Practice

Wee!Chesters. Outside POV. This just popped into my head and couldn't be ignored.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!

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The two boys had been watching him steadily for almost 30 minutes. They hung at the edge of the crowd of children, eyes following his every move, the younger one's face lighting up and even clapping occasionally. The older one never clapped, but a small smile would sometimes appear, widening whenever his little brother was particularly pleased.

The line in front of him dwindled to nothing until only the two boys were left, standing uncertainly to the side.

"He's done, Sammy," said the older boy, moving to wander away.

The younger turned to follow without protest.

"You two been mighty patient," he said. "You sure you don't want a turn?"

The older boy – dark blonde hair and freckles – turned back. "We ain't got any money," he said somewhat apologetically. Like maybe just watching should have been paid for.

"We ain't got any money," echoed the younger – darker, tousled hair and dimples.

He'd figured as much. Both children were as clean as you might expect boys their age to be during a day at the fair, but the clothes were worn, the older boy's a bit too small, the younger boy's a bit too big.

"So you ain't customers," he said solemnly.

"No, sir," said the older boy, beginning to edge off. "We're sorry. We just…"

He waved away the attempt to apologize, speaking over the boy, "Spectators, eh?"

They both nodded, the younger one hesitantly. He looked up at his brother. "What's 'spectators'?" he whispered.

"Watchers," said the older boy, though uncertain in his turn. He looked at the man for back up.

"Watchers. Exactly."

"You're really good," said the younger boy with a hint of awe in his voice.

"Why, thank you, young man." He paused. "You know how you get good at something?" he asked.

"Practice," said both boys in unison, no hesitation.

"Yes, indeed." It surprised him some – they were still practically babies. Maybe eight and four. Maybe.

"And I'll tell you something," he said, leaning forward like he had a secret. "When I don't have customers, I like to practice."

The children nodded their understanding of this.

"You think maybe you could help me?"

The younger boy's eyes got wide, and he nodded eagerly. The older boy's eyes were somewhat wary, his agreement less enthusiastic. But he seemed game.

"OK," he said. "Here's what I need you to do. You were watching me for a while. Think of an animal you haven't seen me make yet. And then I'll see if I can make it."

The little one bit his lip in concentration, thinking hard. "You made a lot," he said.

"I did – but most kids ask for the same things, really. A dog, a giraffe, a turtle." He couldn't help the laugh. "A stick. Though that was a one-time deal." That had been the turtle's little brother, not to be dissuaded from his choice, even when it had been scoffed at by the older brother. The man looked seriously into each boy's eyes. "If you can think of something I ain't done regular-like, it will help me practice in case someone asks for something different."

The younger one nodded earnestly, forehead crinkling as he considered.

The older one nodded, too, but his eyes were on his little brother. The man realized he was giving the other boy the chance to go first.

"A…a… a kangaroo!" cried the little one. Sammy, the older had called him. "He hasn't made a kangaroo, yet, right, Dean?" Checking himself with his big brother.

That kid smiled. "Yeah," he agreed. "A kangaroo."

"Hmmm," the man said, rooting through his balloons and pulling out first one balloon and then another. He harrumphed to himself, put back the second balloon and chose two more.

"It's a hard one, huh?" asked Sammy, delighted that he was challenging the man.

"It sure is." He gave a mock scowl to the boy. Then blew the long, brown balloon up right in the boy's face. The child squealed with laughter when the tip of the balloon bobbed down and poked him in the stomach. He danced out of the way and slightly behind his brother.

The man began the process of twisting and bending, shaping the balloon into the form he wanted. Then he blew up the second balloon, this one curving slightly as it grew, and the man angled it so that it expanded around Dean and poked Sammy gently again.

This time both boys laughed.

"Did you see that, Dean?" Sammy giggled, moving completely behind Dean now.

"Yeah," agreed his brother, reaching back to drag Sammy to his side. "You're gonna miss it if you're hiding," he said.

"I was only pretend hiding," Sammy said indignantly. "I'm not really scared!"

Dean didn't bother to answer, eyes on the balloon animal that was taking shape nicely.

"There." It was done, and the man held it out for inspection. "How'd I do?"

"Wow," breathed Sammy. He reached out to take the kangaroo from the man's hand, but then withdrew.

"Cool," said Dean.

The man turned it over, eyeing it from all sides. "I think it'll do," he said in approval. Then he put it in Sammy's hands.

"We don't have any money," the older boy said, and the younger one held the balloon animal out, reluctant, but obedient.

"Did I ask you for money?" the man said gruffly.

"No, sir."

"Then why are we talking about it?"

"But…,"

"It was practice," the man said curtly. "I'm going to throw it away, if you don't take it."

Now the older kid bit his lip, considering. Sammy retracted the kangaroo he'd been offering back, pulling it closer in to his body, watching his brother.

"You'd throw it away?"

"Yep."

Dean looked down at his brother. The kangaroo now had the younger boy's arms wrapped around it tightly, clutched to the narrow chest. The mashing was beginning to threaten the integrity of the thin latex.

"Well. OK, I guess," Dean conceded, gruff in his own little-boy way. "Thanks." He poked his brother.

"Thanks!" Sammy crowed. "Thanks, mister! Thanks, Dean!" He'd eased his hold on the balloon animal with the concession by his brother, and now he brandished it aloft in excitement, waving it in his brother's face. "Let's go show Daddy!" He took off running.

"Sammy! Wait!" He raced after his brother, already hot on the boy's heels.

The man smiled, shaking his head. He stuffed the extra balloon back in its sack and then looked up, attention drawn to the retreating figures of the boys.

Dean turned suddenly, running backwards a few step, eyes meeting the man's. He waved once before he disappeared into the crowd.

The man waved back, knowing it would not be seen, and got ready for the next wave of customers.

End.

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