs to be done first. Please?" she begged. And when had he ever been able to deny her anything?

"Okay," he relented and withdrew to change his clothes.

***