A/N: I apologize for the wait. It's not easy for me to write descriptively horrific scenes, and in case you hadn't guessed from the first chapter, this is not exactly a pleasant story. So, dear reader, be warned: things are going to get even more gruesome. Hopefully the copious amounts of brotherly love make up for it!

Phthisis

Chapter Two

Dean fought back a scream. Sam's lips, his teeth – they were gone. But he couldn't think about that now.

Focus, Dean. Sam needs you.

"Sammy, shhh, I got you," Dean said, slinging both arms up over Sam's shoulder, pulling him in again. Sam complied easily, and Dean could feel his brother's body shuddering as he collapsed into Dean's chest. "It's okay, calm down. I'm here, okay? You'll be all right, I promise."

It took a couple minutes, but finally the shivering slowed and then stopped. It took everything Dean had not to flinch when Sam pulled himself back up to look at Dean, letting him know without words that Sam was in control of himself, that they were equals again and Dean should treat him as such. Still, Dean couldn't help but worry. Sam had been keening. "You're not hurt? I mean, he didn't... it's just your mouth?"

Sam nodded, a slip of his tongue peaking out as Sam swiped along the edges of the lipless mouth. He could tell Sam was still freaked, but at least he was taking the time now to examine his new predicament. It was still scary to watch but far more objective than Sam had been before and much more Sam-like. That was about as okay as Dean figured he could ask Sam to be.

"Are you in pain? Do you hurt anywhere else?"

Sam shook his head again, this time far more guiltily. Dean sighed. His brother may look like Lord Voldemort, but Dean could still read his expressions like a book.

"Sam, it's okay to be scared. Hell, lately I've been doing far more freaking out than you, so really, I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. It's time for the Certified Chick-Flick Instigator to retake his title, don't you think?"

Sam cheeks brightened at that. Dean knew that if Sam still had dimples and lips and, shit, teeth, he'd be smiling right now. Dean grinned in return, but inside his guts were churning. He'd been scared before; but even with finding the body in the basement, it hadn't hit him until just now that his brother was heading for the same gruesome end.

Dean checked the clock: 4.26 AM. He clapped Sam on the back.

"I call first shower."

:

An hour later Dean was leaving the motel room to go grab breakfast. It had been an unspoken agreement between the brothers that Sam ought to stay inside unless absolutely necessary from now on. Without lips, Sam just looked too damn weird and for him to go anywhere without a paper bag on his head was risking unwanted attention.

Dean was unlocking the Impala when he saw the flashing lights of the ambulance coming down the street. It was a small enough town that the screeching horn which usually accompanied these emergency vehicles was shut off, probably due to the early morning hour.

He watched suspiciously as the ambulance pulled into the parking lot of the motel, parking itself four doors down. Just as they pulled in a maid walked out the door of the motel room and ushered them inside before coming to stand outside herself, covering her face in her hands.

As invitingly as he could, Dean sauntered over and put a hand on her shoulder. The lady nearly mowed him down when she suddenly wrapped her short stubby arms around his waste and began sobbing all over his coat. What was he today, a human Kleenex? Dean resisted the urge to jump away in disgust – he only ever put out the fuzzies for Sam. Then again, this was the job.

"What happened, miss?"

"Oh god, it was terrible." The maid pulled herself away just long enough to look up at Dean's (hopefully empathetic) face, before turning her cheek to rest against his collarbone. "The room was supposed to have been checked out of yesterday, so I was in there to clean it for new arrivals, you know? Actually I was supposed to do it yesterday, but then Chelsie – another woman who works here, real piece of work – she asked me if we could switch shifts, and I forgot to tell her I had to do this room, and..." Dean quit paying attention for a while, instead watching as the EMTs walked out with a body covered with a sheet was taken out of the room on a gurney. "But when I walked in, he was lying on the floor, all cold and dead, and his eyes were open and glassy and it was just horrible."

Dean put an arm awkwardly around the girl's back as she threw herself into another fit of hysterics. "Any indication of how he died?"

"Yeah, there were these diet pills and bottles all over the floor. I think he OD'ed."

Dean nodded brusquely, ready to check out of there – it was clearly not their kind of thing. Just as he was about to tell the women goodbye, a breeze picked up and the sheet blew over, uncovering the man's face. Dean stared in shock for a moment, before literally shoving the maid away from him. "Son of a bitch!"

Dean eyes stayed on the face until the sheet awkwardly recovered it again. "Sir?" one of the technicians said to him. "Did you, uh, know the deceased?"

Dean gave him an awkward look, only to have it dawn on him belatedly how curiously everyone was looking at him. "He, um, no, not really. He gave me a cigarette yesterday when I had smoked the last of my pack. I never got to return the favor," Dean tried to explain hurriedly, glancing over at the maid. She was eyeing him with great distaste as she wiped at her eyes. Dean wanted to tell her she was getting mascara all over her cheeks, but decided against it when he realized she probably also got the mascara all over his leather coat too. Damn.

The technicians raised their eyebrows at his explanation but inquired no further as they set to work preparing the body for the transfer.

"Gotta go," Dean said to nobody in particular as he practically skipped away and back to the room.

"Sam, we got a problem," he said as soon as he opened the door. Sam looked up from where his face was buried in the laptop, watching as Dean rambled over and threw himself haphazardly into the chair opposite. "The warlock's dead."

Sam stood up as if on command, and quickly began pacing. After a few seconds he sat back down, staring intently at Dean. The question was clear.

"He committed suicide, probably yesterday. The body was just discovered by one of the maids."

Sam turned back to the laptop, and Dean could hear him furiously typing before he swiveled it in Dean's direction. Dean saw it was open to a blank Word document, save for a sentence.

You mean he was here this whole time?

Dean bit his cheek. "Yes, damn it. He was probably staying here all this week, and he probably knew we were here too. I'm sure he assumed we would never think to look for him right under our noses. Damn it, all this time spent searching and the asshole was right here!"

Sam sat and calmly continued typing as Dean continued a rant of curses. He finally stopped when Sam turned the laptop back to him.

Well, nothing we can do about that now. How did you know it was him? Did he have my hair or something, or did he look like himself?

Dean sighed. "The sheet over his face came up when the ambulance technicians were loading him. He looked like himself." Dean paused. "Hey, do you think maybe if he's dead you'll get everything back?"

Sam seemed to consider this.

It's possible, but I doubt it. The guy we found in the basement didn't have all of his body back, and we saw the warlock lose those when we broke his spell. My guess is we need to do a ritual to stop the change. His death might stop me from losing anything else, though.

Dean tapped at the table before standing up. It wasn't the best outcome – he'd have really liked to kill the guy himself, after he told them how to save Sam of course – but if the warlock being dead now meant Sam wasn't in danger of losing anything else, Dean could be satisfied. Any outcome with Sam not dying and preferably intact was a win in his book, after all. Perhaps now they'd have more time to figure out how to get Sam looking like himself again, and when they did, they could finally put this shitty situation behind them.

:

Shopping for food someone without lips and teeth could eat wasn't as easy as Dean had first assumed. He'd taken two laps around the grocery store, and so far he had found two large jars of apple-flavored baby food, bananas, three cans of microwavable tomato soup, and a plastic water-bottle with a built-in straw. He'd also grabbed two cans of some special vitamin-enhanced juice for senior citizens, under the guise that Sam wouldn't be getting as many nutritious elements in his admittedly crappier diet. He couldn't wait to see Sam's look when he pulled them out of the bag.

Dean couldn't help but shuffle his feet waiting in line. He'd already been gone over an hour, and frankly even leaving Sam for fifteen minutes at a time was concerning to him right now. What if Sam decided to take a nap, and another part of him disappeared? What if Sam decided to take a shower and slipped and hurt himself? Who would he call out for? How would he call out at all?

Dean knew he was being slightly ridiculous. Sam could take care of himself – Dad and Dean had spent over eighteen years making sure of that. But still, Sam would always be Dean's responsibility, no matter how strong and skilled he was. And there was no doubting that Sam was definitely not at his best right now anyways; the kid was trying hard not to freak out, but Dean could see it coming anyways. He half-wished Sam would just let it out all at once, chick moment be damned. This slow-burn to the inevitable was something Dean just wasn't patient enough for.

Checking his watch again as he finally came to the front of the line, Dean glanced up at the row of newspapers. EIGHTH MAN DISAPPEARS IN OREGON WILDERNESS. SEARCHERS BAFFLED.

"Shit," Dean muttered testily, then grinned apologetically when he noticed the wide-eyed look the teenage cashier was giving him. Damn, if things had been going the way he was wanting them to, they'd have been in Oregon two days ago and would probably already have finished that hunt up by now. And whoever the eighth missing man was, he would be sitting at home showing off all his camping photos to his family right now, instead of strung up by a wendigo or dragged off by a spirit or whatever-the-hell was in those woods.

Grabbing his groceries, Dean stalked out to the Impala and within three minutes arrived back at the motel. Unlocking the door, he nearly dropped the plastic bags when he realized the room was empty.

"Sam?" he called, shuffling over to the nearest bed and setting the food down. He was immediately answered when a hand half-heartedly waved out of the open bathroom door, before being tucked back inside.

Quirking an eyebrow, Dean casually walked to the edge of the door, propping himself against the wall next to the hinge. "What are you doing in here without the light on?" he asked into the dark room, flipping the switch.

Sam was standing in the middle of the bathroom, dressed in only his boxers. He was situated directly in the front of the mirror, and his iris-less eyes didn't so much as glance in Dean's direction as he seemingly continued to stare himself down.

Dean was completely confused. "Sammy. Sam? Look at me, man. What are you doing?" He made a move to grab at his brother's elbow, but before he could Sam pulled away. Still not looking at Dean, Sam pulled a hand up to his face and pointed at his nose. Then pulling up the second arm, he moved both of his hands to lightly tap his ears. Moving his arms down, he lightly hugged himself by grasping his elbows, followed by leaning forward and touching in sequence his thighs, knees and feet.

Dean got it the moment Sam slapped at his toes. Grabbing at his brother's forearm, he bitingly spat, "This is stupid and you know it."

Rigidly lifting himself back up to stand, Sam turned to Dean quickly but very tensely, as if he was preparing for an argument. Dean shook his head slightly. "I'm not fighting with you, Sam. I mean, all I'd get is the silent treatment anyways and it's just not nearly as fun to tease you about it when you can't, you know, talk at all."

Sam stuck out his chin. Dean sighed.

"Sam, it's not doing anybody any good to count how many days are left in the cycle. We have no idea, and you know it. I mean, you might wake up tomorrow with your whole hand gone, or maybe it'll just be one finger. It could be three days or it could be thirty. Don't be an idiot and try to count it out, man. All it's going to do is make you act even more emo and shit, and frankly? I don't want to deal with that. I can't really deal with that right now."

Sam looked down at the floor morosely, but jerked when Dean tapped at his cheek.

"See, when you do that? That whole 'look-away-and-be-broody-like-a-teen-soap-opera-close-up' thing? That totally counts as acting like a girl, man," Dean pointed a finger in his Sam's face and tapped on his nose for emphasis, "So. don't. do. it."

Sam playfully slapped Dean's hand away and shrugged past him to the main room, walking straight over to stand by the television. He motioned to the screen and gave Dean a pointed look.

Dean narrowed his eyes and tried not to look embarrassed. "So what if I watch Oprah? You're still the drama queen of the family, Samantha. And besides, that episode where she gave away all those cars to those needy families? I saw you watching it from behind the laptop screen. Don't deny it."

:

They waited until dusk fell. As soon as Sam finished slurping at his tomato soup dinner – Dean had spent the entire time laughing and asking him if he needed a bib in case he dribbled a bit – they quietly slipped out and walked the four rooms over to the warlock's room. By now the place was silent, the police and coroners having cleared out hours ago.

Dean chuckled as he slit the POLICE – DO NOT ENTER yellow tape. "Gotta love the efforts of the men in blue, right Sammy?" he asked, glancing down at his brother, who was busy breaking into the door's lock.

Sam didn't react, just slowly pushed the door open and stealthily slid inside, Dean right behind him. As soon as they both cleared the threshold, Dean closed the door and simultaneously two flashlights clicked on.

"Okay, so, I'm sure the police took a look around too, but I bet they're waiting to clear things out until they contact family," Dean said. "You know the drill."

Sam nodded, and moved to the bathroom to begin searching, while Dean started at the corner of the door. For the most part, the place was pretty typical. Dean found some empty food containers, and in one special case a not-so-empty one that appeared to have mold growing around the edges. Dean didn't check what was inside of it, but moved over past the table and to the bed, where a lone black duffel sat.

"What'd you have in here, you sonuvabitch?" Dean muttered as he pulled the zipper open. "Better be some answers, or else you can bet I'll be resurrecting your ass just so I can send you back to Hell again myself."

Pulling out clothes and some toiletries, Dean was disappointed to find nothing else. Just as he was about to drop it to the floor and continue his search, Sam appeared beside him and took the bag. Turning it upside down, Sam pointed to a hidden flap covering a second zipper on the very bottom of the bag. As soon as he had fully unzipped it, a thin wooden box tumbled out. It looked to be made of mahogany and was fashioned with an ornately carved pentagram on the top.

"That's my boy," Dean remarked, honestly impressed. He slapped his brother on the back, and Sam merely shrugged his shoulders in response. Dean grinned, knowing it meant his brother truly appreciated the praise.

Dean clutched the box under his jacket and went to do a quick once-over of the parking lot while Sam tidied up the room and rubbed down both the inside and outside door knobs for fingerprints. When the coast seemed clear, they quietly exited the room and calmly entered their own.

The moment Sam closed the door, Dean immediately unclasped the box and wasn't surprised when a few scrolls tied with ribbon tumbled out. "Jackpot, Sammy! I bet this is the bastard's Spell Central, right here," he said, quickly untying the ribbons and smoothing out the thin papers.

But upon getting a good look at the text, Dean wanted to hit a wall. "Sam, what the hell is that? Because it's definitely not English or Latin."

Sam held up one the scrolls, examining it closely. After a couple minutes, he carefully set down the paper and rubbed at his chin for a few more moments. He looked slightly affronted when Dean pinched his arm, but when he noticed Dean's purposely quirked eyebrow, rolled his eyes and grabbed the nearest pencil and notepad, writing frantically.

I think it's Ancient Sumerian. Pastor Jim only had a few texts that old, so I never got much chance to study it.

"So what's this random guy doing with it?"

I don't know. But you can bet it's nothing good – this stuff is very old, very powerful, and usually very dark stuff.

"Great. I hate it when stupid people get a hold of dark stuff. Okay, so neither of us can translate it, and I highly doubt there's anyone around here who can do much better. So what's the plan, Einstein?"

Sam rolled his eyes again, before playfully tapping at Dean's forehead.

Dean managed to look affronted, but even he knew it had been a stupid question. "Yeah, yeah. Bobby should really have some office hours just for us, don't you think?"

:

Dean had grappled for a while with calling Bobby and explaining the situation first, but in the end he decided to just fax copies of the text to Singer's Salvage from the motel office fax machine. It's not that Dean didn't want to talk to Bobby; it was that he knew if he told Bobby what was the going on, the man would drop everything in a second and drive out there to help them in person. If Dean didn't call, Bobby would assume the hunt wasn't a personal issue for the Winchesters. He'd still get the translation and research done just as promptly, but without the worry about the brothers. Dean wasn't stupid – he knew Bobby loved him and Sam like sons. Knowing what Sam was going through right now would only make Bobby lose sleep, and complicate the matter.

Returning to the motel room, Dean found Sam already lying in bed and snoring. Apparently the headway they made tonight had left Sam feeling not just tired but also more confident. Dean was glad that Sam felt better again – after all, Dean had always known they'd get this fixed before it was too late, so it's not like there was anything to really worry about anyways, right?

Right.

:

Dean was woken up by the silence. The room was no longer black, but it was definitely still early morning. Rubbing at his eyes, Dean immediately turned to his brother's bed. He was both relieved and concerned to find Sam still in bed and staring at him, the whites of his eyes glinting in the darkness.

"Hey, Sammy."

"D'n." It was whispered and fumbled, but Dean knew it was his name. It was also a plea. He pulled his legs out of bed, before coming to kneel next to Sam's bed.

"How you doing, Sammy? You okay?"

Sam shook his head back and forth, and Dean didn't even register that his brother was crying until he wiped away a tear from the corner of Sam's face. "D'n," Sam said again, as if it was the only word he knew. In some ways, Dean supposed it was the only one his little brother needed to know.

"Hey, hey, I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere. Let's get you up. Can you sit up?"

Sam nodded, but at the same time sent Dean an apologetic look. Dean didn't really want to know why, but he found out a moment later anyways.

Using only his abdominal muscles, Sam pulled himself up as though doing a sit-up. As soon as the covers fell away, Dean reeled slightly backwards in surprise. Sam's arms were gone. Not just his fingers or his hands, but all the way up to his shoulder sockets.

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean said instinctively, though his lips and tongue felt numb. "It's going to be fine."

Dean knew if he was this close to freaking out, Sam had to be on the brink of hyperventilation with his panic. Immediately moving forward, Dean sat down behind his brother and pulled Sam's armless torso against his chest. Gently he began to stroke Sam's temples and mumble random stories from their childhood, mixing in comforting assurances at random intervals. Even when Sam's breathing evened back out into sleep again, Dean continued talking, knowing that somehow, even unconscious, the sound of his voice would comfort Sammy.

Sometime later Dean registered a vibrating sound, and grabbed his phone from the nightstand.

"Yeah," he answered quietly.

"Dean, it's Bobby. I got some info for you boys on those rituals you sent."

Glancing down at Sam to make sure he was still asleep, Dean said, "Go on."

"There were three rituals included in the scrolls, and all of them are powerful stuff. So far I've only gotten the first one translated for you, but I figured I'd get each one to you as I got 'em figured out."

Dean nodded. "Yeah, thanks Bobby. What's this one for?"

"It's a ritual for the relocation of the physical body."

"Yeah, that makes sense. The warlock we're dealing with was stealing other people's body parts and exchanging them for his own, so I'm not surprised. Kinda like upgrading to a new and improved model, but without all the silicone."

"Yeah, but it doesn't just stop there, it gets a whole lot weirder. There's one line about the head not having all the dressings, like lips or eyes or skin, until the skull is fully attached. And the last line makes no sense to me."

Dean bit his lip worriedly. "What's it say?"

"'And may it be this metamorphosis occur from he who has not lifted the veil to he who has passed beyond the veil of the earth-land.' But the ink of that last line is smudged – if I didn't know better, I'd say it was only written a few days ago."

Dean felt his stomach drop to his toes. It was all he could do not to drop the phone.

"Bobby, I gotta go. Thanks."

"Dean?"

"I'll talk to you soon." Flipping his phone shut, Dean barely managed to calmly set it down on the nightstand, before slowly extracting himself from underneath Sam. But Sam, stealthy hunter that he was, immediately awoke and whimpered when he realized he didn't have any arms.

Dean kneeled down next to him. "Hey Sam, there's something I gotta go do right now, and I need you to stay here. Can you do that?"

Sam didn't even hesitate, just frantically shook his head back and forth. Dean could tell it wasn't because he was scared for himself – he was worried about whatever Dean was going to go do. Dean knew it was one of his tells – if he didn't explain where he was going on the first round, then you could bet it wasn't anyplace good.

Mentally cursing himself for not lying when he'd stood the chance of being believed, Dean placated, "Okay, okay, Sammy. I won't go. Hey, you want some breakfast? I make a mean apple-flavored jelly dish. It was your favorite about twenty-odd years ago, anyways."

Sam nodded, and Dean walked over to the table, uncapping one of the jars. "It'll be all right, Sam," Dean said as he casually grabbed some pills from the first aid kit next to the grocery bags and began crumbing them up in the baby food. "Don't worry, I'll get this figured out. You'll be back to normal before you can say, 'I'm a whiny bitch who should wax the Impala for my awesome big brother every morning.'"

Turning back to Sam, he helped his brother to sit up against the headboard and slowly fed him the concoction, never letting up on his verbal comforting. Sam didn't look at him or let him know in any way, but Dean could tell it helped. He wasn't surprised when he came out of the shower ten minutes after they'd finished and found Sam fast asleep once more.

After double-checking the salt lines around the room and the protection symbols etched on the door and window panes, Dean cast a sideways glance at Sam before walking over and tucking him in properly. "Gotta keep warm, little brother," he whispered, smoothing his hand on Sam's cheek. "Stay safe and asleep. I'll be back soon, I promise."

He shut the door quietly behind him and thoroughly locked it, reminding himself that he had to do this and therefore it was stupid to feel guilty about it. There was nothing wrong with drugging your armless brother if it meant getting him back to normal, Dean told himself.

The drive over felt like it took a lot longer then last time, even if there was less traffic. Once he had parked though, it felt like it took no time at all to get from the driver's seat of the Impala, to the secret basement of the warlock's house.

No time to double-check and confirm his suspicions. There weren't any dimples, lips, hair or teeth yet, but Bobby had said the spell had a disclaimer about that, Dean was pretty sure.

But even still, there was no mistaking the muscular arms and graceful hands which were now connected to the dead body. Arms and hands that belonged to his brother, were now attached to a body that just the sight of had caused Dean to lose his dinner just a few nights ago.

God, it didn't make any sense. Why steal body parts from a live, healthy person and give them to the remains of a corpse?

As Dean buried his face in his hands, he had a feeling he definitely didn't want to know the answer.