The Games We Play
Dean knocked hard on the door one last time and pushed a finger under the collar of his shirt, only then noticing the flecks of ancient, peeling, blue paint that had stuck to his knuckles. Brushing at the spots of colour on his hand, he huffed – still nothing. He sidled along the wobbly porch, avoiding the rather large hole in the rotten wood and rubbed the side of his fist over the small dirty yellow pane, ducking low and peering through the translucent smear. "Guess he thinks we're trying to sell him something, huh."
Sam stood rigid on the second step down, hands thrust deep in the pockets of his suit jacket, his mop of shaggy hair only reaching as far as Dean's shoulder. "Maybe…I always thought we looked like salesmen in these suits."
Dean gave his brother a hard look. "What would we be selling, Sammy, fake ID's?"
"I don't know? What do people buy on their doorstep anyway?" He looked at the broken wooden boards of the porch and thought for a moment. "How about encyclopaedias? I could be an encyclopaedia salesman…" He looked up as he heard the chortle from his brother. "What's so funny?"
"Just reminded me of something, that's all."
Dean started towards his brother and reached over, gently slapped him on the chest with the back of his hand. "Do you remember that game we used to play when we had to pick rude words for each other…and we had to use them in front of dad…without him catching on…? And if he told us off for swearing then we'd lost? You remember that…? We had to make sure we said it loud enough for him to hear, but say it like we weren't cussing…What did we call that…?" The wide smile beaming on his face, and the dark freckles dusting his skin suddenly gave Dean the impression of being a much younger man.
Sam thought for a moment before answering, having to cast his mind way back. "'Stealth-Wording'…I think?"
"Hah…'Stealth-Wording'…that's the one, that was a riot."
Sam grinned too. "Yeah, I remember that. Drove dad nuts, all that falling around laughing and he never did figure it out…" He watched as Dean was immersed in the memory. It was a rare pleasure to see him laugh and he didn't want it to end anytime soon. "I remember I picked 'dick' for you…and you waited till I was doing my homework right there on the kitchen table while dad was cleaning the guns, and you walked up to me bold as anything and said… 'that's not how you spell DICK-thiasaur, Sammy'…and dad came over and insisted on helping me…I had to make up homework I never had, just to keep him happy…"
Dean was staring into the middle distance with smiling eyes, completely engrossed in the reminiscence. "Ha…I remember that, must be one of the few times the old man helped you with your homework."
"My 'made up' homework, Dean."
"You remember… you remember when I gave you…'ass'…" Dean could barely get his words out, the smile all but engulfing his face. "…and you sat down in front of dad, cool as a cucumber…and you go… 'So dad, ASS-uming this is a poltergeist…' and I ha…had to go in …in the bathroom cos he thought I was choking on something…" He doubled over; holding his chest as he laughed out loud. "Man, I couldn't have been prouder of you that day, Sammy."
Sam chortled, he couldn't help himself; his brother's laughter was infectious. "That was one hell of a game, dude. Hey, didn't you think that one up to help me with my spelling or something…?"
"Yeah, you were having trouble in your English class so it started with how to use proper words in a sentence…but the 'rude word' version was a hell of a lot more fun, wasn't it?" Dean was making a valiant effort to control his breathing as he peered through the dusty window one last time.
Straightening again, he scratched his short hair letting out a long sigh. "Man, this is a bust, I say we head back to the motel, grab us some food n' beers and try again later."
Sam nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."
It was a sure sign that Dean was thinking hard when he didn't immediately switch on the music in the car. Sam had seen this a few times, especially recently. He could almost feel the cogs slowly turning in his brother's head, almost see the ideas take shape as he sat there watching his from the passenger side. There were times when listening to Dean think was louder than any Zeppelin or Leppard, and this was one of them.
When Dean finally spoke, he wore that same faint smile he'd sported earlier. "Hey, Sammy? You remember 'MysteryMorsel'?"
Sam straightened against the leather of the bench seat and squirmed. He remembered 'Mysterymorse' all right. How the hell could he forget?
Dean continued, undaunted. "Do ya? That was the game where you had to mix up…" But Sam cut him off in mid-sentence.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I remember that one real well."
Dean paused, his hands tightening slightly around the wheel. He glanced at Sam briefly with a genuine look of amazement on his face. "What?...You didn't like that?"
"Oh, I just loved it, Dean." Sam nodded just a little too enthusiastically to be genuine. "That game was responsible for at least a dozen bouts of food poisoning that I'm aware of, possibly more."
Dean answered with a deep frown. "NO WAY…the rules clearly stated we could use only foodstuff that was in date and that the eater would choose for themselves – if given the choice. The only element of surprise was the combinations…"
"Pitted black olives, filled with strawberry jelly, Dean? Y'know I still can't eat anything that tastes of strawberries."
"Dude, you liked olives, you liked jelly…what's your problem?…And it's not my fault I always had more imagination than you. You could never guess right."
"No, but it's your fault that I feel sick every time I try to eat lemon curd."
The pause was long enough to make both brothers feel uncomfortable. When he finally spoke, Dean's voice had got distinctly quieter, barely more than a whisper. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Yeah well, good ideas can be deceptive, y'know?"
The car fell into a heavy silence, the only saving grace, the heavy thrum of the engine as it ate up the road…until Dean muttered under his breath, "…made you eat though…"
For a second Sam though it was just his brother trying to get the last word in until another memory came to him. A tiny, fleeting image slowly playing out in the back of his mind and one that had been almost completely forgotten by the passage of time.
The memory of Dean…an eleven-year-old Dean, looking scared and worried as he scoured the fridge and cupboards, and came up with almost nothing. John was long gone, could have been hunting, could have been drinking, hell…could have been anywhere – but big brother was in charge.
The look on Dean's face hadn't lasted for more than a second before he was back to being 'cool and in control older brother'. He was the master of putting a 'brave' face on things after all. So he went to work piling up all the food they had. The stale crackers, jar of black olives, sachets of mustard and ketchup and jelly stolen from the local diner, packets of sugar and salt from the same place…And then he sat his seven year old brother down, gave him a grin and said, "Okay, Sammy, we've got a brand new game to play…"
As the memory faded leaving the bitter taste of strawberry filled olives and guilt, Sam looked sideways at his brother. His clearly 'closed off' brother wearing his patented 'don't speak to me' look, but he'd never paid any attention to that look before and wasn't going to start now. He took a sharp breath and opened his mouth to speak, just as Dean leaned forward and pushed the tape into place, filling the car with the deep exotic wailing beat of Kashmir….Dean's angry music. And Sam knew he'd fucked up.
An hour later, and propped against the headboard of his squeaky motel bed, Sam was still trying to find an inroad. Dean was not usually one to sulk but this had obviously hit him hard, harder than he would ever care to admit, and Sam could only sit and watch and feel more useless by the second as his brother went through the motions of day to day living.
He tried again. "Hey Dean…got one for you."
'Well, more than one syllable so getting better.' "You remember 'Stain-Brain'?"
Dean glanced up briefly from the bed and the weapons stash he was cleaning, but avoided eye contact. "Yep."
'Okay, back to the one syllable, not so good'.
Sam pushed on undaunted. "Now that game was fun. And don't think I didn't notice that as soon as you hit puberty, all of your so called 'explanation stories' involved girls. I didn't understand what you meant half the time…Y'know I don't know how your freaky mind came up with half that stuff, but it was fun…When eating wasn't involved that is..."
Dean sighed and stopped what he was doing, letting the shining black glock fall on the bed. "Don't do that, man. You don't have to do that."
Dean made fleeting eye contact this time, but immediately shifted his gaze to the floor. "I know you think your childhood sucked, Sammy, so don't try to make out you don't."
And at last, an opportunity to make it right, this was all the chance Sam needed and he was going to make good use of it. He'd found the smallest groove in that wall that was Dean's head and he knew he could worm his way in there. Dean may have been the master of building walls but it was Sam who was the master of squeezing between those stones, so he took a deep breath and spoke loud and clear. "Our childhood sucked, Dean, not just mine, whether you want to acknowledge that fact or not."
There was a dark glow in Dean's eyes, and he looked like he was about to say something but thought better of it. After a pause he went back to cleaning the guns, but Sam wasn't finished…
"And I was actually the lucky one out of the pair of us. You know why? Because I had this older brother, who found fun ways to help me cope with moving from one smelly shit hole motel room to the next…by trying to come up with weird stories to explain the mystery stains on the carpet. A brother who made sure I ate every night even though we hardly ever had enough food for the two of us, and who helped me out with schoolwork despite the fact that he was only four years older than me and had his own schoolwork to worry about…"
Dean had stopped what he was doing, but he hadn't looked up. Although Sam was sure he could see a glint of moisture in those eyes. He kept quiet, knowing from experience that when Dean was ready to say something he would.
After a long pause, his patience paid off. "'Stain-Brain' rocked, man."
Sam's smile was a cocktail of happiness and relief. "Yeah, you're right, it did. You remember that one room in Wisconsin… same year you told me what dad did every night. You told me that orange sticky mess on the carpet was Wendigo shit, and you made me check the bottom of every set of shoes we owned…until dad walked in...and he goes…' What the hell are you doing, Sammy?' And I told him…And he just looked at you for a second and then goes…'Well then, you'd better check my shoes too'."
Dean was grinning again. "Yeah, I remember that…dad backing me up for a change…didn't happen all that often, y'know."
Putting the guns to one side, Dean got to his feet, walked into the kitchen and opened the small fridge while Sam moved over to the couch and played with the remote. Sam sat quietly and listened to his brother moving around and the noise of beer bottles banging together…and then he called out to him.
Sam paused for a second before answering. "Thanks for raising me, man." He waited quietly for the inevitable 'no chick flick moments' jibe but it never came. Instead, Dean walked over and sat next to him on the couch, passing him a beer and then reaching over to clink Sam's bottle in a silent salute.
"You're welcome, little brother."
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