Title: Hopscotch
By: nixa_jane
Pairing: gen
Rating: R
Summary: The first night without Sam is strange and kind of terrifying.

The first night without Sam is strange and kind of terrifying.

They get a room with two beds, like usual, but Dean has his all to himself. Sam's breathing isn't there like some kind of strange lullaby, and Dean presses his eyes shut, listens to the turning pages of his father's journal as he sits on the other bed studying with his flashlight.

It should be enough to make him feel safe, but it's not really his own skin he's used to worrying about, and there's all kinds of crazy fucked up shit in California. It's a little hard to sleep knowing Sam is there now, alone, without him.

Dean throws an arm over his eyes, hears the flashlight click off and his father lie down. Sam knows to stay out of the dark corners, knows how to take care of himself, Dean knows. Sam knows what to use to kill anything that might come after him and he's going to be so stuck inside his books he's not going to run into trouble anyway.

It doesn't make him feel any better, and Dean wonders what the hell's wrong with him that what hurts most is he thinks Sam will be just fine without him.


The first night without them is strange and kind of liberating.

Sam doesn't have to salt the doors and windows or help clean their personal armory. He puts his own keychain on the key to his new apartment, so it isn't just some random number hanging off the side the way he's used to.

The streetlights flicker outside his window and Sam still doesn't tense, just watches them glow brighter and then burn low, tells himself it's just an electric glitch, and pulls the curtains shut.

It's cold in the room for California but Sam's only got the covers the room came with, brought hardly anything of his own. Only got one duffle packed before his father's words chased him out the door, and didn't have much else anyway. He didn't have to worry about leaving treasured trinkets behind or some room with posters and trophies to miss.

There was only one thing Sam regretted leaving behind, but it's not like he ever thought he had a chance of getting Dean to come with him.

Still, sometimes he wished his father hadn't built a world that was all or nothing.

The first time Dean goes on a hunt alone a demon claws him down the side, three two inch deep gashes across his left hip.

He gets thirty-four stitches and three new scars because he thinks for a moment that Sam is right behind him to pick up the slack, to provide cover fire while he reloads, and he goes down hard before he remembers that he's not, hasn't been, for awhile.

John does the stitches himself, lecturing the whole time about keeping his guard up and about how he won't be hunting alone again any time soon.

Dean should probably have been a little more outraged by that than he is, but the truth is, he doesn't like hunting alone anyway.

It's a little hard to fight someone else's ghosts when you're battling so many of your own.


Sam's first day of classes is nothing like his usual first days of classes.

He doesn't get pulled to the front of the room for introductions because he's the new kid and this school is already halfway through the year, he doesn't have Dean hanging out around the doorway like the guardian angel he's kind of always been, ready to take on anyone stupid enough to mess with him.

There are so many other students there he goes invisible, up until the moment he raises his hand when no one else will, and says something that gets the teacher's attention along with everyone else.

Sam was always taught to blend in, stay low, a funny motto, he'd always thought, from the guy that traveled the states in that Impala, with Dean and his leather jacket leaning out the window in the front seat.

He's kind of always had different definitions for things than them, though, and there's no reason to keep the arguments going now that he's alone.


Dean meets Cassie at an intersection in a little town he'll probably never remember the name of--John writes it down in his journal as northern Ohio, poltergeist. They've just arrived and John is at the library, but Dean needed air, a little space, and left for a walk. John is his father and he loves him, but Dean is a soldier in his presence and it hurt, sometimes, keeping that up, without Sam around for him to be someone else with.

His boots are mud splattered and he's wet, head to toe, because the skies opened up an hour ago and it hasn't stopped pouring since. That's when he first sees her.

She joins him on his side of the street, holding a black umbrella and wearing a sly grin that Dean thought looked a rather lot like his own. "Got caught in the rain, huh?" she asks.

He's as wet as he can get already and she doesn't offer to share the umbrella anyway, just folds it up and stands there swinging it, letting herself get soaked to the skin.

She's not really a back ally kind of girl, so they end up in her place, tracking wet clothes through her living room as they make it towards the bed. Later, they actually have a date, a honest to god date, and Dean is sitting there in some place that serves food for twice what he's paying for his motel room, making small talk with the prettiest girl he's seen in four states.

"How about your family?" she asks, after telling all about hers, and for once Dean doesn't want to lie.

"I've got a kid brother," Dean tells her, and gives a sly, fond little smile, before looking away. "He's down at Stanford. Gonna be a big shot lawyer someday."


Sam meets Jessica in one of his study groups. Out of my league, is the first thought he has, and the voice that whispers it in the back of his head sounds an awful lot like Dean.

But he's not Sammy, little brother, back up, third string anymore--he's Sam Winchester, the kid on a scholarship, the one his friends call laid-back. And Sam Winchester can do, can have, whatever he wants. He's given up a lot for that kind of freedom and he isn't going to ignore it now.

Jessica likes him right away, likes who she thinks he is, that Sam Winchester he's molded out of television characters and old classmates, the all American boy, Joe Normal. He has always been good at acting, if never quite as good at it as Dean.

Even once they get serious, even once they're living together, he can still dodge her questions like a pro, does it so well she doesn't even realize how little she actually knows about him.

He knows her entire family tree, has met most of them in person, but she just has names, Mary, John, and Dean; Dean, who slips in a little too often sometimes, when he's doing something he knows Dean could do better, or something Dean would hate, or something that would make him laugh.

Still, when she actually asks, he's caught completely off his guard.

"I don't really have a family," is what he tells her, but he can't stop himself from adding, quickly, like an apology, "It's just been me and my brother for awhile now."


Dean doesn't know what makes him look at his watch.

Nearly the time, almost to the second, that Mary died--and his heart starts beating faster as he spins the car around. Dean's always been superstitious. Kind of hard not to be in this world where superstitions are almost always real, and Dean knows better than to ignore a gut feeling.

Sam's apartment is already burning when he pulls to a stop.

Dean gets him out in time, tries not to look at that dying girl that looks so much like the pictures of Mary--so much like her, fated ill just like her, and it's easy not to look back.

Easy because he's pushing Sam in front of him and out the door.


Sam doesn't know what's happening to him.

He puts the flowers on Jessica's grave, thinks, I'm so sorry I'm so sorry I'm so sorry the whole time.

He doesn't know if he hadn't decided to leave with Dean if he could have saved her. Those dreams of her and her death were vague and nightmarish, didn't hold the same clarity as the flashes he'd gotten of Dean, dead and dying on some road in Jericho if he'd let him go alone.

He doesn't think of it like choosing one over the other. His world isn't all or nothing like John's.

Sam's learned to live amidst the different shades of grey.