Perfectly Normal


The first thing that attracted Jessica to Sam (no, let's be honest here – the first thing that attracted her to Sam was his shoulders, but this came up a close second) was just how Normal he was.

It struck her the very first time she saw him (well, after the line his shoulders made under his slightly too-tight shirt); how Normal he looked. It was in the way he had been scrutinizing the textbook, his notes open next to him, the little line furrowed between his brows showing just how hard he was concentrating. She stopped and just stared for a moment, half hidden by the stacks and her heart in her mouth, and found herself actually thanking her mother for sending her on the job that had made her miss the last two lectures of her art history course before the midterm. It took her almost a full minute of staring before she remembered that, one, she was here to talk to him about his lecture notes, and two, she only knew about his impressive note-taking ability because he was her friend Melissa's brand-new boyfriend.

"Talk to Sam," Melissa had told her when she'd complained about missing the lectures (which would lead to Jessica failing the course and an incredibly awkward conversation with her mother, which she would just as soon avoid). "He takes the most thorough notes I've ever seen." When Jessica had blanked on who just Sam was (hey, Melissa had only been with him, like, a week, and Jessica had been gone for the last three days of it), Melissa had laughed and said, "You mean you haven't noticed him? He's like, fifteen feet tall. And he always sits up front." Jessica had just shrugged, and Melissa had shaken her head and remarked, "I can't believe you of all people didn't notice, little miss observant."

"Some of us are trying to pass this class, not use it as a dating service," Jessica had grumbled, even though she knew Melissa probably had a solid 100 in this course. Melissa was like that, which was why she was useless to go to for notes; she kept it all in her head.

Melissa had given her a sympathetic pat on the head (only possible because Jessica was still sitting down) and directed her to the library, telling her that Sam was always, without fail, at the far back right hand table the three evenings before a test, from 8pm to 11pm, and so she should try then. Jessica had resisted asking how Melissa knew her new boy toy so well (after only a week!), but instead had just thanked her and gone back to her dorm to pass out until it was 8pm.

Sam was muttering to himself too, she noticed as she forced herself to creep out from behind the stacks to approach him. And, wow, Melissa wasn't kidding, if the legs she caught a glimpse of under the table were any indication of his height. She spent a few fleeting seconds wishing she had actually changed out of her pajamas or brushed her hair after stumbling out of bed and going to the library (but it didn't matter; she'd needed the sleep and he was Melissa's boyfriend), but then she squared her shoulders and marched up to him.

"Hi," she declared, interrupting his mumblings to himself about the symbolism of the flattened edge on the drinking cup as it pertained to Buddhist precepts. (Oh god, he even talked to himself while studying!)

He looked up at her through too-long bangs and raised his eyebrows. "Hi," he said back, obviously a little wary of her, not that she blamed him.

"I'm Jessica," she told him, sitting down with a flourish and trying to give him her best smile, as if that would somehow negate her tangled mass of hair or her Snoopy pajamas. Why hadn't Melissa mentioned how adorable he was, anyway? Then again, she probably hadn't been expecting Jessica to develop an immediate (and useless) crush on her boyfriend. "Sorry to interrupt your lecture," Jessica added, and to her surprise he flushed. So he hadn't realized he was talking out loud, she thought, and hid her smile.

"I'm Sam," he said back, cheeks still pink. "Do I know you?"

"I'm in your art history class." His expression eased a bit at that, and she couldn't resist grinning at him. "Melissa – she's my friend – told me to talk to you about the notes for the last two lectures. I was—" she pondered her lies, and finally went with the simplest, "sick, and so I missed it." Sick was a good one, she thought; now he would think she was still recovering from some debilitating illness and not just completely lazy. She carefully adjusted her pajama shirt.

At that, though, his expression cleared entirely. "Oh, sure, go right ahead," he said, indicating a thick pile of papers. "They're all right there. Do you want to make copies?"

She considered that. She could copy his notes and go home to study in peace, or she could stay at the library and stare at (Melissa's boyfriend) Sam while attempting to study. Either way, she would be in her pajamas, so at least she would be comfortable. But she also did want to pass this test, so unfortunately, it was starting look like option one was her best bet. (Alas!)

"You're okay with that?" she finally said, raising her eyebrows at him. "Just letting some random girl copy your notes?"

"Melissa's your friend, right?" he said, and at her nod continued, "And I don't want you to end up with a bad grade on the test just because you were sick." His expression got so concerned there that she nearly melted (Melissa's boyfriend) at the sweetness of it. He really is Normal, she thought, smiling foolishly at him. Only someone Normal would get that worked up over someone else's grade on one little test, probably because grades were the biggest concern in his life. He smiled back at her, and it was so cute that she wanted to hug him (after pushing his hair out of his eyes). But she resisted the urge because one, she hadn't brushed her hair, two, she kind of was starting to doubt her breath was that great, and three, Melissa's boyfriend.

So instead she thanked him, took the pile of notes, spent the new few minutes fighting with the copier, and gave the originals back to him with another profession of thanks. Then, with another adjustment of her pajama shirt, she was off.

"Let me know how you do!" he called after her as she disappeared through the library doors, and she no longer had to fight the goofy smile. It was really too bad, she pondered to herself as she made her way home, eyes roving perfunctorily through the shadows, always alert even as a part of her mind was positively sighing over how cute Sam-Melissa's-boyfriend was. She wished now that she had been paying attention to more than the professor in class. Maybe she'd have noticed him first, before—

But then again, she thought as she sank back down onto her bed, his notes clutched to her chest, once he had gotten to know her, would someone that Normal even like someone like her?


But, strangely enough, Sam Winchester did seem to like her, even though it was just as a friend. He came up to her right after the midterm (to which she had worn actual clothing, thank you) and, with a big goofy grin, asked her how it had gone. She smiled up at him (tall, yes, but hardly fifteen feet, Melissa, he was only maybe half a foot taller than Jessica herself) and said, "I totally nailed that essay on drinking cup symbolism thanks to you."

He laughed at that, and then he held out his hand and properly introduced himself, which was how she knew he was Sam Winchester and not just Sam-Melissa's-boyfriend-damn-my-luck-anyway. "Jessica Moore," she replied, shaking his hand back, hoping her name (along with her properly brushed hair and cute jeans) would override his no doubt mental assignment of her as Jessica-Melissa's-crazy-friend-who-has-no-concept-of-what-a-brush-does. "And thank you again, Sam."

He told her it was no problem and then fell into step with her, asking her all the questions everyone did in college, mostly about her major and where was she from and what dorm did she live in and just what was she going to do with her life, anyway? She told him (though not all of it, of course, especially not the last question) and asked back, and found out he was a history major (which explained this particular art history class, as it counted for a history credit as well) but that he was thinking of going to law school, that he had been born in Kansas but had moved around "a bit", and that he lived in the same dorm she did, just in the left wing and about three floors down.

"Awesome," she declared. "Now I can just go steal your notes without leaving the building!"

"Borrow," he corrected with a dimpled smile, and Jessica tried not to melt again. It turned out to be remarkably easy, because Melissa caught up to them then, throwing her arms around Sam and attempting to kiss him hello, except that Melissa was, at best, five foot four, and so her lips were roughly on a par with his chest and there was no way she was going to land a kiss on his mouth unless she either jumped, flew, or dragged him down to her level. Sam laughed and more or less picked her up and kissed her, and Jessica tried not to think about how she herself was nearly six feet tall (a freaking Amazon, she often grumbled to her sister, who was a far more reasonable five foot nine) and wouldn't have had that problem had she any license to be kissing Sam Winchester. Though she wasn't entirely certain she wouldn't have enjoyed him picking her up, she had to admit.

At that thought she gracefully bowed out of the conversation (not that either of them minded), thanked Sam again, and ran all the way back to her dorm room, where she called her mother. She was only a few hours early for their daily phone call anyway.

"But he's your friend's boyfriend?" her mother said when Jessica had finished spilling everything.

"Yes," Jessica sighed. "I know, off-limits."

Her mother tried to be philosophical about it, pointing out, "You've met him exactly twice, honey, you can't like him that much."

Jessica responded that she knew that, but it felt like longer, and anyway she had just wanted to vent. "But I hope we can be friends," she added.

Her mother was quiet for a moment. Then, "Have you looked into his background at all? Made sure he is who he says he is?"

"Mom!" Jessica yelped. "He's Normal!" But even as she said it she was sliding into the chair in front of her computer and waking it up. A few keystrokes later and she had Samuel Winchester's name entered.

"Never assume," her mother said stridently. "Remember what happened with your first boyfriend."

Her mother was going to hold that against her forever. Jessica resisted the urge to complain that she had been sixteen at the time, which was over three years ago now, and instead told her mother that Sam checked out, she'd found the record of his birth certificate and it was issued in the same place he'd said he was born, so there. Her mother sounded slightly mollified then and changed the subject, and they talked about Esme's latest job until Jessica said that she had to get some studying done for another midterm and hung up.

She stared at the phone in her hand a minute, biting her lower lip and wishing, just for a second— But no, she told herself. She wasn't ever going to wish away part of who she was just so she could get a Normal boy to like her, even if he suddenly became a single Normal boy. That wasn't what she wanted at all.

What she really wished, she decided, was that one, Sam Winchester was single (and maybe that Melissa had some other boyfriend so Jessica wouldn't feel guilty for taking away this one), and two, that he would believe her if she told him the truth.

But she knew she wouldn't.


Sam invited her over to his room to study the week after the art history midterm, and to her surprise Melissa wasn't there. More accurately, no one else was there but Jessica. "Mel doesn't need to study," Sam said to her, rolling his eyes just the slightest bit, and she broke into a smile.

"It's disgusting, isn't it?" she asked, and cracked open the book.

They studied together every few days after that, and Melissa never did show up for the study sessions. It made Jessica both happy and guilty; happy because she got to be alone with Sam, and guilty because it was obvious Melissa trusted her if she was fine with Jessica hanging out in his room alone with him. She tried to just be happy about it, because after all guilt was hardly productive. Besides, she hadn't actually made a move at all so Melissa's trust wasn't misplaced, and Jessica would make sure it would never be.

But even as she was still nursing her (useless) crush on Sam, she was also starting to like him for him. They were becoming real friends, and that was worth even more than all the time she got staring at his shoulders while studying. He had a way of making her feel like she was just as Normal as he was, like they were two college kids just hanging out and having fun and making sure they didn't completely fail a class, and even if she didn't want to be entirely Normal she still wanted to feel that way sometimes. And it was so easy with him. He was sweet and fun but turned out to have a biting sense of humor she adored, and they would trade barbs over their textbooks until they were both breathless with laughter and not exactly studying anymore.

She learned more about him then, not much, but some, when they got bored with reciting facts and starting talking. At first he wouldn't even talk about his family at all, so she told him about hers (well, what she could safely tell a Normal person). She was the baby of the family; her brother Kevin was the oldest, six years older than she, and studying to be a doctor, which was easy to talk about. It was harder to tell him about Esme, who was four years older, but she managed to make it sound like Esme was a traveling photographer without actually lying (Esme did travel, and she did have a camera, even if most of what Esme took pictures of would never ever appear in a magazine). Her father still worked as a business consultant, so she told him about that. Most of what she told him about her mother was about her (like her obsession with bird feeders and her adoration of non-wrinkle fabrics) and not about her job, but she knew she had to say something, and so after some mental debate she ended up telling him her mother was a dispatcher. (It was kind of true, after all.)

At their fifth study session he finally opened up (well, a little, anyway). She found out that his mother had died when he was a baby (he didn't specify how, and she was too unsure of how to react to such a question to ask) and that he had grown up with his father and brother. He clammed up when she asked about them, especially when his father was mentioned. There was some tension there, she could tell, though he wouldn't elaborate. But she could extrapolate from what he did say that his father was gruff, demanding, and apparently uncaring over what Sam wanted out of life, so she could understand not wanting to talk about it, at least not to a study partner.

But she could never quite tell how he felt about his brother. He talked a little more about him than about his father, but obliquely, so much that she had no idea what his brother's name even was. Sometimes Sam seemed even angrier with him than he was with his father, and sometimes, when they were trading favorite stories, he would start one about his brother, and a smile would start and his eyes would just light up before he would catch himself. She did manage to get out of him that his brother was four years older but had been around more than their father while Sam was growing up, and also that he was a bit of what Esme would term a manwhore, and so she thought that maybe Sam still felt some hero-worship for the guy but had also had the painful realization that he wasn't perfect. But Sam usually cut himself off before he told her too much.

It frustrated the hell out of her, even if she knew that (sadly) most Normal families today existed in a state of dysfunction. Still, she didn't check on any of the rest of the things Sam told her about himself (even if she desperately wanted to look up at least his brother's name), mostly because she knew for a fact that Normal people didn't enter their new friend's names into informational databases to make sure they really existed as stated. She didn't even check his high school records, even though Esme told her to – Esme was too paranoid, for one, and for another every time Sam smiled at her it was like she just lit up inside, and she didn't want to go sneaking around his back like he was some sort of monster.

One time she tried to see if Melissa knew anything more than she did. "You sure you don't want to study with us?" Jessica asked her after one of their art history lectures. Finals were fast approaching, after all. (Sam had gone on ahead, so now was the perfect time to corner his girlfriend.) "Even you must need to study before the final."

Melissa just shook her head and adjusted her glasses. "No, it's fine. I don't really need to study much for this class. I need to get working on organic chemistry, because that final is going to flay me. Just make sure you and Sam have a moment of silence for me or something." She hitched up her absolutely bursting book bag and gave Jessica a rueful smile.

"It doesn't bother you?" Jessica asked, falling into step next to her.

Melissa smiled. "What, you two studying together all the time? No, not really. I trust you both."

Jessica managed to smile back (obviously, Melissa couldn't read thoughts or she wouldn't be talking about trusting Jessica – even if she could, really). "Trusting me I get. I've known you since last year. But you just started dating him right before midterms, so you've known him, like, two months."

Melissa raised her eyebrows. "Does that mean he's done something I should know about?"

Jessica shook her head emphatically. "No!" (Unfortunately, her traitorous mind bemoaned. She told herself to shut up already.) "It's just – you must know him awfully well already if you trust him."

Melissa grinned. "He talks a lot right after – you know." She winked.

Jessica nodded and tried to swallow and hoped her face wasn't turning red. "Yeah, I wouldn't know anything about that." She paused, then said in a rush, "Has he told you anything about his family?"

Melissa considered. "Not really. He said something about a brother, once. I didn't ask." She shrugged. "Mostly we talk about studying. And what we want to do with our lives. Random trivia. The books we've been reading. That kind of thing."

Jessica's heart gave a jump, and she couldn't stop the stupid grin from spreading over her face. (She wanted to start singing, but managed to quell the impulse. For now.) Fortunately, Melissa decided that Jessica's grin meant she was about to insult them for being overly geeky and protested, "Don't even say it."

"Say what?" Jessica asked, innocently.

Melissa huffed. "You were going to make fun of me for talking about books after sex, I know it."

Jessica let her keep thinking that.


She met Sam's friends (other than Melissa) the week before finals, in a let's-go-out-and-pretend-we're-not-a-mass-of-finals-induced-nerves outing. They were: Sam's roommate (last year and this year), Zach, reasonably attractive but kind of bland, though sweet; Zach's sister, freshman Rebecca (or Little Becky, as Sam introduced her with a grin, which caused her to roll her eyes and hit him on the shoulder), short and blonde and made Jessica think of the word 'spitfire'; and Preeti, Rebecca's roommate, who had masses of dark curly hair and tended to talk so fast she had to be reminded to slow down.

Zach told her all sorts of interesting stories about Sam as a freshman, running the gamut from their first day meeting to Sam's utter embarrassment in the cafeteria one fateful day when they had served lime jello. Sam turned brighter and brighter red until all Jessica wanted to do was lay her hands on his face. She introduced Sam to her friend Adrian instead. (Jessica had only brought Adrian to this meet-and-greet, as her only other good friend was Melissa, which figured. Sometimes she thought it might have been nice to have had a roommate.)

Adrian (who was already two shots short of plastered) looked Sam up and down and winked at Jessica, who made slashing throat motions at him while gesturing frantically to Melissa, who was right there. Sam didn't seem to notice and just shook Adrian's hand while looping his other arm over Melissa's shoulders in an obvious gesture. Melissa grinned and nuzzled at his shirt, and Jessica ached.

"Too bad," Adrian whispered to Jessica.

"For me or you?" she shot back.

Adrian just grinned.

The first time Sam invited her over without the excuse of it being a study session, it was at the beginning of their second quarter. (She had gone home to McLean for the vacation, where she had spend the entire time being pumped for information about her new friend Sam first from her mother and then from Esme, capped off by her father dragging her out into the woods and forcing her through some obstacle course he had apparently spent weeks designing to "keep her fit" as she hadn't actually gone on a job since before meeting Sam and that had been nearly four months ago. Only her brother Kevin hadn't spent the whole time grilling her or chasing her with paint guns, a fact for which she was eternally grateful.) She had just walked into her (blessedly quiet) dorm room and started plugging everything back in when the phone rang. "You're back!" Sam's voice said in response to her tired, "Hello?" She came instantly awake, however, as his next words were, "Can you come over?"

She practically ran to his room, where he enveloped her in a (far too short) hug and asked her which classes she was in this quarter. They compared schedules, and then vacations (he had spent his in a co-op on campus, apparently, though he wouldn't really say why), and after about an hour of non-stop talking she ended up sprawled across Zach's bed making fun of him for not knowing that Sleeping Beauty had pricked herself on a spindle. When he protested, red-cheeked, that he just hadn't heard the whole story before, Jessica grabbed him by the arm and forcibly dragged him all the way across the dorm and up three flights of stairs to her room, where she sat him down and forced him to watch the classic Disney movie. (Well, not forced, exactly, seeing as how he seemed engrossed the minute it started.)

They sat side by side on her bed, Sam leaning back against the wall with his legs stretched out in front of him, and Jessica with her arms wrapped around her like she was cold, because it was just that hard not to touch him. She ended up watching him more than the movie (well, not during any part Maleficent was onscreen, because Maleficent was too good to miss).

It turned out Sam's knowledge in fairy tales was sorely lacking (just what had his family read to him, anyway?), so she lent him her research copy of Household Stories from the Brothers Grimm. When he was done (and had bought his own copy, she noted), they went through almost her entire Disney oeuvre, except for two, as he'd seen both Aladdin and The Lion King before. "But The Lion King isn't based on a fairy tale, is it?" he asked her, sprawled across her bed on his stomach, looking up at her perched primly in her computer chair.

She snorted and replied, "No, it's based on Kimba the White Lion." Which had then led them to spending the weekend watching the entire series, in Japanese with subtitles, because Sam agreed with her that it was the only way to go. They made it through twelve episodes Friday night, and he joined her at breakfast Saturday morning and followed her back up to her room for more. He ended up falling asleep on her floor that night after episode forty-five, and she covered him with her extra comforter and tried to go to sleep in her own bed, but the sound of his breathing distracted her.

She closed her eyes and let herself have a little fantasy of crawling down onto the floor with him and wrapping herself around him, head on his chest, and listening to his heart beat against her ear. Then she berated herself for having such low-grade fantasies and added a little making out to it, and by the time she was trying to decide if she would straddle him or yank him over on top of her, she was asleep.

Melissa woke them both up Sunday morning by calling Sam's cell. Jessica started awake and was already reaching for the knife under her pillow when she heard his low mumbled, "'Lo?" and remembered. He listened for a minute, then said, "At Jess's." She couldn't keep a thrill from running through her (he'd called her by a nickname!) and grinned up at the ceiling. Sam yawned, then said, "We don't have many left. I could meet you for dinner maybe." He listened a minute, then said, "See you later," and snapped the phone shut.

"There's only seven left," Jessica said, rolling over so she was peeking over the edge of the bed at him.

He yawned again and peered up at her. "Let's get breakfast first," he said. "And let me stop by my room for a minute so I can change."

They finished watching the show after breakfast and he went back to his room for good, and Jessica tackled all the homework she'd been putting off. She finished before it was too late and considered going out (Adrian was always up for bar-crawling, even on Sunday nights, which Jessica thought a bit excessive but then Adrian himself was a bit excessive), but instead curled up in bed with a book and her stereo going softly. She had almost fallen asleep when she heard footsteps outside her door and came instantly awake.

She had the knife in her hand and was just approaching the door when someone knocked on it. "Jess?" Sam's voice said, and she relaxed and almost opened the door before remembering the six-inch blade in her hand. She shoved it in the desk drawer and then ran back to the door and opened it.

"Hey, Sam," she started, but then she got a good look at his face. "What happened?" she asked instead, opening the door wider and ushering him in.

"It's not that big a deal," he muttered, but he came in, arms wrapped around himself. He sat down on the floor and leaned back against her bed, staring at his drawn-up knees. Jessica stood by the door and wondered what she was supposed to do. She opted for sitting on the floor next to him and touching one of his hands. "It's Melissa," he said in a rush before she could ask again. "She broke up with me."

Jessica winced. "Ouch." She touched his hand again and said gently, "Did she say why?" Even though she had known Melissa for almost a year, she still didn't quite understand how the girl operated. Jessica had no idea if it was because Melissa was Normal or if it was because she wasn't.

Sam laughed, though it didn't sound like it usually did when he laughed. This one didn't make her smile almost involuntarily when she heard it. This one made her pick up one of his huge hands and lace her fingers with his, barely even aware of how hard her heart was pounding. "Yeah, she did," Sam admitted. "She said it wasn't working. Something about how we don't see each other much and that when we do it's like we're just friends, not dating." He laughed again, and Jessica squeezed his hand. "Apparently she doesn't 'feel desired' when she's with me."

"'Feel desired'?" she echoed, wondering just what magazine Melissa had gotten that out of. (She could hear the quotation marks around that phrase.)

He ran his free hand through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes (which was a losing battle on his part, she had to note). "Yeah, that's what she said. Like I don't—" He stopped, and she turned her head to see he was blushing.

"What, you don't throw her down and ravish her enough?" Jessica asked.

His blush deepened, but he nodded. "Something like that," he mumbled, and Jessica nearly burst trying to contain the urge to simultaneously kiss him and jump up and start doing a victory dance. She was being a sensitive friend now, she reminded herself. Victory dances could come later, when (she was alone) Sam didn't need her.

But she couldn't stop herself from asking, "Just how often did you, anyway?"

For a second he didn't say anything, and she was about to retract her spectacularly insensitive question when he muttered, "At first like every day, but recently more like – once a week?" He heaved a sigh. "Maybe she's got a point."

Jessica took another deep breath (no victory dances yet) and turned to face him. If it would help him I can do it, she thought, and asked. "Do you want me to talk to her?"

He hesitated a moment, but then he turned to look at her, and oh god, his face. She wanted to hug him again. "No," he said after a minute. "I think maybe she's right." He dropped his head again. "God, this sucks."

She let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding and poked him in the shoulder. "Come on," she said, tugging on his hand. "I'm taking you out."

"Out?" he asked, but he let her heave him to his feet. "Where?"

She turned and grinned up at him. "We're doing what everyone does after a breakup," she declared. "We're going out for ice cream."


About a week later Jessica was out with Sam and Adrian and Zach and Rebecca and Preeti. By mutual agreement, they had dragged Sam out so he would stop moping around about Melissa (of course, Sam had tried to invite her along, saying 'But we decided to stay friends!' but fortunately Rebecca had put a stop to that by stealing Sam's cell). They had all had dinner and then found a bar that also had pool tables, because Sam was surprisingly good at pool, even if he got a faraway look in his eyes when asked where he had learned.

The other five were at the tables while Jessica perched on a barstool drinking Coke and watched Adrian flirt unabashedly with Sam, who blushed on the average of once every 24.6 seconds (god, he was adorable) while Zach steadfastly ignored Adrian's antics and Preeti and Rebecca traded amused smirks at the other pool table. She drained her glass and was just about to shout some encouragement to them (something that would, hopefully, get Sam to bend over again) when she caught sight of the woman staring at Sam.

The music playing over the speakers seem to fade, and it was almost like everything around her slowed to a crawl. The woman stood just beyond Sam, in the shadows near the back of the bar, half her face obscured but the other half lit up red by the exit sign to her left. She looked human, at first glance, what Jessica could see of her: dark hair, smooth skin, full lips, dark heavy-lidded eyes that traced Sam's every movement. But the look on the woman's face wasn't right; it wasn't a look of desire, or admiration, or even lust. It was, Jessica thought, hunger.

Carefully, she eased her purse open and retrieved her compact. With a practiced twist of her wrist she flipped it open. Casually, she tapped the brush on her nose while, ever so slowly, turning the compact slightly to her left with each tap. The edge of the pool table came into view first, so she tilted it up. Sam appeared, blushing (of course). Jessica held her breath and moved it again, just a little.

In the mirror, the woman's face, strangely, was still beautiful, but her skin was utter white now; her eyes glowed in a way human eyes never did, and her lips had vanished, replaced by something that looked almost beaklike. Wings jutted from the woman's shoulders, white and ragged, folded tightly to keep them close to her body as possible.

Harpy, Jessica thought, and snapped the compact shut.

She slid off the bar chair and edged her way towards the back emergency exit, doing her best to act like the figure standing not four feet from the door was nothing but a woman and therefore not worthy of her attention. Harpies didn't go after women, after all, unless the woman posed a threat. But apparently it didn't perceive Jessica that way, because nothing she was doing caught the harpy's attention. That was all on Sam.

Jessica reached out and pressed the bar on the exit door. It clicked, and the door swung open a little under her hands, but nothing sounded. No alarm, no shouts from the bar, and nothing from the harpy barely over an arm's length away. No one had noticed her, exactly as intended, and Jessica let out a breath.

"Hey, guys," she said, strolling away from the door and up to the table just as Adrian was slapping Sam's ass for what was probably the sixteenth time.

"Jess," Sam bleated, turning around and pressing back firmly into the table. "Tell him to stop."

"But you look like you're enjoying it," she returned (banter as usual), but her eyes were on the shadowy form still standing just behind him, eyes on him. She bent, picked up her bag where she had left it by Rebecca's, and slung it over her shoulder. "I'm heading out, okay?"

"What?" Sam cried. "Why?" He batted at Adrian's sneaking hand with the pool cue. "You can't leave me alone."

"Study group," Jessica breezed. "I totally forgot it was tonight. I'll see you tomorrow, okay? And don't give me that look, Zach and Preeti and Little Becky are still here." Sam pouted at her anyway, and she nearly lost her resolve, but then she saw the harpy rustle its shoulders and shift, ever so slightly, and she gripped her bag's strap and shook her head at him. "You can survive one night with Adrian," she told him. "He won't bite unless you ask. God, stop being such a – a straight boy."

Sam's eyebrows went up at that, and another blush stole over his face. Jessica didn't bother to think about the implications of that (no, really, she wasn't at all) and just shook her head at him again. "I'll see you tomorrow," she repeated, and slowly, deliberately, gave him a hug, fisting her hands in his shirt on his back and pressing her cheek to his.

Over his shoulder, the harpy was snarling at her now.

"Later, Jessie girl," Adrian said to her, ruffling her hair, and the others all chimed in with good-byes. Jessica nodded at them, then melted into the shadows. Her friends weren't watching her anymore, she determined after a moment, but the harpy was following her with its eyes now. She straightened her shoulders, gathered her hair in both hands, and twisted it into a tight bun she fastened with the elastic band still around her wrist from the morning's ponytail. Then she slipped the hand on the side away from the harpy into her bag and grasped the hilt of the hidden knife. She didn't look at the creature (she was not nervous; her heart was not pounding so loud she could hear it; she was fine) as she crept to the exit door and pushed it open, all the way this time, and stepped out into a deserted alley.

Barely a second later the harpy was on her, shrieking. Jessica kicked the door shut (she couldn't let anyone hear or see this) and drew her silver knife. The harpy hissed and backed away a step, its eyes flashing at her, its hands curled into claws, though it still just looked like a beautiful woman to her (albeit a beautiful woman with bloodlust distorting her features). "Yeah, I know what you are," Jessica said, taking a deliberate step towards it. "And I'm not letting you have him."

The harpy screeched at her, clacking its beak together, and lunged. Jessica jumped backwards, ducking as its claws swiped at the air over her head. She could see its true form now, its tattered white wings outstretched, the skin on them so thin the light from the bulb over the door seemed to shine through it. Its eyes burned blue in the dim light. "He's mine," the harpy hissed.

"Too late for that," Jessica countered, and thrust upwards with the knife.

The harpy screeched and twisted, and instead of going through its abdomen the blade went through its wing. Hot blood splattered Jessica's face, and she staggered, distracted long enough for the harpy to claw her across the right shoulder. "He's mine!" the harpy screeched again, one clawed hand clutching its injured wing, the other ready to strike Jessica again.

Jessica swung into a crouch and kicked its legs out from under it. It hit the concrete with a thud, and Jessica leapt back to her feet. She strode forward, ignoring the pain in her shoulder, and switched the blade to her left hand. The harpy seemed to be stunned, as only its uninjured wing was twitching, so quick as flash Jessica slashed the knife through its throat, then stabbed it through the heart before it could even make a choking noise. It went still.

"He's his," Jessica whispered, rocking back on her heels. She carefully set the bloodied knife down and pawed through her bag (which she had dropped by the door) for bandages. The wounds weren't too deep, she noted, but she would probably need to hit health services for stitches to be safe. (No way could she stitch up her own shoulder, she knew from experience.) She doused them with holy water, taped them shut for now, and pulled out her salt and a lighter.

While the harpy burned she got out the rag she used to clean the knife and buffed it back to a silver shine. Then she cleaned her face best she could. After that was done she stood waiting, her bag awkwardly slung over her left shoulder (she usually used her right), until the harpy was just ashes. She stomped on them until she was sure the fire was out (never leave a spark, her father always cautioned) and then kicked them under a dumpster. "Done," she said aloud.

Her phone rang.

Jessica nearly dropped her bag in surprise. Then she fumbled for her cell, pulling it out of its pocket and flipping it open. What if it's Sam? she worried for a second, but then she saw the ID. "Hi, Mom," she said.

"Jessica," her mother said. Jessica knew that tone. "Are you alone?"

She could feel the irony about to hit. "Yes," she said.

Her mother continued, "Good. We found a job for you, right in Palo Alto. Several young men have disappeared from a local bar—"

"Named Ricky's," Jessica finished. "It's a harpy, Mom. And it's dead. Update the hunters' network, would you?"

"You killed it already?" her mother said, sounding surprised. "But how did you know it was there?"

"It tried to get Sam," Jessica said simply, and shut the phone.