ode to broken things

For Eric Kripke.

Thank you.

1.

The thing is, he almost says yes.

The pretty young blonde introduces herself as Emily and asks him if his Dad put the bruises on his arm, the cuts on his cheek, the burn on his wrist and the hole in his ear and he almost says yes.

But he bites down on his tongue, so viciously he can taste copper blood pooling in his mouth and slapping against his gums. Dean can't force his lips around the word no so he just shakes his head and shakes their hands and shakes it off as he walks home, the regret.

He doesn't think about what he gave up as he walks home, shuts out visions of foster homes and two parents and birthday parties, of best friends and prom dates and not having to be on duty all the time.

Because, what about Sam?

He tells Dad that they should move, his teachers are asking questions. Dad asks, "What did you tell them?"

Dean looks away. Studies his own blood stain on the floor, half-hidden beneath the gun Dad used to shoot the witch that had taken Dean and bruised him and cut him and burned him and holed him.

"Nothing," he says. "Not a thing."

2.

He gets the letter on a Tuesday, in a big envelope with a fancy-looking header across the top. His father hands it to him with a stony expression and doesn't stick around except to remind him that if he leaves Sammy will replace him on hunts.

It says, Dean Winchester, we are pleased to grant you a scholarship to the University of Ohio--

For a second he can see his life spelled out, unrolling like some carpet of pictures, images that show him carrying books and wearing a uniform and having his own room.

Images that show Sammy on hunts, eyes black and jaw swollen and hands bloody. Books forgotten beneath his bed, smiles boxed up in the closet and forgotten.

Dean already knows his answer. Already knows that college was a crazy dream to begin with.

He keeps the letter anyway. A souvenir, of sorts.

3.

Sam's breathing is strained, his knuckles white, his eyes glued to the road. He's mad, so mad Dean's afraid he might throw a fist through a window just for the sake of it.

"Give me one reason," he seethes, hurling shirts and pants and socks into a suitcase. "Give me one fucking reason to stay, Dean!"

It takes him three seconds to realize that beneath the seething skin, beneath the biting words and cutting glances, Sam is really asking. He's genuinely entreating his brother to convince him not to be brave.

If he says these things, Sammy will stay. He will slump and breathe make Dean hug him and in a few months things will be back to the way they were.

But Sam has a split lip and a black eye and he'll never be able to play guitar again after his fingers were snapped last month. His clothes are too small and his hair too long, and he doesn't smile anymore unless he's reading, unless he's lost in those words where life isn't like it is.

If he says, I need you, Sam will stay.

If he says, you deserve to be happy, Sam will stay.

If he says, you've earned it, Sam will stay.

He knows his little brother, knows him from inside to out, from organ to organ. So he says, "How could you say that shit to Dad?"

He says, "You are so ungrateful."

He says, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

He makes sure his words are loud enough to drown out the sound of the jagged, ragged shattering of his heart.

4.

He stops breathing when she enters.

He doesn't know what power and what God or Devil would bring him to her now, seven months before he's meant to die, but something in him leaps out of his body and into her arms before either of them are ready.

She blinks and looks across the room at him, lips quirking upward in a puzzled smile. He can't control his face, can't hide the wide grin and crinkled eyes and joy that spreads through his whole body.

Really can't hide the joy below his waist, except maybe to cross his legs and fold his arms and hope for the best.

"Hi," she says, and her voice is just as he remembers, low and sweet and musical. "I'm Carmen, Carmen Porter. Is this your brother?"

He doesn't even glance at Sam, can't take his eyes from her face. "Yes. I'm Dean."

Her smile widens and he can feel himself sitting up straight in his chair, extending a hand to clasp her own because he doesn't think he can go another second without touching her. "Dean," she repeats, testing the word in her mouth. A shiver traces along his spine and it's all he can do not to blurt: I remember you from my dreams, from that world within the djinn and you were perfect then and you are perfect now and did you know that I love you?

"Well, I think . . ." she glances at her clipboard. ". . . Sam is going to be fine. He just needs some rest."

She turns her head, eyes scanning the hallway. Then, hastily, she scrawls her number on a piece of paper and hands it to him. "I'll be around, but if you wanted to see me outside of this place, that's how you'd do it." She gives him a saucy wink and a half-smirk and he can't breathe again until the door is shut and she's gone.

He memorizes the numbers in his palm, memorizes her familiar writing, memorizes the way her name looks on paper, Carmen Porter.

He knows she will love him, but he's not going let her. Not if it means that in seven months she will lose him.

So he closes his fist and throws away her number and shuts his eyes, listening to her voice repeat Dean, Dean until he falls asleep.

5.

"You're going to be the death of me, Dean," the Reaper, Tessa, tells him exasperatedly, sitting cross-legged on his bed.

He smiles, shutting the microwave door. "Don't wake Sam," he says simply, flopping down beside her and crossing his legs at his ankles.

"Let me do my job," Tessa begs.

"Let me do mine," he answers. "Pass the remote."

She does so, rolling her eyes. "Don't you want to go to Heaven, Dean?" She asks quietly, snatching a handful of popcorn from his bowl and popping them in her mouth.

He grins at her, wiping salt and butter from the corner of her lips and putting his head in her lap. "Never thought about it."

She smiles down at him, half-affectionate, half-sorrowful. "Why can't you see that my way is best? If you let me take your soul, you'll be with your Mom and Dad and Sam." She pauses guiltily. "You'll be reuniting them, Dean. Don't you want your family to be whole again?"

"I want Sam alive," he says sharply. "He can do that reuniting bullshit in his own time."

"On your time, you mean," she corrects, taking more popcorn for his belligerence. "Sam went peacefully with his Reaper. You brought him back here. You made that decision for him. He was happy, Dean. He had Jessica again. He had Jessica, and his mother, and his father, and he was happy."

She twists so that he has to look at her. "You can have it all if you'll come with me, Dean. Demons don't tell you this, but your soul isn't sold until it is in Hell. There is always a chance to back out."

Sam snores in his sleep and rolls over, facing toward them. Dean says, "I know," and smiles at her. "But I can't let him die."

"This is your last chance," she whispers, fingers tightening on his own. Begging him.

He pauses and then gives her hand a squeeze. "I'm not afraid of death," he lies, maybe to comfort her, maybe to comfort himself.

She presses a kiss along his temple, a tear spilling over and onto his eyelashes. "I know. Goodbye, Dean."

He closes his eyes so that he doesn't have to watch her leave. Into the silence he hears the Crossroads Demon laughing and can feel hellfire burning against his back.