Vicarious Atonement

A/N: 2007 words. I wrote half of this, and [info]cee wrote the other. She rocks. The title of this piece is lifted directly from the Mars Volta song of the same name, which is here, if anybody would like. Originally, I suppose it's lifted from the Catholics.

The best thing about her was that she didn't remind him of anyone. She was little, no more than 5'5", with those wrists that looked breakable, with china doll skin, freckles on her cheeks and red hair. Nothing like... anyone.

He doesn’t say their names, even in his head.

Dean had smiled at her, not even like that, and she'd smiled back. You need to wait outside, she told him, smiling the whole time, and Dean had backed out of the room, surrendering. She was little, maybe breakable, but they'd seen her take down a swinging drunk of about Sam's size while they waited in triage. Boom boom. She'd dosed the guy and smiled, wiping her tiny hands on her blue scrubs.


How'd you injure the arm? she’d asked him, taking notes on her little clipboard. When she lowered her head, the fluorescent lights shone on her hair as it fell forward. She had tucked it back, an impatient, precise motion. Sir.

I fell, Sam lied. She made a note, and he knew she knew it was bullshit. A zombie broke my arm, he amended sincerely, cradling his wrist with his other hand. He gave her his biggest eyes.

She looked back at him without blinking, until he hung his head.

I fell, he repeated. In a hole, he added.

She wrote something else, escorted him to X-Ray and back. She had him lift his shirt, and listened to his heart and lungs, she took his blood pressure and his pulse. He answered her questions. The little hands were gentle and warm, callused in places that surprised him.

When the doctor had come and gone (a blustery, Santa-like man, with meaty deft fingers – This'll hurt, son – I'm fine, sir, go ahead), when the plaster was drying and Sam was already starting to itch, she had returned.

Fill this for pain, if you need it. Sign here. Check up in four weeks to see how it's healing. Sign here, too.

He made awkward scratches with his left hand. No-one would fault him for not matching the signature on the card.

Have a nice night, she’d told him. Her smile was huge, her eyes were already on the next patient.

What a bitch, huh? Dean said, spinning the car keys on his finger.

Sam shook his head. Efficient, he corrected.


They stop for the night in the next town; hit the bar down the road from their motel. Sam drinks Coors. Dean plays pool. Sam reads the paper. Dean violates the jukebox and nearly gets thrown out for too many replays of "Hell’s Bells."

The little nurse walks in at quarter to twelve, in a denim skirt and a man's white t-shirt; she's with two friends, one fair and one dark, who remind Sam of. Other people.

She doesn’t smile at him when he walks up to her at the bar, but she lets him buy her a beer. He feels stupid and too tall; he thinks she must be getting the wrong idea from the way he keeps having to lean down as they talk.

Dean entertains her friends at a little table in the corner, keeping them out of the way. From the corner of his eye, Sam can see them all laughing; seeing Dean like that makes him smile. Wide. Unguarded.

Her head tilts, and red hair spills off her shoulder. That grin is the first true thing to come out of your mouth, she says seriously.

The second, actually, he clarifies, and sips his beer so she won’t ask.

This time when she smiles at him it isn’t like it was in the ER. It’s small and crooked, like the collarbones he can see though the vee-neck of her shirt. She asks the questions the way he remembers her hands being, warm and brisk at the same time:

You're not staying in town long, are you? – No.

Do you want to come home with me tonight? – ...Yes.

What's your real name? – Sam Sam. It's Sam.

He signals to Dean from across the bar. Dean raises two fingers to his brow with a signature smile.


Her apartment’s above the hardware store; she says she'd ended up in Missouri because she'd married the wrong guy. You could go home, he suggests, and waves at the print of the Brooklyn Bridge that’s hung above her mantel.

Or I could stay, she answers, and leads him through the dark to her bedroom.

She strips him with slow, easy motions; he had sort of expected it to be brisk and detached, like in the hospital. But she lingers over his shoulders and his hips as she presses him down into her pillows, she touches his skin with intimacy instead of objectivity. Her fingers are so warm. He can’t help her much, still clumsy with his one hand. There’s a crucifix around her neck that hits him between the eyes when she leans in to kiss him, and that allays at least half of the fears he'd had; in the soft light from her lamp her eyes are a peaceful, reassuring blue.

She straddles his lap, then, and Sam feels her cotton panties warm and soft against him where her skirt’s rucked up. He slides his hand up her sides, but hesitates at the swell of her breasts. Softly, he brushes his fingertips over the curve of her t-shirt.

She sighs.

Tell me your name, he asks. You already got mine.

The fact that he doesn’t have hers is telling for them both. His cock pulses against her, hard.

She bites her lip, her eyes shadowed, and then grinds down into his lap. A damp, welcoming warmth smudges against him, and Sam decides her name isn’t really that important.

It's Penny, she answers, and shakes out her copper hair. It catches the lamplight, gleaming, and Sam buries his hand in it.

Penny, he repeats, learning how it tastes in his mouth. It tastes like blood and metal, but pleasant anyway.

She shivers, and Sam draws her down and kisses her.

The children's rhyme flits through his mind - see a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck - and it makes Sam think of Dean, and then of green hills that would fit Penny's hair. Children in a circle, sing-song voices and the superstition, never letting wealth slip away, and what that would mean to a spirit.

She pushes her hips against his cock again, she flicks her pink tongue, and he forgets for a minute to think at all.

They break apart, panting. Sam pushes his fingers under her t-shirt. This is really unfair of you, he teases, though no smile touches his face. I mean, I'm already naked, you got to undress me and everything.

And you're crippled, too, more's the pity. It isn’t cruel, but she's laughing just the same. She rises up, away from his hands, and pulls off the t-shirt. She isn’t wearing a bra, and her breasts are small and almost perfectly round.

No sooner seen than in his hand; he couldn't have stopped himself if he'd wanted to. He fills his palm first with one and then the other, cursing the arm that has let him down like this. She hums, low, and leans into him, her hips circling slow.

Sam tells himself she's just a nurse, a nurse with blue scrubs and an efficient penstroke. There is nothing ancient about her, no prima in her potestas: it's just sex. Then she twists against him again, and he clutches her hip and thinks of gypsies and old magic.

Maybe, he thinks. Maybe, if she is magic, that will keep her safe.

He almost stops, lets his hand fall to her thigh. Penny, he says, but before Sam can manage a Maybe this isn't the best idea, she's pushing her mouth against his, opening him up even as she huddles against him. She's half his size and it feels like she pins him down and takes from him things he's not sure he meant to give.

Too late: he can't not give them.

He lays his broken hand against her back, lets the weight of the cast push her against him. With his good hand, he cups her ass, arches up to rock against her. She makes a little mewling sound and he finds it unbearably erotic, Jesus Christ he hasn't been laid in forever and a day. Surely he isn't meant to suffer like this. Nobody could expect that, nobody. He edges his fingers into her panties and angles toward her pussy, kissing her harder.

Sam, she whispers, and there's nothing that comes behind it except want. She's squirming against his hand, her belly warm against his, and he forgot what this felt like. It feels like his first time, and it feels like he's known her all his life.

He hasn't. It isn't. So the taste of her lip gloss is bittersweet, and the way she moans in his ear when he sinks his fingers into her, it doesn't feel innocent. It's rich with juice, the sound of her, like tart apples and pomegranate.

Sam wonders if he'll have to do a day's penance for every kiss he takes from her. Sacrifice something for every sweet moan. It'd be fitting; he needs this too much to stop, anyway.

Because the way she pushes her fingers in his hair is perfect. She's tight and she holds him, and when she gasps into his ear that it's time, please, there's stuff in the nightstand, Sam, please, that's when he rolls her over and onto her back. That's when he grabs the drawer open, tears open the package the right way and meticulously tugs the latex into place - any way to protect her, he'll take. Every way, no questions and no arguing.

He kisses her when he's ready, and not before, but when she wraps her legs around his waist and pulls him in, he can't remember having felt more ready than this.

He sinks into her, slow. Every time he's ever done this, it feels a little like dying.

Sam's not afraid of dying.

Penny scratches at his shoulders, whimpers against his neck, and her little china doll arms flutter around him. Okay? he asks, and kisses her temple.

Oh, Sam, she whispers, her breath catching, and Sam looks down into those deep blue eyes and sees a whole future. Kids, house, job, family, home. It's like an old song he knows the words to, but got tired of singing.

He pushes his hips against her softly, and gently. Again and again he brings his body to hers, and she moans and gasps like she's heartbroken, in pain. He lifts his head and sees her crying, is set to stop and worry, but she yanks his head down to hers and holds his hips in a death grip with her thighs, kissing him wild, cupping his face. So he does it harder, shudders when she bears down on him, and tries to remember to breathe.

He understands, then. She's lonely; she saw the same emptiness in him. She's a healer, he's a killer; they are both outside, necessary in their own ways.

They fit together.


She doesn't ask him to stay, but she doesn't ask him to leave, either. He splits the difference, sleeps with her curled in his arms for a couple of hours before getting up to dress, awkward, one-handed. Her hair is spread out on the pillow, bright in the dark.

Dean is waiting across the street; he shrugs at Sam's raised eyebrow. Sam slams the door, settles back in the seat with his eyes closed as Dean starts the engine.

Wasn't gonna leave you to walk back alone, Dean says to the unasked question. It's a generous half-truth.

You wanna just… go? Sam says when they slow down near the motel. Dean shrugs again.

Bags are already in the back, he answers, and turns left at the blue sign for the highway.