A/N: This is a "do-over." See, a few of us were discussing the drunk scene in "Playthings." And the general consensus was that while the scene itself worked, the timing and placement felt off. Then swanseajill suggested that the scene would have worked much better if we'd seen Sam be very singleminded about hunting things for a few eps and then been thrown into a situation where he couldn't save someone. Which, you know, I thought was brilliant. She was gracious enough to let me take at stab at it, and this was the result.
Many thanks to iamstealthyone for polishing everything up and making it nice and shiny.


Acts of Contrition

By Sunrize83

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,

and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins,
to do penance, and to amend my life.

When the dust settles they have one dead shapeshifter.

And a pretty young schoolteacher raped and beaten to within an inch of her life.

Dean slouches behind the wheel, watching Sam through the windshield. Though he's parked the Impala some distance from the buzz of police and paramedics, he can still make out his brother's ginormous form on the edge of the small crowd of onlookers. Sam stands with hands jammed in his pockets, spine rigid, his shoulders pulled up around his ears.

Shit.

With a frown, Dean turns up the music and restlessly drums his fingers. In the two months since their run-in with Gordon, Sam has thrown himself into hunting with the kind of single-minded intensity he's always reserved for his books. At first Dean found his brother's dedication reassuring, but lately...

Lately Sam's actions hold an edge of desperation that is starting to creep him out.

The car door creaks open, emitting a gust of cool air and Sam, who folds into the passenger seat, jaw set, eyes fixed straight ahead. Dean waits to see if he'll speak. Sighs at the charged silence.

"She still alive?" Dean asks.

"Barely. They're taking her to St. Joseph's in Mundelein." Sam's voice is as tightly strung as his body.

After putting the engine into gear, Dean pauses, one arm propped on the seatback. "We did the best we could."

Sam turns his face to the passenger window. "It wasn't enough," he says. Soft. Resigned.

Pressing his lips together, Dean pulls the car onto the street and heads back to the motel. There's no talking Sam out of a mood like this--better to keep him busy so he has less time to brood.

As soon as they hit their room, Dean hold's out his hand for Sam's gun. Once Sam hands it over, he waves him toward the bathroom. "You take first shower. And give me that sweatshirt."

It takes Sam a minute to process, but then he's moving, unzipping Dean's leather jacket, which he'd slipped on to hide the blood-stained hoodie beneath.

Kaley Mitchell's blood.

After lifting her from the filthy basement floor, Sam had cradled her in his arms and carried her to the ratty tweed couch. She fought weakly at first, then clung and sobbed when understanding pierced the pain and she realized she was safe. Sam murmured reassurances, his gentle hands and words masking the anger and grief in his eyes when he looked at Dean.

She passed out when Sam laid her on the cushions, shock and blood loss and God only knew what internal injuries. They made her as comfortable as possible, placed an anonymous 911 call, and got the hell out before the cops and paramedics rolled onto the scene. Sam had balked a little at leaving her in such close proximity to the dead shifter, but good sense and Dean won.

Sam strips off his hoodie, grimaces when he sees the blood has seeped through to his tee shirt, and strips that off, too.

Dean accepts the shirts but stops Sam with a hand on his elbow. "That thing hurt a lot of innocent people," he says, chasing and holding his brother's downcast gaze. "We did good today, Sammy."

Sam gives a quick nod before disappearing into the bathroom. It isn't exactly the acknowledgement Dean hoped for, but at least a little of the tension eases from his brother's shoulders.

Dean rolls the soiled shirts into a ball, slips them into a plastic bag, and stuffs them into the bottom of his duffel. They're goners--no amount of detergent and soaking will get rid of that much blood--but they need to dispose of them carefully.

He gathers their guns, replaces silver rounds with standard, and stows them in the weapons bag. Snagging a package of potato chips from the kitchenette, he sits at the table with his journal. By the time Sam comes out of the bathroom, hair dripping, he's added final details to his notes on the shifter.

Towel still wrapped around his hips, Sam pulls his cell from the pocket of his discarded jeans and punches buttons. Dean digs in his bag for clean clothes, keeping an ear on his brother.

"I need the number for St. Joseph's Hospital. Mundelein." Sam grabs a pen and the hotel stationary, jotting quickly, tongue poking from the corner of his mouth.

Dean suppresses a surge of worry with irritation. "Dude, she just got there."

Sam gives him a long look, but his fingers don't falter. "Hello. I'd like to check on a patient that was recently brought in. Mitchell--Kaley Mitchell. Uh...yeah. I'm her cousin."

Shaking his head, Dean goes into the bathroom and shuts the door.

For once Sam hasn't used all the hot water. Dean takes his time under the spray, his thoughts troubled. Two months and they're no closer to locating Ava or the demon. Meanwhile, Sam has become more and more withdrawn with each failed attempt. When he isn't eating or sleeping (and he doesn't do enough of either), he pours himself into the hunt--trolling the newspapers for jobs, researching, touching base with Ellen. He'd been driven in the days after Jessica's death, but this... This is different.

Dean wishes he knew what was going on in Sam's freaky head.

Sam is sprawled on his bed, flipping through television channels with a vacant stare.

Dean sits at the foot to pull on socks and shoes. "Any news?" he asks over his shoulder.

Home Shopping Network, Judge Judy, and Oprah scroll across the screen while Sam's expression remains carefully neutral. "She's in surgery. They said it'll be awhile."

"Hey, if she's in surgery, that means she's hanging in there," Dean says with forced cheer. He turns to face his brother, eyebrow cocked. "Right?"

With a sigh, Sam ducks his head. "Right."

"You hungry? 'Cause I'm starved."

"Could eat, I guess."

"All right then." Dean slaps Sam's foot and stands. "Let's go. I hear a platter of buffalo wings calling my name." He's slipped on his coat and scooped up his keys before he realizes his brother hasn't moved. "Sam?"

Tearing his gaze from the TV, Sam looks up with weary eyes. "I'm kinda tired, Dean. How 'bout you just bring me something back?"

Translation: How 'bout you leave me alone so I can be all emo and eat myself up with guilt?

Right. Like that's gonna happen.

"No can do, Sammy. C'mon, get your dancin' shoes. A little food, a little beer, a little pool. Time you loosened up, had some fun."

Sam scrunches up his face. "Dean--"

"Let me put it to you this way--you don't come, you don't eat."

Dropping his jaw, Sam glares. "You gotta be kidding."

Dean points to his face. "Does this look like I'm kidding?" He picks up Sam's shoes and lobs them at the bed. "I'll be in the car."

In roughly three minutes by Dean's watch, Sam emerges from their room, his expression a healthy dose of annoyance with amusement creeping around the edges. Dean fires up the engine as he slides into the passenger seat. "Glad you decided to tag along."

Sam snorts. "Like I had a choice."

Dean discovered A.J.'s their first night in town. The music is a mix of everything, from classic rock, to country, to Sam's emo bands; the food's cheap and plentiful; and the locals don't seem to know what to do with the two pool tables.

Dean does.

That first night he stumbled back into their room well after midnight, 100 dollars in his pocket--thanks to the boys at the tables--and a smile on his face--thanks to Monica. Sam was slumped over the laptop, cheek pillowed on a book and an endless stream of i's filling the screen while the history channel played in the background.

Kid's a party animal.

Tonight the parking lot is only half full--a few midweek regulars rather than the boisterous weekend crowd. He and Sam grab a booth toward the back, and within minutes the lovely, perky, and--oh, yeah--extremely friendly Monica is at their table, pen in hand.

"Hey, stranger. I was beginning to think you'd left town." She leans in close enough to brush Dean's arm and give him a good view down her v-neck shirt.

"Nah. Can't get rid of me that easily." He gestures across the table, where Sam is watching with a raised eyebrow. "My little brother, Sam. Sammy, this is Monica."

Sam and Monica trade the obligatory "nice to meet yous" before she turns back to Dean with a smoldering smile. "What can I get you?"

Dean can feel Sam roll his eyes.

They order beers, sandwiches, and a platter of wings, and Monica sashays off with a wink, the tip of her pen held seductively between her full lips.

Dean enjoys the view until she disappears into the back room. When he turns around, Sam has his cell phone pressed to one ear, a hand to the other.

So much for getting him to relax.

Monica drops off their beers, her tray laden with food for another table. While Dean works his way through most of his bottle, Sam navigates a string of hospital receptionists. Dean watches the action at the pool tables, a smile curving his lips as he listens to his brother repeat the same information at least four times. Though he senses his brother's rising frustration, Sam's tone remains unfailingly polite.

Such a well-mannered young man.

"So?" he asks when Sam finally pockets the phone.

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. "She's still in surgery."

"Which means she's still alive." Dean signals Monica for another round, nudging Sam's untouched bottle. "Drink up, Samantha. You're falling behind."

Sam actually does, gaze roaming the bar as he takes a long pull from the bottle. By the time the second round and the basket of wings arrive, he's nearly caught up to Dean and has relaxed into a comfortable slouch.

"I talked to Ellen today," he says, tapping his fingers to the music.

"She heard anything from Jo?" Dean polishes off a wing, sucking hot sauce from his fingers and chasing it with a gulp of beer.

"Not in the past week." Sam pauses, takes a swallow. "Got a line on a job, though. Bridgeport, Connecticut. It seems there's been a string of unusual deaths, all involving the same apartment building."

"Whoa. Easy there, Sherlock." Dean shakes his head but keeps his voice light. "We just wrapped up this gig. I thought we could take a day or two, kick back, relax."

Sam frowns. "You're kidding, right?"

Across the room, Monica catches Dean's eye, licks her lips, and winks.

"Dean!"

He snaps his attention back to Sam. "Hell, no, I'm not kidding." He slips into his best Nicholson. "All work and no play make Dean a dull boy, Sammy."

With a huff, Sam leans across the table. "So what--the job's supposed to take a back seat to your...your booty call?"

"If I said yes, would you think less of me?"

Sam has no sense of humor. His brow furrows and he narrows his eyes. "Three people have died, Dean."

The self-righteous rebuke pisses him off. "And if we're not careful, it'll be five." He takes a deep breath and leashes his temper.

"We've been at it for weeks, Sam, nonstop. I'm tired and you look like crap. We don't take some downtime and one of us will make a mistake. It's just a matter of when." Dean raises his eyebrows, willing Sam to see the truth. When his brother's shoulders slump, he knows he's succeeded.

"Okay. Yeah," Sam mumbles. "I guess a day or two will give me a chance to catch up on some research."

It's not exactly what he was looking for, but Dean lets it slide. At least he's got Sam out of the room and sucking down a few beers. Maybe he'll absorb a little fun by osmosis.

Some days Dean wishes he never told Sam their father's final words. Selfishly, he has to admit that letting his brother in on the secret has eased a little of the weight from his own shoulders. And at first Sam seemed to take it all in stride--well, if you didn't count that stupid move of sneaking off on his own and nearly getting blown up.

But more and more Sam reminds him of the guy he pulled from a burning apartment building, focused to the point of obsession. He can't remember the last time he heard Sam laugh--the full-out, from-the-belly kind, not just a flash of dimples or wry twist of the lips.

Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, Dean curses their father and his "need to know" bullshit. Once again, he's given up a piece but refused to trust them with the whole puzzle.

And just like every other time, Sam isn't taking it well.

Monica brings their sandwiches and they eat in relative silence, watching the basketball game on the TV over the bar and occasionally heckling the players. Sam pushes more food around the plate than he eats, but Dean decides he's fought enough battles for one night.

By the time Dean finishes eating he's more than ready to scare up a little action at the pool tables. When he stands and stretches, however, Sam reaches for his coat.

Dean waves him back to his seat. "Easy there, Tiger. What's the rush? I thought I'd get us a little spending money."

Sam freezes, one arm in his sleeve. "Dean...I just want to go back to the room."

"One more round," he says, using the voice he usually reserves for charming hot barmaids like Monica. "The night is young, Sammy. Live a little."

Sam shakes his head. "Look, it's been a really long day, man. I'm beat."

Dean huffs and rolls his eyes. "You're a real buzz kill, you know that?"

But Sam does look tired, thin and stretched too tight around the edges.

Dean pulls his keys from his pocket, but Sam lifts a hand.

"Stay," Sam says. "It's only a few blocks. I can walk."

He hesitates because, well, no sense looking too eager. "You sure?"

One corner of Sam's mouth turns up. "Yeah. Kick the local boys' asses." His gaze shifts from the pool tables to Monica. "And have fun. Just, you know, don't feel like you've got to tell me about it."

"All right, I'll see you back at the motel." He starts across the room, but pauses to call over his shoulder. "And don't get kidnapped by any backwoods freaks of nature, 'cause I'm not coming after you."

Sam rolls his eyes. "You so would."

"Would not."

"Would."

"Would not."

They're still arguing when Sam ducks out the door.

When Dean pulls up to the motel three hours later he's got an extra 85 bucks in his pocket and a pretty spectacular hickey on his neck. He turns off the engine and tips his head back, lips curving in a lazy smile. Monica, it turns out, is a woman of many talents.

Good times.

The curtains are open, but the room is dark. He takes extra care to be quiet as he lets himself in, muffling the jingle of keys and wincing at the groan of rusty hinges. He clicks the deadbolt and slips off his jacket, hovering by the door until his eyes adjust to the darkness. When he sees both beds are empty and untouched, his entire body turns to stone except for the heart thumping wildly in his chest.

Nononocan'tbehappeningnotagainstupidstupidshouldneverhavelet

himoutofmysight...

Movement flickers at the edge of his vision, and he drops into fighting stance, wishing for his gun. Then his eyes make sense of light and shadow, and all the tension flows from his body in a dizzying rush.

"Sonuvabitch, Sam! You scared the crap outta me." He circles around to face his brother.

Sam is in front of the window, sprawled in one of the cheap vinyl chairs. His skin glows ghostly white in the spill of moonlight, his eyes too dark in the pale oval of his face.

His silence sparks Dean's temper. "So, you're too tired to come out and have fun like a normal person, but not to sit here and be all emo in the dark?"

Sam snorts a laugh. "Apparently." He looks up at Dean with a smirk. "Maybe it's just the company."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What the hell? Sam's slurring his words, and Dean gets a strong whiff of something that's definitely not Kool-aid.

"Are you drunk?"

Another sloppy snicker. "I hope so. That was the plan."

For the first time Dean sees the nearly empty bottle clutched loosely in the hand dangling over the side of the chair. His annoyance turns to full-blown anger.

"Dude, what are you thinking? What if one of Gordon's crazy-ass buddies decides to pick up where he left off? You don't drop your guard without someone to watch your back."

Sam blinks, and ah hell, there are tears in those stupid puppy-dog eyes. What the--

"Kaley Mitchell died on the operating table."

Shit.

"I couldn't save her," Sam murmurs, sounding gut punched.

There's so much pain in those words and Dean's scrambling to make sense of it. By all accounts Kaley Mitchell was a beautiful, sweet girl. And yeah, everyone loved her. But Sam... Sam barely knew her.

"You did everything you could," Dean says, unable to prevent the note of impatience that creeps in.

"That's an excuse, Dean. I should have found a way to save her." Sam clenches his jaw and shakes his head. "I should have saved Ava, too."

"Yeah, well, we can't save everyone." It sounds harsh, unfeeling, but Sam's grief is way out of proportion, and it's pissing him off. "Sucks, but that's the way it is."

Sam drops the bottle and slams his hand onto the arm of the chair, his face twisted with anger and something else. Something Dean's not sure he wants to identify.

"No, Dean, you don't understand, all right? The more people I save, the more I can change."

He's beginning to feel as if he needs a translator. "Change what?"

Sam's just as frustrated. He leans forward, hands pressed to his chest. "My destiny, Dean."

And just like that, things click into place. He looks into Sam's earnest face and sees everything, all the fear and horror and despair his brother has kept safely hidden behind a wall of purpose, of mission. The booze has stripped away that determined façade and laid bare the truth.

Sam's not dealing. He's terrified.

They're not having this conversation now, and if Dean has his way, they never will.

"Alright, time for bed. C'mon, Sasquatch." He grabs Sam under the arms and hauls him upright.

"I need you to watch out for me," Sam says, swaying despite Dean's firm hold.

"Yeah, I always do." If he can just get Sam into bed, let him sleep it off...

"No! No, no, no. You have to watch out for me. All right?" Sam digs in his feet, resisting Dean's efforts to steer him toward the bed. He holds Dean's gaze, and his eyes... God, his eyes. "And if I turn into something that I'm not..." His voice breaks and he struggles to form his next words. "You have to kill me."

"Sam--" Dean tries to turn away, to brush him off, but Sam buries both hands in his shirt, his grip iron with desperation.

"Dean, Dad told you to do it. You have to."

Okay, this is just seven kinds of wrong and he's had enough. "Yeah, well Dad's an ass," Dean growls through clenched teeth. "He never should have said anything. I mean, you don't do that, you don't...you don't lay that kind of crap on your kids."

Face crumbling, Sam shakes his head. "No. He was right to say it. Who knows what I might become! Even now, everyone around me dies."

"Well, I'm not dying." Dean keeps his voice strong and steady though his insides are twisting into knots. "And neither are you. C'mon. Sit down."

One well-placed shove and Sam topples onto the bed, but he clutches at Dean's arms, his voice rough and pleading. "No. Please. Dean, you're the only one who can do it. Don't you see? There's no one else I can ask. Promise."

Sam might as well have shoved a knife between his ribs. "Don't ask that of me."

"Dean, please. You have to promise me." Sam tightens his fingers, breath hitching in his chest and eyes glistening.

And God, Sam's looking at him that way, the way he's looked at Dean from the time he was a baby, like Dean can do anything, fix everything.

And he's wrong. So wrong.

"I promise." The words feel like glass in his throat, but he's never been able to deny Sam anything, and it seems this is no exception.

The tears in Sam's eyes finally spill over as his body relaxes. "Thanks," he chokes. He draws in a deep, shuddering breath and grabs Dean's face between shaking hands. "Thank you."

And how messed up is that?

Dean shoves Sam's hands away and tips him onto his side, scooping insanely long legs onto the mattress. Sam doesn't resist, just stretches out and shoves both arms under the pillow, his eyes fluttering shut. Shirt rucked up around his waist, cheeks flushed, breathing deep and even, he looks so much like the little boy Dean used to tuck into bed it hurts.

God, it hurts.

Dean drops onto his bed, grinding the heels of his hands into burning eyes. He wants to go back to the time when he hunted for the sheer joy of it. To erase the shadows in Sam's eyes and hear his brother laugh--really laugh--the way he used to. He wants to send the freakin' yellow-eyed sonuvabitch straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and make him sorry he ever screwed with the Winchesters.

But most of all, most of all... He wants to do what Dad asked.

He wants to save Sam.

Dean spends most of the night counting ceiling tiles and staring at his brother's slack, peaceful face. Sam is well and truly out, booze and whatever respite he got from Dean's promise pulling him so far under Dean has to check he's still breathing. Twice.

Dean sighs and scrubs a hand over his face. Why shouldn't Sam sleep? He just did what he's done all his life--bundled up his shit and dumped it in Dean's lap, certain he'll take care of it.

Trusting him to take care of it.

But for the first time, ever, Dean's not sure he can. Because this is Sammy, the kid he gave piggyback rides, and taught how to throw a curve ball, and explained the facts of life to--and man, was that hilarious. Sammy who he'd spent his whole life protecting, who he'd freakin' step in front of a bus for, no questions asked.

Dean pulled a lot of scams in his life, learned to find the loophole in just about any deal. But he never reneged on a promise to his little brother.

He can't break this one, but God... He can't keep it.

Can he?

When sunlight spills in the window and Sam's still drooling on his pillow, Dean gets up, showers, and dresses. Once outside the room, he turns up his collar, shoves his hands in his pockets, and walks--past a coffee shop, the tiny Laundromat, a liquor store (where Sam likely met up with his friend José), and a mom-and-pop supermarket.

A few people nod, more eye him suspiciously. The sun is warm on his shoulders, the air crisp but not cold. The scuff of boots on pavement doesn't provide inspiration, and he's certainly not gifted with any divine revelations--not that he believes in that stuff. But by the time the main drag becomes the highway and he turns back toward the motel, a little of the tightness has eased from his chest.

It's mid-morning and he's starving, so he stops at the coffee shop to buy breakfast. Juggling two cups and his keys, a white paper bag of pastries clenched between his teeth, he lets himself into the room.

Sam's bed is empty, the bathroom light is on, and he hears a low moan. Setting his keys and the food on the table, he walks across to the open door. Sam's on his knees, arm propped on the toilet's rim, forehead pressed to his arm.

Dean can't help it--he grins. "How're you feeling, Sammy?" He snickers. "Guess your little private party wasn't such a gangbuster idea, was it?"

Sam just coughs and moans again, his breath coming in harsh pants.

Dean slips off his coat, turns, and tosses it on the bed. "I'll bet you don't remember a thing from last night, do you?" He pauses, his back to Sam, holding his breath.

"Ah, I can still taste the tequila," Sam groans.

Relieved, he lets his eyes briefly slip shut, then nods. "You know, there's a really good hangover remedy. It's a...a greasy pork sandwich served up in a dirty ashtray."

Sam retches and groans. "I hate you."

"I know you do."

Dean wets a washcloth with cold water and presses it to the back of Sam's neck, guiding his brother's hand to hold it in place. He fills a glass and leaves it and two aspirin on the bathroom counter. "You need any help?"

Sam pushes himself to his feet, holding onto the counter for balance. "It's just a hangover, Dean," he croaks in a voice like sandpaper. "I can handle it."

Dean grimaces at the waft of sour breath. "Yeah, well, just make sure you handle a toothbrush."

He's sitting in a chair, paging through the newspaper, when Sam stumbles in and drops onto his bed. He's still pale, and there are pain lines creasing his forehead, but his eyes are clear.

"Coffee?" Sam asks hopefully.

Never let it be said that he kicked a man when he was down--well, not more than once or twice, anyway. He passes the Styrofoam cup, eyes crinkling with amusement when his brother makes a soft sound of appreciation. "I bought breakfast," he tells Sam.

Sam takes one look at the Danish in Dean's hand and turns an interesting shade of green. "God, no."

"Relax, princess." Dean waves the paper bag with a smirk. "Got you a plain bagel when you're up to it."

"Thanks." Sam ducks his head, the coffee cradled between his palms. "And not just for that. For last night."

Dean shrugs but he feels pulled taut, as if someone's taken up the slack on an invisible rope. "Not the first time I've put your drunken ass to bed. Probably won't be the last."

"Probably not." Sam pauses, lifting his eyes from the cup. "But I meant what we talked about last night."

Though he desperately wants to look away, Dean's pinned by the intensity of Sam's gaze. "We talked about a lot of things last night," he says, pasting on a grin that feels as plastic as it probably looks.

Sam presses his lips together and shakes his head. "Dean..."

The smile slides from his face. "You were wasted."

"But you weren't. And you promised." Tears well up--and damn, Dean's sick of seeing his brother reduced to this--and Sam looks away, throat working.

"Sam..." He's horrified when his voice cracks, but forces out the words. "I'm just... I'm not sure I can."

"You've taken care of me my whole life, man." Sam's voice is hoarse and a little unsteady as he meets Dean's gaze. "You've never let anything bad happen to me."

It comes out without thought, fierce and smooth and hard as steel. "And I never will."

Sam closes his eyes, gives a little nod. When he opens them, they're suspiciously bright. "That's good enough for me."

A fist wraps around Dean's heart, and he has to work on breathing slow and steady.

Sam ducks his head; clears his throat. "Gonna take a shower." He stands with a soft grunt and weaves his way to the bathroom.

Dean listens to sounds grown familiar over a hundred different motel rooms in a hundred different towns. Sam rummaging through his shaving kit, muttering softly under his breath. The crinkle of soap being unwrapped. The hiss of water and rattle of the shower curtain across the rod. The slap of bare feet on tile.

It's more than familiar. It's home. And no yellow-eyed sonuvabitch is going to take it from him.

And that... That's a promise he knows he can keep.

End