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“We have your son,” a voice growled through the phone. Lisa felt the air rush out of the room. There was a ringing in her ears and a cacophonous thump that had she been able to think she would have recognized as her heartbeat.

“What?” she was able to gasp out finally. Somehow her fingers still clutched her phone. She was shaking so badly her phone kept knocking into her cheek. “Ben? You have Ben?”

“Don’t look for him. Don’t interfere with us and we’ll return him to you safe.”

“What? What do you want? Do you want money?”

The voice on the other end of the line paused then scoffed. “No, we don’t want money. We want the insurance. Just don’t interfere.” And with that, there was a click and then silence.

“The insurance for what? FOR WHAT?” Lisa screamed into the line even though she knew there was no one on the other end. The phone clattered to the floor and she was sure that her knees were about to give out and she would follow its path. She was hyperventilating and unconcerned about the fact that she was moments from passing out when her phone began to buzz again. She seized it in hopes that the unfamiliar number was by some miracle the same person calling to say this was some elaborate joke; Ben was at Taylor’s house playing Xbox like he had told her he was going to be after school or it was Ben on one of his friends’ phones. She scrambled to pick up. “Ben?”

“Lisa‒”

“Who is this?”

“Lisa, look you don’t know me, but I’m coming to help you get your son back.”

“How do you know about Ben?”

"Are you still in Michigan? The same house on Weinbach avenue?"

"How do you know where I live?" Lisa could feel the panic that hadn't ever abated rising even further in her chest; her son had been taken and now someone knew exactly where she'd been living the past three years and she had no idea how any of this had happened. She wondered where her life had taken such a wrong turn.

"I promise, I'll be able to explain when I get there. I'm here to help, Lisa, I swear." For some reason, through the sweating of her palms and the pounding of her heart, part of her wanted to believe this man and against her better rational judgment she did. At this point and in that state of mind, she’d take help wherever she could get it. "Are you in the same house?"

"Who are you?" she couldn't help but ask before she told him where she was. She heard him sigh and there was a sound of movement, like he was running a hand over his face. The wind she could hear told her he was in a car on the move, probably on his way to her already, which should have scared her but she didn’t have the capacity for it.

"My name is Dean Winchester. And I know you, Lisa, and once upon a time you knew me too. I'll be able to explain in person."

"Well, listen, Dean Winchester, I have a gun and I'll have it on you as soon as you show up to this house, so don't you dare‒"

"I understand. I'll be there as soon as I can. I know what's happening with Ben and I can help."

He sounded terrified and sincere and Lisa wondered how she could have known a man who sounded like that over her son and have forgotten him. There hadn't been many men like that in her life; she and Ben had mostly survived on their own and it worked, but that didn't mean she hadn't wanted someone who would worry for them. But that didn't mean she was going to accept this stranger without taking precautions.

"Don't freak out. And stay in the house. I'll be there." Lisa nodded before she realized he couldn't see her and he was going on. "Lis? You alright?"

"I won't leave the house."

He asked again. "Are you alright?"

"No, no of course I'm not alright." With that declaration, Lisa hung up her phone, unwilling to tie up the line any longer in case someone called with real information about Ben and not just vague promises. She didn't know what to do with herself, other than pick herself off the floor.

As she stood, her body went into motion to the cupboard and she took out a glass, the weight of it solid in her hand to the point where she was unsure how her fingers, which seemed nerveless like the rest of her body, were keeping a grip on it. She turned on the faucet and downed the water quickly and repeated the process until she felt her heart slowing down from its racing pace. Her eyes were unseeing while she looked out the window. Part of her brain still expected Ben's bike to come into view. As the sun began to set, she knew it wasn't going to and she sat herself down at the kitchen table, waiting for something.

When her phone rang again, she felt so numb that she barely answered, croaking out a quiet hello.

"My lackey is a dumbass," the accented voice on the other line said. Lisa didn't register the words. "Your son's safe."

"Ben?" she asked, brain catching up with her ears. She could tell that the man on the other line had wanted to go on.

“Yes, Ben, unless you have another son we should have taken.”

“What do you want? I can‒”

“Relax, love, I don’t want anything‒”

“Then why did you take my son?” She had watched enough crime dramas to know not to take that tone with a kidnapper, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“As insurance. An…associate of mine has an interest in keeping him alive. I need a bargaining chip to keep this associate from coming after me when he has bigger fish to fry. Nothing personal, just business.”

“What?” Lisa’s face screwed up in confusion.

“Honestly, he’ll be fine. He might get himself roughed up if he tries to escape, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Please don’t hurt him,” Lisa said, hearing that her son’s safety wasn’t guaranteed. “Can I talk to him? Is he still alive?”

“I just told you he’d be fine, are you not listening?” He paused for a moment to breathe deeply. “And no. I won’t have him tipping you off because I’m sure Moose and Squirrel, or at least Squirrel, are on their way to you already. I’d like to avoid them for the moment.”

“What?”

“It’s like I’m not even speaking English,” he muttered. “Your son is fine. He’ll be returned to you when my business matter is settled. Ta, darling.”

And once again, Lisa was left hanging on the line, her source of information about her son, like him, completely gone.

******

Darkness had fallen hours ago when Lisa heard a pounding on the door. The last time she had moved, it had been to search mindlessly through the cupboard under her sink; she knew there was a bottle of whiskey there and even though she never touched the stuff‒ the bottle had been there for years now and she knew it would eventually fall victim to Ben’s upcoming teenage rebellion stage‒ she had polished off a good portion of it.  The glass she had been drinking from all night still felt weighty in her hand when she got up to answer the door.

On a different day, she would have noticed that the man on her porch was very beautiful, with a strong jaw lined with stubble and plush lips and bright green eyes that burned with fear and anger; they softened a little, the fright and worry overpowering the aggression in them when the door opened.

“Lisa,” he started in a gravel voice. “I’m Dean Winchester.”

Lisa nodded and pulled the door wider to let him in. He didn’t take his eyes off her as he stepped in the house. She could see he noticed the whiskey and his eyes lingered there a moment. Lisa held the glass out to him and after a moment of utter shock, he took it and downed the remains. For the life of her she couldn’t figure out why she’d done that. She took the glass back from him.

“I thought you were gonna have a gun on me?” His own face fell flat at the attempted quip.

“Who are you?” Lisa finally found her voice, and she let the anger she was feeling leak through it. “And how do you know me? Ben? What do you know about what’s happening with Ben?” her voice came at a rush. “Can you help? How can I get him back? Who‒”

“Whoa, Lis, slow down. I’ve got answers for you but you’ve got to let me give them.”

“Who was that British guy on the phone?”

Dean looked confused for a moment and then shook his head a little. “You mean Scottish?”

“I don’t care if he was from Mars, he had an accent and he told me he has my son!” Dean ducked out of the way of the glass that Lisa let fly from her hand as she yelled. Hours of numbness had worn off now that there was someone there to witness her anger.

“His name’s Crowley. He’s…”

“He told me he had a job for someone to do and then I’d get Ben back.”

Dean sighed and raised his eyes upward. Lisa narrowed hers.

“Are you his associate?” she demanded.  Dean put his hands out in a gesture of surrender.

“Lisa, this is all going to sound crazy.” At her silence he continued. “Crowley’s a demon.”

Lisa remained quiet and she just looked at this man standing in her home for a moment. She wasn’t sure if she was about to start laughing or if she was going to hurl herself at him. Instead she just waited, wanting to know what he’s going to say next; it had been a terrible enough day that she could almost believe that demons were a real thing; this felt like hell after all.

“He wants me to kill another demon, one who’s trying to be the ruler of Hell over him. And Cain, but mostly he wants Abaddon dead and so he took Ben‒”

“What in the hell does Ben have to do with any of the craziness that you’re spouting?”

“Crowley knows I care about Ben‒”

“Why?”

Dean bit his lip and Lisa wanted to shake him. “That’s complicated. And you’re gonna hate me for it, but I need you to promise me that you’ll let me fix it. Fix all of this, because it’s my fault completely.”

“I’m not promising shit. Tell me what you did that got me and my son involved in anything to get him kidnapped!”

He looked down, unable to meet Lisa’s eyes, but he heaved a sigh and started trying to explain. He said something about a memory spell and two minutes of complete disbelief on Lisa’s part later, he had been out to his car and walked back in with a bag and was on the phone with someone.  Lisa boggled at what he was taking from the bag: a small silver bowl, a bag of what looked like it might be an herb or pot, a gleaming knife, and another few bags of more, but different, herbs. She heard him say “yeah, Cas, I need you to walk me through the spell,” and wondered how quickly the police would get there if she called them. She had wanted to believe that someone was out there who could help her with this so badly that she had apparently let a crazy person into her home.

“Lisa, I know what this sounds like, but I have to ask you to do something. It’ll help explain everything. I swear.”

“You’re making a lot of promises that it sounds like you can’t keep.” He winced at that and swallowed the insult as though it were his due.

“I need some of your blood for this spell.”

Lisa didn’t bother to ask or protest or anything, just shoved her arm at him thinking if he were going to slit her wrist she might not be too upset at this juncture‒ not when she had no idea how to get Ben back. But he didn’t; he barely pricked her right below the elbow and let a few drops fall into the silver bowl. She could see that there were symbols scrawled inside it. He nodded at her that she could go clean up the small cut even though they both knew that she’d be fine with simply applying pressure with a towel. As she walked up the stairs to the bathroom, she could hear his murmuring in some language that sounded vaguely like the Latin she remembered from the few times her sister had dragged her along to her and her husband’s church and her limited knowledge of it from anatomy.

She made it to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror and felt the tears she’d been holding back surge forth. Her hands shook with her sobs and she struggled to open the first aid kit to find a bandage. Tearing open the paper, she covered the cut and dropped the kit, letting it clatter to the floor, as the spell Dean was doing downstairs worked and her memories came flooding back. She barely had time to process them.

“Lisa?” Dean called. “Did it work?”

She ignored the spilled plastic box and her foot kicked the package of bandages into the edge of the tub as she walked out to return to the kitchen. Dean stood with an anxious look on his face and it worsened when he saw the tears streaming down Lisa’s. He flinched so his eyes were closed as Lisa moved toward him and put her arms around him, squeezing tightly and letting out a sob. His arms came up around her and squeezed just as tightly back; she could have sworn she heard a choked off cry that matched hers and she knew she felt a kiss dropped onto the crown on her head. She held on for a moment longer and then stepped away, wiping her eyes as she did. Dean gave a small, searching smile.

“I’m glad you’re still alive,” Lisa told him. His smile widened and he huffed out a laugh.

“Yeah, it’s been touch and go. You look good.”

“You look tired.”

“There’s been a lot of shit going on. Not that we need to talk about that now. We need to‒”

Lisa cut him off. “We need to talk about how you robbed me of the best year of my life, Dean.” His face fell, a flash of shock before resignation. She could remember that guilty look now. “What? You think I wasn’t mad about that just because of a hug?”

“No, Lis‒”

“Because I’m glad to see you, I am, Dean. Because even though it’s been years, when you were here we were all happy. But more importantly, I need your help to get Ben.”

“I know, and that’s why I’m here. I’m going to get him back. He’s my responsibility‒”

Lisa didn’t care at all that she wasn’t letting Dean finish a thought. “No, he’s not.”  The guilt on Dean’s face turned to confusion at that. Lisa shook her head. “He’s not your responsibility, because you gave up the right to feel guilty for him when you walked away.” He started to sputter something out and Lisa shook her head again. “I know you think you did it to protect us. I’m not stupid, I know you. Or I did, until you had an angel twist my and my son’s memories.”

“I know I can’t make up for it. I know I fucked up.”

“Yeah, you did. And you didn’t do it for us, you did it for you.” Dean flinched so hard at that that Lisa felt part of herself ache in sympathy. She almost reached out a hand to comfort him, but the righteous fury building in her wouldn’t allow it. “You did it so you wouldn’t have to be responsible for us. But guess what, Dean? Someone‒ Crowley‒ didn’t forget that you still knew us, that you would still feel responsible if something happened. What happened to me that day never had anything to do with me caring about you, it had to do with you caring about me and Ben, and nothing about that changed when you had Cas erase our minds.”

“I didn’t think…” Dean trailed off, cutting his own thoughts off.

Lisa wasn’t actually saying any of this to hurt him, even though she knew it did. She had to bring him back to what was important. “It doesn’t matter now. Crowley’s got Ben.”

“We’ll get him back, Lisa. I will get him back.”

“No, you have to go after whoever it is‒Cain and whoever. You can’t go after Ben.”

Dean scrunched up his face in disbelief. “You want me to just play into Crowley’s plan? You trust the guy who had you kidnapped and now has your son?”

Lisa sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “I want you to make it seem like you are, like you trust him. I’ll go after Ben myself.” Dean was shaking his head halfway through her sentence. “I’m not arguing with you about this.”

I’m not arguing with you about this,” Dean shot back. “You’ll get yourself killed.”

“And you going after him will get him killed.” Dean pinched the bridge of his nose and Lisa could tell he was going to argue with her more. “No. Go do your job, Dean. I’ve taken care of myself and Ben for two and a half years without you.”

Dean looked at her intently and she stared right back. If Lisa had searched her newly returned memories, she would have known the two of them had had stare offs like this before. The emotions that played on his face didn’t faze Lisa in the slightest and he seemed to come to a conclusion at her lack of change. He opened his mouth and snapped it shut again and threw up his hands. “Fine, I’ll go after Abaddon and Cain. But you’ve gotta let me find someone else to help you then. You can’t go by yourself.”

“Who?” Lisa shrugged. “Who are you really gonna trust? Sam? He’s not gonna let you go off on your own, not on something so big that it gets my son kidnapped and us dragged back into it. I will figure it out. Just make sure you find me a lead.”

Lisa’s brain couldn’t process anything else for the night and she had no idea how she finally convinced Dean to go. Much later, she’d remember the pained, worried look he wore when he twisted his head to meet her eyes as he got into the Impala, but at the moment all she could think of was her son. She managed to trudge up to his bedroom and she curled up on his bed and sobbed.

******

Sam’s back hated him at the moment for the amount of time he’d spent hunched over the pile of books he’d taken from the Men of Letters’ shelves, but he wanted to supplement the information Kevin had left them. It was easier to think about the ache in his back than it was for him to think about why he couldn’t just look up and ask Kevin for help with his notes. He let the pain ground him and keep him from the guilty thoughts lurking just under the surface. He was concentrating so heavily on that pain that it took him nearly a full two minutes to realize the pounding he was hearing wasn’t simply his imagination, but an actual pounding at the door of the bunker. It was an odd sound, one that he nor Dean had ever heard he was quite sure, and he almost called out to his brother to get his lazy ass up and answer it, when he remembered that Dean was in Michigan; he’d raced out of the bunker barely telling Sam what was going on, which had seemed fair at the time, but now Sam was left to deal with whatever this was on his own. He sighed as he stretched up, his back popping loudly. He had his gun gripped in his hand as he headed to the door. 

When he got there, he looked through the slot that allowed the Men of Letters to see who had come calling, and stopped breathing. He felt his grip on the gun tighten even as his palms began to sweat. His heart thumped as he took in the person on the other side of that door. She was tall and curvy in a way that women outside of magazines rarely were, with curling blonde hair and blue eyes that were shining like she’d cut down whoever got in her way and Sam’s very soul called out to her because she was Jess.

Jessica Moore stood outside the bunker for the Men of Letters, nearly ten years after she died, and tapped her foot impatiently for Sam Winchester to open the damn door.

“I know someone’s got to be in there. Open up.”

Sam couldn’t help but respond to the command, the same way he had always done at Stanford when she’d throw her feet up onto his lap and say “rub” or toss a package of noodles at him in the kitchen and say “boil water” or look at him with love and say “be careful.” With the door open, he just stood there for a moment. Jess stared back before she smiled slightly, nervously. It was at that that Sam remembered why he’d come to the door with his gun in hand.

“What are you?” he demanded. Jess, or whatever it was wearing her, put her hands up in a semblance of surrender.

“Sam, it’s me.” Jess’ eyes flicked down to where the gun wavered in Sam’s hands and back up to meet his eyes. She was pleading with him to believe her. “If you let me in, I can explain everything.”

“Why should I believe you?” he asked with his eyes darting around; why didn’t they keep holy water in the threshold?

“I’m Jessica Lee Moore, we met sophomore year through our friend, Brady, at a ridiculous themed Phi-Kap party. I got drunk on jungle juice and you got me home and you turned me down when I asked if you wanted to stay the night. You brought me coffee the next morning and I was smitten.” She smiled at her last sentence, hoping to get the same nostalgic reaction from Sam. She didn’t exactly.

Sam backed up, gun still pointing at her, but cocked his head indicating that she could come in.  He led her deeper into the bunker, never taking his gaze off her and he could see that part of her wanted to roll her eyes. He took one hand off his gun and splashed holy water from the flask sitting on the table into a glass. Jess wrinkled her nose at the fact that it was dirty‒ there were stains of whiskey at the bottom‒ but she accepted it and shot it back. She looked at Sam expectantly when nothing happened. She finally rolled her eyes like she’d been threatening to when he didn’t move.

“You’ll want to try silver next, right?” She reached into her back pocket and flipped open a small knife. “It’s not pure, but it’s enough.” She pressed the blade to her arm until there was a small line of blood visible. “Anything else you wanna test out?”

Sam’s gun clattered from his hand and he sat down abruptly, nearly falling out of the chair. His hands shook and Jess was moving toward him. He didn’t stop her when she knelt down to get eye-level with him and put her hands on his.  He looked up finally and Jess felt her face break at how he looked. Emotions warred on his face: guilt, joy, confusion, relief, and utter sadness all shone through. He looked so far removed from the boy she’d fallen in love with, but he was still beautiful, still her Sam.

“How?” he choked out. She squeezed his hands and got up from the floor. Dragging a chair across to him, she ran a hand through her tangled hair with a sigh. “Jess, how are…” he trailed off. His next words were barely a whisper. “I still miss you.”

“Heaven’s closed, you know,” she told him, not knowing how to address his last statement. “Angels fell; like, all the angels.”

"I know, Jess. Dean and I, uh, we..."

"You did it, I know you did.  But it wasn't just the angels."

Sam looked up sharply at that.

"We," he started, looking down and licking his lips in nervousness. "We ripped you out of heaven?"  Jess saw the pain on his face and began to shake her head. He didn't see it and continued. "Everyone?"

"No, Sam. No. The souls that were there? I think they're still there. Mostly. But, there was an angel in my heaven. I think. I don't know how it all works, but somehow I got dragged out when they fell."

"Jess, how do you know how heaven works? How do you know there's more than one heaven?"

"The same way I know that the Sam Winchester I was in love with grew up hunting monsters with his older brother and their dad. I know why you had to go off that weekend." Sam didn’t look shocked at all by that.

"I wanted to tell you so many times, but..." Sam looked wrecked.

"You didn't think it was safe, I know. I get it, Sam,” Jess nodded. “But I had too many questions. I didn't understand what happened to me, I didn't understand any of the things that Brady said to me or why he killed me and when I died, I wouldn't let myself forget those things. I mean, you know me, right?"

"You couldn't ever just let anything go," Sam agreed with a small, sad smile.

"Nope. Never. I just kept asking my questions. It didn't matter that I was surrounded by my family at Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. Or that suddenly everything changed when I tried to leave the house and I was on the beach. It didn't matter who was there. Eventually, I just sorta started screaming. Like, stopped moving around and sat and yelled until I was hoarse."

Sam let out a breath. Jess shrugged.

"I know it was crazy, but I didn't know anything. I don't know how long I sat in that one memory, but finally someone showed up. Not an angel, but somebody who told me to follow him. He told me he knew you and Dean. That he recognized my name."

"Who was it?"

"Come on, Sam. Who do you think was popping around heaven waiting to hear something they recognized?"

Sam barely had to think, but was incredulous when he spoke. "Ash?" At Jess' nod, he let out a small laugh. "You're kidding me? He never told me."

"What do you mean?"

"Dean and I, we died, well, a few times a piece now, but the once we ran into him too. But he never told me."

"Maybe he did, just not that you remembered." Sam nodded absently at that. "But he explained things to me. I didn't really believe him obviously, because who would think that heaven would be family meals and surfing lessons or awkward coffee dates with your boyfriend, right?"

"What?"

Jess colored faintly at the sudden question. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and it was so easy for Sam to remember why he'd been in love with her. "You were in my heaven, Sam. Of course you were.” She cleared her throat almost embarrassed and tried to joke it off and wound up back at earnest. “I mean, to be fair so was that date I went on freshman year with Cordelia Simmons, but there was a lot more you."

Sam leaned forward quickly and kissed her. He meant for it to be a quick, light kiss, but as soon as his lips touched hers he remembered what their life had been like, how much pain he'd been in after she'd died and he deepened the kiss. She kissed him back, every ounce of grief she could feel coming from him urging her on, making her try to convey that it was okay, that it wasn't his fault, that she'd missed him too, with the press of their mouths. His hands come up to her face and she pulled back.

"I'm sorry- I just-"

"It's okay, I just don't know that we should," Jess explained.

"No, you're right. I mean, it's not like there's a protocol for seeing your ex-boyfriend after you've been dead for years, right?" Sam laughed and ran his hand through his hair.

"Yeah, they don't make a handbook for that."

He passed a thumb across her bottom lip and the corners of her mouth turned up, slightly and sadly. After a moment where Sam swallowed audibly, he went on. "So, what did Ash tell you?"

"He explained how heaven worked. He got really technical for a while and I had to tell him I'd been a psych major, not a math one, but I got the gist of it. I wanted to know about how I died though, I asked him about Brady and what Brady had said about you, and he didn't know a whole lot about that specifically, but he told me some really interesting stuff about demons and how you and your brother grew up."

"I'm sure he made it sound a lot less terrifying and awful than it was."

"He was pretty matter of fact about it, yeah."

"I'm sorry that I never told you," Sam blurted out.

"I'm glad you didn't." Sam's face fell into shock at that. "I would have had the same reaction as I did when Ash told me."

"What? Screaming in terror or throwing a drink in my face?"

Jess laughed. "No. But as it turns out, it's a lot safer to learn to fight demons and monsters when you're already dead."

"What?"

"How was I gonna learn that the guy I'd been in love with had gone off to fight evil and not try to learn too?"

Sam sputtered. Jess raised an eyebrow in question. "Jess, you were dead. You were supposed to go back and find that beach and drink mai tais and surf, not learn to fight."

"There was no way I was just going to forget about what I'd learned and go sunbathing. Especially when with every wave I’d wind up in a different memory, half of them with you. I wouldn't be able to help you if that's what I did."

"How did you think you were going to help me anyway?"

Jess shrugged. "I have no idea, but I wasn't going to risk having the opportunity and not taking it because I wanted to spend my time sitting around on the beach looking at sunsets. I thought I might as well get myself ready. Plus, I would have been bored out of my mind."

"You are unbelievable," Sam said with the corner of his mouth quirked up. Behind the shock in his eyes, Jess could also see pride and she smiled at him and gave a one shouldered shrug. They looked at each other for a long moment and Sam cleared his throat. “So, Ash taught you how to fight?”

“Him, and then later some other people. He sent me off on my own a few times, to find other hunters, other people he knew who’d passed on and could teach me things he couldn’t. They were always so confused when someone else showed up in their heaven, but they generally didn’t mind. Later, there were a couple other people who showed up at the bar.”

“Two women?”

“Yeah, and another guy. The Harvelles were more than willing to help train me up. Ellen and Jo both drank me under the table too. You know how much it takes to get drunk in heaven?”

Sam laughed, but Jess could see the beginnings of tears in his eyes. It was clear that he’d been holding them back the entire time. He didn’t say anything, just wiped away the tear that trickled out of the corner of his eye. Jess didn’t say anything about it, just went on.

“So, they‒”

But she was interrupted by Sam’s phone blaring to life with an obnoxious ringtone.

“It’s Dean, I can ignore‒”

“Sam, he might need you. Answer it. I’m not going anywhere right now.”

Sam reached across the table and thumbed his acceptance of the call. He didn’t get to say a word before they could both hear Dean through the phone.

“It wasn’t a bluff. Crowley took Ben.”

“Is Lisa okay?” Sam held up a hand to stave off Jess’ questions; he could see them forming on her face.

“That spell Cas told me about to restore her memory worked. She’s as pissed at me as you’d think. I deserve that, I know, but she’s not gonna just sit around and wait for me to gank those sons of bitches; she wants to go after Ben herself.”

“What?” Sam demanded. “Dean, she can’t. Crowley’ll just kill her.”

“I know that, Sam!” Sam remained silent so his brother could fume for a second and went to speak, but Dean was talking again. “You go with her. Or just watch her back. I’ve got to‒”

“Go after Abaddon and Cain and then Crowley all by yourself? Yeah, Dean, that’s a great idea,” Sam cut him off with sarcasm dripping from every word. Dean let out a frustrated sigh and Sam could picture his hands tightening on the wheel like that did when he was pissed and didn’t know what to do.

“I’ll, I’ll get Cas to watch my back or something. You go with Lisa, keep her safe, make sure she gets Ben.” 

Sam was shaking his head even though his brother couldn’t see it. Jess could. “Cas has his own fight. You can’t just drag him out of it. You can’t go on this mission alone.”

“Neither can Lisa!” Sam’s mouth tightened into a straight line.  “Sam, I know what I’m doing; she doesn’t, so‒”

“Sam,” Jessica said, distracting Sam from whatever point his brother was about to make. He looked at Jess with both eyebrows raised. “I can help.”

“What?”

“What?” Dean asked. He got a quick ‘not you’ in response and silently fumed.

“I can go with Dean.”

“No way.”

“Sammy, who are you talking to?” Dean demanded on the other end of the line. 

“You’re not going to believe me, but um, Jess.”

There was stunned silence and then Dean, once again, asked, quietly this time “What?”

“It’s a long story that she’s explaining, but it’s really her. And yes, I’m really sure,” he finished before Dean could ask.

“Hi, Dean,” Jessica called, hoping that Dean could hear her.  Dean muttered something under his breath that Sam didn’t think was worth responding to, and was instead about to tell his brother to get home so they could figure out what the hell they were supposed to do, but Jess had other ideas. “I can help, you know. Sam, just put it on speaker.”

“Jess, no offense, but how’s a chick that’s been dead nine years going to help this situation? You get turned into an angel and fall with the rest of them or something? You’re not a demon right?” Jess rolled her eyes at the miniscule note of panic in Dean’s voice in that last question.

“No, just Jessica Moore. The back from the dead version is remarkably like the regular version. Just get here and we’ll talk, okay?”

With a ‘yeah, okay,’ Dean hung up and Jess turned her attention to Sam instead of the phone.

“I have a plan.”

******

Sam hadn’t liked the plan, and neither had Dean particularly, but it didn’t matter; they didn’t have a better one and Jess wouldn’t brook any argument and that’s why she was standing on a porch in Michigan. She’d hauled ass there, dodging highway patrolmen on the 2008 Softtail FLSTN she’d stolen from the parking lot she’d headed to after falling from heaven into Arizona.  Sam had been shocked to see her straddling the bike when she was about to leave the bunker, but she’d grown up with year-round sunshine, so she’d wanted to learn to ride; apparently it came in handy. She just hoped she’d got there fast enough for Lisa to be there still; the last thing she’d need is for Lisa to have left her place to go after the King of Hell already.

She rang the doorbell and sent a silent prayer out. She wasn’t sure who she was praying to, since she knew what the situation in heaven was like and in all her time there she’d never met anyone who even seen a God, but she was hoping nonetheless. She stood on the porch shuffling her feet, waiting, and the door opened. On the other side of the door was a beautiful woman, with softly curling dark hair and dark eyes that were probably bright any other day, but that exuded pain and exhaustion at the moment.

“Who are you?” the woman that Jess knew was Lisa demanded. Her eyes were glassy and told Jess that she wouldn’t put up with anything at the moment.

“My name is Jess. I know about your son and I’m here to help you.”

Lisa stood in the doorway and studied the blonde woman before her. She stood unapologetically and met Lisa’s eyes. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear after standing there for a moment, but never looked away, even at Lisa’s next question.

“How do you know about my son?”

“I know Sam and Dean Winchester. They indicated you could use some help?” Jess ended the last sentence as a question trying to project hope onto the sad-eyed woman. She got a flat stare in return for a second before Lisa’s head tilted to the side in question.

“How do you know Sam and Dean?”

“I used to date Sam.”  That response once again resulted in Lisa staring at the woman on her porch. Her eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth but Jess cut her off. “If you’re gonna ask if‒”

“You came back from the dead?”  Lisa deadpanned. Jess sighed.

“Yeah, that. And technically, yes. But I’m obviously not like a zombie or anything, and I really can help you get your son back.”

Lisa swung the door open wider and stepped back to let Jess into the house. Letting a stranger in the house didn’t seem like quite the big deal as it normally would have. When Jess entered she saw that there were duffle bags packed and on the couch.  Lisa let the door close and she waited for Jess to face her before she spoke.

“This is going to come off cold, but I don’t have time for any crap. I’m leaving tomorrow to get my son back. If Dean hasn’t called me by then, I’m picking a direction and going. I can’t just sit around and so if you need time to adjust or something, I’m sorry, but it’s going to have to happen on the road.”

Jess shook her head. “I don’t need time. I’m ready to go. But, do you really think just picking a direction is a good idea?”

“I can’t stay here. Not without my son.” Jess nodded in understanding. Lisa shifted on her feet.  There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Lisa cleared her throat. “Okay. Do you want some water or something? A drink maybe?”

“Water would be good.”  As Jess followed her into the kitchen Lisa told her she could drop her stuff on the couch if she wanted. It wasn’t until Jess had taken a seat at the table and downed half the glass of water that Lisa spoke again.

“I’m sorry,” Lisa sighed from her spot at the sink. She turned from where she’d been methodically washing dishes. She’d been scrubbing the same plate for a good minute and Jess could tell from where she sat that it had already been clean when she began.  Jess raised an eyebrow. “I don’t really know what I’m doing and all I can think about is getting Ben back. I’m a terrible host. I hope you know that you can stay here though.”

“Yeah, I was hoping to. Being dead sort of leaves you strapped for cash to stay in a hotel,” Jess shrugged with a small smile. The corner of Lisa’s mouth went up a fraction and that seemed like a little victory for Jess. Lisa finally put the plate she had been washing in the rack and she flung the sponge into the sink.

“How long have you been back?”

“From the dead?”

Lisa nodded. “With such an interesting topic, maybe I can push this nightmare a little further back in my mind. Otherwise I’ll end up OD’ing on Xanax, and then everything’ll be moot.”

“I’ve been back maybe a week. It took a while to get to Kansas where Sam and Dean are stationed.”

“Stationed. Huh. You talk like a soldier, or, them,” Lisa said waving her hand. Jess shrugged.

“I spent a lot of the time I was dead with hunters. It’s why I’m here to help you. I know what I’m doing. If any fighting in heaven corresponds to here, I’m your girl.”

“Wait, you fought in heaven? How is that heaven?”

Jess shrugs. “I had to know too much stuff. Couldn’t just sit on a beach or something. I had to learn. Always wanted to learn to fight, use my reach. Grew up tall, stayed tall and never took advantage of it.”

“I never wanted to fight. I hated it the first time Dean put a gun in my hand.”

“You any good?”

Lisa nods. “I’m an okay shot, yeah.” Jess looked down and took another sip of her water before licking her lips. Lisa waited for her to steel up the nerve for whatever she was going to say.

“I know you want to go after your son as soon as possible,” she started, her tone placating. Lisa’s back stiffened. “And I want to help you, but we can’t just tear off half-assed, you know?”

Lisa stayed silent but Jess didn’t back down, she just let her eyes rest on Lisa until the dark haired woman started to fidget. Lisa finally sighed, the tension in her back not melting at all as she did.

“I know, but how do we make sure I’m not half-assing this?”

“We’ve gotta train you up. I’ve gotta train so I know how to work with you. I’ve never had a partner before, not really.” Jess shrugged and drained her glass. She got up to put it in the sink and Lisa took it from her, setting it down to be the lone unwashed dish.  Her gaze was intense when it fell back on Jess.

“Then let’s get started.” Jess was taken aback by the response and she almost laughed, but the expression Lisa wore told her that she was dead serious‒ she wanted to start training immediately. Jess considered for a moment and then nodded with an okay.

******

They slept as though they’d been running ragged for months, both of them having exhausted themselves with the training they’d done that first night. Lisa, Jess realized quickly, was the perfect student for the work they had to do. She was in shape, toned, and it took a very long time for her muscles to be fatigued to the point of stopping; Jess was incredibly jealous she’d never taken up yoga, but she’d honed her skills in a different, but apparently no less effective, way. When Lisa asked how that worked, since she hadn’t exactly been in her body in years‒ which brought up the question of how she’d managed to get back into her own body‒, Jess hadn’t known an answer to give her and said as much. All she knew is that she fell back to earth, landed near Flagstaff and knew that she needed to haul her ass to Lebanon, Kansas; Ash had managed to rig up something that allowed them to communicate with Purgatory (he hadn’t been able to swing Hell yet, and no one at the heavenly version of the Roadhouse was quite sure they wanted him too) and he’d apparently heard whispers from someone, some thing, about the Winchesters and Men of Letters and had done some digging. Any information had seemed like it could come in handy, and they’d been right.

Jess was glad there’d been something for her to do as soon as she was back on Earth. If the whole point of her learning to be a hunter was to help Sam, help people, then this seemed like the thing to be doing. And, it was easier than being around Sam. There wasn’t a Hallmark card that could have gotten her through that awkwardness and she couldn’t sort through her feelings about it either way. It was much easier to be there with Lisa, trying to make sure the woman wasn’t just in great shape, but fighting shape. It was one thing to be able to hold a bow pose, but another to hold an actual bow and Jess didn’t want the former to be the only thing Lisa could do. Not that they had gotten to weapons the night before, nor did she think they’d get to them that day‒ she wanted to see how much she could push Lisa in the hand-to-hand combat training they were doing. When Lisa came down the stairs that morning, turned to Jess after drinking a glass of water and said without hesitation “Do you want breakfast before or after training?” despite the bruises that littered her forearms from learning to block, Jess knew she was more than willing to go the distance.

They ate bagels and Lisa led them through a series of warm up stretches and then they were back at it. Jess corrected Lisa’s footing and Lisa worked through every blow, even the ones that caused her to wince. When Jess cut Lisa’s feet out from under her, Lisa held her arms and brought Jess down with her. She rolled Jess over and smirked at the way Jess was breathing. Lisa was getting the hang of this and she barely felt winded. She was about to open her mouth to say something about it when Jess used Lisa’s relaxation to flip them over again and pin Lisa to the mat with her hand around her throat. Lisa’s eyes widened and Jess let go after no time at all. It was still enough for Lisa’s heart to have sped up in adrenaline and fear. She knew her cheeks were red in embarrassment.  Jess shook her head to indicate she shouldn’t be embarrassed and they went back to it, trading blows with Jess correcting missteps every so often; the corrections came less and less as the morning wore on.

Jess’ muscles screamed at her after they’d been sparring for far longer than she’d planned and Lisa led them through a warm down, winding up in child’s pose.

“How long have you done yoga?”

“Since I was 17,” Lisa answered. At Jess’ whistle she gave a shrug. “I taught classes all throughout college. I still will some summers when school is out.”

“Well it’s certainly coming in handy. You’re in better shape than I’ve been in years.”

“No offense, but I’d hope so. You’ve been dead for almost a decade.”

Jess laughed. “Yeah, I suppose that’s true.” Lisa was stretching out her shoulders when Jess spoke again. “So what else do you know about me?” At Lisa’s raised eyebrow, it was Jess’ turn to shrug. “I mean, it’s kinda obvious you knew who I was a little. You know how long I’d been dead. I’m just curious.”

“Honestly, not that much. Dean didn’t talk about life on the road much, and talking about Sam made him sad a lot, and sad wasn’t a talkative version of Dean, but I pry. He told me the only reason Sam came back out on the road with him was that his girlfriend- ‘this California bombshell, Jess’ he said, had died. You showed up at my door and somehow I just knew.”

“I guess knowing Sam and Dean means you’ve gotta prepare for weirdness, right?”

“If by weirdness you mean insane danger, yeah, seems like.”

“Hopefully we can stay safe throughout this mess.” Lisa murmured in dubious agreement but Jess ignored it. “There some place you can show me how good of a shot you are?”

“Yeah, there’s a firing range across town. But who are you kidding? We’re not gonna be able to stay safe.”

Jess watched Lisa fish her keys out of the bowl near her door and she started to head toward the door. She laid a hand on Lisa’s arm as she walked through where the other woman was holding it open.

“Well, we might as well try.”

Lisa looked vaguely chastised and Jess gave her a small smile, holding her gaze until she returned it. At least one of them was willing to stay optimistic.

“Plus,” Jess’ smile turned into a blinding grin. “Even if we die, we could always come back. There is an upside to a weird, insane dangerous life.”

Lisa couldn’t help but almost laugh and she followed Jess out the door.

******

As it turned out, Lisa hadn’t exactly been telling the truth; she wasn’t just an alright shot, she was great when they got down to it. She had natural talent, from years as a yoga practitioner, for staying calm and ruling over her own body. There wouldn’t be time to take her out to practice with moving targets and no way to simulate heat of the moment shooting like they’d be up against. Lisa was a better shot than Jess was and Jess knew it, relished it, and figured out exactly how it was going to work to the advantage of a plan. Being able to fight was well and good and necessary, but they were going against demons and it wouldn’t matter how ready they felt if they didn’t have a weapon that would do any damage. They’d go over exorcisms later, once Jess thought that Lisa would be ready for that, after she’d worn her body out enough that they’d have to concentrate on the mental aspects of hunting.

“You’re good,” Jess told Lisa. She shrugged and held out the gun to Jess with an eyebrow raised. Jess moved so they could switch spots and snapped the headphones back onto her ears from where she’d pulled them down onto her neck. She fired off a round, the last bullet fired going fairly astray and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. She was a better shot than that.  She nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt Lisa’s hand on her arm. She went to move her headphones and Lisa shook her head.

Lisa lined her body up behind Jess’ and raised her arms, steadying her. There was one bullet left in the chamber and Jess felt steady with Lisa warm behind her. It’d been a long time since she really felt like someone was touching her‒ the kiss she’d shared with Sam in the bunker had barely felt real to her‒ and Lisa’s breath ruffled her hair slightly. Sam’s kiss had been searching and pleading and there’d been so much packed into it, but this was simple. This touch didn’t feel like Lisa was asking for anything or placating herself; it felt like she thought Jess needed help and wanted to give it to her. Part of Jess wanted to be mad about her assumption, wanted to protest that she didn’t need help, was a good shot, but there didn’t seem to be a particular point in doing so. She tried to match Lisa’s breathing and her mind felt clearer already. She fired off the last bullet. It hit the bull’s eye, dead-on where the others were in a loose circle except the stray near the rib.Jess smiled and knew that Lisa was doing so behind her as well. Lisa nodded a "good" into Jess' shoulder and Jess couldn't help but be struck by how often it already seemed that Lisa was the teacher.

"Aren't I the one who's supposed to be training you?" Jess asked, turning and smirking at Lisa where she'd backed up. Lisa shrugged.

"You don't stop being a teacher, I guess. Or a mom." Jess knew her face contorted at that and Lisa's did in response as well. "I mean, not that I'm thinking of myself as a mom in this case. You're a grown woman, you know way more about this kinda stuff than I do, I wouldn't ever‒"

Jess laughed. She hadn't meant the face to get Lisa so flustered. Lisa looked down, embarrassed and she blushed a little. It was cute. Jess liked seeing the other woman smile when it seemed she had so little reason to; it made her feel like she was actually being useful and not just hampering her from tearing off after her son. She obviously didn't need Jess to teach her to shoot, and she was picking up hand-to-hand combat so quickly that Jess wondered if she'd really needed her for that as well.

"It's okay. I get that. In-" she cut herself off as she realized the man next to them was eavesdropping while he loaded his gun. Jess wanted to scoff in disgust; judging by the near leer on his face, he obviously thought this was some sort of date that was likely to turn into watching two women make out with a gun between them- "where I was before, one of the women treated me like she was my mom. Granted, she was my mom's age, but I mean, I get the instinct. But, you're definitely way too young and hot to be my mom yet."

Lisa let out a laugh at that and Jess cut her eyes sideways to see that the man was still listening to them, his ears perked up a little in interest. Lisa saw the movement and understanding flashed on her face.

"You think some lesbian milf action's gonna happen there, baby?" Lisa joked. She couldn't resist. She'd heard the "milf" comments from so many men who talked behind her back to their buddies that she couldn't help her instinct but to mess with them when she got the opportunity. She looked back at Jess and she laughed as well. Lisa didn’t quirk her eyebrow up at the sound of it being slightly forced. She chuckled again and jerked her head to the side. "Come on. We've got more work to do right? Now that you know I can shoot, time to do knife work, yeah?"

"Exorcisms," Jess answered. At that, the man who'd been eavesdropping couldn't hide the fact anymore. His head shot up and his face turned toward them. Jess and Lisa both turned to look back. "See, now that's why you shouldn't listen to other people's conversations."

"We're friends, you pervert, and frankly, you shouldn't piss a woman with a gun in her hand off." The man swallowed audibly at the threat in Lisa's voice and he snapped his headphones into place. Lisa and Jess shared a brief look and headed for the door.

In the car, Lisa started up the conversation; Jess had gotten almost used to being the first one to talk by that point already so she was glad. "You'd think I'd be used to it by now. I mean, the stupid comments. I've gotten them forever really, but sometimes it's the worst thing to hear. It makes me sad to know that with men like that around all over the place, Ben might end up seeing it as normal."

"Not when he has such a strong mom looking out for him. I mean, Lisa you're about to go after demons for him, he has to realize what sort of respect that deserves." Jess shifted in the seat, turning to Lisa, her voice not hesitant at all.

"I know." Lisa paused for a moment, the sound of her blinker the only thing in their ears. "I almost wish that I could do whatever spell Dean did for me for Ben. For all his faults, even despite the fact that he robbed us of our memories, he was good. He was good for Ben and I'm almost more mad at him for Ben's sake than my own."

Jess did hesitate then. She had no idea what to say. For one, she didn't know Ben, didn't know what sort of influence he would need, but for two, she didn't know Dean and she said as much. "But, if the way Sam turned out is any indication, I can see how you'd be upset. But, like I said, if he's got such a strong mom, it might not matter as much."

"Yeah, lot of good having a strong mom did him. I let him get kidnapped by demons. First changelings, then demons."

"You didn't let him get kidnapped," Jess said immediately. She was shaking her head and she reached out a hand and put it on Lisa's knee, not wanting to disturb her hands on the wheel. "You are going after him. You're doing all you can. You have nothing to be ashamed of here."

Lisa didn't say anything, her mouth set in a line. Jess patted at her knee once and moved away. She almost shook her head at herself; she'd never been this tactile with strangers before, not really. It must have been something about training with Lisa, or maybe the fact that she'd been dead and only semi-corporeal, that made her feel like she could get away with touching her, like it'd be welcome. She'd been touchy with people before- her family hugged a lot and she and her best friends in high school had frequently walked through the halls arm in arm and she and Sam had constantly been finding excuses to touch each other at Stanford, but it had always taken a while of knowing those people before she felt comfortable with it. Jess thought about the knot that had clenched up in her stomach at Lisa's joke toward the eavesdropper though and wondered if it wasn't just something about Lisa. It was a very confusing place in her brain at the moment and she had no idea why. Maybe in the silence of the car she could figure it out.

"Thank you," Lisa said breaking the reverie that Jess knew she was only kidding herself about being helpful.

"You're welcome," Jess responded. She was almost surprised by how much she meant it.

She wasn’t surprised, however, about the smugness she felt about how much better she was at Latin than Lisa. Lisa was a smart woman‒ Jess had seen the books on her shelf and the degree she’d hung in the office‒ but it was clear that she hadn’t excelled at foreign language.

“I’m a body kinda girl,” Lisa’d shrugged after butchering the first line of an exorcism. “I teach gym to sixth graders.”

“You’ve gotta know the Latin names for stuff there don’t you? I mean, you know the Latin names for anatomy, right?”

“I used to. I still know some, but that’s not memorizing sentences. Those are just words. Vocab I was fine at when I took French, but full sentences and stuff? I could never get right. Had to fake my way through the 'Our Father' at Sunday School.”

“Just think of this as a bunch of vocabulary then,” Jess shrugged. Lisa twisted her lips up in annoyance. “Would it help if you knew what everything meant?” Lisa considered and then nodded and Jess smiled; she’d been the same way. Ellen hadn’t even understood why Jess wanted to learn an exorcism when there weren’t any demons, but she’d had Bill teach Jess exactly what everything meant anyway.

Lisa knew just as much as Jess did by the time they were ready to turn in. She’d have a lullaby of Latin incantations that night and Jess snorted when Lisa grinned about it.

“You know, somehow, today wasn’t so bad,” Lisa admitted. Jess smiled. “Having something to do is helping.” Lisa reached out and she squeezed Jess’ hand where it was on the table. “Thank you.” Her voice was sweet as she said it and Jess had to look away from the sincerity in her face‒ it was too raw after a moment. Lisa slipped her hand out of Jess’ when Jess gave her a soft “you’re welcome.”

When Jess woke up in the middle of the night too warm and with the ghost of a dream of breath in her hair, she willed herself not to worry about it, and wrapped herself further in the sheet on the guest bed.   

******

“So how much more do we have to do?” Lisa asked when she woke up. She was drinking her customary glass of water and Jess shook her head a little.

“Now? Now we need maps. It’s time that we got on the road, since we’ve been training for a week. You might not be 100% ready, but we can’t get you into perfect shape here. Ben can’t wait that long and I know you’re going stir crazy.”

“Oh, thank God,” Lisa breathed. Jess couldn’t help but laugh.  “I’ve been trying, but really, I can’t be patient anymore. I need to get my son.”

“Well, you’ve got to be patient just a little more.” Jess made an apologetic face and continued before Lisa could protest. “We’re getting on the road, but we don’t have a way to fight demons right now. I know how we can though.”

“What about the exorcisms? I memorized all that Latin! And you said Sam sent you a recording of one; we can just play it on your phone, right?”

“Yeah, we have that and it’s definitely important, but I know where we can find an actual weapon. One that will work way faster than an exorcism.”

“What kind of weapon will work on a demon? Dean always acted like there was only one knife that he and Sam had that would do it.”

“Angel blades will work too, according to some rumors‒”

“Are we going to steal a weapon from an angel? Because that seems way above my pay grade and way too blasphemous for a girl who went to church every Sunday as a child.” Lisa was shaking her head, her eyes widened.

“No. I’d rather not tangle with angels, even if they’re cut off from the home office.” Jess idly flipped open the phone she’d gotten before she left Kansas. She almost felt bad divulging the information she was about to give out to Lisa without having told either of the Winchesters, but she shrugged mentally. They had that demon killing knife and Dean seemed to have some connection to some big bad blade that he and Sam seemed confident would do the trick even though Jess had doubted they’d had the damn thing when Sam was talking about it; she shouldn’t feel badly. “There’s a gun. Can kill anything. Mostly. It can definitely kill a demon.”

Lisa put a hand on her hip and her eyebrows were practically to her hairline. She recovered quickly. “And Dean and Sam don’t have it? You’d think it’d be pretty useful.”

“They did,” Jess explained. “It’s sort of a long story and explaining how I know it will take even longer. Do you wanna just get packed up and I’ll tell you on the way? I know you’ve got some stuff packed already.” Lisa’s mouth was twisting up into an amused smirk but before Jess could ask about it, she waved a hand.

“A little. How does a woman pack for a demon fighting rescue mission? A lot of flannel, right?”

Jess guffawed, getting a smile in return. She looked away after a moment and examined the speck of dirt under her nails. She barely heard Lisa’s footsteps as she left the kitchen.

“You know,” Jess called up the stairs where Lisa had vanished. She hesitated slightly before continuing, but her mouth had always gotten her in trouble before‒ it seemed that coming back from the dead hadn’t fixed that. “You’re crackin’ an awful lot of jokes for a mom whose son was taken by demons.”

Lisa appeared at the top of the stairs and looked down at Jess where she was standing, her hands folded over the bottom post of the railing. Lisa had a duffle bag and a backpack and Jess was impressed by how quickly she’d packed. She didn’t respond and Jess steeled her nerve enough to look at the other woman as she walked down the stairs. Despite the fact that she’d been in Michigan with Lisa for a week and they’d been getting along, she still had no idea how far she could push her boundaries. It didn’t help their budding friendship that Jess felt the spark of something rumbling low in her belly when she caught a whiff of the shampoo Lisa used when she flipped her hair or when Lisa threw a smirk Jess’ way. Jess told herself it was just because she was back in her body for the first time in so long and she wound up spending most of her time around a beautiful woman, but that didn’t really prevent it.

“I know,” Lisa said. “But, that’s how I’m keeping it together. I’m good at keeping the pieces of someone else intact, but not for myself. I can’t put even more on your shoulders by breaking down all the time.” Lisa shrugged and didn’t meet Jess’ eyes.

“Hey‒”  

“You just got thrown out of heaven. It’s not fair that I’d dump all of my crap on you, just because you want to help Sam Winchester.”

Jess put a hand on Lisa’s arm and waited to speak until she met her gaze. Jess mentally cursed herself for even having brought this up‒ Lisa joking meant they were in a good place.

“It’s not a burden. I want to help you, now. You don’t have to be some stoic soldier. I get that your introduction to this world was at the hands of the Winchesters, but you don’t have to be them. You can be honest with me.”

There was a short silence and then Lisa gave a small smile and took a breath. “I will.”

“Good.”

“Good?” Lisa asked. Jess nodded matter-of-factly and smiled at the fact that Lisa rolled her eyes. “Were you always like this?”

“Like what?” Jess asked as she turned around to get her own bag from the couch where she’d dragged it that morning.

Lisa made a noncommittal sound and waved a hand in a gesture that indicated Jess as a whole. “I don’t know. In control? Positive? Whatever you are.”

Jess flung her bag over her shoulder and shrugged. “I’d like to say being dead gives you perspective, but I think I was like this before. I’m just better at it now, I guess.”

Lisa took that as a good enough answer and they headed out the door, ready to point the car in whatever direction it needed to go.

******

Jess had never really traveled when she was alive; she grew up in California with parents who had grown up in the middle of the country, land locked with fields of corn and forests of conifers, who had thought every day at home was like a vacation and that California, from Joshua Tree to Yosemite to Redwood, was enough that they didn’t need to leave. She went to school in California, figuring her parents were right and she didn’t need to leave to find better.  There hadn’t been a better in her mind. But after Heaven, when she landed in Arizona, she’d realized exactly how little she’d seen. She’d gotten on the bike she’d taken and she’d torn out of the desert, letting muscle memory from being 17 and rebellious take over and watching the landscape blur. When her breath caught, it wasn’t the speed she was going, but the view of the sun sinking behind the dirt horizon littered with saguaros and palo verde bushes. The orange and reds turned to flat, dark brown, but the stars that crushed the black sky goaded her into thinking about slowing down, stopping, and stilling to let the lizards she knew were there run over her feet. She hadn’t done it, but she the night clerk at the motel she stopped at had had to hold himself back from rolling his eyes at her expression of wonder.

The next day when the mesas and arches began to turn into mountains as she moved into Colorado, she felt her heart ache. She’d seen mountains before‒ the granite monoliths of the Sierra Nevada jutted into her memory‒, but she suddenly understood why the Rockies were a touchstone for people, why the state’s green and white license plates bore their silhouette. They invited her to ponder the life thriving there the way mountains she’d seen before never had. California may have given her a number of geographies, but there had been something about that trail from Arizona to Kansas that leveled her in a way. There had been something that gave her a prickling consciousness of space‒both unending and closely bounded. She felt that same contradiction then as she sat in Lisa’s car. On the bike there hadn’t been a frame, but here, she looked out the window and felt disconnected from what they were passing.

It didn’t help that they were on the interstate. Jess had grown up near Modesto and was used to traffic and with the crowd of cars piling up as they neared Chicago, she was reminded of the one trip she’d taken with Sam to San Francisco their junior year. This was too much like her old life and she couldn’t keep her mind on anything other than how much she had missed and how much the world had changed and how she had died and probably killed her parents in the process of grieving and everything felt entirely too crowded after heaven. Any disconnection was better than a panic attack at the cars that flew by rapidly, but she wasn’t sure she could keep it together if they stayed on the interstate the entire time. Lisa was trying to keep it together for her, so she could return the favor she thought. Unfortunately, they’d been on I-94 West for two hours, about to cross into Illinois and Jess knew the panic she was holding at bay by feeling nothing for the landscape was going to spill over soon. She’d been distracted even when explaining how she’d known about the Colt and how it was in Greenwood, Mississippi.

“Seriously? Mississippi?”

“The American South got its legends from somewhere,” she’d said, eyes out the window looking at the edge of the highway and trying not to concentrate on the cars on the in-roads or think about the folklore class she’d taken with her roommate sophomore year.

“Greenwood isn’t a little too on the nose for demons?” Lisa asked. Jess hadn’t responded save a raised eyebrow and Lisa spared her a glance to see that, merging lanes and saying “You know, Robert Johnson.” At the continued silence, Lisa went on. “Greenwood’s where he died.”

Jess didn’t have a response to that and Lisa didn’t know where to continue that conversation. Especially when she really wanted to know “so, if these are demons who have this gun, why wouldn’t they give it to this Crowley guy if he’s the king of hell?” They were braking, Lisa readying the car to be stuck in a jam and when they came to a full stop and Jess still hadn’t responded, Lisa looked over. The blonde was visibly trying to steady her breathing behind the curtain of hair that fell over her face and Lisa could tell her gaze was boring holes into the denim that covered her thighs.  “Jess, are you okay?”

After a few seconds, where Lisa’s panic rose and Jess’ hands shook, the blonde woman was able to speak. Her voice came out deceptively flat. “I might be having an attack of claustrophobia. There’s too many cars.”

Lisa hit her blinker and as soon as there was movement on the road, maneuvered the Jeep Cherokee to the nearest exit. Jess protested the whole way.

“I’m not driving 16 hours with you on the verge of a heart attack. If you want me to be honest with you, you have to be honest with me too.” Lisa said, adamantly. “Reach in the glove-box and get the map and we’ll find a way that’s not the interstate.”

Jess nodded slowly and her fingers unclenched so she could get the map. They’d found a way to get to US 41 and were headed in that direction before Jess spoke up with a quiet “Thank you.”

“Of course. You’re not a burden either, you know,” Lisa said without hesitation. She rolled down her window a bit and Jess took it as permission to do the same. She felt better with the window halfway down, the wind whipping in. It was loud, and it tangled her hair, but she could breathe. Even with the smell of industrial waste and the humidity of the early summer afternoon, she could breathe with some room.

“Not all demons care about the politics of hell, apparently,” Jess said once it seemed like her ears had adjusted to the sounds of the highway with the windows down. “You asked why demons wouldn’t hand this gun over to Crowley‒ they’re not all on his side. There’s a war going on.”

“So why wouldn’t this demon have given the gun to the other faction then? Why hide it in Mississippi? And you just happened to hear this over some souped-up radio that got frequency from purgatory? Because that’s real.”

“All this and you’re surprised purgatory is real?”

Lisa paused a second, cocked her head to the side. “No, I guess not really.”

Jess laughed and folded the map that she’d laid out on the dash. “Look, we’re going off intel that I got from Ash, who might be the smartest person I ever met. If we get to Mississippi and there’s no Colt, then, well, we lost two days and a couple tanks of gas.”

Lisa didn’t say anything, just nodded slightly. They still hadn’t heard any word on where the Winchesters thought Crowley might be keeping Ben, anyway, so this trip to look for a gun that may or may not still exist was better than sitting around in Battle Creek or pointing the car in the exact opposite direction from where they needed to be.  Lisa reached for the radio and switched it on, nothing but static coming through on one of her presets. She jerked her chin to Jess, letting her know she could find something while Lisa drove. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Jess’ distaste when she found a hard rock station with some man screaming and her confusion at the top 40 station that was blaring some electronic sounding song, and she couldn’t help but smile at it, the corner of her mouth turning up just a little. Jess finally settled on a station playing Van Morrison and before long both of them were humming along.

Jess stole a glance at Lisa when she started to sing under her breath. It was impossible not to be impressed with her and Jess almost wanted to say so. To tell her how strong she was for this, how strong she must be every day even under normal circumstances, how admirable the way she carried herself was. A rush of affection shot through Jess and she marveled at how quickly she had developed this feeling for Lisa. The song changed, a Creedence Clearwater Revival one that Jess vaguely remembered her father liking, and Lisa didn’t bothering to hold her voice down. She sang along, not belting, but not concerning herself about being embarrassed. Jess tapped her fingers along to the beat and pretended for a moment that this wasn’t some mission, that it was just two friends on a road trip across the country to get lost and found in a car, prepared to eat too many potato chips and gummy bears and drink so much soda they’d have to stop at every rest area and sing their lungs out to every CD they had.  But it wasn’t. It was a woman with a kidnapped son behind the wheel with a woman who’d been dead nigh a decade as a passenger. Lisa probably didn’t even like potato chips, Jess thought. Her stomach took that opportunity to growl, loudly, and Jess shot it a look of annoyance.

“We’ll stop and get food soon. We’ll need gas anyway. And I think gummy bears are kind of a road trip necessity, right?” Lisa asked, clearly wanting Jess to validate the opinion. Jess nodded, trying to smile weakly, but she thought she might actually burst into tears of joy. She wasn’t alone in any aspect of what this was and it was the most reassuring thing she had felt in ten years.

******

“We’re going to have to find a bar for dinner. One with a pool table,” Jess told Lisa hours later. The sun was sinking low in hues of rose and fire and rapidly darkening sapphire.  They were near Mt. Carmel, Illinois and Jess had felt better, less emotionally drained, as they’d followed the snaking Wabash. Water had always had that effect on her.

“Need a drink that badly after being in the car with me this long?” Lisa asked with an eyebrow raised. “The singing was that bad?”

Jess smirked and shook her head. “No, my singing was definitely way worse so that’s not a problem. But I’m not letting you pay for everything.”

“Wow, you really were trained up to be a hunter, weren’t you?” Jess could hear the faint layer of judgment in Lisa’s voice at that and couldn’t help that her response came out much steelier than she had planned.

“I was a pretty good pool player even before the celestial boot camp. I can find a way to get us room money for the night.”

Lisa looked a little contrite. “That came out cattier than I wanted.” She ran one hand through her hair, fingers combing out some of the damage the wind did. “I just meant, you don’t need to feel obligated‒”

“Lisa, don’t. Just let me hustle us up some money so you’re not blowing your retirement fund or Ben’s college one. Plus, it’ll be fun. Do you play pool?”

“More of a dart’s girl. I always cozied up to the guys playing pool when I was younger though. It’s how I met Dean, actually. How I met a lot of guys back then.”

Jess laughed a little at Lisa’s tone‒ it spoke of regrets and mistakes and came from a mother who, in her own mind, was worlds away from the wildcat who picked up leather jacketed, pool playing drifters. Jess had no idea what that was like, but could sympathize with that feeling of difference from her younger self, even if she technically wasn’t older than she had been her first time around the block. 

“Does that regret mean you won’t be cozied up to my opponent to distract him?” Jess asked, jokingly. Lisa snorted in response.

“You’ll be distracting enough, I’m sure,” Lisa assured, not looking at the blonde. Jess felt herself color slightly but also shrugged in acknowledgment of the statement. She knew what she looked like and she remembered playing that up to beat guys at pool‒ the only person it had never worked on was Sam. He’d let her win occasionally, but whenever they’d gotten home and she’d won whatever prize they’d wagered, he’d always, in post-orgasm glow, admit the fact that he’d seen a way to win. Jess had always made him promise not to do that again, and he never kept the promise. The explanation for that behavior was fairly obvious when she’d learned more about Sam’s life growing up. But, there was no way any bar they walked into, anywhere ever again, would have a Sam Winchester; Jess wasn’t too worried.

******

The self-consciousness Jess hadn’t heard in Lisa’s assurance turned out to be foreshadowing; Jess was distracting and Lisa was embarrassed by just how distracting she was. It wasn’t as though Lisa hadn’t noticed the woman who’d been training her was beautiful and competent, but she hadn’t really been able to see her have any fun. It had seemed that Jess had enjoyed their training, that she liked being active, but this Jess, the girl with a pool cue in her hands and a twist on her lips when she was winning, was having a ball. She made herself look cool as a cucumber to the man she was beating handily but Lisa could see it in her eye when she caught it and held it perhaps a fraction too long that she was having fun. It was easy to see glimpses of the girl Jess must have been before she’d died and learned the truth and come back to life just to be thrown into danger. Lisa couldn’t help but think about how they would have been great at being friends in college. Maybe Jess would have kept Lisa on a straighter path or Lisa would have gotten her into trouble, but they would have had fun if the way Jess carried herself in this small town bar was any indication. It also made Lisa self-conscious about how much she must have been dragging Jess down.

Jess sank the 8 ball with a flash of a small triumphant smile and her opponent had his lips pursed up sourly. Jess peeled off one of the ten dollar bills he’d laid on the table before they’d begun and held it out to him, telling him to buy a drink on her in thanks for the game. He leveled her with a half glare, but she ignored it as she’d already turned to Lisa.

“You’re good, you weren’t lying.”

“Of course I wasn’t. Honesty, remember?” Lisa rolled her eyes. “Are you okay just sort of being here?”

“I can’t say that I want to stay here and shoot the shit with Bernice over there,” Lisa said with an indication at the ancient bartender‒ it was the middle of the week in a nothing town in southeastern Illinois. “But I’m okay for now.”

“I mean, we can cut and run‒” Jess started. She was interrupted by a voice who called out across the room that she couldn’t leave yet, ‘cause she had to play him and see how a real man played pool. Jess rolled her eyes hard before she turned around and played exactly into what the man was expecting.  Jess brushed a hand across Lisa’s knee in apology before she went to re-rack.

From the break, Lisa and Jess both could tell that this man, with his cowboy boots and pack of smokes tucked into his front pocket, was better than Jess’ previous opponent. Before Lisa could get nervous, though, Jess shot her a wink and made a shot that Lisa felt so impressed with that she felt it in her gut. Something in her body was still wired the same way it had been when she was 20 years old and sneaking into bars, equating quick calculations on a pool table with heat and know-how and someone capable of showing a girl a good time, and Lisa wanted to shake it off right now. It seemed childish to feel that same thrill now, when so much was at stake outside of the bar and she was so different.  Yet, that zing of interest sat in her belly all the while that Jess played and talked smack. Lisa couldn’t help but add in her commentary every now and again as well, especially when the other player shot annoyed looks her way before resetting up for his shot.

“Sorry, Tex, just doesn’t seem to be my night to lose,” Jess shrugged when the game was over and she was folding more money into her hands.

“You and your girlfriend hustle for kicks, then? Fucking dy‒”

“Don’t you finish that sentence, Alvin,” came to interruption from behind the bar. Bernice may have been ancient, but apparently her hearing was just fine. “You let those women get on with their night without any trouble.”

Jess went to return her pool cue and Lisa surreptitiously slipped a five onto the bar for Bernice and her rescuing. She stood up and Jess was even with her again, and, in defiance of what the man was going to say, slipped an arm through Lisa’s.

“Nobody likes a sore loser, Alvin,” Jess hissed as they went by. “And Tex is a stupid nickname.”

Lisa started laughing as soon as they hit the door. “What an exit line.”

Jess sniggered too and they climbed into the Cherokee, ready for another hour or two on the road before they would finally pull into a motel with a vacancy and watch fuzzy infomercials until they were falling asleep. Lisa waited for Jess’ breathing to even out in slumber before she let the day hit her. Ben had been gone a week and Lisa felt guilt rack her at the fact that she’d been in a pool hall, laughing while he was probably terrified and possibly hurt and Lisa ached with it. Her tears started to fall before she could think about it and she wept herself into exhaustion, finally falling asleep with prayers for her son’s safety on her lips.

******

The Blue Whale Diner seemed a ridiculous name for a breakfast joint in Kentucky, but it was the first place they’d seen once they felt like eating. Jess didn’t say anything to Lisa about the previous night, so she was fairly certain she’d kept her breakdown silent enough. Jess was actually grinning and looking hopeful when Lisa returned from the bathroom. Lisa looked expectantly at her and before she cut into her omelet, Jess told her “I got a call from Sam.”

Lisa set her fork down and knew the hope on her face showed. She bobbed her head a little to tell Jess to go on.

“He and Dean think that Crowley has Ben in Utah. They think Crowley is actually there with Ben, too. Something about not trusting his lackeys to not hurt the kid. Apparently the King of Hell’s getting soft in his age,” Jess shrugged. Their waiter chose that moment to refill their water glasses and neither of the women addressed the bewildered look he gave at the conversation happening. Lisa started to shovel her food into her mouth at an uncharacteristically high speed. “We can’t save Ben if you choke, slow down.”

“We can’t save him until we get this gun either, and we need to be on the road. We’re going to have to find where this gun is in Greenwood still, right?” At Jess’ nod, Lisa went on. “That means we’ve got work to do‒  I doubt some demon with information is just going to find us, so we need to figure out how to find them. When we get back to the motel, we’re going to need to scour every newspaper’s website from here to Greenwood to look for supernatural activity.”

Jess looked almost awestruck at the woman across from her, setting down her own fork to give Lisa an impressed look. Lisa looked up at the sound, smiled a little and shrugged.

“I couldn’t help but learn some things from the stories Dean told.”

Jess started to match the pace Lisa was eating at and they were out of the Blue Whale in minutes, already forgetting what the food tasted like and having hastily thrown too much money on the table.

It didn’t take them long to find something that sounded like it could be useful. “I know it’s Memphis,” Lisa started, “and this may sound normal, but there’s a bunch of missing persons reports where people apparently keep saying they see the people around town, but the police can’t ever prove it and find them. Could be possession victims.”

“Aren’t you glad I hacked into the police database there? Thank god for Ash.”

“Yeah, who would have known dying would be so useful for your computer skills. I mean, you died before the iPhone even came out.”  Jess laughed softly at that, thought it was a little forced, and came to stand over Lisa’s shoulder to check out the reports she’d pulled up. Lisa’s hair skimmed her arm and Jess swept it back so it wouldn’t tickle and tried not to feel anything about how intimate the motion seemed to be. Lisa reached up to tuck the offending strand behind her ear and their knuckles brushed. Neither said anything about any spark either of them may have felt at the touch.

Jess made a sound of assent in the back of her throat. “This could be something, yeah.  We’ll need to find some place to print out these pictures‒”

“I’m a teacher, I’m great with faces. We don’t need to print them,” Lisa interrupted.

“Okay, then we’ll need to make sure we’re ready to go out on the town tonight then. Figure out how to fit weapons into a miniskirt.” Lisa shot a bemused look at her companion to which she got a smirk. “They were all officially last seen on Beale, so that’s where we’ll need to be. Pretend to be drunk women reliving their sorority glory days or something and catch the attention of a demon looking for fresh meat.”

Lisa sighed and it was Jess’ turn to question her. “That means we’ve got to shop, doesn’t it?” Jess nodded sympathetically; Lisa didn’t realize exactly how much prep went into hunting with the way Dean had always told the stories and she simultaneously appreciated the job he did more and hated him for not warning her.

******

Lisa could hardly keep her eyes off Jess. The way the woman moved was completely different when she was dressed in a denim mini and cowboy boots; she'd played herself up in attempts to distract the men playing pool opposite her the previous night, but this was something new. She made herself flirt with everyone around her, men and women, and laughed as though she'd never had a better time. Lisa, honestly, was having a hard time trying to keep up with her and keep an eye out for a familiar seeming face. She knew that her demeanor could work- the less wild friend who'd take care of her companion was a constant anyway- but she felt almost as though she were letting Jess down. But that feeling only lasted as long as there was someone around them for Jess to perform to.

"This is fucking exhausting," Jess sighed and took a sip of her drink. She was just drinking water, downing it and acting as though it were vodka with every sip. Lisa actually had a beer in her hand, but had spent most of the night playing with the label instead of drinking. "Have we seen anyone that could be looking for someone new to toy with? Any of the missing people?" Lisa shook her head and Jess let out a small growl of frustration. "Is this going to work?"

"Oh, it has to work," Lisa replied and started to laugh. Jess looked momentarily confused but when Lisa took a sip of her beer and 'accidentally' knocked it over on the bar, she got the message. Jess started to laugh as well and laid a hand on Lisa's forearm in faux-joy. "Oh my god, I haven't been this drunk since college," Lisa exclaimed overly loud. Jess' eyes darted around the room to see if anyone seemed to perk up at that and Lisa did the same when Jess agreed with her. Lisa saw someone's eyes narrow their way, but she couldn't be sure if it was in interest, judgment, or sizing up prey.

She ordered another beer and took a pull from the bottle. Jess tapped her glass and they watched as the bartender held back a sigh; he was only going along with the ruse because of the hefty tip Jess had slipped him when they sat down. They toasted, smiling hard and holding each other's gaze a touch too long. It was difficult for Jess to look back at Lisa again right away to continue the charade. The woman whose eyes had narrowed began to walk over to them and Lisa felt her pulse quicken in anticipation. They'd been approached by a number of men already that night and by the time the third one had tried to sweet talk them into a night of drunken debauchery or however they phrased it, the anticipation at approaching men had died down. Lisa had faked a sneeze of "Christo" at every one of them in case they were new vessels, but none of their eyes had changed at all. But, despite Jess' flirting with members of every gender that had been around her, no woman had approached them yet, so Lisa couldn't help but start to feel nervous.

"Hey," the woman started.  She had a jawline that looked vaguely like one of the women in the missing persons’ photos, but her hair was vastly different and her makeup too dramatic. Lisa wasn’t sure if she was their girl. "Can I buy you a drink?"

"Well, we just bought new ones, but--" Lisa faked her sneeze in the middle of Jess' sentence-- "maybe you can stick around for the next one?" Jess finished.

"Sure," the woman purred. "Or maybe we could get out of here?"

"I'm not just gonna let you leave with my friend," Lisa said, not having to work very hard for it to sound convincing. The woman finally turned toward Lisa and Jess nodded imperceptibly behind her back. She was their demon.

"You're invited too. There's another bar off of Beale, less crowded, cheaper drinks. Lotta fun."

"Oh my god, we've gotta go!" Jess pleaded to Lisa and Lisa pretended to consider it. "Please?" Lisa nodded, reluctantly, and the demon grinned. Jess clapped her hands excitedly and over the top and started to drink her water. Lisa took another pull of her beer and wondered about the intelligence of knocking it over again so she wouldn't have to slam it. Jess, once again, came to her rescue though. "Here, let me help you, slow poke." She took two gulps, her throat working in a way that caught the attention of the two men next to them and set it down. It had caught Lisa's attention too, but half of it worry that Jess would get carried away. "Oh, too fast. Need air or I'm gonna puke."

Lisa stood up immediately and the demon got an arm around Jess' waist. Lisa went to the other side of her friend and willed herself to not be stiff at the sight of the demon woman touching Jess. Jess was calming her body down as well, trying to play off the way she knew her skin broke out in goosebumps as desirous and not nervous. They made their way out of the bar and onto the street. It thankfully wasn't as crowded as it could have been, but it was still summer in Memphis, hot and humid, and Beale Street blared music from everywhere and neon flashed. Jess clutched at her head and doubled over. Lisa brushed her hair back and bent down as well.

"Are you going to be sick?" she pitched her voice loudly. "Plan?" she asked quieter into Jess' ear, still running hands through her hair. Jess groaned.

"No, I'm okay, let's just get somewhere with less people."

Lisa straightened up and shrugged at the woman waiting for them, whose eyes were far too understanding for a person trying simply to hook up with a woman from a bar. "Let's just go to that other bar maybe?"

"You sure that's a good idea? I've got an apartment pretty close too."

"No way, I can drink more!" Jess protested as she stood up. "Let's go."

The demon woman shrugged and led them away from the popular street. They were a few blocks away, Lisa and Jess faking the kind of lack of worry only women completely drunk and unaware of the surroundings could have, when Jess pulled out the flask she'd tucked into her back pocket.

"You want a drink?" Jess asked the demon in the lead. She raised the flask to her own lips and swallowed a mouthful of holy water. The demon looked at her skeptically and then shrugged a little. She reached out a hand to take the flask and Jess jerked her hand so that the water splashed out onto the demon. The woman let out a wail of pain and Lisa lunged toward her, getting her in a tackle and pinning her hands down with her knees. Jess threw more water on her and when the demon tried to smoke out, she rattled off an exorcism backwards stumbling a little but keeping the demon rooted to her body. Jess tossed Lisa the handcuffs she'd taken from the Men of Letters' bunker and Lisa snapped them onto the demon’s wrist. The woman howled in anger and the veins in the host's neck stood out.

"You hunter bitches!" she snarled.

"Nope, not really. We just need some information," Lisa said, still pinning the demon down so she couldn't run. The vessel she'd chosen was slight and without access to her powers, Lisa could easily hold her. "There's a gun, in Greenwood, Mississippi that one of your kind hid. Where would it be?"

"Why in the fuck would I know?" the demon demanded. "I don't know every fucking demon!"

Jess and Lisa both hid the fact that they’d been too caught up with everything else and overlooked that fact very well. Jess flung a little more holy water on her and it was met with a scream. There was no way that someone wasn't hearing this. "Maybe not, but you'd know where something like that would be hidden, wouldn't you?"

"Fuck you, no." The demon was struggling under Lisa and Lisa planted her legs more firmly, digging into her ribs.

"Yes, you would. Or you'd know a way for us to find it."

"Why would I?"

“Are you an idiot?” Lisa asked, almost conversationally. She was scrambling but her brain was working overtime.

“Fuck you,” the demon spit up at her. Lisa didn’t bat an eye, just wiped the saliva off her cheek with the bottom of the flowery top she knew she’d never wear again.

“I’ll assume that means no. Part of not being an idiot means keeping your ears to the rumor mill. So what have other demons said about a weapon in Greenwood?”

“Tell her or I’ll bless the damn Mississippi and dunk you in it,” Jess threatened, not caring whether it was a legitimate one or not.

“The only reason Greenwood matters is because it’s where we dragged Robert Johnson to hell. It’s a town in fucking Mississippi!”

“Not a good enough answer,” Jess said, and dumped more holy water.

“Shit!” The demon was writhing. “Unless it matters that that bitch who switched sides and worked with the Winchesters was there, there’s nothing!”

Lisa turned her head and looked at Jess. Their eyes met and Jess nodded and Lisa fumbled her way through the exorcism she’d spent so much time learning.

“I’d bet you anything that means the Colt is really in Greenwood. If someone who’d been on Sam and Dean’s side and then got sent to purgatory was there…” Jess trailed off.

“We’ve gotta take that chance, right?” Lisa asked. Jess nodded. Lisa started working on unlocking the handcuffs still on the girl and she stood up.  When the girl woke up, hours later, she was tucked behind a tree, out of sight from the road and there was a note shoved in her hand about being possessed; it sounded like a crock to her, but while she called a cab to come get her, she came up with a story for her parents without getting cops involved. Jess and Lisa had been long gone.

******

“You know, yesterday was surprisingly alright,” Lisa admitted at breakfast the next morning. Jess looked up from her French toast. “I mean, it was nerve racking and terrifying and at times oddly boring, but we got what we went there for.” Lisa took a sip of coffee out of her Elvis themed mug and Jess was still chewing so she got a chance to continue on. “And we helped that girl. We might have been too late to save any other people that demon had taken, but we helped her stay alive.”

“It does feel like a pretty big deal, doesn’t it?” Jess admitted. Lisa’s smile at that, although not blinding or wide or anything that would impress a stock photographer, hit Jess like a car.  It was softly happy, content in a way that should have been impossible in the circumstances. Jess kept the grimace from her face when she recognized the swoop she felt in her stomach at it.

“This is going to sound completely screwed up,” Lisa glanced down as she began, not willing to meet Jess’ eyes at the moment and Jess was grateful at that. “But this could be alright. I’m so scared for Ben, but this sort of work could be alright. I get why Dean couldn’t stay away from it. I know it was a lot his brother being in this life, but the work drew him back too. But I get both of those things.”

Jess’ fork clattered against her plate as she set it down. Lisa had to look up at that, and now she did meet Jess’ blue eyes.

“I could do this work with you. It feels right, us being partners like this.” Lisa let out a laugh, nervously. Jess hadn’t said anything‒ she could only blink‒ so Lisa kept talking. “Some sort of weird symmetry, I guess. Sorry if that sounds weird.”

“It doesn’t,” Jess blurted out. Lisa smiled again and Jess thought she might be blushing. “I mean, we did make a pretty good team last night.” Jess cleared her throat and took a sip of her water.  “Hopefully that’s a good sign that we’ll be able to get through these storage units and find the Colt later as a team then too.”

“I’m ready to pick some locks and invade some people’s privacy,” Lisa joked, trying to break the strange atmosphere that had cropped up at her confession. Jess nodded and held up her glass in a toast, which Lisa joined her in.

The joke, however, didn’t get rid of the air between them. The feeling that at any minute Lisa’s heart would speed up if she looked at Jess too long, or wrong, or worse, if Jess caught her looking, didn’t dissipate at all in the car. The few times that they bumped elbows on the center armrest, one of them jumped away as though they’d been shocked and then tried to play that off. Both of them knew that it didn’t work but they didn’t say a word about it. Even the radio, which for the last two days had been a source of joy in the car, seemed to be conspiring against them; in the span of two hours, they heard Marvin Gaye, Stephen Stills, and Norah Jones and both women found themselves wishing the radio would just short out. At the sound of John Mayer, Jess broke down and changed the channel, winding up on a classic rock station with Heart playing, the Wilson sisters singing about the real thing doing the trick.

Their conversation was limited, and they passed markers on highway 61 that left them both curious. Lisa knew that in any other circumstances she would have pulled off at the rest stop they’d seen only a few miles past the border and would have devoured the pamphlets about Mississippi and its musical history. She knew Ben would have, too, and she vowed that they’d find a way to travel together and soon. As it was, this wasn’t a road trip, and she didn’t have time to do anything but acknowledge the blue markers they passed as a missed opportunity.

Mississippi was green and hot and wide open in a different way than the Midwest was. Even with the tension in the car, the landscape did things for Jess; it made her budding wanderlust rise, made her wish to see the rest of the country and catalogue the ways things were different, the way they were the same. A cotton field looked different than a corn field and the Mississippi looked different crossing it in Iowa than it did in Memphis and she wondered how different the Smokies were from the Rockies were from the Sierra Nevada. There was so much she hadn’t seen and she wanted to touch it all and feel how different the wind was.  Unbidden, the thought that it would be fun to see those differences with Lisa, and more than likely with her son as well, came into her mind. She once would have thought that about Sam. She quashed the thought as readily as it had shown up, telling herself that she was being silly and that things like that were the reason the car was so tense.

The tension didn’t break until after Jess woke up, having fallen asleep for a quick snap around Clarksdale. It was strange to be in the car for only two and a half hours and they wondered about how smart it would be to go through the storage unit space in the middle of the day time, but didn’t want to wait.

 There were only so many storage units and they could tell right away when a unit was not holding the Colt. Only so many units were locked as well, and they decided not to bother with those that weren’t for the same reason they decided to jump right to checking the one storage rental facility in Greenwood: the Colt couldn’t just be hidden where anyone would find it, and so it’d have to be under lock and key somehow. If it wasn’t in a storage unit, they’d have to figure out how they were going to rob a bank and both Lisa and Jess kept their fingers crossed for not having to do that.

They’d picked the locks on seven storage units between the two of them already when Lisa heard Jess let out a whoop of joy. She took her lock-pick out of the lock it was in and shoved it back into her kit before racing toward the sound she’d just heard. Jess was standing in front of the unit with a grin splashed across her face and when she heard the crunch of gravel Lisa’s steps caused, she turned that grin on her friend. Lisa returned it and met her in front of the unit.

Inside there were three things: a plain wooden stool, orange paint cracking off it in flecks, on top of which sat a piece of paper with a gun set on it. Lisa and Jess exchanged glances, made sure to lock the door propped up, and went inside. Jess picked the gun up and checked the chamber- 4 bullets- and Lisa snatched up the piece of paper. Jess’ fingers ran across the engravings on the hilt of the Colt while Lisa read out loud:

“’Sam and Dean- I hope you morons eventually find this and it helps you with whatever your cause is. And Clarence, if you’re with them’‒ oh my god, I’m not reading that out loud,” Lisa stammered and blushed.   Jess plucked the paper from Lisa’s hands to see what had embarrassed her and blushed too before shoving it back at Lisa, who folded it up and put it in her pocket. “I told you.”

“Yeah, well, good for whoever Clarence is. Hope that was always on the menu for him,” Jess waved off. She smacked Lisa on the arm in excitement. “I can’t believe it was just right here!”

“That’s a gun that can kill anything?”

“It’s a gun that’ll kill a demon, definitely,” Jess nodded.

“Then let’s go get my son back.”

They let the door clang shut behind them, not bothering with the lock, and they rushed to the car, ready to cover as much ground heading northwest as they possibly could that day. Jess slipped into the driver’s seat and she passed Lisa the gun. “I think this should be yours.”

She gave her a tight lipped smile and as Jess pulled back onto US 49, headed north now, Lisa examined the Colt. The balance felt perfect in her hand despite the fact that she’d never shot a long-barreled pistol. The engravings and the inscription stood out though the wood of the hilt was worn. While Lisa had never thought herself the gun-slinging type, it felt like a fitting weapon to take back her son. She felt nothing when she put it in the glove-box.

******

Jess hustled again that night. It had been a long day on the road, even with Jess having pulled them onto the interstate. Lisa had thanked her quietly, knowing Utah was too far for them to make good time on the scenic route. Jess had squeezed Lisa’s hand where it was on the center armrest, unable to stop herself. Lisa could have sworn that her hand had tingled the whole stretch of I-40 through Arkansas.

Jess’ pool opponents were plentiful and different than the other night: more country, more leering, more intoxicated, but also, more importantly, better. Lisa wondered briefly if they hadn’t wandered into a town of pool sharks. Jess didn’t have time to wonder as she was concentrating heavily on the games. This wasn’t hustling; it really was chance and Jess’ confidence faltered. When Lisa threw 50 dollars onto the table during her third game and told the man who’d just called Jess ‘sugar-tits’ that there was no way he was going to beat her, Jess’ determination returned. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had been willing to risk anything on her‒ not like this. The game came down to the wire, but Jess won, Lisa letting out a shout of joy and Jess finally breathing easy. Lisa seized the money she’d won off the table and bought them actual drinks and it was a good night where they talked about the traveling they’d done before this, their shared distaste for honky-tonk music like the bar was playing, and of all things, baseball. Jess wanted to know who’d won the series in the last 10 years, the last winner she’d seen being the Chicago White Sox, which she was still surprised about. Lisa laughed at her and did her best to remember the winners, knowing enough that Jess was able to let out a sound of joy when she heard her Giants had won. It was silly and easy and once again, it made it simple to forget the fear and worry that had been Lisa’s companion for over a week. Jess helped abate those feelings and she was going to be grateful for that forever probably.

“I couldn’t do this without you,” Lisa said when they were in their motel room, both women close to falling asleep. “I really couldn’t.”

Jess didn’t know what to say, even after Lisa’s breathing evened out.

******

The tension from the previous morning didn’t rear its head again until the next night. The trip across I-80 had been uneventful; Nebraska was flat and unending and Jess still found it beautiful in some way which Lisa rolled her eyes at, but they’d had easy conversation between singing along with the radio. They knew they’d need to make plans for how to handle Crowley and get Ben out, but neither was willing to break the spell of calm that they’d fallen into being on the road with a mission in mind. They knew they had another short day on the road after that one and without speaking about it, decided the planning could wait. They pulled off the interstate around Rawlins, Wyoming and found food, drinking beers and eating a burger and Lisa didn’t even care that she hadn’t been particularly mindful of what she’d been putting in her body this whole time. Once again, she found herself understanding the way Dean had lived before he’d moved in with her a little bit more.

They pulled into the lot of the first motel they saw and Jess raised her eyebrows in shock at how crowded the small place seemed. The “Vacancy” sign was still lit and Lisa shrugged at her look of concern.

“We’ve got one last room. King bed, but the next place to stay is about 40 miles away,” the clerk said. Lisa looked at Jess and the latter raised her shoulders in apathy. They’d already been on the road around 14 hours and another one might not be the worst thing they’d experience, but they needed to be ready for tomorrow when they’d get to Logan where Sam had said Crowley held Ben captive. Lisa nodded at the clerk and he slid the key across the desk. “Room 2, first on the right out the door. Check out time is 11. That’ll be 74.25.” The clerk didn’t bat an eye when Jess put the cash on the counter and adjusted her bag on her shoulder to leave.

If the bed in room 2 was a king-sized one, Lisa would have eaten the crusty Danish near the dusty coffee maker that seemed to be the complimentary breakfast; it looked like it might have been a full and Lisa wondered if they said twin sized mattresses were queens in the other rooms. This room was dingy and ugly, but they needed it. 

“The sad thing is,” Jess started, setting her bag on the TV stand that doubled as a dresser. “I think I probably stayed in a frat house worse than this my freshman year.” Definitely with a way worse person, went unsaid. Lisa chuckled and set her bag down as well.

“What time should we get on the road tomorrow?” She headed toward the bathroom with her toiletry bag in hand.

“Early,” Jess said. “We’ll need to scope out the town, figure out exactly where Ben is.”

Lisa nodded as she was brushing her teeth. An early start meant they needed to sleep and she could tell she hadn’t stayed hydrated in the car and wanted the taste gone; she told herself the thoroughness had nothing to do with the fact that she’d be sleeping so close to Jess. She also tried not to feel too self-conscious about the night gown she slipped over her head. It was the same sort of thing she wore every night, but it suddenly felt like a negligee when faced with the prospect of sharing a bed with someone she’d known less than a fortnight. Jess seemed to deliberately not look at Lisa’s bared legs when she crawled into the bed. Lisa flipped the TV on for the sound, only finding some old TV show that barely came in before just shutting it off.

Jess went to go through her nightly routine. She was very aware of the way she was moving around the space of the hotel room, the way her breasts hung in the tank top she was wearing to sleep in, the heaviness of her own tongue in her mouth as she cleaned her teeth.

When she slipped in between the sheets of the bed she was no longer just conscious of her own body but of Lisa’s and the heat pooling in the air between them. The whisper of the fabric of her nightgown against the sheets seemed unbearably loud to Jess and she was sure that Lisa could hear exactly how controlled her breathing was. Jess desperately wanted to laugh this off but she couldn’t, feeling the laughter bubble up inside her and getting stuck. Lisa was the first to make a move. She turned on her side, her back to Jess and said “good night” softly and made it seem, for all intents and purposes, that she was going to sleep. Jess slowly exhaled and turned to mirror Lisa. Their backs were millimeters apart and they both knew that any jostling would bring them together.

Neither one of them knew how long they lay there feeling the other’s warmth and tension before it began to dissipate and they relaxed, slowly but surely becoming comfortable with the closeness. They fell asleep one after the other, but not before they’d somehow shifted so that their backs were flush against each other, the contact calming them more than they would have thought.

******

In the middle of the night, something woke Jess and Lisa up‒ the sound of a car door slamming or a horn blaring or the TV bursting to life in the neighboring room‒ and they were curled together, the taller woman spooned with Lisa, her arm slung high on her waist. Lisa, in her sleep, had tangled her legs between Jess’ and one of her hands held to the arm Jess had wrapped around her loosely. At their awakening and subsequent realization, they tried to spring apart. Somehow when they both moved, they wound up closer than they had been, with Lisa’s breath hot against Jess’ neck and Jess’ knee tucked further up between Lisa’s legs. They froze again, unsure of how to move and Lisa pulled her head back and her hand wound up on Jess’ back, but she could look her in the eye. They stared at each other, eyes adjusting in the dark with the help of the lights outside, until Jess couldn’t stop her eyes from flicking to Lisa’s mouth. She was still looking there when those lips formed a quick “screw it” but when Lisa kissed her, her eyes finally closed and she didn’t shy away from the kiss at all.

Jess deepened the kiss, her tongue flicking out to tease at Lisa’s lip and wet her own and the women’s mouths slid together. Their tongues finally touched and Jess’ hand tangled into Lisa’s hair, the dark strands making Jess’ tan skin look paler. She scratched her nails into Lisa’s scalp and Lisa let out a soft moan of pleasure at the massage and she clutched at Jess’ shoulders. It was Jess’ turn to moan at the ten points of pressure at her back and both of them suddenly became more aware of where their legs were touching.

Lisa hitched her leg up higher and Jess could feel the muscles of her thigh working when she did. Lisa’s legs were smooth and impossibly strong and Jess rocked herself forward so her groin came into contact with the other woman. A shot of electricity blazed through her at the touch and it multiplied when Lisa used her legs to reposition them, her hair spilling over where their lips were still connected, hiding the rest of the dingy motel room from view while she was on top of Jess grinding her knee down against the blonde’s vulva.

Jess trailed her hands down Lisa’s back, feeling the silkiness of her nightgown and the strength of the muscles under it. She raised her knee and felt Lisa press her weight down on it and swivel her hips. They rocked back and forth on each other, lips and tongues pressing against and into each other and teeth nipping lightly, and Jess let out a small growl of frustration after a moment. Lisa giggled and Jess gave her a playful bite on the jawline at that.  Jess suddenly seized back onto Lisa’s shoulders and flipped them.

When Lisa’s back was against the mattress, Jess’ hands found the hem of her nightgown and lifted, Lisa moving to accommodate being disrobed and suddenly she was in a pair of faded green underwear with her nipples hard under Jess, whose gaze was hungry. Lisa let out a whimper at the way Jess’ eyes traveled along her body paired with the tease of her hand along the curve of her waist. 

Jess put her lips back to Lisa’s jaw and worked her way down to the dark haired woman’s throat, leaving a trail of kisses while her hand caressed her thigh. Her hand moved inward as her mouth latched onto a dusky pink nipple and sucked briefly. She treated the other one to the same before moving her mouth to the spot between Lisa’s breasts and sucking, hard, while she ran a finger up the middle of Lisa’s panties. Lisa’s hips surged up and she felt Jess smile.

Lisa looped her hands through the straps of Jess’ tank top and pulled until Jess flung the shirt across the room. When Jess rubbed at her clit, panties sliding in the slickness gathering there, Lisa’s nails dug into Jess’ shoulders making the blonde hiss.

“Sorry,” Lisa said, the ‘y’ getting drawn out as Jess switched rhythms. Jess shrugged under Lisa’s hands and kept moving down until she could flick her tongue down under the edge of the green material covering Lisa’s pubis.

“Do you want me to do this?” Jess was looking up at Lisa and had stopped moving her hands where they had been running up and down Lisa’s legs. Lisa didn’t hesitate to nod. Jess smiled but instead of pulling Lisa’s panties off and burying her mouth in Lisa, she kissed along the edges of the bikini and sucked around the string, tongue working under it and Lisa dug her heels into the mattress. It was a preview and she was nearing impatience and simultaneously never wanted Jess to stop.

When Jess did, a silent scream wracked Lisa. Jess’ tongue slid between her, teasing at her entrance and up to her clit and around and back, varying the pressure and her hands gripped at Lisa’s thighs. The noises of enjoyment she made vibrated through Lisa and she felt like her own body was humming along with Jess. All the tension she’d been carrying worked her into a near frenzy and the way Jess lapped at her, licking and sucking and constantly moving made her want to thrash her head around. Jess let go of Lisa’s thigh and one hand came up to frame her clit, putting light pressure on the sides as her tongue flicked against it and sucked around the nub and her own digits and Lisa let out half a yell at that. One of her own hands flew up to her mouth to cover it as the orgasm rushed through her, pushing her sex into Jess’ mouth even more and setting her off again immediately, the oversensitivity almost painful.

Jess pulled away from her and Lisa breathed heavily, her chest heaving and flushed. Jess hovered and it only took a few seconds of recovery and even though Lisa wasn’t quite sure she could hear for the blood rushing in her head, she scrambled to get Jess level with her and plunged her tongue into her mouth. The kiss was sloppy and hot and Jess felt her hips undulating. Lisa’s hands were on her legs and she used them to make Jess straddle her.

Lisa didn’t even bother to get rid of Jess’ shorts, just slipped her hands up the legs of them and worked toward the heat that was radiating from Jess’ sex. One of Lisa’s hands found Jess’ cunt and a finger teased at the entrance, pushing in just barely and the other thumbed at her clit. Lisa circled Jess’ clit with her thumb and thrust up with the middle finger of her other hand and she was panting. Jess rode Lisa’s hands and her breasts bounced until she reached up to cup them and tweak her nipples herself. Lisa groaned at the sight and Jess sped her rhythm up, feeling her orgasm start to build. Lisa moved faster and pressed her fingers against the front wall of Jess’ cunt, seeking out the same spot that always made her herself want to ride whoever she was with at a gallop; it worked and Jess whined out, her nipples between her fingers and her cunt sunk down onto Lisa’s fingers.

After Jess let herself fall to her side on the bed, Lisa sought her out again and gave her clit one last rub. Jess keened and laughed and she kissed Lisa. They fell asleep breathing each other in with their bodies tangled.  

******

There was a hole in the curtain in their room at The Crimson Lasso and the early morning sun shone through it to cut across Jess’ face. It illuminated the gold of her hair and the smoothness of her skin and made the mole on her forehead stand out. She looked adorable relaxed in sleep and the outline of her body under the sheet made Lisa flush thinking about what they’d gotten up to in the middle of the night. She slipped out of the bed unnoticed and into the bathroom and after using the toilet, she stared at herself in the mirror. She could see the hickey Jess had sucked between her breasts and she blushed; the mirror wouldn’t tell her whether there was one on her hip as well, but when she looked down, there was a faint outline of a mouth. She was still blushing when she tried to sneak back into the bed. Jess opened her eyes lazily though and she smiled at Lisa.

“Morning,” she said. Lisa murmured it back. “Don’t blush, you look great like this.” That of course, made Lisa blush harder. It had been a while since she had done this, and she’d never had a morning after with a woman; any experimentation she’d ever done in college before getting pregnant with Ben had been quick and drunken and a mistake because of how awkward it had made things.

Jess finally asked, “What time is it?”

Lisa turned and looked at the clock “5:50.” Jess closed her eyes again. “Should we think about getting up or‒”

“Come back to bed,” Jess said without hesitation. “Just for another twenty minutes at least. I won’t be any good to find Ben if I fall asleep fighting demons. Please.”

Lisa didn’t say anything, just got into the bed and pulled the sheet up to her shoulder again. Jess cautiously reached a hand out and touched Lisa’s side. Lisa raised her arm so Jess could slip hers around her. Before she drifted off for another little while, she could have sworn she heard Jess breathe out “thank you.”

When the alarm went off at 6:30, they did get up and after Jess laid a quick, chaste kiss on Lisa’s forehead and Lisa planted one firmly on her lips in retaliation, feeling emboldened by the adrenaline that was working its way through her, they were all business.

In the car, having thrown the key onto the counter in the lobby, Lisa turned to Jess and asked what their plan was.

“Here’s what I’m thinking…”

******

It took a mere ten minutes of their trip to work out their plan: Go in, armed to the teeth and get Ben out without trying to be heroes. They both would have guns with devil’s trap bullets; Jess had begged Sam for every trick he and his brother had learned and Jess and Lisa had spent the night before last on their trip carving the sigils into the bullets while their fingers cramped up. Other than that, there wasn’t much they could plan for with the complete lack of information they had. After that ten minute discussion, they tacitly agreed to once again pretend that this wasn’t possibly the last day they could be alive. Lisa either got her son back, or she died‒ that was the thought in her mind and she refused to let it make her break down, instead allowing it to bolster her up. The fact that Jess shyly turned her hand palm-up on the center armrest and slid her eyes to Lisa in a nearly palpable way did the same. Lisa was singing along to The Eagles when she put her hand in Jess’ and the two women rode with a companionable, emotional silence between them while the radio played. The high plains of Wyoming turned into the Uinta- Wasatch- Cache National Forest before they reached Logan, where Sam had said Crowley was keeping Ben.

There were a number of abandoned factories outside the town, and they all were littered with graffiti. The university students had kept them tagged and full of empty beer cans. They drove by one slowly and Jess shook her head at Lisa‒ there was no angel warding on that one and there was no way Crowley would take that chance when Sam and Dean’s best friend was straight from Heaven. No matter what had happened with Heaven, there were still angels who still were powerful. The same happened at the second factory and Lisa forced herself not to get nervous while they drove through the town to reach the empty former shoe factory that was on the west outskirts. She crossed her fingers that Crowley’s style hadn’t changed so much that he’d keep Ben somewhere other than an abandoned factory. Jess was studying the graffiti on that shoe factory and let out a positive noise.

“That’s it.”

 Lisa looked at the building and couldn’t pick out what were sigils and what was just regular graffiti so it looked fairly normal to her. She kept driving not to raise suspicion. “Should we wait until dark?”

“No,” Jess said and shook her head. But she jerked her chin and indicated that they should keep driving and find a place to park the car out of sight. There was an old service road about a quarter of the mile up past what used to be the parking lot of the factory and it was at the beginning of another area of forest. When they got out of the car, they started to load up with weapons‒ Jess cinching a holster around her thigh and Lisa putting hers on her back, Jess with a knife in one hand and her phone in the other and Lisa with the Colt. They shared a brief glance and set off down the road, not speaking, not making a sound as they went through the grass next to the gravel.

It didn’t take long for them to make it to the back of the factory and they stopped. The building cut an unimposing light gray swath into the bright blue sky and the bright surroundings clashed with what Lisa and Jess had to do.

“I meant what I said, you know,” Lisa said before she could stop herself. Jess turned to her waiting for a further explanation. “Somehow you’ve made this not only bearable, but kind of good.”

Jess just smiled as a reply, not trusting herself to speak through the lump in her throat that had formed unexpectedly when she looked at Lisa’s face in the sunlight. She was armed and determined and Jess thought she looked just as beautiful as she had that morning naked in the sunlight with evidence of their night on her body.  Lisa started walking toward the building then, her shoulders straight and head high and Jess had to follow her, both of them raising their guns on the approach.

The door opened easily and, thankfully, noiselessly and Jess made sure it closed the same way. They moved slowly and softly and they didn’t see any other movement. It took 15 minutes of walking through identical hallways for Jess to get impatient and she tried to get Lisa’s attention with a quiet ‘psst.’ Lisa turned with her eyebrow raised.

“This isn’t working,” Jess whispered. “This place is too big. We need to split up.”

Lisa’s brow furrowed and she shook her head. “It’s not safe.”

“If one of us gets caught, this way the other will have a chance. We didn’t know how big this place would be before.”  Lisa shook her head again. “Lisa, we need to split up.”

Jess’ eyes were pleading and Lisa weighed the options. She nodded slowly, thinking this was still a terrible idea, and Jess reached out a hand and Lisa let her take one of her own and she squeezed. “Just find Ben.”

Jess nodded and held Lisa’s gaze for one more moment and she took off down the hallway that split to the left. Lisa kept herself from looking back at her and kept down the straight path. She’d felt much better with Jess at her back, but covering more ground was useful; it would find Ben quicker. It didn’t take her long to turn the corner and be confronted with a steel door with a small rectangular window. She sidled up to it and ducked her head around to look through the window. There were conveyer belts and presses and work stations set up with machines, but most importantly, there were three men. They just loitered, apparently in unworried conversation if Lisa could trust the expressions on their faces. She wasn’t as concerned with them as she was with looking to see if Ben were in the room. After a quick scan, she determined he wasn’t and she turned to find another way.

When she turned, she turned directly into a demon. She took in the black eyes instantly and fired the Colt without a second thought and she saw the crackle of light as the demon died. She took off running down the hall as the body fell, knowing the sound of the gun would attract the men who’d been standing around. She raced through the hall and pushed open doors and hoped the sound would distract the demons. She ducked through the first door that opened up into another hallway and she wrenched open the steel door on the right. Her footfalls thundered on the metal catwalk and she tried to keep looking around for Ben. There was no one in the cavernous room. She couldn’t hear whether anyone had followed her over her own footsteps.  She slowed down, trying to listen, just long enough to realize she was still being pursued and she needed to move fast.  She needed to find Ben.

******

For a life or death mission, Jess was almost bored. Her hands were steady on her weapons and her feet were swift but she could feel the adrenaline that had been coursing through her body all morning in the wake of the realization that Lisa hadn’t started heading for the hills in light of their mid-night activities ebbing. She hadn’t seen anyone since splitting with Lisa and she had no idea how this factory was as big as it seemed now when it hadn’t looked it outside. A drab cracking ivory color covered the halls and flat gray paint chipped from the handrails in the factory areas she’d entered.

She reached another hallway where every door had windows and she briefly wondered what the hell had gone on in this factory before she began to peek through them. Nothing, still. She was through the middle of the hallway when she let out a gasp.

In an almost empty room, with the same ivory paint that had seen better days, was a dark haired teenage boy. Ben. He was cuffed to a steel chair at his arms and his ankles and there were red marks around them, obviously from repeated attempts to squirm out of the chains. There was a bruise around one of his eyes. But other than that, he seemed unharmed.

Jess tried to push through the door and found it locked. In her excitement at finding Ben, she didn’t go for her lockpick‒ it was too small and wouldn’t be fast enough‒ but she kicked at the door. All she succeeded in doing was rousing Ben’s attention. He started to yell, swearing like a man twice his age and Jess didn’t have the mind to be impressed, instead pulling out her gun and shooting the lock. The door pushed open easily then and Ben stopped telling her to go right back to hell where she came from when she pushed open the now useless door.

“We have to get you out of here and find your mom,” Jess said as she came towards him.

“Who the hell are you?” Jess was leaning down and unlocking the cuffs around his wrists. Ben rubbed at the reddened skin as soon as the metal fell away and moved into what he thought was a defensive stance.

“Are you hurt?”

“No. Who are you? Where’s my mom?”

“My name is Jess. Your mom and I have some friends in common, we came here to rescue you and we split up. You’ve got to trust me, Ben.”  He looked at her skeptically but before he could say anything, he spluttered at the water he was suddenly doused with. “Sorry, I had to make sure.” Jess was slipping the flask of holy water back into her pocket; she hadn’t exactly told Lisa about that. She then held out the knife she’d been carrying to Ben. “You know how to use this?”

“Not really.”

“Hopefully you won’t have to.” Jess turned then, heading out of the room, and trusted that Ben was going to follow. “How many people were keeping you here?”

“I saw 5 different people. A British guy who told the others not to hurt me, and 4 guys with black eyes. I don’t understand what’s going on.”

Ben’s words were quick and Jess could hear the undercurrent of fear in them.

“Your mom will explain when we find her and get out of here.” Then they stopped talking, hurrying through the halls when they heard the sound of another gunshot echoing in the building. Jess straightened up and strained her ears to listen for anything else. She threw a glance over her shoulder at Ben. “Can you run?”  When he made a noise of yes, she nodded and took off, slamming through a door and finding herself racing through what appeared to be office space with cubicle walls remaining upright. They moved through it in a blink and were in another hallway. Jess could hear Ben’s breathing behind her, but he kept up with her long legs and they went through another heavy door, this time Jess having to slam her shoulder into it to budge it open and her arm lanced in pain. She could still raise her gun and that was what mattered.

She skidded to a stop and Ben crashed into her and she was finally able to take in the sight in front of her. She heard Ben gasp and stop himself from calling out behind her.

Lisa stood with the Colt pointed at a man’s head. He had his hands up in a lazy motion of surrender. He clearly didn’t think Lisa was a real threat. “It’s nothing personal, love.”

Lisa’s eyes burned and her mouth trembled in anger, but the Colt was level and its aim true. When she spoke, her voice was hateful. “You took my son‒”

“You can take him back, I won’t stop you. Dean’s already on a warpath so I don’t need him.” The man, who Jess could assume was Crowley, interrupted mildly. He shrugged, with his hands still up, but Lisa didn’t hesitate.

“You’re the reason I got the best year of my life stolen and you put me through the hell of the last week.”

Crowley’s response to that got lost in the sound of gunfire. Whatever fanfare one would have expected from the death of the King of Hell‒ firestorms or hordes of demons rising from the pit to take him or a crack of thunder and bells tolling‒ was absent. Lisa’s shot had flown true, right into the man’s forehead and he died with the same crackle of light that every other demon’s death had produced. Lisa watched his falling body with hatred still in her eyes and Jess’ breath caught.

Lisa finally looked up then and her face broke as she rushed forward calling out Ben’s name. Mother and son were reunited in a fierce hug that landed both of them on the ground. Lisa was crying and stroking Ben’s hair and kissing his face and Jess felt distinctly like an intruder. Especially when she had to clear her throat and remind the Braedens that Crowley’s lackeys were still in the building and they needed to go. Lisa and Ben stood up and Jess led the way out of the building, with Lisa never letting go of Ben’s hand.

Jess tried not to feel disappointed when Lisa got in the backseat of the Cherokee and wrapped her arms around her son.

******

Ben and Lisa slept like the dead when they stopped driving in the middle of Nebraska, but Jess couldn’t. She laced up her tennis shoes and stretched out her legs and slipped out the door as quietly as possible into the summer night. The hotel they were in was on a stretch of road made for truckers and people passing through‒ 24 hour diners, Walmart, hotels, and the bright lights of all of them and Jess couldn’t see the stars as her feet pounded onto the pavement. She had no idea how long she ran, but far enough for the lights to fade and the stars to start poking through the ink of the sky. Her lungs burned and she didn’t know what she was doing and before she could think too hard about anything, she turned around and ran back toward the motel, wishing the stars a good night and not noticing when tears streamed down her face.

******

Ben, as it turned out, wanted to eat, and shower, and sleep for as long as possible in his own bed, and after holding onto him tightly, Lisa let him do just that. Jess couldn’t help but have her mouth quirk up into half smile at the ferociousness that Ben had attacked his food with and Lisa had looked on affectionately. 

“So, now what?” Lisa asked once she heard the water turn on upstairs. She turned to Jess and put her hands behind her on the counter. Jess crossed one arm over her body and held onto her wrist.

“Well, I suppose I’ll go back to Kansas. See if Sam and Dean need help.”

“What?”

Jess shrugged. “You want to get back to your life right? I mean, maybe now that Crowley’s dead and hopefully Dean killed that Abaddon or whoever, maybe he’s ready to be done too, right?” Jess knew there was bitterness and anger creeping into her voice and she didn’t want there to be but she couldn’t stop it. Lisa’s face was slack in confusion. “Maybe you can get him and remake the best year of your life. You can go back to your apple pie life and I can get out of your hair.”

The confusion flew off of Lisa’s face and annoyance replaced it. Jess bit at her thumb nail and she couldn’t shut up. She also stopped looking at Lisa. She thought she might puke.

“I can go as soon as possible. I’m already packed up and‒”

“I don’t really like apple pie all that much. I’m a bigger fan of lemon meringue.”

Jess just stared. Her brain couldn’t find any connection between what she was saying and how Lisa was responding and the fact that her friend would be going on about pie at a time when it felt like Jess’ heart was breaking despite every effort for it not to have gotten to this point, slayed her.  “That’s what you’re getting out of this conversation? Pie flavors?”

Lisa stepped away from the counter and she was in Jess’ space, her one hand wrapped around Jess’ arm. “Lemon meringue might be more complicated, and it might be sour, and harder to make, but it’s better. It’s more rewarding than apple.” Lisa searched Jess’ eyes. She willed her to understand what she was trying to say without having to spell it out. But Jess’ blue eyes only held confusion, and anger, and under that, sadness. Lisa sighed and raised herself onto her tiptoes and kissed Jess, softly but not without feeling.

“Wha‒”

“I’m not saying I want to hunt all the time, and I’m not saying that I know what’s going on with me as far as feelings go, but you helped me and you helped Ben, and I’m not just going to let you run off to Kansas and the Winchesters and never address this.”

“I’m not running‒”

“Yes, you would be. Dean did the same thing. I’m not letting it happen again,” Lisa protested. She shook her head a little. “I’m not saying move in and let’s get married or anything. I’m not saying anything except that something happened and I don’t want you to leave. Don’t go to Kansas. Not now.”

Jess was the one to search Lisa’s face then. Her eyes were sincere and asking‒ not pleading or demanding, but just asking‒ and her mouth was soft. Jess found herself nodding.

“We’ll figure it out? Whatever ‘it’ is?”

Lisa smiled. “We’ll figure it out.”

And somehow, for now, that was good enough for both of them.