Author's Note: Although this story is the third in a series, I've tried to put enough back story in that you can read it without having to read the first two stories.
This story will focus on Sam and TJ. There will be SOME Dean and Heather, BUT NOT A LOT.
Thanks to my wonderful betas SKZB, sallyloveslinus, and Catsluver. You all have unique input that is EXTREMELY helpful and very much appreciated. Thanks also to coolhan08 for answering my questions and Lilac Elf for letting me bounce plot ideas off of you. You guys rock!
Warning: I rated this T for bad language like the 'F' word and realistic mentions of bodily functions. I will rate all chapters containing sex scenes with an M rating, so you will be fairly warned.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize was created by Eric Kripke, and I'm not making any money off of it. My OC's are purely fictional and any similarities to real people are coincidental.
**PLEASE READ ANOTHER WARNING**: I'm a firm believer that no one is perfect, including the characters in my stories, whether they be OC's or Sam and Dean. There may be times you'll want to strangle some of them in this story. Just know this: No one in my stories will ever be all good, but they won't be all bad, either. ;-)
December 29, 2010
Sam was a mess.
He rubbed his sweaty palms on his khakis, accidentally smearing dirt on the only pair of pants he had with him. Oh, come on, he groaned to himself. You gotta be kidding me. Everything that could go wrong this morning had.
He could smell the scent of old books and the mustiness of a building that had been there long before he'd ever been born. The waiting area of the office was austere, with an air of disapproval and disdain. There were a few antiquated yet sturdy wooden chairs along one of the walls, but Sam wasn't sitting in one of them. He was in his wheelchair, sitting almost in the center of the small anteroom because there was nowhere else for him to go.
He shifted his shoulders and pulled at the stiff collar of his shirt, suddenly feeling uncomfortably warm—again. He knew he was one of many these walls had seen, and they were unimpressed with him.
Time ticked by slowly on the utilitarian round clock on the wall, mocking him. To top it all off, his legs bounced up and down uncontrollably. It was like his legs were nervous too. He put his hands on his knees and pressed down, but it did nothing to stop the steady jiggling.
Finally, a wooden door creaked open. He snapped his head up, his pulse quickening.
This was the moment he'd missed all those years ago.
Sam stared at the letter, felt the weight and texture of it between his fingers. The empty envelope it had come in slipped from his other hand and fell in what seemed like slow motion to the floor. He didn't bother to pick it up. He felt numb, completely stunned.
He'd just gotten home from his bookkeeping job at Shorty's. "Home" was an apartment he shared with Dean and, unofficially, his fiancée, TJ. Sam was tired, but he'd seen the mail on the dinette table and had pulled up to his usual spot in his wheelchair, perusing through the mail out of habit. The letter had been buried underneath neighborhood circulars and other junk mail that TJ probably set on the table when she'd come home from work earlier in the evening. She obviously hadn't gone through the mail or had just done a cursory look because there's no way she wouldn't have said anything about it if she'd seen the letter. She would have called or texted him while he was at work.
He hadn't told TJ or Dean that he'd applied there. He'd done it just for the hell of it, thinking there was no way he'd ever get accepted. Okay. Maybe that wasn't exactly true because it was a major pain in the ass to write a decent personal statement, gather letters of recommendation, and fill out the application. It wasn't exactly something he would normally do just for the fun of it. But he'd never really thought anything would come of it, never really thought he stood a chance.
The fact that he'd abruptly left Stanford in the middle of the fall semester of his senior year was a big strike against him. He'd had a good reason, of course—the horrible death of his girlfriend Jessica—but he'd always heard law school and med school admissions committees were brutally unsympathetic to things like that, especially at the best schools in the country, where the competition to get in was fierce and cutthroat. He hadn't even bothered to apply again to Stanford. Too much bad karma there all around.
Then there was his disability, which was either a liability or an advantage, depending on who you talked to. If he didn't get in, it was because of his disability. If he got in, it was because of his disability. He hadn't wanted it to be a factor either way, had wanted to leave that little bit of information off the application. He'd had to put it on there for logistical reasons, though, because certain things were needed to accommodate his disability. He had to make sure everything was accessible, and there was no getting around that.
He would be graduating from San Diego State in a month, which was a feat in and of itself. After Jessica died, Sam never thought he'd go back to college—not to Stanford, not to anywhere. Ever. Especially not to law school. Especially not to one of the top law schools in the country. And being paralyzed on a hunt had been another nail in the coffin—at least he'd thought so at first.
But, to his complete surprise, he'd been accepted. He knew he should be happy about it, but he wasn't. He was wary instead. He had to think about this and all the implications of it. He and TJ had gotten engaged over Christmas. They hadn't set a date for their wedding yet, but that didn't mean that Sam wanted to be separated from her for weeks, maybe even months, at a time.
She still had at least a year and a half left of grad school at San Diego State in molecular biology, so it was perfect that he'd already been accepted to a local law school, UC San Diego. He'd gotten the acceptance letter last week. It would be convenient, and he wouldn't have to leave TJ and Dean. Nothing would really have to change.
If he chose this other school, everything would change. He was tempted to throw the letter in the trash and pretend he hadn't gotten it so he wouldn't have to agonize over the decision, but he couldn't. Not only were they accepting him, but they were offering him a full ride.
It took him back to another time when he'd received a similar letter from Stanford, and his stomach tightened into a painful, sickening knot. He'd had the same dilemma then. Should he leave everything and everyone that he loved, or give up his dream? It was all too familiar, and he feared the consequences might be similar, that something horrible might happen to Dean or TJ, because when did things ever go right for Sam Winchester?
Granted, the situation was a little different this time. He had an alternative. It wasn't all or nothing. He could still go to UC San Diego. They had offered him a scholarship too. It wasn't nearly as prestigious, but it was a good school, ranked in the top ten for California law schools. But it wasn't as well known nationally. It wouldn't guarantee him a job at virtually any law firm he chose, anywhere in the country.
He was so deep in his thoughts that he was a little startled when he felt TJ's arms wrap around him from behind his chair, felt her chin rest on his shoulder. "Hey," she said. "I thought I heard you come in." Her slow, easy Kentucky drawl was a sultry vibration in his ear that sent a buzz of electricity through him. She chuckled softly. "I'm a better guard dog than Rocket. All he did was lift an eyelid when he heard you."
Sam smiled. She was referring to the stray dog—an Aussie Shepherd/Lab/terrier mix—Sam found on Coronado Beach and adopted last fall.
"You comin' to bed soon?"
"Yeah." He folded up the letter and tossed it casually on the table. TJ's palms were resting on his chest, and he placed his hands over them, feeling the engagement ring on her left hand pressing into him. "I'll be in there in a minute."
She kissed him on the cheek. "Anything good in the mail?"
He cleared his throat, feeling uneasy, not sure he could talk about the letter yet. "Mostly junk."
She saw the empty envelope on the floor and bent next to him to pick it up. He thought she wasn't going to notice where it was from and was relieved, but at the last second before she set it on the table, she saw the return address and frowned. "Sam, what's this?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he studied her, drinking in her auburn-chestnut hair that was down around her shoulders, the sprinkling of freckles over her nose and cheekbones that he loved so much, her pretty brown eyes and long lashes. In that moment, all he could think about was how much he would miss seeing that every day, how hard it would be to say goodbye to her for long periods at a time. A long-distance relationship wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to be with her every possible minute of the day.
He pushed his chair a little away from the table and tugged on her wrist. "Come here." His voice sounded dense and sort of husky to his own ears.
She sat in his lap, wrapping one arm loosely around his neck and tracing the muscles of his chest through the cotton of his plaid button-down shirt with her other hand. He breathed in the scent of her, flower and mint and a hint of fabric softener that clung to her white tank top and baby-blue, drawstring pajama shorts.
Her long legs hung off to one side of the front of his chair. He didn't have armrests to get in the way, so he pulled her knees up closer to where she was more securely in his lap, her legs hanging over his wheel. Then he ran his fingertips along her exposed thigh.
Her eyes darkened a fraction, became sensual, but then she poked her cheek with her tongue, quirking her mouth in amusement. "Are you tryin' to distract me, Sam Winchester?"
He smiled, feeling his heart expand. "Maybe."
She tilted her head slightly and eyed him with suspicion. "And just why would you wanna do that?"
He gave her a tender kiss on her neck, just below her jaw. "Because I don't want to talk right now."
"Mmm." She arched her neck, giving him better access.
Thinking he'd succeeded in distracting her, he trailed kisses over her throat, his hand lazily combing through the hair at the nape of her neck. The smell of her was intoxicating, and he felt his blood begin to heat.
In the next instant, however, she reached over and abruptly grabbed the folded letter from the table.
He frowned, irritated and disappointed. "TJ, that's mine."
"I know," she said, unfazed. She held it in her hand but didn't unfold it.
"It's against federal law to steal someone's mail," he lectured.
Her brows went up and she tapped her chin with the pilfered letter, flaunting it. "Look at you. Already talkin' like a lawyer."
In a flash, he grabbed the letter from her. She made a noise of surprised annoyance and reached for it. He held it high above his head, arm stretched straight, out of her reach.
She rolled her eyes. "You know all I have to do is stand up."
He gave her a look of mock reproach. "That's not a fair fight, since you know I can't."
She smirked. "All's fair in love and war." She reached for the letter one more time.
He dropped it behind him, not caring where it landed, and started tickling her viciously under the arm she was reaching with. She immediately snatched her arm down, laughing uncontrollably. He tickled her stomach, and she squirmed and writhed, arching her back. He had to support her shoulders with his arm and almost lost his balance.
"You call...that fair?" she gasped, coming up for air from laughing.
He grinned and kept up the torture. She was extremely ticklish, especially under her arms and on her stomach. She couldn't even lie in bed with her arms up because just thinking about being tickled there made her antsy. It sometimes made lovemaking interesting.
"Stop!" she begged in between laughs.
Rocket came into the room barking, ready to attack whoever was "hurting" TJ. Sam laughed and paused his tickling for a moment. "It's all right, boy," he soothed.
Rocket trotted over to them, tail wagging in short, uncertain bursts, and then he started sniffing Sam's tire.
"You pee on that, you die," Sam warned.
Rocket eyed him with calculating pale-blue eyes, and Sam could swear it looked like Rocket shrugged before skulking off to his favorite spot under the coffee table.
TJ giggled, and Sam began another tickling assault.
"No!" she squealed, bucking and squirming again.
He paused. "Are you gonna leave my letter alone?"
She was breathing heavily, out of breath from laughing so hard. "Yes," she said with a wary smile, eyeing his hand as if waiting for another attack. "Just stop tickling me."
He gave her another quick tickle for good measure, and she yelped with another burst of giggles. "Sam, stop!"
He chuckled and then relented, holding up his hand in a gesture of peace.
She took a second to catch her breath, eyes full of mirth. Then she hugged his neck and kissed his mouth, her lips soft and inviting. His lips parted, letting her in, and he felt a tingle of pleasure. He was lost in the kiss and groaned when she broke away.
She was more sober, searching his eyes for a moment, and he knew she wouldn't let the subject of the letter go. "Sam?" Her tone was probing and a little reproving.
He sighed. He would have to tell her sooner or later. Why was he holding back? Still, he stalled for another moment, touching her lips lightly with his thumb. Her lips were pink and a little swollen from the kiss. "It's a letter from Berkeley," he finally said.
"Duh. I saw that on the envelope." She arched a brow. "And?"
"They're offering me a full ride to their law school."
She drew in a sharp breath, her eyes widening. "Holy shit."
He felt like there was a pall of thick smoke hanging over his head, the suffocating weight of a decision that would totally change his life and maybe even his relationship with her.
She seemed oblivious to his mood and broke into a bright smile. "Sam, that's—that's awesome. Why didn't you want to tell me? I didn't even know you'd applied there."
He shrugged. "I don't really know why I did. I never thought I'd get accepted."
She snorted, as if that was the dumbest thing she'd ever heard. "You're brilliant. Why wouldn't they want you?" She gave him a quick kiss on his mouth. "I'm so excited for you."
"I don't think—I don't know if I'm going."
She frowned. "Why?"
"There's a lot to consider."
He was a little irked that she was so accepting of it, that she was so happy about it. Didn't she realize how much it would change things? "Berkeley isn't close to San Diego, TJ. I'd have to leave."
She just looked at him.
"I'd have to leave you," he clarified.
She lowered her eyes for a second and then settled them back on his face. "So we do a long-distance relationship. It's not ideal, but lots of couples do it." She grabbed the front of his shirt and gave it a little shake for emphasis. "It's Berkeley, Sam."
He ran a hand through his hair. "I need to think about it."
"We could see each other on long weekends and breaks. It seems like there's one every month anyway."
"I don't have a car."
"You can buy one. You've been saving for ages. Why do you keep putting it off? Surely you have enough for at least a decent down payment."
He didn't answer.
She tilted her head, eyeing him suspiciously. "You have been saving money, right?"
He cleared his throat, suddenly a little uncomfortable. "Yeah."
"So what's the problem?"
"I kind of spent some of it. A lot of it, actually."
Her brow creased. "On what?"
He planted a gentle kiss on her lips. "On something important."
She studied him for a long time, and he could see it dawn on her face when she figured it out. She looked down at the diamond solitaire on her finger. "You didn't."
His silence was confirmation.
She placed her hand on his cheek, her expression both admonishing and tender. "Good Lord, Sam. Why?"
"Engagement rings don't grow on trees."
She quirked her mouth. "This one did."
She was referring to how he'd disguised the ring as an ornament on their Christmas tree. He smiled fondly at the memory.
"Actually, I figured you got it from a pawn shop or Craig's List or something."
He was mildly affronted. "No."
She was quiet, and there was a hint of guilt in her eyes.
"I wanted you to have something new," he explained, "something that was solely yours. I didn't want you to have a ring that had bad mojo, that was for sale in some pawn shop because of someone else's heartache."
She glanced up at the ceiling and gave a shaky sigh, her chin trembling almost imperceptibly.
He laced his fingers through hers, giving her hand a squeeze. "It's okay, Teej. I wanted to."
She looked at him with an affectionate smile. "You dork. Do you know that you're, like, the most awesome guy in the world?"
He looked down at their hands, feeling a little embarrassed by the compliment.
"Okay." Her tone was suddenly matter-of-fact. "So you'll take my car, then."
His head came up. "No."
"I hate to point out the obvious, but you need a car, TJ."
"You don't have one, and you do fine. I can bum rides from Dean and Heather or Gretchen." She was talking about Dean's girlfriend, Heather, and Gretchen, who'd been TJ's roommate in their undergrad days. "Or ride the bus," TJ added.
"Riding the bus sucks. You spend more time waiting around than actually getting somewhere."
"If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for me."
"What would your parents say?"
She shrugged. "Why do they have to know?"
"I'm not gonna lie to your parents."
"Fine. We'll tell them. They already consider you their son anyway, especially since we're engaged. They'll understand. Besides, they're not normal parents. They're a little nutty, remember?"
"No. I won't take your car. Berkeley is almost five hundred miles from here. It would be too much wear and tear on it."
"It's my car, Sam. It's paid for, and I pay the insurance and gas on it. I can do whatever I want with it."
He shook his head. "No. It's—Berkeley is too far away to see each other on weekends, anyway. It's an eight-hour drive. We'd spend all our time on the road."
"So we'll meet each other half way or get cheap airline tickets. Airlines are always having sales."
"That's too expensive, even with sales, and where would we stay if we drove and met half way?"
"We'll do it the Winchester way: find some cheap, seedy motel. It'll be like old times, like when you used to travel around with your dad and Dean."
He allowed himself a small smile, surprised that he actually missed some of those times.
She kissed him and traced the bit of his collarbone that was exposed under his shirt with her fingertip. "We can make new memories."
He sighed, trying to ignore how her simple touch made his body react. "If I leave..."
She waited for him to go on. When he didn't, she prompted him. "If you leave...?"
He stared absently at the pile of mail on the table. "Dean."
"He's a big boy, Sam. Besides, he's at Heather's a lot anyway when she's not pulling a paramedic shift. He won't be alone."
"There's things you don't know. When I went to Stanford before, it was hard on him."
"Sam, things are a lot different now for both of you. I mean, yeah. He'll miss you, but he won't be alone," she repeated. "He has Heather and me."
She didn't get it, and Sam wasn't convinced, not by a long shot.
She put her hand on his cheek. "He'll want what's best for you. That's all he's ever wanted. He'll want you to follow your dream."
"He will kick your ass if you don't go."
Sam looked away and exhaled, not knowing how to explain it to her. She knew something of the bond he had with Dean, but he didn't know if anyone could really understand the depth of it, the weird, almost codependent nature of it. He wasn't sure he even understood it.
"What about Rocket?" he said, throwing another obstacle in her way. "I don't think I can take him with me. I've heard the first year of law school is hell, and I won't have any time for him."
"He'll stay with Dean, but I'll help. I can come check on him between classes during the day, and Dean can take him to the dog park in the evenings or something. We'll figure it out, work out a schedule. I'm sure Heather will help, too. We'll take good care of him. You know that."
"I'll miss him."
"You can't turn down Berkeley because of a dog, Sam, even if he is a great dog."
He sighed. "I don't want to leave you, TJ." He was back to that again and hated the almost whiny desperation in his voice.
She rested her forehead on his. "We can talk and text every day. We'll get one of those friends and family plans or something where it's unlimited."
"How are you gonna meet me half way if I have your car?"
"I'll borrow Heather or Gretchen's car or take a Greyhound."
"You have an answer for everything, don't you?"
She pulled back and gave him a smile. "Yep. Just give it a try, Sam. You deserve this. It's not like it's prison. If you hate it, you don't have to stay."
"Why are you trying so hard to get rid of me?"
She gave him a look that said he was being ridiculous and she didn't need to dignify that with a response. "Why did you apply to Berkeley?" she countered instead.
He shifted his shoulders and tightened his mouth, not answering.
"Sam, why did you apply there?" she asked more deliberately.
He let out a long breath. "It's a good school."
She arched a brow. "And?"
"I never thought I'd really get accepted," he said again.
"So why apply?"
She smirked at his juvenile answer. "Because why?"
He rolled his eyes, acquiescing. "Because it's ranked number seven in the nation among law schools and number two in California, and if by some miracle they accepted me, it would be the chance of a lifetime."
She placed a palm on each side of his face and smiled. "Sam, you're going to Berkeley Law."
He swallowed hard, eyes locked with hers. For the first time, the possibility that it could actually happen began to sink in. "Berkeley Law," he said, trying it out on his tongue. "Huh."
It was an hour before Sam was supposed to show up at Cox Arena for the College of Arts and Letters commencement ceremony. He was already dressed in khakis, dress shirt, tie, and navy blazer and was waiting for Bobby and Dean to get dressed. Bobby had made the two-day trek from Sioux Falls just for Sam's graduation.
Sam was a little edgy and excited at the same time. He never thought he'd see this day after he left Stanford. He'd taken the long, long way around, but he'd done it. He was graduating from San Diego State with a degree in Political Science.
He was sitting in his wheelchair, playing tug of war with Rocket in the living room of the apartment. Rocket was hunched down, pulling on the well-worn and -chewed toy rope that Sam had bought at PetSmart when he'd first adopted Rocket last October.
Rocket was a medium-sized dog but he was much stronger than he looked. He pulled so hard that Sam had to grip the wheel of his chair with his free hand in order not to lose his balance and topple over. Sam had pretty good abdominal and trunk control above his navel, but below that point, he had none. He had no sensation or muscle function below that level—complete paralysis caused by a knife to his spinal cord, courtesy of a poltergeist—and it sometimes made it difficult to keep his seat.
Rocket gave a low growl, challenging Sam with his light-colored eyes. The mutt always looked so silly with his floppy, chocolate Lab ears and tan, terrier beard. He had a patch of white above his mouth that looked like a milk mustache, and Sam laughed at the incongruity of Rocket's goofy features and the ferocity with which he tugged on the rope.
This was serious business to Rocket, a "fight" to the death. Sam jerked hard on the rope, shaking it from side to side. Rocket's head moved involuntarily with it, but he didn't let go, just growled louder, baring his teeth in mock menace.
TJ was at her apartment because her parents had driven all the way from Kentucky for Sam's graduation. She'd stayed with them last night because they didn't know and wouldn't approve that she spent most of her nights with Sam. He didn't like misleading them, but sometimes nighttime was the only chance Sam got to see TJ because their class and work schedules were so hectic, and he couldn't give up that time with her.
She insisted her parents probably suspected what went on, but it was sort of a don't-ask/don't-tell policy. At least TJ and Sam were engaged, which made it seem a little less sinful, although he still felt guilty. It meant more to Sam than anyone would ever know that her parents had driven all that way for him. It made him feel like he could truly be a part of their family, and he didn't want to do anything to mess that up.
He still hadn't agreed to take TJ's car to Berkeley. He had discovered a portable adaptive hand control that would make it possible for him to drive without having to permanently modify her car, but he just didn't feel comfortable leaving her without transportation. If anyone was going to be riding a Greyhound back and forth, it would be him. He was used to riding the bus most of the time anyway. He had no doubt he'd be able to get around Berkeley as well as he could San Diego. It was getting to and from San Diego for visits that would be the most difficult part.
He felt an ache of trepidation, a feeling he got frequently when he thought about leaving Dean and TJ. Why was it that everything came with a price? He was being given the chance of a lifetime, a chance that most people would kill for, but he had to leave everyone he loved behind in order to do it.
Dean had seemed genuinely happy when Sam told him the news, but, since then, Dean had been quiet about it and always seemed to change the subject whenever Sam or TJ mentioned it. He'd been working later in the evenings or spending time with Heather at her apartment, and Sam couldn't help but think that Dean was avoiding him.
Sam had an idea what Dean was feeling because he knew his brother, and he felt the same feeling himself. It was the same painful ache he'd felt the day he left Dad and Dean for Stanford, like he was leaving a part of himself behind.
He focused his attention back on Rocket, trying to snap out of his morose thoughts. What the hell was wrong with him? He was starting to turn into the emo girl Dean always said he was.
Sam finally managed to wrench the rope away from Rocket, who barked in protest, rear end sticking up, paws out in front like he was ready to pounce, tail wagging furiously. He was ready for Sam to throw the rope so he could fetch it. Sam held it in the air and let loose, throwing it toward the hallway.
At that same moment, Bobby, who had been taking a shower in Dean's bathroom, walked into the room, hair slicked and combed back neatly, parted on the side. He was wearing his FBI clothes—slacks, white dress shirt, and diagonally-striped tie. The rope hit him squarely in the face, and he caught it as it fell, giving Sam a dour look.
Sam's eyes widened. "Oh, shit, Bobby. I'm sorry. I didn't know you were there."
Bobby gave an annoyed grunt and then threw the rope toward the kitchen, much to Rocket's delight. Rocket scampered toward the kitchen to retrieve his toy. Bobby sat on the black, fake-leather Salvation Army sofa to put his dress shoes on.
"Thanks, Bobby, you know, for coming out here."
Bobby grunted again. "No need to thank me."
Sam was humbled. He loved the gruff hunter like a father and owed him a lot. Bobby had gotten him through a very dark time after a devastating shoulder injury that had happened when Sam had already been struggling to accept his disability. Sam's voice came out a little thick. "It really means a lot that you're here."
Bobby finished tying his shoe and squinted at Sam. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world, kid."
Sam smiled and ducked his head for a second before looking back up.
Dean came into the room dressed similarly to Sam and Bobby. He adjusted his tie and looked at Sam. "You ready?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm ready." Sam pulled his cell out of his pants pocket and texted TJ that they were leaving soon. She and her parents were planning to meet them at the arena. Heather was finishing up a twenty-four-hour paramedic shift that she hadn't been able to get out of, but she would meet them all later for a celebration dinner.
Dean grabbed the keys to the Impala off the glass-top, '80s-style dinette table—another purchase from the Salvation Army—and they all headed toward the door.
Dean turned to Sam. "Dude, aren't you forgetting something?"
Sam frowned. "What?"
"Your cap and gown?" Dean's brows were raised, and his look implied Sam wasn't firing on all four cylinders.
Sam grinned. "Oh. Right."
On the way to the arena, Dean drove and Bobby sat shotgun in the front seat of the Impala. Sam sat behind Dean in the back seat, the parts of his wheelchair next to him behind Bobby's seat. Sam's wheelchair was a black, titanium, rigid-frame chair that didn't fold. Instead, he had to take out the seat cushion that Velcroed to the seat of the chair and take the back wheels off—similar to the way the wheels of some bicycles popped off—so it would fit in the car. It would've fit in the trunk of the Impala, but Dean had so much crap back there these days it was just as easy to put it in the back seat, as long as the space wasn't needed for someone to sit there.
Bobby had offered to sit in the back, but Sam didn't mind. The Impala was a big car, the way they made them in the '60s, and he didn't feel cramped in the back. He'd have easier access to his chair this way and could get it set up faster when he was ready to get out.
Sam was lost in his thoughts, not paying attention to where they were going, when it dawned on him that they weren't going in the direction of Cox Arena. "Dean, where are we going?"
Dean glanced back at him. "Just a little detour, Sammy. There's something I need to do at the store." He was referring to the Firestone store where he worked as a mechanic and occasional clerk in the front lobby.
Sam looked at his watch, a little irritated. What could possibly be so important that it couldn't wait until after his graduation ceremony? "Can't it wait?"
Dean shared a fleeting look with Bobby, his mouth in a faint smirk. "Nope."
Sam huffed. What the hell?
When they pulled into the parking lot of the store, Sam was surprised when both Dean and Bobby got out. He'd figured he and Bobby would stay in the Impala while Dean quickly did whatever he needed to do. Dean opened Sam's door.
Sam looked at him and frowned. "What?"
"Get out, dude."
Sam made a noise of annoyance and looked pointedly at his watch. "Why?"
"Just get out."
"You're gonna make me late," Sam argued.
"Don't get your 'nads in a shrivel. We'll make it in plenty of time."
"Why do I need to get out? There's nothing—"
"Jeez, Sam. Would you just shut up and get out?"
Sam stared at him for a second, trying to figure out what was going on. With a hard sigh, he grabbed the frame of his chair and set it outside. When he'd put the wheels on and reassembled it, he grabbed the roof of the Impala with one hand and the outer frame of his chair with the other and swiftly transferred his butt to the seat of the chair. Finally, he pulled his legs out one at a time from the car with his hands and put his feet on the footplate of his chair, slamming the car door shut once he was done.
He swiveled his chair around and looked up at Dean with expectancy and impatience. "So?"
Dean grinned at Bobby, who had his usual unimpressed look that said they were both idjits.
Sam and Bobby followed behind Dean, who, to Sam's surprise, led them to the garage at the back of the store instead of inside the main lobby. Several of Dean's co-workers greeted him, and he waved and called to them in acknowledgment, introducing them to Sam and Bobby. He suddenly seemed to be in a really good mood.
Sam looked around. He couldn't remember ever being to this part of Dean's workplace. He'd been in the lobby once or twice, but never in the garage. The smell of grease and new tires infiltrated his nose, and he could hear the cacophony of air tools busy at work and a radio playing hard rock in the background.
They made their way through the cluttered area, Sam maneuvering his chair through tight spaces and around tool carts and grease spots, trying to keep his tires from getting dirty. He could already feel his hands getting gritty, though, and was annoyed with Dean. Why would he drag him here today of all days?
Finally, they ended up in the last bay of the garage, which was a little more secluded from the bustle and activity of the rest of the place. There was a car there covered with a blue tarp, bits of black peeking out where the tarp didn't reach.
Bobby stood quietly next to Sam, arms crossed. Dean untied the strings on the tarp that held it in place. He looked at Sam with a cocky shrug of his brows and pulled the tarp off the car with a dramatic flourish to reveal a shiny black Honda Accord. It was similar to TJ's, only it was a two-door instead of a four.
Dean threw a set of keys at Sam, startling him. Sam caught the keys with a quick, automatic reflex, then stared at them in his hand, wondering what he was supposed to do with them.
"It's yours, Sammy," Dean said, a smirk tugging at his lips. "A little graduation gift from Bobby and me."
Sam sat there for a moment with his mouth slightly open in disbelief. Slowly, his eyes traveled up to Dean and then to Bobby. Sam hadn't seen this coming at all, although it should have been obvious.
"Better close your mouth, kiddo," Bobby drawled. "You're catchin' flies."
Sam shut his mouth and swallowed. "I...uh..."
"C'mere. Let me show you around." Dean opened the driver's door wide to reveal a light gray interior. He patted the roof, then stood back and made room for Sam.
Sam stayed where he was. "Dean, this—how much did this cost?"
Dean's chin went up, a look of mock affront crossing his features. "Dude, didn't anyone ever tell you it isn't nice to ask how much a gift costs?"
Sam looked at Bobby, who gave a half shrug. "I called around, got a good deal on it."
"It's a '99," informed Dean, "but Bobby and I both checked it out. It's in great condition, only has 34,000 miles on it, only one owner—some old lady that had it for the last ten years. She just drove it to the grocery store and back home."
The car did look almost new, but Sam was dubious. "Isn't that what everyone selling a used car says?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Sam. Just get your Debbie Downer ass over here and check it out."
Still hesitant, Sam finally pushed himself close to the car. He shot another glance at Dean, who raised a brow in expectation, and then to Bobby, who simply nodded.
Unlike the Impala, the roof was too sloped for him to hold onto, so Sam grabbed the steering wheel with one hand for leverage and the frame of his chair with the other, quickly transferring his butt to the driver's seat. He then pulled his legs in one at a time, crossing them at the shins so they'd be out of the way of the pedals.
Dean patted Sam on the shoulder. "How does it feel?"
Sam could only feel the soft velour of the seat against his back and shoulders from the waist up, but he didn't have the heart to remind Dean of that. At least the part he could feel was comfortable. "It's good," he said with a nod.
"See, Bobby and I did a little research. Accords in the late '90s had lots of leg room when you scoot the seat all the way back, suitable for Sasquatches. And on most SCI forums, people seemed to prefer a two-door," he pushed a button and Sam's seat began to lie back, "because there's more room to recline so you can pull your chair frame across your body and stow it in the back seat."
Sam pushed the same button and raised the back of the seat up, listening as Dean went on to describe the features of the vehicle and how things worked. Dean and Bobby had put a lot of thought into it, had made sure it would meet all of Sam's needs, and he had no doubt it was in mint condition if it had both their seals of approval.
"It gets twenty-eight miles to the gallon on the highway and twenty-one in the city," Dean added with satisfaction.
Sam nodded to show he was listening.
Dean went on to explain a few more features, and when he was done talking, there was a moment of silence. "Well?" he prompted. "What do you think?"
Sam ran his hands along the hard, vinyl-covered steering wheel, taking in the interior of the car. It was clean and in nice condition, despite the fact that the car was older. The outside was in good shape too, almost like new, and had obviously been recently waxed.
Dean looked proud. "I installed the hand control myself. You pull it down for the gas and push it forward for the brake."
Sam put his left hand on the lever that was situated up next to the steering wheel, put the key in the ignition with his right hand, and started the car. He pulled down on the hand control, and it was almost the same feel as what he remembered pushing the gas pedal with his foot felt like. He felt the engine respond immediately, revving it. It was smooth and quiet.
Now Sam knew what Dean had been doing those evenings when he'd thought Dean was avoiding him. This wasn't just a car. It was Dean's way of giving his blessing, of letting Sam know he was okay with him going to Berkeley.
There was a mixture of emotions roiling inside of Sam—profound gratitude, shock, a bit of guilt (although he wasn't sure why), and overwhelming love for his brother and Bobby. He felt a bit of a lump in his throat and cleared it. "I—"
"Check it out, Sammy," Dean interrupted. His expression was a little like a kid's in a candy store. He leaned in, reaching across Sam, and fingered a bracket that looked like it was made for an iPod. "Now you can hook up your iPod and listen to the Jonas Brothers or whatever the hell that shit is you like."
When Dean withdrew, Sam looked him in the eye for a long moment, trying to get out a decent thank-you. Dean swallowed hard and then glanced away.
"All right, man," Dean said, overly cheerful and clapping Sam on the back. "Let's get this bitch to a graduation. I'll put your chair in the trunk, and we can get your cap and gown from the Impala on the way out." He bent over and grabbed the push handles on the low backrest of Sam's chair, pushing it toward the back of the car. "Hey," he called from the vicinity of the trunk, "did you notice the spoiler on the back? Makes it sportier, right?"
"Yeah," Sam answered, smiling to himself.
"You can have shotgun, Bobby," Dean said. "Since it's a coupe, you might have a hard time getting in and out of the back seat with those creaky knees of yours."
Bobby rolled his eyes and muttered something about Dean being a chucklehead.
Sam's smile widened. It started to sink in for him that he was about to drive a car—his car—for the first time in over two years. His pulse quickened and his hands felt sort of tingly. Hell, he wasn't even sure he should be driving without a test drive. He'd never used hand controls before. Then there was the fact that he didn't have a valid California driver's license. He'd have to remedy that.
He looked at Bobby, who was still standing nearby.
Bobby shut Sam's door and leaned in the window, meeting Sam's gaze with the ghost of a smile. "You're welcome, son."