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A shovel in his soul

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=

 

Then for the seventh night in as many nights he strayed
into the vacant church and he kneeled in the aisle
with his hands in his shirt and he remembered the song
he wished not to remember; he remembered.
And he sang. And though the words were not familiar,

he kept singing

Then for the seventh night - Mark Levine

=

When Jess has been dead for a week, Sam's nightmares get too bad to bother anyone with. He can't wake up screaming at the compound anymore, can't ask anyone to come in to him and calm him down so they don't attract undue attention, a swarm of the murderous diseased, or who knows what worse. He can't say he's got nothing - Mom's still alive and kicking, kicking more and harder than Sam feels is possible these days.

When he comes to her to tell her his plan, he feels himself fumbling to be understood, to defend his decision to run. As if he has to remind her, he says, "You lost him too. Dean." Because Dean is not the only one they've both lost. And the way she looks at him says, but what can I do? What would you ask me to do for them?

Jess is dead and their baby is dead, and Sam never has those dreams where the angel visits him anymore, or the dreams where he brings Dean to come talk, or any kind of dreams. Just black and red terror that wakes him up screaming, the walls suffocating him even awake.

Sam leaves his mother with her cousins, with the memory of their father, with Jess and baby Jackie's grave which he dug deep. He takes the memory of Dean, the journal of his first journey to find him, and all the apocalypse that's happened since. He takes the handgun his mother hands him and the muscle memory of the shooting range with his father when he was fourteen. He takes cans of food and boxes of ammunition, a multi-tool he'd owned but rarely carried, the warmest clothing he owns, siphons for fuel, batteries and a flashlight, matches and garbage bags to stay dry. He puts them all in the Impala, which he still thinks of as Dean's car even though it's been Sam's for the past few years. It's for reasons of sentimental value, that it's Dean's car. Sam's not superstitious but he has a strong belief: the car brought him to Dean those years ago. The car knows how to find him again.

-

Sam is on a high outlook over the Pacific Ocean in the middle of a spring storm and he is made of fear. Even as he is calling on Castiel he knows just as well that Castiel has not answered him for ages. He wonders if it is Castiel himself who hears him, or all the things that make him up, the heavenly host, the grace of an absent God. He wonders if another angel would come now, to save or annihilate him. It's all the same to him now.

He thinks of Dean and bites his lip, because he doesn't know where to find him. He will look for him through the forests and he will look for him through death and no matter what he will go on looking till Dean or Castiel or death finds him.

He asked Castiel when he was young, is there heaven, and Castiel said, Yes. When their father died of a stroke, Castiel said, Yes. When Dean was dying it was Sam's turn: yes. How many times has he said yes since then, since Jess's death, yes for Castiel to come and take him, and Castiel said nothing? Even now in the storm he is silent.

Sam dreams about his brother and he dreams about the thing that isn't his brother. He dreams that his brother has no face and wakes up afraid he's forgotten it. After his heart slows enough for him to see, he pulls out his wallet, checks the pictures in it, looks through them at everyone: Dad's, Mom's, Dean's, Jess's, Jess and baby Jackie. He looks at them till they are blurred by his tears, and then he turns off his light, and lays there in the dark, his wallet pressed hard on his heart.

=

Jacob Novak collects things. He keeps count, and that is what he can do. Castiel comes to him for direction, like he has answers, and he supposes he is the only one left with any answer at all other than "try to survive." He's got a plan. He's going to beat the devil. All he can do is pencil in ideas and remind Cas what humans can do, what humans need to survive, what to do with himself and these other human bodies at the end of the world.

The stars in the sky and the temperature daily and the arcane turn of leaves. The names of demons and the names of angels, the orders of seraphim and nephilim who have all left the world, the chaotic kingdom of hell. He has trunks and piles of books that he doesn't use anymore because he's practically memorized them and found them useless. He has a new world to learn but he doesn't want to admit that he must, to resign himself to living in it. It doesn't matter, not without Jimmy.

He counts the forests. He feels further from home than he has ever felt, though he is near enough to Pontiac, to their parked car, to catching Lucifer's trail. He doesn't keep mirrors except one hidden in a drawer, doesn't shave until the itch drives him crazy. Jimmy never looked like this, he thinks, feeling his own face. He gets drunk and talks to Jimmy as if he's there, even though the mirror is hidden and he knows Jimmy's gone. He doesn't talk for long stretches of time: in penance, punishment, hermitage. It's been a long time now.

Jacob dreams that the devil crawls into bed with him that night, and he has the shape and weight of Jimmy. Lucifer puts his hands on Jacob's wrists, and presses Jimmy's body to Jacob's body, all the parts in mirror symmetry, the two symmetries quadripartite, their fractal selves. Jacob dreams that the devil puts Jimmy's mouth by his ear, and that he lets Jimmy breathe, doesn't let him move, but this is Jimmy breathing, this is the smell of his breath, warm in the cold forest night, warm and animal gusts against the side of Jacob's face. Jacob is still. He presses back. He presses his cheek to Jimmy's cheek with a rasping feeling, as if Jimmy has been out here with him growing a beard in the wilderness, lost to the world in the way that Jacob has been (the lonely way, and not the way that Lucifer has him). Which is as good as dead.

Jacob dreams he is in bed with his brother who was dead and is alive now, breathing, for a moment, suspended in the night. He knows he is dreaming, on some level. He can't let himself think this is real or else it will scare him awake, and then the feel of Jimmy's body will be gone. He holds tight to his brother, holds tight to sleep.

=

A month after he left home, Sam gets picked up on a hilltop, lying in his car under a blanket. The croats are roaming cities and the croats won't find him here. It turns out Chitaqua's recon, on its way back from picking up supplies, will.

He sees a face out the window and has his gun out in a flash, but they jump away, hands up, empty. "We're normal," the woman says, "it's okay, what're you doing out here?"

Sam gets out and says, "I'm looking for my brother."

"What's his name?" Another voice. This man's voice makes Sam's stomach drop. He turns his tiny dim flashlight towards the sound.

"Dean." Sam sees his face and something green snaps and twists in him. He didn't think it would be this visceral. It should feel like epiphany, relief or despair, but it is sickening. Hope still rears inside him even as he is sure, so sure, if Dean were himself he would have come -

"Samuel Winchester," Castiel says, and Sam's body jerks at the sound of Dean's voice saying his name. He stares.

Dean's face moves. Sam can see it's not Dean moving it; it's not Dean's face. It's Dean's face with years on it, years and worries and a beard of a few days that Dean would've never let go this far.

"Sam," Castiel says, and it brings him back to the present, just enough to be aware of the distance between what Sam sees and what he knows. "Are you okay?"

Sam chokes on his yes.

-

It was the thirtieth day;
mystic symbols still a long way off. We prepared
our homes for darkness, the shuttered homes of our fathers.
A belief in progress

was general; progress in the acidity of the war-wrought soul.

Horizon

-

Castiel doesn't appear and disappear anymore. He travels in a jeep and in trucks and changes his clothes - no longer Dean's leather coat in the cool night air, but a tougher canvas jacket, a green shirt. Sam wonders what happened to that coat.

Sam stays in Castiel's cabin the rest of that night, for no reason other than because Castiel lets him follow. There are no lights but Sam's own flashlight and the moon. In the dark he asks Castiel where the Novak twins are. He saw their faces on the news, here and there. He kept an eye out without meaning to, afraid of seeing his brother's face, angry at the two men who didn't care whose lives got ruined just so they could have their angel buddy. The last glimpse he saw was of only one of them, he couldn't tell who: silhouetted against a burning building, spotted in the forest, spotted in the slaughterhouses, spotted in the churches in the angel-winged windows. The Antichrist was the rumor. Lucifer is what Castiel tells him.

"Which one of them is it?"

Slow pause. "Jimmy. Jacob's here at Camp Chitaqua."

It's not as if Sam can tell them apart anyway.

There is more silence. Sam faces Castiel with nothing to say, after all the silences, after all the unheeded yeses. "I. I couldn't take care of Jess," he tells the tired-eyed thing wearing his brother's body. As if Dean can hear him, as if Sam still has to answer to him or to his absence.

The angel looks at him and Sam hates that this face is so foreign, moves to different cues in different time. Sam had thought he'd be able to read the guy, because bodies can only express emotions in so many ways, but two things remind him he is wrong. One: Castiel never fit into the universal set of human beings. Two: the expressions Sam knows by heart suddenly have new meanings. He wishes Castiel would clench his jaw in sadness or anger. But the look on Castiel's face is a terrifying one, because it's the look Dean gave him when he saw Sam again, after Dean was strapped to Castiel's comet for a year. The wide soft eyes, the crinkling at the corners—it's the misplaced face of someone who loves Sam very, very much.

"Castiel," Sam says. He knows Castiel too. If wholly strange, he is not wholly unfamiliar.

But Castiel's eyes harden and he turns away, back into the shadows. "That's not my name anymore. Just… call me Cas."

Sam stares, but there's nothing he can see—a thick broad back, the muscles under the t-shirt. He can't read it anymore. He has nothing to go by. He turns off his light and is alone in the silent pitch dark.

Sam is living a nightmare, and it is all he can do to mitigate it to mere tragedy.

-

The next morning, Sam wakes up and Cas is gone. He breathes for a few seconds, taking in his surroundings—messy but sparse, just guns and clothing, bottles of pills and empty bottles of booze. Sam goes wandering. He pokes his nose into cabins and finds one with stacks and stacks of books and a strange ozone smell. He can't help himself: he goes in and picks one of the books up.

When Jacob comes in Sam has read ten pages on hexes, fifteen on demons, and thirty on angelic lore. He snaps the book shut when Jacob clomps up the steps in his boots, but he's left holding it when Jacob sees him. Jacob glares mildly, and his glare sweeps around the room, and Sam relaxes a little bit because he seems to only half notice that Sam has barged in on his space.

"Jacob," Sam says.

"Sam." Jacob's eyes finally come back to his desk and to Sam who has invaded. "Finally figured out he wasn't your brother?" he asks.

Sam's shoulder twitches and he realizes his fists are clenched. He sets the book open on the table, stays sitting in the chair, looking at the pages in front of him but not seeing, seething. He wants to say, he's not yours either. He wants to say you don't have a brother anymore, nobody is your brother. The devil is your brother. He wants to hit Jacob and he wants to hit himself. He's used to hating himself of late but not used to this hot anger.

Instead he asks, "What's this book?"

He gets the dismissal he expects, "It wouldn't mean anything to you," but he doesn't move. Sam was almost a theology major. He doesn't think about that anymore, doesn't tell people because he hates remembering that particular failure. He keeps looking at the book. Jacob never actually tells him to leave, just picks up his own papers, sits on his cot and tunes Sam out like he's not there.

Sam finishes the book on angelic lore, its appendices, the charts of heaven and star omens. He can hardly say he has hope, now, if Jacob's spent so long with all these books and still never found a way to get the devil out of his brother. But there is something opening up in his mind, some strange bud of possibility throwing out petals, unwinding from its twist like a spiral galaxy.

It's then that Sam realizes he had merely been waiting on his own death, after finding Castiel still in his brother, and fallen. It is the final barrier between him and peace. But maybe there is something else here for him.

=

Sam goes by Jacob's cabin again, and Jacob is there, staring into space, almost nodding off. When Sam goes to leave, though, he looks up and says, "I'm not a library."

"I didn't take any of your books."

Jacob hmmphs and grabs a can of beer from the floor to offer to Sam. Sam figures it's okay to come in.

"Thanks." He pops the tab, and drinks, and doesn't have anything else to say.

Jacob's still vague-looking, playing with a pencil, looking right at Sam. Sam looks down, then back up. He's no shy kid.

"How'd you find us?" Jacob asks.

"I don't know. I just tried."

They drink their beers in silence. When Jacob finishes his, he crushes it under his heel, and asks Sam again, "How'd you find us?"

"I'm serious."

"You drove out in the middle of nowhere to find the shell of your brother?" Sam's ears roar with the sound of his blood. "And now what? You're going to watch over him until you both die?"

Sam shrugs. Wouldn't you?

Jacob's lip curls, then he looks back down at his book, flips a page or two. "Well, we've got plenty of crazy people here, you'll fit in."

"My wife and daughter died." Sam is looking at his can and twisting the tab, twisting it till it bends and breaks. He drops it inside. That's not everything, of course, but still. "I couldn't stay there."

Jacob looks at him, and the drugged look that had glazed his eyes seems to have melted away. Sam is struck by how clear and blue they are. He's a little stricken, even, and suspects that with all of Jacob's arcane knowledge he could very well see into him - somehow, as absurd as it is, it is no more absurd than the end of the world.

"And you still have faith?"

"Faith?"

"In angels, or your brother, or -"

Sam blinks and looks and Jacob looks away. "It's not faith," Sam says. "It's..."

Jacob shakes his head. "It's exactly faith. It's a belief in the impossible. It's pointless."

Lifting his empty rattling beer can, Sam toasts Jacob, and picks up a book.

=

Was it appropriate? Was it too soon to tell?
He thought to himself: "This man needs love."
And he offered the man his hand-tooled snuff box,
a sentimental piece behind whose every dent
there was a story. He thought he would never
leave this place. And for awhile he didn't.

Susan Fowler

=

Sam Winchester is young like Jimmy was young, then. He's hardly changed, same bright angry eyes and floppy hair, same hunched posture to make himself look smaller. His face is the face of someone who's lost his wife and daughter, who only hopes to find his brother, who has faith that there's even still a reason to go on living. Sam is still wearing the anti-possession amulet Jimmy gave him when they last saw each other, years ago. He looks sadder. Jacob supposes they all do.

Jacob knows what Sam is looking for and he's not going to find it. Sam isn't going to get Castiel out of Dean Winchester's body. It's too late for that now, when Cas is as good as human and there are no angels left on earth who aren't the devil. Who would know how? Jacob's sure there's no angel to extract, no soul to be freed. There can't be anyone else in there or Cas would have said something, Jacob would know about it. Dean Winchester is in heaven enjoying his just reward, if heaven exists, if justice exists. Or else he's nowhere at all.

As much as Sam needs to wise up, Jacob knows he's stubborn. Remembers that much. So instead he goes on with his own reading and watches Sam's furrowed brow and quick eyes running over manuscripts like a skiff over water.

Jimmy used to make fun of him for being like that. Jacob's always been able to sink into a book and let the world pass him by if it had to. The house could burn down around him and he'd still be reading if it were important enough. Jimmy would tease and Jimmy would rant and he would be so irritated trying to get his attention, which Jacob begrudged him, only because Jimmy always demanded his attention whether he meant to or not.

Jacob may still begrudge it, or he would, if he had the chance. He's so angry at Jimmy for saying yes to Lucifer. But only at least as much as he is angry at himself for letting it happen. Who cares about whether they're each others' weaknesses? What good is being strong if there's nothing left to be strong for?

Day and night, using up batteries and candles, Sam comes and goes. Jacob is almost always there reading. These are the final days, as far as Jacob is concerned. He's not worried about conserving resources, and he won't begrudge the kid a little discovery. This is the way the world works, cogs turning, every day much like another day, resigned to the same desperation. It goes unspoken but understood with every book Jacob passes Sam in silence. This is the way the world ends.

=

Sam has gone from staring at his brother's body, watching it do horrible things so unlike itself, to avoiding Castiel and his gaze, to watching again, wary. Studying.

Dean is not Dean, of course. He is not even the angel Castiel. Cas is the camp's commander, but a fallen version of the thing Sam once held in awful contemplation. He is infinitely bitter and, for having become human, inhumanly hard. Sam hates it, but he stays - not because he owes something to Dean's cause, owes something to Cas, but because since he set out from California his only reason to go on has been the impossible certainty that Dean is somewhere in there. Sam can look at him when he is still and think: Dean is still in there, even if he is invisible, even if he is at the bottom of a deep dark well.

Like the surface of a well, the illusion breaks with the slightest breath. Sam isn't that good at fooling himself.

-

Sam stayed up all night at Jacob's till Jacob kicked him out for falling asleep and smudging the ink on his book. This is why he's asleep in Cas's cabin when Cas returns and begins to take off his coats and shirt. Sam wakes with the noise and watches from the floor. He sees the blood right away, dark and soaking through the grey t-shirt, then bright red smeared on his back. He stands.

Right now, as far as he's concerned, it's Dean's body that's hurt, so when Cas just downs some pills and says it's not important, Sam grabs his shoulder and pushes him down on the chair roughly.

"You, stay." He gets his first aid and a bottle of whisky.

When the alcohol touches him, Cas hisses, lips stretched tight over his teeth, baring them slightly. He doesn't move, though, and Sam is grateful that he's conceding to be something warm and solid for Sam to put his hands on.

"You don't take care of yourself," he says, and Cas grunts.

"It's not important."

"Even shallow cuts lose you blood." Sam tapes the bandage down. The bleeding is slowed for now. "You're their leader. It is important."

"I'm not -"

"Dammit, D- Cas." Sam's breathing hard and pressing Cas's shoulder down and against the chair's back, looming over him, bangs lank and greasy in his face. "They need you. They're a bunch of kids out here in the woods. So you'd better stick around."

Dean - Cas - those green eyes, wide, wide. Sam blinks and shakes his head. Maybe it's been a while since he ate. He gives Dean's shoulder a rough shake for emphasis, don't you leave, cups his face in a fleeting gesture, and finally jerks himself away from the pull of his brother's body. Dean's body, Cas's eyes: they are twice-broken promises. Sam has to stop believing.

He walks out the door, his fingers clutching at the hem of his own coat, his eyes blinking hard to crush themselves, to punish his impulse to look.

-

Though they are going through the same books and looking for answers in the same silent forests, Sam knows that they are not the same, he and Jacob. Jacob couldn't understand what Sam is living with. Jacob only met Dean Winchester for a few days before Castiel swallowed him up again. He's seen Dean Winchester die again and again and believes he's dead, buried in a body, somewhere up in heaven. They don't say these things, though. They don't believe in each other's missions, even though they are the same.

Jacob may know who Cas is and who Castiel was to him, but Sam has let Castiel inside him, felt his presence like only Dean had. So Jacob doesn't understand who Castiel is, what he has been. Jacob has let his cosmic fascination with the strange angel dim down to attachment, and it's bizarre for Sam to watch the casual way they interact: Jacob's bitter irreverence, his strong front against Cas's militant weariness. Jacob doesn't think of him as an otherworldly creature puppeting another man's body. His mind puts the body and the being together, calls it a man, and while Cas is now no more powerful than a man, Sam sees that caged look sometimes and cannot forget the awful knowledge, the memory of the being inside.

Even now he still longs for it - to be thrown over, submerged, to give himself over, all to save his brother. And more, more, but he would do it again if it meant Dean would be free. Those moments were uncountable ages. He remembers being so thoroughly within himself, deep within, shoved down and at the same time shoved out, looking down at his body from above, as if it weren't his. Yet he could feel his body still, under all the other layers of agonizing sensation.

It was the culmination of a childhood spent having a spirit as your best friend, one who spoke to you in the birds' voices and in the leaves' rustle, who lifted you up trees with your brother as you climbed them. He remembers looking at the sun, Castiel saying it's safe, I have made you safe, but still walking away with whited-out vision. It was the overwhelming crescendo of that glory. Sam couldn't let go for the longest time. Even now, it is what lets him sit in a room with Castiel and his brother's body, and feel as though he has a reason to be there. He knows things about them that no one else knows. Surely even if there is no reason for this, there is a place for it. The end of the world is very near. They can afford the strangest patience.

=

Jacob has never discriminated in book collecting. The volume he's looking over has some of the darkest magic, stuff with blood that he once would've been terrified to let Jimmy see, but it doesn't even twinge in him now. The things Jacob is allowed to do for Jimmy far exceed the things he will allow Jimmy to do for him, always. He thinks of this as he thinks of how quickly Sam takes to these volumes, barely blinking when he finds the diagrams of how to read the entrails of a sacrifice, what physical torments excite the soul, what ingredients make a hex bag and how much blood it takes to draw angel wards.

Jacob flips through pages he swears he's seen a million times before. Here are the glaring old tarot figures beside the comely new-age ones. They are like children's invented languages, no meaning, only codes laid over older, real languages. New science is as good as old, Jacob reasons. He thinks, Anything, anything.

Jimmy spoke to him in their twin language last night in sleep. All dream languages are like twin languages, understanding beyond form. To Jacob it never mattered what the world heard or misunderstood, but in the dream there is Lucifer, and Jacob can't say the words that will bring Jimmy back and through. His lungs are cowardly and his myths too long gone. All his spells are just logograms, his diagrams just pencil dowsing, the cities burnt behind them a smoke map of Detroit in his mind's eye. Jimmy, look at me, Jimmy they are yours too. Jimmy please take them. Jacob shoves these things in handfuls at him, shoves his hands at Jimmy, tries to push them into his body. They are yours and I am yours.

Jimmy, if I had stopped before it came to this, if I had saved up all my longing and put it inside me, could I have saved us? If I had begged you. If you had asked me to be strong enough for both of us. All your failures are only my own. Now the devil wears your skin and I am the only one on earth who knows how we are different.

=

He had been there already and had taken count.
And he had counted the animal forest and the
smoldering forest and the weeping forest and the forest
of the forgotten tropics and the God-forest.
What could he say to his accusers?

Counting the Forests

=

Sam is good for something other than reading. He pulls his weight around camp, cooking in silence, cleaning and learning weapons in silence. Long patrols aren't for him and thankfully they almost never need him, but he volunteers for lookout duty, day or night. He has trouble sleeping. Last night Jacob's cabin door was locked, and when he listened he heard voices, and chanting. He thinks Jacob is summoning things, demons probably. Interrogating them, maybe. He won't ask Jacob but he might ask Cas.

Sam walks a perimeter, a bit further than gunshot distance from the camp, stretching his eyes and his legs. At some point Chuck will call out near his left and they'll stop trudging to sit for a few moments. When he does, Sam leans against a tree, and tries not to scratch the itch that tells him to go out further into the woods. He feels drawn to nature, even though it no longer answers him like it did when he was young. Once the forest answers you, it always hears, no longer so conversational but still attentive.

It's here that Cas finds him. Sam hears the noise and turns quick, but figures it'll be all right, since it's coming from the camp. Cas nods at him, and they both move their hands from the guns at their hips.

"Hey," Sam says. He shifts against the tree, slides down to sit against the trunk, and Cas comes to stand next to him.

"Hey."

"Still doing Jacob's research?"

Sam rolls his eyes by instinct, and looks at the book he's set on the ground, a coverless volume of poetry. He doesn't know why Jacob kept it. Maybe it just found its way into his library, a piece of debris carried with a camp resident, something that caught someone's eye. Poetry doesn't seem like Jacob's thing, even when it is about the end of the world.

"It's good for him. Having you around."

Sam isn't sure what to say to that. He doubts it. "He doesn't seem to want anyone around. Except you."

Cas nods, scratches the back of his head. Sam knows the gesture as his brother's. He swallows, and looks away, and asks "Why do you stay? You're not an angel anymore, right? You don't have a charge on you. You don't owe humanity anything."

Cas rubs the back of his head again. "Where else would I go? What else would I do?"

Sam doesn't say, you could kill yourself. He can't ask why Cas hasn't. He can't ask himself why he hasn't. It's too much. It's unfair. "You don't owe these people anything. You don't, really."

"Jacob," Cas says with a hitch, as if he's going to say more. Sam looks back at him, expectant, but realizes that that's it.

"Jacob." There's a small doubt in Sam's voice. He knows Cas will hear it. Castiel has always known him.

"Sam," Cas says, turning to meet Sam's eyes. Green. Dean's green eyes and the exhausted hard lines Dean never had. "I made my choice, I'm sticking to it. I'm staying here with Jacob and with humanity. The time for choosing is over." His gaze cuts away to the trees, as if they're the key, the inexpressible punctuation, the key, self-evident.

They sit there, Sam looking at the forest floor, the words on the page, not reading. Cas looks at his weapon, the trees, back and forth. The quiet is much the same as it always is. Their silence is no colder than the forest's silence.

=

Jacob comes back from watch one hot night and finds Sam on his cot, half dressed like he fell asleep without meaning to. He has a book tucked under his head. Jacob lifts the mosquito netting out of the way then drops it closed, takes the book and lets it thump on the floor. He's too tired to confront, just sits down to jostle Sam out, grabs Sam's arm to tug.

Sam grabs back. He's awake.

Jacob expects to hear a "sorry", expects himself to say, "get out." He pulls his shirt over his head. Sam is still there behind him. Jacob pulls off his boots. He unbuttons his jeans.

A hand, hot and sticky, plasters itself to the nape of Jacob's neck and pushes up through the shorter hairs at the back of his head. He stills. The hand combs through again, and again, nails scratching barely, and then suddenly he can move again, pushing his head back into Sam's touch.

Jacob turns and puts his hands on Sam's bare chest, slides them up to cup his nearly-smooth jaw. He holds Sam's face and can't see at all in the pitch black of the forest. There is only Sam's breathing and the scent of woods they have all picked up, sweat and pine sap and dirt, and then Sam's hot mouth surging under his, the tang of sweat on his lips.

Jacob feels his way down to Sam's waistband and the button on his jeans. He starts to say something, he doesn't know what, a Marco Polo to let Sam know he's there, but Sam goes Shh shhhhhhhh. Rubs his hand along the side of Jacob's head, grasps the muscles of his shoulder, his hip, pushes and pulls like they're handles.

Somewhat unexpected, but not surprising, no. He doesn't know if Sam even knows what he's doing, what he's been doing here watching his brother's body. It wears on a man, makes you threadbare, transparent. If anyone knows, Jacob does, leaning down to bite at Sam's collarbone. He roughly undoes Sam's jeans, pushes them down, just enough to touch him hot and bare and that's it, that's it for them.

-

Take me to your place in your place, will you not?

Time found us sipping from the same cup.
A reflection was etched on the coal down there like a thumbprint.
Who doesn't love intrigue? Contagion?

Lyric

-

Jacob works with the impossibility of getting his brother back from the devil, but it's when he stops working that Sam worries. Sam has done enough reading and enough looking at Jacob's charts. He's done enough staying up late, watching through nearly-closed eyes just out of sleep to see what Jacob does by candlelight, to see the books shift from one end of the room to another. Jacob stops taking notes. He just draws charts now, looks for omens, goes on night watch, goes out scouting. He barely sleeps, comes in in the dark to lie down and push his hands roughly through Sam's hair. Jacob palms Sam's neck and Sam feels the smooth skin of Jacob's forehead, pushes his fingers down the collar of Jacob's shirt to knead the clammy muscles there, touches the cut of Jacob's hips and thinks of how thin they both are. Gone hungry. Starved.

Jacob has tossed all his instruction manuals aside. Sam can only watch and keep reading for his own desperate mission. Unlike Jacob, Sam is living with the fact that Cas is in his brother's body, and by living with it in a way accepts it, even as he pores through books and manuscripts asking questions, getting nothing. How do you get a fallen angel out of its vessel, how do you reverse the yes and call the man back.

Jacob tells him that it's impossible, that Cas is so far gone he's not an angel anymore, just an inextricable consciousness. Dean is dead, he is nowhere except where Sam can imagine him. Of course Jacob won't help him with his search. Cas is all Jacob has left, a handrail, a reminder, a rock so that Jacob can be the shifting sands.

Jacob still needs Cas, as much as he needs anything, as much as he needs to stay alive.

One day, Jacob goes out on a mission. It's not usual. When he comes back, he kicks Sam out of the cabin, asks to speak to Cas in private. The look on Cas's face compared to the fierce peace on Jacob's sets the stone of inevitability in Sam's stomach.

-

He is near. There are signs.

Jacob sits with his feet up on the table while Cas looks over the charts he's drawn, the maps and the plans. There's a long, slim-barreled gun in his lap.

"Are you saying we walk in straight up the driveway, past all the demons and the croats, and we shoot the devil?"

"Yes," Jacob says."There don't need to be many of us."

Sam is there, in the corner. Sam is always there. He sees the way Castiel looks at Jacob, the way Jacob looks back, the measuring gazes, the awareness that comes from a long and thorough wariness.

Cas's fingertips hover over the maps. "This is reckless."

"Then don't come," Jacob says.

"Don't be stupid." Cas sighs. "I'll go."

"No," Sam says, his first words. "This is a shitty idea." He can see what's coming. He's been watching Jacob, who's seen it coming. Sam reads his own signs.

"Then you can stay home," Jacob says, at the same time Cas says, "You're not coming."

"No," Sam says again. Cas looks over at him. Jacob doesn't. "If you're going I'm going." Jacob is looking at the wall. He is not looking at either of them. He is looking out the door at the forests.

"Sam," Cas says. His eyes are very tired and very bright. The scar above his eyebrow is unfamiliar to Sam.

Sam meets his gaze. "I made my choice, I'm sticking to it."

Jacob isn't looking at them.

=

He set out in darkness. In darkness
we waited at the corner of the forest
for his reappearance. So many forests!
Somewhere was a silent forest. Ice above, ice below.
Somewhere was a coldness with a rope in it
like a memory-braid or a pair of braids.

Counting the Forests