A/N: Well, kids, here we are at the final chapter. Thank you to Catsluver for pushing me to be better and helping me discover things I didn't know I had in me. Thank you to skzb for being so detail oriented, helping me plug plot holes, and making sure things made sense. Thank you to sallyloveslinus for your eagle eye and insights that helped me keep Sam and Dean in character. Last but not least, thank you to Cartersdaughter for picking up the beta ball toward the end. It was nice to have a fresh pair of eyes to analyze my writing. It takes a village to write a story, and I couldn't have done it without you guys.
Thanks again to Coolhan08 for letting me ask you a million questions and always being so gracious and helpful. Thanks to Lilac Elf for letting me bounce plot ideas off of you and for your continued support, even though I know TJ sorely tried your patience. :-) Also, special thanks for Eliza T for her lessons in Portuguese. Bjokas!
Thanks to those of you who have read, alerted, favorited, and reviewed this story and are still with me. You made it through 34 chapters and 629 pages. YOU ARE AWESOME.
That's about all I have to say here. If you're interested in what my future plans are, check out my profile. I hope this chapter will give you a satisfactory ending and tie up loose ends. Just remember what Chuck said: Endings are hard. As always, I would really like to know your final thoughts, so please review if the spirit moves you.
Oh, one more thing: I'm no scientist, so I hope all you molecular biologists out there will give me a break. ;-)
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 kiddin' me.
Everything that could go wrong this morning had, and he was sure he was cursed. There was no doubt about it. Whether it was a Winchester thing—as Dean and Bobby insisted—or a gift from Yellow Eyes when the demon had tainted him with demon blood, it didn't matter. He was cursed.
He could smell the scent of old books and the musty smell of a building that had seen many come and go. 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.
Why was he even here? He was a glutton for punishment. That's why. The last four months had been great—more than he ever would have asked for in his wildest dreams. He had everything he wanted. Why was he pushing his luck?
Aside from the fact that he was cursed, it was all TJ's fault for keeping him up last night.
"Hey," she'd said with bedroom eyes and a sexy, freckled smile this morning when they'd both woken to the first stirrings of the twins on the baby monitor.
"Hey," Sam said back, hugging her closer to him and shutting his eyes. Although he'd slept well, he was still tired from going all those hours without sleep hunting for the djinn. All he wanted was to sink back into oblivion with TJ nestled next to him. They'd had mind-blowing sex last night, and they'd both crashed afterward, completely exhausted and sated beyond their wildest dreams.
They'd done the thumb thing again. He smiled to himself at the memory. Maybe he should hunt more often just so he could come home and have brave-warrior-comes-back-from-danger reunion sex with TJ afterward. Risking his life would be worth it if he had that to look forward to every time.
He felt her brush her mouth against his lips. "Saaam," she said, adding a few extra syllables to his name with that smile still in her voice, "you can't go back to sleep. You've got to get ready for your interview."
His eyes popped open. "Fuck!" He turned his head to look at the clock and panicked.
"What's wrong?" she questioned, frowning.
"Help me get up," he commanded, his heart racing.
She got up and skirted around the bed to his side. "What's wrong?" she repeated, helping him flip over onto his back and offering her hands so she could pull him into a sitting position. Once he was up, he hastily transferred to his chair.
She put her hands on her hips. "Sam, you've still got plenty of time. The interview—"
"I have to do my bowel routine, TJ," he snapped impatiently. He was looking at her over his shoulder, already pushing his chair toward the door.
Her face fell. "Oh."
Clenching his jaw, he cursed himself for being so careless. His bowel routine usually added, at the least, an extra forty-five minutes to his morning ritual of getting dressed.
"Well," she said, "can't you just do it later, when you get back?"
"Sure. And if I crap my pants, which will probably happen if I skip my routine, I'm sure that'll really impress Wyman's sister," he shot back with a mixture of sarcasm and frustration.
TJ pursed her mouth in dismay. "Well, hurry up, then," she drawled, making a shooing motion with her hands. "Do what you have to do to get your ready on. We'll get Dean to drive us. He'll break every speed limit known to man."
And he did. Dean had been planning to leave after he said goodbye to everyone that morning, but once he knew Sam needed the services of the Impala, he put his plans to head back to Heather on hold for a few hours.
Since Fern was still on Christmas vacation from her teaching job, she offered to watch the twins so TJ could go with Sam and Dean. The three of them got to the campus of the University of Kentucky with fifteen minutes to spare. Dean temporarily parked the Impala as close to the building where Professor Cordelia Trammell had her offices as he could get, leaving the engine and the hazard lights on. It was a no-parking zone unless you had a campus permit, even if you were disabled. As Sam's luck would have it, there was a portly meter maid patrolling nearby who was giving them the stink eye, just waiting for them to park illegally so she could issue a ticket. It apparently didn't matter that, since it was Christmas break, there were five million parking spaces open in the lot near the building.
"I'll drop you off," said Dean. "TJ and I will find parking away from Robo-maid while you're in your interview. Just wait for us if you get done before we can get back."
Sam nodded, his heart rate on overdrive from nerves. It hadn't slowed since he realized he'd overslept. For once, he hardly felt the biting-cold December air when he opened the passenger door of the Impala, which was a good thing, since he'd left his heavy coat at the farm. He grabbed his navy-blue blazer and put it on.
After he transferred from the Impala to his chair, TJ sat on his lap for a second, straddling him and straightening his tie. She took his face in her hands and looked him directly in the eye, her breath coming out in little vapory puffs in the cold air. "That professor is gonna love you, Sam," she encouraged. "You have nothing to worry about."
He nodded again, loving his wife for her unwavering faith in him. "I have to go, Teej. Wyman's sister hates it if people are late."
"Okay." She gave him a reassuring kiss and stood.
Dean put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Don't worry, dude. You know old ladies have a thing for you. Just do whatever it is you do that always turns them on."
Sam rolled his eyes. Dean chuckled, but it was suddenly cut off with an arch smirk at Sam's crotch. "Uh, that might be a bit much, though, Sammy, for your first meeting with her."
Sam looked down and tensed, more with anger than embarrassment. "Dammit!"
When TJ saw, she clamped a hand over her mouth. "Oh, my Lord." Her brown eyes were huge. "I'm so sorry, Sam."
There was a perfect tent in Sam's khakis, caused by a boner that must have happened when TJ sat on his lap. She'd sat on his lap a zillion times, and that had never happened until today. Of course.
"Here," said TJ, helping him take off his blazer and folding it neatly. She set it on his lap, covering his erection.
Sam didn't say anything, just pressed his lips together tightly. He was going to a formal interview with an anal, pompous old biddy who came from old Kentucky money. Without his jacket on, it would look like he was being a disrespectful slacker.
"Maybe it'll go away by the time you get to her office," TJ offered hopefully.
Sam wouldn't hold his breath. The one time he hoped he wouldn't have any stamina was probably the one time Little Sammy would stand at attention all day.
"Better get going," said Dean. "You got eight minutes."
Sam exhaled in irritation and swiveled his chair around to a cut in the curb to gain access to the sidewalk, then headed toward the building. Just as he heard the roar of the Impala's engine signaling TJ and Dean were driving away, he noticed there was something wrong with his chair. It was suddenly difficult to push, and he could squeeze the tire on his left wheel too easily. Because it was flat. In the span of a second, it had gone flat as a pancake.
"Really?" he said, looking up at the sky in disbelief. He drew in a breath to try to squelch his rapidly building anxiety and turned to his backpack, intending to find his can of Fix-A-Flat to squirt into his tire for a temporary fix.
Only his pack wasn't there. He'd left it in the car. Along with his cell phone. And the number for Professor Trammell's office. He couldn't call her to explain he was running late—not that it would help if he did. Wyman's words echoed in Sam's head: "You'll blow it for sure if you're late."
"Fuck!" Sam yelled, but there was no one around to hear. The campus was deserted. Even the meter maid was nowhere to be seen—probably off stalking TJ and Dean.
Sam clenched his jaw and wheeled himself toward the building with forcible, jerky pushes. It was ten times harder to push his chair with a flat tire, but he was pissed—and determined.
When he finally reached the building, he punched the accessible button by the door with a vengeance, and the door slowly opened for him. At least the fucking button was working.
But the elevator wasn't.
He stared at the handwritten sign stuck to the closed elevator doors that said "Out of Order," his heart sinking and his gut knotting. Professor Trammell's office was on the third floor.
Sam rarely ever lost his temper, but he was dangerously close to it right now. He slid a finger underneath his collar, feeling uncomfortably warm from the exertion of pushing his chair with a flat and the heat of his growing fury. He glanced at his watch. One minute until his interview. "Friggin' awesome," he said aloud through gritted teeth.
He angrily swung his chair around, feeling off kilter and almost falling out because of the flat tire, and tried not to let himself think about how futile it probably was to even attempt to get to the dean's office now. Instead, he gave himself a pep talk. Maybe Wyman's sister wasn't as bad as Wyman had warned. Maybe she would still see Sam even if he was a little late. Maybe she would understand if Sam explained what happened.
With that faint hope, he found the stairwell, wrestled open the heavy wooden slab of a door, and stopped in his tracks once he was inside. The door slammed shut behind him, echoing in the cavernous stairwell. Sam's gaze followed the flights of stairs up, craning his neck to see how far he needed to go. Three flights, each with fourteen steps and landings in between. That was thirty-eight more steps than he'd ever attempted before.
He swallowed, rethinking this. Maybe he should wait for TJ and Dean. One of them could go up to Professor Trammell's office and explain Sam's difficulty, and maybe she would make a concession and come down to the first floor to meet with him.
Where were Dean and TJ, anyway? How long did it take to park a friggin' car? Then again, most college campuses were notorious for being stingy on parking.
Sam took one more wary look at the stairs and decided to wait another five minutes. He wrestled the door back open and made his way to the lobby, watching out the glass doors for TJ and Dean. It was the longest five minutes of Sam's life, and when the time limit was up, there was no sign of his wife or his brother.
What the hell was TJ doing parking the car with Dean anyway? Why hadn't she come with Sam? What had she been thinking? Apparently, she hadn't been. Then again, no one else had thought of her coming with him either.
With a sigh of dread, Sam fought the door to the stairwell for the third time, flinching this time when the door shut behind him with a slam of doom. He scrutinized the flights of stairs and decided it was official. He was gonna die.
Even as he backed up to the first step and started to heave himself up by holding onto the rail with one hand and reaching across his body with the other to push his wheel, he was berating himself for being a fool. If his hand slipped and he lost control, he could seriously hurt himself and/or damage his chair.
Once up on the first step, Sam rested for a second, balancing on his back wheels, and tried to clear his head of negative thoughts. Thinking about how stupid this was wouldn't help. After conquering a few steps, he got into a rhythm: pull on the rail and push his wheel, balance; pull and push, balance; pull and push, balance.
Two-thirds of the way up the first flight, he could feel sweat break out on his upper lip and forehead. He wanted to wipe it away, but he didn't dare let go of the stair railing or his wheel. "I can do this," he muttered under his breath. "I can do this." He kept repeating it to himself over and over.
When he made it to the first landing, he didn't look down to see how far he'd come. It was too daunting to know he had to do it two more times. After what seemed like an eternity of taxing his concentration, nerves, and muscles to their limits, he finally reached the third-floor landing. He was sweating and panting and felt like he'd just had a strenuous workout. Essentially, he had. He hoped his deodorant was working and he hadn't just added smelly armpits to his list of woes.
Sam wiped the sweat from his face with his hand and glanced at his watch. He was surprised to see it had only taken him fifteen minutes to get up the stairs. He was now twenty-four minutes late. Considering everything that had happened, it didn't seem like such a bad offense. He prayed Professor Trammell wouldn't think so, either.
He exited the stairwell and wheeled down a lonely hallway until he found a wooden door with textured glass clearly marked "Associate Dean for Admissions, Cordelia Trammell." He opened the door into a small anteroom. There were a couple of empty desks that Sam assumed were there for the administrative staff who were probably on vacation. There were two other solid wooden doors that led off the anteroom, one shut and one open. The one that was open was to an office that was dark and empty. Sam pushed himself toward the closed door, his sore ribs and shoulders aching from the exertion of getting up the stairs and the added difficulty of the flat tire.
He took a fortifying breath and knocked.
"Yes?" said the clipped voice of a woman behind the door.
"Professor Trammell? I'm Sam Winchester. We were supposed to have an interview this morning. I'm sorry I'm—"
"Have a seat Mr. Winchester." The words themselves were innocuous, but the tone was an imperious command—a distinctly unfriendly one.
Sam hung his head, getting a bad feeling, and replied, "Okay. Sure."
And now here he was, sitting in the middle of the ominously quiet office, awaiting his fate. The good news was that his hard-on had gone away, but now he didn't know which would be worse: not wearing his blazer and looking unkempt or wearing his blazer, exposing the dirt smears on his khakis, and looking unkempt. He decided to wear the blazer. Maybe the smears on his pants wouldn't be that noticeable. He made a sarcastic mental note to himself that sweaty palms, dirty wheels, and khakis were a bad mix.
Time ticked by slowly on the utilitarian round clock on the wall, mocking him. To top it all off, his legs were now bouncing 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, the wooden door creaked open. He snapped his head up, his pulse quickening.
This was the moment he'd missed all those years ago.
This was the interview he would have had if Jessica hadn't died and he hadn't quit Stanford to get back into hunting.
Professor Trammell walked out into the anteroom, and Sam's heart sank to the very bottom of his gut. She was tall and thin, surprisingly attractive for an older woman, and not at all what Sam expected. She seemed younger than Wyman, not older. She'd obviously taken better care of herself than her brother had. She was bundled up in a long black coat, wearing an expensive-looking, camel-colored silk scarf and a tan leather handbag slung over one shoulder. In one of her hands was a black leather briefcase. She was clearly on her way out.
Sam looked up at her. "Professor Trammell, I—"
She cut him off with a gesture of her free hand and looked down her nose at him, a look of arrogant derision on her patrician features as she took in his disheveled appearance and jiggling legs. There was no display of sympathy or even a passing curiosity that Sam was in a wheelchair. She seemed completely indifferent to his disability, which he normally would have appreciated; but in this case, it made it less likely she would be sympathetic to his excuses for being late.
She looked nothing like Wyman. She had grayish-blond hair pulled back in a severe bun, cold blue eyes, and pale skin that had probably never seen the sun. Sam wondered if either she or Wyman had been secretly adopted because they didn't look like they could possibly be from the same family.
"My time is valuable, Mr. Winchester."
"I know. I—"
"Not to mention this was a favor for my...brother." She said "brother" with a noticeable hint of distaste and a flare of her nostrils that underlined what she thought of Wyman.
"Please. I know. I—"
"Do you realize how many people would have killed for this opportunity you've been afforded?"
"And yet you show up late."
Sam pressed his lips together and clenched his jaw. "Professor, if you'll just—"
"I've done my part—more than my part—coming up here during my time off, during my winter break. You could have at least shown me the courtesy of being on time."
Sam searched his brain for words that would appease her, for something that would at least convince her to listen to him, but she turned on the heel of her black high-heeled boot and left him sitting there without another word.
He slowly closed his eyes, feeling almost numb. This was it. His big chance. And TJ was right. The fates or The Powers That Be had spoken. It wasn't meant to be. He should just accept it.
Well, fuck that.
He exhaled a harsh breath through his nose, wheeled his chair through the door, and pushed with all his might because of his still-flat tire to catch up with the professor as she walked down the hall. She was nearly to the door of the stairwell. As she put her hand on the door handle, Sam yelled, "Professor Trammell, please wait!"
She froze for a second, enough time for him to get within a few feet of her, and then she tossed a look over her shoulder at him. "That's Dean Trammell, not 'Professor,'" she corrected haughtily, and then she was gone, the stairwell door slamming behind her and her booted footsteps echoing as she quickly descended the stairs.
Sam was once again surrounded by silence. He stared stupidly at the door to the stairwell, the door that Dean-Not-Professor Trammell had disappeared through, right along with his dream of law school. Because he was done. He might be dense, and it might have taken him awhile to get the message, but he was done. He'd been knocked down one too many times. He'd been an idiot to even attempt to get into another law school, and he was lucky just his pride was hurt and not someone he loved.
The curse had gone relatively easy on him this time.
He tried to ignore the tightening of his chest and the lump of sickening disappointment that had congealed in the pit of his stomach. He had a viselike grip on his wheels, and he forced himself to let go, rotating his shoulders a bit to try and ease some of the tension in them.
Drawing in a ragged breath, he wondered how he was going to get down to the first floor. He could basically do the reverse of the side-wheel method, but he didn't want to do it alone, and it would be easier if he could attempt to air up his tire first. When he heard footsteps stomping up the stairwell, he was relieved, certain it was TJ and Dean, even though it sounded like it was only one set of footsteps. The footsteps got slower as they approached.
When the stairwell door opened, Sam was startled to see it was Dean Trammell. She carefully held the heavy door until it eased shut, not letting it slam. Then she turned to him, one hand resting on the tan leather of her handbag. Her face was inscrutable as she stared down her nose at him again, assessing him.
He wasn't sure what to think, so he stared boldly, almost insolently back up at her. He didn't owe anything to this lady anymore. He had nothing to lose because he'd already lost it, and he was no longer worried about what she thought of him.
Finally, she spoke in her stern, imperious manner. "Tell me, Mr. Winchester. How did you get up here to the third floor, since the elevator is out of commission for maintenance?"
Several seconds stretched heavily between them before Sam replied evenly, "I took the stairs."
There was a twitch to her mouth and a flash of something almost like admiration in her frosty eyes that Sam might have missed if he'd blinked. Her eyes rested on his flat tire for a moment before meeting his gaze and holding it. She pursed her mouth in a snooty manner. "Come, Mr. Winchester. We have an interview to conduct, and I don't have all day."
Not waiting for a response, she stalked past him, her booted heels clicking with authority as she made her way toward her offices.
Stunned, Sam hesitated for a beat, then swiveled his chair around and followed—unable to hide the huge grin spreading across his face.
"Mama, has Sam seemed—I don't know—kind of quiet to you lately?" TJ asked as she finished smearing Butt Paste onto Robby's bottom, wiped her fingers clean with a wet wipe, and put a diaper on him. She was much better at it now and had him dressed in no time in OshKosh tan corduroy overalls. He wore a mini version of a plaid button-down shirt like the ones Sam often wore underneath the overalls. She completed the ensemble with thick navy-blue baby socks and soft leather Robeez shoes that looked like monkeys to keep Robby's feet warm.
Fern had already diapered and dressed Sami Joy in pink corduroy overalls similar to Robby's with a mini, matching light pink turtleneck underneath, pink socks, and pink Robeez that had teddy bears on them. Both babies looked beyond cute with their little round bellies and chubby arms and legs, making TJ's heart swell with love. She picked Robby up and kissed him on the cheek, inhaling his baby scent. He gave her a dimpled smile and a little giggle in return.
Fern frowned in consternation at TJ's question and turned her face away as Sami Joy tried to grab her nose. Fern took Sami Joy's hand and pressed it to her lips, kissing the palm of it and then blowing a raspberry. Sami Joy laughed, showing a smile almost identical to her brother's.
"Well, hon," Fern said to TJ, "I haven't really noticed much difference in Sam, except maybe he's been a bit distracted in the last few days. I just thought maybe he was swamped with trying to wrap up things with his clients and getting all that paralegal stuff squared away, since he'll be starting law school soon."
"Yeah. Maybe so."
"You think it's something else?"
"I don't know. He was fine—elated even—after his interview with Dean Trammell, but something put a damper on it after he talked to Bobby."
Fern frowned again. "You don't think Bobby said something that hurt his feelings, do you?"
"No, no," said TJ, shaking her head. "I can't imagine Bobby would be anything but supportive that Sam's going back to school. Dean, you, Daddy, me—we've all been so happy for him. Why would Bobby be any different? He loves Sam like a son."
"Have you tried talking to Sam?" asked Fern.
"Yeah. He always says he's fine."
"Try again, TJ, and keep trying. He'll open up to you eventually."
TJ sighed. "Yeah. I'll keep trying."
"Go right now. I think I saw him headin' out to the back porch. I'll give the twins their snacks. Just put Robby in his highchair for me."
TJ drew her mom into a hug, careful not to squish any babies. "Thanks, Mama. I love you."
Fern smiled. "I love you, too, sugar."
After TJ got Robby secured in his highchair, she bundled up in the thickest jacket she owned and found Sam sitting on the wicker loveseat on the porch. His forearm crutches lay across the empty side of the loveseat. He'd been wearing his leg braces for most of the day.
The bruise on his hip was healing, and he didn't seem to be suffering any lingering effects from the fight with the djinn, thank God. TJ had been true to her promise, keeping a close eye on his injury. So far so good. All was well.
She picked up his crutches and carefully leaned them against the side of the house, then curled up next to Sam. The loveseat was small and cozy. He put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him, his only acknowledgment of her presence. She wrapped an arm around his torso and kissed his cheek, which was flushed and chilly from the cold.
She worried he wasn't warm enough, but at least he had on his heavy jacket and a black wool scarf, which added a kind of sexy, Euro vibe to him. He'd taken to wearing more scarves and sweaters lately in order to keep warm, since he'd ended up liking the sweater she'd gotten him for Christmas from the Gap. TJ liked the look on him. The sweaters were made of plain, soft wool and didn't make him look like Mr. Rogers. They just made him look more sophisticated. Then again, Sam would look good in anything. Or nothing at all, she thought wickedly, smiling to herself.
He was staring out at the backyard. It was a drizzly, freezing-cold January day, a couple of days after New Year's and the twins' first birthday (ages not adjusted). It was kind of confusing, trying to decide which birthday to celebrate with the twins—the day they were actually born or the one where they were developed enough to actually be considered babies instead of fetuses. In the end, Sam and TJ decided to celebrate both birthdays, so the twins would have a bigger one-year celebration on April 30th, which would have been their due date.
TJ looked out at the backyard, trying to see what Sam was seeing, but she didn't think he was out there enjoying the view. The mountains were hardly visible in the rain, and besides, his thoughts seemed a million miles away.
"Enjoying the nice weather?" she quipped.
His answer was an absent, "Yeah."
She didn't think her question had even registered with him. Rising up a little on her knees, she nibbled his chilled earlobe. "Pay attention to me," she murmured into his ear, then trailed little kisses beneath his jawline.
He seemed to snap out of his trance and gave a small, husky chuckle, then laced his fingers with hers. Neither of them were wearing gloves, and the slightly warmer heat generated by their hands melding together helped stave off the wet cold.
She kissed her way to his cheek and the dimple there.
"Mmm. How could I ignore that?" he asked.
She met his hazel eyes and smiled. "That's better."
He placed a tender kiss on her lips. Now that she had his attention, she grazed her fingers over his lips and the icy tip of his nose. "What are you doing out here, Sam? It's freezing."
He shrugged and looked back out at the yard. "Just thinking."
TJ tensed, concerned and frustrated. "Sam, I know something's goin' on with you. Why won't you talk to me?"
He swallowed, his mouth tightening into a thin line.
"Did Bobby say something when you called him the other day? Was he not glad you got into UK Law?"
"No. I mean, he was happy about it," Sam said matter-of-factly.
"Then why have you been so quiet since your conversation with him?"
He looked at her and raised his brows. "I've been quiet?"
She squeezed his hand for emphasis. "Yes. It's freaking me out. I'm worried about you."
His forehead wrinkled, and his voice was low and soft when he spoke. "I'm fine, Teej. I don't want you to worry about me."
She made a noise of exasperation. "Come on, Sam. I know something's on your mind. Please tell me. Maybe I can help. If not, I'm still your wife. Aren't we supposed to share each other's burdens?"
He let out a long breath, which left a puff of vapor that quickly dissipated into the air. "I think the burdens you share with me are a lot heavier than the average couple's."
She snuggled closer to warm both him and herself up and tilted her head to where she could see his face. "Please tell me, Sam. Nothing you say will ever change the way I feel about you."
He kissed her forehead, but then his jaw hardened. "It's the same old crap, TJ."
"What same old crap?"
"The demon blood."
"Oh." Foreboding washed through her, pooling in the bottom of her stomach. Sam sat there, not saying anything, and she was too afraid to prompt him despite her brave words a second ago.
Finally, he gave a resigned sigh and started talking. "Bobby found out that sulfur leaves a residue in blood. He found it out from another hunter he talked to just before I called to tell him I got into law school."
"I don't get it. What does sulfur have to do with anything?"
"It's a sign of demons. They leave a sulfur residue behind wherever they go. Somehow, it was discovered in the blood of someone who was possessed by a demon. It was one of the few times the demon didn't kill its host, and the person was rushed to a hospital. At some point, the victim's blood was screened and the sulfur showed up. Apparently, the residue of it is present in someone who's been recently possessed, but then it disappears after a few hours."
"What does this have to do with you?"
His brow creased again. "I've just been thinking."
"Okay. And?" TJ prodded a little impatiently.
Sam shifted his gaze back to the yard beyond them. "What if the sulfur would show up in my blood?"
"Well, what if it did? We already know you've still got the mojo. Why would you care if it shows up in your blood? A blood test wouldn't tell you anything you didn't already know."
He gave her a penetrating look. "Because if it shows up in my blood, maybe it would show up in the twins' blood."
An unexpected lump of cold fear stuck in TJ's throat, cutting off her air for a moment. She couldn't speak.
Sam began to explain. "Exactly six months from the date of the twins' actual birth, I stayed up to watch over them for several nights before and after just to be sure no demon snuck into their room." At TJ's surprised look, he said, "It was right before you came home from the hospital. I wanted to make sure there wasn't a repeat of what happened to me when I was a baby. You didn't remember or know anything about my past—plus, you weren't exactly enamored with me—so I didn't tell you."
TJ winced. She would feel guilty for the way she'd treated Sam during that time for the rest of her life.
He pressed a tender kiss to her lips, a gesture of absolution, and continued. "No demon showed up to hurt the twins. I made sure of that."
"Then why are you still stuck on this, Sam?"
"Because what if no demon showed because there was no need? Maybe the demons know something we don't. Maybe they already know that the twins inherited my demon blood."
TJ tried to tamp down the ire that was starting to build within her. "Sam, what does it matter? It wouldn't change anything if we found out the twins had it. Just let it go and move on. It's not like we'd love them any less if they did have the demon blood."
"But if we knew, it would change things. We'd have to prepare them, TJ."
She scowled at him in alarm. "For what?"
"Anything! Anything the friggin' fuglies might throw at them!" As if realizing he'd raised his voice, Sam lowered it but was somber. "If Sami Joy and Robby have the demon blood in them, their whole lives could be affected, just like mine was."
TJ didn't want to even contemplate that the twins might encounter the horrific things Sam had dealt with in his lifetime. The thought made her stomach clench painfully. She wanted Robby and Sami Joy to have a childhood like hers, filled with laughter, love, understanding, and innocence—not violence, fear, heartbreak, and the possibility that the devil himself might have some preordained purpose for them. She didn't speak. She didn't want to give what Sam said credence. If she ignored it, it couldn't possibly come true.
Sam released TJ's hand and rubbed his thumb over her cheekbone, his graceful fingers sliding into her hair. His eyes were soulful and apologetic, as if he knew what she was thinking. "If I'd known about what the demon did to me sooner," he said quietly, "maybe I could have prepared, been more on guard. Maybe Jessica would still be alive."
"You wish Jessica were still alive?" As soon as TJ blurted out the words, she wanted to kick herself. It had slipped out, and she hated how insensitive and jealous she must have sounded.
Sam's forehead creased.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly, genuinely contrite. "I shouldn't have said that. I know what you mean. Of course you would want Jessica alive."
Sam's arm tightened around TJ, and she laid her head on his shoulder, still regretting her outburst.
"Yes," he said, "I wish Jessica were alive, but that doesn't mean I'd want to change what I have with you."
"I know. I'm sorry," she said again.
"It's just that, knowing Jessica died because she was unlucky enough to know me..." He blew out a harsh breath. "I've lived with the guilt of her death for so long. There's not a day that goes by that I don't wish I'd paid attention to those warning nightmares I had before she died or that I'd simply walked the other direction the first time I ever met her. If I'd only known what Yellow Eyes had done to me, what he had in store, what to look for, that the dreams were premonitions..."
TJ took his hand and kissed his knuckles. "I didn't know Jessica, but I think, if she loved you like I do, she would disagree that it was unlucky to know you. None of what happened was your fault, Sam. None of it. I think Jessica would be grateful for every minute she got to spend with you. She wouldn't blame you."
He was silent.
"The point is, TJ, if the twins have the demon blood, if there's a possibility that they've inherited my gift," he said sourly, "then I want them to know how to deal with it. If something like what happened with Jessica can be prevented... I mean, I don't want Sami Joy and Robby to have to live with guilt like that. I never want them to experience that if it can be avoided."
"So, if they have the demon blood, does that mean they can't ever fall in love or have a family in case a demon might show up someday?" TJ asked, playing devil's advocate.
Sam's jaw squared. "No, but if they someday have visions that something bad is going to happen, they'd know to take them seriously instead of ignoring them and letting someone they love die."
TJ let that sink in, her heart aching for Sam. She'd had no idea he harbored such remorse for Jessica's death, but she should have known. Sam would blame himself because he always carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Okay," TJ muttered into his chest, inhaling the heady scent of him.
She turned her face outward, so he could hear her. "My mom has a fully equipped lab at the high school where she teaches. There's a test we can do to see if there's sulfur present in organic compounds. Blood is organic."
He was quiet for a second and then said, "You sure?"
"Will it give you peace of mind?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Either way, I want to know what we face—what the twins face."
He kissed the top of her head. TJ knew he was thanking her for understanding, and she did understand—but it did nothing to lessen her dread.
"That should do it," Fern muttered to herself. She had on a black lab apron, safety goggles that squished her poofy, helmet-like blond hair in at the sides, and white latex gloves. She was heating a fusion tube over a Bunsen burner, holding the tube steady with beaker tongs.
TJ, Vern, and Sam all watched, mesmerized by the blue flame of the burner as the fusion tube, filled with a small amount of Sam's blood mixed with sodium metal, turned red hot on the bottom. TJ's heartbeat pulsed through her body with tangible little thumps she could feel and even count, if she'd been so inclined.
Fern took the tube away from the flame and quickly plunged it into an evaporating dish of distilled water. The coldness of the distilled water caused the hot glass of the fusion tube to shatter.
"Uh-oh," noised Vern.
"Don't worry," said TJ. She was standing next to her mom, dressed in protective gear identical to Fern's. TJ shot her dad a quick glance through her safety goggles, then quickly refocused on the evaporating dish with the residue of the sodium and Sam's blood. "It's supposed to do that, Daddy."
"You wanna crush it up and boil it?" Fern asked TJ.
TJ nodded, surprised to feel a rush of excitement, along with the trepidation that hadn't left her since her conversation with Sam. It had been awhile, but she could feel the familiar thrill of fascination she got every time she was in her mom's high school classroom lab. Lord, how she'd missed it. School was back in session from winter break, but they had met Fern after her last class let out for the day to test Sam's and the twins' blood for sulfur. TJ still wasn't sure she wanted to know the results.
She told herself it didn't matter, that nothing would make her love Sam or the twins any less—which was absolutely, unequivocally true. But she didn't want Robby and Sami Joy to have to face what Sam had faced in his life. She wanted them to be free of it.
TJ forced herself to concentrate on the task at hand. Using a glass rod, she crushed the broken glass from the tube, along with the fusion of Sam's blood and the melted sodium—which had formed a sort of saltlike substance—in a dish filled with distilled water. Once that was done, she began the process of boiling the dish over a second Bunsen burner sitting on the tall, white counter. The "salt" began to dissolve after it had been boiling for a few minutes.
Sam cleared his throat. "What are you doing now?"
"Making sodium fusion extract, otherwise known as Lassaigne's extract."
His eyebrows unfurled from his worried, tense look for a second to raise quizzically.
She smiled at him with sympathy. She knew the suspense was about to kill him. If her heart was beating a thousand beats a minute, his was probably beating a million. No one wanted the twins to be demon-blood-free more than Sam.
"The excess of sodium mixed with your blood reacts with the distilled water to give sodium hydroxide," TJ explained. "The resulting alkaline solution is called Lassaigne's extract or sodium fusion extract. When it's done boiling here in a minute, I'll filter it to remove the insoluble materials. The filtrate that is left will be used to test for the sulfur."
Vern gave her a sharp look with his bright-blue eyes. "How do you know all that?"
TJ realized he was thinking she might have remembered something. "It's basic organic chemistry, Daddy," she answered apologetically. "I learned it in high school. Right, Mama?"
Fern "mm-hmmed" absently while preparing a second fusion tube with Sami Joy's blood in order to repeat the process she'd used for Sam's.
"I think it's ready," TJ said to her mom.
Fern peered over at the boiling solution and nodded. "All right, hon. You know what to do next."
TJ filtered the solution as she'd explained she would do into a clean dish, then looked over at Sam. He was gripping the wheels of his tires so hard his knuckles where white. "I'm going to add a few drops of sodium nitroprusside to the SFE—the sodium fusion extract. If sulfur is present in the organic compound we used, which in this case is your blood, the SFE will turn deep violet in color."
Sam gave a swift nod of acknowledgment.
TJ prepared a Pasteur pipette, a thing that looked like a giant eye dropper, with the sodium nitroprusside. She drew in a deep breath and then released a few drops of the SNP into the dish containing the SFE. It immediately turned a deep violet color. TJ blew out the breath she'd been holding slowly through her lips and met Sam's soulful gaze. "It turned violet," she said softly. "There's no doubt there's a presence of sulfur."
He swallowed hard and nodded faintly, shifting his eyes away and back.
Fern and Vern both wore grim expressions. Vern squeezed Sam's shoulder while Fern said gently, "Well, it's not like we didn't already know."
"Right," said Sam. His jaw was rigid, as if straining to rein in his emotions.
TJ shared a look with her parents, and then Fern said quietly, "Sami Joy's sample is almost ready for the next step."
TJ nodded and reached for the clean set of dishes and tools she'd already set aside, then repeated the steps for making the SFE with Sami Joy's blood.
The twins were being watched by Aunt Joyce and Aunt Tru back at the farm. Vern and TJ had talked Aunt Tru into drawing blood from the twins, since she was a nurse. She'd been reluctant, and TJ didn't blame her. TJ thought it had more to do with the fact that Aunt Tru didn't want to stick the twins and hurt them than reluctance over the mysterious reason TJ wanted the blood. In the end, Tru had done it without asking too many questions, once Vern convinced her it was important.
The twins had each cried for a minute and then calmed, as if nothing had happened, and gone back to crawling and picking up any tiny speck off the floor they could find and putting it into their mouths. TJ figured the adults involved in the whole blood-drawing process were more traumatized by it than Sami Joy and Robby.
TJ's pulse pounded in her ears as she added a few drops of the sodium nitroprusside to the filtrate made from her baby girl's blood. Again, TJ held her breath and waited. Nothing happened. No violet color. She waited another few seconds just to be sure and then looked at Sam, giving him a small, relieved smile. "No change. There's no sulfur. She doesn't have it."
Sam closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them, his gaze locking solemnly with TJ's. It wasn't time for celebration yet. Robby's blood still needed to be tested.
For the third time, Fern and TJ went through the steps, preparing the SFE with Robby's blood. By the time TJ was ready to add the drops of sodium nitroprusside to Robby's solution, her hands were shaking, and she had a queasy feeling in her stomach. Please, dear Lord. Please don't let Robby have the demon blood. Please.
She lifted her eyes from the dish where she held the pipette suspended over it to Sam. He was pale, jaw set, broad shoulders stiff. He still had a death grip on his wheels. Fern and Vern were utterly silent. The fear and apprehension in the room was so thick it felt like a wet blanket hovering over all of them, threatening to smother them.
TJ held Sam's attention, trying to tell him without words that it didn't matter, that no matter what the outcome, whether Robby had the demon blood or not, they would survive.
Sam's eyes were haunted and desperate, as if he expected the worst, and his distress broke TJ's heart. Not waiting a moment longer, she let the drops fall into the filtrate made of Robby's blood and, again, held her breath, afraid to even blink.
She stared at the dish for so long that, finally, Fern said in a reverent tone, "Praise Jesus."
"Does that mean he don't have it?" asked Vern, tentative hope in his voice.
Fern's voice shook with emotion. "He doesn't have it. There's no sulfur in Robby's blood either."
TJ was numb for an instant before relief hit her so hard she felt weak in the knees. She began to tremble, unable to tear her eyes from the evaporation dish, until she felt her parents take her into a group hug. She let them hold her for a second, her dad murmuring a quick prayer of thanks to add to her mother's. Then TJ broke away, quickly pulling off her safety gear and handing it to her mom, needing to find Sam. He'd pushed himself over to the bank of windows in the lab and was staring out at the clear, crisp, January sky.
TJ went over to him, diverting his attention from the sky to her as she sat down on his lap, both of her legs hanging over his wheel. There were no words for what she was feeling. She took his face in her hands and stared into his beautiful eyes, which were illuminated and made lighter by the sun shining in through the windows. She saw in his gaze the depth of what he felt, a relief so profound it reached out to her and touched her soul.
They stayed that way for a moment, his throat working as he wrapped his arms around her. Finally, in a husky voice thick with emotion, he said, "No demon blood."
TJ felt her eyes sting, and her heart felt like it was being squeezed by some unknown force. "No demon blood," she echoed with a shake of her head.
He lost his composure then, his eyelids shutting against tears that slipped past anyway. He buried his face into the curve of her shoulder, tightening his arms around her, and vibrated with silent sobs, releasing what was probably years of pent up anguish, fear, and grief.
TJ had never seen him so emotional, and she felt a fierce need to protect him. Sliding her arms around his neck, she gathered all the comfort and solace she could muster and willed it into him.
Fern and Vern, ever wise and considerate, left the room, quietly closing the door to the lab behind them.
"Sorry. That was kind of emo," said Sam, embarrassed he'd just cried like a girl in front of TJ. He drew away from her enough that he could wipe his wet face and nose hastily with his sleeve.
"It's okay," she said with an understanding look. "You're human."
He laughed with a tinge of irony. "We just did a test that proves I'm not—not that there was any doubt before."
She pressed her forehead against his. "All that test proves is that you're special, Sam."
"Right," he replied with half an eye roll, then smirked and gave her a tender kiss on the lips.
She giggled softly, and her long lashes fanned against her cheeks as she glanced down for a second before lifting her gaze again. "I think we should go. I wanna see the twins."
He grinned. "Yeah. Me, too." He felt lighter, like a heavy, strangling yoke had been lifted from his shoulders. Robby and Sami Joy were free. They had a chance at normal.
TJ stood, gave him one last kiss and a squeeze of his hand, and then headed for the door. Sam pushed himself, following behind her, but he almost ran over her when she stopped suddenly. She seemed frozen, head tilted slightly to the left, staring at a plastic model of a DNA double helix that was set up on a counter near the door.
Sam had seen her freeze like that before, and he wondered—hoped—that maybe she was remembering something. He gripped his wheels, tensing his arms and shoulders, afraid the slightest movement might distract her.
Slowly, she walked to the DNA model, stared at it for another minute, and then lovingly ran her fingertips over it. "It's an excellent representation for a high school model," she said, never taking her eyes off it. "Unlike most introductory DNA models, it shows the major and minor grooves in the helix and indicates whether there are two or three hydrogen bonds between each base pair."
Sam raised his brows, having only a vague idea of what she was talking about.
"Every base is a different shape," she went on. "The differences are subtle, but you can see it if you know what you're looking for. They've even made the sugars out of a slightly different plastic so that the model flexes correctly to create a double helix." Her brows came together in a slightly perplexed frown. "Huh. You can tell it's a British model because the phosphate groups are purple, not yellow." She glanced at Sam. "Strange that my mom has a British model and not an American one."
"Right. Strange," he agreed, feeling his heart rate accelerate but trying not to act like anything out of the ordinary was happening.
"Did you know the replication of both prokaryotic and eukaryotic DNAs starts at a unique sequence called the 'origin of replication,' which serves as a specific binding site for proteins that initiate the replication process?"
"Uh, no, I didn't," Sam answered lightly, hiding the hope that was expanding in his chest with each passing second.
Aside from a faint twitch at the corner of her mouth, TJ continued talking to him as if he had a friggin' clue what she meant. "The first origin to be defined was that of E. coli, in which genetic analysis indicated that replication always begins at a unique site on the bacterial chromosome. The E. coli origin has since been studied in detail and found to consist of 245 base pairs of DNA, elements of which serve as binding sites for proteins required to initiate DNA replication."
Sam wheeled closer to her and took her hand, tugging on it. It was the signal that he wanted her to sit in his lap.
She obliged, looking him in the eye, the twitch in her lips getting closer to a smile. "The key step is the binding of an initiator protein to specific DNA sequences within the origin. The initiator protein begins to unwind the origin DNA and recruits the other proteins involved in DNA synthesis. Helicase and—"
Sam interrupted her by kissing her on her neck just under her ear.
TJ inhaled a sharp breath before continuing. "—single-stranded DNA-binding proteins then act to continue unwinding and exposing the template DNA, and primase initiates the synthesis of leading strands."
"I love it when you talk dirty," Sam said, nibbling her earlobe and flicking his tongue in her ear.
"Oh," she responded with a high-pitched, pleasurable moan. "Two—two replication forks are formed and move in opposite directions along the circular E. coli chromosome. There's—"
"Teej?" he murmured into the skin of her neck.
He halted in his devouring of her and spoke in a measured tone, holding her sparkling gaze. "That didn't sound like high school biology."
She paused, drawing in a breath and then letting out a noise that sounded like it was part sob and part incredulous laugh. "It wasn't."
"So," he rasped, his voice full of emotion, "you remember?"
She bit her bottom lip, a smile of wonder and delight on her face. "I remember. Well," she added a little dryly, "at least about the replication of both prokaryotic and eukaryotic DNAs."
He grinned and tapped her temple. "But maybe there's more in there than you thought?"
She grinned back. "I think maybe there is."
Blood soaring in his veins, Sam framed her face in his hands and claimed her mouth in a searing kiss. They had a life waiting for them, a life full of hope and love. A future.
He wasn't an idiot. He knew their future wouldn't be perfect or without its challenges, even the supernatural ones that came along with being a Winchester—and he wasn't foolish enough to believe his curse had miraculously ended. But after all they'd been through, Sam knew he and TJ would be okay as long as they faced whatever life threw at them together.
Curses be damned. Sam Winchester was the luckiest man alive.