Summary: Phthsis: thahy-sis, noun: a wasting away; a decaying of the body.
Warnings: Language, Schmoop, Angst, Decimation of Dimples and Other Fine Things
A/N: I have to stop reading Edgar Allen Poe. He has a bad habit of putting rarely-used, hard-to-pronounce words in my brain, and then ideas like this fester until I have to spill it on a page or risk combustion.
Things had been going smoothly until Dean overturned the dude's altar. As soon as the candles, urns and Satanic spells hit the ground, the warlock currently being held in Sam's grip went wild.
"You have no right! No right!" he screamed, slinging himself back and forth, dust clouds rising from the basement floor as his feet scraped.
"Ah, shut up," Dean crowed, smashing one of the more ominous-looking glass bottles to bits with a crowbar. Pausing, he glanced over at the ruffled young man, looking him up and down. "You know, you were selling your soul to demons by getting involved in this crap. We're just saving your life here."
The handsome young man in Sam's arms stopped struggling and went limp. His seething gaze slowly lifted from the ruined altar lying in pieces on the cement to Dean's face. "It was worth it," he whispered. "They couldn't stop looking at me. She, she wanted me. Me."
Dean's eyebrows rose. "You mean you knew you were damning yourself, and you still went through with it?" He smashed another bowl, full of feathers and dirt and god knew what else. "Man, that's messed up. And dude, who is she? Don't tell me there's a witch we have to take care of too."
Just then the warlock screamed, and began to seize. Sam looked alarmed, but didn't let go as the guy bucked, his knees falling out from under him. Dean darted forward, not sure if Sam needed protection but prepared to give it either way. Just as he touched the guy's arm, ready to tear him away from Sam, there was a snap in the air and an unseen force pushed him down on his butt.
"Damn," he said, rubbing his rump grumpily as he stood. He glanced over at Sam, who besides looking slightly confused seemed unharmed. Cracking his neck, he glanced at the warlock, and then glanced again, his eyes widening.
The handsome young man was no longer. The thick blonde hair had disappeared from his head, leaving him with barely a wisp of strands left. His dazzling blue eyes turned to a dull muddy brown, and his heart-shaped full lips were now thin and pale, with one yellowing crooked tooth sticking out. His face was covered with scars and warts. He no longer looked twenty-five; he hardly passed for fifty, what with the wrinkles and double-chin. He coughed and gasped, staring hard at Dean. "You'll regret this," he said in a raspy, vaguely Russian accent, one that was a far cry from the silky western American one he'd had only moments before. "You'll regret it, you will."
With a ferocious strength Dean didn't expect from the newly haggard man, the warlock suddenly twisted in Sam's arms, his eyes level with Sam's mouth. Then he leaned forward and bit him on the neck.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean yelled, rushing forward just as Sam let out a startled whimper. He began to drop to the ground and his hold on the warlock loosened.
The man backed away quickly, his sneer drenched in blood. "Take a good look at him," the man triumphantly hissed at Dean. "Won't be long before the sight will make even his mother scream in horror."
Before Dean could grab him and kick the shit out of him like he planned on, the man flew up the stairs.
At that moment Dean had two choices – go after the warlock, or check Sam. There was really only once choice. He heard the front door slam open just as he pulled Sam up to lean against the wall, pressing both of his hands to his brother's neck – one to check Sam's pulse, the other to check the damage.
"Sammy?" he asked as he looked at the bite. It was resting about three inches above Sam's collarbone, and while bloody didn't look deep enough for stitches. When Sam didn't immediately answer, Dean moved his hand to Sam's face, patting it gently. "Sammy, you with me?"
Sam groaned, his eyes barely slitting open. "You sure we don't have to behead this guy?" he muttered.
Dean smirked, relieved. "You tell me, geekboy. You're the one who did all the research. Don't tell me you missed him being a warlock and a vamp?"
Sam's only answer was a grimace as Dean pressed the edge of his coat on Sam's wound.
"Must be losing your touch, Sammy," he added as he pulled Sam to his feet. Sam swayed a bit, but Dean's strong grip in his shoulder kept him steady.
"Bite me," Sam replied automatically, before grimacing again, though this time not from the pain.
Dean's grin was wicked. "Don't tell me you want a matching set! Dude, that's so kinky."
"You're... kinky. Whatever, let's go."
For all the trouble Dean had been in with witches before, he had to admit that a warlock's curse usually caused more problems. See, witches, for all their smirks and promises of doom, weren't very original. The worst Dean had ever gotten was a month with herpes and strong body odor; and despite some slight discomfort and advice from random waitresses and bartenders to take a shower, it hadn't been all that bad. Warlocks, though; they were a different story. Dean was a guy, and he knew how guys worked. Get some power, you don't just use it for yourself like the ladies; you need to show it off, prove what a macho man you are.
But the next morning, as Dean visually checked Sam over in the motel parking lot, he had to admit the guy looked all right. "You seem normal," he commented as they entered the one diner in town for breakfast. "Do you, ya know, feelokay?"
Sam shrugged. "Yeah, I'm a little tired I guess, but otherwise I feel fine."
Dean stared at him hard for a few seconds, but Sam didn't seem to be lying. "Good. Let me know if anything is off, though. I don't care if it's just a blister on your big toe, I wanna know."
"Yeah, yeah," Sam replied tiredly, sitting across from Dean in a booth near the front, setting up his laptop to look for more cases.
Breakfast after a hunt went as usual – Dean digging into a plate of pancakes while Sam sipped coffee and offered various hunts. Dean turned down the first two – deer mutilations and a sudden outbreak of skin rashes all in one town just didn't sound appealing – but his curiosity was peaked when Sam mentioned a series of disappearances in Oregon. All were twenty-something young men, and all had disappeared while hiking with their girlfriends in the same patch of woods just outside Salem.
"Let's do the Oregon one. I'm sure the girlfriends will need some consoling, if you catch my drift," Dean said when Sam finished explaining.
"Do you ever think of anything else, ever, Dean?" Sam said, shutting his laptop closed.
Dean tried to look offended. "According to Cosmo, I only think about it every six minutes, so you can just shut your piehole. Besides, it's not my fault the women can't help but love me. It's a natural talent."
"More like a natural disaster," Sam quipped, smirking at Dean as he turned to climb out of the booth. Dean opened his mouth to retort, when something caught his eye. Actually, more like a lack of something.
Sam stood up, and turned to grab his computer case, not even glancing over at Dean. "Yeah?"
"Look at me and smile."
Sam froze, his eyes pinned on Dean. "What?"
"You heard me. Smile."
Sam quirked an eyebrow. "What for?"
Dean huffed angrily. They didn't have time for stupid questions - this was important. "Just do it, Sam!"
He didn't realize he'd yelled it until the entire diner fell quiet. Sam glanced around warily, before looking over at Dean and smiling. It was horribly forced, but it was all the confirmation Dean needed.
"I knew it! Damn it, I knew he did something to you!" he whispered angrily. He grabbed Sam's coat and manhandled him out of the diner, ignoring the stunned looks of the customers and staff. He didn't stop 'til they were at the Impala. Just as he was opening the passenger side door to get Sammy in it and safe, Sam wrenched his coat out of Dean's grip.
"What the hell are you talking about, Dean?" he asked frustratingly. Though his face was blank, Dean could also hear the fear evident in his tone.
He bit his lip, unsure how to go on. He finally settled on quick and brutal. "You don't have dimples, Sam."
Sam blanched. "What? What do you mean?"
"I mean, they're gone. Not there. Disappeared." Dean motioned to the passenger-side mirror. "See for yourself."
Without hesitation Sam bent his knees and learned forward to look. Dean watched in fascination as he went through every single one of his signature grins and smirks, and all turned up the same – dimple-less.
After dropping all the smiles and staring into the mirror with a frown for a couple seconds, Sam stood up and looked at Dean, perplexed. "Huh."
Dean jaw dropped. "Huh? Huh? I can't believe you, don't you reali- you know what, just get in the damn car."
"Dean, it's not that big a deal."
Dean was pacing. They'd been looking all over town for the warlock all day, but they'd come up with nothing. It didn't help that neither of them had gotten the best look at him – well, the real him.
The last hour had been spent back in the motel room, researching for possible solutions. Dean had called contacts while Sam perused the internet. Even Bobby had no ideas, except to find the warlock and force him to break the curse. Which wasn't a possibility, considering they had no idea where the bastard was. Damn it, and Dean was not starting to freak out.
"What the heck, Sam? Not a big deal? Of course it's a big deal! The guy took your dimples!"
Sam shrugged. "Never cared much for them anyways. Besides, you always said they made me look like a girl."
Dean shook his head tightly. "That's not the point, Sam. The point is he stole them from you! And who knows what he might take tomorrow!"
Sam paled at that, and Dean flinched. He didn't want Sam to be scared, but right now he was a little worried himself and how could his brother be so calm? He took a deep breath. "Look, Sam, that guy changed completely when I smashed his altar. Not just his dimples, but all of him. And I can't help but think this is only the beginning. So don't joke about this, please. This guy is attacking you. We have to stop him, or else..."
Sam looked away and at the wall, but not before Dean caught the panic in his eyes. "Or else he might not stop taking 'til there's nothing left."
Dean put a hand on his brother's arm, twisting Sam so they faced each other. "That's not going to happen, Sammy," he promised him. Sam might be taller, but Dean knew he would always look up to his older brother for comfort. "We're going to figure this out," and then with a smile, "and don't worry, even without the dimples, you still look like a girl."
Sam didn't smile and he didn't answer, but his eyes told Dean everything he needed to know. Sam believed Dean, he believed in Dean, and nobody – not even a vengeful ex-warlock – was going to take that away from Sam's big brother.
When Dean woke up the next morning, Sam was already in the shower. Dean thought about knocking on the door to see if Sam was okay, or at least not missing anything vital, but thought better of it when he saw the sea of brown strands on Sam's pillow.
When Sam walked out of the bathroom ten minutes later Dean merely glanced at him before darting his eyes away quickly, biting his lip.
"It's okay," Sam spoke quietly, and Dean automatically looked at him again, hoping Sam didn't see his flinch. "Guess I don't look so much like a girl anymore, at least."
"That's not funny, Sam," Dean said, his jaw clenching.
Sam shrugged, rubbing his hands across his newly-bald head. "I don't know, it's a little funny."
"Dean, please, I don't want to talk about it. We have work to do, remember?"
Dean nodded agreeably, though inside he wasn't so sure. Normally, he was the master of ignoring stuff. But this was Sammy, and Dean didn't know how long he could keep up the façade of not being too concerned about it. But Dean could tell Sam needed him to do that. And if Sam needed it, Dean would do it. That was just the way it was.
Twenty four hours later, they still hadn't gotten any further. They'd turned the guy's house upside-down, but found no clues as to his whereabouts. Dean had spent the day questioning the neighbors while Sam had sat in a café, ransacking the internet for any ideas as to how to break the spell and get Sam looking like Sam again. The best he'd found was a home-made Botox recipe and a couple good contacts for cheap plastic surgery in Mexico.
Dean was barely keeping it together. He'd managed not to mention Sam's hair loss (eyebrows, lashes and Dean didn't want to know where else) all day after Sam asked him not to say anything about it, but the morning after he had to leave the room before he smashed something to bits when Sam opened his eyes.
Because Sam's irises, his hazel orbs that changed colors depending on the light, were gone. Sam's pupils were like drops of black ink in an ocean of white, and for a moment Dean was sure he was possessed before the realization sank in. He promptly turned around and walked out, barely keeping a hold on his fury, finally losing it when he'd turned a corner and found an empty alleyway. After kicking the crap out of a trash bin, he felt just calm enough to go back.
Sam was still lying in bed when Dean walked in, his eyes closed. Dean knew that was for his sake, and felt ashamed at his outburst. "It's okay, Sam, you can open your eyes," he said, sitting on his own bed.
Slowly Sam complied, but kept his gaze downward as he turned to sit up too, mirroring Dean. After a few moments he said, "It's not so bad, Dean, I was expecting something far worse today to tell you the truth, and –"
"No, Sam. Don't do this again. Don't try to make it 'no big deal' again." Sam looked up at Dean, and he could tell Sam was preparing to protest, and that. was. it. "Your dimples were all you, Sam, even your hair was all it's own shade," Dean closed his eyes, and choked back a sob, "but damn it, your eyes, Sammy, those were Mom's. You have Mom's eye color, and he stole it, he's fuckin' taking everything away from you bit by bit and he's not going to stop, so don't tell me it could have been worse, Sam. They were, those were Mom's. Just, don't."
Dean couldn't turn around and face Sam, not after that. God, he hadn't meant to say all that. He was acting like he was the one losing parts of himself, for God's sake. Sam was the one who was suffering here, not him. Dean was about to turn around and apologize, tell Sam to forget about it and never mention it again under pain of death, when he felt a hand on the back of his neck.
"Hey, c'mon," Sam whispered, gripping his neck before letting go. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't meant to come across uncaring, I didn't realize... I didn't know they were Mom's."
Dean took a moment to swallow before answering, "No, Sam. Don't be sorry. I didn't mean to go all ape-shit like that, either." He turned to in Sam's direction, rubbing his hand across his mouth, shaking his head. "I'm just getting damn angry, that's all. This is taking too long. We should have found the guy and fixed this by now, damn it."
Sam sighed. "Yeah, maybe. But we've been in tougher situations before, Dean, and we've always come through okay."
Dean bit his tongue. He could think of quite a few situations where things hadn't come out all okay, but he didn't think it was necessary to name them. "Yeah, we'll figure this one out. Just another day at the office, right?"
Sam nodded. "Right."
They found the body the same day. Combing through he warlock's house a second time, Sam came across a trap door underneath the livingroom rug. Upon opening the door, the smell alone should have given them enough of a hint to just call the cops, but Dean insisted on checking it out.
The body was wrapped in transparent plastic wrap. Even from the top of the small set of stairs leading down to the dirt ground, Dean could see he was bloody. Jumping down the last few steps, he flicked on his flashlight, Sam right behind him with his own.
Just then Dean started to second-guess his plan, and turned around to face his brother. "Uh, Sam, wait here for a second, okay?"
Sam looked a little offended, but he must have sense the desperation in Dean's tone because he merely nodded. Dean nodded back in reassurance before walking over to the body. With a knife he slit the wrap from the head all the way down to the feet, trying his best to ignore the smell. Then he pushed it back on both sides, revealing a body lying on it's back.
There wasn't much left. A thin veneer of what Dean assumed was some protective layer between skin and blood covered the organs. Each was arranged as it would have been had the man been alive, like some sort of psychotic science class exhibit. No limbs remained. The man was skinless and boneless. No muscles remained. All that remained of the head was the brain and eyeballs. The orbs had no irises, but Dean imagined they had once been a bright blue, perhaps with wisps of blonde hair obscuring them.
Without warning, the image of blue eyes turned to hazel, and the blonde hair darkened to a chocolate shade.
Dean barely made it outside before he threw up his breakfast and last night's take-out, Sam calling frantically after him.
"Dean, it's going to be okay, just breathe. You're okay," Dean heard over the roaring in his ears, as a gentle hand soothed his back. He was barely paying attention. A rage like he hadn't felt since right after his father's death was eating him alive. He let the feeling devour him whole, take over all his fear and doubts and wash them away, leaving behind exactly what he needed: determination and sheer power of will.
Slowly he stood up, Sam coming around from behind to face him. Dean didn't give him time to speak.
"This guy is going down, Sam. We're going to find him, and when we do, we're going to kill him. You understand me? We're going to end this."
"Dean..." Sam said.
Dean turned cold eyes on him. "If it was the other way around, what would you do, Sam?"
Sam looked down and away. "I'd kill him," he muttered. It was stated quiet and said but with just as much conviction as Dean's own declaration had been.
"We're going to do this. You gotta let me do this, Sammy."
"Yeah, Dean. Okay."
They were getting ready for bed again. Another four hours after the grisly discovery had been spent looking through the house once more, with no more luck. Tired and spent, they high-tailed it back to the motel, Dean cursing under his breath the entire time. Each day they didn't find the warlock was another day Sam suffered. Dean hated not knowing how many days they had left. Another, smaller, unacknowledged part of him didn't want to know.
"You, uh..." Sam seemed to fumble, unable to find the words. With a sigh Dean came out of the bathroom and walked over to sit on his bed, across from where Sam was already lying down in his. If payback was deemed in terms of the total number of emotional chick moments, this guy would have been dead days ago.
"What is it, Sammy?"
"You think if I don't go to sleep, maybe nothing will happen?"
Dean chewed his lip, stalling. He didn't know the answer, but he knew what Sam needed to hear, and that would be enough to get him through. "I doubt it, Sammy. I think if you try to do that he'll still take something, only this time you'll have a bad memory to go with the change. You should get some rest."
Sam nodded, closing his eyes. Considering the conversation over, Dean turned off the light and got into bed. He was nearly asleep when he heard Sam call him name softly once more. "Yeah, was'it Sammy?"
"I just wanted to say thanks for putting up with me and, well, everything." There was a tense moment of silence, then, "I mean, even though you've still been a big jerk to me and a downright pain in my ass."
Dean grinned, relieved. "Shut up and let me sleep, bitch."
Dean woke up to someone shaking him. The room was still black, it was obviously still night, and he fumbled for a moment. He cursed and lunged for his knife, but then the familiarity of the hands gripping him so desperately had him switching trajectory and aiming for the lamp instead.
"Sammy? Sam, what's wrong?!"
The only answer was a keening sound and a few gurgles, and Dean felt Sam fall forward and bury his face in Dean's chest just as Dean managed to flick on the light.
"Sam – Sammy, look at me –"
Sam buried himself deeper, and Dean could feel small drops of wet warmth on his shirt. He wrapped his hands around Sam's shorn head, rubbing his temples soothingly, not letting himself think about how his hands were shaking. "Sammy, please, fuck, are you hurt, please just tell me– "
And then Sam finally pulled away, an animalistic scream tearing out from his throat, and Dean choked on his words. Where Sam's lips should have been, where his teeth should have been, there was now only a dark gaping hole.