Title: This Safe Life

Author: Strangevisitor7


Characters: Sam and Dean Winchester. Jess


Disclaimer: All things Supernatural belong to Kripke, et al.

Summary: AU for the pilot. Sam evaluates the meaning of his nightmares and what it means for his future with Jess.

This Safe Life

For the third night in a row, Sam bolted upright in bed, the scream on his lips barely contained, and looked over at the sleeping figure beside him. Tentatively, he reached out to brush a stray curl away from her cheek. He let go of the breath he was holding as his fingers contacted real flesh.

He pulled his hand back to run it across his face, trying to remove the leftover memories of the nightmare. The terror had been unrelenting. For three nights he'd seen Jess burning as she was pinned to the ceiling of their bedroom. He knew what he was seeing; understood the familiarity of it even though he'd never seen it happen to his mother.

Just once, when he was about twelve, he'd badgered Dean to distraction about the night their mother had died. Exasperated, Dean had finally relented and told the tale. Sam had insisted Dean tell him everything in specific detail about what he'd seen that night so many years ago. Dean had not been happy and he'd been grumpy for days afterwards, but he'd understood Sam's need to know everything about everything at that age. Sam had thought he'd find some clue in the telling that Dad and Dean had overlooked. But, mostly, he knew he'd hope to find a connection to the mother who was just a ghost of an idea to him.

After reliving the nightmare for three days, Sam had the overwhelming urge to call Dean and apologize. Sam was horrified by the images in his sleep and the fact that he had forced Dean to relive every moment of it. No one should die like that. And no four-year-old kid should have seen that.

Sam threw off the covers, carefully so as not to wake Jess, and shuffled into the bathroom. He was still shaking and even a splash of cold water to his face couldn't dislodge the idea that these were more than simple nightmares. Not when he could still smell the smoke and feel the heat even after he'd woken up. The idea that these could be premonitions terrified him even more.

Since the first sleepless night, he'd tried to dismiss the timing as coincidence. It was four days until the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the end of the Winchester world. He'd always dreaded that date on the calendar. Halloween was the sign post leading to the worst days of the year. Dad usually sat staring at the few pictures he had of Mom. The silence was deafening, as if the big man had been swallowed up by grief. He seemed to disappear, even when he was right in front of you. It had scared Sam to see his father so small.

As for Dean, he would head to the roughest part of town to beat the crap out of some unsuspecting stranger. He would be pretty roughed up by the time he arrived home, but Sam believed Dean when he said the other guy looked worse. He had never witnessed Dean in that berserker rage but just knowing he was capable of it was unsettling enough.

Sam didn't really have a ritual. Sometimes, he felt bitter that he had never been able to indulge in his loss the way they did. And yet, at other times he knew that truthfully, he simply couldn't muster up the pain. It was hard to miss something you never had. So, typically, Sam became the caretaker, making sure his family held it together to see November 3rd.

For three nights he had watched Jess die. He'd finally comprehended the reality of their family tragedy, and finally experienced the pain of traumatic loss. Even if it was only a nightmare, it was emotionally real to Sam. He let the tears fall as he realized for the first time he understood what drove his dad and how the blackness of grief can overtake your soul.

Sam met his gaze in the bathroom mirror. Wiping the tears away he steeled himself to admit in his heart what his head was already screaming at him. Jess was in danger because of him. He leaned his forehead against the mirror and announced to himself, "To protect her, I have to leave her." Once spoken aloud, the words became his new reality.

Damn this life. He'd tried to run away, yet it had followed him, stalked him and mocked him even as he stupidly attempted to build a safe life. He knew now that it had been a game, a façade.

He pushed himself away from the sink and spun around like a caged animal in the small bathroom. Was he destined never to be happy? Was it so wrong to want a safe, simple life? An anger he'd never felt before was growing inside. He could feel it bubbling to the surface. With an agonizing growl he released the feral rage and swung at the mirror, shattering his future into thousand pieces.

"Sam," came the sleep-filled voice from the bedroom. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I just slipped. Go back to sleep."

Sam heard a muffled acknowledgement and the sound of Jess snuggling back under the covers.

He grabbed a towel and began cleaning his bloody knuckles. He spent the rest of the night gathering up the broken mirror and then silently packing.

He'd need to make his departure quick or else he'd never have the mettle to follow through. Jess was a master at talking him into almost anything. It was one of the things he loved about her. He knew if he gave her the opportunity, she might be able to convince him to stay. He couldn't take that chance. But he also knew that while a note would have been easier for him, Jess deserved a face-to-face goodbye.

Sam sat numbly on the couch in that last predawn hour, fortifying himself for the confrontation to come. He glanced at his stuff by the door and shook his head in defeat. He thought his life had changed so much in the past three years and yet everything he owned could still fit into a couple of duffle bags.

He stiffened when he heard Jess calling his name. I Here we go /I , he thought. He cleared his throat and called to her, "In here, Jess." He stood and locked down his emotions.

"Hey, I saw the broken mirror." She looked at him and he saw the confusion in her eyes. "Sam? Are you okay?"

"Jess, I have something I need to tell you. " He held his voice steady and waited.

She looked at him, tilting her heard sideways in that cute thinking position she used when she was trying to solve a puzzle. "Tell me what's wrong, honey." She walked toward him with her arms coming up to enfold him in a comforting hug.

Sam grasped her wrist lightly to stop her from making contact and gently pushed them down as he stepped away to put more distance between them. The startled look on her face was breaking his heart.

"Sam, say something. You're scaring me." And then she saw the duffels by the door. A little 'oh' escaped her lips as she brought her fingers up to stop them from trembling.

"Jess, I'm sorry, this isn't working." I can't keep you safe.

"You're leaving? Why?" She was staring at the duffle bags and not at him. Her body was vibrating as she fought to hold back the tears.

"I thought I could do this but I can't." I can't live normal . "I'm not cut out for the whole relationship thing." My life isn't safe. There was a war going on inside him.

"That is not true, Sam," she said quietly. "I know we were happy. I know you were happy." Her arms snaked themselves around her waist as if she was literally holding herself upright. She moved toward him and he backed away again. The tears had begun to leak down her cheeks

It took every bit of will power he had to keep that distance between them, to not fold her up into his arms and apologize for the crazy talk. Instead he said, "I thought I was happy but it wasn't real." Not true, his mind screamed. I was the happiest I'd ever been in my entire life.

Sam began to back toward the door, putting more distance between them. He wanted to run away but thought that would ruin the façade of cold callousness he was trying to portray.

"I thought..." She stopped; her voice was shaking as she tried to ask the question Sam did not want to hear. "I..." She went silent again as she backed into the overstuffed chair behind her. Sam could tell she was gathering strength to push forward. "I love you," she said simply. "Don't you love me anymore?" Her eyes were rimmed with tears and she pulled her knees up to hug them to her chest.

He'd told Jess a lot of lies and half-truths over the past two years about his family and his childhood but he'd never lied to her about their relationship; how he felt about her. Yet now, he would end their life together with lies and he wondered why they weren't hard to say. "I'm sorry, but I don't love you." Followed by the cruelest thing he'd ever said: "I'm not sure that I ever did." He reached for the door.

He'd destroyed her world. He could see it in her eyes. But, she didn't yell, that was not her style. She was an analyzer like him. She wanted to understand. "I don't believe you. Can't we talk about this before you run away?" Her entire being was straining toward him, begging him to stay and talk. "Please help me figure out what's happened to you, to us."

"No, I think it's best if I just go." Sam turned his back on her to pick up his meager belongings. Still facing the door he continued, "I know you can't begin to understand this, but you really will be better off without me." You'll be alive.

He'd stepped out of the door and was around the corner in a flash. Once he was sure she hadn't followed, he stopped to call Jess' best friend, Rebecca. He told her what he'd done. She called him all kinds of colorful things before he could interrupt.

"You're right, I'm a bastard," he confirmed. "Now stop yelling at me and go tell Jess what a prick I am. She needs you. "Without waiting for a response, he hung up.

That's when his phone started to ring. It was Jess. He let it go to voice mail. He toyed with listening to the message as he thumbed through his contact list looking for others to send to comfort Jess. It wasn't until the name appeared at the top of the list that Sam realized this was the plan all along.

He thought back to the last time he saw his brother. He could still hear Dean's voice, sad but realistic, right before he had left for California. "We weren't cut out for normal, Sammy. But, go ahead, give it a try. Then call me when you're ready to hit the road again."

Sam was so pissed at the lack of support from his brother that he still hadn't talked to Dean. Now, well, he was man enough to admit that Dean was right. Hunting, the family business, was really the only life that fit. He dialed the number, wondering if Dean would even answer.

"Hey," the familiar voice said and nothing more.

"Hey Dean, I was wondering where you were, because I'm feeling the need for a road trip." Sam tried to be nonchalant but he was sure his voice was cracking.

He waited for the snarky rejoinder or the laughing chorus of "I told you so". But all he heard was Dean telling him with one simple statement, "I'm coming, Sammy", that he was still loved.

4 days Later

Dean grabbed the newspaper as he settled into the booth to wait for Sam to join him. Ten minutes later the newspaper was in the trash and he was headed back to the room. Dean had to make sure Sam wouldn't see the headline about the 21 yr-old college student, Jessica Moore, who had died in an accidental fire over the weekend.

Sam wasn't ready to know that his sacrifice had meant nothing. It was Dean's job to protect Sam and if that meant keeping secrets for a little while, well, so be it.