for Dian

Walk It Off
K Hanna Korossy

It was a result of nearly being invisibly crushed to death. It had to be.

That was the only explanation why he was halfway down the trim walkway, cold air clearing his head a little too sharply and Dean's hand on the back of his neck still steadying him, before he remembered.

Sam dislodged his brother's hold, and almost his own equilibrium, he spun around so hard. "Dean, man, the hex! You're okay?" Belatedly trailing a hand over bloody clothes, searching drawn hazel eyes. "I forgot," he hiccupped.

"You were a little busy," Dean said automatically—comforting his brother was always automatic for him, Sam knew—and patted his chest with a sigh, the more thoughtful answer coming slower. "Ruby, uh, saved me."

"What?" Sam blinked, shifting his weight and feeling it in every muscle in his back. His head throbbed dully with his heartbeat, and when he didn't concentrate, his vision slid out of focus. But with a handful of Dean's jacket in his grasp and the memory of his brother bent over the floor coughing up blood, he was as focused as he got. "Ruby?"

"Yeah. Broke in and made me drink some nasty witch mojo tea." His nose wrinkled in memory. "Tasted like ass, dude."

"Oh." He made himself loosen his grip, wavering only briefly. Dean's hand slid back under his elbow and Sam let it. "So, it's gone. No residual aches or anything?"

"Feeling no pain," Dean confirmed, and started steering him to the car. "So can we go now? I wanna take a look at what that bitch did to your back. Not to mention, I think this place is about to become a major crime scene, no matter how much your girlfriend cleans up in there."

Sam didn't have it in him to argue the term. If Ruby had saved Dean's life, she could be whatever she wanted. The lingering adrenaline chasing itself around his system from the sight of Dean dying, then the witch's attack, bottomed out, leaving him feeling utterly drained.

And his back like a slab of tenderized meat. Apparently, he looked it, too: Dean was holding on to him with both hands, letting one go only to open the passenger door of the Impala.

Sam suddenly realized what would come next. He planted his feet, wincing as Dean dragged at him a moment before realizing he'd stopped.

"What? Get in the car, Sam."

"I can't."

Dean blinked at him. "What do you mean, you can't? Dude, there are three stiffs in there that didn't exactly die of natural causes, and 5-0's gonna be here any minute—we have to—"

"I…" He twisted a little in Dean's grip, ignoring the shot of pain down his spine. "My back…"

Dean's expression instantly altered, exasperation to concern in an economy of motion. "That bad?"

"I just…need to walk a little, okay?"

"You can sit sideways. Or stretch out in the back."

Sam swallowed, both ideas sending sick flutters through him. Even the idea of bending to get in was making him sweat. "Dean…I can't."

Dean cursed under his breath, glancing both ways, trying to figure out a new plan, fingers tight around Sam's biceps.

"Take the car back," Sam solved it for him. "I'll walk."

"I'm not leaving you here!" Dean spat.

"Dean," Sam said reasonably, even as his headache notched higher. "I'm okay, and the motel's, what, a mile away? You ran it before, and I need to stretch the muscles out anyway. Just go—I'll be there soon."

Dean's jaw was tight, his eyes wary. This went against his basic programming—protect Sam, leave no man behind—and Sam knew it. He smiled, drawing on the relief that they were having this conversation at all when Sam had pulled up to that curb not thirty minutes before, desperate and despairing to save Dean's life.

"I'm all right, Dean."

"Yeah, that's why you can't even get into the friggin' car," his brother stewed.

Dean was weakening, but the fact he was actually blaming his baby for Sam's situation said so much. Sam eased out of the tight grip on his arms and gave Dean another small smile. "Aren't you always the one telling me to walk it off?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Now you listen to me." He shook his head and slammed the passenger door shut. "If you're not back in a half-hour, I'm coming looking for you."

Sam nodded. His neck twinged, and he buried his hands in his jacket pockets where he could curl them out of sight.

Dean's glare was fierce as he went around the car, but it made Sam appreciate the action all the more. Sometimes he needed Dean there to tell him everything was okay, and sometimes he needed the trust implicit in being left alone.

Especially when he had a lot to think about.

He watched the car, parked haphazardly against the curb in his earlier haste—not that Dean would ever say a word about that—pull away and slowly disappear up the street. Dean watched him in the rear view mirror until Sam couldn't make him out anymore. Then, with shoulders gingerly hunched, he started walking.

His back jarred with every step no matter how lightly Sam moved, and by the end of the block he was pretty sure the muscles wouldn't be loosening any time soon no matter how much he stretched them, but Sam shuffled on.

The truth was, bending down to get into the car was only half of it. Sam's gut twisted at least as much from the thought of being trapped in the small space with his too-perceptive brother and his thoughts. The revelations of that evening, such as that Ruby had once been human. That the Colt had been useless. And that, oh, yeah, a new demonic leader was rising, and he—and his followers—wanted Sam dead.

The pain in his back had become spears, shooting down into his legs and conspiring with the cold to bring tears to his eyes. Sam slowed even more, hobbling in an effort to keep motion to a minimum, and kept going.

The fact was that he was badly outmatched and in even worse shape than he'd been the previous year, when he'd despaired of being saved from his fate. And now that damned deal counting down and Dean's time was growing short, and soon Sam would be left alone. To what? How was he supposed to—?

His shoe caught on something and he stumbled.

His back flared into a flashpoint of agony so intense, it stole his breath and his vision completely and drove him to all fours. Sam tried to pant through it, fingers curling against the rough cement, working to shore himself up against the wash of despair that made him want to just stay there, give up and never rise again. They'd wanted him on his knees? Well, he was there.

His breath choked up his throat, and it tasted like sulfur.

When Sam could see again, his back was a plain of misery but no longer aflame. He crawled off the sidewalk to the curb and eased himself around to sit. Bending at the waist was just as bad as he'd imagined it would be, but if he let his spine curve forward and his shoulders droop, it was bearable. Also probably totally pathetic, but at least in the darkness there was no one to see.

All hail the mighty demon leader.

God, he couldn't do this. Tears threatened again, and this time he was tempted to give in, just sit there and bawl like a kid. How had everything gotten so screwed up? What was he supposed to do now? He sat, chin against his chest, defeated.

A scent filtered down slowly into his misery. Familiar. Soothing.

Frowning, Sam raised his head.

Nearly bumping his nose against the cup in front of his face.

Confusion deepening, he looked higher, up the leather-clad arm that held said cup, to the face above it. The light was dim, but the hazel eyes caught stray beams like a cat. Enough to illuminate the warmth and sadness in them.

"It's been a half-hour?" Sam croaked dumbly. Not what he'd really wanted to ask, but his mind seemed to have overloaded and rebooted to simple concepts.

"No," was the simple response. The cup was nudged at him.

Sam automatically accepted it, the heat of the insulated container a pleasant tingle against his cold, scraped skin. It wasn't coffee; it smelled herbal, lemony, and he took a distracted sip. Tea.

Dean settled on the curb next to him, his shoulder against Sam's. Sam found himself straightening a little to match his brother's posture. His back grumbled, then subsided.

Sam took another sip. Melted a little against Dean because he didn't have the strength to resist kindness. Drank some more and swallowed with difficulty, even as the tea warmed him from the inside.

Dean didn't say a word, just sat there. He had a cup of his own, no doubt coffee in his, but the car was nowhere in sight. Sam was pretty sure he would have heard it even enfolded in his misery. Dean must've gone to the motel, left the Impala there, and immediately come back for him. The thought made emotion well again.

Sam cleared his throat roughly. "I couldn't kill her with the Colt."

Dean's head cocked toward him. "The witch-bitch?"

Sam nodded. "I shot her, but she did this…Matrix thing with the bullet before it got to her, stopped it in mid-air."

His brother contemplated that a moment. "The stronger ones usually rock the whole TK thing. Yellow-Eyes could've probably stopped me if he'd had the time."
Dad had distracted him, though, and Sam reminded himself there was some good that had come out of Dean bringing him back from the dead, at least. Besides the fact that Dean had needed him.

Sam took a breath. "I tried to talk to her before I shot her. Make her let you go and exorcise her."

Dean turned to look at him, and Sam saw a flicker of relief in his eyes. He wouldn't have had to say that a year ago, but…well, a lot had happened in the last year. "You didn't have a choice."

Trying to make him feel better. That at least was old and familiar. Sam gave a weak smile and dipped his head. He should probably tell Dean about the new demon leader. They had too many secrets between them already. But if Dean would really be gone soon, what did it help to give him something else to worry about in his final days? Sam could be strong for him, carry this weight alone. Be like his brother had always been for him.

His back spasmed, a reminder shot across the bow, and Sam shifted, trying and failing to find a comfortable position.

"We should get ice on that," Dean quietly remarked.

"Think you'd have to stick me in a freezer," Sam muttered.

"C'mon." Dean bumped him gently, then stood. He took Sam's almost empty cup and set it in the street, then bent down, arm sliding carefully around his waist. "You'll feel better after you stretch out, beanpole. I'll even let you have the mattress you didn't turn into confetti."

Yeah, he'd feel better…until the next day, when his joints had had a chance to stiffen up and his bruises to fully bloom. But for tonight, for the moment, Dean's warmth and support made it all seem bearable, and Sam was starved for the comfort. He let himself be stood up and propped, groaning quietly but unresisting as Dean wedged himself under one of his arms and found a more secure hold, then started them forward.

"I think American Idol's on tonight," Dean mused as they headed slowly, painstakingly back toward the motel.

"You hate…that show." The support cancelled out the torture of movement, leaving his back dully aching.

"It's funny at the beginning when everybody stinks." Dean gave a faint shrug. "'Sides, beats that dancing show. Dude, any guy who wears sequins is…"

Sam let it flow by his ear, as it was meant to. He forgot, sometimes, that this was Dean, too: stubbornly caring, unconditionally loving, never quitting on those he cared about. If he was going to be more like Dean, there was that aspect to emulate, too.

Maybe their time was short and Sam still didn't know what he'd do after, but Dean was here now. And for tonight, for the moment, Sam was going to be Sammy again and let his big brother look after him like he always did, and not think beyond that.

The End