ratherastory: (Crash & Burn)
ratherastory ([personal profile] ratherastory) wrote2012-11-07 11:44 pm

For the Holidays

Title: For the Holidays
Summary: Written for the ongoing [livejournal.com profile] ohsam comment-fic meme, for [livejournal.com profile] tarotgal's prompt, which was: Sam's first winter break at Stanford is filled with all the emotions. He's relieved to have done well at his first semester of classes. He's missing his brother and, well, maybe his dad a little, though he wouldn't admit it. And spending weeks pulling all-nighters for exam studying and completing projects has caused him to crash and finally come down with a nasty cold. Miserable, lonely, & sick, Sam wonders about where he's going to go when he gets kicked out of the dorms during the mandatory holiday break.
Characters: Sam, Jess (pre-relationship)
Wordcount: 6,773
Rating: G
Warnings: None.
Spoilers: Blink-and-you'll-miss-it S5 spoiler
Neurotic Author's Note #1: Wow, it has been a long time since I wrote some decent Sam-whump, hasn't it? I feel rusty. I feel like this story probably shows how rusty I am. But at least I'm writing, right? Right.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: So, um, [livejournal.com profile] tarotgal, I hope this is okay. There's a lot less actual head cold and it's closer to Sam/Jess than gen or slash, and… yeah, it's kind of your prompt and kind of not. Whoops. /o\
Neurotic Author's Note #3: Comment-fic, so it's unbeta'd. Read at your own peril.




"Yo, Winchester, you fall in there and drown, or what?"

Sam tries to ignore the pounding on the bathroom door, just closes his eyes and leans back into the warm spray from the showerhead. He hasn't even been here that long, just a few minutes, but he supposes that Donovan has gotten spoiled after an entire semester of Sam taking only Navy showers. The consequences of sharing motel showers with two older men who always, but always got to go first and took all the hot water before you could get clean. Today, though, he feels like absolute warmed-over shit, and since this is probably the last time for ten days that he's going to get a hot, private shower, he's planning to make the most of it.

"Dude, my flight leaves in a few hours," Donovan yells, pounding harder. "I need to get ready!"

Sam just shakes his head, coughs a bit as the steam from the shower loosens up the congestion in his head. With any luck he'll be able to fend off this cold before it even starts, because it's really the last thing he needs. He must have caught it from the cute girl who'd been camped out at the carrel next to his in the library all through exam season. She'd gone through an impressive quantity of tissues the whole of the last week of exams, apologized in humiliated—and very congested—tones every time she'd sneezed. Even red-eyed and runny-nosed, though, she'd been pretty cute, and if Sam hadn't been up to his ears trying to ace all his exams, he might have done more than mumble "bless you" at the appropriate intervals.

At least he knows her name. Jessica Moore is pre-med, it turns out, same as Brady, and Brady came by on at least two occasions in order to, as he put it, 'free them from the shackles of drudgery.' Sam had stubbornly clung to his books—no free ride unless you keep up your GPA—but Jess had allowed herself to be pulled away, albeit reluctantly, leaving Sam alone with his pile of books and feeling oddly bereft.

"Come on, dude, button it up! I gotta go!"

Sam stifles a groan, and switches off the water. Donovan might take forever in the bathroom, but he does have a flight to catch, which means Sam can take another shower afterward if he wants to. He's wrapping a towel around his hips when he snaps forward with an unexpected sneeze, water droplets dripping from his hair onto his shoulders, and nearly drops his towel. This time he doesn't bother stifling the groan that wells up in his throat. Yup, definitely getting sick. There isn't even any cough medicine in the tiny cabinet above the sink, which sucks. He never thought to get any, back when his scholarship money arrived, and now of course it's too late for that.

It only takes a couple more minutes to dry off, but Donovan glares at him as though Sam ran over his dog as he pushes by him into the bathroom.

"I miss my flight, you're paying for the new ticket!"

Sam snorts, even though Donovan can't hear him anymore. "Can't get blood from a stone," he mutters, pulling his clothes out of the tiny dresser on his side of the dorm room.

At least he doesn't have any classes he needs to do work for over the break, which means he can leave most of his books here, rather than lug them with him. Only a few hours, and Sam will effectively have nowhere to go. He's successfully ignored that for the past couple of weeks, thanks to exams and final papers being due, but now he's well past the point of no return. The Stanford website was spectacularly unhelpful: go home for the holidays, or stay with a friend, it suggested cheerfully. Yeah, because Sam has so many of those. Or stay at a hotel or a motel, or at the Stanford Guest House. Sam snorts and shakes his head at the thought. Yeah, right.

He catches a sneeze in the crook of his elbow, grabs a tissue from the box by his bedside to blow his nose, and decides—feeling a little petty in the process—that he's just going to take the box with him, Donovan be damned. Tissue boxes are cheap, Don can get his own if he can afford a plane ticket.

"I don't know if it's impressive or really pathetic that you can fit your entire life into a duffel bag and still have room left over," Donovan says from behind him, startling him so badly he almost drops the box of tissues. He's managed to pack two suitcases to take home just for winter break, probably all laundry for his mother to do for him. Donovan doesn't believe in doing things himself, if he can help it. "Anyway, I'm outta here. See you in January. I'd hug you, but I don't want whatever plague it is you've obviously contracted."

"Right," Sam is a little surprised by how raw his voice sounds already. His throat doesn't hurt yet, not exactly, but it's definitely dry and scratchy. By tonight he's going to be a mess, that's what Dean would tell him if he was here. Dean's always known him better than he knows himself. But then, Dean isn't here. "See you in January."

He manages to leave before he gets kicked out, but the temptation to just stay and see if he can duck the piss-poor security around here is really strong. Still, rules are rules, and if he's going to make a go of having a normal life, he's going to have to learn to work within the rules that Dad and Dean always insisted didn't apply to Winchesters. He slings his backpack over one shoulder, hefts his duffle bag with his free hand, and heads out into the chilly evening air. It's not all that cold yet, at least—the thermostat's been hovering at 50 degrees for a few days, which is more than bearable if you have a good coat, which Sam does. Okay, the coat might be a little threadbare, but it's still good.

What he needs, Sam tells himself, is a few hours to think. He has forty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents in his wallet, which is enough to keep him fed for the next two weeks, if he plays it safe. He finds a coffee shop that offers free refills, wedges himself in a chair at a corner table, and tries to look inconspicuous. His throat has graduated from scratchy to on fire in the past few hours, and the coffee only does so much to soothe it.

It's not the first time he's been sick and without a roof over his head, but it is the first time when neither Dad nor Dean are around to keep an eye on him. It was mostly Dean, but he's always been able to count on the Impala being there as a shelter from the worst of the weather, no matter what. Now he doesn't even have that. It's not like he can afford a car even if he'd wanted the expense and the hassle of having one while living on campus. In retrospect, even a beater car would have been better than nothing. Maybe he can get a temporary job in January, put some money aside for one. Or put money aside for a room in the summer dorms, for that matter. Maybe a single, so he doesn't have to put up with Don again.

A cough bubbles up in his chest, and he hastily swallows the last of his coffee cup, to no avail. He can feel people staring at him, feels his cheeks heat up with embarrassment at the idea that he's attracting way too much attention by having a stupid coughing fit in the middle of a packed coffee shop.

"Got that cold that's going around, huh?" a sympathetic voice says from just by his shoulder. "Coffee's no good for you, you should be drinking tea and maybe a whole lot of Robitussin."

He swallows gingerly and manages a smile at the waitress—she looks like a girl from his psych class, but he's not sure. "Right. Are there free refills on tea?"

She shrugs and smiles. "Free hot water, anyway. Buy a tea bag, squeeze the life out of it. Want me to bring you some? We have orange pekoe and that's it, though."

He shakes his head, though the movement makes it throb. "I'll stick to coffee for now, thanks."

"Suit yourself."

By the time the shop closes its doors, the mild case of the sniffles has turned into a fully-fledged cold, and he's already halfway through the box of tissues he took from the dorm room. More importantly, he still doesn't have the faintest notion of what to do with himself for the night, let alone the next couple of weeks. The constant throbbing behind his eyes isn't helping his concentration any, either. For a fleeting moment he considers calling Dean, but he dismisses the thought almost immediately. Even if Dean picked up his phone, which is unlikely in the extreme, the odds that he'd be anywhere in the vicinity are slim to none. Even then, Dad made it clear: if Sam left, it meant he'd left for good. No going back, no contact, nothing. All very melodramatic, John Winchester-style: I have no son. Sam rolls his eyes, then coughs and shivers in the cool evening air.

He decides to sacrifice some of the money in his wallet on a packet of generic cough medicine, leaving him with thirty-seven dollars and eighty cents after the coffee that kept him going all afternoon. Still, better that than spending the whole time coughing—the constant sneezing is annoying, but he can deal with that, if only he could actually make his brain work long enough to come up with a plan. He drops onto a park bench, cradling the bottle in his fingers, shivers a little, and decides that he's allowed to feel sorry for himself for just a few minutes. He's exhausted from the weeks of frantic studying and writing papers during which he never got more than a few hours of sleep, and now his whole body aches, all the way to his eyes.

If Dean were here, he'd be kicking his ass up and off this park bench, telling him to quit moping and get a grip. Then again, if Dean were here, Sam wouldn't be freezing his ass off on a park bench to begin with. Okay, okay, he tells himself, get a grip. At least for tonight he's going to have to find somewhere warm to stay, even if there's no bed. Maybe there's a coffee shop open 24 hours somewhere. This is a university town, there has to be at least one. He scrubs at his face with the pads of his fingers, tries to muster the energy to at least move, and stays right where he is.

"Sir, you all right?"

His head snaps up, nerves jangling, because if there's anything he's learned during a lifetime of hunting, it's how to recognize the voice of authority when it's speaking to him. It's a cop—a woman, thank God, though considerably older than him—one hand resting casually on the hilt of her telescopic baton. Sam could probably take her, sick or not, but there's no reason to, and he definitely wouldn't get out of it without getting at least a little injured. He plasters on the most sincere smile he can manage, which isn't all that convincing, given her expression.

"I'm fine, officer. I'm not disturbing anyone, am I?" Keep your tone neutral, your face pleasant, ask a non-threatening question. If you don't act guilty, they won't treat you as if you are.

She's considering him, hand never wavering, taking in the backpack and duffel bag with a look that speaks of years of experience. She knows what she's seeing. "No, you're not, but the park is about to close—no one inside the gates after eleven pm. I'm going to have to ask you to gather your things and move along, please. You got somewhere to go?"

The question catches him off-guard, mostly because it's the same question he's been asking himself all day without coming up with a satisfactory answer. The cop catches his hesitation, because her demeanor at once hardens and becomes more sympathetic.

"I got the name of a couple of shelters which still have open beds. You can't stay in the park, though. It's cold, and I'd have to arrest you. I don't think you want to spend the night in the drunk tank, do you?"

He shakes his head and wipes fruitlessly at his nose with a tissue. "No, no." The last thing he needs is an arrest for vagrancy if he wants to have a snowball's chance in hell of becoming a lawyer. Criminal records pretty much guarantee his career will be over before it starts. "Sorry. I'm going," he adds, before sneezing wetly into his now-ruined tissue. He should have bought an extra pack, he thinks a little distractedly, wadding it into a ball and tossing it into a nearby trashcan, head throbbing just from that small exertion.

He's not going to go to a shelter. There are too many memories wrapped up in that. Memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases and plenty of days that weren't remarkable at all spent huddled in a tiny room with one cot and two bedrolls. Memories of standing in line waiting with a brown plastic plate held out in front of him for a serving of mashed potatoes and gravy and some unidentifiable grey meat and over-boiled beans out of a can. When he was a little kid it had seemed like an adventure, and there were friendly people there who were always nice to him, but when he was older he started seeing all the other, less friendly people, the ones who talked to themselves, the ones who glared at him when they thought he was being too loud. The ones who tried to steal from them in the night, who carried improvised knives and thought they could get away with murder because no man with kids in tow could possibly be a threat.

By the time Sam raises his head again he realizes he's managed to get himself completely turned around. Palo Alto isn't a big town, he's sure he's not far from where he started, but right now he has no idea where he is. He scrubs at his forehead with the back of his wrist, turns to lean against the side of the nearest building so he can cough to his heart's content. Whatever this cold is, it's definitely getting worse, and staying out here all night isn't going to help with that. God, what a train wreck this is—Dad would be all over him for not thinking ahead, for not having a contingency plan in place. Except it had been so much easier to just stick his head in the sand and ignore the fact that he was going to be spending Christmas all by himself somewhere.

He checks his watch, pushes himself up and off the wall, forces himself to put one foot in front of the other until he finds a phone booth with, thank God, a phone book that hasn't been ripped beyond recognition. It's easy enough after that to find a list of coffee shops and diners in the Yellow Pages and pick one that's open 24 hours, not too far away from campus so he won't rouse as much suspicion if he decides to stay there all night. He's just another college student having a greasy meal after a bender. After that, it's just a matter of figuring out where he is and making himself keep going until he gets there.

The place is relatively deserted, for which he's grateful. He glances at the specials, calculates how much money he has left—not enough, never enough—and orders a coffee and a muffin at the counter before sliding into a booth. He finds a discarded newspaper, opens it up to the crossword and pulls out a ballpoint pen from his backpack. If he can manage to look busy, not attract any attention, then he'll be okay until morning. He'll figure out the rest after that.

The diner stays mostly empty throughout the night, though people do drift in and out in a steady trickle, just enough to justify the place staying open. After a while he even manages to stop his head jerking up every time the front door chimes, just sits with his head cradled in his palm, trying not to cough too hard. The diner is overheated, and he can feel sweat trickling down his spine under his hoodie, but it's better than being outside and freezing to death. Beggars can't be choosers, he reminds himself sharply. The crossword is only half-finished, but his head is aching and he's had to take another dose of the cough medicine to keep his lungs from trying to expel themselves from his chest, and he ends up doodling pentagrams and random sigils in the empty spaces of the paper, too distracted to focus on the clues.

By the time the sun comes up and the morning regulars are starting to come in for breakfast, he's past the point of exhaustion. Just the idea of getting up makes him feel tired. It's still too hot in the diner, and he keeps having to wipe the sweat from his face and neck with a growing pile of napkins He glances at the waitress behind the counter, but she doesn't seem inclined to throw him out or even make a fuss about his staying where he is, which is a relief. He spends another fifty cents on a cup of coffee, just so he can argue that he's paying his way, but he can't bring himself to do more than stir it halfheartedly with his spoon. He's pretty sure that if he tries to swallow another mouthful he's going to be violently sick to his stomach.

"Oh my God, hi!"

This time he does look up, because the greeting is coming from right beside him. He squints as the sunlight streaming through the window hits him in the eyes, raises a hand to block the worst of it. It's the cute girl from the library, of all improbable people, smiling at him as though he's the one person she wanted to see today.

"If it isn't my library buddy," she's saying now. "I wondered what happened to you after exams were over, and Brady was all mysterious and 'Sam-keeps-to-himself' about you, which only piqued my curiosity more."

"Uh, hi," he makes himself smile, but he thinks it might be more of a grimace. His throat is killing him, and to his dismay he finds that his voice has mostly disappeared overnight. "Jessica, right?"

"Right," she nods happily, and sits down across the table from him. Obviously she's long over her own cold. "I thought you'd have gone home for the holidays. Brady mentioned you were staying in the dorms."

"Oh, uh, no. No, I'm staying here," he stammers, and is saved from having to finish that thought by a sneeze so forceful it practically bends him in half. "Sorry," he mumbles, not bothering to remove the tissue from his nose and mouth, feeling his face heat up from embarrassment.

Her face crinkles in sympathy, though he thinks there might be amusement there too, it's hard to tell. "Oh, man, I guess I did give you my cold. Sorry about that, it was pretty miserable while it lasted. You look terrible, no offense."

He sneezes again, considers not answering, then shrugs. "Not your fault."

"Still, I feel a little responsible. Anyway, if you're this sick, you shouldn't be out here at this hour. Unless you're waiting for someone?" she looks suddenly anxious, like it didn't occur to her that there might be someone else, like he was obviously here by himself without any friends. God, how pathetic was he?

"No, no, I'm not waiting for anybody. Just… yeah. No." Oh, real eloquent, Sam. He barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes, figuring it would give the wrong impression.

"So what are you doing here instead of in bed? Come on, I have a car, let me give you a ride to wherever you're staying. Dorms are closed, right?"

He shakes his head so hard it actually makes him dizzy. "No! No, I mean, it's fine," he tries lamely. "I'm just… I'm fine, it's not far, I'll just walk. Don't trouble yourself."

She laughs, and her whole face lights up. It's kind of unfair that she's this pretty, he thinks muzzily. "Don't be silly, it's no trouble. Besides, I really meant it when I said you're looking rough. You're really flushed, it looks like you might have a fever."

To his surprise, Sam finds himself grinning at her. "Is that your professional opinion, doctor?"

That gets him another peal of delighted laughter. "Absolutely. Don't argue with me, I'm a professional. Come on, just tell me where you're staying, and I'll give you a lift."

Damn it, he's backed himself into a corner. "No, really. Uh, I'm staying with a friend. I can call him, and—" he's pedaling frantically, trying to figure out how to lie to her and still sound convincing, but his head is pounding now, and he can tell she's not buying it at all, because the smile has vanished, replaced with a small frown.

"Sam. Where are you staying?" she asks again, more firmly, and all he can muster is a shrug. "The dorms closed yesterday. Are you saying you've been out all night like this?"

"It's not that bad," he protests. "I'm just working out some details." Okay, so it's maybe more than a little white lie, but it's the best he can come up with. It's not bad under the circumstances, he thinks, but it appears Jess has other ideas.

"Right. Well, my mother will tell me I've lost my mind, but since you come recommended by Brady I'm going to conclude you're not a serial killer. You're not, are you?"

Depends on how you define the victims, Sam thinks bitterly to himself, but aloud he says, "No, definitely not. Not a serial killer."

"That settles it. You're coming home with me. I have a sofa and orange juice and more cold and flu meds than I know what to do with, because I bought way too many while I was sick. Come on," she says, getting up again and tapping his arm lightly. "No arguments."

"But—"

"What part of 'no arguments' didn't you get? Just because you're studying to be a lawyer doesn't mean you get to argue with me."

"Bossy," he smiles right before sneezing into the crook of his elbow again. She reminds him a little of Dean, like this, no-nonsense under the smiles and charm.

"You got it."

Jess has a tiny Toyota that Dean would totally make fun of, and Sam finds himself jammed up in the passenger seat with his knees practically up around his ears while she solicitously turns up the heater for him. He doesn't bother telling her it's not necessary, partly because now that they're out of the diner he's freezing cold again, and partly because it wouldn't do any good anyway. Her apartment, as it turns out, is less than a ten-minute drive away, on a third-floor walkup.

"Bathroom's at the end of the hall," she tells him once they're inside. "Take a shower, clean up a bit or whatever, and I'll make some food. How long has it been since you've eaten, anyway?"

"I had a muffin earlier, and some coffee," he offers, but that just earns him a roll of her eyes.

"Okay, so definitely food. You can use the towels in the bathroom and here," she rummages at the bottom of the entrance cupboard and produces a plastic bag. "Put your dirty clothes in there when you're done. We'll deal with them later. No, I'm serious, Sam. You've been wearing those since, what, yesterday? And, yeah, not to put too fine a point on it, but you're a little ripe."

Oh, this just keeps getting better and better. He ducks his head, hoping she'll ascribe this latest round of blushing to the fever. "Right."

"Don't sweat it. I've already seen worse, and if I'm going to be a doctor, I predict your little bout of flu here is going to seem like nothing in a couple of years. Go on, I'll make up the sofa for you. And don't run the water too hot, because I'm pretty sure neither one of us wants me to have to pull you out of the shower naked if you faint."

"Heaven forfend," Sam says drily, and she actually blushes a little too. Hah, score one for Winchester.

At least Jess' shower wasn't designed for short people, so he's not forced to twist his neck at an awkward angle in order to wash his hair. Her shampoo is overly flowery, but at this point he figures he's not in a position to complain. He braces himself against the tiled wall of her shower, breathing in the steam as best he can, trying not to fall over when he coughs. He stays under the spray until it turns tepid, almost cold, but at least his muscles have loosened up somewhat, and it almost feels like he can breathe normally again. He practically crawls out of the shower, manages to shave without slicing himself open, which he counts as a win, all things considered, and rummages through his duffel bag for a pair of clean sweats and a t-shirt and the warmest pair of socks he owns.

"There's a blow-drier next to the toilet," Jess raps politely on the door. "You can dry your hair. I promise not to think any less of you for it."

He snorts, which turns into another coughing fit, but he does as he's told. Dean was always after him not to wander around with wet hair anyway—perfect way to get sick, he'd say, regardless of Sam's arguments that viruses didn't care whether your hair was wet or dry. The drier makes his hair all staticky and untameable, but it's not like he looks any worse than he did fifteen minutes ago. He hangs up his towel, fights off a sudden wave of dizziness when he straightens up a little too fast, clutching at the wall, and starts coughing again the minute he steps out of the bathroom.

"You sound about as good as you look," Jess tells him.

She's kicked off her shoes and slipped into a pair of comfortable-looking slippers. She's in the middle of setting down a steaming mug on a small table by the sofa, which is already covered with more pillows and blankets than Sam has ever seen in one place in his life. Her apartment is small, though much bigger than his dorm room, sparsely furnished but very cozy, with a thick rug on the floor and more houseplants than Sam would have thought could fit in here.

"Go ahead and get settled. Did you find the meds in the cabinet?"

Sam muffles a cough in his sleeve. "Uh, no. It honestly didn't occur to me to look."

She tilts her head, considering him, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Funny, the first thing I do is rummage through other people's medicine cabinets. I guess I'm a bit of a snoop. Either that or you're just a very good liar. Go on, sit, I'll fetch it for you."

The mug, it turns out, is full of instant chicken noodle soup. Nothing fancy, but it's warm and salty and is quite possibly the most delicious thing he's ever eaten. He tugs one of the blankets around his shoulders, feeling a little silly, but it's there and he's already starting to feel cold again, in spite of the soup and the hot shower. He tucks his feet under him, trying to curl up into as tight a ball as he can manage, and cradles the mug in both hands, letting the heat seep through into his palms. Jess returns a moment later, armed with NyQuil and a thermometer.

"Open up," she says peremptorily. "You're obviously running a fever, I just need to check how high."

"It's not that bad," he answers automatically, only to be met with a glare and the thermometer held inches from his face.

He shrugs, obediently tucks it under his tongue, and tries not to wince when it beeps shrilly thirty seconds later. Jess hands him the NyQuil and allows him the illusion of independence by letting him dose himself with it. She purses her lips, staring at the thermometer.

"Yeah, whatever you've got, it's not a cold. Fever's too high for that."

Sam isn't sure what he's supposed to say in response to that, so he just hums noncommittally, downs his medicine and chases it with a mouthful of soup. "Um, thank you. I mean, for taking me in when I could potentially be a serial killer or whatever."

Jess settles into a comfortable-looking armchair off to one side, tucking her legs up under her in a pose that mirrors his own. "Well, I can't say it's entirely altruistic. I've been trying to think of a way to strike up a conversation for three weeks now, except you were so busy burying your nose in your books it was practically impossible. Even Brady was no help, once he'd introduced us. You know, you're a serious workaholic. And coming from me, that's saying something."

"Hm," Sam nods in agreement. She's not wrong, and it feels like too much work to argue with her. The soup has served to warm him up, and the exhaustion that was staved off by the shower is beginning to creep up on him again. Try as he might, his eyes keep threatening to close on him.

Jessica takes pity on him. "Okay, sleep. I'm going to sit here and watch something brainless on TV, but you let me know if it keeps you up, okay? I have plenty of stuff I should be doing."

Sam means to answer her, truly he does, but the pillow under his head feels wonderful—soft and cool—and he's still trying to formulate a response when he succumbs entirely to the pull of sleep. He barely rouses when Jess shakes him awake a few hours later to coax water and more NyQuil into him, just curls back up on the sofa and lets the darkness engulf him again, grateful for the respite.

It's short-lived, though, because the nightmares that have plagued him since he was a kid return in full force, sending him wandering through dark, winding hallways, looking for someone or something that he can never quite find. If Dean were here, he'd be able to find it, Sam finds himself thinking, and then the dream shifts, and he's running after Dean, trying to warn him of some danger ahead. Except that Dean is always three steps ahead of him, always just out of sight, and there's no time to warn him until the world explodes in a welter of bright-red blood.

"Dean!"

He sits bolt-upright on the sofa and almost slams his head right into Jessica's face where she's been leaning over him, then folds over in a fit of coughing that makes him feel as though his head is going to explode.

"Whoa, easy!" Jess puts both hands on his shoulders and pushes him back down onto his pillow until he subsides under her with a sigh of relief. Everything's blurred around the edges, as though he's still asleep, or underwater maybe, and the throb in his head feels like someone is hitting a bass drum in time to his heartbeat. "It's just a dream, Sam, you're okay. Easy now. I want to take your temperature, okay? You're burning up." She produces the thermometer and doesn't wait for him to agree before sliding it under his tongue. "Sounded like a hell of a nightmare," she says once the thing has beeped. "You want to talk about it? Who's Dean?"

He can't quite focus on her, but she looks beautiful, he thinks blearily. "Brother. I couldn't find him. Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you…"

"You didn't, I woke myself to come check on you. Good thing I did, too, because this is definitely a hospital-worthy fever."

He shakes his head. "No."

"Sam, you're this close," she makes a pinching motion with her thumb and forefinger, "to a fever of a hundred and four. I'm actually kind of surprised you're not delirious."

"I run a little hot anyway," he mumbles. "Not that bad. I don't need a hospital—no insurance anyway. I'm okay."

She brushes the backs of her fingers against his forehead as though checking his fever again, and it's all he can do not to lean into her touch. "All right. It's only been a day, and you're still compos mentis as far as I can tell, so I'll respect your request for now. But this keeps up, I'm taking you to the free clinic, at least, and we'll worry about whether or not we need to take you somewhere that will require money later. Deal?"

He nods, accepts the glass of water she presses on him, drains the contents, and swallows the Advil she drops into his palm. "'m sorry," he says again. "Probably more than you signed up for…"

"And that's something else we'll worry about later. Come on, you think you can get back to sleep?"

He can already feel the darkness pulling at him, but he struggles to keep his eyes open. He doesn't think he can handle another bout of chasing fruitlessly after a brother who doesn't want his help, anyway. Jess seems to read his mind, because she squeezes his fingers.

"Hey, you're okay. I'm not far, and I promise I'll wake you if I hear you having any more bad dreams, okay?"

"'kay…" he's too tired to resist anymore, and there's something comforting about knowing that, for the first time in months, there's someone else looking out for him again.

The next couple of days pass in a blur of fever and pain. The few times he manages to stay awake Jessica simply sits him up and feeds him as many fluids as he'll keep down and what feels like every single medication from her medicine cabinet. She seems to stick close by, reaching over to pat his shoulder or his hand when she thinks he needs it, rubs circles on his back during the worst of the coughing fits. She talks to him, too, though he doesn't remember most of what she tells him afterward, and when his fever climbs so that it feels like he's boiling from the inside she wets a washcloth and wipes his face and neck, murmuring reassurances until he's able to fall asleep again.

Finally there comes a time when he opens his eyes and doesn't immediately wish he was dead, or at least unconscious. His mouth tastes like something died in there, and his t-shirt is stiff with dried sweat, but he definitely feels better than he did before. Jess is nowhere to be seen, but the clock on her wall tells him it's just before noon. Gingerly he pushes himself upright, rubs his face with his hands, feeling the scrape of stubble against his palms. He starts a little as a scraping sound comes from the front hall, but it turns out to be Jess herself, returning with what looks like a couple of bags of groceries. Her face lights up when she sees him, and his heart does a weird lurching thing in his chest at the sight.

"You're awake! I figured I'd take a chance and go out for some essentials while you were sleeping, since your fever broke. How're you feeling?"

"Better, thanks," he nods, wincing at how raw his voice still sounds. "I think I definitely need another shower, though."

"Absolutely," she nods emphatically, and he pretends outrage.

"Hey, no need to agree that quickly!"

She snorts and carries the groceries to the kitchen to unpack. "If I'd known this is how bad it would get," she calls out from behind the fridge door, "I wouldn't have made a fuss about how rank you were when you first came in. This is way worse. Lucky for you, you have a good excuse."

It feels like his legs have turned to rubber, but he manages to get to his feet somehow, and makes his way into the bathroom. He keeps the shower short this time, just long enough to sluice away the remnants of sickness from his body and to wash his hair, and settles for towel-drying his hair before fishing his razor out of his toiletry kit. He wipes the steam from the mirror, grimaces a little as he catches sight of his reflection, his face pale and drawn, deep circles under his eyes. He's seen better-looking corpses, he thinks, and that's not actually an exaggeration. He averts his eyes, does a cursory job with the razor, and pulls out a clean hoodie and jeans before making his way back out to the kitchen, where Jess motions him to the table.

"I'm making grilled cheese and tomato soup. Any allergies I should know about?"

He shakes his head, lets himself drop into one of the chairs, leaning on his elbows on the table. "Thanks."

They eat in companionable silence, punctuated only by the sound of her portable radio playing music he's pretty sure Dean would approve of on her kitchen counter. It's the local classic rock station, he realizes after a moment, the sound familiar and oddly soothing, and he finds himself smiling down at his plate.

"What?" Jess is smiling too, but she seems uncertain.

"Nothing, it's not important. Uh, look, I can't ever hope to repay you for this, not for a really long time, but you… I mean, I really appreciate it, you know? You put yourself out, and that's incredibly nice of you, but I can't—"

"You're about to try to leave, aren't you?" she interrupts.

"Um, I was going to say 'get out of your hair,' but yeah, essentially," he replies.

"Do you have anywhere else to go before the dorms open again in January?" she asks pointedly, and he blushes a bit and doesn't meet her gaze. "Yeah, unless you somehow managed to locate a place to stay while you were practically delirious with fever on my sofa, I'm guessing not. Look, Sam, I get it," she reaches out across the table and puts one hand over his. Her fingers are longer than he would have guessed. "But I promise you, this isn't charity, okay?"

"No, I—"

"No, really. Look, I'm stuck here by myself for the whole damned holidays while my parents decide to rekindle their passion or whatever on a cruise. I'm not going to chain you to a radiator Misery-style or anything, I'm not forcing you to stay, but I'd like it if you did. You seem like a more than decent guy, and since we both could use the company—I dare you to tell me I'm wrong, here—I figure it's a win-win. What do you say? I can make a chicken, and we'll watch cheesy holiday movies and sleep in as long as we want."

Sam has to swallow a sudden lump in his throat. "Die Hard."

That takes her aback. "What?"

He grins, though it feels a little watery, even to him. "The movie. It's a Christmas tradition for my family. We can watch all the cheesy movies you want, but we have to watch that one too. And you have to let me give you money to contribute for food and whatever. I don't have much, but I want to salvage some of my dignity, here."

"Die Hard, huh?" she looks amused now.

He nods. "Deal?"

The amusement turns into a smile, wide and full of promise. She moves her hand from where it was on top of his, and they shake on it solemnly.

"Deal."
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)

[personal profile] alexseanchai 2012-11-08 06:09 am (UTC)(link)
:-D
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[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 05:15 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you! :)

hey

[identity profile] leighannwallace.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 05:08 am (UTC)(link)
This is wonderful. Very well written, great grasp of the characters. Love it.

Re: hey

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 05:15 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much!

(Also, hi! I saw that you commented on a bunch of stories, but I am WAY behind in answering comments. Sorry about that!)

[identity profile] 27-jaredjensen.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 05:52 am (UTC)(link)
fucking perfect.

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 06:03 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you! <3

[identity profile] ayane42.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 06:22 am (UTC)(link)
wonderful story!! i loved it!!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much!

[identity profile] hells-half-acre.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 09:10 am (UTC)(link)
Man, I suck at commenting - I saw you posted this, and then I was like "I am going to read that, and then I am going to leave a comment." And I read it, and i enjoyed it, and I thought "what a lovely well-written story. I love ratherastory's stuff. She writes Sam so well."

But did I actually say that? No, instead I wandered off, distracted by some shiny object no doubt.

Anyway, um... thanks for writing this! I was browsing prompts too and was drawn to this one, but wasn't sure I could pull it off. You've done a more fantastic job than I could anyhow though! So, yay!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:46 pm (UTC)(link)
Hee! No worries, I suck at commenting for the exact same reasons. At least you came back and remembered to comment! That doesn't always happen to me. :P

Anyway, I'm glad you liked it! I hope you find another prompt that catches your fancy, or hey, multiple fills to prompts are always welcome. :)
embroiderama: (Sam & Jess)

[personal profile] embroiderama 2012-11-08 01:32 pm (UTC)(link)
Awwwwwwwww, SAM! I love this! Poor boy, I'm glad Jess came along and collected him. :)

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! Yeah, this was not Sam's most shining moment. ;)

Glad you liked it!

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 03:26 pm (UTC)(link)
\o/ I love it when good writers explore those little gaps in canon that are such fun to play with! Where would Sam have gone for the holidays when the dorms were closed? It makes my heart hurt to think about the times they'd lived out of their car or spent the night at shelters -- but it's completely believable. (You made me miss the Impala here, too!) Your Dean references were perfect; Jess was awesome... two thumbs up!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:52 pm (UTC)(link)
It works out well, because I love exploring little gaps in canon too. :)

I figure that John would have taken the boys to shelters, or spent some nights in the car before he figured out how to run credit card scams and the like in a way that would have let them exist without starving.

And of course Sam wouldn't be able to spend a whole day without thinking about Dean, especially not his first year at Stanford. ;)

Glad you enjoyed it!

[identity profile] quickreaver.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:01 pm (UTC)(link)
I can't tell you how much I miss your writing! You cut to the core of Sam without being sappy. This is so believable and unforced. Just lovely. :D

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I try not to get too sappy with Sam, because it doesn't really fit with either of the boys, but it's a fine line and I'm always worried I'm crossing it accidentally.

Glad you liked it!

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[identity profile] tversan.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:40 pm (UTC)(link)
Yay stanford fic, yay Sam-whump! Wonderful, LOVED it!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 04:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Yay! Thank you! :)

[identity profile] primrose-1.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 07:01 pm (UTC)(link)
Perfect reading when I'm home from work suffering from my own bad cold. *cough cough* I love Sam and Jess. :)

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 07:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Damn, I'm sorry you're not feeling well, but I'm glad you enjoyed the story. :)

[identity profile] tabaqui.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 07:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, Sam.
*pets him*

Lovely little 'how they met' fic - good stuff!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 07:15 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I do love how-they-met stories, not sure why I like them so much. Glad you enjoyed it!

[identity profile] thisweshallsee.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 07:53 pm (UTC)(link)
So much "awwww!" :-) Loved it. <3

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 07:54 pm (UTC)(link)
Hee! Thank you!

[identity profile] franztastisch.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 09:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh I like this. :)

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 09:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you, I'm very pleased to hear it!

[identity profile] ladykorana.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 09:28 pm (UTC)(link)
I adore this version of how they met!

Your Sam H/C is a joy to read!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 09:29 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much! :)

[identity profile] madame-naan.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 10:55 pm (UTC)(link)
This is so lovely and sweet and heartbreaking, too. I loved the repeated "If Dean were here..." moments especially.

Thank you for sharing - it was such a treat to read!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 10:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much! Poor Sam, alone at Christmas without his Dean. :/

[identity profile] chellexxx.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 10:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Great story. Love stories where Sam meets Jess for the first time, and sick Sam thrown in there too, just Heaven!!
xxx

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-08 10:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much! I love those stories too. :)

[identity profile] greeneyes-fan.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 12:05 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, this is just lovely. Just a really nice story.

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 12:06 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you! There's just something so nice about writing pre-series fic, you know? :)
tarotgal: (SPN- Sam sleeping)

[personal profile] tarotgal 2012-11-09 12:41 am (UTC)(link)
I don't care if it's slightly off from the original prompt, which was already pretty loose--THIS WAS PERFECTION! I mean, you had to give the guy somewhere to go, after all. And I adore Sam/Jess, I really do. I will never get tired of that pairing. And every few minutes as I read this fic quickly during work, I kept hoping it would go on FOREVER because I was loving it more and more.

Sam taking an insanely long shower for once because he feels like he needs it. Sam stealing a tissue box and going through OMG so many. Sam being a dork who can't face both final exams and the prospect of being entirely homeless (again) so he puts off thinking about the latter until he's freakin' stuck but still wants to play by society's rule! Oh Sammy! *hugs* Sam spending the day and night at coffee shops. Sam unable to call Dean and John. Jess GIVING Sam this cold/flu bug thing which was amazing--I don't have any idea what you were talking about in your header notes, because all the sneezes and coughs and adorably pathetic fever-ridden Sammy boy were AWESOME. Perfect amount. And so bloody good!!! Jess actually sounding so incredibly happy to run into him and being so sweet without being too unrealistic. And Sam introducing her to a Winchester tradition he absolutely cannot shake, even though he's not with Dean & John.

This was utter perfection. I love your stories SO MUCH--they're some of my absolute favorites. So to have you fill one of my prompts... I knew it would be good but I wasn't prepared for just how perfect it would be. Sick!Sammy and emotion and adorableness and I love it all!

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 12:51 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, thank goodness. I worried that I had strayed too far from your prompt, so I am SUPER glad you liked it. \o/

I do love Sam/Jess. I'm just sad we never got to see what she was like in the minds of the creators and writers.

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[identity profile] jackien1968.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 08:33 am (UTC)(link)
Right indeed, you writing is always a good thing; if you're rusty it doesn't show.

Awwww, Sammy, so sad that he ultimately doesn't get to keep Jess.

<3
Jackie

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 03:10 pm (UTC)(link)
*beams*

Thank you! And yeah, poor Sammy. I wish we could have seen more of Jess, myself.

[identity profile] madebyme-x.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 12:03 pm (UTC)(link)
This prompt stuck out to me too and I'm glad that you filled it and took it in the direction you did, I adore it when it authors play around in those canon gaps!

Everything here felt true the show, Sam and his situation. I can see them going to shelters and I can definitely see Sam being so independent and stubborn that he would bury himself in his studies only to find himself homeless and then refusing to call his family or anyone for help. You really captured him beautifully here.

I find fics about Sam and Jess fascinating. loved how here the first words out of Sam's mouth were white lies as he tries to cover his tracks and even though Jess seems to see right through them, it does make you wonder how often that must have happened later on in their relationship.

I also adored how Jess had some of Dean's characteristics and how Sam reluctantly lets her watch over him the way his family used too. And I love the idea that this is where it all started, Jess nursing a sick Sam! Perfect!

A lovely, lovely read that I wished would never end. You should definitely write more Sam/Jess, clearly you've talent for it! Yummy stuff and thank so much for writing and sharing, take care, :)

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-09 03:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much!

When I first saw the prompt, I actually contemplated having Sam go to a shelter overnight, and having Jess be a volunteer there, but it didn't feel quite right. But I could see him being pigheaded enough to find himself at loose ends and too proud to ask anyone for help. SIlly Sam.

I adore exploring that late pre-season dynamic between Sam and Jess. How much he told her was the truth, how much of it was white lies, how much of it was out and out bullshit, and trying to figure out how much she believed him anyway. She was a smart woman by all reports, so she must have found it frustrating to live with Sam and all his mysteries...

Kripke once said that Dean and Jess had the same birthday, and my headcanon tells me that it was precisely because she was a little bit like Dean that Sam fell for her. She was at once familiar and exotic, someone normal who managed to still feel like home.

I'm glad you liked it!

[identity profile] borgmama1of5.livejournal.com 2012-11-11 06:44 am (UTC)(link)
Sam not having a place to go to AND being sick was scary...and believable.

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2012-11-11 06:48 am (UTC)(link)
Poor Sam. Stubborn to the last. Good thing he has people watching out for him, eh? Glad you liked it!

[identity profile] shangrilada.livejournal.com 2012-11-11 10:22 am (UTC)(link)
OH OH IT WAS PERFECT AND LOVELY

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