It wasn't always clear what killed his sleep, and most times he didn't care either, but as long as he was with others, his senses were alert even in deep sleep. He woke up with a jerk, uncertain at first of his whereabouts. It took him a split second to realize that he'd fallen asleep on Michelle's couch before the deeper reason for rousing him from his sleep made him sit up. Something was up and it involved Sam.

Squinting into the darkness of the livingroom, he focused the main sense he could use right now; namely his hearing. The staggered footsteps, slow and cumbersome, were enough of an indication that his brother was up and about. That he was moving like a feeble old man alerted Dean to the very real possibility that the wound he had sustained was now infected.

Without thought, he threw the blanket aside and got to his feet while absentmindedly registering that he felt sore and tired and grumpy. That did not absolve him from his duty toward his brother, though.

Unaccustomed to the layout of the apartment, he fumbled around for a moment to find a lamp and switched it on, then turned his attention toward the corridor. "Sam, what the hell are you doing up?"

His brother came to a staggering halt and squinted at him. He was pale, sweaty, his left hand clamped around his right arm just above the elbow, his right shoulder pretending to be rock. His breath was coming in short, shallow bursts and he looked like he was about to keel over right there. "Got ... hungry."

Dean arched an eyebrow. "You got hungry? Dude, you have a hole in your shoulder. Made by a rusty, big-assed knife. And you got hungry?"

Sam made no move to reply to that one, just sent an almost careful look around the immediate area, then changed direction and headed toward the kitchen.

With a sigh borne of both frustration and concern, Dean followed him. "Stop," he demanded, which his brother did almost on instinct. "Let's get you back to bed and I'll get you something to eat," he suggested and took a gentle hold of Sam's left arm.

Even that little was enough to make Sam flinch. He hesitated for a second, then slowly turned around again. "'kay," he rasped.

"What's ..." Michelle stood in the doorway to her bedroom, wrapped in a terrycloth bathrobe, sleepy and a little befuddled, and it shook Dean to the core of his being that he thought she looked adorable. This was so not the time for that kind of thinking. "What are you doing up, Sam?" she asked, thankfully oblivious to what was going on in Dean's head right now.

"He's hungry," Dean replied for his brother and guided his unsteady sibling back to the guestroom and got him settled as comfortably as he could manage. Then he turned to Michelle, who had followed them closely. "Could you ... uhm ... give him a shot for the pain? He's not going to be coherent unless you do."

She nodded. "Sure," she agreed, then frowned when he took a step toward the door. "And what are you going to do in the meantime?" That question sounded both surprised and suspicious at once.

"I'm going to get him something to eat," he said, gave her a saying look and left the room again to do just that.

It was only when he reached the kitchen that he allowed himself a moment to think. What the hell was this attraction to her? Sure, she was a knockout and she rocked his world just by being who she was. But he had met women like her before. Hadn't he? He arched an eyebrow. Yeah, Cassie. And that had ended well, hadn't it?

With a sigh, he braced himself against the kitchen counter and dropped his chin to his chest for a moment. What the hell was going on with him? Why was he so hooked on her? Not that he minded, of course. He just didn't get why she would seem so important when he hardly knew her. He'd known Cassie longer than this before he'd made his move. And with that track record, he might as well just throw in the towel and bail right now. There was no way this was going to end well. He growled, then pushed away from the counter and slapped a sandwich together.

Once Sam was back on his feet, he knew he would have to run this by him. He would probably have some kind of weird explanation for what was going on with him, but truth be told ... Dean didn't really care. He couldn't pass a moment of the day without thinking of her. She had wormed her way under his skin and he felt comfortable with it. The only thing that could really put a cramp in his style was if she found out what he actually did for a living. So far, he had managed to avoid talking about it, but he knew he couldn't advance this relationship any further if he didn't open up to her at some point. And doing that ... well, that would be nothing but heartache.

He brought the sandwich back to the guestroom and found Michelle sitting on the edge of the bed and Sam looking a little more together. Without a word, he handed the sandwich over, but predictably Sam didn't dig in. He wasn't the wolf-it-down kind of guy, after all. He took his own sweet time with everything and it called up episodes of raging frustration from their childhood. "How're you feeling?" Dean inquired.

"Better," Sam said. He looked wasted, tired, still marginally in pain.

"It's infected," Michelle informed him and sent a glance over one shoulder, briefly catching Dean's eyes. She said so much with her eyes that words were almost unnecessary.

"Not really that surprising, considering the knife that did that," Dean replied and shifted his attention to Sam, who was watching them both with a slight frown furrowing his brow.

Michelle eyed him and he could almost feel her need to ask questions he wouldn't be able to answer right now. Then she sighed and shrugged as if brushing off an unseen burden. "I gave him a shot of antibiotics," she said, almost as if talking to herself. "Again," she added and rose. "It should keep the infection at bay." A suppressed yawn almost made it to the forefront. "I'm gonna head back to bed. I've got a long day tomorrow."

Dean nodded and remained where he was standing, at the foot end of the bed. "Good idea. Sorry we woke you."

"Don't be," she brushed it off with a smile and left the room again, closing the door behind her.

"You are so hooked," Sam said, his voice a little rusty, his smile pale.

"Shut up. You're delirious," Dean countered sharply, wanting nothing more than to hide how he felt inside right now. "Get some sleep. And stop wandering around the apartment at all hours."

Sam snorted halfheartedly and gave the sandwich an almost suffering look, then shoved it onto the nightstand and shifted to get more comfortable. "She's no bimbo. How'd you ever hook up with her in the first place?"

"I do not hook up with bimbos. Besides, how is this any of your business?" It was silly to get riled up by his brother's astute observations, but he just couldn't help himself right now. The whole thing was just getting under his skin. "You'd better be back on your feet fast. I'm not hunting trolls on my own."

"Bite me," Sam muttered, half asleep.

"You wish," Dean shot back and couldn't help a smirk. He counted silently backward from five and by the time he hit one, Sam was out cold. "More predictable than rain in Seattle," he muttered and left his brother to sleep and heal.


Sam figured he had a built-in watch somewhere that was telling him it was time to get up. It wasn't the daylight that woke him up, because this guestroom of Michelle's didn't have any. Generally, he figured it had originally been a storage room or a walk-in closet or something. It was too big to be a normal closet and too windowless to be an actual room.

Feeling a little out of sorts and very sore, he struggled to get out from under the covers and off the bed. The first part was easier than the latter, since getting up turned out to be an ordeal. It jump-started a firepoker hot pain in his shoulder, which radiated outwards down his arm and across his chest and made him hold his breath and square his teeth for a moment. "Shit," he hissed when he finally regained his ability to form words and breathe again. He had almost forgotten about the incident from last night.

Fortunately, someone had left the bedside lamp on. Otherwise he would have been unable to see anything and probably would have managed to get himself hurt in the process of locating a light source. On rubbery legs, he made his way across the floor to the door and it felt like he was walking a mile even though there couldn't be more than three steps. It always amazed him on some level how perspective changed when you were in pain and how it cut into his otherwise good stamina like a hot knife cutting through butter.

It took some doing and a bad jolt rattling through his shoulder because he dropped his arm to grab the door knob, but he did manage to get the door open and stepped out into the short hallway.

Slowly, he made his way to the end and glanced first to the right, then the left, before he headed further into the apartment, attracted to the sound of a TV running somewhere. He did remember Michelle mentioning that she had to get up early and go to work, which would mean she wasn't here. That probably meant that Dean was watching television for a change.

"It's not so much the idea of what it might have been that scares people out there, I think."

"Really? Because I think that's exactly what's scaring everybody. What it might have been. That nobody knows for sure what happened. Are you telling me you buy into the whole biological terror action bit? Because I find that one a little hard to swallow."

"No, no, not as such. It's just ... you have to be careful before you judge, you know? I mean, a lot of people out there found religion after this one and it makes me think that maybe, just maybe there is something out there watching over us."

"I find it hard to believe, all things considered. I mean, going by the numbers, we're talking a fifty percent reduction in human life on Earth. You think that constitutes as something or someone watching over us? Because I don't."

"You know, Rick, we can discuss this until Judgment day and in the end, we'll all find out the day we die, won't we?"

What should obviously have been a serious discussion erupted into hilarity at the ill placed joke. The air of the apartment had a slightly sweet smell to it, something familiar and good. His bare feet sank into the powder blue soft carpet while he tried to determine if he would remain standing for much longer or if he would still have time to shuffle back to bed before his knees gave out beneath him.

The TV cut off in mid-sentence and an almost dull silence settled over the place for a moment. "Sam?"

In part he was surprised that he had enough presence of mind to be surprised. That wasn't Dean's voice. Or Michelle's either. She rose from the big, comfy-looking armchair, her eyes wide with surprise. She had been in his dreams ever since he'd gone out with her and discarded any chance of this working in his favor. But even now, wrapped in a cocoon of misery, he still couldn't stop marveling at how petit she was and how pretty and alive she looked. "Hey. I ... was looking for Dean." Stupid, he thought. The dull throb that pounded through his shoulder with every beat of his heart made it difficult for him to maintain the clearness of thought he was used to and it unnerved and annoyed him in one go.

"He went out. He had some errands to run or something," Isabel said and took a hesitant step toward him.

The first thing that sprang to mind was 'babysitter'. Oh man, they had actually hired a babysitter? He was gonna have a word with Dean about that later. Right now, he wasn't too certain of his ability to string together two words that made sense though. "Uh ... right ... did he ... uh ... say when ..." The world tilted sharply to the left and a second to a lifetime later he found himself leaning heavily on a woman who should have crumbled under his excessive height.

"Wow, easy," she pressed out, thereby letting on that it hadn't been a lifetime and that she was straining to keep him on his feet. But by no means was she straining as much as he would have thought.

"Sorry," he rasped, not sure exactly where that vertigo had come from. Well, okay, being stabbed through the shoulder with a big-assed knife by an oversized dimwitted troll might do the trick, but still. "Should have ... stayed in bed."

"Yeah, you should have," Isabel agreed and carefully turned them both around toward the front of the apartment. "And you're going back to bed right now," she added. There was something in her voice that made him obey without question. She might be petit, but she wasn't one to mess with.

How it happened was beyond him and he really didn't care that much either when it came down to it. But she did manage to get him back to bed and she also managed to give him a painless injection for the agony threatening to devour him whole. She sat with him until it kicked in and his mind became a little less muddled. There was that magical threshold where the pain disappeared and he was still awake enough to make sense and he wanted to stave off the inevitable darkness because she was here and he wanted to enjoy this time with her, but how could he?

Isabel slipped a cool hand onto his brow and smiled vaguely. "At least you don't have a fever," she said. "I guess the whole incident was just a shock to your system, huh?"

He nodded. "Not like I've never been stabbed before," he muttered and closed his eyes. He didn't want to see the concern, didn't want to have to come up with some fib that she might or might not buy. He just wanted to tell her the truth. Would that be so bad? She would think he was feverish after all and wouldn't believe it anyway.

"What exactly happened?" she asked, unknowingly prompting him. "I mean ... I asked Dean and his only response was ..."

"You don't want to know," he finished for her and couldn't help a smile. "Yeah, that's Dean's mantra." He thought about it, considered the outcome, and grimaced. "A troll did it." It slipped out before he could even think twice about it and it hung there between them like this big ugly thing that might turn into something good, but would more likely turn into something hateful.

Isabel blinked. "A ... troll?" She seemed a little puzzled by the word, like she'd never heard it before. Then she slipped a hand onto his brow again, feeling for the fever she was certain had to be behind such a ridiculous claim. "What do you mean, a troll? An ugly guy?"

He laughed. He couldn't help himself. It was just exactly how he had expected this to go and that didn't happen very often. "No, a real troll. Big, nasty, with two heads. Like in the fairytales." He frowned. "Or maybe it only had one head. I can't remember right now."

"A troll?" She repeated the question with that dreaded look in her eyes, the one that said he was nuts and she wasn't buying what he was selling. "A real ... troll? Not some guy in a mask?"

Her disbelief and attempt to explain it away was almost cute, would have been cute if it hadn't been for the multitude of times he had heard words like that, seen disbelief like that and reaped the harvest of the outcome, namely the withdrawal, the funny looks, the calling of the cops. And those reactions were from the people he, Dean and dad had saved. "No, no masks," he confirmed and wondered when she would get up and leave.

She considered it for a while, seemed almost lost in thought. Then she focused on him again while her brows drew together over the bridge of her nose and her lips pursed. "A troll?" The tone had changed. She sounded a bit angry now. "What do you take me for?"

Okay, that one he hadn't seen coming. "What?" The painkiller was pulling at him, tempting him toward the darkness, but her presence acted as a counter-weight, holding him back, making him want to stay awake and alert. Not that he seemed very alert right now.

"Sam, give me a break. There's no such thing as trolls," she decided and he could tell that she wasn't convinced, but she was damned well going to force herself to believe it. And she would force him too if she could. And for a moment he wished she could, that he could believe there was no such thing as trolls and demons and all the evil of the world.

"Hate to break it to you, but there is," he said quietly, hoping to convey the seriousness of the situation to her by not insisting vehemently. "Ask Dean," he added, then paused. "On second thought, don't ask Dean. He'll have a fit that I told you in the first place."

Apparently that one made a difference; that his brother would be upset that he'd told her about trolls. She arched an eyebrow, eyed him for a moment. So far, she hadn't left and he was counting his blessings. "Right," she said, but sounded unconvinced, wavering. "You should rest. You're very pale." She rose, smoothed her hands over her slacks as if to straighten invisible wrinkles in the fabric. She smiled, but it wasn't sincere, it was worried, uncertain, thought-provoking. "I'll be in the livingroom if you need anything. Just holler. Don't get up."

He watched her, blinking rapidly. It was getting harder to stay awake now, and some part of him worried that she would ask Dean, that she would disclose what he had said and that he would have to deal with a grumpy or even angry Dean after that. He was in no condition to stand up for himself right now.

Isabel left the room, leaving the door ajar just a little. He couldn't hear her walking away and wondered if the carpet muffled sound that much or if she was just standing out there, waiting for him to fall asleep. He figured he might as well indulge her there and closed his eyes. It felt good physically, but mentally he was still in an uproar when the darkness overtook him.


He hadn't exactly expected much of anything when it came to what Sam would undoubtably see as a babysitting-gig. Michelle had suggested they ask Isabel to stay with Sam if Dean needed to go out and at the time it had seemed like a good idea. But now he wasn't so sure. He hadn't been gone all that long and now she stood there, arms crossed over her chest, and generally glared at him. All that was missing was the tapping foot. And he had no idea whatsoever what he may or may not have done that had put her off. She might be short, but she packed a punch in the way she stared at him right now. "What?" he asked.

"Don't give me what!" she growled and yeah, she was actually growling the words out. "What the hell kind of headtrip do you have your brother on here?"

Dean blinked, completely lost for the moment. "What?" he asked again, trying to buy time by appearing oblivious. Sam had to be delirious. He wouldn't have told her anything otherwise and Dean could only guess at that his little brother had said something incriminating. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Sam claiming he was stabbed by a frigging troll. That's what I'm talking about. He's obviously out of his head. But I can't help thinking that you've got something to do with this misconception. What, some big guy stabs him from behind and you make him think it was a troll?" She glared some more for a second, but never gave him a chance to recuperate. "For you information, buster, trolls aren't real. And making your brother believe they are is just ... childish."

Buster? That was a first. "Uh ... Isabel ... do me a favor here and calm down, would you? I have no idea what you're talking about. Why would I make Sam believe he'd been stabbed by a troll? That's just ... stupid." Denial, denial, denial. It had always worked so far.

She eyed him closely for a moment, then dropped her arms to her sides. For a second or two there he thought he'd won her over, that he'd managed to make her not pursue this any further. But then she propped her hands on her hips and intensified that stare. "How stupid do you think I am? Sam's not feverish. He's not delirious. He believes what he told me. And that's outrageous."

Okay, not good. If Sam had been feverish, it would have explained it nicely. "What exactly did he tell you?" he asked, not really wanting to launch into an explanation when he didn't know how much she knew.

"What he considers the truth, obviously. Is this some kind of misguided attempt at making him feel better about the attack?" she demanded.

His internal equilibrium slowly reasserted itself and some morbid part of him wanted to confirm Sam's claim and see how she took it. He was tired of all the lies. Just once he wanted to be able to tell the damned truth and not have others stare at him as if he'd gone bonkers somewhere along the line. Of course, the nuts-part might actually have happened. Would he know if he was crazy? With everything that had happened lately, had something somewhere just snapped and he had reached that proverbial line and stumbled across it? The doubt in his own sanity right now made him decide on the morbid path ahead of the well-traveled safe one. "Well, he's right. He was stabbed by a troll. And for your information, missy, trolls are real and they're nasty too. They stink to high heaven, they're dumber than a log, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. And before you ask, trolls have been in hiding for a good long while because there were demons out there and most lesser creatures of the supernatural realm fear demons. That's why nobody's seen trolls in the last one hundred years." He paused to take a breath and wondered if she'd jump in. When she didn't, he plowed on. "And yes, demons are real too. But demons we don't have to worry about, because Gaia, the mother goddess, jumped in and threw them all back into Hell and slammed the door on their asses. And that was thanks to Sam, by the way. The kid made the right decision at the right time and saved us all from Armageddon. What the hell do you think is responsible for the loss of fifty percent of the human population worldwide? Terrorist? Not likely, sister." He paused again and gave her an equivalent of her own stare. "Your turn," he prompted.

For a moment all she did was stare at him. Then she frowned. "My turn?" she asked and he gave her a curt nod. "You expect me to believe this? What else could it be than terrorists? I mean ... demons? Get real!"

"Oh, I am," he assured her. "Very much so. If you don't believe it ... your loss. Don't come whining to me when you get attacked by some critter."

His words stumped her if her expression was anything to go by. Maybe it was the honesty he knew he was displaying right now. Or maybe the seriousness with which he spoke. Either way, something was getting through the ignorance and paving the way to understanding right now. "Demons?" This she asked in a low, almost timid tone of voice and all he did was nod in confirmation. "And ... trolls?" Again he nodded once, almost curtly. "They're real?"

"They're as real as us, yes, and ten times as dangerous. What Sam told you was true. He was attacked by a troll and trolls are why we're here. There are a lot of them and no matter how much we try, we can't seem to root them out." Somehow explaining it to her made sense. He wasn't sure why, just knew by now that if he brushed it off, she would never believe another word he said and somehow it was important that she did.

"Are you sure?" It was a common question. People felt best if they denied the evil in the world and most of them somehow managed to pull it off too. "I mean, of course you're sure. You're not pulling my leg here, are you?"

"No, Izzie, I'm not pulling your leg. Trust me, I wish I was," he assured her.

She was easier to convince that others he had met in his long career as a hunter and for a brief sparking moment, he wished he could tell Michelle this too and receive the same reaction. "Oh my god, I mean ... oh my god," she exclaimed and started pacing around the living room in tight little circles. Then she stopped again and stared at him with wide eyes. "Oh my god," she repeated. "Chell is not going to believe this!"

That exclamation hit him hard and he took an immediate step toward her, raising both hands in a deprecating gesture. "No!" he demanded and shook his head. "You can't tell her. The only reason I told you is because of what Sam has said. I don't know why he told you, but he did and it's out there and I can't deny it without lying my head off. And for some reason that is completely beyond me right now, I don't want to lie to you about this. I mean ... not if I can help it. But ... it's tough to deny it when it's out, but she doesn't know and she doesn't have to know. This isn't the kind of thing we usually tell others about. Most people are content with not knowing and ..."

"But ... how can I not tell her?" Isabel asked, a baffled expression on her pretty face.

"Because I'm asking you not to, okay? Please? Don't tell her. She won't believe it and ... I'm really getting to know her now and ..." This wasn't doing him any favors, but he couldn't stand having to go through the same thing twice, with a more predictable outcome. At least he thought it would be predictable. He thought he'd pecked Michelle as a non-believer already, that if he ever told her about this, she would kick his ass to the curb and slam the door on him. And that was the worst-case scenario for him right now.

Isabel frowned lightly, then sank down on the edge of the couch. "But ... she has to know. This is too big," she tried.

Dean hunkered down in front of her and took her hands. "She doesn't need to know. In all likelihood neither of you will ever get in close contact with a troll. There are no demons left out there and the rest ... well, most of the critters we hunt don't come into big towns like Minneapolis. There's no reason for her to know."

The shift in her expression was almost touchable and he nearly sighed before she said anything. "Okay, fine. I won't tell her," she agreed and cocked her head to the right. "I know why you don't want me to tell her. I get it. If she doesn't believe it, she might not want to see you any more and ... honestly, I think she would go with it, but I get that you're afraid of that outcome."

Most of all he wanted to let her know just what she could with that comment, but in the spirit of keeping this from Michelle – at least for a while longer – he settled for a tight grimace and a dropping of his gaze. Truth be told, there was a smidgen of truth in her words and it bothered him on some level.

"It's okay. I won't tell her," she promised. "You can do that when you think the time is right." That said, she rose again. "I'd better go check on Sam."

For a moment longer he remained crouched in front of the couch, then slowly rose and turned around to watch her go. She was tiny, but man did she pack a punch. He couldn't honestly imagine a better match for his brother than tiny Isabel and, come hell or high water, he would do his best to assure they stayed here for a while. Maybe Sam could get a little bit of normal here, with Isabel. And it meant a lot that she knew and accepted what they did for a living. Now, if only he could convince Michelle of the same ... but that was wishful thinking.