SPOILERS: General season 1 stuff.

TIMELINE: Goes AU at the end of the pilot.

WARNING: Character death.

DISCLAIMER: They don't belong to me. Woe. Sadness.

THANKS: To carynsilver for the super awesome beta-fu:-)

Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole

Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound

But while you debate, half empty or half full

It slowly rises, your love is going to drown.

-- Death Cab for Cutie (Marching Bands of Manhattan)

When they told her that Sam was dead, she was in a hospital bed, surrounded by sterile, white walls and her own despair. A doctor with a kind face offered her empty platitudes about how everything would be okay, and, alone, she cried herself to sleep each night until her release.

Her family wanted to come pick her up and take her home with them, but she flat-out refused. Several different friends offered to let her stay with them until she was back on her feet. Jess told them all thanks, but no thanks.

She wasn't sure exactly what she was waiting for until she was wheeled out of the hospital and saw the black Impala parked by the curb, its chrome accents gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight.

He was leaning against the trunk, arms crossed over his chest, the picture of casual grace. He slanted a deceptively lazy gaze her way, lips curling up into a tiny smirk, and Jess finally felt like she could breathe again.

The orderly asked her about the man picking her up, and she smiled at him, a flash of white teeth and sharp edges, and lied. "He's my brother." Then she stood up and left the wheelchair behind her, along with the girl weak enough to let herself sit in it.

When she slid into the passenger seat of the Impala, the leather was as smooth as butter, and Dean's smile had the same sharp edges hers did.

It was the middle of the night, but the blaze from the funeral pyre provided more than enough light to see by, even in the middle of nowhere.

She looked away from the fire and watched Dean instead. His jaw was set, his eyes turned to steel. He seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be utterly unfeeling. The thing that gave him away was his hands. They clutched his cell phone so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

Jess still remembered the phone call from that morning. John couldn't make it. He was in Indiana on important business, but he trusted Dean to "take care of things" here.

Silently, she reached out and carefully pried his fingers off of the phone before slipping it into her coat pocket. Then she slid her hand into his and laced their fingers together. And when his grip tightened enough to make the bones in her hand creak in protest, she didn't complain.

Together, they stood there until the flames died down to embers, and nothing of Sam remained.

She felt like screaming. She felt like dying. She felt like a useless little slip of a girl with everyone fretting over her fragile emotional state like she was a porcelain doll, but in reality, they were the ones who couldn't handle the truth. They didn't want to know about how Sam had found her pinned to the ceiling. They didn't want to know about the yellow-eyed man. They didn't want to know about how she'd stolen her lover's body out of the morgue in the dead of night and lied to the police the next morning, with the clothes in the back room still covered in his ashes. They just wanted empty promises and soothing words, which was enough to make her nearly choke on the irony. You'd think it was them who'd just lost their entire life in a blaze of fire and blood.

The whole damn thing made her want to hit something… or someone. The look in Dean's eyes told her he felt the same way, and it was the first honest thing she'd felt all day.

So she stood there in front of Sam's tombstone, surrounded by family and friends and a thousand condolences that all added up to nothing in the grand scheme of things, and she bit her tongue, forcing back the angry words until she swore she could taste them like bile in the back of her throat.

They wanted her to behave properly. They wanted her grief to be easily categorized in 5 recognizable stages. They just didn't get it. Her Sam was dead, and the hole his absence left inside of her couldn't be filled by sympathetic words, well-meaning advice or a handful of tears shed at the appointed time and place.

It could only be filled by blood.

They left the memorial service early, the Impala's motor rumbling like an angry tiger, and Jess pointedly ignored all of the strange looks she and Dean received.

No way in hell was she going to stand there and pay her respects to an empty grave.

Dean was right. They had work to do.

Sam never would've made her do this, she thought bitterly, as she blocked another punch, her muscles aching in protest. Never in a million years. But Dean was definitely not his brother, and that left her stuck trying to kick his annoying, know-it-all ass across the room.

They'd been training for the past few days – guns, blades, hand-to-hand, Dean made sure to cover it all. And they ended each night with demon lore, taken straight from his father's journal.

They were working on her unarmed combat skills at the moment, and she cursed when Dean pinned her for the seventh time in a row. It was disheartening, to say the least.

When he released her and told her to begin again, she felt like screaming. Every inch of her body was sore; sweat ran down her face, and she was panting like a mule. She was miserable.

This was not what she'd imagined her life would be like after college. She'd thought about things like getting her master's degree, finding a good job, buying a house, getting a dog. But most of all, she'd thought about getting married.

Sam had been shopping for rings during those last few weeks, even though he'd tried to hide it from her, and she'd pictured a million different versions of how he might finally ask her to be his wife. It wouldn't be ordinary, she'd known that much. Candlelit dinners in stuffy, overpriced restaurants weren't Sam's style. She'd secretly hoped that he'd surprise her out of the blue on some ordinary, average day with a ring box sitting beside her Golden Grahams, or perhaps a note hidden inside her textbook when she got to class. Something completely unexpected and completely wonderful.

But he never had a chance to ask, and she never got to tell him yes.

It was 2 AM, and she stood in the bathroom of a seedy motel, unable to sleep. Dean, of course, was out like a light the instant his head hit the pillow, the lucky bastard. He was in the bedroom, sprawled across the bed closest to the door with one hand under his pillow, fingers curled around a knife, much like a young child kept their favorite teddy bear next to them during the night to make them feel safe.

Jess remembered how she used to feel safe and protected every time Sam held her in his arms. She touched the jagged scar that stretched across her abdomen and wondered if she would ever be able to feel safe again.

The next day, when she asked Dean for a knife of her own, he didn't ask questions. And she wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a glint of approval in his eyes.

She was grinding up some dried pieces of rattlesnake skin for a batch of goofer dust. They had a lead on a new case, and Dean wanted to be more than prepared. She compared him to a boy scout, her lips quirking up in an amused little smirk, and couldn't help but laugh at the glare he shot her.

Once the last ingredient was ready, she began mixing them together and filling several pouches with the finished product, proud to have contributed something to their mission all by herself. Dean hadn't known what goofer dust was until she told him about it. She'd been Googling different forms of hoodoo magic a few days ago when she came across a description of the powder. It was said to be good protection against demonic forces, as its cursing properties caused harm to anyone it was used against, even the most powerful of supernatural creatures, so they were loath to cross it.

Once all of her bags were filled and tied off, she began cleaning up the table, careful not to mix any remaining stray ingredients together as she did so. Jess wasn't interested in accidentally cursing herself, after all, especially not with something as potent as goofer dust.

As she worked, Jess happened to glance down at her hands, and for a split second, she was sure she saw the glint of a diamond. But it was just a trick of the light. Sam had never had the chance to give her a ring, no matter how much she might wish otherwise.

She forced herself to take in her surroundings, like she always did when thoughts of what she'd lost snuck up on her – they were in another anonymous motel, with peeling wallpaper and dingy carpet; all the guns were laid out across the far bed, and Dean slouched in a cheap chair as he methodically cleaned each one, his fingers moving across the metal in a lover's caress.

He looked up at her and gave her a crooked smile, and she found herself smiling back, even though she felt more like crying.

This was her life now, and no amount of daydreaming was going to change that.

She stood under the shower's spray in yet another cheap motel, eyes burning with her own tears as she watched red-tinged water run down her body and swirl into the drain.

She'd made her first kill that night.

It hadn't been planned that way. Dean had taken point; she was only there because she refused to stay behind and wait for him to return like some kind of weeping damsel. After all, she'd reasoned, what good was all the hand-to-hand combat and weapons training they'd been doing over the past few weeks if she couldn't use it to help him out on a hunt? He couldn't think of a good enough reason to say no after that, so she'd been grudgingly allowed to accompany him, provided that she stay behind him and be extra cautious.

They'd been investigating sightings of a creature she'd read about in Wisconsin. Local lore called it The Beast of Bray Road, and Dean thought it might be a skin-walker, or perhaps a black dog, but instead, it turned out to be a werewolf.

Which meant that the weapons they'd brought were next to useless.

They ran for the car, but it was faster, and it caught her with its claws before she even knew what hit her. Dean shot it, distracting it long enough for her to get to the Impala's trunk.

She heard his gun go off twice more before she found the silver bullets.

When she came back around the side of the car, she found him on the ground, pinned down by the creature as it prepared to rip his throat out. She emptied the entire clip into it, and kept on pulling the trigger after all the bullets were gone.

Click, click, click, click.

His hand covered hers, and he carefully pried the gun out of her fingers.

All she could do was stare at the body. It looked like a normal person in death, now that the teeth and claws were gone. A perfectly normal person who might have a family waiting for them back home. She forced herself to look at the blood on Dean's shirt, reminding herself that she'd had no choice, but that knowledge still felt hollow to her.

After they'd gotten rid of the body, Dean took her back to the motel, where he got out a bottle of holy water to rinse out the scratches they'd received. When it came to werewolves, it was really only their bite you had to worry about, but Dean thought it was better to be safe than sorry. He reminded her a little bit of Sam in that way.

It'd caught him on the chest, and she could tell that the scratches would scar. As she carefully poured the holy water into the wounds, she watched for any sizzling or burning and was relieved when there was none. They were just ordinary scratches.

As she followed that up with hydrogen peroxide and clean bandages, she tried to ignore the smooth strength of his muscles underneath her hands. It was harder than it should have been.

When he carefully lifted her shirt to inspect her wounds, she stared at the empty ice bucket that sat on the small table in the corner and tried to ignore how gently his fingers brushed over her skin, as if afraid she might break. His breath was a pleasant warmth on the side of her neck, and she felt a stirring in her stomach that was both unexpected and unwelcome.

If he was surprised when she bolted for the bathroom the second he was finished, he didn't show it, and the last thing she saw before she closed the door was his bare back as he leaned over to pull a fresh t-shirt out of his bag.

She stayed in the shower until the water ran cold, Sam's name repeating in her mind like a broken record, before finally tiptoeing back into the darkened bedroom and silently crawling under her covers.

When she slept that night, she dreamt of fire, and she heard a familiar voice calling her name.

It didn't belong to Sam.

Jess woke up the next morning with dried tears on her cheeks, her hand clutching her knife to her chest like a security blanket, and the wrong name on her lips.

Dean didn't ask, and she pretended not to notice when his eyes lingered on her after she turned away.

Jess was getting very good at pretending.

Dean had warned her, but somehow she'd always thought he'd been exaggerating. At least a little bit. But now she was forced to admit that he actually might've been understating things. Suspicious. Strict. A hard man to know. Yes, Dean's words all seemed a bit surreal now that she found herself standing face-to-face with his father. Or, more accurately, face-to-muzzle with his .45 as the man's calm eyes studied her, cataloging every minute detail. It was unnerving, to say the least, and if Dean hadn't been right there, yelling at his father to back the fuck off she's with me dad so get a fucking grip christ almighty she probably would've passed out by now. Or done something equally girly like scream and hide her face behind her hands.

John Winchester looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Christo," his voice so calm he could've just as easily been reading from the phone book, and Jess felt something in her stomach unclench. So that was what this was about. She didn't flinch (of course she's not a demon, dad, jesus fucking christ, where'd you get that idea?), and he finally lowered his gun.

When he stepped forward and infolded her in a strong hug, like the kind her own father used to give her when she was just a little girl and still thought he could fix the world, Jess felt like crying. But she didn't. Dean was watching them, and she didn't want to appear weak.

When he told her stories about Sam as a child while Dean was out procuring some dead man's blood, she actually did cry, but John was crying, too, so she figured it was okay just this once.

Dean had her pressed up against the side of the Impala, his tongue in her mouth and his hands making quick work of the buttons on the front of her jeans. And while a little voice in the back of her mind kept screaming that this was so very wrong – John wasn't answering his cell phone, and they'd almost died, and the demon was still out there, damnit – it was easy enough to silence it when Dean's fingers slipped inside her underwear and finally touched her.

With each dirty little twist of his fingers, she felt her hips jerk forward like they were attached to a wire that had been pulled taunt, and she whimpered into his mouth, begging him not to stop. Never to stop.

He tasted like ash and blood, and the burns and bruises that covered her body throbbed painfully, but she welcomed it. All of it. She'd never felt more alive.

And when he finally pushed inside of her, she bit her bottom lip so hard that she tasted blood, her nails raking down his back through the thin cotton of his t-shirt. "We'll kill it," she whispered, the words slipping from her mouth like promises. "We'll find it again, and we'll kill it. We'll make it hurt; we'll watch it die."

Each thrust inside of her felt like a gift… and like a wound. She continued to whisper sweet nothings into his ear as her muscles clenched around him, promises of death and blood and violence, and each word made him go faster, harder, until he finally came apart at the seams, and it was all she could do just to hold on.

Once again, she found herself in a hospital room, but this time it wasn't her laying in a bed surrounded by beeping machines. It was Dean.

She'd thought they'd been lucky. They had the colt; they'd rescued John; they were planning their next move. But then her world had been turned on its ear when Dean told her they didn't have John with them after all.

She could still remember the horrible things the demon had said to her. Things about Sam, and what it was doing to his spirit. Things about Dean, and all the different ways it would make him bleed. She'd screamed. So had Dean. And it had soaked up their fear and pain like it was the best aphrodisiac in the world. If John hadn't picked that moment to gain control, she knew it would've killed them all, and enjoyed every second of it.

The colt had felt heavy in her hands as she lifted it off the table, and for a split second, she'd seen fear in those hideous yellow eyes.

She could still hear John's voice echoing in her head, begging her to kill him, and Dean's voice begging her not to. But in the end, it was Sam she'd thought of. Sam, who was dead and gone because of this evil son of a bitch.

She'd told Dean she was sorry, her voice choking on the words, but she'd pulled the trigger anyway.

And now she was in the hospital watching over the last of the Winchester men, afraid that when he woke up, he wouldn't want to see her, afraid that she was now truly alone.

She sat there for three days like that. Waiting. Feeling as if the sun was slowly rising on her day at the gallows.

She'd had to lie to the hospital staff so they'd let her stay. "My name is Jessica Lee Winchester," she'd said, smiling like the innocent girl she used to be, "and that's my brother, Dean."

Each time she said it, it sounded less like a lie, and more and more like the truth.

Dean finally opened his eyes on a nondescript Tuesday morning.

It took more courage for her to meet his gaze than it had to face down that demon.

In his eyes, there was anger, grief and loss, just as she'd known there would be, but it was the guilt that was the hardest for her to take. She wanted to tell him that it wasn't his fault, but she couldn't seem to make her mouth work properly. All her words dried up into nothingness on her tongue.

When he finally spoke, Dean only had one word for her. "Leave."

Jess choked back her tears – she would not cry in front of him – and stood up on legs that felt like they were made of jelly. When she walked out that door, she didn't allow herself the luxury of looking back.

The next few weeks passed by with excruciating slowness. She'd been unable to just leave, so she'd fallen back into their routine. Get separated, find the first motel in the yellow pages, register under Rockford.

She'd wanted him to find her. She knew it was pathetic, but she couldn't help it. He was all she had left. She couldn't go back to her old life, not after everything she'd been through in the past year. She didn't know how to be that girl anymore. She didn't know how to be that kind of normal.

Normal for her was bad food, cheap motels and spending half her days in a car. Normal was research and weapons training. Normal was hunting. Normal was Dean.

When the knock came at her door, she picked up her knife out of habit, and was careful not to disturb the circle of salt she'd placed around the doorway. This wasn't the first visitor to come to her door since she'd killed the demon. And as tempting as the thought of letting them get her was some mornings, she refused to give those evil bastards the satisfaction.

She almost didn't recognize him. He'd lost a lot of weight, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His hair had grown out a bit, and the way it was brushed over his forehead made him look several years younger.

He didn't offer an explanation, and she didn't offer an apology. She knew he wouldn't want to hear one, anyway. She simply stepped back and waited for him to cross the circle, knife ready at her side.

It seemed like an eternity before he stepped over the salt, but then he was there, and his arms were wrapped around her, and her knife had fallen to the floor, forgotten. She could hear his heartbeat beneath her ear, and it soothed something inside of her that she hadn't realized was tense.

She didn't know if he'd forgiven her, but that was okay. He was here. Everything else could sort itself out later.

This wasn't a fairy tale, and she wasn't going to get her perfect life, but she still couldn't help but smile as she thought of the empty space on her ring finger. She didn't have a diamond ring, but she found she no longer needed one. She was a part of this family through death and blood, through loyalty and love, and at the end of the day, despite everything she'd suffered, she wouldn't change that.

She thought of Dean's steady hands. She thought of John's knowing gaze. She thought of Sam's gentle smile.

And she remembered how, even in the beginning, she'd thought that Jessica Winchester had a nice ring to it.