And the Air Shall Stand Red

If it were up to Sam, they'd be halfway to New Orleans. But there was something going on in Philadelphia besides the rain – Winchester business with a side of ritual killings – and Dean wasn't leaving until they figured out why a girl covered with triskeles and triquetras had a Zoroastrian symbol carved into her back.

Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine but I'd make Dean wear his boots all the time if they were.

Overall Rating: M (Language)

Overall Pairings: Dean/OFC, Sam/OFC

Miscellaneous: Spoilers up to 3.04. I began writing this for the spn-halloween challenge on livejournal (and completely missed the deadline thanks to my muse crashing headlong into bronchitis) using a prompt by extraonions. One thing to note is that I did start writing this well before 3.05, adding in references from previous episodes as they aired to stay as much within canon as possible; unfortunately, based on killabeez's timeline, this story takes place during the same week as 3.05. As Jensen would say, the operative word is fiction. This is first and foremost a case story but there are sexual situations involved; that being said, I wouldn't consider this a "romantic" story but rather a case file with a little bit of action.

Betas: emgrace graciously provided feedback and help with grammar, pointing out situations where I needed more details. hhhellcat asked me all of the hard questions, keeping my plot focused and finding the holes when I was too close to the story to do so. theemmer provided encouragement and much support, regardless of how slowly I was writing this story. Special thanks to embroiderama, who kept me sane. The good parts are all them. The mistakes? Those are all me.

Chapter One: Shadows From a Thousand Years Back

There are nights and there will be but nights
For endless are these steps –
Shadows from a thousand years back

Springfield, PA

It was just a storm but Iris would have called it Fate.

Rebecca's head whipped up from her book when the door blew open, the shrill ring of the bell announcing the slight figure tumbling through the front door – pushed forward as much by the crack of lightning as the door closing swiftly behind him. He looked so bedraggled, wet spots on the shoulders of his worn t-shirt where his hair touched down, that Rebecca handed him a cup of hot chai before she realized their fingers were touching. She even pulled a towel out from underneath the counter, returning his lopsided grin with a laugh as he attempted to dry off his hair with a piece of terrycloth that barely covered his head.

He said his name was Nick, with another half-hearted attempt to wring more water out of his hair. He was kind of cute, red hair curling around his ears as it dried. It made her wish that humidity didn't turn her braid into three thick tangles of curls tied together into one long knot. It didn't help that her latte-splattered apron couldn't quite hide the faded seams on her mother's old bell bottoms.

He was the first person she'd seen in an hour.

After the lunch crowd rushed back to work armed with cups of coffee that they sipped during the long march back to their cubicles and computers, Rebecca spent most afternoons in the company of dusty books and a mangy old black cat that Iris called Pyewacket. Iris would laugh when Rebecca said it was her own fault that the cat was possessed, scratching up the counters and throw rugs, but that didn't keep Rebecca from sneaking Pyewacket a little cream whenever she was near the Espresso machine.

Most of the customers didn't even make it into the bookstore, preferring Iris' coffee recipes to her eclectic book collection and the herbs she dried off the rafters, but Nick walked around the overstuffed shelves with a solemn expression on his face. When he made it back to the coffee counter and started asking her about music and what it was like being a Barista, Pyewacket made a curious noise and jumped up next to Nick on an empty stool. He petted the cat absentmindedly, not laughing when the girl that he was flirting with burned herself handing him a second cup of chai, and pretended that it was perfectly normal for a middle-aged witch to tack a coffee shop onto her bookstore.

Rebecca figured out why the third time he showed up at Enchanted Grounds and pulled a dog-eared copy of The 21 Lessons of Merlyn out of his backpack. Iris wouldn't even offer it as a special order in the store; she said it was a misogynistic load of crap that demonized women the same way that the Inquisition turned them into witches. Iris' nostrils flared when she saw Nick's hand resting on the closed cover. Rebecca held her breath, waiting for the inevitable tirade. Iris just sighed and finished Nick's drink.

But Iris didn't put extra cinnamon sprinkles on his chai, which was the closest she ever came to giving anyone the evil eye.

He had Iris laughing right along with Rebecca, though, before the evening crowd came in – and Iris flashed him the biggest smile Rebecca had seen her give anyone in a long time when Nick held the door open for Rebecca at the end of her shift. The book was the one thing they didn't talk about as they walked to her evening class, a conversation that didn't stop until Rebecca was already five minutes late. She waved at him over her shoulder, running the last block with her bag pulled in tightly to her waist.

Walks turned into dinners – usually some hole in the wall that she had read about in Townscene, places with food that Nick would only agree to eat if he got to pick out the movie.

He never pushed too hard, even after nights out to watch his favorite band and she'd drink so much beer that Rebecca could only stand upright by hanging all over him; she would giggle into his shoulder and then against his mouth while he kissed her goodnight and Nick would wait until Rebecca unlocked the door to her apartment building and stumbled up the stairs.

And Nick never asked the obvious question, letting the answer come out in slow degrees – an old story with its chipped diamond ring and a car and a boy named Johnny speeding down a back county road outside of Grindstone – but he'd tuck the afghan around her tighter as they sat together on her old green couch.

Walking to her evening massage class with him after another shift at the store, arguing about some theory Nick had read in one of his crazy books and getting teased because she was a skeptic who could argue paganism like a pro, fit into her life like the cup of tea she had every morning while she looked out her kitchen window or the way Iris' books helped her while away the hours she spent by herself in the store.

Rebecca Burkhardt had finally broken the curse.

She made her decision the night Nick voluntarily suggested dinner at her favorite Indian place.

They walked out onto the sidewalk, losing themselves in a bustling crowd that was pulling up umbrellas before the sprinkling rain turned into something else. Nick came up from behind to wrap his arms around her waist like he always did after dinner and Rebecca leaned back into him, his chin resting on the top of her head. "You look good when you're not dressing up like a hippie," he teased. "I just wish you didn't have to cover up that dress with your jacket."

"The rain is freezing, Nick." And the heels had not been a good idea.

He ignored that, tightening his arms with a sigh. "I'm going to miss you."

"I'm only going to be gone for a week."

"I could come with you."

Rebecca turned in his arms. "That would defeat the purpose of going on a sabbatical." She went every year, spending a week alone in her family's old cabin. She was hoping she'd have better luck with the pastel chalk and pad of paper in her living room. Last year's laptop and the outline for what was going to be the next Great American novel had been a disaster but, on the plus side, Rebecca hadn't needed a lot of kindling that week to get the fire going in the fireplace. "But I could make it so you won't forget me while I'm gone," she added, opening her mouth underneath his.

He smiled against her lips just when it started to pour.

Suddenly, Nick had her by the wrist and they were running down the sidewalk and cutting through the park on the road that ran through it; the shortcut to her apartment building was a hell of a lot easier to navigate when it wasn't slick and she wasn't wearing heels. A van barreled behind them, her heart pounding as the heel broke off her left shoe and she lurched forward just as the van squealed to a stop in front of them.

Nick's grip around her wrist began to ache when the side door opened.

"She's practically ripe." It was a purr, pouring out of a man wearing thick glasses and waving a stone on a chain that gave off a white light. "But there's not much time."

Nick slammed Rebecca's arms behind her back, holding her in place as the air turned sticky sweet. She managed to twist around and look at him when something jammed into her neck, a cool liquid thrust into her vein with a push that made her entire jaw go so numb that she couldn't even scream. Bad luck really did follow Rebecca Burkhardt like a plague rat but that didn't keep her from trying to kick and run as fast she could.

Nick's eyes darkened when he pushed her backwards into the van.

But he had a lopsided grin on his face as Rebecca fell – like there was nothing wrong with the way her eyelids fluttered in time to her slowing heartbeat – and the door slammed shut with a metallic clang, a dull vibration in the back of her head before everything went black.

October 24, 2007 - Philadelphia, PA

Sam was staring out the window, watching the rain with the same goddamned pout he used to wear when Dad refused to buy him a packet of Transformer bubble gum at the Circle K – but Sam wasn't six anymore and Dad wasn't the one pulling the Impala into the parking lot of the Bensalam Arms.

Its neon sign crackled in the rain, reflecting off of Sam's grimace as they both opened their doors. Dean loped along behind Sam after they grabbed their gear from the trunk, catching a glimpse of himself off the broken edge of the window in a Camaro that had seen better days. A little over five months since hell broke loose and all Dean had to show for it were a few more scars underneath his t-shirt, a couple of aches down his back from their last job and a perpetually pissed-off brother who just didn't get that some deals were never meant to be broken.

It didn't take long to get a room – the same room they always found no matter where the road ended when Dean decided to stop driving, with two small beds covered with threadbare comforters and one ratty armchair sitting next to the largest crack in the peeling wallpaper. Dean set his duffel on the floor but Sam was already sprawling across the nearest mattress, pulling books out of the bag that he'd picked up somewhere in Florida and reaching behind him to turn on the light. It flickered once, twice, before sputtering out.

"Goddammit!" Angry eyes turned on Dean.

"We can't stop the war." Sam didn't say anything to that, just stared at him with their father's eyes while Dean settled against the headboard of his own bed. "Bobby says there's signs here."

"There are signs everywhere, Dean. Like in New Orleans." Sam frowned but he would meet Dean's eyes.

"What's so goddamn important about New Orleans, anyway? Did you find a voodoo priestess who can whip up a Get out of Hell juju bag? Don't you even think about bringing me back as a zombie." Dean snorted. "We were three hours out of Philadelphia, Sam. What was I supposed to say? My brother's been trying to get me to the Big Easy so I can recharge my mojo. Those signs you're tracking in Philly don't mean bumpkus, Bobby – not when we're saving my sorry ass with Mardi Gras beads." Dean shifted, bringing his hands back behind his head. "At least I got out of flashing my tits at total strangers. You know how embarrassed I get."

"This isn't a joke."

"Nope, it's not."

"And the signs aren't the same here. There weren't any sky formations."

"Same kinds of animals dying the same ways, though."

"And what would Dad say?" Sam's voice was tight and his hands were clutched around a book he held to his chest, old worn leather with cracks Dean had memorized by the time he was ten – the Winchester family legacy.

"You've got seven months to take out as many evil sons of bitches as you can, Dean." Dean didn't even have to close his eyes to see John Winchester's gruff smile, the way his father looked at him after clawing his way out of hell. Approval. Just like the hospital, when all someone had to do was sell their soul. Like father, like son. Dean shook his head sharply. "Now you're not playing fair, Sam" he added. "Pulling the Dad card on me."

"You're the one who pulled the Dad card," Sam retorted. Dad's journal fell into his lap.

It was another verse of the same song they'd been singing since Dean met that demon at the crossroads. He'd heard it so much that he probably hummed it in his sleep, about how selfish he was and that he'd done to Sam what Dad had done to him – how he was sabotaging every attempt Sam made to try and take back the one thing that had always been Dean's to give. Dean opened his mouth just as Sam grabbed another one of the books, jamming it up so high his nose looked stuck in the binding.

Sam was ending conversations the same way he did when he was six, too.

Dean shut his mouth abruptly and hopped off the bed when Sam's shoulders stiffened. "I'm going out."

"Because catching every VD known to man is a great way to take out as many evil sons of bitches as you can." And goddamn Sam didn't even look up from the book, his mouth a thin line as his eyes flickered across the page while Dean double-stepped to the door.

Dean turned the doorknob. "Don't wait up."

"I never do."

The door slammed behind him, the falling rain a cold shock against his ears.

Sam really didn't get it. And it wasn't just because the deal couldn't be broken – it was rock solid, no matter how many loopholes Sam thought he could find with his Stanford brain and all those books he'd been collecting at estate sales and weird stores across the country. But how in the hell was Dean supposed to protect Sam when those seven months were up and Dean Winchester was buzzard food? It didn't matter how many sons of bitches he took out because he wouldn't be around to get the one son of a bitch whose gun had a bullet with Sam's name on it.

The only thing to do was get drunk.


The title of this story is a song lyric from "The Seven Witches" by Obtained Enslavement. I've never heard of the band before but when I Googled for keywords, this came up and seemed to fit the feel of what I was attempting to accomplish. The lyrics sprinkled throughout the story are from the same song, except for the very last two – which are lyrics from "Samhain" by Ragnarok. I thought they were fitting given the ending, even if the rhyme for the last quote is based on a mispronunciation of the actual word.

The 21 Lessons of Merlyn is a real book. And I really think it's a load of mostly misogynistic hooey that doesn't take into account that there were female practitioners of the same faith that brought us druids. (Douglas Monroe should read Norma Lorre Goodrich's Priestesses.)