xxxxx

It was a cool Sunday night in 2005 when Jessica Moore went into her room and ended up pinned to the ceiling with her belly slashed open. That much she's sure of.

Now, though? Her head's spinning and it's cold, and considering her last memory is of searing heat, that's a change. She reaches down hesitantly, as if she's really about to push through torn skin and clutch at her own guts, but her stomach is smooth and unopened.

Jess takes a deep breath, vaguely tastes dirt and something bitter, like pesticide, in the back of her throat. She rubs at her eyes and unsticks them. It's too bright.

She catches a flash of green – a park? No. A cemetery. She's wearing neutral clothes that she doesn't recognize as hers – jeans that are too big, boots that are too small, a flannel shirt and a jacket that looks like it came from Goodwill.

"At last! Back in the land of the living, just as ordered," says a voice from behind her, clipped and British. She whips around and narrows her eyes, trying to focus. It's a guy with his hands stuck in his pockets. He's kinda camp, v-neck tee and everything.

Jess blinks again and shakes her head, completely disorientated. It must have been a dream, then, dying on the ceiling. She might've been drugged, dragged out of the apartment and – oh god – she shivers, staring at the guy. Did he? How's she supposed to-

"I know, my good looks are really quite hard to get used to," the man says conversationally. "Give it time."

"You asshole," she spits, backing up, hoping the uncertain panic thrumming through her comes out in a really intimidating way. "What'd you give me?"

"The kiss of life," he says smoothly and she tenses. "Ah, ah..." He steps back hurriedly, tutting in a patronising way that has her itching to deck him or run or both. "Look, not literally, and really, it was more touch of an angel-"

She reaches for her phone, debating whether to call Sam first or 911, but her pockets are empty. Oh, darn. Damn. Crap crap crap. Shit. Fuck. Motherfucker. She mutters the last one under her breath for emphasis.

Don't hold back on the cussing when you're downright fucked, her brain tells her. It sounds suspiciously like Kate. Waste of goddamned effort.

"Do you have my phone?" she says, clamping down on the wavering note of terror in her voice.

"Jessica Moore," the man says, suddenly serious, "believe me - I never laid a finger on you. You're completely unhurt. In fact, you have me to thank for that. And…I suppose you will be needing a phone. Hold on just one second –"

"What the fuck," snaps Jessica. Swearing will make her feel better, right? Always seemed to work for her sister. Her head hurts and she's standing in a freakin' cemetery with a possible rapist who really isn't making any sense. She pinches the bridge of her nose, takes a deep breath, then she looks up and the guy's just gone.

She opens her mouth to swear again but finds she can't get the words out.

"Do you kiss your boyfriend with that mouth? Over here."

The guy's right behind her, holding out -

"Is that a phone?"

"Indeed it is," he says. "Not yours, that won't work anymore, but I'm just a really nice person so what the hell. And I almost forgot, but here, copious amounts of American currency. All yours." He drops the phone and a roll of bills at her feet.

She warily bends over, keeping her eyes fixed on him, and snatches them up.

"Okay…okay," she says. Don't freak out – and this time it's Sam's voice she's imagining, soothing, steadying. Find out what you can, then cut and run, just get out of there. "Just...okay. Who are you?"

"I have many names," he says with a flash of teeth. "And I'm not important. You, though…you. You were very, very special. You were part of a very big plan, once. Nearly ended the world."

She should be thinking this guy is high as a kite, but there's just something about him that…isn't. It freaks her right the fuck out. She has a phone now. She needs to call for help. She starts to dial.

"Time's up, ma'am," he says. "Get thee gone. I have things to take care of and so do you."

She pauses. "Like what?"

He grins at her again. "Does the name Sam Winchester mean anything to you? Cas tells me you need to fix him. Don't know if it can be done, to be honest, and I think I got the timing a bit off…don't know if you'll have any effect. But I'd give it my very best shot if I were you."

Sam -?

Then it's like he was never there, except the grass is still crushed a little from where he was standing. Curiously, a feather drifts down from nowhere and settles on it. The grass slowly springs back up as she watches.

x

Jess thinks the date on the phone is a prank until she looks at a newspaper. It wasn't 2011 when she went into her room last night.

Okay. The world just got a hell of a lot weirder, and pinching her arm until it bruises doesn't seem to be having any effect. It's 2011, and she's cold, and her shoes are the wrong size, and all the phone numbers she can remember – Sam's, her parents', her friends – are disconnected. She almost dials Kate before biting her lip and dropping her phone back in her pocket.

Six years might have flown by in the space of a single terrifying night but that doesn't bring anyone back from the dead.

Jess has the clothes on her back, a blister forming on her toe, a phone in her pocket, and copious amounts of American currency - so she does the only thing she can think of.

She goes home.

x

When she turns onto the right street, the place is unrecognisable and she knows in her bones there's nothing here for her. It's like a punch to the gut and she can't breathe for a moment. This feels too real, it's not a nightmare, she's not hallucinating. There's nothing here. She's got nothing and nowhere to go.

When she talks to reception, they tell her the place burned down back in '05. Tragically, someone died.

Jess remembers in a sudden vivid flash how her stomach felt with the guts slipping out and blood spilling onto her nightgown, and how she blacked out with flames chewing at her flesh.

"Do you know who it was," she says.

Sam. What would he say? He'd tell her there was nothing to worry about. Things were always a coincidence, with him – sometimes it was almost like he relished it. He would smile at her blindingly, and kiss her softly, and she'd practically be able to taste him pleading. She would practically be able to taste how much he loved her.

She thinks of how last night went. She'd made some cookies and left out a plate for him on the bench, and she had written love you in thirty seconds on the back of an envelope from the bank, with a biro that was kind of running out. She is suddenly and blindingly grateful she wrote that note. It is the closest thing to him knowing one more time how much she loved him before she died, because now everything's gone up in flames and it's become six years later in the space of a night and she's always been one to look on the bright side.

But. Kate. Kate would tell her to use her fucking brain so she does. She thinks of the man who says he gave her the kiss of life.

"It was this college student," says the guy, leaning forward animatedly, "went to Stanford, probably really smart, y'know. But she lived here with her boyfriend, right, and then the guy's brother turns out to be this psycho! The cops reckon he killed her and torched the place just to get the boyfriend back into the family business. Faulty wiring's the standard explanation, but come on. It fits."

She thinks back. Sam's brother? No, that wasn't – she'd met him a couple of days ago. Dean. She'd liked him. He'd still been out with Sam when the dark figure with hazily familiar features had pinned her to the ceiling with a glance – but that's impossible, she was imagining that - and torn her right open –

Hadn't he?

Wait. "You said...family business?"

"Oh, yeah. See, that's the thing about the victim's boyfriend. He was Sam Winchester. As in Satanic serial killer Sam Winchester."

Jess frowns because …what? None of this makes sense.

She goes to the library, plunks herself down at a computer and searches the words sam winchester satanic murders.

The thing she notices about the mugshots, weirdly, is that his bangs are gone and he looks so tired. Ashamed. He looks like a stranger.

Maybe this is a dream and she went to sleep straight after baking those cookies. Maybe she's dreaming that she died and came back six years later to find her sweet puppyish boyfriend's gone off the rails and become a fraudulent Satanist serial killer. Maybe she's still dead and dreaming it anyway.

He can't have been that– before yesterday – right?

She can remember how much he loved her and it hurts to think about. All that gentleness. It was so warm and she believed it so much because it was – it was real.

She reads that they're dead.

She licks her lips because her mouth's gone dry. Her insides are plummeting; her mind's out of reach, flown away somewhere she can't follow. She exits the browser and just tries desperately to forget everything. In this world that's moved on without her, every new thing she finds is like another piece of her real life being torn messily away, raw and bloody.

Ironically, it's the Sam-voice who's telling her to forget him and run straight in the opposite direction and never look back. Too dangerous, it's not fair on her. She needs to settle back down, figure out a way back into her bright, safe, normal life. Forget him.

She knows what Kate would say, too. She'd say, thought you had better taste than that, Jessie. She'd say, hey, bitch, you're alive. A lot can happen in six years and it looks like people can come back from the dead. She'd say, you never know.

No, Jess realises, she doesn't know. She doesn't know anything anymore.

x

She wanders out of the library and catches a bus out of town. She gets comfortable and waits to cross over into Arizona.

To save money, she picks the cheapest motel she can find, which also happens to be the dirtiest. What would Sam say if he saw her now, she thinks.

What's she supposed to do?

x

An angel comes to her in a dream.

I'm sorry, he says. And then, I will help you find Sam.

This is a dream the same way burning on the ceiling was, Jess realises.

I had you brought back for a reason, the angel says, but it was left too late. Before I knew what was wrong with him I thought you could help. Now I'm almost certain there is nothing you can do.

He looks at her properly then. His lips twitch in something that might be a smile.

Still - we have to try, he says, like he's echoing something, someone. I'm sure Sam would agree if he could.

x

Jess wakes up the next morning in the same bed she went to sleep in. She stays in it for a while, staring at the date on her phone.

In the end, it's the voice in the back of her head that sounds like Kate that makes her get up. It's always been that way. She's not a morning person but her big sis used to be a total bitch about it. Rise and shine, Jessie at five fucking thirty in the morning.She wonders what Kate would do, if she were around.

She'd be smart. She'd be active. She wouldn't lie in bed and cry. Right, okay.

Right. Okay.

x

Sam's brother's car is outside the diner she's heading to for breakfast.

Sam is saying, don't worry about it. Probably nothing.

Kate is saying, Jess – please. You're not this dumb. What kind of a coincidence is that? There are no coincidences.

Jess is saying, "fuck it" under her breath and walking inside.

x

There is no sign of Sam, but she's pretty sure the guy sitting in the corner, hunched jacket-clad back facing her, is Dean.

He killed you, Jess thinks.

You're already dead, Kate whispers. Not a lot left to lose.

Get the hell out of here, Sam hisses.

Jess takes a deep breath and crosses the floor of the diner. Heart beating wildly in her throat, she considers reaching out and tapping Dean on the shoulder, but she doesn't think she could take the split-second wild hope it wasn't him before he turned around. So she just slides into the seat opposite.

He puts down his forkful of hash brown and looks at her and oh god have mercy. Jesus christ it'shim. More lines in his face and he looks dead tired. So bizarre how someone's face can change like that in a night, she thinks, even if it was six years really. Then he sighs and rubs the back of his hand across his face and he looks even tireder.

He raises an eyebrow like he's waiting for her to do something. There's no trace of recognition there. That seems odd to her until she remembers he's killed a lot of people. What's the face of one dead girl six years after the fact.

Get out, Sam says.

Say something, Kate says.

"Hi," Jess says. "Hi, Dean."

"Hey there," Dean Winchester returns, giving her a once over. He leans back in his chair and reaches inside his jacket. She flinches noticeably and he raises the other eyebrow. "Have we met? You seem kinda familiar. Christo."

"Sorry?" she says, wondering if she heard correctly. When he doesn't clarify, she bites her lip, wonders what to tell him. How do you make conversation with the guy who killed you? "Um…I don't think so. I, uh, know your brother, Sam…" Thought I did, anyway.

"Right," Dean says. "So then. How'd you know me? Didn't think Sam told his hookups about me these days."

From the sound of it, Sam's alive. A weight lifts off her chest that she hadn't really acknowledged before.

"C'mon, spill," he says, and now the politeness is edging away, the playfulness. This is the guy who sliced her open and burned her to death. Inexplicably, he's reaching for the salt shaker.

"Photos," Jess lies. Sam never showed her photos of his brother.

"Bull," he says, eyes hooded, dead calm as he toys with the salt. "You obviously don't know Sam, but you do know me. That ain't exactly making me fall over trustin' you. Now tell me who you are."

Jess snorts out laughter at that, disbelieving, suddenly furious. She looks out the window, shaking her head, laughter huffing out of her in quiet bursts. He murdered her, along with untold numbers of innocent people. He took Sam away. He is thegoddamned serial killer so how is it, how that he can be acting so suspicious of her?

Is it that he has enemies? Is this an organized crime type of thing? Sam used to talk about what he called the family business, said he didn't want to be part of it, that it had taken all his life to get out of it, but he was always very vague about what it was exactly. It involved having no fixed address - that much was clear.

Still, come on –

"What's so goddamned funny," Dean says and he just sounds tired. Jess hesitates.

She wonders what to do. For once, neither Sam nor Kate have anything to contribute.

"Fine," she says, her tone hard, and he doesn't look surprised. What is he expecting from her? "I guess I shouldn't have thought you'd remember me. Think back five, six years."

"Six years?" Dean says blankly.

She can see it on his face when it clicks. He jumps to his feet and she feels vengefully happy, like the ghost of a victim come back to haunt their perpetrator.

"Jessica," he says. It's like a blow even though she was waiting for it. It feels strange for someone to recognize her in this new life, for someone to call her by her name. "You – what?" He doesn't look terrified, just shocked. He fumbles for a flask in his jacket and shakes some of the salt into it.

"Yeah, I know," she says. "I'm alive." She shrugs, trying to seem unaffected – what is he doing? "I wasn't expecting it either, were you?"

"No, I wasn't," he says, and splashes her in the face. She gasps, water dripping down her nose, and grabs for a napkin.

"Okay," Dean says, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand. "Okay." He sits back down, reaches inside his jacket and withdraws a knife. It glints silver.

Jess freezes and shrinks back. This was such a mistake. She wasn't always this stupid, was she –

He sets it down on the table carefully, slowly, and slides it across to her.

"Don't worry, I wouldn't try and kill you in here. And I figure if you try and stab me with that you aren't who you say you are," he says drily. "Anyway, you mind picking that up for me and drawing blood with that? Not much, just prick your finger or something. I know, sounds insane. Humour me." He smiles with his mouth. "I'm not gonna hurt you. If you do it."

She does it, keeping her hands as still as she can, utterly nonplussed. He inspects the wound closely then sits back.

"Awesome, thanks," Dean says like she just gave him the time or something. "Slide that back over here, ta."

Then he finishes his hash browns.

"Huh," she says, wiping her cheeks then wrapping the soaked napkin round the cut on her hand. "That was fast." She's already sitting across from a serial killer who's weirder than she thought, she figures there's no point not making conversation.

Idiot, Kate whispers. In a good way. You're doing well.

"This place does awesome hash browns," he says.

"That's not what…" She studies his face closely. "I'm supposed to be dead going on about six years now. You seem, uh, pretty cool with that." Maybe he's stoned? She checks his pupils.

"This back-from-the-dead shit is pretty much my day job," he says, deadpan.

Jess raises an eyebrow, deciding not to respond to that. "Is it that you think you're hallucinating? Like, the ghosts of your victims haunting your guilty soul kinda thing?"

"What, no," he says. Then, louder – "What? No!" He looks at her incredulously. "What did you say?"

"Well, you did kill me," Jess says, unconsciously brushing her stomach as if to check it's all still in there.

There's a long, heavy pause in which she can practically see Dean's brain ticking over.

"No," Dean says blankly.

"What?"

"No, I didn't kill you."

She blinks. Well, denial is…she doesn't know why but she'd expected him to be smug about it. Maybe it was his expression from the mugshots. "Are you sure?"

He laughs and she flinches. "Am I sure? Like I would have – I mean, christ – how could I, even if, I mean, Sammy…" He shakes his head disbelievingly. "Sorry, Jess. You got the wrong guy. Now please tell me who told you that, because they were lying through their teeth."

"I…" A flicker of doubt rushes through her – if she hadn't seen the evidence otherwise, she would almost believe him. But she can't. The most dangerous serial killers are the chatty ones, the charming ones, the ones who buy you coffee and make you trust them.

"This is important," he says, leaning forward. "Who told you that I killed you? Who brought you back?"

This is so weird. "I think it was this British guy," she says. "Kind of...smug."

Dean snorts. "Crowley. Oh, I am going to kill him," he mutters.

"No, he – he didn't tell me about you," she says. Then -"...wait. You know him?"

"We've met," he says shortly. "So if he didn't lie to you about your death, then who did?"

"The internet and the receptionist at my old apartment," she admits.

Dean sits back in his chair, some of the tension melting right away. He's still coiled up tight though like a weapon and it unnerves her how much that reminds her of Sam.

"Awesome," he says under his breath. "No. I really didn't kill you. Aside from the whole innocent-human-being thing, I wouldn't do that to my brother. That's..." He laughs. "Really not my style."

"I don't know why I should believe you. I don't know anything about you," she points out. "I just know Sam didn't mention you a whole lot and that I met you once. And I know Sam may be a good guy but that doesn't speak for you."

"You knew Sam," Dean replies, catching her eye. "A lot's changed since you died. A hell of a lot."

A sick surge of anger coils in her gut.

"Yeah," she growls, "like that isn't your fault. What did you do to him? What did you turn him into? I saw, I saw the reports- and Sam wouldn't have done those things –" – wouldn't have slept with a girl then shot her in the heart, wouldn't have drained a woman of her blood and left her to die, wouldn't have stolen and burned and killed – "-not the Sam I knew! So tell me. What did you do."

Something flashes in his eyes and she wonders if that's it, he's going to kill her again.

"Sam's done…some stuff," he says, slowly and carefully, "and so have I. And some of that's my fault, don't get me wrong, and believe me when I say some of it's his. But nothing of the whole truth is in those police reports you've read. I mean, that stuff is so freakin' out of context it's practically in outer space." He leans forward again. "Okay, so normally I wouldn't do this, and once upon a time Sammy would've killed me for it. But…listen, you were brought back from the dead. Do you want to know what did it?"

What did it.

"It said touch of an angel," Jess whispers, mouth dry as a bone.

"Now that's cute," Dean mutters. "Bet he thinks he's real funny. No. That was a demon that brought you back."

The world had almost started to make sense again. She'd had theories, she'd had a plan to get answers or die trying. She hadn't thought there'd be even more of her real life to strip away, hadn't thought it would hurt as much as everything before it.

Dean's playing with the salt shaker again, almost unconsciously. She's struck with the sudden memory of Sam insisting on taping salt down at every doorway in their apartment, every window. She thinks she probably shouldn't believe him, but honestly can't remember why. It feels true.

"Don't ask me why he did it. But that's what happened, far as I can tell," Dean says. "And yeah. Demon. That's the truth." He looks at his plate and then glances up through his eyelashes. "It was a demon that killed you, too, if you wanted to know." He laughs humourlessly. "Believe me, I couldn't have pinned you to the ceiling without lifting a finger and disembowelled you with my brain. But don't worry." He grins. "The fucker who did it? I shot him in the head."

The waitress chooses that moment to walk up to get his plate. They both turn and look at her at the same time. She looks like she wondering whether to make a break for it.

"This always happens to me," Dean says under his breath, staring at the ceiling.

"He's just practising his lines," Jessica says to her. "I'd like a garden salad with Italian dressing, please."

A muffled laugh from Dean has her looking his way.

"I knew it was you! Eighteen years of teaching him to eat real food and then he comes back from Stanford eating like a rabbit."

Jess snorts, unable to help herself. Sam had leapt on the idea of salads and grilled chicken sandwiches like a starving man, like he'd never eaten food so good. "I always thought his parents must've force-fed him cheeseburgers from the way he avoided them," she says.

Dean's smile fades. "Yeah."

They're both quiet for a minute.

"You're not serious," Jess says after a while, shaking her head. This doesn't feel real. "You're playing a trick, you're –"

"Wish I was, I really do."

"But. A demon. That's not possible."

"Yeah," Dean says, looking out the window. She twists her hands together, nerves thrumming through her. How can he look so relaxed?

"That doesn't make sense, anyway," she says. "What does a demon want with me?"

Demons aren't real, Sam says. You should get out of here. Call the cops and run.

You're back from the dead, Kate says.

"I'm real sorry," Dean says. "But…it killed you for no reason other than it wanted Sam. And I don't know why it brought you back but I'd say that's something to do with Sam too." He shifts uncomfortably. "Sorry, Jessica. You died 'cause you were in the way, and I wish that's not how things work but it is. It shouldn't have happened. We should have stopped it. But we didn't, so I'm sorry. I really am."

"Oh," Jess says. "So." Killed on the whim of a demon because she had the wrong boyfriend. What a week. She swallows a lump in her throat. "So Sam, he…he knows about this stuff?"

"You bet," Dean says wearily. "Demons, angels, vampires, ghosts, shapeshifters, werewolves, you name it. We hunt 'em. Family business, we were raised in it."

Family business. So that's what. That's.

If she doesn't believe this then her boyfriend is an actual psycho. He always wanted to be so normal. He insisted on it. He drank in the small routines of life like he was starving for them. He seemed so…wholesome. Almost seemed too boring until she got to know him, fell in love. Oh, god. If she'd never…

She died for Sam Winchester and now she's living for him. Funny how that works out. She never thought when she fell in love that her boyfriend would end up deciding her fate, that in the end everything she's ever hoped and dreamed and worked for, her whole life, her choices and her future and her dead sister and her fucking Stanford acceptance letter come down to this, being dead for someone else and then alive for them again, on a demon's whim. Is this all she was ever for, then, was all that time she never knew Sam just building up to this, this dying pressed against ceiling plaster and living in a world that's moved on without her – all of it for him. She can't. She doesn't think she can cope with that.

Sorry, Sam.

While she's thinking, her salad comes and she thanks the waitress absently.

"Anyway, the demon I'm thinking is one tricky son of a bitch and he's not going to tell us anything," Dean says. "And there's nothing you can do to help, honestly. So as far as I'm concerned you're free. Find your family, get on with your life. Make it a good one for me. Just…" He shakes his head, dead serious. "Jess, promise me you won't try and find Sam."

"Do you know where he is," she says, mouth dry. Honestly, that's what this had been coming to, all along, what they'd been carefully dancing around. "Look, Dean, I need-"

"I'm serious," Dean says. "There's a lot of things you don't know. A lot of things have happened while you've been dead. And Sam, he's, he's not the guy you knew. He's not the guy I knew. I'm trying to fix it, but. Seeing him now won't achieve a thing except for hurting like hell. Believe me. It'll hurt."

Jess looks to the side, then looks back at him.

"Dean," she says, "you have to tell me how to find him. You don't –" She licks her lips, stops. He probably does. "I died, because of Sam, okay? And now I'm alive because of him too. My existence hinges on this guy. I don't really have anything else. I don't know what else to do, I mean, I can't exactly go back to school, my sister's dead, who knows what's happened to my parents. This is all I have." She takes a deep breath, lays her palms flat on the table. "Dean, please tell me where to find him."

Even if what she finds isn't Sam at all. She doesn't think she's prepared for that, but neither is she prepared for the alternative.

"Your sister?" Dean says. "I'm sorry."

"That's fine," Jess says. "It was a long time ago now." She feels like laughing at that. It feels like no time at all.

He heaves a sigh, wipes his hand across his face, and tells her.

x

He'd said she'd probably find Sam hanging around the local Motor Inn's room 4, so that's where she heads. Dean also warned her he'd probably try the salt-and-water trick and might want her to cut herself with a silver knife again. She doesn't ask what else to expect and he doesn't tell her.

"Listen, if this doesn't work out – "and it won't, was the unspoken statement there – "come around to Singer Salvage Yard, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tell Bobby that Dean sent you. Hopefully I'll be around, if not he'll give you a hand and you can decide what to do from there." He'd written down the address and she'd put it in her wallet, and she's thinking about that slip of paper when she knocks at the door, her heart pounding.

Well, this is it, Jessie, Kate says. You found him.

Sam is silent.

She suddenly misses him so much she could burst with it, his floppy hair and his bangs that got in his eyes and his smile, god, it was so beautiful the way he laughed. She misses his voice. He was so kind and he had this thing he'd do with his eyes when he wanted something and she'd just melt, and she can't believe that when he left the other day to go for a weekend away with his brother he was leaving, and that was it, the last time-

He's on the other side of the door. She can hear someone walking up and then just standing there, fiddling with the lock.

Jess realises she isn't prepared, not at all. How's he going to feel, six years later, about his dead girlfriend just walking back into his life? He's an unknown quantity, he's –

Walk away.

I can't, Sam, Jess thinks. I'm sorry. But I can't. There's nothing else left, just you. I have to do this.

The door opens and holy shit that guy is big. It takes her a few moments of blinking past the gun pointed at her face for recognition to filter into her brain. It's Sam, Sam, Sam. He's somehow taller than she remembers, broad with muscle so that he fills the doorway, hair pretty much unrecognisable. He's grown up and he did it without her. That's not fair, she thinks.

It's been less than a week for her, and it feels like the same world. But it's not. It's older. It's harder. It's pointing a gun at her head and saying, "Huh. That's unexpected. Christo."

"Sam," she says. Miss you. Love you.

He was just going to be away for the weekend. She should have – shouldn't have – done something.

He ignores her, just looks her up and down with a cool, assessing gaze, eyes full of emptiness. Then he steps aside, still pointing the gun at her, holding the door open.

"We'd better do this inside," he says. "Come on in."

"Sam, it's me," Jess whispers. "Dean sent me."

He smiles like he's forgotten how. It used to be so beautiful. "Cross the salt line and we'll talk," he says.

From what Dean said he probably thinks she's a …demon or something. And he's inviting her in. She must not look very impressive. She looks at him and his empty eyes. Where did Sam go? Jess wonders. When did you leave him behind?

"Fine," she says under her breath, and steps over the threshold. He doesn't relax.

"Dean told me the drill," she says guardedly. "Salt, holy water, silver knife. Lay it on me."

He does.

"Huh," he says after a while when nothing seems to work.

Then he goes to the mini-fridge and grabs some beer, cracking it open on the way to the table. There's a laptop open there along with a bunch of papers. He's researching and it unexpectedly steals the breath out of her, the way that's the same when he isn't, because that makes her feel like this is the same Sam, the same person, and she can't blame this on a stranger.

"So you're back," he says matter-of-factly. "Really Jess this time, not Satan." He's looking at the wall as he says it, taking a pull of his beer. There's probably a story behind that comment but she doesn't want to ask.

"Yeah, Sam," she says. "It's me." She licks her lips, suddenly feeling terribly unsure, and takes a step towards him, instinctively wanting to take back and resume the old, easy teasing and touching.

But that stuff happened six years ago. What's she doing here, again? Ever since she woke up she's been working her way here, to Sam. Now she is here and it feels oddly surreal, like she still hasn't found anyone yet.

"Okay then," Sam says, gesturing at one of the beds. "Sit down and start talking."

Jess blinks. Never mind all the weird shit that's been happening lately, she's pretty sure that isn't generally the thing most people would say after being confronted with their long-lost resurrected girlfriend. "Sorry, what?"

"Didn't you hear me right?" Everything he says is just…abrupt, callous, like he's got walls up that are miles high and there's nothing behind them. Something's wrong.

"Yeah, I did," she says. She sits on the bed. "Um, okay. What did you want me to talk about?"

"Okay," Sam says. "Just putting it out there - I'm not in the mood for relationship and feelings talk so save it for later. You're probably noticing I'm not the same guy I was six years ago. Haven't been for a while. Nothing personal." He smiles. "Don't let it bother you. Now, I'm going to ask you something."

"I-" Jess starts, then stops, shut down before she could even begin. He's not actually trying to hurt her. He just doesn't seem to give a damn she's even here.

Rage sparks in her chest and makes her feel sick to her stomach.

I died because of you, she says to him silently. I'm here with nothing, because of you. Don't dismiss me like that, don't you fucking dare.

"Who brought you back?" Sam asks. "Did they give their name?"

She clenches her teeth, breath shuddering out, and closes her eyes. He doesn't give any indication of noticing.

"Well?" he prods.

"No," she says. "No. Dean says they're a demon. They brought me back in a cemetery and they were British –"

"Crowley," Sam murmurs.

"That's what Dean said. British with a v-neck tee and pretending to be an angel for some reason." She frowns, thinking back. "I'm pretty sure he mentioned someone called Cas. And that I'm here to …fix you." So Sam's been broken all along, she realises.

"Oh," Sam says. "That's…that's interesting."

At least something's interesting around here, she thinks pettily.

"Balthazar," he says, looking deep in thought. "Cas. Oh. Huh."

"Glad you figured that one out," Jess says.

"Me too," he says, looking up at her like he just remembered she was there. "It was pointless, anyway. There's nothing you can do, and nothing I particularly want you to."

"I can't believe you're Sam," she blurts out, voice barely shaking at all. "I can't."

His eyes are flat when he looks at her. Shark eyes, snake eyes. Definitely nothing warm blooded in there at any rate.

"No one's asking you to, Jessica," he says. "It doesn't really matter." He takes a drink. "Can I tell you something? You died in the same way as my mother."

"What," Jess says.

"I'm pretty sure it was already some kind of twisted Oedipal complex that led me to hook up with you in the first place," Sam says, "and the demons were taking advantage of that when they introduced us. I mean, blonde, pretty, smart." The compliments don't mean anything. They're just observations. "But dying like my mother. That pretty much sealed the deal-"

Jess suddenly can't take another second of this. She's had enough. She knew something like this was going to happen but that doesn't make it any less painful that he doesn't even give a shit she was even there. The air feels thick and heavy and cracklingly icy.

"Thanks, Sam," she says. "It was great seeing you again." She stands abruptly.

"Okay then, Jess, run," he says. "You're free. So go home. Go have your safe, normal, apple-pie life." He says the words like he's bored of them. "Make it a good one for me."

She wants out, now, so she walks out the door, away from Sam. When she looks back he's finishing his beer and staring at her curiously like she's marginally more interesting now that she's gotten angry.

"Fuck you, Sam," she mutters, and walks as fast as she can towards the nearest bus stop.

x

When Jess was seventeen, Kate, who was maybe twenty-one then, took her out on a road trip.

They watched the road go by, eating candy and chips and chatting about random things she doesn't remember now. Jess joked that Kate drank enough Coke to replace all the fluids in her body. They talked about the future and Jess told her sister how she was going to get into Harvard.

"Yeah," Kate had said, sounding serious for once, happy in a solemn kind of way. "I know you will." Jess didn't, but Kate never knew that, and Stanford would've made her proud just the same.

They stopped by the side of the road before they got home and Kate let Jess finish the Doritos. Then they sat on the hood of their mom's Subaru and looked at the night sky. It was kind of cloudy that night but there weren't many trees around, so it was like a dome stretching all around over their heads and around the horizon in every direction.

Kate asked her if she had a boyfriend yet, or a girlfriend, as she often did. Jess denied it, as she always did.

"Hey, if you ever do manage to get one, I wanna meet 'em, okay," Kate said. "Don't chicken out on me."

"Like I would, you bitch!"

"Bitch yourself. And promise me."

"Oh, sure, sure. I promise."

Jess remembered the promise after the crash and cried for a long time. It was one of many. It didn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but she remembered it anyway.

x

When she walks into her motel room in Wyoming a week later, she's holding pizza. When she sees the man standing there she nearly drops it, but holds on because it's got extra anchovies and she's gradually running out of cash.

"Hello," he says, and she'd freak but she's getting more and more used to strange men popping up everywhere all the time. "My name is Castiel."

She nods slowly. "Do I need to introduce myself?"

"No," says Castiel.

"You're the one who had me brought back," she says, carefully setting the pizza on the table. "Because of Sam."

"Yes." He frowns. "That incident last week did not go as well as I'd hoped."

"No shit," she says, incredulous. "What's wrong with him?"

"He has no soul," he says, so gravely she wonders whether to laugh - given the way things are now, he might mean it literally for all she knows.

Probably does. This guy seems pretty literal to me, Jessie.

"Sure seemed like it," says Jess."I'm sorry, but I wouldn't be able to fix him."

"I know," he says. "It was a foolish mistake."

"Yeah. I mean, I couldn't stand being in the same room as him for five minutes." She laughs weakly. "Guess you'll have to take me back to the shop."

"It was an error on my part. He needs his soul, not whatever you could give him." He shifts uncomfortably. "Um. Sorry," he adds as an afterthought.

Jess almost laughs again.

"Okay, let me get this straight," she says. "So basically, I was your last resort based on a desperate chance based on a whim you had when you didn't actually know what was going on. So you went up to Heaven or wherever I was, and you dragged me back here, and now I'm alive and it's not like you can kill me again, so I'm stuck here with nothing."

"I…thought you wouldn't mind being alive," Castiel says awkwardly. "Most people don't seem to."

"Yeah," she says."It's great when you have something to live for."

"You don't?" He seems genuinely surprised.

She sighs. "Look, I'm sorry. Shit. I sound really ungrateful, don't I? Sorry. It's just. Six years," says Jess. "Six years and my boyfriend and my sister and my degree, and, look, I can't do this. You can't just screw with people like that. You can't just drag me around like I'm a…I don't know, a futile attempt, just one more thing you had to try, because come on, I'm lost here. I don't have anything to do. I was brought back on a whim, and now I'm back for the rest of my life."

"Oh," says Castiel, and this time he sounds surprisingly gentle, like he understands. "I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry," Jess says, horror dawning on her. Shit, she's been full on whining at the angel who brought her back – "I –"

"Really, I suspect I deserved that," Castiel admits. "Playing God causes more trouble than it cures. I'm sorry, Jessica, and I will make it up to you. I will return something precious to you, as soon as I can. Just do me one favour. Please."

"What's that?"

"Don't tell Sam and Dean that it was me," he says. Then she blinks and the angel's gone.

x

When she walks up to Bobby Singer's front door a few weeks later in South Dakota, Jess isn't sure what to expect. She isn't sure why she's here, either, but like with so many other things she doesn't have much else to do.

She knocks. No one comes at first so she waits a bit, watching the clouds.

The lock starts rattling in the door and she's hit by déjà vu all of a sudden, so when the it creaks open to reveal a figure filling the doorway, impossibly tall and broad with the wrong hair, she thinks she's imagining it. Except, no. It is Sam and goddamn she does not need this right now, especially because when she looks at him it's not the same as it was last time and for a split second she can believe this is the guy she's in love with.

She wants to avoid his flat snake gaze but that feels like backing down, so she raises her head and looks him in the eye. He doesn't seem happy to see her, but she was expecting that. He's practically shrinking back and looking like he wishes he'd never opened the door in the first place.

At least she's inspiring some kind of emotion in him now.

"I thought you were gone," he says in a hollow voice.

"Hell of a greeting, Sam," she says, knowing the hurt is audible in her voice and not caring.

"Funny," he whispers.

"I came here to see Bobby," she says. "Aren't you going to let me in?"

That's got him confused, for some reason. "What…Bobby?"

"Yeah, Dean gave me this address. I didn't know you'd be here."

"Wait, back up a second," Sam says slowly. "You…came to see someone other than me?"

She laughs, not quite believing she actually heard him say that. "Wow. Just, conceited much?"

"So – " he swallows and she wants to slap him, stop pretending to be like you were – "you're…not Satan pretending to be my dead girlfriend?" His mouth quirks slightly.

That gives her pause. She looks at Sam again, carefully this time.

"Um, no," she says carefully. "Sam, what's…"

"Guess you're something else then," he says, reaching into his pocket - and there, the walls are coming up, but they're almost familiar walls this time, she can handle them. "Christo."

She still doesn't know what that word means so she just blinks at him. He splashes holy water in her face and she wipes it off. She could get used to this.

"We've been over this, okay?" she says. "Twice if you count Dean."

"Dean?" Sam repeats, then shakes his head. "Tell me in a minute. You willing to be tested with silver?"

"Uh, sure," Jess says. She reopens the wounds from last time and hands the knife back to Sam who looks as pale as a ghost.

"Jess," he whispers, "Jess," like he can't believe what he's seeing and this is all going to crash down at any minute, and he reaches out to touch her cheek and she can't bring herself to stop him.

"I don't believe it," he says, steadying himself on the doorframe, "I'm dreaming." Jess is a little nonplussed given his reaction last time she knocked on his door.

"I wish," she says grimly, not letting herself hope. "Sam, what's up with you? You didn't seem that thrilled to see me last time."

"Last time?" He shakes his head. "Don't tell me, more soulless crap. Damn it."

"You…don't remember?" Jess says, and stares at him. Is it – could it – is it really – she looks at his eyes, and finds Sam there. She doesn't know what happened and why but something's changed in him – changed back.

He's shaking his head, disbelieving. "But you're dead," he chokes out, eyes wide. "I missed you. Jess. I missed you so much." He pulls her into a hug, which is just slightly terrifying given that he's built like a brick wall and could probably crush her with one hand. "Oh my god. Oh my god."

There's no escaping from the hug so she reaches her arms around tentatively, spread out against his broad, familiar back, and links her fingers together. This is what she missed last time, she realises. This is him. This is Sam.

"I'm really here," she tells him, pressed against his chest. She leans into the curve of it . "Back from the dead, promise. It's me, baby. I'm here." And so are you. You're back.

Sam starts to shake and she gets the feeling it's been a very long week. He clings to her like a drowning man and she thinks that she can almost forget everything, six years in a month and Sam with flat snake eyes and all that because when she closes her eyes he smells the same, old clothes and leather and cheap deodorant and himself. It was all a dream, she imagines with her eyes shut, it's all okay now.

"How," he gasps, "how?"

"Touch of an angel," she wants to say, but remembers Castiel and decides doing what he asked seems like the least she can do to thank him.

"Dean said it was a demon," she says.

His hands fist in her hair. "Oh," he says. "Oh. You…you know about…?"

"Yeah, I know all about that stuff now," she says tiredly. "Went looking for answers after I came back, know? I wish you'd told me."

Sam pulls back.

"I'm sorry, Jess," he says. "Yeah. I should've told you but. I couldn't do it. I wanted you to have a good life. A normal life."

"That worked out well," she says drily. He ducks his head and laughs. That smile makes her heart want to burst.

"Yeah, I know," he says softly. "It's just…I grew up in it and it wasn't good. You, Stanford – that was me, getting out, and I was using you to do that. I wanted out so much I didn't warn you about what was coming for you. So…you died, and that's on me. I'm, I am so sorry."

Her throat closes up. She can't deal with this. She can't tell him that's okay because it really hasn't been long enough since her life went up in flames.

"Didn't Dean tell you I was back?" she says. "It's been a month now."

"No, he didn't say anything," Sam says. "But it hasn't been that long for me." He laughs. "Waking up in the basement a year later isn't the first thing you expect to happen after jumping into hell."

"Story of my life," she says. He laughs again – she loves it when he does that - and rests his forehead against hers.

"So now what?" she asks him and he stills, tensing. "Can I come in?"

"Oh, yeah!" he says awkwardly, jumping back and holding the door for her. She looks up at him and smiles and walks in.

x

"Dean's gone out," Sam says, crossing over to the fridge, "and so's Bobby, so I'm here watching the phones." He grabs two beers, cracks them open and gives her one. "You like this, right?"

He's forgotten, Jess realises, and the realisation makes her swallow down a lump in her throat. She takes the bottle and has a long drink.

They talk, then.

As the afternoon wear on, Jess learning all about the life that ended up with her as collateral damage, she realises something. She's not going to fit.

Dean and Sam live on the road and they hunt monsters now and he's tried to stop, give it up, but he can't, just gets sucked back in every time. Hell exists and they've both been, and they're kind of dangerously codependent, she can tell that much, and even if Sam doesn't say it outright she can tell he knows it too. He doesn't want her in this world, this life, she thinks, he wants her safe and normal like she's always been – she's not going to be able to hunt with him.

"You know, you died in the same way as my mother," Sam says after a while, and for a moment she can't breathe. "It was my fault both times," he adds like he can't help it, like he wants someone to agree with him.

"It wasn't," she says. "Sam."

"It kinda was," he says and he looks so wretched she can't help but believe him, but she goes and rubs circles on his back.

"What am I supposed to do now?" she says after a while.

"What do you mean?" It doesn't seem like he's thought about it.

"I mean I'm legally dead," she says. It's almost like a mantra now. "I can't go back to school. My family's gone. You…I spent a long time trying to find you and I only just did. That was all I could do, really. Now we're both here, and I don't know what I'm going to do next."

"I'm sorry," Sam says. "I…I wish you had something other than me. Honestly, I don't really count."

He's got Dean. He doesn't have room for her. She has to ask anyway.

"Can I hunt?" she says. "Like the thing that killed me, stuff like that. Can I come with you?"

She can read the answer on his face.

"We can make you a new identity, Jess," he says. "You can go to school somewhere else, I promise it'll work. Just. Don't hunt. Stay out of this life. It's not good or safe or fun and once you're in you can't ever get out." I've tried.

"Baby," Jess says, "I'm pretty sure I was in from the moment we said hello."

"I know," he says, something in his face breaking, "but I can't. I can't do that to someone. Not now. I'm sorry."

"Okay," she says quietly.

"Please, promise me…promise me you won't. Have a good life. Do that for me, Jess, please. Have a really good life." It breaks her heart how much he means every word.

"Looks like I've got no choice," she says.

x

She gets an offer to stay at Bobby's but the Winchesters are hitting the road tomorrow and she doesn't want to be there without Sam, so she takes out a room at a motel in Sioux Falls.

Hunting, then. Saving people from the things in the dark that slaughter you horribly just because you've got the wrong boyfriend…it could work. She orders pizza while she thinks.

She knows the basics, now – salt and silver and holy water - and if she trained, learned to shoot and fight, maybe she could help. She can research too, she's good at that– she just has to make Sam see. She can do it, she's confident of that, she'll just need a little time and persuade him she can make her own decisions that don't pander to his guilt complex. Her good life went up in flames a while ago and it's too late for her to take it back.

There's a knock at the door. Fast delivery, she thinks as she goes to open it.

It swings open.

Six years and one month and that's not supposed to bring anyone back from the dead but all the rules are broken now. Her sister was four years older than Jess when she died and she'd always seemed so much older and wiser. They're the same age now but Jess can still see her through the eyes of a child.

She's wearing an unfamiliar beat-up leather jacket and the stud in her nose is missing, and her hair's longer than it's ever been. But it's Kate, Kate and Jess is still reeling when her sister opens her mouth to speak.

"Hey, Jessie," she says with a small smile. Jess knows that smile and she knows it's going to spread and spread and take over her face and light up the room.

Jess can't say anything for a moment, just stare as Kate walks right in.

Kate.

"I know," her sister says, the grin spreading, "I look fantastic."

Her brain kicks into gear, then. Sam had told her to put salt lines down at every window, every door wherever she was, had given her a bottle of holy water and a silver knife. People don't come back from the dead. But Kate had stepped over the salt line.

Shaking, she takes out the holy water. "Drink it," she says.

Kate raises an eyebrow at that. "You got older," she says. "How long –"

"Please," Jess says, and Kate caves like she always does, takes the blessed water and chugs it right down, wipes her mouth and says "thanks for the drink, dude, but why…?" and Jess knows in her bones it's her. She doesn't bother with the knife.

"Oh my god," she says and wraps her sister in her arms. She's back. Kate's back and she knows suddenly, all along, that this is the answer, this is what she needed, and as long as her family's here she'll be okay. For the first time since she came back it doesn't matter what she does next. She doesn't need to find a purpose. It's already here.

"Hey, it's okay," Kate says, stroking her hair, sounding awed, like she can't believe it herself. "It's okay, Jessie. I'm here."

"You're here," Jess whispers. "You're back. Touch of an angel, right?" She smiles and closes her eyes and there's tears running down her face. She sends out a silent shout of thanks to Castiel. "Kate. Kate." She shakes her head, crying in earnest now. "There's someone – someone you've gotta meet –now you're back -"

"Yeah, Jessie," Kate says, and there's that grin again, spreading across her face like sunshine, "yeah. I'm back."

xxxxxxx