Midnight shakes the memory
"Mysteries like to lock themselves up in riddles and allegories."
Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine and the girl doesn't belong to me either.
Rating: T (Language, angst)
Characters: Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, River Tam
Pairings: Sam/River (Het)
Author's Notes: This is part of my Firefly/Supernatural crossover series, Rhapsody of a Windy Night. Written for the spn_30snapshots challenge on Livejournal.
Neither of them teaches her how to hunt.
They teach her just enough to keep her safe when she's alone, how to lay salt lines in front of windows and doors and where they keep the rosaries and holy water and protective rhymes that a kid would remember. They give her a cell phone with personal ring tones for both of them and a list of everything she's not supposed to do while she's alone by herself in the motel room, what knocks they'll use to identify themselves and how many locks to keep shut. They give her a bracelet, adding new charms that Bobby sends them or ones that they find on the road in shops most people wouldn't look at twice.
Sam knows that it's not enough to keep the storm at bay, even when River shakes her arm and the jingling charms make her smile – that there will always be nights when they come back to the motel and find her curled into a ball, surrounded by a circle of salt and whispering the rhymes that Dean makes her repeat every morning over scrambled eggs and sausage.
But the night they stumble through the door covered in pig guts and smelling like a slaughterhouse, River is curled up in the room's tattered armchair and she's staring down the sight of a Beretta. She wrinkles her nose and sets the gun on the table, next to the others that she's lined up in a row, and pulls his old .45 out from the bag at her feet.
River disassembles it while they stare at her like idiots, removing the bullet cartridge with a flick of her wrist and a self-satisfied smirk when it slaps into her hand.
Dean's mouth works silently when she starts scraping the barrel with the brush. It's the same economical movement that Sam learned when he was nine, sitting next to Dean on the bed while Dad watched them with hooded eyes; smiling afterwards when Sam could rattle off the parts and put the gun back together with his eyes closed.
He doesn't want to know if River can do that, too – any more than he wants to know when River started doing research.
It's probably a good thing that Sam's the one who finds Dad's journal stuffed into her bag, along with three research books that Bobby gave him. The journal is full of alphanumeric codes next to most of Dad's entries except for the pages she's still got covered with sticky notes, yellow scraps of paper covered with meticulous lines of cryptic phrases and Chinese symbols and more alphanumeric combinations. Bobby's books look even worse, stuffed so full of scraps of paper and more sticky notes that Sam checks the bindings to make sure they haven't cracked.
He flips through the pages, sighing when he doesn't find any Chinese notes or her esoteric codes in the margins.
"Mysteries like to lock themselves up in riddles and allegories." She looks up from the notebook she's been writing in furiously all afternoon and smiles. "But all you need is the right key."
"And you're trying to make a key?"
"We already have the key," she answers solemnly, pushing her notebook in his direction. "We just weren't looking in the right place."
He stares down at the first entry he sees, with its alphanumeric code in the corner and its title of 'Hobgoblin' centered in the white space at the top of the page. Every line underneath the title is a variation of her code, listing entries from Dad's journal and paragraphs from Bobby's books, URLs to websites that she's painstakingly copied interspersed with pictures that she's drawn as precisely as diagrams in a biology textbook.
And his throat aches when he realizes the entry for 'Hell Hound' is three pages long, with room to spare.
Sam's still trying to think of something to say when Dean busts into the room with a six-pack of cheap beer and three twelve-inch subs.
"Thank God you two aren't screwing each other." Dean chuckles and sets the six-pack on the table, sauntering towards the bathroom. "Because the last thing I need in my delicate condition is a freaking heart attack," he adds over his shoulder.
The air conditioner ruffles the pages in her notebook and River reaches over and drags it back in front of her, twirling her pencil in her fingers before she lowers her eyes and starts writing like Sam had never interrupted her – but she smiles softly when Sam rips the tuna salad sub in half and sits down across from her at the rickety table, leaning back in the chair and opening up his father's journal.
The bathroom door opens and Dean snorts. "That's pretty low, Sam. Making River do research for you. Pretty soon, I'm going to be calling her Geek Girl." He grabs a can of beer and sits on the bed, grinning broadly and popping the tab when River laughs.
Sam doesn't even try to correct him, that she's turning into one of them the longer she stays and he's not sure who it is; not with the way she can clean a gun in under thirty seconds or lay salt lines like she was using a ruler.
Dean learns the truth soon enough the morning she stares at him across the booth in Velma's Diner and folds her arms, rolling her eyes every time Dean starts reciting a charm that Dad had taught them; sipping on her orange juice whenever he prompts her to recite it back.
"I am not a yīng," she says finally. "I don't need nursery rhymes."
"Jesus Christ!" Dean glares at her. "You can't protect yourself with all that ladybugs are good luck when they kiss you and I'm the wind bullshit!"
River sucks in a breath, narrowing her eyes.
"Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica, in nomine et virtute Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, eradicare et effugare a Dei Ecclesia, ab animabus ad imaginem Dei conditis ac pretioso divini Agni sanguine redemptis."
It comes out in the same sing-song voice she uses when she twirls around the motel room, coming up with different melodies for each section in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
They're still staring at each other, her hands white against her upper arms and Dean's tapping his fingers near his coffee cup, when the waitress shows up with their breakfast.
"Well, fuck me." Dean snorts. "Guess you're not a yīng. Got anything else in that bag of tricks?"
"No." She cocks her head. "But don't you think it's inefficient? One song for one voice." She picks up her orange juice and takes another sip. "We should learn how to sing in a chorus."
Dean shakes his head, shoveling scrambled eggs and bacon into his mouth, and River grins at Sam before stealing a piece of sausage off of his plate. He watches her lick the grease off of her fingers, smiling across the table at Dean when he launches into all of the reasons why Sam Winchester's never going to sing for anyone – yowling the words to some goddamn show tune and doing his best to look constipated.
River leans into Sam as he puts his arm around her shoulders and, when she tilts her head, it's the girl in her picture that's looking up at him.
All it took was a gun and a journal and a war that was never supposed to be hers.
The title of this story is a line from the poem "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" by T.S. Eliot.
"Yīng" means "baby."