Summary: Pre-series – Winning at poker was everything. And Dean had always taken it seriously.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: One F-bomb
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done. ~ Kenny Rogers
The one thing that almost everyone knew about poker, whether they played the game or not, was that most people had "tells" – those subtle, nervous habits that people unconsciously allowed to surface and thus communicated the value of their hand to the rest of the players gathered around the poker table.
Through observing tells, a player could judge whether another player was truly winning...was truly losing...or was truly lost; the latter often being the easiest to spot and the easiest to bluff.
Tells were as varied as they were many; innumerable, distinctive quirks that made most adult, experienced men appear as twitchy and self-conscious as a naked virgin; clutching their cards to hide their dignity as a virgin would clutch her robe.
Over the years – and across nearly all state lines – Dean had seen quite a few tells: the Hair Twirler, the Teeth Sucker, the Lip Nibbler, the Nail Biter, the Nose Wrinkler, the Eyebrow Twitcher, the Eye Squinter, the Rapid Blinker, the Ear Puller, the Neck Rubber, the Chin Scratcher...and so the list went on.
Dean was sure he knew them all.
Throughout his life, Dean had had to become a fast learner at almost everything – from bottle warming and diaper changing...to combat skills and marksmanship; always striving to maintain the precarious balance between raising his little brother and pleasing his demanding father.
Once Dean got older, the trend of fast learning (and even faster thinking) had carried over to yet another responsibility that often fell on his shoulders in his dad's increasing absence – earning money to survive.
While John would usually leave cash whenever he left his sons alone, the funds would rarely last until John returned; the preoccupied father underestimating the cost of food and clothes and the expenses of everyday life.
...which meant Dean had to get creative to get the things he and Sam needed.
The early years had been the hardest; when Dean was too young to hustle or gamble and would resort to stealing or working odd jobs...or that one time in Frisco, when he had begged for two hours on a street corner with Sammy tucked beside him under his coat and yet the kid had still shivered against him.
They had only made $6.82 that day – while Sam had gotten a respiratory infection for their troubles – and that had marked the two times Dean had ever begged: his first time and his last time.
After that cold Colorado day, Dean had decided that he would never again be reliant on the kindness or the pity of strangers but would depend only on himself to provide what he and Sam needed.
Only Dean had had no idea how he would do that...until that night he had found a deck of cards in the drawer of a bedside table in their motel room; had shook the cards from their blue and white box and had spread them out on the bed beside a sleeping Sam; had studied them; had shuffled them and had dealt them and had decided he would learn to play poker.
But not only would he learn to play, he would learn to win.
Because only by winning would he get the money he and Sam so desperately needed.
After that night – and that decision – Dean had carried the deck of cards everywhere; would study them the way Sam would study his books and would shuffle them until handling the slick, crisp cards was second-nature.
Then came watching movie scenes that not only featured poker but poker players – both of which were found mostly in Westerns.
And then there was the discovery of the newly developing world of televised poker tournaments.
Dean could still remember sitting up late in their motel rooms across the country; the lights out and the television usually muted so as not to wake Sam.
But that didn't matter.
Because Dean had not needed to hear what was being said; had been studying the poker players' body language instead; had been learning how to spot a player's tells and then decipher what they meant and use that knowledge to bluff and bullshit and win.
Because winning at poker was everything; was the difference between just Sam eating dinner...or having enough money for Dean to eat, too; was the difference between Sam having just a thin jacket...or the warm coat he needed; was the difference between Sam suffering congestion for weeks...or getting the medicine he needed to get well within days.
Winning at poker was everything.
And Dean had always taken it seriously; had always viewed it as his fourth job behind being a big brother, being a good son, and being a badass hunter.
After handling his deck of cards every day and watching the movies and televised poker tournaments, Dean had craved real action at a real poker table with real players and real money...but had settled for games before bedtime at a small motel room table with his kid brother and rocks from the parking lot's gravel to substitute for poker chips.
But the time had not been wasted.
Sam had been a fast learner as well – a trait Dean had always taken credit for – and had made Dean a stronger player by having to constantly outsmart his little brother's quick, analytical mind.
And in teaching Sam to play, Dean had become more comfortable with all of poker's rules and terminology; had become something of an expert on the game.
After a few months, the brothers had started role playing; often Sam deliberately portraying a tell or trying to bluff or even to cheat...and seeing if Dean was sharp enough to catch on before it was too late.
Because winning was everything in poker; and you couldn't win if you were a sucker.
So Sam, knowing what was at stake even at 12-years old, had worked just as hard as Dean to help make sure Dean was the best at the game.
And then, six weeks after Dean's 16th birthday, the day had finally arrived – show time.
Because Dean had always looked older than he was, securing a spot at the table for the weekly poker game held in the back of McSwain's Pub had been relatively easy; a few lies paired with a crisp 50-dollar bill in the right person's hand...and he was in.
The game had started slow that night – painfully, boringly slow since Dean had been used to fast-paced games with Sam – but had quickly gained speed as the night had progressed; alcohol combined with the thrill of the moment making the pot in the center of the green felt table continually grow.
The beer had poured, the amount of money had increased, and Dean had won.
Dean had played that night like he was a fucking poker prodigy and had taken home over $1,000 to a kid brother who had stayed up past midnight just to see what his big brother had accomplished; what they had accomplished together through their months of practice.
Dean had spread the money on the bed – just like he had done that first night he had discovered that deck of cards in the bedside table in that motel room several states back – and had smiled proudly as Sam had counted every single bill.
The brothers had beamed at each other – because they had never had more than $200 at a time prior to that night – and then Sam had fallen asleep while Dean had hidden the money and had practiced for another hour with his cards before going to sleep as well.
The next day they had packed their duffels, had loaded the Impala, and had left town in a cloud of dust and mystery – those two kids who had blown into town and had won over $1,000 in one night of poker before blowing right back out of town; headed down the road to do it all again.
Not that Dean won $1,000 every night; but he hardly ever lost when he sat down at the table.
Because to Dean, poker wasn't about playing the game; it was about winning – for him, for Sam, for them.
A/N: I sense the birth of another 'verse. Just sayin'.