Title: The Art of Introductions

Summary: Stanford-era. Jessica's friend Brady enlists her help in convincing his roommate to seek medical attention for a nasty bout of flu.

Characters: Jess, Sam, Brady

Rating: PG-13

Wordcount: 2,924

Disclaimer: If they were mine, they'd probably be sick a lot more often.

Warnings: Spoilers up to 5.20

Neurotic Author's Note #1: So this cute little plot bunny hopped by one day and then whipped around and BURIED ITS TEETH IN MY ACHILLES TENDON AND WOULDN'T LET GO. I don't know, okay? I just wanted to write more asthmatic!Sam, and so that's what you're getting.

Neurotic Author's Note #2: I wrote this on a whim. It's unbeta'd, shameless h/c, and has very little by way of plot.

"Jessica! Hey, Jeeeessicaaaaaaa!"

Brady's voice wafts in from the hallway as he bursts, unannounced, into her dorm room. He lists against the wall, eyes red, his clothes rumpled, hair askew. He reeks of booze. Jess looks up from where she's curled on her bed, reading.

"How the hell did you get in?" she demands, half-amused, half-exasperated. "I thought I locked the door."

He shrugs. "Was open when I tried it," he slurs, and she resolves to get herself a dead-bolt.

"You're drunk. Go away, I'm studying."

"Aww, c'mon, Jess," he flops on the foot of her bed, drops an empty bottle of bourbon on the floor. "It's Saturday! No time for studying now... Saturday's for fun!"

"And I have a midterm in four days. No." He leans in a bit, and she uncurls from her position on the bed. "Brady, I will kick you in the chest if you try to make a sloppy, drunken move, and then I will stomp on your balls until you sing soprano."

"Woah," he raises both hands in an exaggerated gesture of mock-surrender. "Don't be like that, Jess. I came," he wags a finger at her, "because I need help."

"I can give you the number for AA, if you want."

"Not that kind of help. For my friend. I need you to come with me."

"Brady," Jess heaves a sigh, places her book face down on the bed. "I am not coming to help you drag a drunken buddy out of some frat party."

"Sam?" Brady throws his head back in a peal of laughter, and she thinks it's kind of unfair that his teeth are so white and even, his smile bright, when by all rights he should be suffering from liver failure or something. "Oh, God love you, Sam isn't drunk, no. Sam's like you, all responsible and shit," he says, gesturing expansively. "Pre-law. Except he's not listening to me and I figured it might be because I'm smashed and he might listen to someone like you."

"Because I'm responsible and shit?" Jess echoes, not bothering to mask the irony in her voice.

"Exactly. Come on, Jess, please?" he makes a pleading face at her.

She rolls her eyes. "God, okay, fine. Where is he?"

"Our room."

Brady gets unsteadily to his feet, weaves his way to the door, obviously expecting her to just follow him. Not for the first time Jess finds herself seriously considering moving out of the co-ed dorms. She shoves her feet into her sneakers, grabs a sweater for good measure, because the dorms are freezing even if it is nearly spring, and goes reluctantly down the hall after Brady, wondering just what gods she pissed off to deserve being ripped away from her midterm studies at eleven o'clock on a Saturday night. Brady opens the door to his room with a bow and a flourish.

"After you."

To her surprise, the room is actually pretty tidy. She's willing to bet that none of the tidiness is Brady's doing: she recognizes some of Brady's clothes and belongings strewed haphazardly about one half of the room. The half of the room that's the tidiest is currently occupied by a shapeless, unmoving lump under a bedspread. Brady pushes past her gently and goes to sit on the bed. There's a wastebasket half-filled with used tissues on the floor by the bed, and she catches sight of an almost-empty bottle of NyQuil and a blue asthma pump lying on its side on the night table.

"Hey, Sammy," Brady shakes the lump on the bed. "Brought someone you should meet."

There's a quiet groan, followed by a wet, rattling cough, but the words have their desired effect. The lump stirs, and 'Sammy' pushes himself up onto an elbow, blinking in the light. To her surprise, Jess recognizes the cute guy from her Sociology 101 class that she's caught herself watching a few times. She bites her lip: he looks terrible, pale with hectic spots in his cheeks, dark circles under his eyes, his hair tangled and sweaty. He looks up at her, and she feels her heart give a weird skip in her chest when she catches sight of fever-glazed hazel eyes that don't quite focus on her face.

He manages a smile.

"Uh, hey," his voice is wrecked, too. The smile fades and he directs a slightly fuzzy glare at Brady. "You seriously brought a girl here? Now?" his breath catches in his throat and he turns to cough painfully into his elbow, and even from where she's standing just inside the doorway she can hear his breath wheezing in his lungs. He lets himself fall back on his pillows, eyes closing. "You suck," he mutters.

"Oh, no," she starts, but Brady overrides her.

"No, dumbass," he pats Sam's shoulder. "She's here for you."

"What?" Jess' voice squeaks, much to her embarrassment.

Brady looks at her and snorts. "Get your mind out of the gutter," he teases. "I've been trying to get him to seek medical help for days, but he won't listen to me, and I'm tired of listening to him practically choke to death. It's like living with Darth Vader, only without the planetary destruction capabilities, which is lame. See if you can talk some sense into him."

Sam squints at her. "Have we met?"

"We have a class together. I'm Jess."

He nods. "Hi, Jess. I'm Sam."

"Yeah, I got that."

"Okay, Sammy. Maybe if you won't listen to me, you'll listen to the hot chick when she tells you you should see a doctor."

"G'way," Sam tries to burrow back under the covers. "Tryin' to sleep, here." Another fit of coughing belies his words, and he curls up on himself on the bed.

"See what I mean?" Brady leans over, pats Sam on the shoulder like he's a pet dog. "You'll thank me for this later, buddy, trust me," he says. Then he gets up and heads past Jess back to the door. "You try, now. I've gone above and beyond the call of roommatedom, as far as I'm concerned. There's a party full of alcohol out there with my name on it."

"Wait, Brady you can't—" she sputters, but he's already gone. "—just leave me here," she finishes lamely. She should just go back to her own room. Sam's an adult, perfectly capable of making his own decisions. It is not her responsibility if this guy has the flu. She looks back at the bed, and sighs. "Hey," she takes Brady's place, perched on the very edge of the bed. "It's Sam, right?"

He twists to look at her. "I'm so sorry about this," he rasps. He's obviously running a high fever, his t-shirt soaked and his eyes glassy. His lips look bluish, and her eyes stray to the inhaler on the nightstand.

"You having trouble breathing?"

He shakes his head. "'s just asthma, it's fine."

She brushes the back of her fingers against his cheek, alarmed at the heat there. "Yeah, I don't think you're fine. Hey," she shakes his shoulder as his eyes close again. "How long have you been this sick?" He doesn't answer, and she shakes him harder. "Hey! Come on, Sam. Answer me!"

His eyes flutter back open, and she breathes a sigh of relief, but he doesn't focus on her. "Dean?"

"Who's Dean?"

He blinks. "Sorry. I thought..." he starts coughing again, gropes at the nightstand by his bed. She figures out what he's looking for a moment later, and presses his inhaler into his hand. He fumbles with it, eyes squeezed shut, but the coughing doesn't seem to get any better. Jess puts a hand on his arm.

"Sam, your lips are blue, which means you're not getting enough air. Let me take you to the hospital, okay? Can you get up?"

He groans, but pushes himself upright, much to her relief. She expected him to put up a fight about the hospital, but it appears that he does have enough sense to accept the truth when it's handed to him on a platter. It takes some doing, but she gets him up and dressed in more than a thin t-shirt and boxers, puts his inhaler in her own pocket so she won't lose it, then wraps him up in what she assumes is his jacket and shoves his wallet into one of the pockets. With a hurried promise to come right back, she runs back to her own room to fetch her coat, purse and car keys, and on an impulse shoves her textbook into a satchel and slings it over her shoulder before going back to find Sam. He's still sitting on the bed where she left him, leaning against the wall, eyes closed, and she can hear the breath crackling and wheezing in his lungs.

"Okay," she pulls one of his arms over her shoulders. "We're getting up on two. Ready? One, two!" she hauls him up, thankful that he's at least trying to help and isn't a dead weight. He's really tall, even by her standards. "My car's in the parking lot. You think you can make it that far?"

Being upright seems to have helped a bit, both with his breathing and his level of lucidity, and he nods. "Sure. Yeah." He turns aside to cough convulsively into his elbow, sucks in a thin breath. "I don't even know your name."

She has to stop herself from laughing. "I'm Jess."

He smiles vaguely at her. "Hi Jess. I'm Sam."

"Nice to meet you. Now, less talking, more walking."

It's slow going, but they manage to make it all the way to her car, one step at a time. He's leaning on her heavily by the time she wrestles the passenger-side door open, but he's able to lower himself gracelessly into the seat, leaning back with his eyes closed, one hand reaching up unconsciously to rub at his chest. She leans over him to buckle his seat belt, then hurries around to start the car. There's silence the entire way to the hospital, mostly because she doesn't want to force him to use up any more air or energy in talking, but he gives her a confused look when they arrive at the emergency room and she tries to pull him out of the car.

"What're you doing?"

"We're at the ER. Come on, lean on me, okay?"

He shakes his head. "I don't —do I know you?"

"Not really. I'm Jess, remember?"

He smiles at her, and even as dazed and fever-ridden as he is, the smile is a sweet, open one. He has dimples, for God's sake. She feels her heart skip a beat. "Hi Jess. I'm Sam."

"I know that," she huffs, smiling in spite of herself, then hauls hard on his arm. "Now get up!"

They get whisked through triage. The words 'flu' and 'asthma' used in tandem appear to be a magical combination, and the next thing she knows Sam is on a hospital bed in a curtained-off section of the ER with a nebulizer mask strapped to his face. This is the first time she's seen one designed for adults, but she's pretty sure she doesn't like the look of them anymore than she ever liked watching her younger sister use one when they were kids. Sam is still pretty out of it, the IV meant to re-hydrate him and bring down his fever only just beginning to do its job, and so one of the nurses hands Jess a clipboard and asks her to fill out his insurance information. That's when she realizes that she doesn't know the first thing about Sam except that he's in pre-law and is rooming with Brady, which doesn't help in the slightest. She doesn't even know his last name.

"Sorry, I don't mean to snoop, but I kind of have to," she apologizes to him, and begins going through his wallet. She finds an old photograph of a smiling couple which she guesses must be his parents, another, much more recent set of pictures from one of those photo booths of a slightly younger-looking Sam and another guy who looks like he might be a couple of years older. The older guy is hamming it up for the camera, while Sam has his head ducked down, hiding behind his bangs, but they're both smiling, clearly at ease with each other. Brother, she guesses. A moment later she finds his insurance card: Sam Winchester, born May 2nd, 1983. He has a basic insurance policy with the school, which might just cover his treatment tonight, but he'll probably have to pay at least some of it out of pocket. She sighs, reminding herself that it's not her problem.

She fills in the crucial information, figuring that he can provide the rest when he's lucid, then settles in the chair by his bed to wait. Behind the curtains that have been drawn around them for privacy, she can hear the rest of the ER bustling with quiet activity. There don't appear to be any major emergencies tonight, for which she's grateful.

Sam stirs on the bed, reaching up to pull at the mask, and she grabs his wrist.

"No you don't. That has to stay on until the doctor says it can come off."

He turns his head to look at her, expression befuddled, but his arm goes slack in her grip, and she shifts her hand so that her fingers link with his.

"That's better," she says encouragingly, feeling a bit stupid talking to a guy who can't answer her even if he wanted to. "You just keep breathing, and we'll talk when your oxygen saturation or whatever is back to normal." On impulse she brushes sweat-damp bangs away from his forehead. "Jesus, you're still burning up. I'm going to see if I can get something for you, okay?"

Five minutes later she's back, armed with the doctor's assurance that the medication should bring the fever down soon enough, and a facecloth commandeered from a nurse. She fills one of the green kidney-shaped emesis basins with water, and uses the facecloth to wipe the sweat from his face. She's rewarded with a quiet sigh, and he turns to lean into her hand. After a while some of the tension bleeds out of his body, and his breathing evens out into a light sleep.

There's nothing to do except wait. She pulls out her textbook and does her best to keep studying, in spite of the uncomfortable hospital chair, the bright lights and the quiet bustle of activity all around. Sam stays asleep, knocked out by the flu and the drugs being pumped into his system, and doesn't so much as crack open an eye when the mask is replaced with a simple cannula hooked up to an oxygen tank. He's already looking better, she thinks, his face no longer that corpselike shade of grey, lips pinking up, and she can't hear his breath crackling in his lungs anymore, all of which she's pretty sure are damned good signs. She drags her chair closer to the bed, lays her textbook next to him, and props her chin on her palms in order to read and still keep an eye on Sam, blinking as the text begins to blur under her gaze.

The next thing she knows she's waking up with her cheek stuck to the open page of her book. She blinks, peels herself off her book, and realizes that there's a large hand with long, elegant fingers resting on top of hers. She scrubs the sleep out of her eyes with her free hand, finds Sam watching her, hazel eyes entirely fever-free, and glinting with good humour.

"Hey," he says, and it's little more than a rasp, but he looks a hundred times better than last night.

"Good morning," she glances at her watch to confirm the time, then rolls her head on her neck in an attempt to rid herself of the stiffness there. "Feeling better?"

He nods. "I think I owe you a really big thank you. And flowers. And possibly chocolate."

She grins. "Way to sweep a girl off her feet."

He mirrors the grin. "What, dragging a sick, half-delirious, sophomore to the ER isn't your idea of the perfect first date?"

"Is that what last night was?"

Sam turns his head aside to cough into his sleeve, but it lacks the desperate quality of last night. When he looks back, he's still grinning, albeit sheepishly. "Hell, no. I pride myself on remembering the girl's name after a first date. I can definitely remedy this, but I think we ought to be properly introduced first."

She rolls her eyes. "I'm Jessica. Jess."

"From my sociology class. I remember you very well," he pushes himself upright in the bed, then reaches out to shake her hand very solemnly, and her heart does that weird skipping thing in her chest again.

"Hi, Jess. I'm Sam."