The following day

The following day caused more problems than it helped because Sam was extremely preoccupied with Dawn's impending return and it bugged the living daylights out of Dean that he couldn't get Sam's full attention no matter what he did or said.

At breakfast Sam had spent half an hour staring out the window until Dean had slapped a flat hand down on the tabletop to attract his attention. And it hadn't gotten any better. Dean kept talking about the gig they were on during their drive out to old Baptist church at the other end of town and all Sam did was mutter halfhearted responses.

At the church, which was abandoned and locked, Sam showed no particular interest in participating in looking around for a potential way in other than the front door and Dean finally lost his temper around two p.m.

They were heading around the church and Dean kept trying to engage Sam in what they were doing, but it didn't seem to catch, no matter what. Finally, he stopped abruptly and Sam ran straight into him, proving to Dean that he had other things on his mind.

Dean turned around to face him and gave him a shove that sent him reeling backward a step. "What the hell is wrong with you today?" he snapped.

Looking a little baffled, Sam didn't seem capable of understanding that he was behaving oddly. "What?" he asked and spread his arms in an exasperated gesture. "I'm listening, okay?"

"Yeah? So what was I just saying?" Dean asked.

That characteristically uncertain frown slipped over Sam's brow. "Uh ..." he tried with little luck.

"Yeah. I can see that you're paying attention," Dean growled. "This is important, okay? What the hell is going on in that freakish head of yours?"

Sam grimaced. "I ..." he tried, but obviously couldn't explain himself to any satisfying degree.

"You what, huh?" Dean demanded. "It's that damned demon yesterday, isn't it? You've been totally out of wack since we ran into her. Would you just forget about her and focus on the job?"

"How can I?" Sam countered. "She may have a way out of this deal for you. I can't believe you're not thinking about it, even considering it."

"I am. That doesn't mean I can't focus on what I'm doing right now," Dean snapped. "Keep your mind on the job, dammit. We'll deal with Demon Dawn when we get back to the motel."

The flinch Sam managed in reply was new, Dean had to admit. He had never seen Sam flinch like that before. At least not when he was putting him in his place. That sort of expression had always been reserved for dad's angry outbursts and Dean almost felt sorry for causing that reaction in Sam. But the kid had to pay attention. It was vital in their line of work.

"You know how dangerous this crap can get, Sam. Keep it together, man," he added in a softer tone of voice.

Sam nodded, his cheeks now burning red. "Sorry," he muttered.

"Look, I know you're all gung-ho about what she said, but keep in mind that she's a demon, Sam. We can't trust her. And demons don't offer to break other demons' deals out of the kindness of their hearts. We have to be realistic about this, okay? Whatever she suggests, I want you to keep that in mind."

"Okay," Sam agreed and it struck Dean how young he looked right now.

"Let's check out this place and then head back to town and get something to eat. If we can get in and out of this place fairly easily, we'll do it tonight. If not ... maybe we should call in some reinforcements. Bobby said there were a couple of hunters close by that had volunteered already."

"Maybe they should just deal with it," Sam said and he sounded almost hopeful.

"They don't have the colt, Sam. You wanna throw them to the wolves?" Dean countered, a little stunned by Sam's response.

"No, of course not," Sam countered and made a face. "Can't this wait until tomorrow? Until we've talked to Dawn again? I won't be able to focus until I know whether she's for real or not."

Dean just stared at him for a moment while he tried to process how Sam saw this situation. In Dean's opinion, Dawn should be sent back to Hell right away, but Sam was desperate to save him and anything would do despite his recent realization that Ruby had so far done squat to help. "Ruby can't save me. What makes you think Dawn can?" he finally said. He knew this would cause friction, that Sam would get pissed at him for not telling him earlier, but he felt it had to be said.

"Ruby said she could," Sam countered, but there was doubt in his voice.

"Yeah, well, she told me she couldn't. And I'm a hell of a lot more inclined to believe that than that she has some fancy plan to get me out of this deal, Sam. I'm sorry, but she's been yanking your chain since day one. And I'm positive that Dawn is going to do the same." Dean patted his shoulder. "Let's head back to town and get this meeting with her over with. If she doesn't turn up tonight, will you let it go then and focus on the job?"

Sam had that look again that cut Dean so deeply he always had to make fun of it, that kicked-puppy look. Then he nodded once, but said nothing.

"Come on. Let's go get some lunch and then we head back to the motel to wait for her. If she doesn't turn up ... well, that'll just prove I'm right," Dean said, turned and headed back to the car.

Sam followed him and for the ride back to town said nothing at all. Dean figured he was upset because he had finally realized that Ruby had been lying to him and Dean wondered if he had actually done Sam a favor by cutting that connection. Ruby might be a demon, but she seemed genuinely interested in seeing Sam survive this thing. Her help could come in handy for Sam.

"Maybe she didn't tell you she can't save me to make it ... easier on you?" Dean suggested and sneered at the way he phrased it. He didn't feel like sticking up for Ruby. He really didn't like her, no matter how many times she had saved their asses. But he felt he had to make an effort to keep Sam safe and even though he would rather shoot Ruby than ask for her help, it still didn't change the fact that she might be Sam's ticket to get through this insanity in one piece.

"Easier?" Sam asked and gave him a look that made Dean cringe inside. "You think it's easier for me that I keep hoping she can save you and now you tell me she can't?" He folded his arms over his chest and lapsed back into morose brooding.

"Come on, man. Are you honestly telling me that you believed her?" Dean asked and pulled the Impala to a stop in the parking lot of the motel. He cut the engine, then turned a little to face Sam. "Sam, you know better than that. You can't trust a demon. She's interested in getting you through this alive, which is a benefit. She can help you, but don't trust her. Don't believe her."

Sam just sat there and stared ahead of himself, his expression tense. Then he glanced at Dean. "Yeah, I believed her. She seemed ... sincere," he finally said and the regret was heavy in his tone.

"Yeah, well, she wasn't being honest. Big surprise there," Dean countered a little sarcastically. "Look, Sam, you have got to stop focusing so narrowly on things. You can't see what's going on around you when you focus so hard on one thing and if there's one thing you need in our line of work, it's a pretty damned broad view."

"So, what if Dawn holds your contract?" Sam asked, his tone tense.

"Then we hear her out. If her offer makes sense ... there won't be any discussing it. I'll take whatever she has to offer if it keeps me out of Hell," Dean countered. "But if it's outrageous, there will be no deal. You are not selling anything you can't afford to lose. And yes, I mean your soul."

Sam grimaced. "I just don't get why she would want to keep you out of Hell. I mean ... who is she?"

"I don't know and frankly I don't care either. If she has any kind of proof we can trust, I'm open to suggestions. If not, we send her to Hell. Do you have the colt?" Sam nodded. "Good. Now, let's get some food and then we go meet that bitch and see what she has to offer. If she's on the level, great. If not, you shoot her. You hear me?"

"What if she turns up in a public place?" Sam asked.

"Then we lure her away from there. I don't care what it takes. If she's yanking our chains, she dies. End of story," Dean countered, opened the driver side door and got out of the car.

Sam followed suit, shut the door and turned to face Dean over the Impala. "As you keep reminding me, Dean, she's possessing an innocent woman. I'd like to go for an exorcism first."

"Knock yourself out, Sammy. Just don't believe her unless she can back it up," Dean said and locked the door. "And now shut up. I need food. I'm starving," he added, turned and headed toward a diner further down the road.

Sam followed him and fell in step next to him. They entered the diner and ordered lunch and when it arrived, Sam just sat there and stared down at this plate.

Dean was halfway through his order before he realized that Sam hadn't touched his yet. "What now?" he asked.

"Nothing," Sam countered and idly stabbed at the scrambled eggs for a moment. "I'm just not ... hungry."

"Sam, you gotta eat something. You didn't eat anything for breakfast and now this?" Dean countered.

Sam frowned at him. "I'll eat when I'm hungry, okay?"

With an arched eyebrow, Dean leaned back on his chair. "Stop getting defensive. I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but you worry the hell out of me."

Sam pushed the plate away and put his fork down, then leaned back too and shifted his attention to the window and whatever was going on outside.

For a moment the silence lingered heavily between them. Then Dean dropped a few bills on the table to pay for their lunch, rose and headed for the door. Sam followed him without a word and Dean generally felt like slapping him upside the head for being such a stubborn ass.

Dean saw her first. The second they entered the parking lot of the motel he spotted her, standing there, her hands clasped behind her back, and she was watching them with a mocking smile on her lips.

"Hello boys," she said.

Dean came to a stop a few feet from her and he heard Sam trail to a stop a few feet behind him. "Well, isn't that a surprise," he said. "A demon that actually keeps its word. That's new."

Her smile turned a little wry. "Funny," she said. "You're hilarious, Dean. It'll be a pity to let you go, but hey. I like being alive."

It was her reasoning that he couldn't argue with no matter how hard he tried and it made him waver for a second. Then he grinned at her. "We all do," he agreed. "So, what sort of proof you have?" he asked.

She held out a rolled up piece of paper. "This is your contract," she said.

He eyed the roll for a moment and couldn't help a snide grin. "Are you kidding me?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No, there is an actual, physical contract even though your ... uhm ... signature is rather unconventional. That's what you get for sending female demons to do a crossroad demon's job," she countered. "But that doesn't make the contract any less binding, of course."

Dean snorted. He couldn't help it. The thought that there was a piece of paper with this insane contract on it made him doubt his sanity, but it also cemented the hopeless situation he had gotten himself into. It made it more real and it sent a shudder up his spine that he almost couldn't hide.

Dawn smirked, telling him that she knew how he felt. "Okay, fine. So you have an actual contract on me. Good for you. Why would you want to part with it?" he asked brusquely.

"Because, as I said yesterday, I'm sick and tired of living in fear," she said. "I don't want to go back to Hell and if you agree to this deal, your end of this bargain includes leaving me the hell alone."

Dean eyed her. "What's the catch?" he asked. "Because ... I'm fresh out of souls to sell and you're not getting Sam's."

For some reason that seemed to be funny to her, because she laughed out loud. "You are priceless, sugar," she cooed and narrowed her eyes a little while they darkened. "If I was after your soul, I wouldn't be here, would I?" she added and eyed him up and down. "There are other things you ... have that I want."

The way she said it made Dean freeze in place for a second. He stared at her, unable to process it for a moment. "You're telling me that ..." he tried, but trailed off. It was the ambiguity of the situation that made him falter, because part of him was flattered by her suggestion while the other part of him was disgusted beyond reason.

"You're catching on right quickly, aren't you?" she cooed. "But just to be clear about it, I want sex in return for your soul."

"Why?" Dean asked. "I mean, I know I'm good, but ... there must be tons of guys out there more willing than me." It confused him that she would offer a trade like that. It made no sense to him. The majority of demons they had run into knew how promiscuous he was and had excelled at pointing it out. Why would this one choose to offer that as a counterbalance for his deal?

Dawn eyed him with a hungry look that worked on him despite his reservations. She was, after all, possessing a human and that made it semi-acceptable in his mind. "Because no other demon has accomplished this," she said and smirked. "Who else among us can claim to have slept with a Winchester?" She chuckled.

Still baffled, but nearing a decision that was easy for him to make, Dean glanced back at Sam, who was watching the exchange with a look that bordered on disgust in his eyes. "So, what?" he asked and returned his attention to Dawn. "One night with me and that's it? The deal's off?"

Dawn's smile bothered him. She looked like a hungry cat watching a bird in a cage. "Not you, sweety," she said and shifted her attention to Sam. "Him."

***

If someone had slapped him out of the blue, he couldn't have been more stunned. For a long, breathless moment, Dean just stood there and stared at Dawn. Then he tried a smile which failed miserably. "Come again?" he asked and sent a quick glance back at Sam, who generally looked like he had eaten something bad.

"You heard me," Dawn claimed. "I don't want you. I want him," she repeated and nodded toward Sam.

Dean went from stunned surprise to snarky disbelief in one sweep. "Funny, ha-ha. You nearly got me there," he said and smirked coldly at her. "So, what's the real deal?"

Dawn's expression remained painfully serious. "That is the real deal. One night with your brother and you're free of the deal," she said.

"Give me a break," Dean huffed and shifted from snarky disbelief to seething anger in one smooth go. "No way. It's me or nothing," he added.

"Then no deal," Dawn said and took a step back.

"No, wait," Sam exclaimed and took a step forward. He glanced at Dean, swallowed hard and then focused on Dawn, his expression close to being what Dean considered prim, but was probably closer to disgust or pain.

Dawn eyed him expectantly and Dean couldn't help staring at Sam. Was the kid actually considering this? "Sam, you don't have to ..." he began, but Sam stopped him with a look that was full of abysmal loathing, yet peppered with hope.

"Yeah, I do," he disagreed and looked back at Dawn. "I'll do it. If it gets Dean out of the deal, I'll do it," he said to her.

Dawn's smirk turned almost vicious and Dean really didn't like this idea any more. "No, he won't," he said sternly.

"You don't get a say in this," Sam said, his tone tight. "You're on. Just ... tell me where and when and I'll be there," he added to Dawn.

She held up a room key for the selfsame motel they were staying at. "Tonight. Ten p.m. Don't be late," she said and tossed it to him.

Sam caught it in midair and closed his fingers hard around it while he watched her with visible distaste when she turned and walked away.

For the longest of moments Dean just stood there and stared at Sam while trying to wrap his mind around what had just happened. "What the hell are you doing, Sam?" he finally asked, unable to keep the anger out of his voice. "This isn't you."

"What do you know about that?" Sam countered tightly. He had gone awfully pale and looked like he might be sick any minute.

"What do I ..." Dean tried but trailed off, stumped for words for a moment. "Sam, you've never ... " he tried again, unable to produce a coherent sentence that did not include 'Sam' and 'no'. "'When's the last time you got laid?" he finally managed and shook his head in disbelief. "Jesus, Sam. In the last three years, you've had exactly one consummated relationship. One! And that wasn't exactly the most successful thing you've ever accomplished, man." It wasn't fair to bring that one up right now, but Dean felt he had to make a point here and Sam wouldn't hear him otherwise; not when he was in this stubborn mood.

Sam flinched and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans, ducking his head a little. "Thanks for bringing that up," he muttered.

"Sam, dammit. There is no way you're going to go through with this. This is ridiculous. She's ... a demon, for pity's sake. God only knows what she'll come up with," Dean countered and grabbed Sam's shoulders. "What the hell were you thinking, agreeing to this? Are you nuts?"

"You sold your damned soul for me. This is the least I can do in return. And how bad can it be?" Sam countered and met Dean's eyes dead on. Then he glanced at his watch and grimaced. "I need a drink," he added, pulled out of Dean's grip and headed back toward the street.

It took Dean a moment before he could gather himself enough to follow. "Sam, stop!" he demanded, but Sam ignored him and headed straight toward the bar they had been at the first evening. Dean sped up, grabbed Sam's arm and yanked him to a stop. "Don't be ridiculous, Sammy. I would never expect something like this from you."

Sam gave him a look that made him shut up for the moment. "You'd do it in a second, Dean. And, as I said, how hard can it be?"

Dean had to admit to himself that this sounded like a ridiculously easy way out of this deal and it made him wonder what Demon Dawn actually had in store for Sam and why, on God's green earth, she had chosen his brother ahead of him? Dean released Sam's arm and instead followed him to the bar.

Sam ordered a whiskey and sat down at the bar and Dean joined him and ordered one for himself, but he figured he would have to pace himself if he wanted to keep an eye on his brother. The bartender placed the glasses in front of them. Sam picked his up, eyed the amber liquid for a moment and washed it down in one go. Then he made a face and set the glass down again. "I really hate whiskey," he confessed, his voice a little wheezy.

"Then don't drink it," Dean countered and found he didn't really feel like drinking at all.

"Right," Sam muttered, grabbed Dean's glass and emptied it in one go too, then ordered another round.

Dean grabbed his arm. "Sam, getting blitzed out of your mind might make it easier, but you know how bad you are with liquor. Pace yourself," he suggested.

Sam pulled his arm out of Dean's grip. "Mind your own business," he muttered, grabbed the third glass and eyed its contents with obvious distaste.

Dean did the only thing he could think of. He grabbed the glass out of Sam's hand and pushed both glasses out of his reach. "Stop for a moment, okay?" he begged. "This isn't the way to do it, Sam. Getting drunk isn't the answer."

"Yeah, well, I'm not gonna be able to ..." Sam started while an almost feverish blush crawled into his cheeks. "I need another drink," he added, leaned in front of Dean and retrieved both glasses.

And Dean let him. There really wasn't anything he could do to stop the kid right now and Sam was probably right anyway. Getting drunk would take his mind off things. He would probably be too busy being sick to notice whatever that bitch would do to him. And then Dean glanced at his watch. "Aw, man," he muttered. It was two p.m. There was plenty of time for Sam to drink himself into a stupor, get sick and sleep it off.

Already a little unsteady, Sam raised a hand to order another round, but Dean stopped him. "Not gonna happen," he said, got off the stool and hauled Sam off his. "Move it. We're going back to the motel where I can talk some sense into you," he said, grabbed Sam's arm and propelled him toward the door. There were advantages to a semi-drunk Sam. He was a hell of a lot easier to control because he got so unsteady so fast.

Sam muttered something under his breath, but Dean ignored him and dragged him with him all the way back to the motel. He didn't let go until they were in their room where Sam sank down on the edge of his bed and just sat there, a lost look in his eyes.

"Are you regretting your decision yet?" Dean asked, hoping desperately that Sam would. The way Dawn had eyed him right before she had left would be enough to give Dean nightmares and he didn't have nightmares any more.

Sam eyed him for a moment, decidedly unsteady after only four straight whiskeys, and pursed his lips. "No," he finally said and shook his head. "No, I'm going to do this for you. Because I don't want you to die and I can't live with that. And it's just not fair."

With a sigh, Dean settled down on his own bed across from Sam. "Oh man," he muttered, then leaned forward and placed his hands on Sam's knees. "Listen to me, Sammy, okay? I don't want you to do this. Dawn is a demon and demons are nasty under the best of circumstances."

"No, if I don't do this, you'll die and I don't want that," Sam persisted.

"Okay, I get that. I don't want to die either. But there has to be a better way, Sam. This is not ..."

Sam stopped him by leaning forward too and pressing one finger against Dean's lips. "Shh," he shushed him. "Not another word. I'm doing this. If you can do this, so can I. It's not that hard."

Dean pushed Sam's hand away. "Right," he said. "The only reason for that she's going for you is because she knows how you feel about this stuff."

"Maybe," Sam agreed and suddenly rose unsteadily to his feet. He eyed Dean for a second, then turned and disappeared into the bathroom.

"Here we go," Dean muttered and made a face at the sounds of Sam throwing up. "Why do you keep doing this to yourself?" he asked out loud.

Sam didn't respond. After a moment, he turned up in the doorway again, looking pale and miserable.

"Go to bed, Sam," Dean suggested and Sam did so without a word. He walked over to his bed and just let himself drop onto it. Dean watched him for a moment, then got up, pulled the shoes of his feet and draped a blanket over him. Sam muttered a barely audible thanks into the pillow and fell asleep almost at once.

"That's what you get for drinking booze on an empty stomach, you moron," Dean muttered, made himself comfortable on his own bed and switched the tv set on. And still he hoped that Sam would have changed his mind about this stupid counter-deal by the time he woke up.

***