Hollow

Set after Everybody Loves a Clown.

xxxx

Almost two weeks passed before Sam called Jo.

He'd come close to calling a couple of times. Had almost called the day after he'd stood by his brother as his father's body turned to smoke and ashes. Had almost called again as he'd drifted through Bobby's junkyard, listening to the sound of the Impala being disassembled, drowning in the roar and echo of Dean's impenetrable silence.

"I'm not alright."

Dean, expressionless, only the jump of the muscle in his jaw any indication that what Sam was saying penetrated.

"Neither are you."

Dean motionless.

"I'll let you get back to work."

Sam had just rounded the corner of the garage when he heard the shattering glass.

He'd turned, about to run, back to his brother, heart racing at the sounds of violence. But he'd paused, forced himself to still, to not go back. He'd stopped, eyes closing, leaning a shoulder against the corrugated steel wall next to him, deep breaths, trying to steady.

Metal on metal, over and over.

Sam had opened his eyes. He'd needed to check. Needed to make sure. So he'd inched to the corner of the wall that shielded him from his brother's sight. Peered carefully around and been confronted by Dean pounding his grief and rage into the trunk of their father's car.

Sam had gotten only a glimpse, heard the muffled sound of a sob or a moan, and stumbled back, away from this evidence of his brother's pain.

He had known that Dean was broken, just like Sam himself was. But to see that brokenness—the raw, gaping wound of it—had shattered Sam in a way he had not been prepared for, and he'd sunk to the ground, wrapping his arms around his knees, pressing his face into them, struggling to regain control of the fear that threatened to overwhelm him.

He'd called her that night. Not told Dean, just snuck out of the house, found a spot on the porch, away from both his brother and Bobby.

"Hello?"

"Jo?"

"Sam!"

Jo's delight in hearing his voice made Sam swallow hard, fight against the sob that suddenly wanted to force its way out.

"Hey."

It was a strangled whisper, and the woman on the other end of the connection reacted immediately.

"Sweetie, what's wrong?" He could hear the fear in her tone, but didn't know how to relieve it. Couldn't speak for a moment.

"Sam?" So worried.

He cleared his throat.

"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. Stopped again.

"Sam, is it Dean?"

Yes.

"No."

She waited for a long beat before she said, "Baby, tell me what it is."

"Dad's dead." The words finally came, and he gave a harsh cry.

"Oh, Sam." She gasped it and said it again. "Oh, Sam."

And the tears that he'd been holding in since his father's death, suddenly tore out of him. Sam held the phone tightly against his ear as he cried, sorrow and regret heaving his chest in great gulps. Dimly he could hear Jo's voice on the other end of the line, reassurance and grief of her own for him, for Dean.

Finally, Sam shuddered to a stop, head throbbing, throat raw. Drained, he sighed shakily. He whispered again, "I'm sorry."

"Sweetheart." Simple comfort.

She was quiet.

"Sugar, where are you? Come home."

Sam's chest tightened again, and he hiccupped, wiping at his eyes.

"We're at a friend of Dad's. Dean… I don't know."

"How's Dean?" she asked, though he knew she suspected.

His throat closing up, Sam dropped his head, resting his forehead against his knees. He clutched at the phone, this tangible link to someone who would listen, who would understand.

"Not good," he said. He couldn't go on.

He heard her sigh, imagined her face as she absorbed this information.

"He's acting like everything's OK, like it doesn't bother him, but I know that's a lie, that it's killing him, but he won't …" He broke off. "I don't know what to do, how to make him…"

When his voice trailed away, Jo said gently, "Honey, do you really think that he thinks that you think your father's death isn't affecting him?"

She paused. "If that makes any sense at all."

In spite of himself, Sam smiled slightly at the convoluted question.

"Sam, what I mean is, he knows you know this is hurting him," she clarified. "I don't think he's in denial about his emotions. I just think he's trying to deal with this pain the same way he deals with any kind of pain—by closing down until he can feel in control again."

"And you," she continued gently, "are dealing with it the way you deal with pain—by needing to talk it through until you feel in control again."

"Unfortunately for both of you, when he pulls away, you give chase, and that just makes him withdraw further, which makes you, in turn, run after him more determinedly."

Sam blinked, recognizing their pattern when she laid it out in front of him.

"Honey, don't get me wrong. I think he needs to talk about it. And I think he needs you to push him sometimes to open up about what he's feeling. But, be gentle with him, OK? You're both so fragile right now. I'm just afraid you might shatter him if you make him deal with all of this before he's had some time to get his feet under him. Do you see what I'm saying?"

"Yeah," Sam breathed. "I just…"

"I know, baby," she said softly. "And I know I'm not who you really want to—who you really need to—talk to about this, but I'm here, OK?"

Sam nodded, raising his head at the sound of footsteps behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see Dean stopped a few feet away, watching, face shadowed.

"I know. Thanks." Sam cleared his throat. "I need to go."

In his mind, Sam could see Jo nod, thought she understood.

"Alright, sweetie. I love you. And tell Dean I love him."

Sam smiled, recognizing that she realized why he was hanging up.

"I will." He paused. "I love you, too."

"Good-night."

Sam thumbed the phone off, and resting his elbows on his knees, stared into the distance. He heard Dean approach him, but didn't turn his head until a shoulder brushed his as his brother joined him.

"Jo?" Dean asked.

"Yeah." Sam heard the remnants of his crying jag in his voice, but didn't care.

"You tell her?"

"Yeah."

Silence.

"What did she say?"

"Come home."

The jagged breath he heard Dean take at those words made Sam's eyes sting.

"And she said to tell you she loves you," he added softly.

There was no verbal response to this either, but Sam could feel the impact of the statement in the tremor of Dean's arm against his own. Sam said nothing, sitting quietly until he could feel that Dean had steadied next to him.

"How'd things go with the Impala this afternoon?" he asked, voice carefully, carefully neutral.

Wary stillness from Dean.

"May have had something of a setback," the older man admitted.

Sam was quiet. He could feel the tension radiating off Dean, waiting for his younger brother to pounce.

"Fixable?" Sam finally asked.

Now Dean was silent, and Sam felt the shoulder that had remained in light contact with his, relax.

"Yeah."

Sam nodded and the two brothers sat beside one another, each lost in his own thoughts.

After awhile, Sam stole a quick look at his brother's profile. Dean's face was shuttered, the last hints of the scars on his forehead and cheek hidden in the dark. If he hadn't known better, Sam thought he might be able to fool himself into thinking that Dean was healing; that his brother was OK.

No, he thought suddenly. No, I couldn't. Sam studied his brother's face as unobtrusively as he could, taking advantage of the shadows, chin on the knees he'd drawn up to his chest, shaggy bangs camouflaging the eyes that were searching, trying to pin down what was off in Dean's demeanor.

It's his eyes, Sam realized suddenly.

Dean's eyes had always been Sam's key to reading his brother. Whatever Dean might say, whatever his expression might convey, his eyes gave him away. If he was paying attention (and he realized now that he hadn't always), Sam knew that Dean's eyes were truth-tellers. Snapping with energy, hurting sometimes, cautious at others, but vibrant, expressive, shining with passion and pain and love.

But now…

Sam felt his heart clench when those eyes turned and caught him staring.

Hollowed out. Empty.

Even when they looked at him.

Dean blinked, and Sam felt a shudder of fear and growing despair run through his body.

"I'm going to bed." Dean stood. "See you in the morning, Sam."

Sam swallowed.

"Night, Dean."

xxxx