Author's Note: Yet another story inspired by a writing prompt. The prompt was "Your character comes home and listens to the messages on his or her machine. When they hear the third message, they freeze. Write why." This takes place about a year and a half into Sam's life at Stanford. I decided to spice things up and write in present tense, which made this a bit challenging to write. Anyways, please enjoy!

All in all, the day hasn't been too bad.

Taking two tests in a row leaves him with a bit of free time after his classes to stop at the grocery store and pick up all the ingredients Jess asked for. Jess' new cooking class taught her how to make this killer pasta and he's eager for his girlfriend to make it for him. After all, the only things that Sam can cook are canned soup and on a good day, macaroni and cheese from a box—all staples of a hunter's diet.

Jess is currently at class. Being an English major means she spends lots of time grading other students papers as an assistant and less time with Sam, but he can't complain. Jess' passion is for the written word, just like his is with law. It makes her happy and that in turn, that makes him happy.

A blinking light distracts him as he walks into their little apartment. Sam places the grocery bags on the counter before heading over to the machine. He hits the button and waits for it to start talking in its mechanical, somewhat British voice.

"You have three missed calls. Message one." The machine clicks and buzzes as it switches over to the voicemail.

"Hey, Sam!" Jess' lovely voice fills the room and Sam grins. He has to be the luckiest guy alive to have gotten such a girlfriend. Not even Dean's good-natured teasing could get him to believe otherwise. Jess was the best girl that had ever come into his life—hands down. "Professor Rowen told me that I only had to help out on three essays today, so I'll be home soon. I hope your tests went well! I'll see you later!" Sam beams and pulls out the receipt and places it down on the counter.

"Message two." More buzzing and whirring.

"Jessica, honey," It's Jess' mom and Sam begins to unload the groceries. "I just wanted to make sure we're still on for dinner Saturday. Call me!" A bag of chocolate chips goes in the pantry—hopefully Jess will see them and get the hint. Usually, she bakes only around the holidays, but her cookies are so great that Sam wishes he could convince her to bake all the time.

"Message three." Sam picks up the bottle of olive oil that Jess has been wanting and is about to put it away when he hears it.

"Sam," John Winchester's brooding voice suddenly fills the silent kitchen and Sam freezes in shock. It's the same tone he remembers—anger mixed with grief and authority. It's the same tone that summons up the memories of hunts across the country, of broken promises, and of a fight that left him with only one remaining family member that acknowledges his existence.

You walk out that door, don't you ever come back again!

Sam recoils from just hearing the words in his memory.

"I . . ." John sighs and curses softly. The youngest Winchester waits, silently hoping for an olive branch of sorts, something that indicates that his father is ready to accept his choice to leave the family business.

All he gets is the message ending.

It takes Sam a full minute to come out of the stupor of shock. While Sam spoke to Dean on a regular basis, he hasn't heard from John in over a year. The only reason he could think of for John to be calling him is if something was seriously wrong. If he was hurt or if Dean was—

"Dean." Sam mumbles, his tone full of dread and fear. Before Sam can even process what is going on, he's instinctively grabbing his cellphone and pushing speed-dial #1.


"Come on, Dean." Sam mutters because that's the only reason he can think of as to why John would be calling.


What if Dean's dead? What will Sam do then? Losing his big brother . . . Sam knows that he couldn't handle that.

"Hey there, college boy."

"Jesus." Sam swears quietly as he hears a very-much alive Dean.

"What?" Dean asks, confusion coloring his tone.

"Are you okay?" Sam sits as the adrenalin that had been coursing through his body moments ago leaves him. He plops into a chair so relieved that everything is okay.

"I'm fine," Dean replies, then pauses. "Sam, what's wrong? You hurt?" Sam can hear the jostling of the Impala's keys and Sam smirks, feeling relieved that his older brother would drop everything just to come check up on him.

"I'm good, Dean," Sam assures him. "It's just . . . Dad called me."

A pause.

"What do you mean?"

"He called me and left a message," Sam answers, pinching the bridge of his nose. His heart is still pounding a mile a minute, but hearing his brother's familiar voice soothes it a bit. "And I thought . . ." I thought you were dead. His voice trails off, leaving Dean to figure out the meaning.

"We're both fine," Dean assures him. "We're in-between hunts. Everything's okay, Sammy."

"Right." Sam mutters.

"Do you . . . do you wanna talk to him?" Dean ventures hesitantly and the youngest Winchester chuckles dryly.

"Because that would go over so well." He comments sarcastically.

"Well, he called you so—" Dean's voice cuts off as Sam hears a door open and the familiar thud of John's boots as he enters the motel room. "Here." Before Sam can even protest, he hears the jostling of the phone as Dean hands it to his father. Sam summons up all the courage he has in him and decides that he has to be the bigger man. His dad called him for reason, right?

"Dad." Sam keeps his tone light, devoid of all anger and resentment. He listens as the phone jostles some more. He debates whether to say more. In his mind, he's always pictured this moment as being one full of what Dean would label "chick-flick" moments. Now that it's finally happening—now that he's speaking to his father—he feels almost tongue-tied. Sucking a breath in, Sam pushes on. "Dad, I'm—"


Silence is all that greets him as he tries to process what just occurred.

John has hung up on him.

The youngest Winchester blinks at the phone in shock and tells himself that it doesn't bother him, that he expected it even. After all, his father has never backed down from following through on a threat. Whatever momentary weakness got ahold of John and caused him to call is gone. All that remains is the father that refuses to acknowledge the fact that he has another son.

The phone rings and Sam shakily answers, trying not to let the hurt that comes from being rejected—again—fill him. What had he expected, honestly? That John would suddenly change his tune and welcome him back with open arms?

"Yeah?" Sam keeps his voice quiet because he isn't sure how much longer he can keep a lid on the emotions threatening to consume him.

"Sam," Dean says with a sigh. It's the same tone that he remembers from childhood whenever he had hurt himself or had gotten into a fight with their father. "You okay?"


"Bullshit." The keys jostle and Sam hears a door slam. "I'll be there in eight hours."

"Dean, you don't—" Sam begins to protest.

"Eight hours, Sammy. Count them." With that, Dean hangs up.

Jess arrives home two hours after the message and seeing Sam's disheartened face, she frowns.

"Sam? What's wrong?" Sam shoots her a weak smile, but he can tell that she doesn't buy it at all. She encircles her arms around him and some of the tension within him leaves.

"Just family stuff." He replies, being deliberately vague. He and Jess have an unspoken rule—they don't talk about Sam's family.

"Is everything okay?" Jess asks hesitantly and Sam nods his head.

"Yeah, I guess." He mumbles and Jess opens her mouth to speak when her cellphone rings. Smiling apologetically, she answers it.

"Hello?" She vanishes into the other room, leaving Sam alone with his thoughts. Nothing is okay—not in the slightest. Sam thought he had gotten over his father's rejection and then out of the blue, John calls and causes the rejection to feel like a brand new wound again. It was true that he and his father didn't really get along, but at the end of the day, Sam loved, respected him and cared for him. Sam just wished that John would do the same for him.

Jessica slams a t-shirt onto their counter, snapping Sam out of his thoughts.

"Jess?" His girlfriend is frantically dashing around their apartment, piling clothes into a suitcase. "What's wrong?"

"My grandmother is in the hospital." She replies. "It's nothing serious, but I just need to go see her."

"No, of course," Sam assures her. "Go for as long as you need." She picks up the car keys and kisses his cheek.

"I'll call you in a few." She promises before heading out the door. Sam watches as her car pulls out of the driveway and keeps looking until it vanishes around the corner.

He misses her already. It's times like this—when Jess is gone and Dean is halfway across the country—that make him feel truly alone in this world. With John's dismissal of him, he was practically an orphan now.

With a small sigh, Sam sits on the couch and waits.

Not surprisingly, Dean manages to make it to Stanford in six hours. As Sam opens the door, Dean quickly scans him and then frowns slightly.

"You look like crap." Dean mumbles as he walks into the apartment. Anyone else would've kicked him out, but Sam had spent years decoding Dean's language.

"It's good to see you too." Sam sincerely tells his older brother.

"Where's Jess?"

"Hospital," At Dean's confused expression, Sam quickly adds, "Her grandmother is there, but everything's fine."

"Drink." His older brother thrusts a beer into his hand and Sam chuckles. Beer was Dean's way of preparing for a chick-flick moment.

"Hungry?" Sam questions, opening his beer and taking a sip.

"Nope." His brother plops down on the couch, eyes never leaving Sam's.

"I'm fine—"

"Don't even finish that sentence," Dean warns. "Cause we both know it's just a load of crap." Sam sighs and takes another swig of his beer. Dean had always been able to read him like a book. He often knew Sam's emotions even before Sam did.

"What do you wanna talk about then?" Sam challenges, running a hand through his hair. "The fact that Dad called and then decided he still wanted nothing to do with me?" His voice rose in frustration and anger. "The fact that he's so stubborn that he won't back down from the stupid threat he made? Oh wait, I've got it, how about the fact that he—"

"Look, I'm not arguing," Dean threw up his arms in a gesture of placating. "Fact is Dad did screw up with the whole Stanford thing okay?" The youngest Winchester almost does a double take. Did his older brother actually admit that their father made a mistake?

"Christo." Sam says and Dean rolls his eyes dramatically.

"Sammy." He chides.

"I just never thought I'd hear you say that." He's heading in dangerously touchy-feely stuff now, but what else has he to lose?

"The night you left," Dean begins shakily; eyes darting around the room as if the answer he's desperately seeking was in plain sight. "A lot of things were screwed up. We all made mistakes."

"I never meant for it to—"

"I know," His older brother interjects softly, eyes filled with sadness mixed with regret. "I know you didn't, Sammy." He pauses and coughs nervously. "I should've said something to him."

Dean's silence on the night he had left—the haunting image of his brother remaining mute while Sam lost the only family he had—had filled his dreams for weeks. He had wondered why his older brother had never spoken out. Had it been because of shock? Or anger? Did he believe what John believed—that Stanford was a useless endeavor?

"Why didn't you?" He asks quietly.

Dean doesn't talk for a long time after that and that speaks volumes. While Dean has always been good at reading Sam, Sam has always been an expert at reading in-between his brother's words and silences. The youngest Winchester nods his head slightly, understanding why Dean acted the way that he did. In the fight over Stanford, Dean had been the one caught in the middle. He looked up to their father and could never betray him by supporting Sam; however, he knew how wonderful this opportunity this was for his little brother. Sam could get out and become something—something that wouldn't get him killed by the age of 30. So, Dean had said nothing, fighting internally over whether to pick a side.

It's an answer that Sam had always expected and now that he's finally heard it, a huge weight lifts off his shoulder.

"Movie?" Dean asks quietly and Sam nods his head, a smile gracing his lips.

They spend the rest of the night watching crappy made-for-TV movies and eating junk food. Dean teases him and pokes him and makes comments that cause Sam to burst out in peals of laughter. It reminds Sam of motel rooms where they stayed up eating candy and watching cheesy monster movies. He's missed this—he's missed Dean.

But, all good things must end.

Dean's phone rings and Sam can tell from his brother's expression who is on the other line. His older brother's body language tells it all—the way Dean's has straightened up, the willing to please look in his eyes, and the way he practically freezes on the couch.

"Yes, sir." Dean mumbles and Sam stiffens. "I'll meet you there." He hangs up and Sam doesn't even need to ask. It still saddens him, the way that Dean just blindly follows around their father's orders. Then again, his older brother had always embraced the life more than Sam. Being a hunter was his calling, or so he claimed. Sam knew that if Dean applied himself, he could graduate with a college degree, but John had crushed those dreams years ago. This is why he had to get out, Sam reminds himself.

He couldn't have let himself become another soldier fighting in a war he wanted no part in.

"Hunt?" He asks, deliberately casual.

"Yeah. Dad needs me to . . ."Dean's voice trails off, but Sam catches their true meaning—Dad needs me to do the job that you stopped doing—and while it stings, Sam knows that his older brother doesn't begrudge him for going to Stanford.

"Thanks for coming." Sam tells him, meaning it fully. He had forgotten what it felt like to have Dean around; to have someone that he didn't have to hide his true self from. Jessica would never know about his past no matter how close they got, but Dean knew and it was nice not having to put walls up.

"Dude, no chick-flick moments." Dean jokes, but he sounds more sad than humorous. Maybe it's finally sunk in that this might be the last time Dean sees Sam for months, years, or if a hunt goes wrong, maybe forever. It's a sobering thought—one that leaves a pang of regret and guilt in his heart.

"You'll be careful, right?" The youngest Winchester questions, frowning in concern. "I mean, you won't do anything—"

"Don't worry, I'll be fine," Dean assures him. "I'm pretty badass, in case you forgot." Sam rolls his eyes and Dean chuckles. He's missed riling up his little brother. The two head for the door and Sam opens in it. Standing in the doorway, their eyes meet and they smile at each other. "I'll tell Dad you said hi."

"Yeah, okay." Sam nods, wondering if John will even remotely care.

"Set down the salt lines, Sam." Dean orders gruffly, his way of saying "I love you" and "Be safe".

"Don't do anything stupid." I love you too. Dean walks down the steps and reaches the Impala when he turns around once more.

"See you later, Sammy." With that his brother climbs in and drives off.

Sam watches until the car fades into the distance and even then, until his brother is long gone. Stepping inside the apartment once more, he sits on the couch and pretends like the tears in his eyes were just caused by dust.

When Jessica returns the next morning, the walls are back in place and his "normal" life continues on.

Author's Note: This piece definitely spiraled out of control for me. It just kept being a larger and larger piece that was written in about the course of a month. I liked writing in present tense! Anyways, I've got more updates for my other Supernatural stories as well as some new stories in that fandom coming up. If you have a second, please review!