He couldn't function. It was like someone had pulled the plug and he was just incapable of finding the drive it took to get going again, to do something, anything. All he could think of doing was to sleep. And once he couldn't do that any more, he just lay there, in mud-encrusted clothes two days old, the pillow under his head having lost its perpetual rose smell to that of grime and sweat and anguish so thick, it was an odor all on its own.

"Dean?" The bed gave a little and he felt the heat radiating off his brother, he was that close. "Come on, man. You gotta get up. You can't just ..."

He didn't want to listen, couldn't stomach the undercurrent of agony in his brother's voice, but if he acted, if he moved, if he did anything other than what he had been doing ever since ... His mind shied away from finishing that thought and he closed his eyes and burrowed deeper into the pillow.

For a long moment Sam remained silent, just sat there and radiated heat. Then he cleared his throat and sniffed, a clear indicator of how close he was to tears. "The funeral's tomorrow," he said quietly. "Izzie made all the arrangements."

It was mad talk, insanity lacing every word. Nothing else could make Sam say those words and hope for anything good to come of it. What would be good about it, after all?

When Sam's hand settled on his shoulder, the truth behind his words hammered through his defenses like a bulldozer flattening a cardboard house and he squeezed his lids shut and held his breath, desperate to keep it all at bay. As long as he didn't acknowledge it, as long as he refused to accept it, it wasn't real.

"Dean ... what happened?"

He froze, felt himself stiffen against that question, and slowly his thoughts started rolling again. The memories of that night intruded on him, but not the ones of the unspeakable. No, what had come before, what had caused this, popped into his mind. He swallowed, shifted a little, then rolled over on his back and stared up at the ceiling. He knew what had happened, knew who to blame for this, and there was something he could do to still the demons of his mind, to exorcize them and send them packing.

"Dean?"

Sam sounded so damned worried. He faced him, met his brother's eyes, and had no idea what he was conveying other than the obvious. Out of numbness came hatred and the all-consuming need for revenge, and he suddenly understood his father's actions so much better. Only he had a choice to leave his kid behind in the arms of caring relatives and he wasn't hunting a demon that had destroyed his world. He was hunting a woman, a very human woman, who had tried to destroy his family before. Well, it was time to put an end to her, time to make sure she never did this again. He had to put a stop to her before she managed to fulfill her agenda and killed Sam.

Sam's expression revealed more than words could. He had no idea what had happened, only knew what had come after. And how could he explain what was going through his mind? How could he possibly convey the depth of the hatred he felt right now? There were no words. Instead he got off the bed and stripped off his clothes on route to the bathroom. He needed a shower, a change of clothes. Tomorrow, he needed to attend the funeral and then he needed to leave. All else would come later. Reaction to the unspeakable would have to wait. The hatred that swelled inside him with every breath he took would fuel this hunt and he wouldn't stop until he found her, until he could wrap his hands around her throat and choke the life out of her. And all the while he could think of nothing to say, could not open his mouth and tell his brother what went through his mind. So he stayed mum.

Sam tried in vain to make him talk a few more times, then left him to it. He left him alone with his dangerous thoughts and that suited him fine. Bobby dropped by later to try and talk some sense into him, but he remained mum, knew he would tell the older hunter what he had in mind if he opened his trap and he didn't want anyone trying to dissuade him from going after Moira MacAvoy.

He kept seeing her, in the rain, that gun in her hands, her eyes bright with hatred and madness in that one single flash of lightening before she was gone, before he lopped off the second troll's head and then lost all will to live. But he needed to do this, needed to find that bitch and make her pay. He needed to do it before the guilt over not having done it before ate him alive.'

***

The funeral passed him by like a bad dream where he was only a spectator. He was vaguely aware of words of condolences. He ignored everybody, just stood there and stared at the white coffin with its slew of red roses on top and couldn't bring himself to think past the moment. He couldn't allow himself to think about what that coffin contained.

He stood by and watched as it sank into the ground with Sam standing next to him. Grace and Bobby and Isabel stood off to one side with the kids and he couldn't look that way either, couldn't risk meeting his daughter's eyes or he knew he would lose his drive. He needed to end Moira MacAvoy. Nothing else mattered.

"Dean," Sam tried and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Look, man, I know this is tough. I know. But ..."

He didn't look at Sam, just kept staring into that hole in the ground, while he raised one hand and undid the black tie. And still he could think of nothing he could say that would explain what he was about to do.

Instead, he turned around and headed toward the exit of the cemetery, eager to get going, eager to get it done. "Dean? Where are you going?" he heard his brother call after him.

"Let him go, Sam. He needs some time on his own," Grace said, her voice fading the further he got away from them. The Impala was waiting for him, packed and ready. He had packed everything and put it in the trunk and he had driven to the cemetery himself. All he could focus on was getting on the road, to find her, to make her pay.

***

Three months later

The silence was almost overwhelming in its own right, Isabel's warm body nestled against him, her arms wrapped around him, and Sam wanted to freeze this moment in time, wanted to stop it from going any further. She shifted a little and sighed and that sigh spoke volumes. She was getting worse, he knew she was. She said nothing, never complained, and yet he knew. All he had to do was look at her to see her pain, to know how much of it she was hiding from him, from everybody.

"Hey," he whispered and kissed her brow gently. "You awake?"

"Uh-huh," she agreed.

He tightened his grip on her, wanted to protect her so badly from all that was threatening her, and in the end he knew he couldn't, not against this. "You okay?" he whispered against her hair.

"Yeah," she whispered back. "Fine." This was followed by another shift and a restrained sigh, one that spoke volumes about how not fine she was.

It tore at him in so many ways that she was suffering and felt the need to hide her pain from everybody. And all he could do was play along because this was how she wanted it, this was her plea to him, to hide it, to pretend, to not let anyone know. But the time had come where he could no longer carry this burden on his own. He knew it was bad, knew it was getting worse all the time, and he figured the time had come for her to get the help she had so far refused.

She moaned quietly, tightened her grip around him, and it was all he could do to keep the tears at bay. "Shh," he whispered and pressed his lips against her brow and just held her. She was in pain now and no amount of drugs could subdue that any more. Not the kind she could take in secret, hidden from everybody. "It's okay. It'll be okay." It was a lie, perfected since he had learned the truth and reluctantly agreed to go with it, to lie to everybody around them, because she had begged him to and he couldn't refuse her anything.

"I know," she muttered against his collarbone and stiffened a little in his grip. The pain solidified her, made her strain against it, and he knew that time was running out, that he had to do something to alleviate her agony at least a little bit.

"Is it bad?" He knew she didn't want to talk about it, wanted to pretend, but how could she pretend now? He could almost feel her pain, it was that intense.

She pressed her cheek against his chest and sniffed. Her hands on his back were chilly. "Yes," she finally consented in a shuddering sigh. "It's bad."

He closed his eyes, fought against the emotional agony surging through him at the thought of what lay ahead. "I'll call the doctor," he whispered and reached for the phone without releasing her.

***

Mercy Hospital
Minneapolis, MN

The waiting was the worst, having to sit and do nothing. The kids were asleep on the bench next to him, Mary Lynne's arms protectively wrapped around her infant cousin even in sleep, and Sam recognized so much of that from his own childhood.

The waiting was going to kill him, but what came after would be worse. Assuring himself yet again that the kids were okay for now, he rose, dug his phone out of his pocket and walked a bit away to not wake them up, before he dialed the number.

"Yes?" The tired voice of his aunt answering this nightly call made his throat constrict. He was going to break a half year silence now, was going to admit to lies he had told, and none of it mattered.

"Grace? It's Sam." He was appalled at how unsteady his voice was, at how close to tears he felt.

"Sam? What's wrong?" Grace sounded instantly alert.

He pressed his lips together, fought for control, then exhaled in a sigh. "It's Izzie. She's in the hospital," he finally managed, his voice as clogged up as he feared it would be.

"What hospital, sweety?"

'God, I can't hold it together if you pity me right now,' he thought, desperately fighting to hold on. He closed his eyes. "Mercy," he pressed out, barely able to speak.

"We'll be there," Grace said. "Just hang in there." With that, the connection broke.

Typical Grace, that. She didn't ask for an explanation. It would come soon enough. And she knew it was important when he called her in the middle of the night. Shaking, he returned the phone to his pocket, returned to the kids and sat back down. How long would it be before the doctor turned up and told him it was all over? Would he be able to see her before the end?

"Sam?"

He looked up to face the doctor, Izzie's oncologist, and the nurse trailing along behind. He got back to his feet, subconsciously wiping his palms on the thighs of his jeans. "How bad is it?"

Dr. Brandon looked drawn. The man liked Izzie. Everybody liked Izzie. Sam had yet to meet someone who didn't. "I think you know," he said quietly.

Pressing his lips together into a thin line, he nodded. He knew alright. He had seen her deteriorate over the last three months. "How long?"

"It's hard to say, Sam. But I don't think it will be long. I think you should sit with her. She's asking for you," Dr. Brandon said. The man kept his distance, didn't offer platitudes, didn't feel the need to grip his shoulder in friendly support, and Sam appreciated that. He was teetering on the edge, about to fall off. Any push in the wrong direction would send him spinning out of control. "Nancy will look after the kids," Dr. Brandon added.

Sam nodded again. "Thanks. Just ... let them sleep. They've had an upsetting night," he said.

"Of course," Nurse Nancy agreed and offered a careful smile before she settled down next to his kids. By proxy, he considered Mary Lynne as much his as she was Dean's right now. For the past three months she had been his after all.

Sam followed Dr. Brandon to Izzie's room. Before he opened the door, the doctor turned back to face him. "It's bad, Sam. I won't kid you. She's in a lot of pain. She should have started pain-treatment a lot sooner."

He nodded and felt that was all he did right now, nod. "I know. But you know what she's like. She wanted to pretend until the end."

Dr. Brandon glanced at the door. "It's going to get worse, Sam. She can't handle the pain much longer. And the dosage we're giving her is as high as she can handle without ..."

Sam nodded again and wished himself away. "She'll let us know," he said. "When it's time ... she'll let us know."

Quietly, the doctor stepped aside and Sam pushed the door to the room open. He knew the sight, had seen it so many times before in other situations with other people. His dad, Dean and now Izzie. It killed him inside a little bit every time he had to sit at someone's bedside and know the end was near. It broke his heart in so many ways he figured he would never heal from it.

She was hooked up to various machines that kept an eye on her signs. And there was that bag of clear liquid, probably the painkiller, the IV hooked into the shunt in the crook of her left arm. And she was awake, her skin waxen, her eyes too big, and she looked so tiny that it scared him. "Hey, baby." She smiled, her hair braided, two bright-red patches on her cheeks that stood in stark contrast to the paleness of her skin. She had spent the entire day with the kids, had kept little JD as close to her as she could all the time, and he knew now that she had said her goodbyes, had known that this was coming.

"Hey," he managed and closed the door behind him. The time for pretending was over. He had lied to himself and everybody around him for six months. He couldn't do it any more, couldn't pretend that this wasn't tearing him apart. His face burned, his eyes itched, and he wanted to open the gates to Hell to find a demon to make a deal with. He wanted to keep her, to make sure she remained alive and happy, to be a mother to her son and to little Mary Lynne as well.

He pulled up a chair and sat down, took her hand in his and just sat there, his eyes swimming with tears. She was strong. She was suffering the torments of hell and she did it with a smile on her lips and the need to protect everyone around her from the knowledge. She was stronger than anyone he'd ever known, including his father and Dean. She smiled at him now, pulled her hand out of his and cupped it against his cheek. She was suffering, and she still had enough to give to comfort him. "I'm sorry," she whispered quietly. "I don't want to leave you."

He forced a smile, cupped a hand over hers and kissed the palm of her hand. "I don't want you to leave," he assured her. "But it's okay. If it's time ... it's okay."

She brushed the ball of her thumb over his lips. "Not yet," she whispered. "I don't wanna go just yet."

He nodded, pressed her hand against his cheek, his lips against the heel of her hand, and wished he knew what the right path was. He had called Elaine, but the Wiccans were out of their depth. There was nothing they could do. It was natural, no supernatural interference here. He had considered asking Bobby, but what could the older hunter really do?

"You have to find him," she whispered.

Sam frowned and focused on her. "Find who?" The instant he asked, he knew who she was talking about.

"Dean. You have to find him. You need each other. You're not whole without him." She smiled vaguely, then her smile twisted into a grimace and she closed her eyes, her fingers curling against his face.

"I don't even know if he's still alive," Sam confessed shakily. "Izzie, I can't do this without you." It was a selfish confession, but he had to make it, had to make her understand how hard this was, how impossible it felt.

"Yes, you can," she disagreed and relaxed a little again. "You're so much stronger than you think. And you're a hell of a dad. I know you'll take good care of JD. And Mary Lynne. And Dean."

"I don't want to do this without you," he whispered.

Her smile would be with him forever. That much he knew. "You've lost so much, baby," she whispered back, her eyelids drooping now. She was tired, worn thin by the pain.

"Rest," he muttered. "Maybe you'll feel better once you've slept a little." The pretense was back on. Anything to stave off the inevitable for just a little bit longer.

Her smile flickered and died as her lids closed, but the machine on the other side of the bed kept beeping and she kept breathing and for a long while he just sat there, her hand in both of his, his lips pressed against her fingers, while he watched her and waited.

***

Grace had that surging feeling in the pit of her stomach that she hated so much. Hospital calls in the middle of the night were the worst. Since driving to Minneapolis would take too long, Bobby had called a friend who had a small plane, which meant they arrived two hours after she had spoken to Sam.

Everything had gone fast from the second she had hung up and until they landed in Minneapolis and she was about ready to shoot someone with anxiety when she stepped into the hospital. Finding Sam turned out to be easier than she had expected though. But she had not expected to find him in the cancer ward.

He was standing in the corridor, next to a bench that held the kids, and he was talking to a doctor. His whole demeanor was on edge despite the calm way with which he held himself. Grace had learned to read between the lines with her boys and their body language spoke volumes to her.

After initial hugs and muttered hellos, Grace grabbed a hold of his face and looked into his eyes. "What is this?" she asked quietly.

Up until now he had kept it together, but she could see how close to the breaking point he was, and her question broke the floodgates. "She's dying," he whispered and broke down. He pulled her close and hugged the hell out of her while he sobbed helplessly.

And all Grace could do was hold him until he got a grip on himself, steadied himself and finally pulled back again. She handed him a pack of pocket tissues and urged him silently to sit down, which he did. She settled down next to him and kept a hand on his arm at all times. "Tell me," she said quietly.

The intake of breath was shuddering at best and he took a moment longer to compose himself before he spoke. "She's got cancer," he nearly whispered. "Stomach cancer. Can't remember the right term."

"Gastric cancer," Grace said quietly. "How long has she had it?"

He fiddled with the pack of tissues, his gaze locked on it without seeing it. "They discovered it when she gave birth to JD. Right after, actually. She didn't want treatment because it would interfere with the breast feeding." His expression tightened. "And she didn't want anyone to know. I didn't know how bad it was. She blew it off, said it was nothing, she would have it dealt with when it was necessary." The tears came again, but he fought them off, then sent a brief look around. "Where's Bobby?"

"He'll be here. He just wanted to drop our bags off at the house," Grace said and brushed her fingers through his hair. "Sam, have you heard from Dean?"

He focused on her and she saw the brief explosion of hope in his eyes. "No. Have you?"

She hated to have to shatter that hope, but the last thing she wanted to do right now was lie to him. It wouldn't help in the end. "No," she said quietly and watched sadly while the hope withered and died and his expression tensed up again. A part of her cursed Dean to hell for not being here, but it was not in her nature to judge before she had all the facts and that cursing part was very, very tiny.

"I can't do this alone," he whispered.

"Well, you're not alone. We're here. We'll help. We'll do whatever you need us to do. I'll take the kids off your hands so you can stay with Izzie." He met her eyes again and the gratitude was overwhelming. She cupped a hand against his cheek. "I'm so sorry."

Her touch set him off again. The tear trickled down his face and she could see how hard he fought to keep it at bay. "Everything I touch dies," he whispered hoarsely.

It stunned her to some degree. She knew that Dean had self-worth issues, issues she had seen diminished to near non-existence after he'd met Michelle, but she had never really sensed these same issues in Sam. With everything this boy had been through, it shouldn't really come as a surprise, she figured, but it did nonetheless. "Nonsense!" She grabbed his face with both hands. "Don't say that, Sam. That's not true."

He blinked owlishly at her, the pain so raw, the agony so open that it hurt just to look at him. "But it is. First mom, then Jess, then dad, now Izzie. And ... Dean," he rasped, then pulled back, out of her grasp. "How long will it be before JD ..." He stopped, couldn't contain the anguish at that thought. "You've gotta take the kids off my hands, Grace. Permanently. Get them as far away for me as you can," he begged and rose.

"Stop it, Sam!" she demanded and grabbed his hands hard, rising to her feet too. "Just stop! This is not your doing. This is not something you caused. And Dean's alive. I know he is. And you're a great father and brother. And Izzie is not dying because of you. These are natural causes." He tried to pull free, but she wouldn't let him. "It's not fair, no, but cancer is not something you cause. I don't care what abilities they've slapped you with. This is not one of them. You hear me?"

"I'm not safe to be around," he muttered and sank back down on the edge of one bench. "I'm just ..."

Grace hunkered down in front of him, her hands on his knees. "Look at me, Sam," she said and he did. "This ... as hard as it is, as painful as it is, is normal. This is part of life. This isn't caused by some demon out to ruin your life." There were so many platitudes she could throw his way, promises that would never be kept, words meant to console, but she knew he needed the truth more than anything. He needed to face the facts before the guilt that seemed to riddle his life tore him to pieces. "You want normal?" she asked. "This is it. This is normal. For better or for worse. You love someone, but love, like life, doesn't last forever, Sam. Nothing does. Nothing is eternal. Everything out there has a life cycle. Everything out there lives and dies. We don't know when and I think that's probably for the best. I know it's hard to face, I know it hurts. Believe me, I do. And I'm not saying you should suck it up and bear it. I'm saying that it'll hurt for a good long while, but there are others out here who need you too. Your son needs you. Mary Lynne needs you more than anything right now. And Dean, when he comes back, will need you. And you're not alone in this. We'll be here, right by your side. You won't have to face this on your own."

Her words started fresh tears and she just pulled him close and held him. Words were so redundant now. She needed to talk to the doctor, get more information, but there was no doubt that the doctor had told Sam all he knew. Gastric cancer was always tricky, especially if it was too far advanced.

***

One week later

Grace was getting tired of funerals. She was getting tired of the lead-heavy feeling the loss of loved ones created. Part of her wanted to run away, to find a place where she wouldn't have to worry about others, where she didn't know what happened to those she cared about. But how could she? Especially now.

To everybody's surprise, Isabel was holding on. She was in a lot of pain, was out cold most of the time, but she was still alive and Sam was clinging desperately to the vain hope that she might beat this yet, that some miracle would make it all okay again. Grace knew that deep down he knew that wouldn't happen, but the illusion kept him going, kept him moving forward.

Bobby was uncommonly quiet. He had taken to the kids like nobody's business and Grace had promised herself that she needed to find out where he got this affinity for children from. He had none of his own, after all. At least none she knew of. Mary Lynne was especially fond of him and he of her. The little girl, nearly three years old now, clung to him most of the time and he lugged her around with him wherever he went.

Grace made certain Sam spent as much time with his son as he could spare, which kept the kids apart for now. But it was better for Mary Lynne to be away from the hospital with Bobby, she figured.

Somewhere something started beeping. Grace looked up and realized that the emergency light over Isabel's door was blinking rapidly. "Oh god, here we go," she muttered and rose.

Nurses and Isabel's oncologist came rushing in and Grace remained in the doorway, out of the way, while she watched with a lump in her throat. Sam stayed with Isabel all the way through. The doctor kept checking Isabel's signs and eventually, he quietly told the nurse to mark the time, then told them all to clear the room.

Grace let them get out before she stepped into the room and stopped at the foot of the bed. Sam just sat there and held Isabel, his expression tight. He looked so damned tired, it was a knife in her heart. She could shower him with platitudes, tell him how sorry so was, but none of it would make any difference.

It took a good long while before he could finally bear to disengage himself from Isabel and it took mere seconds after that before he dissolved into pure grief. Grace eased him onto a chair, pulled another one over and just sat with him until the tears tapered off again and he finally managed to acknowledge her.

All the while she said nothing, just waited for him to take the first step. "Where's JD?" he asked hoarsely.

"With Bobby and Mary Lynne," she countered. "I thought it would be better if they had something else to focus on. He's too little to realize what's going on anyway."

Sam nodded and scrubbed both hands over his face. "I gotta ..." He swallowed, his gaze skipping over the room, settling briefly on the still form on the bed, then moving on. "There's so much to do."

"None of which you have to worry about, Sam," Grace said. "We're dealing with that. All you need to do is take care of your son and yourself."

He grabbed her hand, his grip almost painfully hard. "I couldn't have done this without you, Grace. Thank you."

She refrained from smiling right now. It felt inappropriate in the wake of such misery. "You're welcome, sweety," she said instead and rose. "Now, come on. Let's get out of here so the nurses can finish up. I gotta make a few calls and you need something to eat."

"I'm not hungry," he tried, already well aware that opposing her would do him no good.

"Well, you're still going to eat something anyway," she said and pulled gently at his hand.

He rose, his gaze sliding over to the bed again. "I can't leave her here," he whispered, his voice choked, and reached out to trace his fingertips over Isabel's arm.

"Sweety, Isabel is at peace now. There's no more pain for her. Let her go," she said quietly.

He just stood there for a moment, his fingertips still resting on Isabel's arm, then he nodded and allowed her to guide him out of the room.

***

The funeral came and went and Grace and Bobby remained with Sam and the kids, mainly because Sam didn't seem to function very well right now. If they didn't push him, he stopped moving, would just stand and stare ahead of himself or sit somewhere and stare at nothing. The tears were gone, but the grief was mind-numbing. In part Grace knew it was the loss of Isabel, the loss of another important person in his life, but in part she knew he was also worried about Dean. For four months now, they hadn't heard anything from him. Sam had tried to call a few times, but had always gotten voicemail. The last time he had called, it had skipped the voicemail part, which could either mean that Dean had turned it off or the voicemail box was full.

There was that part of Grace that wanted to find Dean and kick the living hell out of him for ignoring Sam in his hour of need, but she knew that Dean had no idea what had happened. For whatever reason, Sam hadn't left any messages. He kept insisting that something like that shouldn't be learned through a voice message.

"Up and at'em," Grace said and shooed Sam out of the chair he'd spent the past hour in. "Take your son for a walk."

Sam didn't argue. He didn't tell her to back off or leave him alone. He did what she said, but he did it mechanically. The only time he seemed to come alive was when he was with JD, which was why Grace pushed him to spend as much time with his son as possible.

Mary Lynne was quiet, quiet unlike the way she was when things where good. At this point in time, she was sitting on Bobby's knee at the breakfast table while taking a fried egg apart with her fingers.

Sam left the house with JD and Grace finally settled down to have breakfast too. Mary Lynne focused on her for a moment, then raised both hands, showing off her egg yoke yellow fingers. "Daddy?" she asked.

How the hell did she explain Dean's absence to the kid? In Grace's opinion, Mary Lynne understood a whole lot more than they gave her credit for. She was talking, could string together whole sentences that sounded mature and wise, but at times like these she reverted back to baby-talk, using single words. "I don't know, honey," Grace admitted. "I'm sure he'll come back soon. Are you enjoying your egg there?"

Bobby, who was alternating between reading the paper and keeping the girl level on his knee, gave her a look she couldn't identify. "You really think so?" he asked. "It's been four months."

"Whatever he's doing, I'm sure he has a reason for staying away this long," Grace countered.

"If you say so," Bobby grumbled.

Grace knew he had issues with Dean's absence, that if Dean turned up right now, he would probably end up with a split lip or a bloody nose. "I say so," she agreed sternly.

"The fact that he took off like that, without a word to Sam or anyone ..." Bobby grimaced. "I'd just as soon slap him upside the head for that one."

"Yes, I know you would," Grace said. "And when he comes back, that's the very last thing you'll do if I'm there to witness it."

He met her eyes, obviously trying to intimidate her with that steely look of his. "You and what army?" he growled.

"I don't need a frigging army to handle you," she shot back. "What you're gonna do when he gets back - and he is coming back! - is to hear him out before you judge him. End of story. And if Sam's happy to see him and doesn't blame him, neither will you."

Mary Lynne glanced up at Bobby, then back at Grace. "Daddy?" she asked again, a little unsure.

"Yes, we're talking about your daddy, that no-good ..."

"Stop it!" Grace cut Bobby off. "Don't you dare start putting ideas in her head," she warned.

"Those ideas she'll get on her own, Grace. I know he reminds you of your brother and all, but your brother wasn't a world-class dad either," Bobby shot back sternly.

"Yeah, well, at least he was a dad," she countered, then stopped herself before this could go overboard. "From what I understand, you've been more of a father to them than he was, though," she added more calmly.

"Someone had to look out for them," Bobby said. "And your dad is a no-good slacker," he added to Mary Lynne.

She eyed him for a moment, then smiled brightly and continued her quest to tear her egg apart.

Grace watched her for a moment. "The first thing out of her mouth when she sees Dean again is going to be just that. No-good slacker," she claimed.

Bobby actually managed a wry grin at that one. "That I gotta get on tape," he said.

"Join the modern world and grab it on a digital camera instead," Grace suggested.

"Now I know where Sam and Dean get their love for all those electrical knickknacks from," Bobby said and sighed. "You'd better go check on Sam. I don't think he got further than the porch."

She sighed and rose. "I feel so bad for him," she muttered and headed to the front door.

True enough, Sam hadn't gotten further than the porch. He was sitting on the steps, JD on his lap, while he was watching the other house.

Grace settled down next to him. "Any movement?" she asked and glanced at him. Her attempt at a joke fell flat because he didn't respond to it at first.

"You think he's coming back?" he eventually asked and glanced at her.

"Yes, I know he is. Whenever he's finished with what he went out there to do, he'll come back." She didn't need to dial up the conviction, because she believed it completely. Eventually, Dean would come back.

"I don't think so," Sam muttered and enveloped his son in his arms. "I think he's dead."

"Don't say that, Sam. Of course he's not dead. He's just ... I don't know. Hunting whoever did this to Michelle." This was another thing she was getting a little tired of, listening to him berating himself that everything bad that had ever happened in his life was his fault. He kept insisting that it was his fault that everybody around him died. Grace slipped a hand onto the back of his neck. "If Dean is anything like your dad, he needs closure. If he knows who did this ... well, I feel sorry for that person, because ... the look in his eyes when he left the funeral ... that was pure hatred."

"You think he knows who did this?" For the first time since Isabel had died, Sam seemed to come alive a little.

"I think so, yes. Why else would he have looked so determined? And there's a lot of stuff missing from his wardrobe. Where ever he went, he planned it," Grace said. "Why he didn't talk to anyone about it I don't know. I wouldn't have thought it was common for him to go all quiet like that."

JD was busy picking at a button on Sam's shirt and seemed completely oblivious to the mood his father was in. Sam just held him close, which the boy didn't seem to mind at all. "According to dad, he did the same when mom died. He didn't speak for a year, dad said. But he wasn't so distant either," Sam said after a moment.

"Well, that explains it then, doesn't it?" she asked and tightened her grip on his neck a little. "Dean knows that you'll take care of Mary Lynne. And he knows Bobby and I will help out. I think it's better that he left her behind, don't you?"

Sam considered it for a moment, then glanced at Grace. "Yeah, I do," he agreed. "I guess ... technically speaking ... she's my kid now. At least until he ... comes back."

She knew what he was thinking, but she nodded nonetheless. The added responsibility of Mary Lynne might shake Sam up a little bit. "Yes, that's right. Technically speaking, she's your kid until he comes back."

***