A/N: This is a direct sequel to my previous story Three's Company Too. I would recommend you read that one first to avoid confusion, although it's not 100% necessary. Many thanks to RealFunkyTown, my beta, who kept track of all my rogue punctuation marks and made the story all-around better. I welcome and adore feedback of all kinds. Enjoy!
If anything, this whole messed-up experience had taught Sam one thing: Always trust your instincts.
Sam had had second thoughts about taking this case from the moment Jess had brought it up, but he had been unable to deny Jess something that she really wanted. She had been adamant about helping out Zach and Becky. They were friends, after all, and Sam had felt a little pang of sympathy as he read the email that had been sent to him and Jess. Also, after a month of fruitless searching for his dad, Sam felt that being able to help friends would help him feel not quite so hopeless. So he had joined Jess to present a united front to Dean, and they all had agreed to stop by for a visit and see what they could do.
A month together on the road had changed things in many ways for Sam. The memory of his Stanford days was slowly fading, and he felt himself fall more and more into the routine of being on the road and scanning headlines for possible hunts. The team dynamic between himself, his brother, and his girlfriend had started to solidify. The hunts they had been on had run as smoothly as hunts could. Dean was showing signs of really starting to trust Jess, and vice versa.
But in many ways, things were still the same. They still had no idea where the demon responsible for their troubles was holed up. Sam and Dean's father remained frustratingly off the map, a voicemail greeting giving Dean's number being the only indication that he was still alive. Sam had not had any more visions or dreams since the one that saved Jess' life, and he was no closer to understanding the one he had viewed. And despite it being a month on the road, things between Sam and Jess were still… weird.
He was still getting used to the idea of his sweet, supportive, cookie-baking girlfriend being a skilled hunter who tended to take as many crazy risks as Dean. He compensated for that by sticking himself in front of every scary supernatural thing that Jess chose to take on. Which she tended not to appreciate. That, in turn, made Sam determined to make it up to her in any way that he could. This particular hunt, for instance.
It proved the adage that the road to hell was paved with good intentions.
The hunt had been awkward from the start. Sam had underestimated the number of uncomfortable questions he and Jess would have to field about their abrupt departure from Stanford. They had kept Brady's attack on them completely secret, and there seemed to be no plausible reason for dropping out of school to substitute for the real one. Jess, who normally got along with Becky very well, had been oddly withdrawn throughout the visit, leaving Sam on his own in the attempt to make safe conversation and keep Dean from hitting on Becky. The juggling act had given him a headache after just a few minutes.
The case had only gone downhill when the shape shifter had attacked Becky with Dean's face and they had been forced to separate, the entire police force on Dean's trail.
Sam tried to keep himself calm as he swallowed the beer Becky had brought him. Dean would be okay. God knew they had dodged their fair share of cops in the past. This situation wasn't any different.
Jess laid a hand on his bouncing leg, but it didn't help to calm him down like it usually did. She was acting strange, eyes tracking Becky carefully and talking even less than she had throughout this whole trip.
"Jess—" Sam whispered.
"No. Sh." Jess shushed him quickly. She was intently focused on their friend's voice coming from the kitchen.
"I had no idea that it wasn't Dean," Becky was saying. "Whatever it is, it's doing a good job of becoming other people."
"We think it can somehow access the memories of the person it shifts into," Sam explained, raising his voice to be heard over the clatter of dishes.
"So, let's say a shape shifter is real," Becky spoke as she came through with a cup of tea for Jess, "how do you stop it?"
"Well—" Sam began. But before he could speak any further, Jess suddenly leaped out of her seat and tackled Becky.
Becky let out a screech, and Sam jumped to his feet, feeling he should help, although he had no idea how he would do that.
He barely saw the flash of the silver knife before Jess was straightening up over the body of their now dead friend.
"No, Sam, look," Jess panted, pointed to the marks she had made on Becky's skin. "She was the shifter."
Swallowing the bile that had risen in his throat, Sam took a closer look at Becky's cut throat. The edges were a discoloured ashy grey, appearing burned.
"Jess…" Sam didn't know what to say. She had probably saved their lives with her fast action. Sam hadn't had a clue… "How the hell did you know she was the shifter?" he demanded, adrenaline pumping too hard for him to worry about phrasing it politely.
Jess fiddled with the bloody handle of her knife, looking like a three year old caught finger painting on the walls.
"There's something I need to tell you, Sam," she finally confessed.
As far as she was concerned, they couldn't get away from St. Louis fast enough. Why had she felt compelled to take this particular case? Sure, it had seemed like a good idea when Jess had first heard about Zach's arrest. But when she came face to face with Becky, perfectly dressed and groomed even when her brother was in prison, Jess couldn't help but feel a little out of place in her simple jeans, tough boots, and lack of makeup. Things had just gotten worse from there. Between Becky getting attacked and Dean being accidentally framed for everything, Jess was glad they were already over an hour out of the city. The whole case had proven exactly how much her life had changed since Brady had attacked her in Palo Alto.
It was amazing the difference that a month could make to a person. One month ago, Jess would have been in the library at Stanford, researching for another paper for her almost-completed History degree. Now, she was in the backseat of a classic car, zooming down the interstate as she tried to explain to her boyfriend and his brother just exactly what kind of psychic she thought she was.
"I can't read minds," she told Dean for the millionth time. "At least, I don't think so. It's like… emotions or intentions or something. I told you, I didn't even realize I was doing it for the longest time. I just thought I was good at reading you two."
"Okay, Jess, so tell me what emotions I'm feeling right now."
"Right now, you're so predictable anyone who's met you for five minutes could tell you," Jess pointed out, reluctant to obey.
"Tell me anyway," Dean pushed.
Jess reached over to touch his ear, and he shrugged away.
"What the hell?" he demanded lightly.
"Physical contact helps," she told him.
"Okay. Doesn't mean you have to pinch me."
"I wasn't—" She forced herself to stop, ducking out of the way of the childish argument on the horizon. "Fine, whatever." She touched his ear again, this time being sure not to grab hold.
She took a breath in, trying to focus her attention. With the shifter, it had happened almost instinctually, but she really wanted to be sure to get it right this time.
When she concentrated, she could almost feel Dean's individual brainwaves tingle through her veins, causing goose bumps to prickle on her arms and the back of her neck. She resisted the temptation to pull away, instead letting the cold, alien-feeling emotions pool together and sink into her. Although initially chilly, the foreign emotions began to warm her up from the inside, like a shot of whiskey. Swirling the metaphorical glass, Jess analyzed what she felt.
"You're disbelieving," she announced quietly. "A little angry that I didn't tell you when I first suspected something, although I told you that I didn't know that I should be suspicious until I felt the shifter, and also… afraid of what this means if I'm right. If Sam and I both have some sort of psychic power, then that's another connection that probably links us back to the demon."
She dropped her hand from his ear. Although the intense connection between them died, she could still sense him, and Sam; two bundles of nervous energy anchoring either side of the car.
Dean's grip shifted on the steering wheel, and he glared at the road ahead.
"You're right, Jess," Sam said. "I could have figured that out."
"Anyway, that's how I knew that the shifter was pretending to be Becky. It felt different than a normal person. I felt it first when it was pretending to be Dean, but I didn't recognize it at the time. The second time, though, I was sure. So I waited until I saw an opportunity and I took it."
"Well, you saved my ass, that's for sure," Sam commented.
"Please, babe, like I would risk anything happening to that bit of gorgeousness."
"We're getting off topic," Dean reminded them loudly.
"Okay, fine: back to the psychic thing. It's not only emotion," she continued. "It's also… mental state, I guess. Like right now, Dean, I know you're hungry so even though I can't read your mind, I'm betting you're scanning the signs for the best place to turn off."
"Seriously, dude?" Sam questioned. "We just ate, like, an hour ago."
Dean shifted guiltily. "Yeah, but I only had the one sandwich and it was mostly lettuce and hardly any meat and… You know what? I don't need to explain myself to you two. I'm the driver, and I want to stop for food." He changed lanes abruptly so they could take the next exit, shooting Jess a grumpy look through the rear-view mirror.
"You asked for it," Jess shrugged. "Quite literally, actually."
"Yeah, yeah." Dean cranked the volume of the stereo up and fed the Impala more gas.
Psychic thing aside, the fact that she knew the model of the car and the name of the album playing was enough for her to realize just how much had changed in the past month.
Dean was a man of refined routine. A creature of habit. A person who liked to do the same thing over and over again.
This took some work, given the life that he lived, but besides the constant change in location, he kept to the same patterns. Same car, same music, same type of food. Hell, even most motel rooms tended to be basically the same room with some variation of wallpaper and bedding.
So it was worth noting when something did change in Dean's life and in the past month, a hell of a lot had changed. For one, Sam was back in his life. Although he had never really formed the thought in his head, he had never expected to be on the road with Sam again. Dean's baby brother had fallen head over heels for the college lifestyle, and to have him suddenly drop out and take up hunting again with barely a backwards glance was unexpected, to say the least. That twist in fate alone was enough to send him reeling.
And then there was Jess. He freely admitted that he had all but dismissed her when he first met her. She was Sam's girlfriend, admittedly hot, but otherwise not important in the grand scheme of tracking down his missing father. That was until she had climbed into his backseat and shown him that she was about as kickass as they come without even knowing about cars or good music.
Dean had adjusted to a fair amount in the last month. So the fact that he was sitting calmly in a diner listening to Jess carry on about being psychic meant that he pretty much deserved a freaking medal. Or at least a plaque that he could hang in the trunk of the car.
"So, what, you can just read anyone here?" Sam was asking Jess.
"I dunno," she shrugged, picking at her salad nervously. "With you and Dean, it's easy. We spend way too much time together. It wouldn't even take psychic abilities for me to know what one of you is thinking. And with the shifter, it was sort of obvious. Once I knew what to look for, I mean."
Dean dropped his French fry back onto his plate and scrubbed his face with both hands.
"You're upset," Jess spoke.
"Don't," he warned her. "I don't need a play by play of the vibes you're getting from me.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"Dean, lay off her," Sam spoke up.
Dean watched as Sam reached over with his large hand to rub Jess' back. She sank against Sam's shoulder as his arm came around her, and her pinched brow began to smooth out.
"It's not like she can control it," Sam continued.
"Sam, I'm a twenty-two year old woman. Not a puppy you're trying to house train."
Sam laughed softly. "Look, we know that psychics exist, right? And, sure, maybe we never thought that one of us would turn out to be one, but there's nothing wrong with it. There's no reason for us to be afraid."
He said it so convincingly, that Dean was very close to being taken in.
But Jess spoke up, voice muffled by Sam's shirt. "You're forgetting that I can see through all your bullshit now, Sam. You're just as scared about it as I am."
"I'm afraid for you, Jess," he replied so quietly that Dean barely heard, "not of you. And anyway, I don't think this should change what our plan is. Find Dad and then go after the demon together. Take care of it once and for all."
Awesome. Although Dean agreed with the plan in principle, it had gotten them absolutely nowhere in the last month. Sure, they had ganked some evil shit, but that wasn't their ultimate goal.
"Actually," Jess spoke up, pushing herself upright and away from Sam. "I wanted to talk to you two about something." She straightened her fork and knife so they sat perfectly parallel with her plate and then pushed her water glass over an inch. "I think we should try a different tactic," she told them hesitantly.
"What do you mean?" Dean asked warily.
"Well, we've tried going after your dad for a month now, and we've gotten nowhere. So, yeah, we don't know where he is. But we do know what he's doing."
"Tracking down the demon," Dean filled in.
"Yeah, exactly." Jess nodded. "So if we start going after the demon, chances are we'll run into your dad."
Sam frowned. "So, we just abandon Dad and hope we run into him while we hunt the demon? And if we don't find him, what happens?"
"Dude, I think she's right," Dean spoke up. "If Dad's gone after the demon like we think he has, we're bound to come across him while we're hunting for it."
Jess nodded. "Look, guys, I want to go back to California. My dad was hunting the same thing before he died. We should check into his research and see if he's found anything that we don't have."
"California?" Sam shot her a disbelieving glare. "You mean where that demon tried to kill you, Jess? We shouldn't be going anywhere near there!"
"Sam, that was a month ago," Jess explained calmly. "By now, Brady… or, whatever that demon's name was, could be anywhere. California's just as safe as any other place. And it could really help us."
"I gotta side with Jess on this one, dude," Dean spoke up. "It's our best lead."
Sam was still frowning, but, sensing he was outvoted, agreed.
"But just a quick trip," he added. "We shouldn't be staying in the same place for too long, anyway."
Dean snorted. "Oh, look, Jess, turns out we found my dad after all."
"Shut up," Sam grumbled, taking a sulky drink of water.
Dean grinned, and popped the last fry into his mouth. "C'mon," he prompted, standing and throwing a few bills down on the table. "We've got a lot of road to cover."
"Wait." Jess hopped out of the booth. "I'm going to the bathroom first. It won't take me long; I'll meet you at the car."
Dean's eyes rolled to the ceiling, mentally converting Jess' definition of a short bathroom break into his own reckoning; something he was more than used to doing. And that fact alone was enough to remind him of just how much had changed in a month's time.