Word count: 2,298
Summary: Sam's been taken by an unknown creature, and it's going to take more than Dean to get him back.
His head is so, so heavy.
Sam knows he should lift his head, should look around and try to discern if a way out of this rotting barn has presented itself during his latest period of unconsciousness, but it's all he can do to open his eyes. All he sees is his chest and the three thick lengths of rope that are binding him to the center pole holding up what's left of the roof. The rope is probably what's keeping him upright, come to that.
He can still feel the ropes around his wrists and ankles as well; that's probably a good sign. Loss of feeling would mean the ropes had been too tight. At least his kidnapper was nice enough to prevent that from happening.
Sam snorts out a half-laugh at his own thoughts. His kidnapper has not been nice. His kidnapper caught him off-guard at a gas station in North Dakota, on his way back to Sioux Falls from checking in on one of Bobby's old properties up north. Dean had agreed to spend a few days with Claire and Alex, Jody having insisted that it was for everyone's benefit that the girls have a little bit more weapons training. Sam had made what was supposed to be a quick pit stop on the way back, but as soon as he emerged from the bathroom, it had been lights out.
He'd woken up here, tied to the pole, with a creature in front of him like nothing he'd ever seen before. Human in shape, but with small, dark horns jutting out from its head and clawed fingers that had left their mark on Sam's face, ribs, and thighs. It hadn't made any demands during the days that it had been there, had just taken turns slashing with those claws and standing there watching Sam as if waiting for him to do something.
All Sam had done was bleed. And shiver. North Dakota was fucking cold in late March.
The first four days, the creature had brought him water in an old-fashioned bucket and dipper. Sam had no idea where the water came from, but he knew he didn't have a choice, so he drank when it was offered.
The fifth day, it had apparently realized that Sam needed more than water to survive. Bread was what it offered, dark brown rye that made Sam's mouth drier than ever, but he knew he had to eat to survive.
On the eighth day, the creature hadn't shown up at all.
That was two days ago, and between dehydration, cold, and blood loss, Sam knows things are getting bad. He's been regularly flexing his fingers, but they're so cold by now that they're useless for picking at the ropes. He's thought about pulling against the pole he's tied to, but bringing the remains of the barn roof down on his head might finish what the creature started. He knows Dean has been looking for him, probably with Jody and Claire and Alex, and all he has to do is hang in there.
He snorts again. Hang in there. He's sagging against the pole, the ropes the only thing holding him up. Even if he was cut loose now, he'd probably collapse to the floor the same way this old barn wants to do.
There's a rustling from behind him, back from where the front door of the barn would be if it hadn't long ago slumped to the ground in a pile of weathered timber. There haven't even been the sounds of mice in the hay so far; it's been so long since humans were here, there's nothing for them to eat. Sam tries to turn his head to see if his tormentor is back, but even with the sudden fear thrumming through his veins, it's just too hard. His body is using all of the energy it has left just to keep his heart beating.
"Oh God, Sam," he hears, the voice of a young woman, and he lets his head fall to his chest in relief. They found him.
It's Alex and Claire, working in tandem as they carefully cut him loose. He wants to ask where Dean is, or how they know to free his hands first and ankles last, but his mouth is too dry to form words. They each take an arm and gently lead him a step away from the pole and down in a surprisingly graceful move to lie on the dirt-streaked boards beneath them.
"Ow," Sam says faintly. Rope burns he didn't realize he had on his wrists are now exposed to the air, and the cuts on his ribs and thighs are being pulled by the cloth covering and sticking to them.
Claire holds his head up with one hand and brings a water bottle to his lips with the other. "Easy," she says, only letting him have a few sips at a time. The water is cold, but it tastes clean, and it's hard not to gulp it all down.
She slides a backpack under his head. "So what's the diagnosis, Doc?"
Alex has been looking over Sam from head to toe, gentle hands brushing against the cuts on his cheek and ribs, two fingers at his neck while she looks at her watch. "What did he do to you?" she finally asks.
"Cut me," Sam breathes out. "Nothing…two days."
Alex and Claire exchange a meaningful look, but before he can draw enough breath to ask, Alex says, "Looks like some claw wounds and dehydration. Possible mild hypothermia. I can take care of the wounds while you get Dean here."
Claire stands up. "I'll drive back out towards civilization till I get a signal."
"Grab the blanket from the trunk, would you?" Alex calls out. She rifles through the first-aid kit she brought and then stops and takes a breath, hands going still. After a moment, she says, "Here," and brings the water bottle to Sam's lips again.
He takes a few more grateful sips before leaning his head back. "Ribs…worst," he manages.
"Then I'll start there," she says with a small smile that he's sure is the same reassuring yet distant one that her patients see.
Claire brings the blanket and helps Alex carefully tuck it around Sam's legs before taking off again at a near-run. Sam would ask what the hurry was, but he can't string more than two words together at once right now.
Then it hits him—Dean's been wondering where he is for over a week.
He flails until he grabs Alex's wrist. "Dean?"
"He's all right," she says quickly. "Jody's been watching out for him, making sure he eats and sleeps."
There's something guilty in her expression, and he squeezes her wrist as tightly as he can. She extricates her hand and places his on the floor before turning back to the first aid kit. "I might have put something in his whiskey to make him sleep the first time."
Sam snorts, and surprise flickers across Alex's face as she registers the approval he's putting into his look. "Good," he croaks.
"But he was the one who figured it out." She gently pulls away Sam's flannel shirt before trying to lift the t-shirt beneath it. It sticks to the cuts on his ribs, and he lets out a hiss. She moves more carefully after that, but he has to focus on her words to ignore the pain. "It was a Norwegian Devil. The lore is that they came over with the original white settlers, and they're tied to the houses that they built. But over the years, most of the people up here died or moved away, and the houses stayed empty except for the devils. They can roam a little ways from home, I guess, but not too far."
She's got the shirt pulled away from him now, skin exposed to the cold air. He shivers, and she tucks the blanket more closely around his legs. "Gas station," he says. "Not…house."
"We figure it was looking for a new human," Alex says. "We're only about five miles from where we found your car at the gas station. The driveway was totally overgrown; I would have driven past it except that Claire said the satellite view showed a barn back here."
She holds up a water bottle, and he grits his teeth. The cold water stings his open cuts, but he pictures it washing away the blood and grit and fear of the past week. He winces, but that's all.
It's Alex who has a worried, pinched expression, and he moves his hand until it's brushing her knee. "Okay?" Sam asks.
She startles. "You're not the one who should be asking that question."
He keeps looking at her, and finally she sighs. "Yeah, I'm fine. I've gotten used to patching Jody up. But it's still hard sometimes."
"I know," he says, clumsily patting her knee. He gathers his strength and asks, "Was a Norwegian Devil?"
"Yeah." She reaches into the first aid kit and pulls out cotton pads and a bottle of antiseptic. "We tracked down the house it belonged to, closer to the gas station than we are, and prepared to burn it. Once the house goes, so does the demon. The idea was to threaten it into telling us where you were."
"And?" Sam asks.
She sighs, opening the bottle of antiseptic and wetting a couple of pads. "Then the wind gusted, and the torches Jody and I were holding flared up, and the house caught. The timber was dry as dust, and it was gone in minutes."
"Yeah, that's right." She dabs at the wounds, her other arm resting across Sam's upper chest so he doesn't jackknife upwards at the sting. "It's been a little rough since then."
"Yeah," Sam agrees.
"Shit." Alex leans back on her heels. "I'm so sorry, Sam. Here I am complaining about getting yelled at, and you were tied to a pole with no food or water for days."
"Knew you'd…find me."
"You knew Dean would find you," she says, resuming her work of cleaning his cuts. "And that he wouldn't screw it up like I did."
"Hey." He makes his voice as sharp as he can, and it gets her attention. "Wind…not y'r fault."
She bites her lip but doesn't respond.
"Knew…you all'd find me."
Alex looks at him for a long moment before offering him the water bottle again. He drinks more deeply this time and is exhausted when he lays his head back. "Keep goin'," Sam says, gritting his teeth.
She finishes cleaning out the cuts on his ribs and neatly tapes gauze across them. "You'll need stitches, but I'm not doing that in this filthy barn."
"Done worse," Sam breathes out.
"Yeah, well you don't have to," she retorts. "Not when we all found you."
He gets what she's trying to say, and he wishes he had the strength to reply properly. It's a tricky thing, this relying on other people. For years, he and Dean knew that they had each other's backs as surely as they knew anything in the world. But there were also the times when they let each other down, and the work it took to get past that.
Letting other people in has been even harder. Not just because of the fear of losing them, which Sam knows he'll never get past, but because of exactly what Alex is talking about. Counting on people like Jody and Claire and Alex is taking a risk. He trusts them, of course, but they aren't as well-trained as he and Dean are, and sometimes that's going to show.
Not that it isn't paying off in spades at the moment, as Alex gently cleans the cuts on his face and periodically gives him more water to drink.
Sam brushes her knee again. "Thanks. Having…our backs." There's more he wants to say, how he knows she didn't want anything to do with hunting, that she wanted to be a nurse and live a normal life, but that it's impossible when the people you love are in the life to stay away. He knows.
Her smile is almost sad. "Feels like I have to, you know. I had the wrong people's backs for so many years."
"Too young," Sam replies, lifting his head to catch her eye so she can see all of the things he can't find the words for right now. She needs to understand that what she did all those years with the vampires wasn't her fault, and that she doesn't need to do penance for it.
Alex's smile softens. "We can talk about this later," she says. "Right now, you need to rest." She must see the stubbornness through the lines of pain on his face, for she goes on, "As soon as Dean gets here."
Sam smiles faintly at how well she can read him and then lays his head down again. "Thanks," he says again, and she pats his shoulder in reply.
She's done with his face when there's the familiar slam of a car door outside, and any remaining tension in Sam's body melts away. "Sammy?"
Alex scoots back as Dean comes racing in, dropping to his knees next to Sam. "Hey there, little brother. How're you doin'?"
"All right," Sam croaks out. "Gotta…good nurse."
Dean grips Sam's shoulder and takes in the bandages on his face and ribs. "Guess so," he says. He looks over at Alex, who's looking through her first-aid kit. "Hey, thanks," he says. "Both of you."
"Any time," Alex replies, looking up to give Sam a smile.
He smiles back and reaches out to pat Dean's leg before closing his eyes. He's safe now. He can rest.