And ashes to the earth

On nights when the brother who runs from dogs drowns their voices in whiskey, Sam stares at the clock – but he's waiting for the red woman and her bright apple promise.

Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine and River Tam doesn't belong to me, either.

Rating: T (Language, Angst)

Characters: Dean/OFC, Sam/River Tam (HET)

Spoilers/Warnings: None for Firefly, although season three of Supernatural is fair game. References to character death from a previous story in the series.

A/N: This is the third story in my Rhapsody on a Windy Night 'verse. It was written for the Fire prompt at crossovers100 on Livejournal.

Beta: The lovely embroiderama is the yin to my yang. Everything good about this piece is because of her. The mistakes? Those are all me.

The brother who runs from dogs drowns their voices in whiskey and the scent of a woman, falling into the rhythm of two bodies dancing against leather and the short sharp gasps of another man's name pouring into his ear every time her hips buck. Too bright stars glimmer through glass, washing out her eyes with a shine that aches and a shine that teases.

A shine that tarnishes and a different name for every rainbow-colored scent but the smile never changes – a cocky grin that he can never hide from short sharp barks and thick nails on concrete, chased down by the shadows gaining speed across dirt and the hot breath on his neck before he falls.

The short sharp barks rip out his throat and the thick nails shred his skin and he falls down with eyes like a crow, falls down where salt meets skin and the dogs howl at the bloody moon.

He falls down with a mouth full of ashes.

Sam stares at the clock but he doesn't see the numbers.

The red woman dances in his eyes, with her golden hair and the scar of a crimson smile that glitters with a dare, and the seas boil when she holds out her hand – offering a bright apple full of the promise to save them all if Sam follows her down the river. His crown shimmers underneath a fiery sky and his burnt feet pull him to his princess, past the charred banks where the wind can never follow.

The cherry blossoms stop spinning, dragged down into the crackle and spit where the world begins.

She curls around a pillow and watches them burn.

The red woman always dances every night the brother runs through the witching hour, heavy in Sam's limbs when his eyelids start to flutter and the butterflies drifting into the black drag him down into the slice and the stab where the world ends. He listens to her siren song, sifts through the letters for a different answer. The wind unfurls, blowing cherry blossoms that burst into ash against his cheeks – the only kiss that the wind can give to wake the dying.

The apple tumbles into the river when Sam rubs his eyes, his body sagging as the dogs yip on the horizon.

He isn't coming back, she says and Sam's shoulders snap against the headboard. She unfurls and straddles his thighs and her arms settle around his waist when their foreheads touch. He won't come back until the sun rises. The full moon is too dark. The wind is a whisper against his lips, her tongue darting inside to brush against his.

His mouth is full of ashes.

We shouldn't –

Sam's frown flickers underneath his eyes but his hands fall down to her thighs, no matter how nián ging he thinks she looks in her babydoll dress – and she feels like the girl who remembers the moment before the clouds roar through the thunder and the lightning and the wind blows away her skin, the moment before she turns into the not-girl who smells dark stains on people's hearts and slices out their mysteries with sharp fingers like she's pulling every single seed out of a pomegranate.

When her hands curl around the hem and she pulls the dress mama bought her over her head, the edges stop bleeding and the only thing dancing in Sam's eyes when she smiles up at him is River.

When her hands curl around the back of his head and one big hand snakes past the elastic of her underwear, the heat of his mouth licks the curve of her neck and the only thing swirling in her chest when his fingers slip between her thighs is Sam.

And somewhere in the black, the red woman screams while her apple burns.

The water swirls down the drain, full of soap and shampoo and the salty sweet of them mixed together.

She bends over and touches the hole, her face hidden by the fall of her hair when Sam pulls back the shower curtain with a small laugh. Dean was right, he says, I do pick the weird-ass chicks. Sam smiles. He always smiles in the morning, when the bloody moon has set and they both hear the stomping feet and the slamming door and the deep bellow about pancakes and bacon.

The towel is damp but she pats herself dry enough to pull on her clothes and tilts her head to watch Sam's morning ritual. Her throat aches as his hand trembles. She runs her finger down his cheek, poking his nose with an inch of shaving cream when Sam turns to look at her.

Every time you follow her, you go too far.

Sam swallows, his hand on her chin, and suddenly it's his mouth dropping down on top of hers – his tongue darting into her mouth – until both of them splutter from the shaving cream. He wipes off her mouth and she turns on her heel, looking at him over her shoulder as her hand twists the doorknob.

I'm not going anywhere, River.

She wants to believe him but the red princess fights with weapons more powerful than ashes and cherry blossoms and she tries to ignore the plastic razor shaking in his hand as she closes the door behind her.

The brother sits at the rickety table, fingers drumming on the wood in time to the catch in his chest. He smells like leather and cigarettes and cheap perfume, the musk of a woman still fresh on his tongue and a belly full of whiskey still stinging down his throat. He doesn't turn his head when she steps into the room but his shoulders twitch from the pad of her bare feet on the rough carpet as she tiptoes across the room.

His eyes follow a crack on the scratched surface, head bent at the neck while his pupils trace the scars in the wood – jagged gashes ripped through the varnish like the knife ripping through Sam's spine and she's dragged down to her knees right along with him when Sam sags into his arms. She watches the still face on the bed, hears the brother scream at the waltzing man and hears the truth that howls louder than dogs born from the crossroads.

Take your brother outside as fast as you can.

She leans over and he doesn't jump when wet hair brushes against the back of his neck – but his jaw clenches when she rests her chin on his shoulder. I had a brother, she says. The hair underneath his ear prickles when her breath blows across it, rubbing them both raw when she swallows. He used to draw me pictures in the air with sparklers so I would never be afraid of the dark.

Take your brother outside as fast as you can.

He stops tapping his fingers.

The desert swallowed him whole. All alone. Simon's song beats out its rhythm to the pulse rushing through her head, spilling out even though he doesn't give a shit about her goddamn brother. All alone with nothing but dust in his mouth and the wind whittling everything away. There wasn't even a bone left to bury. Not one.

Take your brother outside as fast as you can. Don't look back.

The chair creaks when his body shifts, wishing the guài wu would shut the fuck up, and he pushes her away with nothing more than a sigh.

Well, that was an inspiring homily, sweetheart.

Fire crackles between them, the sting of its sparks dropping like tiny firefly kisses onto her cheeks, and he's pulling her out as fast as his little legs can run. He holds on tight, as tight as Simon holds on whenever the boat starts to rock and papa is laughing because she's scared of the waves. He holds on because it is what he is, the promise he makes to the gruff voice. The promise worth his soul, set aside as willingly as her brother's life for a nameless child and a bullet in the brain pan – both of them whittling away to nothing but bones.

Take your brother outside as fast as you can. Don't look back. Now Dean, go.

Dean, she whispers and touches his temple.

His eyes widen as his head whips in her direction, his twisted mouth full of shadows while the echoes of his papa's voice rumble underneath his skin. The bathroom door clicks open and Sam's smile is like the sun on her back when she kisses Dean's forehead.

His voice whispers into her hair and his arms hold her as he picks her up from the ground, sets her on the counter and dabs peroxide on the cuts with a feathery cotton ball; blows on her skinned knees and bandages her up before Mama even knows that she fell down. Liú dé qīngshān zài, Simon murmurs, bùpà méi chái shāo. His promise fights through the thunder and the lightning, touching the ghost banging against her rib cage with a flash that makes her skin tingle.

But her mouth is full of ashes.


The title of this story is a line from the poem "East Coker" by T.S. Eliot – the second part of emThe Four Quartets/em.

"Nián ging" means "young."

"Guài wu" means "freak" or "monster."

"Liú dé qīngshān zài, bùpà méi chái shāo" is an idiomatic phrase that means "As long as the green mountains are there, one need not worry about firewood."

I did divulge that Simon died in the first story but, as River mentions his death in this, I felt that I needed to warn for it anyway. He died in the Middle East, working for Doctors Without Borders. I didn't think that he would join the army but I could see a modern-day version of him using his skills to help people who needed it the most.