“That’s a very serious accusation, Sam.” Andy’s hand tightened on the arm of his leather chair as he spoke.
Sam noted the gesture. He knew. The son of a bitch knew…or at least suspected.
“What proof do you have?”
“I have my psychic ability. When Jenn told me her story I didn’t take her word for it. I went into his dreams that night. Not even another psychic can lie to me in a dream and Wes isn’t very powerful.”
“What did you see?” Andy’s tone was carefully non-committal.
“I made him relive the night Jenn hurt him. He’d gone to her room and tried to rape her.” Sam glared at Andy. “Do you really want the details?”
“That doesn’t prove there were others,” Andy pointed out.
“There were others,” Sam insisted. “I only got their first names, but I can give you that much. If you need more I’ll go back in. The man’s mind is a cesspit.”
Andy looked down, silent. After a moment he stood and walked over to the window, standing with his back to Sam. “Since I took over as director of the Project, we've had occasional problems with mentors. But nothing like this.” He turned to face Sam. “I believe you. But your word isn’t good enough for a criminal proceeding.”
Sam shook his head. “Not on its own, no. But many of his victims have graduated. If you can find them, some might testify. Jenn will, too.”
“Sam,” Andy said gently, “Jenn may not be able to testify.”
That was enough. Sam stood and advanced on Andy angrily. He rarely used his physical presence to intimidate, but he knew how. He was taller than Andy, wider through the shoulders. He used every bit of that advantage, looking down on the man with contempt. “That’s another thing. If you believe Jenn’s story, you have to agree that what she did was justified.”
“I understand, but – ”
“Let’s not play word games. Jenn isn’t just a healer. She’s a psychic surgeon. She could have given Bishop a heart attack or a stroke and no one would have known. She didn’t kill him, Andy. She was just trying to stop him hurting girls.” Sam stared into Andy’s eyes. “She’s a teenager, and it’s not her fault that what she did won’t work. I've worked with men like him. If you take away one outlet they search for a new one. Bishop will hurt more kids if he’s not stopped. If he can’t rape, he’ll torture, maybe even kill. That’s my professional opinion.”
Sam didn’t back off. “I want you to understand what I’m saying, Director. I’m not speaking as a psychic. I’m not speaking as a doctor. I’m talking to you as a father who lost a child to a monster like that. And I’m telling you that if you don’t do everything in your power to stop him, I will.” Sam took a single step back.
Andy sighed. “You can’t testify on Jennifer’s behalf because you’re not part of the Project.”
Sam shook his head stubbornly. “Then change the rules. Or find someone who can. Just make sure she’s alive to testify against him.”
Andy was silent for a long time. He stepped sideways to move away from Sam; Sam let him. Finally, Andy nodded. “I’ll make a deal with you, Sam.”
Sam returned to his seat. “I’m listening,” he answered carefully.
“I want you to consider coming back to the Project.”
No fucking way! Sam opened his mouth to say it, but Andy cut him off.
“Please, hear me out. The Psi Project badly needs someone with your training and experience. I believe I can double the salary you earn at the Woodward Institute.” He sat down again, opposite Sam.
Sam drew in a breath. Did Andy actually know what he earned at Woodward? If so, that was a generous offer. He shook his head. “You'd have to more than double it to compensate for my wife’s lost salary. She earns more than I do.”
“Perhaps we can negotiate that. Or there’s a position here for her, too.”
“It’s not about the money.”
Andy leaned forward. “Then what is it? Tell me what I have to offer to tempt you.”
Normally, Sam would have told him to go to hell. But the stakes were high enough to make him stop and think about the question. What would bring him back to the Project? That was easy. Power. Enough power to change things. They would never give him that.
“I can’t agree to anything without consulting Jess,” Sam stalled, “and she’s happy with her job at Woodward. I don’t think she'll want to move. But even if Jess wanted this…Andy, there’s no salary high enough to make me give up my therapy program. That’s not about money. It’s my life’s work.”
Andy nodded. “From what I've read, being tied to the Woodward Institute is holding you back. You could do better working as an independent consultant.”
Sam allowed a small smile to touch his lips. “I could do more. I’m not sure that’s better.”
“Suppose we could make room for your program. Being associated with the Project would raise your profile and enable you to teach your technique to others.”
“I have thought of that,” Sam conceded uncomfortably. It was a conflict for him. He wanted to pass on his therapy techniques, because he knew it worked, it could help people. Associating with the Project was the only way, really, to do that. But for Sam the price was too high. “It’s a temptation, Andy. I admit it. But I’ll only consider coming here for the right position.”
“What position do you want?”
Sam looked the Director straight in the eye. “Yours will do.”
Andy’s eyes widened. For a moment he said nothing. Then he met Sam’s eyes seriously. “Do you mean that? Or is that hyperbole intended to end this discussion?”
“I’m serious. I've been here less than a week and I can already see ways this place needs to change. I want a position which will give me the authority to make those changes.” He didn’t point out that he was a psychic, and they would never put a psychic in the Director’s office. He was sure he didn’t need to.
“If you were Psi Project Director, you'd be responsible for signing off deathlist decisions. You've made your feelings about that clear, Sam. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Sam nodded. He thought of Nedah, whose uncontrolled pyrokinesis could have killed everyone in her mentor group the night she started that fire. “I know, and that’s one of the things that has to change. Jenn should never have been in isolation. But I do accept that it’s necessary in some cases.”
Andy sat back, clasping his hands. “It happens,” he said slowly, “that I’m due to retire next year. If you really want the job…well, it’s not my decision alone, but I can guarantee your name will be on the short list.”
Sam felt his stomach turn over. He hadn’t expected that. Was it possible? He tried to speak and failed. He cleared his throat. “I’ll have to talk to Jess.”
“Of course.” Andy smiled. “You'll be back for Jenn’s hearing. We can discuss it then.”
Sam felt the trap spring shut around him. Andy hadn’t tied Jennifer’s hearing specifically to the job offer, but the implication was clear enough. He nodded. “Fine. You've got a deal.”
While Sam confronted Director Gilbert, Dean and Jo returned to the infirmary to collect Dean’s things. The room was just as Dean had left it, the closet open with his duffel inside, the bed still rumpled. Dean pulled his duffel out of the closet, checked the contents quickly and turned around to see Jo straightening the bed. He smiled to himself. That was Ellen’s training coming out; Jo probably didn’t even realise she was doing it.
He laid the duffel on the floor, moving slowly so he would make no sound. He crept up behind Jo and slid his arms around her waist, trapping her between his body and the bed.
“Dean!” Jo squealed. He pulled her closer to him and cupped one of her breasts in his palm. Jo squirmed in his arms. “Dean, stop it!”
Dean backed off, giving her just enough space to turn around and face him. When she did, he bent to kiss her. Jo’s mouth met his with an eagerness that belied her earlier protest. Dean ran his hands up her back, lifting her shirt as they kissed. When his hands found bare skin she moaned into his mouth.
Dean drew back with a grin. “There’s a bed right here,” he suggested playfully. “It’s a shame to waste it.”
Jo gave him a quizzical look. “You want to have sex in a bed? What have you done with the real Dean Winchester?”
His hands were still beneath her shirt. He unhooked her bra, smiling. “It’s a private room,” he persisted.
“Without a lock on the door,” Jo pointed out. But she leaned back slightly, pressing her lower body into his groin. “Still, it is a hospital. Wanna play doctor?”
Dean lifted her up onto the bed and pulled the shirt off over her head.
The only thing more sexy than Jo when she came was Jo utterly sated, her hair a golden tangle over the pillow, her lips parted and her eyes half-closed as she lay beside him.
Dean brushed a lock of hair back from her face. “Jo?”
She sighed contentedly. “Mm-hm?”
“You wanna get married?”
Her eyes opened wide with surprise, then she frowned. “Screw you, Winchester. That ain’t funny.”
He stroked her cheek. “I mean it. Jo, I've been a wreck since Dad…” he broke off, unable to say it.
Jo understood. “I know.”
“And yesterday I came closer to dying than I ever have.”
She reached up and kissed him lightly. “I noticed. But that’s not a reason to – ”
Dean touched her lips with one fingertip. “Let me finish,” he begged her. “I had a lot of time to think today. I need to…get my life back on track. And I’m not sure how I’m gonna do that. But I know I want you in my life, Jo. I wouldn’t have made it through this year without you.”
Jo smiled, but it was a cynical smile. “Aw, that’s lovely. Which movie are you ripping off?”
That hurt. It hurt more than Dean wanted to admit. He stiffened. “You can be a real bitch, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.” She traced a line from his neck, over his shoulder to caress his bicep. “I love you, Dean Winchester.” Her voice was almost a whisper, as if she were telling a secret.
Dean cupped her chin with his fingers, making her look at him. “Then why'd you turn me down?” he asked her, honestly confused.
“Because if you’re gonna ask a girl to marry you, you’re supposed to say I love you first.”
Oh, shit. She was right. Dean felt like an idiot…but he’d never done this before!
“I’m in your life, Dean,” Jo added, her voice soft. “You don’t need to marry me for that.”
Dean kissed her then and Jo responded, cuddling closer to him in the bed. He kissed her deeply until she writhed against him, her hands tightening on his body. Then Dean broke the kiss. “I never said I love you to any girl. Well…” he thought for a moment, “…not when it was true,” he amended, thinking even as he spoke that honesty probably wasn’t the best policy at this point.
He wanted to tell her about the moment under the monorail when he’d thought – when he’d been certain – that she was dead. He wanted her to know how much her death hurt him, how empty the future had seemed without her. But he’d never been any good at putting important things into words.
“I suck at this, okay?” Dean told her, frustrated, “But I do love you, Jo. I mean it. Marry me.”
“You’re crazy!” Jo laughed.
“Is that a yes?” Dean pressed, hating the eagerness he heard in his own voice, but not sure he could take another rejection.
Jo chewed on her index finger, pretending to think about it. “Do you want rugrats?”
The question took Dean by surprise. Children didn’t exactly figure in his life. But the thought wasn’t an unpleasant one. “Yeah. I guess so. Someday.”
Jo smiled and kissed him. “Then it’s a yes. But we'd better elope or something. Mom will pitch a fit when we tell her.”
“Will he do it?” Dean asked, as he and Sam watched Director Gilbert walk away.
“I think so,” Sam answered. “He’s a manipulative bastard, but this whole thing scared the shit out of him.”
Dean had instructed Andy to erect an iron fence around the cemetery (Iron, not steel. Wouldn’t hurt to paint it with salt, either) and to start cremating the body of every child who died on Psi Project property (no exceptions, Gilbert. I don’t care if there are religious objections, or the family wants an open casket. Cremation. All of them). He’d added that it would be a good idea to bury the ashes with a proper religious ceremony. It didn’t matter what religion; any spirit still hovering around would understand the intent. Dean had a lot more to say besides, like suggesting the Project should teach mediums about salt, but it was the cemetery that really mattered.
Now he stood, leaning against the hood of his car, waiting for Jo to join them so he could get the hell out of here.
“You leaving too?” Dean asked Sam. He saw Jo coming from the building,
Sam nodded. “I need to register my flight before I can travel, so I've got to stay another night. But yeah, I’ll be going home soon. I’ll be back, though, for Jenn’s hearing.”
Dean frowned. “Yeah. About that…” There was an unmistakable warning in his voice. “What the hell did you tell her, Sammy? I offered her a way out of here.”
Sam glanced around, but they were alone; Jo was coming toward them but was not yet close enough to hear. “I know you did. I didn’t try to talk her out of it.”
“Then why is she stayin'?”
“All I did was help Jenn think through her options. She knows that staying here is a gamble, but she decided for herself. I think she'll be okay, Dean.”
“They're gonna kill her, dude. How is that okay?”
Dean could be right, but Sam didn’t dare admit it. “Andy agreed I can testify for her. I can prove she acted in self-defence. It should be enough, if only because Andy knows I’ll go public if she doesn’t get a fair hearing.”
Dean straightened. “If she dies,” he threatened, “I’m blaming you.”
“If she dies, so will I,” Sam admitted. He half-wished Jenn would go with Dean, but she wanted to testify against Wes Bishop. She could only do that if she lived…but she couldn’t testify if she fled. She was putting too much trust in Sam’s testimony.
“You need to do better than that, dude.” Dean narrowed his eyes. “You got a plan?”
Sam answered carefully. “I have an option, but it’s risky.”
“It will take too long to explain. But there’s one thing that could stop a deathlist decision. If the hearing goes badly, I can try it.”
Dean nodded once, not happy with the vague explanation but accepting it. He turned to Jo, who had reached the other side of the car. “Ready?” he asked.
“Did you ask him?” Jo said eagerly, smiling.
Sam saw Dean’s frown melt into a grin. “No, not yet.”
“Ask me what?” Sam prompted.
Dean hesitated. “Ask you to come with us.”
Sam frowned. “Back to Nebraska?”
“Uh…no. We're gonna head home via Vegas. Jo and me…” Dean smiled her way and Sam saw her answering smile. Before Sam could make the logic leap to the obvious conclusion, Dean added, “C'mon, Sammy. Road trip. I’ll drive you home to Jess after the wedding. I'd like my brother there, you know?”
“Wedding?” Sam grinned. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks. So? Go get your bags!”
Sam wondered what it was like to be able to jump in a car and drive to another state any time you wanted. “I’m so sorry, Dean. I can’t.”
Dean’s grin faded. “Come on, Sammy. Jess won’t mind too much.”
“It’s not about Jess. I’m a registered psychic, remember? I can’t travel out of Washington without all kinds of red tape, and it’s not easy to get a visa for Nevada.”
“Dude, who’s gonna know? Cars don’t get stopped at the border!”
Sam shook his head. It was too great a risk. If he were caught out of state without the proper paperwork, he would lose his license to practice as a psychic. That meant his job, his therapy program…everything would be gone. “And you never get pulled over by a cop? Never have to show ID or – ”
“Okay, I get your point. You've got no sense of adventure.”
Had Dean not said Vegas, Sam might have risked it. Vegas meant casinos, though, and casinos routinely scanned the ident. chips of their patrons. Many people relied on the ident. chip in their drivers’ license, but Sam’s was an implant in his wrist. It was a requirement of his job: Woodward was a secure institution so he needed a chip that couldn’t be lost or taken from him.
“Come up with an adventure that won’t get me a criminal record, and I’ll prove you wrong,” Sam offered. The explanation would take too long.
“Dude, everything that’s fun would either get you a criminal record or a divorce.”
Jo leaned over the car. “Sam!” She waited until she had his attention. “If you can’t come with us now, you've got to promise you'll visit once we get back home. Will Nebraska let you in?”
“Most states will. It just takes a while to jump through all the hoops.”
“Then you'll come?”
Sam nodded, smiling at them both. “Yeah. Give me a call when you get home and I’ll see what I can do.”
Sam walked out of the immigration office into the Washington sun. He saw Jessica’s shiny blue car waiting for him and smiled a greeting. Jess was waiting inside the car. She opened her door as he approached and Sam heard music from within. He quickened his pace and dropped his bag beside the car. Sam drew her into his arms and held her close. Her body warmed him better than the sun. Sam breathed in the scent of her hair. He slid his fingers beneath her chin and tilted her head up for a kiss.
“I missed you, too,” Jess whispered.
Sam slid into the passenger seat beside Jess. “Let’s not go straight home,” he suggested. “I want to talk to you about something.”
Jess studied him for a moment. “You look serious. Is this an Antonio’s talk?”
Antonio’s was their favourite Italian restaurant. It was a small piece of Tuscany magically transported to Northern Washington: the menu was wonderful, the wine local or Italian and you could eat in the candlelit interior or outside on the terrace. On the terrace the tables were separated by vine-covered screens, so it was a perfect place for a romantic dinner or a private conversation. They went to Antonio’s every year for their anniversary, but it had also become the place they chose for serious conversations: talking over the future after the second time Jess miscarried, endless talks while Sam tried to persuade Jessica to eat something after they lost Rachel…and again after Sam confessed his part in Karl Ryan’s death.
Was this serious enough for Antonio’s? Normally Sam would have agreed that it was, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to evoke the memory of that murder. Even so…it was the best place to talk. “Do you think we can get a table without a reservation?”
Jess plucked her hands-free from the dash. “It’s still early. I’ll call.”
Over dinner, Sam told Jess most of what happened at the Psi Project. He explained Andy’s offer of a job, including the implied link to Jennifer’s hearing. Jessica listened as she always did, asking questions here and there but not trying to lead the conversation or comment until it was her turn to speak.
When it was her turn, she always had plenty to say.
“Director of the Psi Project?” Jess repeated finally. “Sam…?”
He knew that tone. “You think it’s impossible, don’t you?”
Jess thought about it before answering. “An appointment like that is more about politics than knowledge and experience. You'll need more than the outgoing director’s backing. A psychic running the Psi Project? That’s a hard sell, Sam.”
Sam laid down his fork and poured the last of the wine into his glass. “I agree, but right now that’s not important. If I’m even going to have a shot, I have to rejoin the Project, and soon. That means quitting my job at Woodward, moving…I can’t do it without your support.”
“I see that.” Jess pushed her empty plate away. She looked up, meeting Sam’s eyes, and what crossed her face was surprise. “You really think I’m going to say no, don’t you?”
It was Sam’s turn to be surprised. “I know it’s asking a lot, honey. We’d both have to leave our jobs, sell the house…”
“The house.” Jess’s face fell. “I love that house, and we've got some good memories tied up in it, but there are some terrible memories there, too. It was supposed to be our family home.”
The family home…for a family they would never have. Rachel was long dead, and Jessica couldn’t have another child.
“…And Woodward is just a job. I have a strong resume. I’m sure they have hospitals in Colorado.”
Sam had missed part of what Jessica was saying, but he understood the gist. “You’re sure? Even if the directorship might not happen?”
Jess nodded. “I think we should assume it won’t happen, at least in terms of making our plans, but yes, Sam. Even if. I know what the Psi Project means to you.”
She’d said that to him before, in their shared dream:
“I know your history and I understand your anger, but you were using it to avoid facing what the Project really is to you.” Jessica reached up to touch Sam’s face. “You need to face it, honey.”
“What do you think it is to me?” Sam asked her, but he knew she wouldn’t answer.
Jess shook her head. “Uh-uh. You need to answer that for yourself.”
“You knew before I did,” Sam remarked.
“I think I know you pretty well.” Jess reached across the table to take Sam’s hand. “The kind of resentment you always expressed toward the Project, as justified as it was…or is…it seemed to come from denial.” Jessica stopped there, her warm hand covering his.
Sam recognised the technique, because he used it himself and just as automatically as Jess. She didn’t ask the question directly, hadn’t asked a question at all, but her careful phrasing was designed to encourage him to put his thoughts and feelings into words.
So he did. “I never had a home before the Psi Project. I missed Dean and my dad when the Project took me away, but it was good for me, too. I stopped having to worry about what Dad was doing when he went out at nights, or when he’d leave Dean and me alone for weeks. I was staying in one place, so I could make friends with other kids. And I got to learn about my ability. It was good.”
“It was home,” Jess nodded. She was still holding his hand.
Sam shrugged. “An abusive home, maybe, but yeah. Home. And going back there…Andy was right about one thing, Jess. I can make a difference there. For the Project and most of all for the kids. I want a chance to make a difference.”
Jessica’s answering smile was radiant. “It’s a long time since I've seen you this passionate about something.”
Sam squeezed her hand. “So…we're going to Colorado?”
“Yes. I think we are.”