Thanks to Little Miss Artist for encouraging me and helping me out with this one. I love ya!

Warnings: Suicidal thoughts

Disclaimer: Don't own SPN or Magician's Assitant. Very haunting, fantastic song (though it's not really sung) go check it out!


"Instead of living a life I was a big part of, you would rather die.
Instead of fighting through together, and turning things around, you decided the grass was greener on the other side of the ground.
Of our shared lives, there was nothing worth living for, as far as you could see.
So if that's the case for you, then what is there left in this life for me?"
~Magician's Assistant – Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip

Three Rings and a Hang Up

Now

Sam only calls once from Stanford. And even though Dean really, really wants to call him, he doesn't. Because Sam asked for independence and Dean had to agree, no matter how much it hurt.

Dean has no idea what time it is, or hell what day it is, or even what her name is, but she's good, that's for sure. They stumble into the motel room and he kicks the door closed. They move as one, their movements synched from much practice as they strip off their clothes, mashing their lips back together between each piece of clothing. His pants are still on when he bends over backwards against the edge of the bed, her body moving in perfect complement, but that's okay because as his fingers tangle through her gorgeous blonde hair, her nimble fingers have found his pants and work at the zipper.

She smells faintly of some flower and Dean wants this night to last forever. He arches his back and she slips the pants off. The motel is chilly, but that too is alright because her skin is warm and pressed close.

This is the perfect way to end his stay in the town, the perfect way to end the hunt. Hell, this is the perfect way to end anything.

Just as her fingers grip the elastic of his boxers, his cell phone rings. He pauses – John said he would call when he finished his hunt in the next state over…- but her soft, "Ignore it," forces him to comply to her every wish.

He stills again when the ring abruptly cuts off after three rings.

"My phone is set to ring five times," he says with a frown.

"So they hung up. Good for us," she whispers, attempting more sexy-voice-control to get his attention back on her. Three rings and a hang up at what…3 am? Could it really be a coincidence? Her well-manicured fingers push on his chin to get him facing her and not the desk where his phone is. There's a tiny pout on her face before she entraps his mouth in hers.

Dean's just starting to relax again - must have been a coincidence after all - and enjoy this fine specimen of a woman when the phone rings again.

Heart in his throat, Dean shoves her harshly off.

"Hey," she protests as she falls to the floor in an undignified heap.

"Get out," he barks at her as he scrambles for his own clothes. Jeans, jeans…where did she put his jeans?

"Excuse me?" He has no time for her insulted tone because the phone is ringing, ringing, and he can't let it get to voice mail or it'll be too late, but he can't answer with her here so she needs to get out, out.

"Get out of here! Go home, fuck someone else, do whatever the fuck it is you do, just get out of here!"

"What the hell is your problem?" she screeches as she pulls on her top.

Only two rings left.

Dean literally pushes her out the door, top askew and skirt around her knees, and sprints for his phone just as it lets out its final ring.

"Sam," he pants into the receiver, one-handedly buttoning his pants as he does so.

"Hey, Dean," the voice is soft, but familiar. God, I've missed you.

"What's wrong?" Dean demands, his heart pounding in his chest and blood rushing in his ears. But Sam is on the line and speaking and that means he's okay, right? No, Sam's not alright, because he and Dean haven't spoken in almost three months, since Sam left for Stanford, and…

"Nothing, just calling to chat." But the tremble is clear in his voice.

"Bullshit, Sam, three rings and a hang up means an emergency." It's a code they developed long ago and one they've stuck by ever since. To establish emergency, I need you on the phone right the hell now calls and just calling to check up calls. "What's going on?" He demands because, despite what he was just doing, he's tired and he doesn't have the strength to spend hours digging through Sam's 'I'm fine's to finally drag out what the real problem is. Not to mention, Sam just scared the fuck out of him (quite literally) and he needs to know what's wrong so he can fix it.

"Dean, I…" His voice is so strangled that Dean not only realizes what the problem is, but also knows instantly that Sam is in a small corner, probably in a bathroom, in the dark and losing the battle against his personal demons.

Dean wants nothing more than to pull Sam into his arms and whisper nothings and assure his brother that they'll always be there for each other and everything will always work out for them because they're Winchesters and they're DeanandSam, one inseparable force so they'll always save each other…

…but Sam's at Stanford and Dean's here and words will be his only weapon in this battle.

Then

Sam's been off all week. At first he chalks it down to teenage angst, but no way was he this angsty when he was fifteen. He doesn't have much time for investigation because now that he's finished high school, he has a job. Dad's off on a hunt, and they need money to put food on the table (because while Sam's appetite has apparently disappeared, Dean's more than makes up for it), so Dean works. By the time he gets home, Sam has already locked himself in his bedroom and that's that for the night.

He misses the young Sam whose favorite question was "Why" and favorite answer was "Because Dean said so."

He tries being subtle about it one morning, but Sam shuts him down and stalks off to school.

So he takes the afternoon off and waits for Sam to get home.

He tries being blunt about it that afternoon, but Sam shuts him down and stalks off to his bedroom.

So he glares at the wall and yells at the stupid potted fern for being too close to the motel door and stubbing his toe when he goes outside to get some air.

Someone really needs to write a How to Deal with Angsty Little Brothers manual because fuck if it isn't hard.

He tries to catalogue the problems it could be.

He knows Sam's upset that Dad's mad at him again. But that's not new. Dad's always mad and Sam's always upset. Dad does come down a bit too hard on the poor kid, Dean knows, but he's really, truly, only trying to keep them safe. And Sam does try to put 100% into both hunting and his school work, Dean knows this too, but his priorities don't line up with Dad's and the friction is strong.

He knows Sam's angry they're moving next week because they've been here almost two month and Sam's only just laid down roots. Even though it's exhausting, Dean thinks it's better when they move every week because then there's no time to get attached. Friends are hard to leave but Dean can't say 'don't make friends' because that would only make the time more miserable. And he hates John just a bit for putting him in that impossible position.

And all that's not even touching on the whole Normal deal. As much as the hunting lifestyle appeals to him, Dean's pretty sure he'd do just about anything, work on a corn farm in the South or run a surfing shop on the West, literally anything, if his family would just stop fighting.

When the sun begins to set, Dean goes back inside. Sam's door is still locked.

Now

"So how's school going?" Dean asks, knowing Sam needs a distraction more than anything else right now. And no, it doesn't hurt in the slightest to hear about how great Sam's life is without him.

There's a breathless chuckle on the other end.

"Questions about school? You must be really desperate," Sam whispers back. His voice is strained and tired and still has that airless sound to it.

"Gee, Sam, way to rebuke the fucking grape branch."

"It's an olive branch, Dean. Grapes don't grow on branches."

"Well I can tell you're learning some really valuable shit over there at college," Dean replies. The banter comes easy and it fits like an old leather jacket. Sam calls him a jerk and Dean calls him a bitch and for a second everything is normal.

"Seriously, Sam, how are you?" Because Sam, for all his seemingly endless knowledge of random shit, is incredibly daft when it comes to taking care of himself. But then, so is Dean. What they both excel at, is taking care of each other. And that's why Dean and Sam go together, one united force. Wherever one lacks, the other fills in the gaps.

"Fine," he chokes.

"How about you give me an answer I can't fertilize my lawn with?" Sam sounds for a second as though he's choking on something. But Dean knows the laugh from a long time ago. A laugh that's scared (because this is scary) and relieved (because Dean's here) and trying not to cry (because, once again, this is scary).

"Dean, you don't have a lawn."

"Sam…" he warns. He's not sure what the threat is, as he can't block Sam from leaving or pin him down until he answers because Sam's not there he's god knows how many miles away by himself, but big brotherness comes with its own authority.

"It's lonely," Sam finally admits. Dean understands that because he's lonely too. "But I'm working hard and I really do want to be here." Dean wants to say he knows. He knows Sam really wants to be there because he knows that Sam would never leave Dean unless it was something he felt he absolutely had to do.

He wants to say that, but he doesn't. The words will not leave his mouth.

"I've kind of made friends with my roommate. Really casual though, nothing…nothing deep. And…" This time there's a hopeful catch in Sam's voice that Dean picks up on like a hungry wolf. He knows what that tone means and it is his big brother duty to tease, yet encourage, Sam here.

"So there's a girl is there?" Dean asks. But, duh, he already knows because he knows every tone, every hitch, of Sam's voice better than his own.

"How…? Yeah." Sam's voice is more in control now and Dean knows that the worst has past. Morning will dawn eventually.

And they will once more go their separate ways.

Then

Dean doesn't know where the feeling comes from, but it's strong and panicky and it sends his heart into a gallop. His fingers freeze on the door knob and the greetings die on his lips. The feeling doubles and he knows he needs to find Sam, like yesterday.

His brain barely registers the open weapons bag on the couch as Dean runs down the hallway towards Sam. And there appears to be a mad man, who sounds a lot like Dean, shouting Sam's name at the top of his lungs somewhere.

Dean wonders if nineteen year olds can die of shock because this is worse than any monster he'd ever hunted, every demon he'd ever exorcised; worse than any thought he could have possible imagined as to why Sam was so upset lately.

This is Sam alone in his bedroom, staring blankly at the wall, and spinning a knife between his hands.

"Please tell me you found a monster under your bed," Dean all but pleads as he watches the light glint off of the spinning blade. "Tell me that's what the knife is for."

"That's what the knife is for," Sam repeats robotically. Dean knows every tone, every hitch, of his brothers voice and that is not a sound Dean has ever heard come from his brother's mouth before. He approaches Sam like a spooked animal, but Sam doesn't look like a spooked animal. In fact, Dean's pretty sure a comet could crash through the roof right now and Sam wouldn't so much as blink.

That's not what the knife is for and they both know it and, holy shit, Dean didn't know it was possible to hurt this much without any physical injuries. "Sam," he chokes. His step forward stumbles and somehow he ends up on his knees, at eye level with Sam, and his arms reach out of their own accord and grab onto Sam's wrists. "Sammy," he whispers. Sam's head is titled slightly to the side, not out of curiosity, but out of a lack of will to hold it up.

What if he had been but a minute later? What if he'd stopped for gas like he had wanted to? Or stopped to buy some M&Ms to try and coax little brother out of his shell? What would he have come back to?

There's something squirming in Dean's stomach as he realizes today very well could have been the day he lost Sam for good.

"Why, Sam? Why?" he asks, shaking Sam's pliant wrists. The knife begins to slip, but Sam's fingers tighten ever slightly to prevent it. It's the only movement he's made thus far.

Anger swells in him because Dean always gets mad when someone threatens the life of his little brother and, worse still, this is Sam threatening Sam's life. And Dean can't protect Sam from himself. And what, what is so bad that Sam would choose, choose, to leave Dean and everything forever? Without even a good-bye?

His fingers close on the knife and he ignores the thin lines of red that well up on his fingers. He sends the knife flying across the room and it slides down between the bed and the wall. Sam's eyes track it's movement and stares at the space where it last was before it disappeared from sight.

Dean's hand shoots up, leaving the limp wrist lying dead in Sam's lap, and grabs Sam's chin, forcing him to look right at his big brother.

"Sammy," he implores, his voice quiet and shaky. His chest is tight and his mind is spinning. Sam stares blankly at him, like there is really nothing to see, but then he suddenly blinks. And blinks again. Slowly, he straightens out his neck. Tears well and spill forth.

Dean's hands move to grasp Sam's shirt and pull him down. Sam folds instantly, slipping off the bed and dropping to his knees in the same way as Dean. Forceful and needy, Dean pulls Sam to his chest and his arms wrap tightly around Sam. The small shoulders are shaking slightly but Dean can feel Sam's chest rising and falling with his hitched breaths and that's the most important thing, the rest they can deal with later.

Now:

"So tell me about this girl," Dean asks. Even though he wants Sam to be here, right here beside him and not a million miles away, he doesn't want Sam to be miserable. Doesn't ever want Sam to be unhappy in the slightest. And if Stanford and this girl are what makes Sam happy, then Dean's happy for him.

"Jess, her name is Jess. She's kind of tall – not as tall as me," and Dean's like duh, because no one is as tall as his freakish younger brother. "With long, beautiful blonde hair and…and the prettiest eyes I think I've ever seen." Dean almost snorts. When someone asks Sam to describe the girl he fancies, he says beautiful hair and pretty eyes. When someone asks Dean to describe a girl he fancies, he says hot with even hotter boobs.

"Are you and this Jess serious? Have you, uh, consecrated the relationship, Sammy-boy?" Dean asks, waggling his eyebrows and knowing Sam knows he's waggling his eyebrows even over the phone.

"Dean!"

"I'm just asking," he replies innocently. This is really good though, because Sam doesn't sound very shaky at all anymore. Dean has dragged him from his little Sam-coma - where Sam is suddenly aware of how very much he hates his life and how there is so much evil, far more evil than the few hunters of the world could ever really stand a chance against, and how this fight will never, ever end until it kills them all.

"We…it…yeah, we have." Even though Dean doesn't really find this embarrassing (because that's one of the best things there is in life and it's something he's really good at) he takes pleasure in the blush he can practically hear creeping over Sam's dimpled face.

"Sammy, you sly dog,"

"Dear god, Dean, shut up!" Dean laughs. While sex is definitely in the top five things of all time, teasing little brothers is above it, in the number two spot. Number one is, and will always be, being a big brother. Not just a big brother, but a big brother to Sam because he really frikin' loves that kid.

That is why Sam is the only person in the world Dean would give up an evening full of hot sex and vivacious curves to sit on the uncomfortable bed and talk about things he'd rather not think about for.

Then:

When the sobbing (Sam) and clinging (Dean) is over and done, Sam's sitting there on the bed wiping at his red eyes and Dean's hovering by the door about the fetch the promised pizza, but can't quite bring himself to step out of the room.

"You know…" Dean starts but then stops because he doesn't know what Sam knows. "I know…" he amends, but stops because he doesn't know what he knows either. A sigh pushes from his lips and he drags his hand through his hair. "Look," and he waits until Sam actually does, "I know that I always say no chick-flick moments, but…I mean…you…" Dean growls because words are stupid and ridiculously inadequate. "Sam…Sammy, you…okay," he says as he actually manages to decide what he's trying to say. "You remember that kid Robbie?"

"From third grade?" Sam says, obviously surprised.

"Yeah. You remember what happened?" Sam sniggers and a small smile curls on his face even then as he thinks about it.

"You beat the shit out of him."

"Yeah, I did. You remember why?" Sam flames red at this, but Dean doesn't see why. "Dude was actually crazy enough to beat you up. You came home all bruised and dirty and a little bit bloody, trying not to cry and I…well, I couldn't have you going all girly on me so I took care of the problem." Dean smirks to himself as he remembers that particular moment. Even now he could feel the anger followed by the need for revenge when he had seen Sam's red, bruised face and his wide, wet puppy dog eyes and the satisfying feeling as Robbie cried and apologized through sobbing gasps.

"Where are you going with this?" Sam questions.

"You're my little brother, Sammy, and I'll always have your back. But I can't…protect you from yourself. I can't beat up whoever's hurting you when it's you hurting you." Dean sighs once more as they get to the crux of his roundabout speech. "Promise me that you'll come to me alright? Even if you so much as start to think about it. You talk to me. I don't care what time it is or where we are, you come get me. Promise me, Sam."

Sam's eyes are wide but he eventually nods – of course he does, Dean is too awesome to say no to…and Sam is too important for Dean to drop this.

There's a beat of silence before Dean suddenly smiles and Sam blinks before mirroring it back.

"You wanna come pick out pizza toppings?" Once more Sam's eyes widen, but this time it's comical. Dean never lets anyone, not even John, pick out the toppings. Sam nods again and trots up beside him.

Dean ruffles his hair for good measure.

Now:

Sam had held true to his promise.

It had only happened twice more after that.

The next time had been when Sam felled his first werewolf, doing so just in time to save Dean from becoming werewolf chow. But werewolves return to their human form as they die and that one was only a boy. Sam's age if not younger. Sam instantly saw the kindred spirit in another boy whose innocence was snatched away too early by the supernatural world. So as the boy choked and cried, blood pumping from the silver bullet gunshot wound to the heart, Sam knelt next to him and offered apologies and whispers of false reassurances in those final moments. John just frowned and walked away while Dean hovered a few feet away. He felt like an intruder, but Dean would never leave Sam behind. And he was proud of Sam, but so sad for him at the same time.

That night, when Sam knocked quietly on Dean's bedroom door and slipped inside, Dean just pulled the sheets up and scooted over. Even though Sam had muttered embarrassedly about how he was too old to be doing such things in the morning, Dean had felt the need in that moment. Sam had curled up next to him and Dean had dragged him into a hug, burying his face in Sam's fluffy locks.

Dean glances over at the clock, the blaring red letters proclaiming it to be nearly two thirty in the morning.

Once Sam had finished talking of Jessica, Dean reported about their latest hunts, and Dean was surprised to find that Sam knew all of it. It would seem Bobby had turned secret informant against them. But, Dean concedes, if he and John are allowed to secretly stop by the college campus every now and then to covertly confirm their youngest is alive and well, then Sam should be entitled to know that they are too. All that bullshit about finality and dead to each other and other such shit they'd thrown at each other that night…it is just that, bullshit. And Dean also realizes now that, while he hates that Sam left, it is a good thing. It's good Sam left because staying would have destroyed him. You simply can't force someone to be something they're not.

There's a yawn on the other end of the line. Dean chuckles softly.

"You should sleep," he says, unable to stop that parental part of him. In his mind he sees a younger Sammy standing in the doorway, rubbing sleep from his eyes and his hair sticking up in all directions while Dean sat on the couch waiting for their dad to return from a hunt. Even now the image sticks with him, just as the feeling that had stirred in him when Sam had forgone his bed to fall asleep next to his big brother on the couch so Dean wouldn't be alone while he waited sticks with him.

"Probably," Sam agrees. And Dean stamps down on the aching sadness climbing up him as he realizes this is it. Probably the last time he will speak with Sam for a long while. Not forever, no Dean won't let it get that far, but for a while at least. And every minute will last a life time until he can next see his brother to assure his safety, but Sam has made his choice and Dean will respect that.

There's silence on both ends as they soak in this knowledge of the fast approaching good bye.

"Sam…" Dean says awkwardly. "Erm…call me again if…if it, you know, gets too much or too hard or whatever the shit is. Seriously, call me whenever. I…" miss you, need to hear your voice, will always be here, will do anything for you, "I'm bored without my annoying little brother to always get into trouble and needing rescuing." It's more flat and far less playfully mocking than Dean intended, but Sam somehow seems to get the message, the whole message, nonetheless. Just like he always does when Dean proves his inadequacy at using human words.

"It goes both ways," Sam offers quietly. Perceptive little shit. While Sam may take the more dramatic, more emo flair provided by slitting your wrists, Dean prefers the long drawn out suicide-by-alcohol method.

"Yeah," he says and is surprised to find he means it. Maybe he will. Goes both ways, as Sam always says. Besides, family (Sam, really it's Sam) is what Dean fights for and there is no better reminder of that than to listen to Sam speaking softly of things that matter to him and to listen to the ups and downs of his voice, the laughter and the sadness.

Dean sighs.

"Thanks, by the way," Sam says softly.

"Nothing to thank me for, Sammy." Comes with the territory, he wants to add but decides that maybe that sounds a little too sappy for him, even now.

"Yeah, well, thanks anyway. For everything. For always being there. For, uh…being my brother."

"Wasn't my choice," Dean smirks, unable to pass up the moment. He's rewarded with a snort from Sam's end.

"Sure. Would have chosen a much more awesome, much less nerdy one, right?" Sam laughs, but Dean doesn't.

"No," he says seriously because he needs to. Tonight he will give that tiny reminder to Sam that he wouldn't change anything. The fights, Stanford, the tense distance…it was all worth even just a minute of the good times, and there were many of those as well. Far more of them actually. The laughter, the teasing, the silent support, the constant that was always there no matter how far apart they were…Dean wouldn't change it for the world.

"Yeah…me neither," Sam says, reminding Dean that even though he may not always understand Sam or exist on the same emotional level, he was more than enough. He was everything Sam wanted, everything he needed and Sam wouldn't trade him either.

Sam and Dean versus the world until the end, just as they had always said.

"Well…night, Sammy," he whispers, wanting to see his brother so badly it aches. But distance or no distance, they are always with each other, in the lessons they have taught each other, in the reminders they leave, in brotherhood.

"Good night, Dean."

Fin

Reviews are love.