It's one of those nights where the shadows on the walls are too dark and the silence outside the apartment too quiet, Jessica's calm and even breathing doing its very best to calm Sam and failing, when his mind starts to wander. He thinks about his life here at Stanford, about his friends and the most amazing woman alive sleeping mere inches away from him, about the werewolf in San Antonio that nearly ripped Dean's arm off.
The thought sends chills down his spine and Jess turns over in her sleep, subconsciously draping an arm over his chest and cuddling closer to him. The weight of is feels too heavy, the warmth of it like fire, and all of his signals go up in flares.
He wonders how he got here, how after everything he'd been through, everything he'd seen, he somehow got used to the touch of another human being. How he no longer flinched a mile whenever someone came too close too fast. How he lost the urge to lash our and maim anything and anyone that tried to get their hands on him.
He thinks of Dean.
Dean was always the only one that was allowed to touch him, the only one Sam could let come within his personal bubble. John would pat his back in encouragement, shove him forward in impatience, smack him around for insolence, but Dean was the only one that could hold him. The only one that could grip his shoulder or knee to comfort him when things got too rough. The only one that could muss his hair or squeeze the back of his neck when he teased him. The only one that could hug him and keep him together when he was falling apart at the seams.
That thought sticks with Sam and he dwells on it. Hugs were always an unnatural thing for him. He grew up without a mother, no one to cradle him or croon over him until his tears dried up when he was scared. His dad was a drunk and a wreck of a man, too broken and worn to look at his sons as his children for long without breaking into a million pieces and hitting the bottle again. The only hugs Sam grew up with were the ones from Dean, and they were never casual, never from sheer affection, only to bring him back from those dark corners of his mind where the truth haunted him like a waking nightmare, so Sam never really realized that they were hugs.
Not until he started school and he saw other kids, friends hugging each other all the time. It was foreign and confusing and he wondered how all of these children could be miserable and frightened enough to need a hug one second and then happy and smiling the next. It didn't make sense. So he decided to ask Dean.
"Why do people hug each other?"
"What d'you mean?"
Sam looked over at the TV that was fading in and out because of how crappy it was and pointed to the screen: best friends hugging each other as a greeting and grinning as they went on their merry way. "Like that. Why are they hugging? She doesn't look scared."
Dean wasn't sure how to answer, so he spent a minute of scratching his head and thinking, Sam just staring up at him all doe-eyed and curious. Finally, he said with a sigh, "People don't hug just 'cause they're sad or scared, Sammy. They hug when they're happy, too."
"So they do it for no reason?"
"No. Well, not really. You hug someone you care about. It's just, I dunno, friendly, I guess." Dean was just as stumped as Sam was, nine years old and trying to figure out what the significance of a hug was. Sam didn't get it.
"Dad doesn't hug us, though. Doesn't he care about us?"
Dean froze up there, his chest tightening the way it always did when Sam unwittingly brought up something serious. "Dad's just too tired to hug us, Sam. It's not 'cause he doesn't care, 'cause he does. He cares a whole lot."
"Well, what if we hug him instead?"
"That's not-" Dean started, but John got home at that exact moment and Sam thought he had a million dollar idea in his head. He just ran straight up to him, grinning with all the childlike innocence of a five year old.
"Hi, Dad!" He was still tiny he could only wrap his arms around John's thighs, but he was smiling so happily and holding on so tightly, it hardly even mattered. To Sam, at least. He thought he'd done a good thing, but he couldn't see the way the contact twisted John's face into such painful agony, Dean almost wondered if Sam had actually stabbed him.
"Hey, Sammy," he choked out, unable to stop the closing of his throat and the glossing of his eyes. Sam looked up at him, about to ask why he sounded funny, when John pried him off just a little too forcefully and Sam stumbled backward then fell on his behind. Before the first tear got a chance to pry itself from Sam's eye, John was already storming off to the bathroom, locking himself inside for undoubtedly another night of sleeping curled up in the bathtub.
Dean was on the ground holding the now sobbing child in seconds, scooping him into his lap to hold him against his chest. It was those kinds of things, moments like that that had disillusioned hugs in Sam's mind. They were evil things, and their presence only meant sadness and pain. It was a very, very long time before he ever hugged someone again.
The memory burns hot in Sam's mind, despite it having been fifteen years ago, and he wants to roll over and curl up into the same defensive ball he always has since he was a child, but Jessica's presence does one better. He listens to her breathing, focuses on it, and eventually the memory passes, fades away, and he's no longer thinking of a five year old child that could never connect with his one and only parent.
Now he's thinking of an eleven year old boy that could never let someone connect with him.
It was the first time someone ever hugged him, and it was an unmitigated disaster. It was his third middle school, sixth grade, and John had left them behind for an undisclosed amount of time which ended up being somewhere close to a month. Even though they'd been there awhile, Sam knew better than to make friends and get close. He remembers fourth grade, how much kicking and screaming he'd done, begging their father to let them stay just a little longer, just until the end of the year, only to end up losing the fight and crying in the back seat the entire 800 miles to the next job. There was no getting attached, and he knew it as well as he knew the amount of force it'd take to crush another human's windpipes with a body slam and the neat pressure of his arm. A fact that he knew from memory, but never really kept in mind.
Until the very first time someone decided to hug him. Her name was Alice, or Allison, or something like that, he can hardly remember anymore, but she was a nice girl. Sweet, charming, the kind of girl normal boys would stare at in class or push in the hallway because they're too cool to tell her they think she's pretty. Sam hardly ever noticed her. It wasn't allowed, but in the month they'd been there, Alice had noticed him.
She probably only wanted to make friends with him, learn more about the mysterious kid that sat in the back and never said a word, hold his hand and share lunch snacks and whatever stupid things kids did when they were in middle school. But she was just a normal girl, unlike him. She didn't run six miles every day or know how to use ten different types of knives. She didn't know about the horrors in the world that could watch the life fade from her beautiful blue eyes and grin with horrendously sharp teeth all the while.
And she definitely didn't have the ability to fight back against a body slam.
It wasn't on purpose, just a reflex built up from years of John's training. But as soon as Sam felt her weight slam against him, her thin, girly arms wrap around his neck, his mind blanked and he had to get her off. It took less than two seconds to flip her body under his, pin her to the ground with an arm pressed far too tight against her throat. She was crying but she couldn't scream; he'd hit her too hard and she wouldn't be able to speak for at least a few days.
They were only eleven years old, too innocent to understand the full gravity of what had just happened, and Sam merely stared down at her with wide eyes and a pale face. He couldn't think. He just stared, couldn't even remember that this is not a threat, get off of her, pull your arm away, stop trying to break this poor little girl. He couldn't think. Eventually the teacher pulled him off of her, another rushing in to Alice's side and scooping up the silently bawling child in their arms. Sam just stared, deer in the headlights as the teacher held his arm too hard and pulled him out of the classroom.
He didn't say anything in the principal's office, just continued staring at the ground in confused horror, seeing only the desperate face of a broken girl beneath him. Teachers were yelling everywhere, someone was mentioning something about lawsuits and all of a sudden, Sam wondered what they were supposed to do. John was out of town, Dean was only fifteen. He couldn't get him out of school, couldn't drive up in Dad's Impala and take him away from this nightmare. What were they going to do with him?
He took off running and was out the doors before any of the teachers could even yell "stop!"
Dean found him about ten minutes after the school spent an hour tracking down someone connected to this delinquent. It didn't take long; he knew where to look. Sam was sitting on a log, their log, that sat uphill from a lake no one swam in but them, the same horrified gaze glued to his face. Dean looked pissed at first, but as soon as he saw that look in Sam's eyes, the way he couldn't think past the silent screaming, it immediately shifted into concern.
Sam snapped out of his trance and looked up at his brother, those wide eyes quickly filling with tears. "It wasn't my fault. I didn't mean, it wasn't. She grabbed me, Dean, I panicked, and I-I. I didn't know, I didn't think, and she. She was so weak, Dean, it was nothing like fighting with you. And I, I hurt her, I. I," he wasn't looked at Dean anymore, staring off into those terror-struck blue eyes, shaking like there was an earthquake rattling inside his small body, "I hurt her, Dean. Why, why did I hurt her?"
Dean kneeled down in front of Sam and wrapped his arms around him the way he always did, but Sam fought back against it, pounding his fists pathetically against Dean's chest. He was shaking his head, tears falling uncontrollably and making small dark spots all over Dean's shirt, "No! No, stop it! I don't, don't hug me! I don't want it! Stop!" But Dean just held him closer, holding Sam's head firmly against his chest so he couldn't struggle away anymore. He eventually gave up and just sobbed into Dean's shirt, crying "No. No. Stop it." over and over until he couldn't speak anymore.
Sam shuts his eyes tightly, covering them with his one free arm, trying to scrub the memory from thought again. This one is harder than the other, but only slightly so. It's harder to explain away, harder to understand, and he never has, not really. He still doesn't know why he reacted so badly, and it scares him only a little, just a little, and he opens his eyes to look down at the sleeping blonde next to him. He contemplates idly how easy it would be to break her if he wasn't careful, how quickly he could ruin everything for her with just one irrational and irresponsible movement.
He thinks about how much he's changed since then.
Dean hugged him less after that, but Sam also cried less after that. He talked less, opened up less, and most of all, left fewer and fewer opportunities for people to get close to him. He trained harder but trained less, exceeded John's expectations of him but never paid attention to them, and never ever gave himself a break. He was on full blast at all times and was quick to snap or anger, more high strung than a telephone wire.
Three years ago, Sam had his third encounter with hugging, and it was with Dean. It was simple: he just pulled Dean into a tight hug, without warning or notice. It was casual, out of the blue, and Dean punched him in the arm for it. Sam laughed and tackled him and for the first time in awhile, they fought playfully instead out of frustration and rage. It was the night before the seventeenth anniversary of Mary's death. It was the night before things started changing for the worse.
It was the night Sam turned in his application to Stanford.
Eight months later, eight agonizing months of putting up with John's bullshit and begrudgingly following Dean's lead and hating his family and hating himself for hating his family later, the big fight happened. The one that set the world on fire, that flipped everything 180 degrees. That simultaneously ended Sam's life and started his new one.
He'd gotten his acceptance letter months ago but kept it hidden from both John and Dean, something that proved damn near impossible for a long while. He wanted to celebrate with his brother, to rub it in his face, to use it against him. But he didn't. He saved it for the big one, the day that John's control over him finally gave way and Sam was free. He grabbed his bag, already packed and ready to go, and walked out the door.
'Don't you ever come back', and he wasn't planning on it. He would never come back, never have to hunt down another ghost or shoot another rifle, never spend days on the road and stay in one place for even less. He was breaking free from all the chains that'd held him down for so long. But as he walked to the road, away from their rented house, he thought of Dean and the face he made when John told him to get out. It was one he was quite familiar with: the face of someone who just had their just had their world torn apart; the face of a five year old boy shoved aside by his father; the face of an eleven year old boy that just broke something precious. The face of a brother that just watched his sole reason for existing turn his back on him.
Sam wanted to hug him, then. He walked away and never looked back.
He bites his lip a little, out of anger and guilt and frustration and there's a world of emotion floating around inside him. He hates nights like this, when all his senses are heightened and he can't sleep. He's been up for hours now and the night is wearing on him. These haunting memories full of emotions that can't be put into words, these thoughts that tug at the corners of his mind and the fragile strings of his heart, these nights that make him feel vulnerable and alone.
Jess starts pulling him closer. He lowers his arm and looks down at her, light blonde hair pooling all around her face and he gently pushes it behind her ear. She smiles, but she's dead asleep, which only makes him smile in turn. Peaceful, beautiful, everything he wants in this world.
He thinks of Jessica.
At first, Sam didn't make very many friends. It was hard for him, to come from the world of dark and step into the light, and his eyes had trouble adapting. He saw people celebrating reaching this level of education, he saw people cowering in the presence of strangers, he saw life. Wonderful and terrifying and freeing. John wasn't there. Dean wasn't there. His entire life behind him, an entirely new one before him, and Sam had never been more excited.
He made friends easily once the ball got rolling, and before he knew it, he was really quite popular. He was smart, which attracted those that respected him. He was handsome, which attracted those that admired him. And he was normal, which attracted everyone else. He had friends, and it was such a strange concept to him. It never ceased to amaze him, catch him off guard when someone called his name with a grin and clapped him on the back. He couldn't think of a time when he was happier.
Then one day, it happened. Someone hugged him. A girl named Leah, now one of his closer friends, and she did it without warning. For less than a second, Sam thought of Leah's face contorted in pain, screaming without making a sound, but it quickly faded from mind. That life was behind him. Everything he ever knew was gone, and with it went his definition of hugs. They didn't have to be a product of fear, a means of comforting someone. It could be friendly. For someone you cared about.
Sam hugged her back, albeit a bit awkwardly with how tall he was and how unaccustomed to the act he was, but it was his very first successful hug. And from then on, it came as easily as breathing. He was making contact with people, letting them close to him (physically at least), and he couldn't have imagined anything better. Until a good friend of his, Brady, decided to set him up with a girl, someone Sam had never met previously.
Jessica was just about one of the most beautiful creatures Sam ever laid eyes on.
She was brilliant and sweet, but could still kick your ass if she needed to, and could there be a greater woman on the planet? She was almost too good to be true, and when he was with her, Sam often wondered if he was dreaming. It was the only way he'd gathered the courage to ask her out - nothing could go wrong in a dream, right? And it worked like a charm, from her saying yes to the tacky diner that was all Sam could afford on a college student's budget to them stumbling through Jessica's apartment door, liplocked and euphoric.
There had been other girls before (Dean never would've let him live to twenty as a virgin) but Jess redefined physical contact completely. Every kiss, every touch, every place where their bodies met set the world on fire until there was nothing left but them. She was like the part of Sam that had always been missing, the one thing he'd been searching for all his life. He took solace in her arms, found home in the way she said his name.
She was perfect. She was completion.
He lets out a long sigh of relief, relaxing into the bed. Jessica always has this effect on him: pulls him out of that dark place that is his past just by existing beside him. The pillows don't feel as hard, the room doesn't seem as dark, and for a moment, Sam feels human. Normal. This is where life has taken him, this is who he is now. Someone who doesn't have to carry a massive arsenal on him at all time. Someone who doesn't have to lie and cheat his way through life. Someone who can embrace others without the intent to crush their lungs.
Closing his eyes, Sam idly thinks that maybe the next time he sees Dean, he'll show him the new Sam and give him a warm hug, properly. He smiles to himself, pleasant thoughts on his mind, and lets the sleep take over. The night is over, and he can finally get some rest. Life is good.
It's only an hour later that he wakes up to the sound of a window opening.