Summary: Pre-Series, Stanford-era – So what if the guns didn't get cleaned tonight and the research didn't happen? Dean was watching his kid brother on Jeopardy...which meant everything else could wait.

Disclaimer: Not mine

Warnings: Just the usual language

A/N: Taking a break from all the angst...


When I look at the television, I wanna see you staring right back at me. ~ Counting Crows


Dean was seconds away from changing the channel. His thumb hovering over the remote buttons as he stood in the middle of the motel room positioned between the bed and the dresser, having no idea what else he would watch but knowing he definitely wasn't watching this.

Because Jeopardy was lame and boring...and it reminded him too much of Sam; too much of his brainy little brother sitting within inches of countless small televisions over the years; the kid watching his favorite show in motel rooms across the country as he had spent half an hour every night racing to answer questions before the actual contestants.

And since Sam had always been so damn smart, he had always succeeded; had always responded before anyone else.

Even more, he had always answered correctly and would growl his frustration and bitch about how clueless the contestants were; how they didn't deserve to be on the show if they were going to suck this much and how did they even qualify to appear anyway?

"There's a test, you know..." Sam had informed one night during a commercial break; had glanced over his shoulder at Dean as Dean had sat at the corner table in their motel room, scanning newspaper headlines and preparing for a test of his own.

Because John would quiz him later; their dad always asking about potential hunts in the area whenever he called.

"Dean..." Sam had prompted when his brother had ignored him. "Did you hear me?"

Dean had nodded distractedly but had offered no other response; had instead jotted a note about a suspicious death involving "unexplainable factors" and "ritualistic behavior".

Sam had scowled. "Are you even watching the show?"

Dean had snorted, had jotted a few more notes. "What do you think?"

Sam's scowl had deepened at Dean's dismissive tone; the teenager glaring at his brother as Dean had continued to research headlines across the room.

Sam had sighed. "Well, you should..." he had told his brother about watching Jeopardy. "It's good. Even though I have no clue how these people passed the test to be on here..."

"Well, since you're so smart, maybe you should take the test," Dean had replied dryly, had only been half-joking and had hoped the commercials were almost over so Sam would focus on his precious show and leave him the hell alone.

Sam had arched an eyebrow at Dean's challenge about taking the Jeopardy test. "Maybe I will."

Dean had finally glanced at Sam, had recognized a smartass little brother when he heard one. "Good for you."

"Good for you," Sam had returned in classic brotherly annoyance and had held Dean's gaze before huffing a frustrated sigh and refocusing on the TV.

Dean twitched a smile and shook his head at the memory of his moody little brother; his expression fading as another memory abruptly took its place.

Because that had been about two months before Sam had dropped the proverbial bomb – the kid announcing one night that he had not only applied to Stanford but had been accepted as well; that he had been offered a scholarship and was planning to take it; was planning to go.

And off he went.

Dean's little brother leaving in the middle of the night, going off to California with nothing but the clothes on his back and whatever else he could cram into his duffel; heading to the West Coast in a storm of hurt feelings and words that couldn't be taken back.

That had been almost ten months ago.

Every day sucking even more than the one before as Dean had tried to readjust to life without Sam; had tried not to worry about his little brother being alone with no one to watch his back. Had tried to ignore his unraveling relationship with John; had tried not to feel abandoned when John had left one day and had not come back...just like Sam.

Though that comparison wasn't entirely fair to Sam – because Dean knew what had happened with his brother was partly his fault. Could still see Sam staring at him with wide, tearful eyes as Dean had remained silent that night the kid had left for Stanford.

But even still, Sam had called Dean at least half a dozen times over the past ten months. Had left a voicemail telling Dean he had made it safely to California...and then a few months later another voicemail on the anniversary of their mom's death. The kid had called a few weeks after that for Thanksgiving...then Christmas and New Year's and Dean's birthday...then a few months ago saying he had something exciting to tell Dean...and then nothing after that.

No other calls after Dean had never returned any of his – not because Dean didn't want to but because it hurt so fucking bad; anything reminding him of Sam knifing the big brother to his core, including the kid's voice archived in the messages on his phone.

Dean snorted his disgust. "God, you're pathetic..." he told himself, hating when he wallowed in this shit like a teenaged girl; like he was the only one who had ever been hurt by someone he loved.

But...give him some fucking credit.

He was trying to work through it; was determined to get the hell over himself and call Sam next week for the kid's birthday; was planning to apologize for his silence – both that night Sam left and over the past ten months.

Because enough was fucking enough – Dean missed his little brother.

He missed his tall, lanky, floppy-haired kid and found himself actively avoiding anything that reminded him of Sam...like this stupid show.

...which was ridiculous and just further proved he needed to stop fucking around and tackle this issue.

Life was too short and all that crap.

Dean nodded his agreement, still standing in front of the TV and preparing to begin his well-practiced skill of channel surfing as the announcer proclaimed that this episode kicked off their Jeopardy College Championship.

Dean paused, staring at the screen as the camera transitioned from an aerial view of a college campus to an indoor panoramic shot of an auditorium filled to capacity with clapping, cheering people.

The camera then swooped down to focus on the stage just in time for the announcer to introduce the first contestant – some doofus with glasses and a toothy grin from Yale, the school's name emblazoned across the chest of his sweatshirt.

Dean pulled a face at the guy who clearly thought he was the shit.

"Please..." Dean dismissed dryly. "Sammy would wipe the floor with you."

And that wasn't just a biased big brother talking.

That was the truth.

Sam was so fucking smart.

And Dean was so fucking proud of him; so fucking proud of the kid he had raised; so fucking proud of Sam for going to college and pursuing his own dreams, even if it broke Dean's heart, even if Dean hadn't told the kid yet.

But he would.

Dean would tell Sam that and so much more next week when he called. He was going to make things right.

"Damn right," Dean heartily agreed and waited for the introduction of the second contestant; telling himself he would change the channel after he at least saw who was competing and appropriately belittled their intelligence.

What could he say?

Sam had been a bad influence on him.

Dean twitched a smile at the thought of his little brother bitching about the contestants over the years and then refocused on the screen when contestant #2 appeared – some Harvard chick with poufy hair and perky boobs.

Dean tilted his head and nodded in appreciation of that feature.

But...

"Sam would wipe the floor with you too, sweetheart..." Dean told her and then shook his head. "Sammy, you have got to get on this show, man..." he commented to his absent brother and mentally added that to the list of things he would tell the kid next week when he called.

Because how awesome would that be? The kid who had watched the show practically his entire life actually appearing on the show to kick ass and take names like he had done so often over the years perched in front of a motel room TV.

Dean smiled at the thought, definitely planning to encourage Sam to take the test the kid had mentioned almost a year ago.

If these asshats could qualify to be on Jeopardy, then a so-smart-it's-scary kid like Sam was guaranteed to pass.

Dean nodded and glanced over his shoulder at the clock on the table between the beds – two beds because old habits die hard and...yeah...whatever.

Dean sighed, redirecting his attention to the TV. "Alright. Let's go, contestant #3..."

Because he had shit to do; needed to find something to watch that was entertaining but not distracting so he could focus on cleaning his guns and maybe even do a little research for a possible new hunt the next town over.

"From Lawrence, Kansas..."

Dean blinked at the unexpected announcement about the third contestant.

Because Lawrence...really? Huh. Small world...

"...now a freshman at Stanford University..."

Dean blinked again and took a step closer to the TV, his heart inexplicably pounding in his chest.

"...Sam Winchester..."

And there the kid suddenly was, wearing his Stanford hoodie and beaming in the spotlight as the crowd applauded; looking a little thinner and definitely tanner than the last time Dean had seen him...but otherwise looking the same with those dimples and that ridiculous hair and those wide eyes that made people instantly love him.

Dean smiled at his kid brother on the screen, startled by the urge to cry. "Hey ya, Sammy..." he called fondly and chuckled; his chest tight with a familiar happy melancholy. "Don't they feed you in California?"

Though as far as Dean knew, Sam didn't have a "they" in California to look after him and nag him about eating something more substantial than a salad or a protein bar.

Dean shook his head. "You're gonna hear about this later, Sammy..." he warned his skinny brother about his impending lecture regarding the importance of eating food that had parents – burgers, steaks...

But right now, it was just good to see the kid...even if after ten months apart, Dean was seeing Sam on TV and not in person.

That would come later.

Hell, maybe Dean would drive out to California and see Sam for his birthday instead of just calling.

Yeah.

And maybe Dean would call Sam tonight instead of waiting for his birthday.

Yeah.

That was exactly what he would do.

In fact, this was probably why Sam had called him a few weeks ago; this was probably the exciting news the kid had wanted to share with his big brother – that he was going to be on Jeopardy.

And how awesome was that?

Pretty fucking awesome.

Dean nodded proudly and watched as Alex Trebek finally appeared onstage, briefly explaining the premise of the Jeopardy College Championship and how much money could be won and how this year's contestants were the highest scoring contestants to ever take the qualifying test and blah, blah, blah.

Dean smiled as he wondered if Sam had made a perfect score on that qualifying test.

Dean bet he had.

His kid was so fucking smart and was about to prove it on national television.

"Good luck," Alex wished the contestants and turned to face the game board. "Here comes the Jeopardy round..."

Dean's smile widened as he turned up the volume on the TV and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling the mattress dip beneath his weight.

And so what if the guns didn't get cleaned tonight and the research didn't happen?

Dean was watching his kid brother on Jeopardy.

Everything else could fucking wait.

"Alright, Sammy. Here we go..." Dean encouraged, feeling like he was back in the stands at one of Sam's high school soccer games. "You got this, man. You can do this."

"The categories are as follows: Poets & Poetry..."

"Well, that's it..." Dean commented and shook his head in pity. "You can both go home now," he told the other two contestants to the left of Sam.

Because Dean's emo, angsty little brother was a master of poets and poetry.

"...Movie Magic..."

Dean shrugged.

Because Sam had certainly watched his share of movies over the years as they had stayed up late waiting for John to return to their motel-room-of-the-week.

"...Explorers..."

Dean nodded.

Because Sam had always liked history...

"...Original Crayola Colors..."

Dean snorted.

Oh, yeah. That was definitely a category for his little brother, Samantha.

"...Watch Out for Alligators!..."

Dean frowned.

What the hell kind of category was that?

"...and finally, Take A Letter."

Dean arched an eyebrow.

But yeah, okay...Sam was pretty good with letters and languages.

Bring it on.

"Alright, let's get this party started..." Dean announced and nodded when Alex instructed Sam to start them off. "Oh, that's easy. He's going for Poets and Poetry."

"Poets and Poetry for 200..." Sam responded.

Dean laughed.

Did he know his Sammy...or did he know his Sammy?

"God, I love this kid..." Dean told the empty motel room – and he meant every single word.

Dean Winchester loved this kid, and he had missed Sam so damn much over the past ten months.

"Here's the clue..." Alex began. "He wrote his 1914 poem 'Chicago' while working as a newspaper writer in that city."

Sam didn't even blink. "Who is Carl Sandburg?"

"Correct," Alex replied.

"Atta boy, Sammy..." Dean praised, having no clue who the hell Carl Sandburg was but damn glad that Sam did.

And so it went.

Sam quickly finished the Poets and Poetry category and moved on to Movie Magic.

"A pair of magic ruby slippers is at the center of this classic 1939 film..."

"What is the Wizard of Oz?" Dean answered in unison with Sam.

"Yes," Alex confirmed.

"Well, of course yes..." Dean drawled. "Who the hell wouldn't know that?"

Although those flying monkeys were freaky as shit...

Sam moved on to Explorers.

"Captain Robert Fitzroy commanded the Beagle on the 1831 to 1836 expedition with this naturalist..."

Dean arched an eyebrow at the clue.

Sam didn't seem fazed. "Who is Darwin?"

"Yes," Alex returned.

"Yes!" Dean echoed and fist-pumped the air. "We are kickin' ass, Sammy!"

Sam seemed to agree, once again beaming onscreen as he chose another category, apparently wanting to "test drive" each category now that Poets and Poetry was finished before settling on which one he would take out next.

To the left of Sam, the other two contestants were clearly frustrated by their inability to buzz in before Dean's little brother.

Dean chuckled "Told ya..." he sing-songed to them. "Y'all can go home. Sam's smart and has the reflexes of a fucking ninja."

Most hunters did.

A second of hesitation in their line of work literally separated life and death...which meant buzzing in before the other two contestants was indeed as easy for Sam as the kid made it look.

"Take a Letter for 400..." Sam called, his voice echoing through the remarkably quiet auditorium as the audience seemed to realize they were watching something special.

Dean nodded, feeling a swell of love and pride in his chest. "That's right. Watch him. He's a Jeopardy Jedi..."

Alex read the clue. "In religious writing, this symbol of the Greek letter chi represents Christ..."

Sam smiled, the cheeky little shit having read Greek and Latin since he was 10-yeard old.

Dean smiled as well. "Tell 'em, Sam..."

Sam did. "What is X?"

"Correct," Alex replied.

The perky boob chick from Harvard sighed and flipped her poufy hair.

The doofus from Yale glared at Sam.

Dean glared back. "Hey. Don't look at him like that, asshole..." he growled, having forgotten how instantly pissed he got whenever someone even vaguely threatened his brother.

But Sam didn't seem to notice the losers on his left.

"Original Crayola Colors for 400..." Sam chose, looking relaxed and totally in his element.

"Before tan was added in 1949..." Alex read. "...this was the only three-letter color in the box."

"What is red?" Sam responded.

"Right," Alex told him.

"Crayola for 600..." Sam chose again, seeming to like this category.

"Oh, Samantha..." Dean teased and shook his head fondly.

"Crayon for the belly of your sapsucker..." Alex began.

Dean scrunched his face. "What the hell is that?"

It sounded like it would probably be described in John's journal.

Dean would have to check.

"...or a caution card in soccer..." Alex finished about the color.

Oh. Well, that was easy. Why didn't you just say that, Alex?

"What is yellow?" Dean once again answered in unison with Sam, the big brother still having no clue what a sapsucker was but having been to enough of Sam's soccer games to know about caution cards.

Sam sighed. "Alligators for 200..." he called, continuing down the line of categories.

"While an alligator has about 80 of these at any one time, they wear down and are eventually replaced..."

"What are teeth?" Sam asked.

"Yes," Alex replied. "And that brings us to our first commercial break..."

The audience clapped.

Dean did the same, not feeling at all ridiculous for clapping by himself in the empty motel room.

"And you're in the lead, Sam..." Alex pointed out – which wasn't hard to see since the other two contestants had answered zero times and thus had zero money.

Dean chuckled. "Go home," he told them again. "And if you glare at him one more time, I will find you..." he warned the Yale guy still cutting his eyes at Sam.

"We'll be right back..." Alex told the camera and the screen transitioned to some stupid toilet paper commercial.

Dean shook his head – never really understanding commercials about wiping your ass – and then stood, pacing the length of the room, too keyed-up to sit.

Because holy shit – Sam was on freakin' Jeopardy and was cleaning house!

"That's my boy..." Dean praised, resisting the urge to call Sam right now and deciding to instead wait until the show was over.

Hell, he had waited ten months to call the kid. He could certainly wait another 20 minutes.

Dean snorted his renewed disgust at himself and then shook his head again; scattering those thoughts and reminding himself that he was going to make things right with Sam.

And lucky for him, Sam was usually a forgiving kid.

Dean nodded and smiled – though Sam's forgiving nature still didn't excuse Dean's behavior.

There was a beat of silence, the TV now advertising some local taco restaurant.

Dean wrinkled his nose at the food. "That looks like crap," he commented. "And I'll eat just about anything..."

But he sure as hell wouldn't be stopping by the Taco Hut.

That food looked like it would benefit from a good old-fashioned exorcism.

Damn...

Dean sighed as the commercials finally ended and then smiled at the TV as Jeopardy returned, the camera once again swooping over the clapping crowd before focusing on Alex Trebek standing in front of Yale guy.

"I'm watching you, asshole..." Dean reminded the douchebag previously having the balls to glare at Sam but now smiling at the camera and waiting for Alex to briefly interview him.

"Now, Shane, it says here..." Alex began, reading off the card he held. "...that you can't talk on the phone without pacing back and forth very quickly."

Dean pulled a face. "What the hell kind of fact is that to share?"

Seriously.

This guy could share anything interesting about himself...and he chose that?

What a weirdo.

Yale guy – Shane – laughed. "Yes, that's true. Everyone always makes fun of me..."

Dean snorted. "Can you blame them?"

"I just run circles around people while I'm on the phone..." Shane elaborated.

And really...who fucking cared?

Dean rolled his eyes and resumed his seat on the edge of the bed in front of the TV. "Whatever. Move on..." he told Alex and nodded when Alex did so.

"Hi, Tara..." the host greeted the Harvard chick.

And did Dean just imagine Alex's quick glance at Tara's boobs before playing it off and glancing at the card in his hand?

Dean chuckled, recognizing that move. "I like your style, Trebek..."

Who knew the old man had game?

Dean nodded respectfully.

"I understand that your friends say you can't express yourself without using your hands when you talk," Alex remarked.

Dean pulled another face. "You two are so damn lame…" he commented to the two contestants competing against his brother.

No wonder they were getting their asses handed to them in this game.

Tara nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, yes, that's absolutely true," she confirmed about talking with her hands. "I'm not sure why," she continued, beginning to flail her hands around. "Maybe I'm Italian or something..."

The audience politely laughed at the stereotypical joke.

"Oh my god..." Dean moaned and scowled at the TV. "Shut up. Get to Sam..."

Because Sam would have the entire audience eating out of his hand even more than he already did just based on his performance in the first round.

Sam would say something interesting or funny. And if Dean knew his kid, Sam would probably even include something sappy – something meant for Dean that only Dean would know...a subtle little shout-out just in case the big brother was watching.

Dean twitched a smile. "I'm here, Sammy..." he told his brother and would tell the kid the same when he called him later.

Would remind Sam that regardless of what had happened, regardless of what had been said and not been said that night the kid had left for Stanford, Dean was still on Sam's side; was still Sam's biggest fan; was still Sam's big brother and would be here, there, and anywhere else the kid needed him.

Even though Dean had neglected those responsibilities over the past ten months...

Dean sighed. "I'm sorry, Sammy..." he whispered to the empty motel room and inwardly prepared himself as Alex moved to stand in front of Dean's kid brother.

Sam smiled and waited patiently to be interviewed.

Dean stared at him, realizing that with those dimples and that hair, Sam still looked 12-years old.

How the hell had Dean let him walk out the door ten months ago with no one to watch the kid's back? To make sure Sam was safe and healthy and did simple shit like eat?

Dean shook his head. "You're a dumbass," he told himself and tried to dial down the guilt and self-recrimination in order to hear Sam's interview.

Because this was Sam's moment and Dean wasn't missing it.

"And now we come to our leader for this first half of our game tonight..." Alex announced. "Sam, I understand that you're at Stanford on a full scholarship?"

Sam nodded. "Yes, sir."

Dean smiled at his polite kid remembering to use his manners on national television.

"Wow!" Alex enthused. "That's quite impressive. Your family must be very proud."

Sam hesitated, then swallowed to cover. "I hope so," he replied, ducking his head before smiling shyly at the camera.

Most people at home and in the audience probably thought he was just being adorable and modest.

But Dean was struck with the realization that Sam was being honest – that everything had gone to shit so fast that night Sam had left for college that Sam honestly had no idea if his dad and brother were proud of him or not.

Something in Dean's chest twisted sharply.

"We're proud of you, Sammy..." Dean told his brother genuinely and then paused. "Well...I'm proud of you," he amended, because he couldn't speak for John. "I am so damn proud of you, kiddo..."

And Dean was going to tell Sam that later tonight when he called.

Those were going to be the first words out of his mouth – I am so damn proud of you, Sammy.

Alex smiled at Sam, clearly more interested in him and his story than he had been with the previous two contestants. "And I see here that while you're originally from Lawrence, you've actually lived all over the country?"

Sam nodded. "Yes, sir. My dad was a Marine, so..."

"Ah, yes. So that explains it," Alex replied, obviously assuming Sam was just a military brat bouncing from base to base as his dad had received orders.

Sam smiled tightly and nodded again.

Dean arched an eyebrow, realizing Sam had set that up – had made that statement in such a way that people would make the same assumption Alex Trebek just did...and that Sam would let them think that.

Because living that simple little lie was easier than explaining the complicated truth.

And although Dean could tell the kid was uncomfortable with lying based on his expression, Dean doubted anyone else noticed.

Dean sighed, knowing he was catching a glimpse of how his brother had adjusted to normal, and wondered what other lies the kid was living. "Ah, Sammy..."

Alex glanced again at his card, having time for one more comment. "And I see here that when asked about the most influential person in your life, you said your older brother..."

Dean swallowed.

Because here it was – the moment where Sam would be a sappy little shit and make Dean cry.

"Dammit, Sam..." Dean grumbled, smiling even as he felt the sting of tears.

Because after everything they had been through...after the hurt and the ten-month silence...Sam still considered Dean the most influential person in his life?

Dean sighed shakily.

This kid...

Onscreen, Sam was nodding and smiling. "Yes, sir," he confirmed to Alex about Dean. "Our mom passed away when I was a baby. And our dad traveled a lot, so my brother pretty much raised me."

"Damn right I did," Dean proudly agreed. "And I would do it again, Sammy."

Because Dean had never – never – considered the responsibility of his little brother to be a burden.

The audience reacted with whispers, truly touched by the sweetness of such an obvious brotherly bond.

Even Alex Trebek looked touched.

"He sounds like a good brother, indeed."

Sam nodded at the Jeopardy host, his eyes misty. "Yes, sir. He is." He paused. "And in case he's watching..." He paused again, staring straight at the camera. "Hey, Dean."

And that was it – that was all it took to jar loose a few stray tears from Dean Winchester, badass hunter.

Dean shook his head at one of the only two people who could ever make him cry and brushed his fingers over his cheeks. "Hey yourself, Sammy..."

There was a beat of silence, everyone absorbing the moment.

Even the two other contestants seemed to soften towards the kid kicking their asses on national television.

Sam continued to stare at the camera, suddenly holding his left hand flat while fisting his right hand and resting it in the open palm of his left.

Rock.

Dean chuckled at the sign, instantly responding by holding up two fingers on his right hand and then resting that hand sideways in the open palm of his left hand.

Scissors.

Always with the scissors...

Rock, Paper, Scissors – the classic child's game the brothers had used over the years to settle arguments, decide between diners, assign chores...and resolve just about anything and everything else.

But somehow as they had grown up, the signs they preferred – Dean the scissors and Sam the rock – had also morphed into their own language, something they would sometimes do to show a quick sign of affection.

Most people wouldn't view rock plus scissors to be the nonverbal equivalent of love plus you.

But for them, that's exactly what it meant.

Kind of like bitch plus jerk...

Dean chuckled again as Sam maintained his rock. "Right back at 'cha, kid..." he told his little brother, still holding his scissor fingers in his left palm.

"Well..." Alex began, reluctantly redirecting the show. "You did very well during the first half of our game and still have command of the board," the host informed Sam. "Make a selection and we will continue."

"Damn right we will..." Dean agreed, lowering his hands and alternately pointing at the other two contestants beside Sam. "And we will continue to wipe the floor with you two losers..."

Sam sighed, refocusing on the board across the stage. "Explorers for 600..."

And so it continued – Sam playing Jeopardy like a boss; like he had trained for it his entire life.

Dean smiled and nodded, watching as his kid brother flawlessly completed the first round; then sailed through double Jeopardy, graciously allowing both Yale guy and Harvard girl the opportunity to answer one question each before reassuming control of the game.

Because Sam was a good kid like that; was kind even to his opponents, even to people who didn't like him.

It was just another reason why Dean loved his brother...and another reason why he worried about Sam out there in the world all alone.

Dean shook his head. "Okay..." he sighed, refocusing on the game and standing as it was time for final Jeopardy. "We can do this, Sam," he encouraged, like he was standing beside his brother. "Just relax..."

Not that Sam looked tense.

Dean was the one who was inexplicably nervous, again reminding him of all the times he had watched his brother on the soccer field.

"Alright, we're dealing with American Literature," Alex announced about the category for final Jeopardy. "And here's the clue – one of the original titles of this 1925 novel was Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires. Thirty seconds. Good luck..."

Then the music started.

Dean sighed again, having no clue what the answer was but knowing it was highly unlikely that Sam didn't.

And even if Sam did answer incorrectly, there was no way the kid wouldn't win unless he had bet all of his money...and Sam knew better than that.

So, they had this game in the bag.

No worries.

Just wait out the music, Dean.

Dean nodded at his own advice and paced a small circle between the TV and the end of the bed he had been sitting on earlier.

The music continued to play.

Dean tilted his head back and forth as he hummed along, pausing only when the camera finally panned over to Sam.

Sam smiled, having already written down his answer and now just patiently waiting for the time to run out.

Meanwhile Yale guy looked like he was seriously considering cheating...and Harvard chick was gazing at the ceiling as though she expected divine intervention.

Dean shook his head. "You're lucky you have a nice rack," he told the girl before shifting his attention to the guy. "And you're lucky you decided to stop glaring at my brother."

Because Dean had been 100% serious about finding that asshole if he had continued to nonverbally threaten Sam.

A few more seconds passed and the music finally stopped, concluding with the classic drum beat.

"Tara, we'll start with you..." Alex announced. "You were in third place with $400, and you answered..."

Her response flashed on the screen.

"What is Green Eggs and Ham?" Alex read and then paused, clearly not expecting that.

Dean laughed. "What?"

And based on his expression, Alex Trebek wanted to ask the same.

But he only smiled politely, ever the gentleman and professional game show host.

"No, sorry. That is incorrect," Alex replied. "And you wagered...all $400, leaving you with nothing." He paused once more. "Shane, we come to you now. You had $600, and you answered..."

His response also flashed on the screen.

"What is Of Mice and Men?" Alex shook his head. "No, that is also incorrect. And it'll cost you...all $600."

Dean shrugged. "Better luck next time..." he told the two losing contestants and focused on his brother. "C'mon, Sammy..."

"And now we come to our high scorer of the night," Alex announced and smiled at Sam. "You answered..."

"Please be right. Please be right..." Dean chanted.

Sam's response flashed on the screen.

"What is The Great Gatsby?" Alex read. "And that is correct."

The audience went wild.

So did Dean.

"Hell yes!" the big brother yelled and would've hugged his kid so damn tight if Sam had been with him right now.

"And you wagered...$25,000, which takes you up to..." Alex nodded approvingly. "...$125,000."

The audience once again cheered.

And so did Dean.

This was fucking awesome!

Dean felt like calling everybody he knew to brag about his amazing, ass-kicking kid brother.

Sam beamed, shyly ducking his head at all the attention before glancing back at the camera.

Dean smiled, knowing although it sounded lame and clichéd, Sam was looking straight at him even through time and space.

Their connection just as strong as it had ever been, even after ten months apart.

Dean sighed.

"Very, very well done, young man," Alex praised onscreen. "We look forward to having you back tomorrow," he told Sam. "And we look forward to seeing you back here as well," the host added, nodding at the camera and at the audience watching from home. "Until then...so long, everybody. Good night..."

Different music began playing as credits rolled and the screen transitioned to a commercial before beginning the next show.

Dean already had his phone in hand, was dialing Sam's number while muting the TV across the room.

Sam's phone rang twice before Sam answered.

"Dean...?"

Dean smiled, ridiculously happy to hear his brother's voice in his ear.

It had been too damn long.

"Dean..." Sam called again.

"Yeah," Dean replied, clearing his throat and swallowing against the lump of emotion trying to choke him.

"Oh my god..." Sam breathed and then laughed lightly at the wonder of his big brother actually returning his call.

It had only taken ten months.

"How..." Sam paused, feeling overwhelmed by his own emotions; overwhelmed by all of the questions he wanted to ask Dean.

But first...

"How are you?"

Because out of everything, that was the only question that mattered to Sam.

He just wanted Dean to be alright.

It was what Sam worried about the most, especially after Dean had never returned any of his previous calls.

Dean smiled. "I'm fine," he assured his brother. "And I am so damn proud of you, Sammy."

There was silence on the line, Sam clearly confused.

"You...what?"

"You heard me," Dean responded, wishing he could hug his kid right now. "I'm proud of you. And I've got other things to say, too, but first...have you seen anything good on TV lately?"

There was another pause before Sam laughed, instantly knowing what Dean was referring to.

"I don't know..." Sam answered and laughed again. "Have you?"

Dean chuckled. "Well, I don't know. I think I saw something pretty amazing tonight. This college freshman kicking serious ass on Jeopardy..."

"Oh, wow..." Sam replied, still playing along with his brother. "That does sound amazing." He paused. "Do you think it's 'cause he's so awesome?"

Dean snorted at the familiar inside joke, wondering how he had ever gotten so lucky to end up with this kid; how he had gotten so lucky to be able to pick up with his little brother just like they had not spent the last ten months apart.

Not that Dean was naïve enough to think they didn't have rough patches ahead. He knew there were still things to be said...and misunderstandings to sort out...and hard feelings to soothe...and invisible wounds to patch and mend.

But that was later.

Right now...it was just good to hear Sam's voice.

That was awesome.

And so was Sam.

I've missed you, Dean confessed in his heart and then smiled, crossing back to the bed closest to the door and settling in to talk with his kid brother.


FIN