Title: What Comes After
Author:
November'sGuest
Character's: Sam and Dean Winchester, Jessica Moore, Sam's Stanford friends, and a brief appearance by Missouri Mosley.
Category: Hurt/Comfort, Horror, Angst, and AU
Rating: T (PG-13)
Spoilers: None beyond second season if any…it's pretty much AU.
Disclaimer: Supernatural and its characters are the property of Eric Kripke and the CW. This is solely written for fun and not profit.
Summary:
Sam and Dean travel to Stanford to investigate recent deaths of college students after receiving a call from Rebecca Warren. Meanwhile, as Dean recovers from his injuries, his new and bizarre visions of Jessica continue to haunt him and Sam. Sequel to "The Wake-Up Call."

A/N #1: To all those who've asked for the sequel to The Wake-Up Call, been waiting over a year for it, and expressed your anticipation of it, I thank you. I never expected WUC to develop any kind of a following and I've been humbled and thrilled by your responses to it. I hope this sequel will be satisfying, meet your expectations and take you on the journey you've been expecting and hoping for. I'll do my best.

Naturally, this is a work in progress and, as you all know, I'm not a weekly updater, but I always strive to get subsequent chapters up as fast as my real life allows. In advance, I'd like to thank each one of you who will have the stamina to read and review as we go along…you keep me motivated, inspired and grateful. I can NEVER say thank you enough. Without you, I'm quite certain I'd sink into the pits of despair and flounder. Seriously, you keep my spirits uplifted and make the agonizing I inflict upon myself worthwhile.

I want to thank Gaelicspirit, Sodakey and my betas for all of their help with this. Gaelic took time from her hugely busy life to take my notes and work up an outline for the first two chapters (to show me how it was done) and then continued her wonderful support by reading it at various stages to reassure me and prod me along. Thank you, dear friend, for listening to my whining and giving me the words I needed to keep going.

Despite her insane work schedule, Sodakey brought her wonderful expertise to the table not once, but twice. Her comments, suggestions and lessons have been an invaluable learning experience for me and I'm very grateful for her help, patience and time. I only hope I can carry your lessons forward. Thank you for making room for me and this project—the title is dedicated to you!

Last, but not least, were my awesome beta readers, Mady Bay (whose life is exciting enough to be a story all its own, lol) and Tidia (who fits me in between her own prolific authoring projects). They took what we had and double checked for mistakes and offered their own suggestions. Thank you, ladies, I so appreciate it.

For those who have not read "The Wake-Up Call" or just need a reminder of important events, here's what you need to know: Following "Devil's Trap," Dean is left in a coma while John and Sam recover from non-serious injuries of their own. Due to injuries to his lungs, Dean develops Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) amongst other things. ARDS can take months or even a few years to completely recover from.

Also, because of his near death experience (NDE), Dean now has the new ability to communicate with supernatural beings through dreams or visions…including Sam. Unlike Sam's abilities, Dean cannot see the future nor have visions without a supernatural presence to channel them. He can only communicate (sometimes pulling Sam into his mind) with Sam because of Sam's own psychic abilities and only when they are physically touching, when Dean is unconscious or if the emotions are strong enough…think of Dean as a human EMF detector or a HAM radio sending out and receiving supernatural signals.

After leaving the hospital, Dean, Sam and John crash at Missouri's to recoup. Things happen there and Dean's injuries are re-opened, he battles a demon embedded in him, receives several disturbing visions/hallucinations that nearly break him (thanks to said demon) and dies/goes to Heaven for a brief period. Now John and Jay (a licensed MD/third generation medicine man, friend of John's) have left in pursuit of the YED and Sam and Dean remain at Missouri's to allow Dean time to finish healing. Meanwhile, Dean has disturbing, painful visions/dreams of Jessica—leaving both he and Sam stumped as to why.

Oh, and my Missouri is completely AU since I wasn't altogether happy with how she treated Dean in "Home," and, yet, I still see her character as being a wonderful resource for the boys.

What Comes After

Chapter One: Follow Me Into the Dark

12:00 AM, November 2, 2006

Outside, lightning crashed, filling the air with ozone and bright flashes of light. Rain and wind beat against the window. Rolling thunder shook the glass panes, vibrating the walls. Inside, candlelight flickered as a voice rose and fell in steady cadence.

"Quod superius est sicut quod inferius est sicut quod superius ad pertranda miracula rei unis."

Shadows moved on the walls as various herbs were mixed in a wooden bowl. A photograph hung above the flame of a large pillar candle sitting between two smaller ones.

"I conjure and command thee, o ye fallen. I conjure thee by him to whom all creatures are obedient, by the ineffable name by which the elements are overthrown, the air is shaken, the sea is turned black. Fire is quenched, the earth shudders and all the hosts of things in Heaven, of things in earth, of things in Hell, do tremble and are confounded. Come forth. Come forth and be bound to this object and to the blood of the one whose image I burn."

Gray ash tinged in white floated upward as the picture disintegrated, its elements rearranged—forever altered by the fire.

"I conjure thee, by Barabas, by Satanas, and the Devil. As thou art burning, let the deceitful heart of Winchester be broken. I conjure thee by the Saracen Queen, and the name of Hell. Let him find no solace, let him find no peace. Let this image seal his fate, bound to this spirit I have called forth, bound to death and to pain and to fire by blood."

Drops of deep crimson fell as a knife sliced through flesh, coating the herb concoction.

"Obey these words of power. Watchers of the threshold, watchers of the gate, unbar the guarded door. Obey this command of this servant of power."

With a sudden clap of thunder, the candles extinguished and the room fell black and silent.

Moments later, a soft, swaying light took form in the middle of room.

"Jess…? Is it you?"

Late December 2006

Waking with a groan, Sam turned his head and snuggled deeper into his pillow. Tired. He was bone tired and the bed felt good—warm and inviting. The urge to fall back to sleep was overwhelming. But something tugged at his consciousness. Before he had time to think much about it, a low grunt sounded, followed by the whisper of sheets rubbing against blankets.

Dean was dreaming. Again. It had been happening with increased regularity for nearly a month until there was nothing but broken nights filled with worry and sleeplessness.

Sam lay still, listening for signs of dream turned to nightmare—like it had every single day this week. Felt more like months. Fatigue had a way of exacerbating a situation and making one prone to exaggeration. Sam was feeling a little raw around the edges.

He wished, for a moment, he could ignore it this one time—pretend it wasn't happening and he could roll back into easy sleep.

Guilt stabbed through him. Not like Dean was enjoying what was happening to him, what had been growing increasingly more intense each week, each day. Hollow, weary green eyes couldn't hide the truth. Dean's painful visions of Jessica were taking their toll, wearing down his already weakened body. Sam tried not to worry, but with Dean's lungs still healing from the ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome), and with everything else that had happened to them, it was hard not to.

Even though their dad's room was now vacant, Sam had continued sleeping in the twin bed Missouri had pushed in with Dean's full. The first several days after coming home from Jay's clinic, Sam had lain awake every night just listening to Dean breathe, listening for the slightest hitch, the slightest thing that might signal a problem.

And he still had good reason to be cautious.

Though Dean's other injuries were well on their way to healing, his lungs were still a concern. Short sparring matches made Dean breathless and a quick trip to Bobby's had left him fatigued and grouchy as hell. Sam still had to be very careful not to hit Dean in the chest area where the worst wounds had just begun to lose their scabbing. Dean's mounting frustration with his slow recovery made every attempt at returning to normal a tax on everyone's patience.

Across from him, Dean whimpered, one arm flinging out from under the covers to hang limply over the bed. Sam wondered what Dean was seeing at that very moment—wondered how she looked, if she was as beautiful in Dean's dreams as she was in his own.

Not for the first time, he desperately wished he could see what his brother saw, hear her call out his name. It was worse knowing he actually could, if he wanted to. With Dean's new abilities, all Sam had to do was lay a hand on his brother and he'd know. He'd see whatever it was Dean saw when Jessica visited him. She'd come to Dean every night this week. At first, her visits had been sporadic, unpredictable. Dean always woke at the very second she reached out and touched him. And he always woke before she could say anything that would help them figure this out.

Deep down Sam was jealous. He didn't envy Dean the migraines and nosebleeds, but he longed to be the one who she came to for help. He longed to look at her just one more time.

Why Dean? It made no sense. She'd only met him once. Why hadn't she chosen Sam to reach out to? And how was any of this possible? They'd spent a week in Palo Alto searching for any sign that her spirit lingered, that she was trapped in this plane of existence—but they'd found nothing. It just didn't add up. No matter how many times Sam went over it in his head, no matter how many times he grilled Dean about every detail of what happened in the dreams, it just didn't make sense to him.

"No. Don't—" Dean cried out, jerking his head to the side.

Sam's thoughts fled. This was something new.

Focusing everything on his brother, he listened to see if there would be more.

"Wh-what do y'want?" Dean mumbled.

Sitting up, Sam leaned close, peering into the dark, watching Dean's face become a taut grimace. By now, his brother should be awake, gasping for breath and reaching for the box of tissues on the nightstand.

Dean's brows pulled in more and his upper lip curled with a pained grunt. "Jessica…please, stop."

Sam's heart leapt into his throat. Images of blonde hair and soft smiles glimmered through his mind—familiar embraces that made him ache with loneliness and carefree laughter that warmed him through. He missed her. He missed her being in his life—missed her every single day.

Dean's lips pursed. He tossed his head away from Sam, saying no more.

Suddenly, Sam couldn't push the temptation away.

I need to know, he thought. I have to know. Maybe if I'm there, she can tell me what she hasn't been able to tell Dean.

Kneeling next to Dean's bed, he reached out and let his fingertips hover above his brother's wrist. Electric excitement buzzed up his arms and he shivered in anticipation. Dean's gonna be pissed, he thought before letting the space between his flesh and Dean's close.

Brilliant pain sliced through Sam's brain like a branding iron. His vision streaked white and pressure imploded inside his head. Eyes squeezed shut, he moaned through clenched teeth, felt himself stumble. Was he…standing? Aware that he was on his feet, he realized none of what he was experiencing now was real. No sound or sight penetrated the agony tripping through his brain at first, but as the fog began to clear, he instinctively understood it was Dean's pain he was feeling. Pain caused by Jessica.

Jessica.

Sam forced his eyes open. Dean was standing a few feet to the front, his back to Sam. Jessica was facing them both, backlit by a window. Sam froze. She looked radiant. White flowing dress, golden curls cascading down her shoulders—she looked like an angel. His angel. His whole body tightened with need.

"Dean, help me," Sam heard her say. Her voice was muffled, broken up like a bad connection and it was difficult to make out all the words.

"I don't know how," he heard Dean's strained reply. "I-I don't know what you want from me."

Jessica stepped toward Dean and lifted an arm, beckoning. Immediately the pain intensified and Sam crushed both fists into his eyes, knowing the pain wasn't really his, that he wasn't even really there.

Dean grunt loudly. "N-no…stay back," he growled.

Dropping his hands, Sam saw Dean bending forward slightly, one palm digging into his temple.

"Please, Dean. Have to listen…I'm…alone," came Jessica's garbled reply.

Heart pounding loudly in his ears, Sam strained to hear what she saying. Desperation and longing filled his voice as he called, "Jess! Jessica!"

Whirling around with surprised shock in his voice, Dean demanded, "Sam? What're you doing?"

Intent on Jessica, Sam ignored his brother and started to move forward, eyes full of longing.

Jessica's face twisted in confusion and hope. "Sam? Sam's here?" Her eyes scanned the same general direction Dean was facing, but she looked right through him as if he were invisible. She couldn't see him. He stopped dead in his tracks, confused. Dean could see him, but Jess couldn't?

"Sam—" Dean began, taking a step.

Coming up from behind, Jessica's arm grazed Dean's and immediately he doubled forward, going to his knees, gasping. The last image Sam had of Jess, she was reaching for Dean, fear transforming her face.

"No! Jess!" Sam cried, then he was abruptly pulled back to reality.

Beside him, Dean jackknifed, sucking in air, eyes wide as he pulled free from Sam's grasp. Blood droplets stained his lips red and his hands buried in his hair, fingers burrowing into his scalp as if to claw away the pain.

Sam jerked back, falling against his own bed, eyes wildly searching the room. Dean flung the covers back, twisted his legs over the side and snatched a handful of tissues to staunch the blood flow. Hunching over, breath coming in muffled pants, Dean cradled his head. Sam quickly pushed to his knees and knelt in front of him, resting a hand on Dean's knee. He searched his brother's face. "Dean, you okay?"

Dean said nothing, but his tremors bled into Sam's hand and arm. Sam bit down on the remembrance of white heat searing the back of his own eyelids.

"Dean, man—"

Head coming up, eyes burning bright, Dean yelled, "Damn it, Sam! What the hell did you think you were doing?"

Sam pulled back, fingers reflexively tightening around Dean's knee. "I-I just thought that, you know, maybe—"

"You just thought? You mean you did this on purpose?"

Sam pushed up and plopped helplessly onto the edge of his bed. "I thought I could help. I thought maybe if I was there—if I could just talk to her—"

"God, Sam." Dean shook his head. "I told you, stay out of my head."

Averting his eyes, Sam stared at his hands instead. He could feel Dean peering at him closely.

"You did it just to see her, didn't you?"

"No. No, Dean." He raised his gaze back to Dean's. "I thought I could help…"

Dean looked at him with knowing, so Sam rushed on, "Fine. Okay, maybe I did want to see her, but I also thought... maybe I could talk to her, find out what she wanted."

"And what, Sam? You don't think I've tried?"

"That's not—"

Cutting his eyes away from Sam, Dean stood and staggered across the room to pitch the dirtied tissues into the trashcan, cutting off the expected denial.

Stifling the urge to go to him, Sam carefully folded his hands in his lap. "…Dean, would you just listen? Please."

Dean didn't turn around. His shoulders fell and he paused, gripping the cherry-brown dresser to keep himself steady. He was listening.

Sam swallowed and pressed his lips together to keep in the instinctive 'are you okay.' Dean would just deny deny deny. Shaking his head, Sam said instead, "Look, I know you've been doing your best to figure this out, but I can't just keep sitting around doing nothing. I have to be a part of this, Dean. It's Jess."

Shaking his head, Dean turned slowly to face Sam. "I know. Okay? I know how important this is to you, but you can't just go hopping and skipping through my head whenever you feel like it. Especially not now—because it's Jess."

Sam pulled in his bottom lip, then sighed heavily as he shook his head. On some level, he knew Dean was only watching out for him, that he might even be right, but this was not something he was prepared to let go.

Dean crossed back over to his bed and eased down. "Sam. I watched what you went through last year and I won't watch you go through that again. I won't. You can't keep putting yourself through this. Don't make this harder than it has to be."

Sam's heart hitched. Blatant worry and concern shone clearly in Dean's eyes. His brother might be angry and uncomfortable with having Sam charge uninvited into his head, but the real fear was what damage seeing Jessica again might cause. He didn't want it, though. Dean had spent far too much of his life worrying over him.

Speaking softly, Sam said, "Dean, man, I'm not made of glass. I won't break. I know you're worried—"

"Damn straight I'm worried."

"—but I'm okay." Sam ignored the hard stare and kept going. "Yeah, it's hard… And yes, it hurts like hell, but I'm a big boy, Dean. I can take care of myself."

Dean's gaze skittered away and he dipped his head, hiding his eyes. Always hiding. It was his brother's best defense, Sam knew, but he could clearly see the muscle visibly ticking along Dean's jaw line.

Sam waited.

Dean sighed, and finally his head came up. With a wary sideways glance, he asked, "So, what do you want to do?"

Taking a steadying breath, Sam answered, "I think we need to go back to California."

Dean's eyes snapped. "What? Why? We already scoured the apartment and the graveyard and got nothing."

"Well, let's do it again. Maybe you'll pick up on something. Maybe if you're closer to where it happened, maybe…I don't know…you'll be able to hear her better—or maybe she'll be able to see me and I can talk to her."

"You hear what you're saying, Sam?" Dean shook his head then huffed. "No. Just—no. I don't think it's a good idea."

"Why not? Maybe we missed something before. Or maybe something's changed. If we can get you closer to the source, maybe the dreams will become clearer."

"What, like an EMF detector? You want to go to California and see if my bulbs light up?"

Sam shrugged. "You got any better ideas? 'Cause," he waved a hand toward the trashcan full of bloodied tissues, "you can't keep doing this. Dean…this isn't just about Jess. I'm worried about you."

Dean glanced away, completely ignored the last part. He rubbed his hands up and down his thighs. Shaking his head, he said, "I don't know, Sam. I've got a bad feeling about this."

"What kind of bad feeling?"

"I don't know…just…something doesn't feel right."

"Dean."

"I can't really explain it, okay, but I don't like it." Dean scratched the back of his head, then rubbed his neck. "Maybe we should just wait, see what happens here. The dreams seem… I think I'm getting closer to figuring out what she's saying. Maybe I just need more time."

Shooting to his feet, Sam paced to the dresser, then abruptly pivoted toward Dean. Spreading his hands wide, he said, "And what if she's suffering? She said she needs our help…what if there's a clock running on this thing and that's why the dreams are intensifying…maybe she's panicking. I know that look she had, Dean—she was scared."

"Scared?" Dean's lips twisted as he asked, "Of what?"

Sam floundered. "Well, you heard her. She's alone. Jess never liked being alone."

Standing, Dean touched Sam's elbow. "Sam... I don't know, man… I'm not sure that's what she meant."

Sam shook his head. He'd seen the look on Jess's face, the fear, the need. It cut him and made panic burn through his heart. He knew Jess. He knew her better than he knew anyone other than Dean. He hated seeing her hurt. He hated this helplessness. It stung that Dean was in a better position to help her.

Unexpectedly, he felt angry. He knew this wasn't Dean's fault, he knew it, but there it was, hot and fierce. "And how would you know? Did you know her? Did you live with her day in and day out? How could you even begin to know what she wants?"

"Sam—"

The room was suddenly too stuffy, too confining. Suddenly he had to be somewhere else. As he stalked out of the room, he could feel Dean's eyes on his back, but the urge to get away was stronger than the urge to stay. He needed out.

Scrubbing a hand across his face, Dean sighed. What a mess. This whole damn thing was about as screwed up as it could get…and he hadn't the slightest idea what to do about it. Here under the cover of darkness, he could admit to himself that he was shaken. The emotions coming off both Sam and Jess were enough to rattle anyone's cage, but the physical punch this ability packed just topped the whole damn cake.

Sam was right about one thing, this couldn't continue.

Missouri's careful instruction had taught Sam how to block Dean out—at least to some extent. But Dean hadn't had much luck at all keeping Sam, much less Jess, from overwhelming him. And now…

He clasped his shaking hands together to still them.

He wanted to make this as easy as possible for his brother. Protect him. But, no way was Sam going to escape this untouched, and for that, Dean was deeply sorry. Worse, he knew Sam's patience was at its end and he'd no longer tolerate being pushed to the sidelines. Not that Dean blamed him—not at all—but it didn't stop him from trying to keep his brother safe.

The clock on the wall chimed the hour, announcing impending sunrise. He glanced up at the offender and took a deep breath, trying to settle himself. He needed to check on Sam. Most of the dizziness had worn off and he was reasonably sure he could risk going after his brother without falling on his face. He took his time standing all the same.

Emerging from a quick trip to the bathroom, the robust scent of coffee greeted him as soon as he stepped into the hallway. It pulled him in the direction of the kitchen—which is where he hoped to find Sam. He obeyed his nose, thinking a cup of coffee was exactly what he needed.

Bundled in her fuzzy housecoat, Missouri was already pouring two mugs of strong brew when he turned the corner. She nodded for him to join her at the table.

Shaking his head in wonder at the psychic, Dean complied. He wrapped his fingers around the hot ceramic and leaned in to breathe the rising steam into his lungs. Nothing like a good cup of Joe to set the world right.

Gesturing with a finger, Dean asked, "Have you seen Sam?"

She nodded toward the door. "He's out on the porch. Needed to catch his breath I'd imagine."

Which meant, give him some time.

Dean nodded. "Thanks," he said, picking up the coffee and cautiously slurping a mouthful.

"Well, I couldn't sleep anyway. Too much going on in here," she flapped her hand around her head, "if you know what I mean."

Dean smirked into his cup. "Yeah, I do." All too well, he thought.

The early morning quietness blanketed them in companionable silence. Dean too wrapped up in his thoughts to make small talk and Missouri too busy riding the waves rolling off her troubled companion.

"Can I help?" she finally asked.

Lifting his head a fraction, Dean sighed. The corner of his mouth lifted in a half-hearted grin as he laughed softly, "Can you talk to the dead?"

The sound of the front door rattling open and then quietly clicking shut staved off whatever response Missouri would have given. Dean couldn't bring himself to feel sorry about that.

Sam's footfalls sounded on the hardwood flooring, coming closer to the kitchen, setting off both relief and apprehension inside Dean. He didn't like fighting with Sam, but he also didn't like him too far out of his sight, either.

Sam paused in the doorway, seeing them both seated at the table, clearly unsure of what he had walked in on.

Missouri glanced between them, and then rolled her eyes. "Come in, Sam, honey, and have some coffee with us. I was just about to get up and start breakfast anyway."

Dean looked at Sam, who glanced quickly away, and then resolutely set his eyes on his coffee mug.

"Come on, come on," Missouri urged, "set yourself down and take a load off."

Shifting from one foot to the other, Sam hesitated, then seemed to make up his mind. "Yeah, okay," he said softly. "I'm just gonna grab my phone so I can check for messages."

It didn't take long before Sam came back and settled himself adjacent from Dean. While he played with his phone, Dean finally worked up the courage to end the silence between them.

"You okay?" he asked gruffly.

Something more must've bled through because Sam's attention was instantly on him, traveling over him, assessing and concerned.

"Yeah," he answered. "You?"

Dean spread a hand out and said, "Got a beautiful woman cooking me breakfast and hot cup of coffee. What more could I possibly need?"

Sam huffed as if he thought maybe there was plenty to be said about that. But he said nothing, just gave a short, jerky nod and then he was back to pressing buttons on his phone. Over the top of Sam's head, Missouri threw Dean a disapproving look, but it lost its affect when her lips curved into an easy smile.

Hand on hip, she jibed, "False compliments will get you nowhere, young man. And you know it."

Dean gave her his most convincing 'Who me?' face. Shaking her head, Missouri turned back to her task. Dean stared at the top of his brother's head. Sam was staring intently at the tiny screen on his phone…the beginnings of a frown pulling at his face.

"What's up?" he asked, unsure if he should be concerned.

Sam glanced at Dean then back at his phone. "I just got a text from Rebecca. You remember Rebecca Warren, right?"

Dean pursed his lips and cocked his head. "Hot blonde. Saint Louis. Shape shifter. Right?"

"Yeah, that's her."

Schooling his features, Dean said, "She just missin' your ugly mug or—"

Shooting Dean a withering look, Sam said, "She's back at Stanford. Says she needs our kind of help."

Dean watched Sam punch in the number and put the phone to his ear. An image of pretty Rebecca flashed before his eyes, purples and yellows coloring her face from where the shifter had assaulted her. Dean cringed. It made him sick to think of her staring into his eyes, seeing his face, as she was beat and tortured.

"Hey, it's Sam. I got your message." Sam looked back at Dean, then jerked his eyes up to the clock on the wall. "Oh, sorry. I forgot what time it was out there. I can call back—" Sam leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, listening. "Are you sure? I didn't mean to wake you." Sam ignored Dean's snigger. "I'm fine—we're fine, thanks for asking. Yeah, he's here—we're in Kansas. No, just taking some downtime. Everyone there okay? Really? Yeah, I remember how that goes."

Sam laughed at whatever was said next, forcing Dean to roll his eyes. Then Sam sobered as he asked, "So, you said something about needing our kind of help? What've ya got?" Sam nodded, plucking at the placemat with his free hand. "Hmm. Mmm-hmm. Anyone hurt?"

Dean quirked his eyebrows over the rim of his mug, but Sam ignored him. His face was serious and businesslike.

"I don't understand. Why would you go back there?"

Behind them, Missouri banged a frying pan onto the stove, dropping a dollop of bacon grease into it as she turned on the heat.

"But—" Sam's eyes began roaming around the room, confusion changing to wariness. "You did what?" he screeched. "Why—?"

Dean's leg began jigging up and down and he didn't know quite what to do with his hands, so he tightened his grip on the mug between them.

Cutting his eyes to Dean's, Sam blinked, shock and misery plain on his features. Without warning, Sam drained of all color, twisting Dean's gut. Whatever was being said, it was bad. Dean leaned forward.

His heart sank as he heard Sam say, "Are you sure it was her?" Then, "Did she say anything?" Sam squeezed his eyes shut, asking, "When was this…? Do you think she was the one—" Nodding, Sam swallowed. "No. No, its okay, you did the right thing. We'll be there as soon as we can. Yeah, I'm…I'll be fine. Don't worry, Becky. We'll figure this out. I know. You, too. Bye."

It wasn't until Sam ended the call that Dean realized his fingers were clenched in a painful grip on the table. Slipping his hands to his lap, he forced himself to at least appear relaxed as he asked, "What's going on?"

Face hardening, not brooking any arguments, Sam stood, answering, "We're going to Stanford. Pack your bags."

"Sam, wait." Dean pushed out of his chair. "Tell me what that was about." Not sure his brother would stop to answer questions, relief washed over Dean when Sam paused and turned back.

"Rebecca said—they've seen Jess's ghost. In the old apartment."

The brothers stood staring at each other for a long minute. Dean broke the stalemate to skim his eyes around the room and then back. His heart tripped and he felt sick.

Swallowing, he asked, "Who's they?"

"Some of my friends. Rebecca told them what we did for her. What we do. Some people have been getting hurt around campus and they want us to come look into it."

Shifting to lean on the table, Dean sighed. "Oh."

Sam shrugged, grimness coloring his actions and body.

"Do they think Jess is the one hurting people?" More nausea rippled through his stomach even as he asked it. He couldn't even imagine what Sam must be feeling.

Shaking his head, Sam clipped, "They're not sure."

"Are they sure it was Jess they saw?"

"They're sure."

"She…say anything?"

Sam grimaced as he relayed, "Just…that she needs help and the single word 'alone.'"

Dean froze, the familiar words registering between them. He recognized the set of Sam's shoulders, the determined way he held his jaw. Reading his brother, he knew determination was building right along with the anxiety.

Shaking himself, Sam continued, "None of them could make out everything she was saying—said she kept cutting in and out, like a weak signal."

Dean knew even trying was a waste of time, but—

"Sam. Are you sure we're up to this?" His voice grate harshly in his throat as the words forced themselves out. He felt his heart skip when Sam's mouth tightened. His brother's hands balled up into fists at his side. Danger made the blue in his hazel eyes glitter brightly.

Eyebrows high, Sam said, "Doesn't matter. I'm going—with or without you."

Sam ended the conversation by leaving the room. Dean let his head drop, closed his eyes, and sighed through his nose. He'd give his right arm to make this go away, to go anywhere else but California. Why couldn't Jessica just stay dead? His traitorous thoughts stung and he shook his head free of them. That wasn't fair either. It wasn't her fault. The person he'd met, that pretty girl in the Smurf shirt, would never purposely do anything to hurt Sam.

That same cold, nagging feeling coiled inside. Something about this whole deal was way off. He couldn't put his finger on it, but… Dean's gut was screaming danger loud and clear. The last thing he wanted to do was to take Sam back there. For this and many other reasons, he had hoped to avoid it. But no way was he letting his brother go back there alone. He sat up and pushed away from the table.

"Dean."

Missouri's voice sounded behind him and he couldn't quite contain the flinch.

"Looks like we'll be skipping breakfast, Missouri. Sorry." And that one word held so many layers that neither of them was certain for what he was really apologizing for.

He turned to meet the woman's knowing scrutiny, a sad, wry smile barely fixed firmly on his mouth.

Putting a hand to her heart, Missouri bit her lip and leaned heavily into the countertop. Dean wondered if she was feeling Sam's pain—was sorry for her if she was. When she shook her head in denial, almost as if she knew what'd he'd been thinking, he pretended not to see it.

"Well, I guess I'd better pack." He moved to leave the safety of the kitchen where he'd spent so much time for the many weeks of his recovery.

"Trust your instincts."

Head snapping up, he asked, "What?"

"Trust your instincts, Dean. Don't be afraid of what you feel…don't shut it out. It'll guide you." Her voice was pitched low, grave and solemn.

Dean nodded, pressing his fisted knuckles into the side of his leg.

"And, Dean," she began quickly, as if she was uncertain she should say it. "Please, take care of yourself. I know you'll watch out for Sam, but…you watch out for yourself, too. Nothing about this feels good."

Suspicion wrinkled his forehead as he asked, "Is there something you're not telling me?"

Missouri shrugged. "Nothing specific enough to help—or that you don't already suspect." Pausing, she drew out, "Just, I know how you get with him and…I'm saying maybe this time you should be watching out for yourself, too."

TBC

A/N #2: The ritual at the beginning has been pieced together from a variety of online resources. Nothing is complete and everything is a mishmash of stuff, so don't be too surprised if it's less than accurate. ;)

Favorite song listened during the making of this chapter: "White Knuckles" by Alter Bridge