Title: Play the Game
Author: Sarah :)
Pairing/Character: Dean and Sam, gen.
Word Count: 2,515
Rating: PG
Summary: There's a reason Dean always goes for scissors...
Spoilers: Up to 2x17, Heart.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Yet.
Notes: The second I saw the Director's Cut clips for this episode, I knew I had to write a fic about it. I popped this out in about half an hour. While not totally what I was expecting, my fic writing impulse has been sated. ;) Thanks to the lovely herowlness, as always, for the awesome, super-fast beta, and the encouragement. You rock a BILLIONFOLD, Lizzy. Also, the title, and subsequent reference within the fic are because of her. Can you spot it it? Hee.

--

For all that Sam argued he never had a normal childhood, there were some aspects of it that were typical of any child, and not just the son of a demon hunter. When he was five, he learned about "competition." Not that exact, long word, of course, but he knew that winning was good, and something he wanted to do all of the time.

No matter the event, as soon as Sammy internalized the concept of contest, everything became a game of skill. Winning at Candyland, getting the bigger piece of pie from the waitress, giving Dad the most convincing puppy-dog eyes when he wanted to stay up past his bedtime...all of these were things Sam excelled at. He never knew the how or the why of it all--just that he won, and that made him happy.

It would be years before he found at that Dean always let him win at Candyland, that when his older brother said he was going to wash his hands at diners, he was asking the waitress to give Sammy the bigger slice, and that he always tried to put Sam to bed a half an hour early so no request to their father for "just a little bit longer" would be denied.

Then came the day that Sam learned the best game ever. Rock, Paper, Scissors. He saw his father and Dean play it over who got the bed with the funny-looking stain on the bedspread (Dad lost), and he was intrigued. After an hour of shirt-tugging and pitiful whining, Dean finally caved and taught Sam how to play.

Even for someone who was only five, the logistics were simple enough. Sammy couldn't get enough of the game. Day or night, eating or doing chores, awake or half-asleep, he always wanted to play. Disturbing his father when he was working on a hunt was off-limits, but Dean--Dean was always there. Dean was the perfect candidate for Sam's new obsession. No matter how cranky or tired or hungry or annoyed Dean was, if Sammy asked enough times, Dean would say yes.

Getting Dean to do whatever he wanted was another game Sammy prided himself on always winning.

Sam didn't understand the concept of "game of chance," but it didn't take long for him to realize that when he indulged in his new favorite activity...he didn't always win. Dean always looked mildly guilty when his paper covered Sam's rock, but he continued to win, and Sam couldn't understand what he was doing wrong.

"Deeeean! Why can't I win?" Sam snuffled, wiping his nose on his shirt sleeve.

Frowning at the action, Dean grabbed a napkin from the kitchen table and began cleaning his brother up. "It's no big deal, Sammy. You just throw rock too much--it's pretty easy to tell what you're going to do." He tossed the napkin in the garbage can. "It's just a stupid game, anyway. It doesn't mean anything."

"It does," Sam insisted, teary eyes looking up at his brother imploringly. "I wanna win!"

"Okay, Sammy," Dean sighed, obviously affected by his younger brother's tears. "Want to play a few more rounds?"

"Yes!" Sam answered determinedly. "I'm gonna get better and win always and be the bestest rock paper person ever."

"Sure you are, squirt." Dean ruffled Sam's hair affectionately. "Let's go."

The brothers set up their fists, and play proceeded once again. To Sam's amazement, he began to win--a lot--and beating Dean, who won against their dad almost every single time, was no small accomplishment. Eyes shining happily, Sam's subconscious, even if Sam himself didn't actually realize it, had quickly adjusted to the fact that Dean threw nothing but scissors for the remainder of the evening.

After all, there was only one way to lose against someone who played rock all the time.

--

The trend of using Rock, Paper, Scissors as the end-all, be-all deciding factor in the Winchester family continued throughout the years. No one commented on Sam's sudden aptitude at it, but it was a known quantity that should it come down to a match between the two youngest Winchesters, Sam would prevail. Every time. Dean never seemed to mind too much, though, taking the extra chores or giving up the last cookie without complaint.

Not much had actually changed in the Winchester household.

--

"Don't leave like this, Sammy," Dean pleaded, watching his brother pack his meager belongings into a duffle bag. "You know Dad didn't mean it. If you could just talk to him, maybe he'd let you - "

"What, maybe he'd let me go? I'm not a child, Dean. I don't need his permission to go to college," Sam spat out, angrily slamming a dresser drawer closed. "You can't even see what he's doing to us, can you? You could leave too, you know. You don't have to live like this forever."

"Sam." Dean's eyes were sad. "You know I have to stay. Dad needs me. And I get that you want to go and do the whole college thing, I do, but sneaking out of here in the middle of the night, without even trying to make things right--you know how it's gonna be."

"Yeah. I do." Sam replied quietly. "And I'm sorry, Dean, I am, but this is how it has to be. It's what I have to do."

"Fine," Dean bit out sharply. "Fine, Sam. Do what you need to do. I'll stay here and try to be the one to fix it, as usual. God, you two never change, do you?" He clenched and unclenched his fist a few times, before casually smashing it into the wall. Or, through the wall, as the blow was so hard it sent Dean's fist straight through the drywall.

"Dean..." Sam started, his voice tinged with uncertainty.

"I don't wanna hear it, Sammy. Have a nice life out there in California." Hand on the doorknob, without even turning around, Dean continued. "Let me know if you need a ride to the bus station."

"Wait a second." Sam crossed the small distance of the room in two strides, and laid a hand on Dean's shoulder, causing his brother to turn around. "Dean, I don't want it to be like this. I--I'll play you for it. One game, winner takes it all." He took a deep breath and readied his hands. "You win, I'll stay. I'll make nice with Dad, I'll do whatever. And if I win...I go. Tonight." Cocking his head to the side, Sam regarded his older brother carefully. "Okay?"

Closing his eyes and swallowing thickly, Dean nodded. Thrusting his hands into position, he looked Sam in the eye, and smiled sadly. "Sure, Sammy." Knowing what he had to do didn't make this any easier for Dean, but he knew that he had to do what was best for Sam.

"Remember, Dean," Sam looked at his brother intently. "One round. Whatever happens, I'll do it."

"I know how the game works, Sam." Dean steeled himself, ready to do what was necessary.

They stared at each other for a few more seconds until Dean gave Sam a nod. Cautiously, almost as if in slow-motion, the two of them pounded their hands on their fists.

Sam picked rock.

Dean chose...scissors.

For all that Sam went about it the wrong way, Dean knew his father, and he knew his brother. If Sam stayed behind, the bitterness and resentment he'd feel, towards Dean and John both, would be overwhelming. Dean couldn't let that happen. Sam was right—he deserved a real life, and a real chance at normal.

Just because it was too late for him didn't mean he had the heart to stop his brother from leaving, no matter how much it killed him to let Sam go.

"I'll be in the car when you're ready." Dean left the room without another word. Sam let out a deep breath and continued packing.

--

When Sam suggested a good old-fashioned Winchester match of Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who would get to stay with the girl, Dean was ready for it. Sammy was an adult, after all. Dean could finally stop sugarcoating the game for him. He no longer had to worry about Sam staring up at him with big, tear-filled eyes and a pitiful frown that made Dean's heart clench. And, okay, maybe he had to worry a little, since Sam was a girl and all, but the eyes on Sasquatch Sam were slightly less effective than the eyes on baby Sam. Slightly, but Dean was sure could he handle it. After all, that chick was smokin'.

What Dean didn't count on, though, was muscle memory. He had been determined to throw paper--to cover up Sam's stupid rock, and send his little brother on his way. What he hadn't counted on was nearly twenty years of scissoring to come back and bite him in the ass.

He should have been rubbing his victory in Sam's face--instead, Dean was too preoccupied with looking at his traitorous hand.

"Dean, always with the scissors!" Sam crowed.

"Shut up, shut up. Two out of three." Dean looked at Sam intently, his face tight in concentration. He could do this.

Sighing, Sam nodded his consent, and Dean prepared himself for round two. All it would take was a throw of paper. He could see it his mind--he and Madison, making the most out of their time together, Sam not being underfoot for once, because he was off working the case...

...and all of a sudden, Sam's hand pounded down on his own, and Dean realized he was screwed.

"God!" Dean groaned, frustrated beyond belief. There wasn't even a level of unfair for this. It was just -

"Bundle up out there, all right?" Sam clapped him heartily on the shoulder.

Dean left as quickly as he could. He was pretty sure Sam didn't want to be on the receiving end of Dean's scissors in his face.

--

Just to be sure that this type of thing never happened again, though, Dean practiced. When he was tailing Kurt, when there was a shift change at the strip club—every spare, werewolf-free second he had was spent very carefully re-schooling himself in the art of the game. The next time Sammy wanted to play, he'd be able to throw down paper, or a rock, or…something other than scissors, at any rate.

Because, yeah, hunting werewolves was freakin' awesome, but scoring with a hot chick like Madison? Also pretty freakin' awesome. Since his phone call to Sam had confirmed that his loser brother wasn't even taking advantage of the opportunity he cheated Dean out of, Dean figured he had a right to be pissed.

Even if the whole thing was mildly his fault. If he hadn't coddled Sam for so long, letting him win so Dean selfishly could see his little brother happy, none of this would have happened. Sam would have eventually grown out of his incessant need for victory, and he'd have learned to deal with the fact that not everyone could win all of the time. Hell, Dean was probably the one to blame for the majority of Sam's diva-like attitude. Let him win a few stupid games of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and the kid thought he was invincible.

Besides, if Dean had actually won a few games here and there, Sammy probably never would have figured out that Dean was letting him win. Then he wouldn't have set Dean up, and he'd be the one watching Kurt pick his nose while he drank his beer while Dean was getting up close and personal with Madison.

Dean decided that his brother was something of a bastard and couldn't help but be mildly impressed.

Sometimes, the whole older brother thing royally sucked.

--

There was no way he could have known what losing that game would mean for Sam. He should have tried harder--he should have concentrated more, made himself win that game. Whatever subconscious desire he had had to see Sam happy with a girl was pretty much shattered once Sam ended up having to shoot that very same girl.

Dean sighed heavily. He should have forced Sam into letting him take care of Madison. He was the older brother. Making those kinds of tough calls was his job. Here it was, two weeks later, and his brother was still just a shell of his former self. He barely talked, he barely ate. Sam was reliving the time after Jessica's death all over again, and it was just as hard to watch the second time around.

Seeing Sam in pain had never been easy for Dean, but at least when they were younger, Dean could usually make it better. A Superman Band-Aid, an ice cream cone--it hadn't taken much. How did one console their brother after he was forced to shoot the first girl he let in after the death of his girlfriend because she was evil?

Dean was pretty sure ice cream wasn't going to cut it.

--

They were coming off a hunt, and Dean and Sam were both slathered in Chupacabra guts. It was pretty disgusting, actually, and to Dean, nothing sounded better than a long, hot shower.

"Sammy? We're here," Dean tried, leaning back into the car. "Brian May didn't pay for this room for you to sleep in the car all night. Come on."

"Right. Sorry, Dean. I was just - thinking about something." Sam slowly extracted himself from the Impala, barely catching the duffle bag Dean threw his way.

Shooting his brother a worried look, Dean opened the door to the motel room and went in. Dumping his stuff on the bed, he headed for the shower. Ever since California, Sam had pretty much gone to bed directly after a hunt, demon guts and spew be damned, and was usually out as soon as his head hit the pillow. Dean knew it wasn't healthy that Sam was sleeping so much, but at least this time, his brother's sleep wasn't plagued with nightmares.

Or ones that he told Dean about, anyway.

"Dean?"

Dean stopped in the doorway of the bathroom and turned towards his brother. "Yeah, Sammy?"

With more of a smile than Dean had seen from him in weeks, Sam motioned with his head to where Dean stood. "I'll play you for who gets the first shower."

Dean grinned at his younger brother and nodded. Five minutes later, when Sam was in the shower, and Dean was trying to keep slime off of his bed, he was still grinning.

Sometimes, big brothers just had to let their little brothers win. It was part of the job description and all. He'd show Sam up some other time.

Not to mention the fact that, to Dean, Sammy still looked like that same devastated five-year old when he cried. No matter how many years had passed, Dean just wasn't built to refuse that.

He couldn't be blamed for that fact that Sammy was a complete and utter girl, after all.