Disclaimer: Not my characters or world or paycheck.
Summary: Sam knows how to cope with a cold when he’s hunting.
Author Notes: Written for my 2016 meme
There were five points to a pentagram. There were five towns in five neighboring states where bodies had shown up overnight, stripped of both skin and bones, laid out unnaturally in front of churches. This wasn't a coincidence. And it wasn't a good time to come down with a cold, either. But when had things ever been easy for the Winchester boys? After insisting up and down that he was all right, Sam had taken a rental car down to Gilbert, Arizona to investigate there. With Dean in Colorado, Bobby in New Mexico, Rufus in Wyoming, and Irv in Utah, hunters were spread pretty thin; it wasn't as if Sam could just call in sick and spend a couple days on the couch with soup and action flicks On Demand.
Feeling tired from the drive, disgusted by what he was knowingly walking into, and determined to do his job well, Sam really only had three things going for him. One: his cold really wasn't that bad. Sometimes he caught these amazingly miserable colds where he couldn't stop sneezing and coughing for days on end; with this one, it was just a sneeze here or there. Nothing Sam couldn't handle. Two: none of the other hunters were around to say otherwise, and Dean wasn't there to fuss over him and make a big deal over the fact that Sam sneezed twice in a row instead of just once. And three: he knew some magic.
Not the kind of magic that Dean would have bristled at, not the kind that would have him headlining in Vegas, and not the kind witches or whatever other supernatural beings they encountered used. They were little tricks he'd picked up here and there or developed on his own that would make getting through this a whole lot easier.
Trick #1: Never admit you're actually sick and you can keep on fighting.
This one was all but impossible to do when Dean was around. Dean's over-protective big brother drive took over any time Sam so much as sniffled in his presence. Then came tissues and hot water bottles and hooded sweatshirts galore. But this time around, a whole state away, Sam might actually be able to play this out to perfection. The trick was that if you never admitted you were sick, you didn't actually feel so bad. Okay, so there were some things you just couldn't deny away. But, in general, if you didn't stop to ponder how completely sick and shitty you felt, you could usually power through anything.
“You know, agent, you don't look so hot.”
The coroner was not helping. A short, elderly, bald man with a slight lisp and a white coat—covered in splashes of red so dark and wet it was black in places—the coroner studied Sam with the expertise of a man good at seeing more details than the average person.
“I'm fine,” Sam said, grinding his teeth behind a fake FBI agent smile.
“Oh-kaaayyyy, but you don't look fine. That's all I'm saying. I wouldn't blame anyone for feeling queasy with all this here...” He waved his hand in the direction of the table where the mess of blood and muscle and organs lay. “But it's not exactly that in your case, I think. You don't look queasy...”
“I'm fine,” Sam insisted with emphasis this time, because he had to be. He had to be fine. That was the way the magic trick worked. If he said he was fine, and he believed he was fine, then he wasn't sick. And if he wasn't sick, it meant he could investigate this brutal act the way the others were counting on him to. So he was fine. Because he had to be fine. Mind over matter. “hah-PTschhhhh!” Damn it.
“Yeah, ya see? That's what I'm talkin' about. You don't look fine at all. You look kinda sick. Maybe a cold? Or the flu? It's not really flu season, but weirder things have happened.” He gestured toward the body again.
Sam took a handkerchief out of his pocket. It wouldn't have been his normal choice of weapons, but it fit better in a suit pocket than a pack of tissues and didn't look out of place like a bandanna. He wiped a corner of it across his nose and sniffed at the same time. “I'm fine,” he insisted. “But I'm rapidly losing my patience here. You were in the middle of telling me about something else you found on the body?”
The coroner gave him a skeptical look, which Sam returned with such a serious, no-nonsense stare, that the man didn't say anything else about it. He shot Sam a couple dubious looks, but he didn't bring the subject up again as he discussed the fact that there were slashes all up and down the victim's back. They'd be hard to notice, given the state of the body, except muscle tendons and ligaments were torn open and organs were punctured.
Sam couldn't fathom what kind of a creature could do this kind of damage, but at least “something sharp” gave him a little more to go on. He'd have to check in with the others and see if the other bodies had similar damage.
Trick #2: As long as the crappy motel had hot running water, you can breathe.
This was one Sam had learned years ago by accident, trying to hide his coughs in the middle of the night from his father and brother. They probably hadn't been as ignorant and fooled as Sam had suspected back then, but at least some good had come out of it. Turn the sink tap to hot and run it as strong as it would go. Turn the shower on as hot as it would go. If you closed the bathroom door, not only did the water provide some sound cover so you could sneeze or cough and possibly not be overheard, but the whole room filled up with steam. Long, deep breaths in and out cleared you right up so you didn't even sound stuffed-up.
“What tibe was it whed you foud the burder victib?”
The minister narrowed her eyes at Sam. “Excuse me?”
Sam sniffed and drew a knuckle under his nose. “Whed did you discover the body?”
“Oh, right. I walked over from the rectory at dawn, that was about six-thirty or so. It probably sounds silly, but I like to do my office work in the chapel before my parishioners arrive so that I can enjoy the way the sun shines through the large stained glass win—”
“—dow. God bless you.”
What a thing to say to someone who'd swallowed his fair share of demon blood. “Ub, thadg you.” He sniffed lightly, probably too softly for her to hear. “Add the first thig you did was call the bolice?”
“The... I'm sorry?”
“The local cobs.”
She shook her head. “I don't understand. I'm sorry, I can't help noticing... are you sick? You sound a little stuffed-up.”
No he didn't. He couldn't. He'd slept in the bathroom last night, water running, breathing in the steam. Not only had his suit never looked better, but he sounded just like normal, not the least bit congested. Sam shook his head. “I'b fide.”
Her brow furrowed. “Excuse me?”
Sam cleared his throat. “Tell be bore about that bordig.”
“You want to know about the morning I found the body?”
He nodded. Maybe she was just hard of hearing? “Yes.”
She looked so relieved to understand him that she told him everything about that morning—finding the body on the front stoop, calling the police, and praying over the body until law enforcement arrived.
It all seemed pretty standard. She hadn't seen anyone in the vicinity who might have been making a getaway. There was no way to figure out exactly when the body had been dumped there. There were still a few people he needed to interview today, but Sam hoped the others in the other towns had better leads than he had.
Trick #3: Rubbing your nose in just the right way keeps the sneezing back.
This was Sam's best magic trick. Years of dealing with allergies as a kid had led him to trying everything he could to not embarrass himself by sneezing. Okay, once in a while, a sneeze snuck up on him and got past, he'd be the first to admit it—and the kids who'd been on his soccer teams would be the second. But he'd learned that if he just rubbed vigorously at the side of his nose, the urge to sneeze would die back down again. It was definitely magical. It was fool proof.
“What exactly did you see?”
Thank goodness for nosy stay-at-home moms. “I heard sirens and went to my window to see what was happening, you know? I saw Pastor Christine sitting next to something on the lawn. I was worried, you know? So I grabbed my bathrobe and—”
“hah!” Sam scrubbed at his nose, rubbing two fingers vigorously up and down the side of his nose. He added a third finger, applying more pressure. His nostrils flared and breath caught. But the tickle backed down, just as it was supposed to. And the rubbing was kind of subtle; the witness probably didn't even notice him doing it.
She continued with her story. “Ah, so I headed over to the church and saw the most terrible sight. Who would do that to a human being, you know? You don't think it was an animal, do you? Have you ever seen anything like that before? That kind of—”
“hahhhh!” He rubbed and rubbed and rubbed some more.
“Um... are you all right there?”
Sam nodded, rubbing. “Just fide.”
“Because you, um, you're rubbing at your nose a lot, you know?”
Sam knew. But if he didn't, he'd sneeze. So he kept rubbing. Maybe it wasn't professional, but neither was having a sneezing fit in front of a witness. “It's dothig.”
“You sound like my little boy during cold season. His nose is always stuffed-up. Kids always pick up all the cold bugs going around, you know?”
Sam humored her with a smile. It wasn't cold season. “I'b dot sick. I'b fide.” As long as he said it, it had to be true. And as long as he gave himself steam treatments, he should be congestion-free. And as long as he kept rubbing at his nose, he wouldn't sneeze. He could do this. It was like magic.
“hahh-HPTChhh! HahTchhh! hah-Chihhhh! hahhh-IHPTchhhh! Hah hah-PTshhhh!” He dug his someone crumpled handkerchief out of his pocket a little too late. He wiped his palm dry and did the same to his nose.
“I think I have some Tylenol cold medicine in the cabinet upstairs. Would you like me to go check?”
“Doe thadg you, Ba'ab. I'b fide.”
She stared at him, head cocked to the side. “Sorry, what?”
He sighed in frustration. What was her problem? It wasn't particularly noisy on the street, no garbage truck driving by or anything, though the trashcans were all out by the curb. Why couldn't she hear him?
Suddenly a chill ran through Sam, even though it was the middle of spring and quite warm out today in particular. “Whed does your trash get collected?”
The witness told him all about her HOA contracting with a new service this month. Trash was supposed to be picked up yesterday, but maybe in all the commotion with the crime scene the truck hadn't been able to make it through? Or maybe she and everyone else on the block got the pickup days wrong; humans really were creatures of habit, weren't they?
Sam nodded, rubbing fingers alongside his nose.
Trick #4: Six hours of sleep every night is the perfect amount.
Any more than six and he felt groggy, like waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Any less than that and he was exhausted. He could function, sure, but he wasn't at his best, that was for sure. Most people said rest was the best thing for a cold, but Sam disagreed. Powering through was perfectly doable on just six hours of sleep a night. Hell, sometimes during a hunt they didn't sleep at all, so six was actually kind of a luxury. It was definitely more than enough to let him function.
“I know they're still running the DNA test, but I just know it's Howie!” She let out a sob and hid her face in her hands.
“Whed was the last tibe you saw...” Sam broke off, a powerful yawn seizing him. “Excuse be.” It was just a yawn. Sometimes a yawn was just a yawn. He wasn't tired. He wasn't sick. He was fine. He had to be fine. “Whed was the last tibe you saw your husbadd?”
She sniffed and lifted her head. “Two afternoons ago. He works the night shift. I was just getting home when he was leaving for work.”
“And what does he do?”
She sniffed again. “He works in sanitation.”
This sent up red flags for Sam.
“I mean... he worked in sanitation.” She went weak in the knees, and Sam reached out, grabbing her to keep her from falling. “I'm sorry!” she sobbed into his chest, clinging to him. Inviting himself into her house, he directed her toward the first chair in the first room inside, which happened to be a living room. He took a seat on the couch next to it, wanting to give her space. He looked around the room for a tissue box and grabbed one off a far side table before sitting back down.
“Doe deed to abologize. It's understadable. I'b sorry for your loss.”
She wiped her eyes with a tissue then blinked at him. “Are you all right?”
“Then why are you rubbing your nose so much like that?”
It was instinctual for him now, trying to hold the sneezes back; Sam hadn't even realized he was doing it. “It's just a little tickle. I dod't have a cold.” Because he couldn't have a cold. He couldn't stop working. He couldn't give in. He wasn't tired. He wasn't sick. He was a hunter. And he knew magic.
“huhhhhh-hahhhhhh hahhhPTschhhhh! hahhhKehtchihhhhh!”
“Whoa. Bless you.” She handed the tissue box back. “I think you need these more than I do.”
Sam shook his head. The tissue box did look tempting. But he couldn't give in, couldn't admit anything. If he did, there would be no going back. The moment he had a cold, he'd crash so hard he might not be able to get back up. “I'b fide,” he insisted. “Really. I... I.... hahhh-IHPTchhhhhh! Hih ihhh hahhhKEHTChhhhh!” He felt dizzy. Tired. Congested. Sick. “Doe,” he tried to object, but he felt himself falling to the side, and he was asleep by the time his cheek hit the couch cushion.
Trick #5: Have the best big brother in the world.
Even in the middle of a case, even though he was supposed to be in a different state, Dean still came. All it took was one phone call, all it took was hearing one sneeze, and Dean was in the Impala, speeding toward Gilbert, Arizona.
Sam huddled in the passenger seat, hugging the tissue box from the widow's house to his chest. He was shivering even though he wore a hoodie and had a blanket from the trunk swirled around him. “They're usidg trash trucks,” Sam said weakly, his voice thick with congestion.
“Yeah, Sammy. We know that.”
Sam pulled a tissue out of the box at just the right time to fold it over his nose and catch his sneeze. “hahh hahh-Ptshuhhhh!” He wiped at his nose afterward. “Add it was saditatiod ebloyees who were killed add dubted at the churches.”
“We know that too, Sammy.”
“Add...” he broke off to yawn powerfully. His eyes tried to close, but he fought against the fatigue. “Add... oh... I have to... hahh hahhh-PIHTChuhhhh!” He moaned, tilting his head against the Impala's cool window. “I sniff! Ohhh. I dod't feel so good.”
Dean chuckled. “Yeah, Sammy. I know. That's why I just drove four hours to pick you up off some lady's couch. You know you could have mentioned you had a cold before we all split up.”
Sam shook his head. “I could't. If I adbitted it, I'd crash.”
“And what did you end up doing anyway?”
“Crashig. Add feelidg stuffed-ub add sdeezy add tired,” he admitted reluctantly. “But the case...”
“We got it. We're meeting the others at the center of the pentagram. We know what kind of a demon was summoned. We know how to stop it. There's nothing for you to do but rest.”
“Dod't deed to... rest. I'b... hahhh I'b...”
“Fine? Right. That's what you were repeating when I found you, all feverish and sniffly.”
Dean reached over and patted Sam's arm through the blankets. “You just sit there and do a fine job sneezing and napping. I'll wake you up when we get there. Maybe.”
Sam felt himself drifting off to sleep again. His magic tricks worked every time.