It's the middle of sophomore year, and Sam still isn't sure what he wants to major in; his advisor, Ms. Davis, suggests he take International Negotiation and Conflict Management.
"Mr. Ward said you did well in his class last year," she says. It's true—he did like The History of the International System, but he didn't know that was a career option. He's good in math, figured he'd just get an MBA and settle down in something safe, like finance.
"Okay," he agrees. If it's a bust, he can always drop it.
It's far from a bust, as it turns out, even though the class starts at nine in the morning. The first few times, he so amazed at what everyone has to say that he just sits back and listens, barely remembering to jot down notes. When called on, though, he does speak up. "No, I think we were right about Vietnam," he says. "Sometimes military action is the only way to settle these things."
"We had no right to interfere in their business," someone responds, a few rows over. Sam cranes his neck to look, and a beautiful blonde girl is giving him the evil eye. "Police brutality at protests? Kent State? Tear gas? If the government had backed the hell off and let people have opinions, maybe they wouldn't have lost the war. But when you force people to serve, things don't always—"
"That's enough," the professor says, steering the lecture to a more neutral topic—the UN, but Sam can't stop thinking about the girl, glancing over at her a few times when he doesn't think she's looking. She catches his eye once, a mixture of disapproval, possible interest, and something else on her face. He waits for her outside, sun shining almost bright enough to make him cry.
"I'm sorry," are the first words out of her mouth. "My uncle served, got his leg blown off. It's kind of a touchy subject."
Sam's not sure what to do—should he hug her? Put an arm around her shoulders (he can't help noticing that they're bare and tanned)? He settles for an awkward pat on the arm. "I'm sorry. My dad served in the Marines—got a Purple Heart and Bronze Star; we don't really see eye-to-eye, but he fought for our country, and..."
"I totally get it." She nods. "You know, I've got some time before my next class. Do you want to grab some coffee? I'm Jess Moore, by the way."
"Sam Winchester. Sure," he agrees. It'd be dumb not to—Jess is smart and pretty, and though Sam has friends, he's not going to refuse more.
Over coffee and this amazing chocolate-dipped biscotti Jess swore up and down was "orgasmic" (it is), he learns that she's from Seattle, she ran track in high school, but hasn't had time since she got to Stanford, and she's ambidextrous. She doesn't seem to notice that he doesn't talk much about himself (or if she does, she doesn't care), which is good; he's perfectly content just to sit and listen to her talk, voice smooth and melodic.
Before he knows it, the afternoon sunshine's faded into soft grey shades of early twilight, and Jess's phone beeps. "Shit," she mutters. "Missed my Shakespeare Gender class—I was supposed to do my monologue today."
"Sorry," Sam says. "I could tell your professor it's my fault."
"Nah," Jess replies. "Parker's a hard-ass. I'll just rock my next one and hope it doesn't hurt me too much."
"Let me walk you back to your dorm, then," he offers.
It's a long walk back to Toyon Hall, where she lives, but it's still warm, and Jess is chatty, not all that pissed about missing her class. "It's no fun anyway," she claims. Sam thinks it sounds interesting—he always managed to miss Shakespeare in high school.
She lingers under the arch when they arrive, fiddling with the strap of her tote bag. "I had a really great time today, Sam." Jess smiles, and Sam feels warm inside. She kisses him on the cheek, lips soft against his skin. "Call me sometime," she says, pulling a pen out of her bag and scribbling her number on his palm.
He watches her walk away, hair blowing in the breeze, and grins back when she turns at the door to wave to him.
Sam calls three days later—Matt said that was the appropriate amount of time to wait. "Hi, Jess, this is, um, Sam Winchester. You, uh, called me out in International—"
Jess laughs, bright and clear, like a bell. "Of course I remember you. What took you so long?"
"My roommate told me to wait," he admits.
"He's an idiot," Jess says. "Ask me out."
"Ask me out, Sam. That is, unless you don't want to, in which case, I'm the idiot."
He smiles, appreciating her matter-of-fact demeanor. "Would you like to go out with me?"
Jess knocks on Sam's door the next afternoon, just as he's getting ready to go to lunch. She's holding a picnic basket. "It's nice out," she says. "I thought we could eat something besides boring cafeteria food and pick up where we left off.
The Quad is buzzing with students, but there's enough space for them to sit and spread out on the Oval. Jess admits that she didn't make the lunch they're about to have, but picked up a pre-made 'instant picnic' downtown; Sam hasn't had many home-cooked meals, but this tastes like one. Turkey, Swiss cheese, tomato, and lettuce on French bread; juicy red apples; potato chips; and freshly-baked fudge brownies. Jess isn't afraid to eat in front of him, like some other girls he knows, even asking for the half of his sandwich he doesn't finish, and snagging a bite of his brownie.
"Sorry," she says, blush spreading over her cheeks. "I'm just really hungry." When she finishes chewing, she says, "Tell me about yourself, Sam. It was pretty bitchy of me not to ask you that last time. Where are you from?"
Shit, he thinks. He knew this moment would come, but he was hoping it wouldn't be so soon. "Around. I've lived pretty much everywhere," he says, aiming for mysterious but not cryptic.
"Your parents had to do that for work?" Jess asks, brows furrowing.
"Something like that," Sam agrees. "It wasn't that bad. I got to see a lot of places, which was...interesting."
She leans in closer to him. "That still must have been tough, never settling down and really growing up." She lets his head fall onto his shoulder. "I'm glad you're here now."
They end up dating before Sam can really figure out what happens; mostly, she calls and says, "There's a cool new movie playing at Silver Cinemas. I think you should take me," or leaves a note in his mailbox that reads:
Bet you can't beat me at pool. 8:30 tonight. Loser buys ice cream.
— xo J
Sam likes that she takes control, because he's not really sure how it'd work out if she left it all to him. He lets her win at pool, giving himself up when she calls him on it, and she pushes him back against the table and kisses him. It's nice not to have to tilt his head down so much the angle is awkward; he stops thinking altogether when she slips her tongue into his mouth, sweet with alcohol, slightly salty from the nachos they ate while playing. When she pulls back for air, they're both flushed, and breathing hard. "You wanna get out of here?" she suggests, and Sam nods.
Outside, she pulls him behind a tree, switching their positions so her back is to it this time. Jess isn't shy about what she wants, guiding Sam so his thigh ends up between her legs, his hand playing at the bottom of her shirt. She tilts her head back, moans a little. "You can touch me," she says. "I won't break."
He wants to—God, does he want to—but he doesn't think he'll be able to stop if he starts, and he doesn't want his first time with Jess to be in public, behind a tree. "Jess," he says, kisses the curve of her neck. "Someone could see."
"So? That's the fun part." She grins, but it fades when she realizes he's not into it. "Oh. Okay." Disentangling herself and straightening her clothes, Jess says, "Well, that was fun. Call me tomorrow, I guess."
He stops by her dorm instead, keeping the coffee and croissant he bought for her behind his back.
Jess is wearing sweats and a sports bra, and no makeup, and her hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun. "Fuck," she spits. "I bet this totally makes you want to sleep with me even more, right?"
"You look beautiful," Sam says, and it's not a lie. He hands her the bag, and she eats the pastry as fast as Dean would; he feels a pang of longing in his stomach—something he can normally keep away.
"Thank you." She crosses back to him. "I shouldn't have pushed you like that last night without knowing if you were okay with it."
"I guess I'm kind of shy," he agrees. "I did—I do—want to, just...somewhere nicer."
"You're a huge girl," Jess laughs. "That's very sweet." She slips a hand beneath the waistband of his jeans, palm pressing the area.
"I, uh." He pauses, trying to choose his words carefully. "I think we should wait. I know that's—"
"Adorable," she interrupts. "Don't worry. I totally get it." When she pulls away, Sam misses the heat of her body, the shape, but he wants this to be more than some casual friends-with-benefits thing, so he forces himself to take a step back. She winks. "But if we're not gonna get busy, I've got work to do, so haul ass." She cups his cheek, kisses him once. "I'll see you soon."
Every few weeks, Sam scrolls through his contacts until he reaches Dean's name, thumb hovering over the send button. He never presses it, though, since calling Dean would hurt too much; he wants to tell Dean that he's okay, that college is going well, that he's happy. Dean would totally get along with Jess (maybe a little too well, since she's the kind of girl he'd pick up in a bar) and like talking to Luke about music.
Sam called once, a couple months after he arrived, feeling homesick (for a home he never hand) around Thanksgiving. Dean had just said, "I can't, Sam," in this hurt tone of voice, and then hung up. And Sam had understood—Dean was hurt, and talking to Sam would only make it worse—but it's been years. Maybe it'll be different now, he thinks whenever he's on the verge of calling, and then shakes his head. Dean doesn't change. It'll be better for both of them if they just leave things be.
He throws himself into studying, into his relationship with Jess. He's got a work-study job as a desk assistant at Resident Life, so on a quiet afternoon, he swipes her file from the cabinet. It's still sort of unclear how serious they are, but he wants to find out her birthday. It's like a shock to the heart when he reads 1/24/1984, black lettering on the stark white sheet of paper. Of course she'd have Dean's birthday—to remind Sam what he left behind.
Jess's roommate is an icy girl with jet-black hair who paints her nails to match and listens to shitty emo rock. Sam hates going over to their dorm to see Jess; luckily, his own roommate plays basketball and sleeps with a new girl every week, so he's not around much, and they have the place to themselves. She brings movies over, and they watch them on his laptop; when cajoled, he shares sanitized versions of his childhood— mostly stories about Dean, which Jess seems to like.
"So when do I get to meet him?" she asks one day, and Sam panics.
"He, um, moves around a lot, too. For work, mostly. He's a mechanic." Jess's nose wrinkles almost imperceptibly, but Sam doesn't bring that up. "The next time he's in the area, though, I'll see if he can stop by," he says, letting his fingers splay across her belly, avoiding her recently-pierced belly button. She'd been so freaked out by the needle, and surprised when Sam barely batted an eye. He'd made up some story about being a clumsy kid who spend a lot of time in emergency rooms. "You wanna...you know..." They haven't yet, but not for lack of interest on either of their parts. He just wants it to be special.
"Really?" she asks dubiously.
"Yeah."He nods, like he can't communicate it with words alone.
Her skirt is this flimsy little cotton thing that Sam could just tear off if he wanted, but he slides his hand past her knee, up her thigh, smooth as silk, and tugs her panties down. She flexes around his fingers, warm and wet and one of the best things he's ever felt; Jess squirms, tells him not to tease.
She's not the first girl Sam sleeps with, but she's one of the first, and she's definitely the best. For a tall girl (and God, that's hot—she's all tanned legs and long stretches of skin he can learn with his mouth), she's really flexible, and gorgeous to watch in action. Halfway through, he flips them over so he can watch her move above him while running his hands over her body.
Afterwards, Jess smiles, and for a split-second, it reminds Sam of Dean. He kisses her, pushing that thought out and imagining the future he could have with her.
One of Jess's friends drops a few hints that she really like sushi, and Sam's got some money saved from hustling pool (it's not that he likes doing it, but he needs cash for toiletries and food when he can't take stuff the dining hall serves any longer), so he makes a reservation at a trendy Asian restaurant for the night of her birthday.
He thinks about calling Dean, and sort of wants to; Jess steps out of her dorm room, and Sam pockets his phone. She's wearing this slinky little red dress that Sam wants to take right off of her. Instead, he says, "You look great," and pulls a small, gift-wrapped box from his pocket. "It's not much, but I thought you'd like it."
"Oh, Sam." She lifts the necklace from its white cotton bed. "Can you put it on me?" He does, and she wraps her arms around his neck. "I love it. But..." Jess pulls away to look him in the eye, hers searching his face. "How'd you know that today's my birthday?"
"I have my ways," he admits, and kisses her.