It wasn't so much the thought of revenge that drove him as having to settle a score that would prevent Michelle from lingering in this world. Over the years he had laid too many spirits to rest that had stuck around because their deaths hadn't been avenged. He didn't want her to be like that, didn't want her to linger because her killer was still free. It was a single-minded determination that drove him, made him walk out right after the funeral and drive off without a word to his brother. He knew Sam could take care of the kids, knew without the shadow of a doubt that if Sam needed help, he had help. Grace and Bobby were there after all. And Mary Lynne was better off without him right now anyway. The way he felt wasn't healthy, the all-consuming hatred for a woman who had first hurt his brother and now killed the one woman he had considered spending the rest of his life with was destroying his soul inch by excruciating inch.

His mind was on one thing and one thing only; tracking down Moira MacAvoy and making her pay. All else came second, nothing mattered more than this right now. And it took time. It took precious time where he ignored the vibrating phone in his pocket and the odd looks the occasional diner guests sent him when he strode in to get something to go before he moved on. He slept in the car, he beat the living hell out of several people who knew Moira, and in the end his ruthlessness paid off. He had a solid lead on her and he was gonna make her pay. For the pain she had caused him and his daughter and his brother, for the life she had taken, for the peace she had shattered.

And when he finally came face to face with her, when he finally looked into her eyes and saw no remorse for her actions there, he felt nothing but a soul-deep yearning to finish this, to get it over with so he could go home. Having taken her by surprise after shoving her car off the road and into a tree, he drove her backwards into a lamppost, right arm pressed against her throat, left hand cutting off the circulation to her right hand, making her grip on the gun she had managed to draw falter. He squeezed harder, saw her flinch, felt the weight of the gun slip from her hand. "Been looking for you," he snarled. He had hated Bela for being a manipulative bitch, but she'd had a reason for it. Moira's only reason was being a professional hunter.

Her desperate attempt to push his right arm off her throat was almost comical. "Fuck you, Winchester," she spat, her voice breathy from the lack of air.

"Not if you were the last female standing, you bitch," he bit out. "I wanna make you hurt. I wanna draw this out so you can feel what you've done. To me, to Sam, to everybody around us. But I'm not going to. And you know why?" He leaned in close, had his body pressed against hers to avoid her lethal knees putting a dent in his plan, and just stared hard into her eyes. "You're not worth it," he whispered. "You're not worth the time it would take to make you suffer. You're a fucking bitch and all you really deserve is a bullet to the brain."

"You're just as bad as that freak of a brother of yours," she hissed out.

"And you're dead! You just don't know it yet," he countered evenly and for the first time ever really truly understood his father, understood the drive that had kept his dad on the road for all those years. Of course, his quest for vengeance would be over tonight. For John Winchester, it had taken a lifetime. Releasing her right wrist, he pressed harder against her, and the idea of brutal rape crossed his mind, but that would be to defile what he had lost. He never wanted to associate sex with this creature before him. Moira felt his intent, her eyes widening, her lips moving, and he wanted to beat the hell out of her for that look, for the fact that she obviously liked it rough, that she expected him to do something like that. And that was all it took to change his mind. Suddenly fully aware of what he needed to do to settle this, he reared back, released her, gave her a chance to run. He pulled back far enough to be out of harms way and glared at her.

She coughed and sputtered, brought one hand up to cover her bruised throat, then focused on him, her gaze hateful. "What's the matter? Can't get it up?" she snapped hoarsely. "I am actually sorry I shot that chick. Not her fault that she has lousy taste in men," she added. "And I was gunning for you, after all. You and that freak of a brother of yours. How's he doing, by the way?"

The anger simmered down, bled out of him completely, and he just stood there and stared at her, cold inside and out. There was nothing, apart from the demon that had destroyed his family, that he hated more than her right now. She was the sole recipient of his unadulterated hatred and, come Hell or high water, he was going to end her tonight. The question just remained how, and right now it was up to her. If she kept spouting crap, he was going to beat the crap out of her, beat her into a pulp and string her up. If she ran, he was going to shoot her in the back, preferably wound her first before he took her out completely. Whichever scenario came to pass, he would make certain she was dead before he left her.

Her expression made him think she wasn't going to run, though. She stared at him, hatred and anger in her eyes, and some part of him wondered if she wanted him to kill her. Was that remorse? Was she sorry for killing Michelle? "Who the fuck do you think you are? Snotnosed little brat like you?" she snapped, shattering any illusions he was building that she might be a caring human being somewhere inside. "Your brother has been a party to destroying half the human population of this world and you dare threaten me?"

He snorted coldly. "Without Sam, there wouldn't be anybody left for you to take a shot at, you stupid bitch," he snarled. "If it wasn't for him, you and everybody else would be dead and roasting in Hell. But you never stopped to think, did you? You never considered that there might be another side to this, did you? So, instead you crippled my brother, you nearly killed him, and you killed ..." He stopped, unable to say what needed to be said. He hadn't voiced it yet and something inside him balked at doing that. If he did, it would become truth, it would be more real than seeing Michelle's body on the ground, more real than seeing her casket being lowered into the ground, and knowing that he would never again see her smile, never again hear her laugh or feel her touch.

The feelings, thick and heavy, climbed up through him, forcing out air and blood alike, and all he wanted was to make it stop, to stop the pain, because remembering was agony, thinking was devastation, and he needed to make it stop before it tore him apart from the inside out.

"What? Killed your little bitch?" Moira snarled.

He landed the first punch before he was consciously aware of even taking the swing. The impact broke her nose and blood spattered downward, soaking into her top and smearing on the hand still covering her bruised throat. And once he got going, he couldn't stop again. He laid into her like nobody's business, breaking the one rule he had always upheld to a T; never hit a woman unless she's possessed. She never had a chance to object, to let her feelings be known, and he didn't care one lick what was going through her mind right now. He didn't care if she was sorry, didn't care if she repented. All he cared about was hurting her, because it took some of the pressure off him, took some of the pain away.

So he kept going until she stopped moving, until she was on the ground, bloodied and beaten, but still alive. He left her lying there, on the side of the road, and strode back to his car to get a length of line. She hadn't moved much when he stopped beside her again and for a moment, he just stood there and stared down at her. Common human decency would dictate that he should leave now, just forget about it and go home. But how could he? She was a monster and there was no demon blood in her past to explain the ruthlessness with which she hurt others. If he let her go, if he let her live, she was going to bear down on them again, and the thought of losing anyone else just broke him into tiny little pieces inside. Sneering, he tied up her hands, hauled her to her feet and slammed her back into that lamppost, hauled her hands up over her head and tied them to the post.

She gurgled, spattered blood all over his chest. One eye was swollen shut, the other bloodshot enough to look almost black. Without thought, he tied her legs to the post as well, secured her so she couldn't break free, and then he stepped back and stared at her. Now, he could leave her here, bloody and beaten but still alive, on a road where others rarely traveled, but the thought of someone saving her, of someone finding her and taking her to help, made his insides churn. She had cost him so much, had taken so much from him, and all he could take from her was the one thing that was truly hers; her life.

For a long, quiet moment he just stood there, silhouetted against the dark forest beyond, a sea of stars glittering coldly and uncaring above him, while he stared at this creature and felt no remorse. And he knew he never would. He would not lose a second of sleep over this one, would never look back on his life and remember Moira MacAvoy with embarrassment or regret. In fact, he was pretty sure he wouldn't remember her at all after a while, when the pain had subsided and been replaced by sad memories of the lost love of his life. He would banish Moira from his mind as he was going to banish her from this life. And he had no qualms about it.

"Go on," she rasped, her voice wet and broken. "Finish it. I'll come back to haunt you, you shit." She spat blood at him, but it hit the dusty ground instead.

Her words did nothing to change his mind. If she wanted to die, he would give her that. He stepped back up in front of her and eyed her coldly. "You condemned yourself the moment you set Sam up. But you drove in the nail all the way when you shot Michelle. If I burn in Hell for this, so be it. But there is no way I will leave here with you still breathing." That said, he pulled up the rest of the line, wrapped it around her throat and the post and looked into her one remaining eye. "I wanna watch you die," he whispered and tightened the coil.

She fought. He had to give her that. She was tenacious and she clung to life for as long as she possibly could. But in the end, he won. In the end, her body relaxed and she sagged a little, as much as the lines holding her allowed for, and the light in her eye went out. It was like extinguishing a flame. He held on for a moment longer, the length of line wrapped around his fingers cutting flames into his skin, and then he released it, let it fall against her chest. And all she did was hang there, her one good eye still open and staring into nothingness. And he felt nothing; absolutely nothing.

To assure himself that the job was done, he felt for her pulse and found nothing. Wiping his hand on the leg of his jeans, he took one step back. Then he glanced up at the lamp shedding its dull light over this part of the street. It was a stretch of road far from the still populated parts of the world. She would not be found in time for a revival. Not by any human means, at least. But old habits died hard and he couldn't help thinking about the other things that might use her body, or the fact that her soul might remain to haunt him and his family, to hurt them more than she had been able to in life, and the decision was easily reached. He returned to the trunk of the Impala, dug out the salt and the lighter fluid. He doused the body generously, poured a whole can of salt over her head and then just eyed her for a moment. And still he felt nothing. "Burn in hell, bitch," he muttered, struck a match, lit the whole matchbook and flicked it at the body. It went up in flames and he took a step back, away from the heat and the smell of burning flesh.

He watched her burn for a long while, longer than he had spent at the funeral pyre when he and Sam had sent their father on his final journey. And with the deterioration of the body, the flames licking up the wooden lamppost, his defenses slowly began to crumble. It started like a surging feeling in the pit of his stomach and suddenly he couldn't get out of there fast enough, suddenly he felt the desperate urge to get behind the wheel and drive like the devil himself was on his heels; not for what he'd done, but for what he'd left to pursue her. He needed to go home. The job was done and now came the time for healing, for making amends to the ones he'd left behind.

Without another glance, he turned on his heel and strode back to the car, slammed the trunk lid shut in passing, and slid behind the wheel with years of practice. The engine growled to life and he roared out of there while the still burning corpse vanished in the rearview mirror.

***

The further he drove, the harder he shook. The vibrations translated through him at such a pace, it impacted on his vision as well and eventually he felt forced to pull the Impala over to the side of the road to avoid crashing her into the next obstacle. And then he just sat there, his hands wrapped so tightly around the steering wheel they nearly fused with the leather. The trembling compacted into lack of motion, solidifying his muscles and making his head ache dully. For a long time he sat like that, knuckles white, while the heat of the hatred and anger drained out of him little by little. Whatever satisfaction he had gained from ending Moira's life slowly bled out of him right alongside. He hadn't felt this way since dad had died, hadn't wanted to hurt another human being so badly ever before. And there was nobody left to hurt, nobody left to hunt down. Making her pay for the atrocities she had bestowed on his family had changed nothing at all. It hadn't killed the pain, hadn't buried the hatred. It had opened the floodgates to pain and misery and try as he might, he could no longer contain those feelings, could no longer hold back on how he felt.

With an effort that was almost beyond him, he peeled his hands off the steering wheel and flexed his stiff fingers for a second, then opened the door and climbed out of the car. He closed the door almost carefully behind him, then took a few stiff steps away from the Impala and stopped again, his hands clenched at his sides. He could feel the tremors still rippling through him, the need to destroy something so overwhelming he needed to get away from his car. The world felt very cold and inhospitable to him right now and he wanted to bite back, wanted to kick something to Hell, wanted to destroy something so completely there would be nothing left.

With joints that felt frozen, he stalked into the forest, away from the road, away from any risk of running into someone he might kill just for the hell of it, and only came to a stop when he came to a clearing cut by a large tree that had fallen to the ground. His gaze skipped over the surrounding undergrowth while he desperately tried to subdue the feral urge to kill something.

He needed to react, needed to do something, and there was nothing he could do, nothing that would release him from the fierce embrace of the loss he had suffered. There was nothing left out there to make deals with, nothing supernatural that was strong enough to reverse the hands of time and bring her back to him and he couldn't stand it, couldn't stomach having to face the rest of his life without her. The burden of her unlived life sat so heavily on him, he almost couldn't breathe. To gain a little relief, just a smidgen of satisfaction, he yanked his gun out and emptied the clip at the fallen tree. Bark and splinters flew in all directions, slicing moss and parasitic plants off the dying tree trunk, the sound of each shot reverberating through him like the bullets were hitting him and not the tree. But shooting at inanimate objects did nothing to temper the storm rising inside him. The anger, the pain, the hatred clawed at his insides, clawed its way up his throat and he couldn't contain the way he felt any more, he had to give vent to it somehow, so he roared at the forest until his lungs ran out of air and silenced his voice. Depleted emotionally and physically, he dropped to his knees, his hands fisted at his sides, his stomach in a knot. In part he wanted to throw up, wanted to purge himself of all those feelings, all the pain that was eating him up, but nothing would help right now, nothing short of a miracle and the time of miracles and wonders had long since passed.

Sinking back on his haunches, he stared at a forest he didn't see while memories crept up on him and chocked him. His mind rattled with the ferocity of that one sentence that had propelled him on this quest and made him do things he had not really thought himself capable of. 'She's gone.' And it broke his heart all over again, tore him to shreds inside out more effectively than any hellhound could have, and finally, after four months of hunting in a vacuum, the pain just bellowed for a release he had not been able to handle before. The tears rose in his eyes and spilled unbidden down his face, but he cried quietly. He was too spent to rage any more, too broken to find the force he needed to let the world know just how much he hurt inside.

The light shifted from morning to midday to evening while he knelt there. Even after the tears dried up and the natural sounds of the forest had commenced, even after he felt the first hunger pangs and registered the dry feeling in his mouth, he still just knelt there, the empty gun in one hand, his gaze locked on the middle distance, his mind at a complete standstill. He couldn't convince himself to move, couldn't face having to spend just one more day in a world where she wasn't, and a detached part of him marveled at the fact that he could ever feel this way about someone he wasn't connected to through years of co-dependency.

With that wonder came other, stronger thoughts, thoughts of a giggling two-year-old girl with light-brown hair and sparking green eyes. His daughter, his flesh and blood. She depended on him, needed him. He had no right to give up on this life while Mary Lynne was still around. She was her mother's child, the one best reason for him to get his act together, to get back on his feet and go home. And he wouldn't be alone either. There was the foundation of his family to consider, the thing that had always mattered most, even after Michelle had come into his life and messed with his head so badly he had given up on most of his previously ingrained opinions when it came to suburban life and white picket fences. There was his brother. Sam was still there and he would understand. Sam had lost like this too, had been forced to watch the love of his life die. He would understand.

Agonized from sitting still too long in an awkward position, he got moving, slowly became aware of his surroundings, of the chill of night creeping up on him. He felt cold, hungry, parched and he needed to go home, needed to be with people who understood what he was going through, and it struck him that he had no idea where he was. It didn't matter, though. Unerringly, he found his way back to the car and the road and ran his fingers over the Impala's hood while walking around her front. Revenge wasn't everything it was cracked up to be. It didn't take the pain away, didn't make him feel vindicated. It wouldn't bring her back. And he knew that, knew that no matter what he did, the pain he felt was there to stay. It would probably mellow with time, but it would never go away.

***

The first diner he came to made him aware of what his body craved. Food, coffee, sleep and not necessarily in that order either. There was a motel next to the diner and he got a room first, noting somewhat absentmindedly how the clerk stared at him.

Then he went next door to the diner, ordered the special and coffee, noted how the woman behind the register stared at him, and took a seat in a window booth. He ate in silence, slowly, meticulously, the drone of the diner fading to nothingness while his mind churned with memories. He needed to sleep, needed a shower, needed to call Sam. He needed so much right now, but most of all, he needed to hold his daughter in his arms again, needed to reassure himself that she was fine. And he would do anything in his power, anything, to make sure she stayed fine, that she had a great life and knew she was loved and appreciated. He needed her to know that he loved her, that he was proud of her, that she mattered more to him than anything. He needed her as much as he needed his brother and his aunt and his nephew and Bobby. He needed his family. Without them, he was lost.

Upon finishing his late night dinner, he left the diner again, once more noting the almost disturbed look in the waitress' eyes, grabbed his duffle from the trunk and let himself into the room he had rented for the night. It looked like any other motel room he'd ever stayed in during his life on the road and he suddenly ached with longing for the warmth of his home. A warmth he knew was gone because the one person who had made it warm was gone.

The door clicked shut behind him and he dropped the duffle on the floor and just stood there for a moment, feeling lost and tired and sad. Then he glanced sideways at the mirror on the wall, which hung over an old, battered dresser, and he started when he caught sight of his own reflection. He couldn't actively remember when he'd last seen his reflection. Judging by the beard adorning his face, it had been a while. "Holy crap," he muttered and gingerly ran his fingers through the coarse hairs. Apart from the beard, he looked downright grubby. The dried blood on the front of his t-shirt looked more like oil-stains, dark and a little shiny. Showers had been few and far between in the last four months. All he had been able to focus on was the hunt. He had eaten, but he couldn't remember if it had been regular or infrequent.

Tired enough to drop, he stripped out of his clothes and hit the shower first and foremost. Then he set about the task of removing the beard. In a sense it scared him a little. He looked far older than his years and was painfully close to looking like dad. The latter wasn't exactly a bad thing, but it still scared him a little how close he had gotten to becoming dad. Four months he had been on the road, hunting Moira, never stopping long enough for it to matter. Single-minded determination seemed to run in the family.

With a sigh, he donned his last clean t-shirt, then dropped down on the bed, intent on just thinking things through for a moment. But he faded off to sleep almost instantly.

***

When he finally got home, he cut the engine and then just sat there and stared in at the house. It was early morning, too early for anyone to be awake yet, but a part of him still felt their nearness. His intention to call Sam had disappeared somewhere between waking up in that motel room and deciding to just get his ass back home. The faster he got there, the sooner he could assure himself that everybody was okay.

Exhausted to the core of his being, he climbed out of the car and let himself into the house. He needed a few hours of sleep before he faced the music, before he went across the lawn and let them know he was back.

The house felt empty, dead. The spirit Michelle had brought to their home was gone and it made his insides cramp up all over again. He struggled against the tears, fought against the notions he had of touching everything he passed. All this crap wasn't her. She was gone and there was nothing he could do to bring her back. He would have to live with the pain, for Sam, for his daughter, for those that needed him.

The bed was made, fresh sheets covering it, and he wondered briefly who had bothered about that, then dropped down on the bed and promptly fell asleep.

It took no more than two hours before he woke up again. He didn't exactly feel refreshed, but he figured he had enough of a hold on himself to face the others now. There was light in the downstairs windows across the lawn and he was briefly overcome with the foolish hope that she would be there, gabbing away with Isabel, worried about him and oh-so-happy to see him again. Yeah, he understood dad completely now.

At the front door he hesitated. So far, they hadn't knocked when entering each others homes, but he figured he had some explaining to do and maybe ... He paused, stared at the door for a second, then knocked.

A second later, the heavy front door swung open and he came face to face with his aunt, which surprised him a little. He had expected Sam, maybe Isabel. "Grace," he said, unable to hide the surprise.

She stared at him for a second, her expression completely unreadable. Then she stepped forward and yanked him into a harsh embrace, tears in her eyes. A little surprised by her reaction, he slipped his arms around her in turn. She didn't say anything, just held him for longer than strictly necessary before she pulled back again. "Where have you been?" she asked. Her tone wasn't angry or hurt, but she sounded so damned sad it made him unsure of why she was here.

"I had some business to take care of," he countered quietly, then glanced past her. The hallway was empty, no one else around. "Where is everybody?"

"Sleeping," Grace said, took a hold of his arm and pulled him inside. She ushered him into the livingroom and motioned for him to sit down.

There was something in the air of this house that made Dean afraid to ask questions. "What's going on?" he asked anyway and eased down on the couch.

Grace stood there, dressed in jeans and a sweater, hair loose, while she stared into space and seemed to consider what to say. Then she focused on him. "First things first. Did you accomplish what you went after, whatever that was?"

The urge to get up and shake her until she told him what was wrong was almost too strong to refuse. "Yes," he said. "Grace, what's wrong? I can tell something's wrong. What's going on?"

She briefly covered her mouth with one hand, then drew a deep breath and settled down on a chair across from him. "We've had another funeral," she finally said.

Those words made his blood run cold instantly. He shifted his gaze to the doorway, his mind churning. "Sam?" he almost whispered.

"No," Grace said and briefly closed her eyes. "Isabel."

The very brief relief that had washed over him at her no died a swift death. "What?" he nearly whispered. "But ... how?"

Grace wiped away a stray tear. "Cancer. She died of natural causes," she said. "She'd been sick for a while, but hid it from everyone," she added.

He suddenly realized how much worse this was. It tore him to shreds thinking what this had to be doing to Sam. "Oh my god," he whispered and rose. "Where's Sam?"

"Asleep," Grace repeated and rose too to step in his way. "Do me a favor, Dean, and don't downplay this. He's hanging on by his fingernails right now. He blames himself for her death, is convinced he's cursed and that it's his fault." She grabbed his arm when he tried to push past her. "No jokes, you hear me? He is convinced you're dead too. He keeps telling me that everything he touches dies. He wants me to take the kids to South Dakota and keep them away from him."

Dean nodded. He understood what this was doing to his brother. "I'll fix this," he vowed. "Somehow, I'll turn him around."

Grace nodded and cupped a hand against his cheek. "I don't care what you've done, Dean. All I care about is that you're back, in one piece," she said.

Somehow, that was worse than if she'd offered her condolences or yelled at him for being gone this long. The fact that she forgave him without knowing what he had done broke something inside him and he had to fight to keep it together. He covered her hand with his and refrained from speaking, but merely nodded once, then broke free and rushed upstairs.

The door to the master bedroom was ajar a little bit and he hesitated a second before pushing it open. Sam had his back to the door, was lying on top of the covers on his side, and didn't move a muscle. Maybe he hadn't heard the door opening, maybe he didn't care. Dean could only imagine what had to be going through his mind right now. "Sammy." Despite Sam's dislike of this version of his name, Dean always reverted back to it when he wanted to convey more than he could say.

For a moment, nothing happened. It felt like time was frozen, like this was a picture and nothing would ever move again, but then Sam rolled over and sat up while turning to face his brother. He looked hollow, empty, like something had sucked the life out of him and there was nothing left but an empty shell. "Dean," he countered, his voice hoarse, broken. He got off the bed and in some respect Dean wouldn't blame him if he slugged him. But his brother's expression crumbled. "You're alive," he croaked out.

Again, this was worse than any physical assault would have been and he felt like such a shit for not being here, for not letting Sam know he was still breathing. He covered the distance and yanked his brother into a harsh embrace, fully aware that the kid needed all the support he could get right now. Sam's arms nearly crushed him with the trembling strength he put into the embrace and judging by the shudders rippling through him, Dean knew he was crying.

***