When all the world came back

"A needle in bone is better than a needle in the heart."

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

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.

Spoilers/Warnings: None

Luck's the only thing that saves them from a demon in Tuscaloosa.

It ripped off Dean's anti-possession charm before Sam pushed it into the Devil's Trap, taunting them with a voice like a blade sharpening on stone. The demon was still laughing about useless trinkets and stolen spells when Dean splashed him with holy water and words started spilling out of Sam's mouth that made the body buck and shudder – but River screamed when black smoke poured out of the man's mouth and whirled around her, hair blowing backwards from her face before it spread out across the ceiling and crackled its way back into Hell.

Dean's eyes glance up into the rear view mirror, whispering something into his phone that Sam can't hear over the Metallica pouring through the car, but his jaw clenches when River shivers. She curls up on Sam's lap, arms looped around his neck, and rests her forehead on his; whispering 'too close too close too close' and tightening her arms. Dean snaps the phone shut with a 'huh' before turning the car around and he doesn't stop until they're parked in front of a graffiti-stained building, its neon sign flickering with Mystic Tattoos.

There's a woman already standing when they push the door open, hair pulled back into a thick braid, and her red tank top doesn't hide the symbols that cover her arms – triskeles and pentacles and the same sunburst on their protective charms.

"Name's Hazel," she says, mouth a grim line. "Bobby told me you were coming." She's holding a transfer of the protective symbol inscribed on the charms Bobby had given them after Meg set up housekeeping in Sam. "Which one of you is first?"

Dean's leather jacket is thrown over another chair and he's already pulling off his shirt before Hazel finishes her question. River stays on the other side of the chair, her eyes following the tracks of the needle as it pierces Dean's skin, and brushes his shoulder when the hands on the armrest tighten and his knuckles go white. River doesn't move when Sam takes Dean's place, her cool fingers flicking up underneath his hair, and she leans down to kiss the curve of his neck after Hazel pulls the needle away for the last time.

The blood starts soaking through his bandage when Hazel gives Sam the same spiel that she parroted off to Dean, handing him a packet of salve and telling Sam to buy some Aquaphor. He tugs down his shirt, the ache burning through skin and muscle as he stretches his shoulders, and the first thing Sam sees when his head emerges into the open is River touching the armrest on the chair.

Sam raises his eyebrows. "You can't be serious."

"A needle in bone is better than a needle in the heart," she says. River folds her arms across her chest, jutting our her hip. "I won't sing a song that isn't mine, Sam. Not if I don't have to. And there's – " Her mouth tightens and she whips her head to glare at the wall, hair settling around her shoulders as she swallows. "Jiā ting."

"I don't care about jiā fucking ting!"

And he doesn't fucking care how many goddamn stains she sees on people's hearts or that even Bobby thinks she's a weapon they'd be idiots not to use. All he cares about is that she's traded in her bare feet for combat boots, following them into the dark in her flowery dresses with a rosary entangled in her hand so tightly that the beads leave marks.

Sam looks at Dean, waiting a beat for the crack that's going to make River turn on her heel and stomp out of the tattoo parlor – coiling around herself in the car while she waits for them to pay Hazel. Dean was right. Carrying River Tam out of Waverly Hill and setting her down in the back of the Impala was a mistake; a fucking stupid mistake, thinking he could save a girl blown apart by a storm and now all she wanted to do was to plunge herself headlong into the hurricane.

"Rén wài yǒu rén," she hisses. "Tiān wài yǒu tiān."

River reaches up with one hand and slips the left strap of the dress down her arm, baring the same patch of skin throbbing on Sam's chest before she hops up into the chair. She taps her fingers on her belly, watching Hazel print up another copy of the tattoo, and flinches as the rough pad doused with alcohol scrapes against her collar bone. River's eyes are swollen and she stares at the wall when the transfer gets slapped down on skin, biting her lower lip when the needle pricks flesh and Hazel begins tracing the outlines of the pentacle.

But that doesn't keep River from smiling when it's all over and she sees the bloody sunburst in the mirror.

She brushes it with her fingers, wincing when the pads touch down on black ink, but her smile gets brighter. "We're part of each other now," she whispers. "When the night puts on its cloak."

Dean chokes on a cough and scratches underneath his ear, turning it into a joke about how she must really be a freaking lunatic to stick around with the two fugitives who kidnapped her and make her stay in crappy motels; laying it on thick about burps that smell like chili cheese fries and Sam's emo attachment to angry chick rock and how Dean's drawing the line at talking to fucking bugs until River bursts out with a strangled belly laugh – and it's all Sam can do to return her smile.

No one ever makes it to end.


The title of this story is a line from the poem "Preludes" by T.S. Eliot.

"Jiā ting" means "family."

"Rén wài yǒu rén, tiān wài yǒu tiān" is a Chinese proverb that means "There are people beyond (this) person and skies beyond (this) sky." I meant to use it literally, that River is telling Sam that her own fears don't matter instead of the more common meaning of 'there's always someone better than you.'

I really worried about the tattoo scene because, well, it was such a Sam and Dean thing – I didn't want to muck that up since maintaining a brotherly bond is really important to me within the context of every story I write. So, I'm hoping it worked…