Summary: For weeks, Sam has been dying and Dean never even noticed.
Word Count: 6735
Characters: Sam, Dean, Cas
Author's Note: Some disgusting things are going on (If you've seen Alien and couldn't stomach it, might be best to give this a miss) Set post-Soul Survivor. Based on this prompt: Sam is slowly wasting away, and at first they don't even notice, but once they do they can't figure out why (at least for a long time), and things eventually get dire? Meanwhile they're both trying their best to take care of each other. Ending and setting completely up to you.
Moments like these are rare. The air is sticky and thick. The sun is bright and insistent, glinting off the hood of the Impala, wrapping the metal in enough heat to cook an egg. Of course, with hundreds of miles between nowhere and anywhere, the car decides to give up.
The beers in the back seat are, miraculously, still chilled, and Dean pops a cap and takes a swig before fishing the tools out of the trunk. Sam doesn't get out of the car, despite it being a few degrees hotter in there than it is outside, and declines when Dean offers him a beer.
Things are still strange between them both, almost as stifling as the summer heat. Dean wishes he could say something, but what do you say after you tried to bash your little brother's head in with a hammer?
Sam doesn't want to talk either.
It's not just the silence. It's everything else. The two of them used to mesh together like cogs in a well-oiled machine, now there are few glances between them, and even fewer words. Cas hasn't been shy about bringing up the obvious void between them both, but each time he tries Sam is the first to shut it down.
"There's nothing to discuss," Sam always says. "There are bigger things to worry about."
Dean finds his index finger scratching at the flesh of his right arm. The Mark – scar, brand, curse, whatever you want to call it – never seems to stop burning. It doesn't hurt, not really. It's more like an itch that needs relieving. He wipes the back of his hand across his brow and shrugs out of his flannel. Sweat has already soaked through to his t-shirt.
He looks up from where he's crouched and sifting through the toolbox to find Sam watching him through the windscreen. Or, rather, watching the Mark.
"You sure you don't want a beer?" Dean asks, so that Sam's eyes will move up to his face instead. "They're still cold."
Sam shakes his head, but to Dean's relief he gets out of the car.
"You, uh, need a hand?" he asks, gesturing to the tool box.
Dean leans over and pops the lids off the engine. "Let's see what the problem is first," he says. He leans forward and looks around. "What's wrong, huh, baby?"
He catches Sam smiling out of the corner of his eye. It may be the first time he's seen a real smile from him in a long time. Dean wonders, when was the last time Sam seemed happy? When was the last time either of us were happy?
Moments like these are rare; moments where it's just the two of them, a few beers, and nothing around for miles. Just the soft rustle of the breeze dancing through fields, the tinker of the Impala's engine. Normally, they'd talk, or not, but the silence wouldn't be strained like it is now.
By the time he looks up, Sam is staring out over the endless stretches of fields all around, his face is focused, mouth turned down slightly and pinched. Not long after that, after the silence between them has settled back into place, Dean has perked up his baby and they're hurtling across country again.
And not long after that, Sam is devouring his second helping of hash browns and bacon in a grubby little diner just off the interstate. He isn't wearing his sling, it sits abandoned in the backseat of the Impala, but he holds his arm delicately enough that Dean can tell it still hurts. Sam lost a lot of bulk while Dean was gone. Hollow cheeks and sloping shoulders on such a towering man give the impression of a bare tree enduring a harsh winter.
Their feet have been firmly planted in the bunker for two weeks, no signs of anything resembling a hunt in the papers. No inkling of a possible cure for Dean, not that Sam is deterred.
Cas always seems to flutter back in their direction and he's been hanging around the bunker for just under a week, hovering and silent and creepy like he usually is. He stares at Dean almost as much as Sam does, but that isn't really anything new. What is new is the way he's furrowing his brow at Sam with the same concern he's been holding for Dean since the Mark was seared into his arm.
They're eating breakfast – well, Sam and Dean are – and Cas has been staring at Sam since he entered the room. Sam is shovelling down a plate-full of eggs, he'd emptied the entire carton of twelve into the pan and whisked, pouring them onto his plate while they were still runny. When he's done with those, he eats four slices of toast and downs two cups of coffee, all in record time.
Dean finally understands what Cas is staring at. Sam is eating like a maniac. The kid never ate this much even when he shot up two feet over the summer when he was sixteen and his stomach capacity seemed to grow three sizes. The thing about Sam is that, despite being such a behemoth of a man, he's never been a fan of food. Salads? Sure. Smoothie cleanses? Why the heck not. Real food that actually tastes of something? 'No thanks, man, I'm not hungry.'
"Might want to slow down there, buddy," Dean says. Sam pauses mid-chew, already halfway out of his seat and heading back towards the fridge.
He swallows what's in his mouth and says, "huh?"
"I only just bought groceries yesterday, Sam," Dean points out. "You don't need to eat them all within a day."
Sam frowns like he has no idea what Dean is talking about. He says as much.
Cas, meanwhile, is still staring at Sam, eyes narrowed. Dean ignores him and turns back to Sam.
"Just slow down there, Shaggy, okay?"
Sam's brow furrows even further. "Um… okay?" he says, like Dean is the insane one. "I'm going out."
He slips out of the kitchen and Dean listens to his footsteps echoing down the halls before turning to Cas.
"You noticed that, even before I did," he says. "What is this, stress eating?"
Cas turns his squinty eyes onto Dean. "You didn't notice?"
"The eating? Yeah, now I do."
"And how long has he been eating like this?"
Dean thinks back to the diner off the interstate a couple of weeks ago. He thinks back further to almost a month ago when Sam polished three plates of plain pasta off in the middle of the night. Sam's been underweight for a while now, probably since Dean came back with black eyes and skipped off into the sunset with Crowley. Up until now, he'd thought that maybe Sam was just making up for lost pounds.
But Sam doesn't look any bigger. In fact, he looks skinnier.
"He's losing weight," Dean says. Cas nods.
"This is dumb," Sam huffs.
"No, it's not," Dean counters. They've been parked outside the clinic for fifteen minutes and Sam is showing no signs of budging.
"I'm fine, Dean. Coming here is just a waste of time."
"It's really not. Sam, have you looked in the mirror lately?"
"Well, you're beginning to look like Death, and I mean the horseman. You know, the skinny guy?"
"Yeah. I know him."
"Well, that's how you look."
Dean sighs deeply. "Would you just go in there? Please?"
After a moment, Sam relents, the creaking doors of the Impala groaning shut behind him. In the clinic, the nurse behind the desk stares at Sam for a moment before she can collect herself. Even now, Sam doesn't seem to notice.
"Um, if you could just fill these out and wait over there," she says, sliding a pen and stapled-together papers across the desk. Dean takes them and ushers Sam into a chair. He fills out the form as easily as he would his own, knowing Sam like the back of his hand.
Do you suffer from any allergies? No.
Do you drink? On occasion.
Do you smoke? No.
Is there any history of serious illness in the family? Unless they mean chronic self-sacrificing…
Do you have a history with mental illness?
Dean pauses, then finally ticks yes.
They aren't unused to waiting hours on end in hard plastic chairs, but it's a surprise when they get called through to see a doctor after only two hours. Their doctor looks fresh out of college, she's small and mousey and looks way out of her depth when she glances up to see two giants of men walking into her office.
She glances down at the computer, then back up to them both. "Sam Winston?"
Sam sits down opposite her. "That's me," he says. He sticks his thumb at Dean. "That's my brother Dean. He can wait outside."
"Nope, I'm good," says Dean, taking the seat beside him. The glare he receives is a lot like the sort of look their dad used to get when Sam was a teenager.
The doctor, doctor Lance reads her name tag, smiles at them both. "What can I do for you?"
Dean cuts in before Sam can. "Sammy's been eating a lot lately," he explains, "and I mean a lot. Like, entire cartons of eggs for breakfast."
"Right…" Doctor Lance nods along although it's clear she's a little lost.
"Well, Sam's been eating like this for at least a month and he isn't gaining any weight. He's losing it."
"Oh," Lance says. "Well, that is a little strange." She turns to Sam. "Have you been experiencing any vomiting or diarrhoea?"
Sam visible flushes. "No. No, nothing like that. I feel fine, honestly."
She studies him under her gaze for a moment. "I'd like to weigh and measure you, if that's okay?"
Dean notices that almost everything she says ends like a question, even when it's not. Sam glares at Dean and gets to his feet, following Dr Lance to the corner of the room where there's a set of scales. She measures Sam at a little over six feet and four inches, when he gets on the scales her mouth pinches at the corners.
She and Sam retake their seats.
"Okay. So, you're weighing in at 135.5 pounds, which is underweight for someone of your height. When did the weight loss start?"
"He wasn't this skinny a few months ago. He must have been at least fifty pounds heavier. I don't know why he's losing weight."
"Because I had arm surgery," Sam cut in.
Dean blinks. "You had surgery?"
Sam sighs and looks anywhere but in Dean's direction. "It's not a big deal. It was just a minor surgery."
"Um. Okay," Lance says. "Well, you do have a low BMI. I would normally suggest gaining a little weight, but if you're correct that you're losing weight despite eating a large amount, I suspect something more is at play than just a little weight loss. Sam, would you mind if I take a look at you?"
"Take a look at me?"
"Just a little check-up. I'll check your breathing and your blood pressure."
Sam agrees, but Dean ends up waiting out in the hall. When they're finished, Dean lets himself back in and Lance looks a little more serious than she did before.
"Sam's breathing seems fine, but his blood pressure is low. I think that there's definitely something here that needs to be explored. Unexplained weight loss, especially to this extent, can't be ignored. I would like to refer you to have more tests done. Something like this could be because of a number of reasons and it's best if we figure out what's going on sooner rather than later."
Sam gapes at her. "But I'm fine. Seriously. I feel totally fine."
Lance's eyes are sympathetic. "Maybe you do, but I think you should speak to a specialist and undergo a few tests to figure this out. I assure you, there is an issue here. Hopefully, it's a small issue, but it's something that needs investigating."
"Turn in here," Sam says, pointing at a McDonald's drive thru. They left the clinic fifteen minutes ago and are on their way home when Sam's stomach begins to growl. Dean ignores him and carries on driving until the fast food joint is a speck in the rear-view mirror.
Sam glares at him. "What did you do that for?"
"You don't even like McDonald's, Sam. Ever since a happy meal made you throw up all night when you were seven years old," Dean points out.
"But I'm starving," Sam groans, slumping against the window with a huff.
"Quit being a baby," Dean says. "You ate, like, an entire chicken coop this morning. Besides, thanks to you, we have to buy more groceries."
Sam isn't listening, he's sitting upright with his nose lifted in the air, nostrils flared as he sniffs around the dashboard.
Dean frowns. "Dude, what – "
"Ha!" Sam exclaims, popping open the glove compartment and retrieving an abandoned, month-old Snickers bar from its depths. He tears the wrapping off with his teeth, the chocolate is squished and melted, caramel oozing out and onto Sam's fingers. He bites off two thirds in one go. Dean has one eye on the road and another pinned with sick fascination on Sam as he devours the entire candy bar, then licks every last remnants from the plastic wrapping.
"Did you just sniff that out?" Dean asks. He's staring at Sam rather than the road now, and the car veers, so he quickly yanks the wheel and comes to a stop at the side of the road, engine still running.
Sam doesn't seem to have noticed they aren't even moving anymore, let alone heard anything Dean has said. He's too busy lapping melted chocolate off his fingers the way a dog licks meat off a bone.
Weird is normal. Weird is part of their everyday job. What's happening with Sam is weirder than weird. They stopped off at the store on their way back to the bunker and filled up five grocery bags with food, and by the time they make it home Sam has already eaten half the contents of one entire bag.
Even Dean didn't know it was possible to eat so quickly.
He stares at Sam; skinny Sam with crumbs all down his shirt, who doesn't seem to notice anything off. He grabs another bag from the back seat and starts munching on an apple as he heads inside. Meanwhile, Dean scratches at the inside of his arm and tries to think. He might have thought all of this was just some freaky medical problem, but after watching Sam sniff out a candy bar from underneath all the crap in the glove compartment he's now sure it's more familiar than that.
He balances the last three grocery bags in his arms and heads inside. Cas is in the kitchen, watching Sam with squinted eyes and a tilted head, the look he reserves for something new and fascinating. Sam, of course, is eating another apple and assembling a ridiculously thick sandwich at the same time.
Dean catches Cas' attention and waves for him to follow him to the library. If Sam even noticed either of them being in the room, he doesn't show it.
"Strange," Cas says, once they're alone in the library.
"You think?" Dean snaps. "Do you know what's up with him or not?"
"I don't," Cas murmurs, eyes flicking in the direction of the kitchen. "The grace I have now – it isn't my own. Normally, I would be able to find the cause of the problem…"
"But your mojo's not up to scratch," Dean finishes for him. He sighs and finds his fingers once again under the crook of his elbow, tracing the raised flesh of the Mark. It burns, cries for attention, but Dean has more important things on his mind. 1) find out what's wrong with Sam, 2) fix Sam, 3) look for a cure for the Mark.
They're set up at the library tables with books and files covering every inch of the surfaces. They've been reading for about half an hour, everything the Men of Letters have on supernatural weight loss and excess eating, when Sam comes wandering into the room with a bag of chips in hand. He tosses a chip in his mouth, crunching obnoxiously loudly, frowning at the two of them.
"What are you doing?" he asks, taking a spare seat beside Cas. He glances down at one of the books, at a rather unpleasant black-and-white photo of a victim of a wasting curse. His mouth curls downwards, "What's this?"
Cas glances at Dean, expression blank. Dean sighs and says, "Something's up with you, Sam."
Sam's eyebrows raise an inch. "Something's up with me? Dean, you're the one with the Mark of Cain. Don't you think we should be trying to fix that instead of reading… whatever it is you're reading."
"You don't even see it, do you?" Dean says. "Sam, you're skinny as hell, despite eating non-stop. How are you not full?"
Sam shrugs. "Dunno. I'm just hungry," he says, then tips the bag of chips up over his wide-open mouth to swallow down the last of the crumbs.
"And don't you think that's weird, Sam?" Dean points out. "You're never hungry. No one gets this hungry."
Sam rolls his eyes and glances at Cas. "He's being ridiculous, right?"
Cas glances down at the table awkwardly. "Not really," he says, looking up at Sam again, eyes narrowing. "Something is off. I can't tell what exactly it is, but something isn't right. It's like… a void."
Sam blinks. "A void?"
"Yes," Cas says. He leans in close to Sam, Sam leans away. "Something that begs to be filled."
"O-kay…" Sam says, climbing out of his seat. "Well, you guys can waste time all you want, I'm going to look for a cure for Dean."
Then he's out the room. Dean glances over to Cas and whispers, "A void? Like an 'I'm sad and life is meaningless' void? Or are you saying there's a black hole inside my brother that wants to be filled with Big Macs?"
Cas is staring at the door Sam just exited through. He tilts his head and says, "I don't know. I can just feel a hunger. A darkness."
"What do we do?"
"I don't know. But I suggest he doesn't leave the bunker."