Title: The Voice in His Head
Disclaimer: Not my characters!
Summary: Sam's at Stanford with a cold
Notes: Written for my 2014 comment meme. Not betaed or edited well. Prompt: Sam never had to be good at taking care of himself - that was always Dean's job. To know what kind of medicines worked best and when to take them, how much rest and water he needed, how to make the foods he liked when he wasn't feeling well. Naturally, the first time he comes down with a cold at Stanford is a struggle because he has no idea what to do.
The Voice in His Head
Sam woke to the sound of his roommate’s alarm, distant and jarring. He turned his head, expecting his face to meet pillow and block out the rays of sun infiltrating their room. Instead, his cheek slid against papers and his eyebrow brushed against a ballpoint pen.
At once, he straightened, looking down at the papers on his desk. His midterm paper—due at 10:30 that morning—was slightly wrinkled but no worse off for having supported his head all night. Miraculously, he hadn’t drooled all over it.
“Whoa.” His roommate, a slender Asian guy named Lee, climbed down from his loft bed. His feet thumped on the floor as he landed. He rubbed his eyes as he surveyed Sam. “Did you really just sleep at your desk again?”
“Guess so,” Sam said. Or, more accurately, he croaked. His voice was rough, broken. And there was an icky something coating the inside of his mouth, especially the back of his throat. He swallowed and winced as pain stabbed at him for doing so. It wasn’t serious pain; Dean would have made fun of him for wincing at that. They’d been through a whole lot worse on hunts.
But Dean wasn’t here. Dean was… well, he wasn’t at Stanford. And he hadn’t just written the best psych essay of his life. That was worth a sore neck and throat.
“Man, you sound beat. You can’t keep doing this.”
Sam was pretty sure he could, actually, especially if it meant he could get his classwork done on time. He was taking a full courseload plus two additional classes—maybe not the best for the first semester of his freshman year, but Sam had just been glad for the opportunity to finally get to overachieve in his chosen arena. “I’ll be fine,” Sam said, gathering the papers in a neat stack and stapling the sheets at the corner. Ta-da: finished!
Lee grabbed his bathrobe and toothbrush kit. “Not if you get sick you’re not. Take it easy, Sam.” He headed for the door, in order to leave for the bathroom, but he paused in the doorway. He looked back over his shoulder and shook his head. “At least get some food in you.”
Sam checked the time; he had an hour and a half until class. So Sam took a shower—that turned out to be twice as long as usual, as Sam just stood there under the water, letting it hit his back for what seemed like an eternity.
He ended up stuffing the paper in his bag and racing over to the dining hall. By the time he got there, he was out of breath and coughing harshly. He leaned against the tray holder rack and coughed into a fist repeatedly.
His throat was killing him, so he skipped the soda and went straight for OJ. He grabbed what looked quick and ended up with a bowl, carton of milk, and mini box of corn flakes. Dean would not have approved; he liked big breakfasts.
A few bites in, Sam took his first sip of the orange juice. The pain was so intense when he swallowed it brought tears to his eyes. He dragged a wrist across his face and felt a tickle in his nose. That was new. It was almost as if… “hah-GIHHSCHHhhhh!” All over the cornflakes. Damn it!
If he was honest, he wasn’t really that hungry anyway. After dumping the rest of the breakfast in the trash, he headed to class. He headed up to his usual seat about halfway up and in the center of the row before he realized he’d forgotten to turn in his paper and had to walk back down again.
Sam coughed the entire way back, his throat feeling worse as every moment went by. His head throbbed so he couldn’t pay attention to the lecture. He tried taking notes, but the words swam on the paper and he felt like nodding off would be a much better use of his time. But all that paled in comparison with the sniffles and sneezes. They wouldn’t fucking stop. His nose had turned into a leaky tap. Even when he pinched and rubbed and scrubbed, there was this constant urge to sneeze. And if his constant sniffles were annoying his fellow classmates, he knew the sneezes were irritating them at the very least. “Eehhh-GAHShhhh! GIHShuhh! ‘Scuse be.”
He’d dumped his breakfast but, thankfully, he’d pocketed a couple napkins during breakfast. Maybe his subconscious had somehow known he was getting sick and would need them. Dean would have had a whole tissue box for him by now, though. Dean would have seen this coming a mile away and would have insisted Sam stay in bed and not go to class in the first place.
All Sam could do was slouch in the seat, with a napkin pressed to his nostrils, and wait for the lecture to be over. “KITchhhh! Excuse me.”
“Hey.” Someone leaned forward and tapped Sam’s shoulder. Sam turned to see a girl he didn’t know. “You all right?”
He nodded, not feeling even partly all right. “Did you take something?”
Sam nodded again, wondering what it was he was supposed to have taken. Tylenol. Dean always gave him Tylenol. Pop an arm out of its socket? Tylenol. Get your head bashed in by a poltergeist? Tylenol. Dad take a belt to you for filling the car up with the expensive gas instead of the cheek kind? Tylenol. Desperately, Sam checked his backpack; no Tylenol. Not even white Tic Tacs. He might have some back in the dorm room, but he wasn’t sure.
“IHhhTShhhhh!” God, he was swiftly running out of napkins. It felt soggy in his hand as he tried to fold it so he could press a dry corner to his runny nose. He had to conserve, had to make this last for the rest of the class. Had to. Suck it up, Samuel Winchester. If you can fight demons, you can fight a cold that long.
A bad cold. A bad, rotten cold. “GIHtcshuhhhh!” With a lot of bad, rotten sneezes that just wouldn’t stop.
When the professor let them go two minutes early, Sam thought he would die of relief. He threw his notebook and pen in his backpack at once, ready to bolt out the door.
“You goin’ to the health center?”
Sam turned to find a guy from one of his intro labs standing behind him as they filed out. “What?”
“You sound like total shit. Let me guess: you finally caught that bug that’s been going around? I heard it hits around midterms and then again during finals week.”
This was the first Sam had heard about this. Or maybe some upperclassman had mentioned it but Sam hadn’t remembered. That was possible. Dean would have been laughing right about now, laughing at the thought that his little brother had gone away to college and then suddenly thought he was invincible because there were no monsters after him.
“ihhTChumph!” Sam sneezed into the crook of his arm. Either the sneezes were getting stronger or he was getting weaker, because he felt a little light-headed after that one. Maybe a trip to the health center wasn’t such a bad idea. “Catch you later,” Sam mumbled to the guy, sniffing hard and repeatedly and rubbing his nose into his sleeve until he risked lowering his arm.
The Vaden Health Center was only a five minute walk, but Sam felt out of breath and leaned against the counter once he got there.
“Sign in on the clipboard with your name and appointment time.” The receptionist didn’t even look up. Dean would have called her an easy mark, the kind of woman they would have been able to get past with the worst fake ID in history.
But her words confused Sam, who was suddenly slightly annoyed at being confused. “I dod’t hab ad abboidbedt.”
The woman clicked her mouse a few times before looking up at Sam. “Earliest I can get you in is 4:15 tomorrow afternoon.”
Confused gave way to devastated, but that only lasted a few seconds. “HItchuhhhh!” Sam helped himself to three tissues from the box on the counter. “Gishphh! Hshffffff!”
“Sounds like it’s a cold.”
“What over-the-counter medicine are you taking?”
Sam shook his head.
She clicked the mouse a few more times and out of the printer came a list of instructions entitled COMMON COLD CARE. The paper told him to wash his hands, cover his nose when he had to sneeze, and to try over-the-counter drugs. “No need to come in unless your cold doesn’t get better or you develop a fever. It’s explained on the sheet. Do you know where the nearest drugstores are?”
Sam nodded; there was a Walgreens on campus, about half an hour away, but what choice did he have? “Ihhhshhh!” Sam helped himself to a few more tissues, wiping his nose with one and stuffing the rest in his pockets.
They didn’t last long. They didn’t last the walk, even. He stood in the cold remedies aisle, sniffling into his sleeve as he tried to figure out what to buy. He tried to think of what Dean gave him. Tylenol, yes, but something else. Sam remembered when they shared a motel room bed as kids and Dean waking him up in the middle of the night with a plastic spoon of orange stuff to swallow. He remembered being so congested he couldn’t stop coughing and Dean thumping his back and making him swallow pills and suck on cherry-flavored candy.
But, staring at the hundreds of choices on the shelves, Sam wasn’t sure what any of his memories translated into. Dean had been so good at this, at taking care of him. He always seemed to have a pack of tissues tucked in his bag or a thermometer in the first aid kit. Sam had never needed to worry, never needed to know about this stuff.
He decided to approach it logically, reading the backs of each package, one by one. By the fifth one, he realized he didn’t even know what he was supposed to be looking for. So he just chose something that wasn’t too expensive. He found cough drops and tissues and Tylenol. And he started the walk back to his dorm with everything in his backpack except for the tissue box, which was tucked under his arm.
He read the back of the box a dozen times when he got back to his room. Take one-to-two tablets every six hours, not to exceed eight in twenty-four hours. Well, how could you exceed that many if you only took one or two every six hours? And what was he supposed to take—one or two?
Not sure he trusted the medicine yet, Sam took one. Then he climbed into his loft bed with the box of tissues. His roommate wouldn’t be back until four at the earliest, which gave him a few hours to sleep undisturbed. Or it would have, if he could fall asleep.
Coughing and sniffling constantly, he couldn’t drift off. He tried lying on his side, his back, his stomach—and that one was a big mistake. He ended up on his side with his jacket bunched under his pillow to raise it up higher. Dean would have had him sitting on the back seat, leaning so his head was on Dean’s shoulder, Dean’s flannel over his chest, Dean’s arm around him to keep him from bouncing if the car hit a bump in the road.
Sam closed his eyes, trying to imagine the motion of the car and the warm brother to take care of him. He tried to relax, to fall asleep. And he might have gotten there if his cell phone hadn’t rung.
Sam groaned and rolled over, pulling it out of his jeans pocket and answering just to make it stop ringing; he didn’t even check the caller ID. “’Lo?”
Sam sat straight up, his head narrowly missing the ceiling by a quarter of an inch. “Dean’d? What—“
“Hey, little brother. You don’t sound so good.”
“So everybody’s beed tellig be. Ihh-ihhKshhhhh!”
“Bless you. You need to get yourself to bed. Take some Tylenol and some cold medicine and get some rest. You got Kleenex?”
Sam coughed. “I’b id bed already. I cad take care of byself.”
There was a pause. “I’m sure you can, big-time college man. I’ll let you go so you can get sleep.”
And that was it. Sam didn’t even think to ask why Dean called in the first place. He wondered if Dean were on the other end of that phone, in who knew what part of the country, laughing his ass off about that. If he’d known that was going to be the last time he would talk to his brother for years, he wouldn’t have hung up so soon. He would have asked how Dean was, maybe even his Dad. He would have at least said goodbye. But, if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to fall right to sleep.