The Hollow Man

He took the whiskey in one gulp, expecting the burn but forgetting about the pain of swallowing past the ring of bruised and swollen tissue. He grimaced and rubbed his throat. It had felt more like he'd swallowed a flaming golf ball than a smooth shot of whiskey, but he supposed that was to be expected after being strangled nearly unconscious.

He was so not going there.

"Another." His voice was a raw whisper, deep and bloody, and he doubted that the bartender could hear him, even in the empty stillness of the quiet bar. Hell, he could barely hear himself. Of course, his ears were still ringing and his head felt like someone had used it as a bowling ball to get themselves a 300. Maybe twice. So he tapped the bar in front of him in the universally accepted gesture for 'give me another shot of hard liquor right fucking now.'

Apparently, the bartender understood sign language.

The second shot went down easier, if not smoother. It still burned, and it felt like his Adam's apple was wearing a girdle, but alcohol has excellent anesthetic properties. It burned and numbed as it went. He planned to kill a bottle of it tonight, get himself good and polluted. He'd earned some anesthetizing. In fact, if he had it his way, he'd be good and brain damaged by the end of the night.

A sharp pain ricocheted through his head with the heat and speed of a .22, reminding him that he already was damaged, brain, body and soul.

The bartender poured him an unasked for drink, three fingers of Jack Daniels, and Dean muttered a rough thank you. He nursed this one a bit, rolling the liquor around his mouth, letting it settle into all the small cuts his teeth had made in his lips and tongue when his brother...No. Not his brother. His brother was dead. ...When SAM, or the thing that walked around calling itself Sam, had decided to use his face as a punching bag.

"Fuck that." He wasn't thinking about him, or It, or the events of the past weeks ever again. He'd been betrayed by everyone, including God, and he was done. Done with giving a shit.

He tossed the drink back, realized that another one was sitting in front of him, and tossed that one back too. Everything was starting to soften around the edges, lines all blurring into one another as his head filled with a warm static.

"S'Good." He was talking to himself, so he went cold to his boots when a voice answered him.

"Can we talk?"

It was so meek and crushed that it hit Dean like a baseball bat to the groin. If he'd been standing, he'd have collapsed under the weight of the blow.

Guess it was a good thing he was sitting down.

"Thought I told you not to come back." That was good. At least his voice hadn't cracked.

The swallow was audible. "Dean..."

"Don't ." He was shooting for cold and steady. Detached. He always had great aim. "You need to get away from me."

"Dean, I'm sorr..."

"NO!" He barked through his swollen throat. The word was a razor blade shredding his vocal chords, and he rubbed at the aching burn for a second. Took a second to gather composure because he was done hurting himself for this man. Then softer he spat "You don't get to apologize. "

He still hadn't turned to look at the man behind him, but he could feel him. All six and half feet of him hovering maybe twenty inches behind him. Close, but not looming. But arm's reach for sure. He took another moment to steel himself, because he needed to say this face to face. Needed this to be understood. And this man wouldn't believe him without looking him dead in the eye.

He turned.

The stranger with the beloved face looked back at him, dewy eyed and contrite. He was just as beaten and bruised as Dean. The battle they'd waged had been almost as unkind to him as it had to Dean. He had bruises splashed across the swollen canvas of his face, interspersed with cuts and abrasions.

Dean didn't feel anything. Not a stitch of concern, no desire to check for more serious injury. He was numb. And that numbness both filled him with a strange cocktail of fear and peace. Fear, because he really was hollow now. If an injured Sam couldn't stir feelings in him, then there was nothing left. Peace because he was tired of this man running over him. Tired of being hurt and scared and worried. Just. So. Tired.

"I need you to listen to me and understand what I'm saying." Cautiously hopeful eyes met his. Dean had to screw his conviction one more turn, hoping that twist wouldn't strip all the threads and force everything to come apart all over the floor. "I'm done. I'm done fighting with you and for you. You don't get to apologize. Not for this. Not for anything. Not to me. Not ever again."


"I'm talking here," a shout, an order for silence, and he clutched his throat again. Murky hazel eyes tracked the movement and Dean dropped his hand. This wasn't about guilt. This was about reality and he needed to set everything straight, and he couldn't afford interruption. He couldn't listen to a word. Sam had slick and silvered tongue. Hell, he wanted to be a lawyer, after all. He'd always been able to talk Dean in circles. And Dean would fold, because he'd always folded for Sammy. But he couldn't. Not now. Because Sammy was dead now and his murderer was wearing his face. "I mean I know I'm no genius, but I never thought...no, I never believed that Dad could be right. That you would be right. That I could be so goddamn wrong and blind about anything. Especially when it comes to evil." He had to pause, to breathe, to watch. He waited for understanding to click in Sam's eyes. And he knew the minute that Sam understood him. Saw realization hit him like a five hundred pound anvil. Watched him shrink under the weight of that realization. "I never believed that there was any chance that my brother could be evil. I would have bet my life and soul that it was fucking impossible." I have. I did. "And even if..." he swallowed, refused to finish the thought, "I never thought that I wouldn't be able to save him."

The hazel eyes wouldn't meet his, but that was fine. Dean was going to finish, because he deserved to finish. Sam needed to hear this as much as Dean needed to say it. "But I couldn't. I couldn't save you. You wouldn't let me. Didn't trust me at all."

"That's not true." It was so small, choked with emotion, that Dean almost didn't hear it.

Trailed off and muttered "Trusted a demon but not me. Let her poison you." He deflated, turned back to the bar, looking for another drink, some poison of his own, but the bartender was nowhere to be seen. Son of a bitch.

"Don't come near me again, Sam. I swear to God," and yeah, he believed in God now, since he'd been completely screwed over by the bastard, "that if I see you, I will kill you. I will fulfill that promise." It's the only thing I can do for my family any more.

"Dean, you can't mean this," the voice sounded small, young. Broken. It should have plucked every nerve like a harp, but Dean was past feeling now. "We can fix this. We can get past this...We're brothers,"

"No. Not anymore we're not. I'm not sure we ever really were. I don't know you. I never did and I never will." He heard Sam's sharp intake of breath indicating recognition of the words he'd thrown at a prostrate, bleeding Dean that day in that hotel room. Dean had thought that hurling a barb and inflicting a small measure of the pain he'd felt that day would give him satisfaction. But hollow men don't feel satisfaction. Hollow men don't feel anything. "This is your one chance here, Sam. Get out town. Take your demon bitch, and run for your life. If I see you ever again..." couldn't finish but didn't have to. He'd already said all there was to say.

He didn't hear the retreating footsteps but he felt the presence behind him leave. He deflated, nearly collapsed off the barstool, but managed to catch himself on the edge of the bar. He reached over the bar and grabbed a bottle, poured himself a water glass of it and drank it. Continued to drink until the bottle was empty. He put his head down on the bar a minute, realized that the room was spinning, his stomach was churning and his bladder was near explosion. He pulled himself up, but his right leg folded under him and he thought he was going to face plant right there on the mung covered bar floor. Strong arms caught him and pulled him to his feet.

"Come on, son. Let's get you out of here." Dean's vision swirled. He blinked his eyes, focused on the brim of the baseball hat. Wondered if he'd ever seen Bobby without that hat, but the question slipped away from him like water through an open hand. Bobby pulled Dean's arm across his shoulders, took most of his weight off his bum leg. "Christ, Dean. How much did you drink?"


"Well, you better not puke on me boy."

"No promises."

They were moving now. It took all his concentration to shuffle his feet and keep his leg from buckling under him. "Well, we're taking your car. Just in case. You can deal with that smell in your upholstery."

"Sounds fair" Dean slurred as Bobby lowered him into the front seat of the Impala. "Thanks, Bobby. I owe you." He leaned his head on the window and was out cold before Bobby got in the driver's side.

"Yeah, I'll add it to your tab, boy. Let's go so you can sleep it off."