It wants out.
Inside is too warm, wet, sweet and bitter fluid all around, live blood coming into it, cushioned by fat and muscle, a seat of bone. It is too warm, too comfortable. Heart pumping loud through it, lungs pushing, diaphragm pushing. It sleeps for hours and hours and doesn't like sleeping.
It's tired of second-hand replacement food and diffused light, filtered sound. It has been inside for so long. This must be the right time. It is hungry, cramped, tired of being soothed. It wants a gush of blood, a waterfall. It wants to claw and tear and eat real food. It wants out.
It wants out now.
"Keith Jennings," Sam says from the passenger seat, breaking a two-hour silence.
Dean smirks. "Don't tell me; he was decapitated." It's just past sunset. They are driving north on a two-lane, blacktop road; the yellow lines glow like fluorescence.
"Um, no." Sam shuffles his stack of newspaper clippings and notebook paper. "Found dead in his kitchen last week, abdomen torn open, arcane symbols painted in blood on the floor around him."
Dean keeps watching the road, both hands on the wheel. He doesn't say anything.
Sam shrugs. "He's the fifth guy in Wilmington to die like this in the last year."
"Okay," Dean says. "That's weird enough for me."
They arrive in Wilmington around ten in the morning. Dean pulls into the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts and cuts the engine. The radiator fan ticks loudly.
Sam is making notes in the margins of newspaper articles, the ink from his gel pen bleeding through the newsprint.
"Do you want coffee or something?" Dean asks.
Sam shakes his head. There's a bite mark on his neck, just past the jugular, not quite covered by his hair. "The Jennings's house is only ten minutes from here," he says. "We should go by and offer our condolences."
Dean shrugs and re-starts the car.
The house is three stories tall, Victorian structure with bright red brick and white trim. The rooms are dark and still.
Dean knocks on the door, waits, knocks again, and turns to Sam. "Nobody home," he says uselessly.
"Should be crawling with mourners. The funeral is this morning," Sam says. He checks the address for the third time.
"Yeah," Dean says. "There's still nobody here." Sam nods vaguely and pulls the obituary from his notebook. Dean shoves his hands in his pockets impatiently. "So let's go, Sam."
"Go where?" Sam says. "All we've got is the guy's obituary and address."
Dean rolls his eyes and spreads his arms, hands still in his pockets. "Where's the funeral, Sammy?"
The funeral home is also a bust. The director who greets them in the foyer smiles, points at her watch, and tells them the Jennings service was over an hour ago.
Back in the car, Dean leans his head on the driver's side window.
Sam is frowning furiously at their watches, pressing the little buttons to set them to the proper time zone. It's always been his job. Took Dean a month to remember to do it himself after Sam left.
"Police station," Sam says as Dean puts his watch back on.
It takes them half an hour to figure out that the police department is in the Public Safety Building. Then Dean takes a wrong turn out of the gas station where they stopped to ask directions. Within ten minutes they are lost in a maze of one-way streets.
Sam's hands are white-knuckled around his notebook. There is a faintly purple and yellow oval bruise on the inside of his wrist, just past the cuff of his jacket and shirt. Dean is driving with one hand on the wheel, the other clamped needlessly around the gear shift.
"You're going the wrong way again," Sam says eventually, glancing at the compass on his watch.
"Fuck off, Sam," Dean says.
At two o'clock they agree to split the case. Sam will go canvass the victims' families. Dean will keep searching for the police station.
"I'll call you at five, okay? I'll come get you," Dean says, looking up at Sam from inside the car.
Sam nods and puts his backpack over both shoulders, his jacket bunching around the straps.
"Don't get arrested," Dean says.
"Yeah, okay," Sam says. He turns and starts walking north. "You too," he calls over his shoulder.
Jane Martin, the first victim's wife, killed herself in September. The second widow moved to Arizona in June. That's been in Sam's notes all along.
He spends an hour with the widow of the third victim, telling her that the FBI has taken an interest in her husband's death. Mrs. Katz sniffles into a handkerchief and says, "That sounds about right. It was like something out of the X-Files."
She says she can't tell him anything else, but he can tell she's lying. He can also tell she won't ever tell him the truth. He thanks her for the tea and says someone will be in touch with her if there are any breaks in the case.
The widow of the fourth victim stares at him, stone-eyed, for several seconds before slamming her door closed.
Keith Jennings' widow is home, finally.
Sam clears his throat. "Mrs. Jennings, I'm Special Agent Boise from the FBI," he says, flipping his badge open and closed. "I have a few questions about your husband's death."
She steps back from the door and silently lets him in.
The Jennings' home is paste-coloured paint, dark wood moldings and furniture, empty of other people. Linne Jennings sits in front of a large picture window in the living room, silhouetted by the white late afternoon light. Her hands are clenched together on her narrow lap, her face drawn, her eyes red-rimmed.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," Sam says gently.
She closes her eyes and her face breaks open. She cries into her fist, quietly, and then says, "This shouldn't have happened."
Sam frowns. "What do you mean, Mrs. Jennings?"
She shakes her head. "It wasn't supposed to end like this," she says, her voice thin.
Sam looks at the glass-fronted cabinets in the room, the old glass bottles, porcelain plates and teacups inside. A knotted rag rug in brown tones covers the shiny wood floor. No, he doesn't imagine her life with her husband was supposed to end like this.
"Do you know who could have done this to your husband?" Sam asks.
"I've been over this with the police," she says. "I talked to them for hours."
Sam shrugs and puts on his sorry-for-the-inconvenience face. "We're having a little jurisdictional trouble with the police department," he says. "It's sometimes hard to get a look at things right away."
She frowns a little, then nods. "I don't know what happened," she says, and chokes up a little on the last word.
Sam nods sympathetically. "Did you know about--did you know that four other men in Wilmington have been--"
"Yes," she says. "The police mentioned something like that. It hasn't really been in the papers, though."
Sam knows. Typical. "Did your husband know any of the other--"
She meets his eyes and shakes her head. "No," she says sharply. She closes her eyes and breathes in through her nose. She shakes her head again. "None of this should be happening."
Sam notices that her hands are shaking and remembers that her husband's funeral was this morning. He closes his note pad. "I really am sorry for your loss, Mrs. Jennings."
She presses her fingers against her mouth and just like with Mrs. Katz, he can tell that she's lying. He can also tell that she wants to tell him the truth. He wishes, not for the first time, that he had Andy's powers of persuasion.
"What'd you get?" he asks Dean over the phone. It's a few minutes after five.
"Lost again," Dean says bitterly and Sam almost laughs. "But not for long. I got something that's going to make you shoot."
Sam winces, doesn't think about the twisting pressure that made the bruise on his arm. "Classy. What?"
"Crime scene photos," Dean says.
The "arcane symbols," revealed. Sam smiles against his phone. "Good job, Tonto."
Dean mutters something Sam can't quite catch, then says, "And what did you find out, kemosabe?"
Sam touches the dirty sticks in his pocket. "The widows know something, I just can't figure out what."
"What else is new," Dean says. Sam clenches his teeth. He hears Dean sigh and say, "Where are you?"
It is crouched under stairs in a warm place. Grey light comes into the darkness like when it was in the womb. It sleeps, feels its mother's blood drying over it. It feels full and satisfied. Happy to be out.
It dreams. It dreams of standing over its dying mother. It dreams of how sweet Mother's lifeblood tasted, how vital Mother's flesh. It dreams the moment of waking up, being out. It dreams the moment of revenge.
It dreams backwards. It dreams things that it doesn't understand or remember. It dreams long, long years of cold, dirt, loneliness. It dreams anger and bitterness. It dreams betrayal. It dreams being left and forgotten. It dreams sickness, accident, death. It dreams sunny summer days, ships on the horizon, and red leaves falling in October.
In its dream, it knows Father would never hurt it. It dreams waking up again, and coming up out of this second womb.
It dreams that Father is waiting for it this time.
Dean gives him a yellow envelope as soon as Sam's seatbelt is buckled. Inside is a stack of paper. "Photocopies? Black and white photocopies?"
Dean says, "What do you want from me? I had about thirty seconds to get the originals back on the coroner's desk, okay."
Sam shakes his head and leafs through the papers.
Fifteen minutes later, Dean says, "Got us a double at the Rodeway in New Castle."
"That's fine," Sam says, turning a grainy photocopy upside down. He doesn't complain about commuting to the job, but they both know he wants to.
Sam pulls a red Sharpie from his backpack and tries to highlight the symbols in the photocopies. Lines disappear into the body's shadows; it's hard to tell the difference between the linoleum pattern and the blood. He makes a frustrated sound and pushes a paper off the table.
Dean looks up from cleaning his Beretta. "Problem, Sammy?"
Sam's shoulders tense and he shakes his head. "Not a one, Dean."
Dean puts the gun barrel down on the bed and gestures with his bore brush. "You know what, Sam, at least I got something today. At least I wasn't wandering around town drinking tea with widows and getting absolutely nothing on the case--"
Sam reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a handful of sticks. He spills them on the table, on top of the photocopies, and pulls another handful from his other pocket.
Dean gets up and looks at the pieces of wood as Sam arranges them. "Where'd you find them?"
"Under Mrs. Jennings' rose bushes," Sam says.
Dean pulls a chair up to the table. He watches Sam straighten the pieces of Ihwar next to Perthro.
"They're rune staves," Sam says. The sticks are all about four inches long, a full set of the Elder Futhark. Each stave is broken in two.
"I knew that," Dean says.
Sam smells one piece of Raidho and wrinkles his nose. "I think they're acacia," he says. He squints his eyes for a moment, trying to remember. "The mother tree--"
"To break a branch was death," Dean says. "The sap was believed to be the blood of women."
Sam looks across the table at Dean and adds, "Its thorns repulse evil and were used in the crowns of sacrificial kings." He smiles tightly.
Dean raises his eyebrows. "You want to get into a pagan uses of tree parts contest?"
"No." Something catches Sam's attention on the table top. He moves the top piece of Algiz an inch to the left, over a red-inked symbol on a photocopy.
Algiz, like a Y with a third prong, matches part of the circular symbol. "Algiz," Sam says. He traces his finger around the edge of the symbol. Algiz, Algiz, Algiz--eight times. "The elk."
Dean nods and adds, "A shield."
Spread over Sam's bed, the crime scene photocopies show pitchfork wheels and rectangular symbols painted around Keith Jennings's body. Sam can't make heads or tales of the overall meaning of the symbols. He can only identify bindrunes, shields, and compasses.
"Some of the symbols," Sam says, picking up two pieces of paper, "are smudged. Like somebody tried to erase them."
"Linne Jennings found the body," Dean says. He's playing Pick Up Sticks with the broken rune staves. He keeps picking up the same three runes: Isa, Tiwaz, and Ehwaz.
Sam nods. He picks up another paper, a thick triangular knot outlined in red. "Remember that cult of Odin in Minnesota?"
Dean looks at the photocopy Sam shows him. "The Valnott," he says after a moment, frowning. "The knot of the slain. Those guys were nasty fuckers."
Sam gathers the photocopies together. "I'll go talk to Mrs. Jennings again." He looks up at the clock between the double beds and adds, "In the morning."
Sam puts the photocopies in his notebook and winds a rubber band around it to keep it closed. The notebook goes on the nightstand beside his bed. His t-shirt goes on top of it. He stretches his arms and Dean watches his skin crease down his spine.
He drops the runes back on the table and Ehwaz lands merkstave.
It smells food.
It smells food, the scent so thick that it can almost taste muscle and blood and feel bone between its teeth.
It climbs the dark stairs slowly, silently. It leaves no trace. Its shadow jerks across the wall. It pushes open the door at the top of the stairs and looks out into the dark hall.
There--there. The scent of food is around it, as heavy and present as if it were back inside. Meat, real food, again, so soon. It skitters down the hallway at speed, following the scent.
It is half-buried in the raw, bloody mess, chewing on a cracked bone, before it notices the bitter taste. A sharp pain seizes its limbs and it sees her standing in the shadows, her presence hidden by the smell of food.
It can't breathe, can't breathe. Its vision narrows on her, her hands over her mouth, the tears on her face.
When Dean wakes up, Sam is standing over the table, picking up and dropping handfuls of the rune staves. Sam looks up and says, "There's coffee."
Dean pulls on his jeans and heads for the paper cups on top of the TV.
Sam says, "According to Ash, there's only one thing connecting all of the victims: none of them had any children. Beyond that, only the first victim--Alan Martin--and Keith Jennings have anything in common."
"When did you talk to Ash?" Dean puts a packet of sugar in his coffee and fits the lid back on.
"They were married in the same church," Sam says, as if Dean had asked the more obvious question. "Old Swedes, in Wilmington. The oldest legible grave belongs to William Vandever, who died in 1718. Mrs. Jennings' maiden name--"
"Vandever?" Dean asks.
Sam nods. "Got it in one."
Dean pops the opening on his coffee cup. "Let's check it out after we drop in on the widow Jennings again."
Sam sweeps the staves into a paper bag with his open hand. "As soon as you put a shirt on," he says.
As they pass the "Welcome to Wilmington--A Place to Be Somebody!" sign on the I-95, Dean says, "Did you call the roadhouse after I fell asleep last night?"
Sam shakes his head. "Yesterday afternoon. Ash texted me the search results this morning."
Dean taps his fingers on the steering wheel and nods, frowning. "We shouldn't get dependent on those people," he says. "Ellen and Jo have made it pretty clear they don't want us around."
"No, Dean. Jo made it pretty clear she didn't want you around."
Dean doesn't wince, doesn't even feel the fresh bruises on his arms and back.
"Are you sure this woman actually lives here?" Dean asks.
Mrs. Jennings's house is dark and silent again. Sam shrugs. "She was here yesterday," he says.
Dean peers in through the uncovered glass on the front door, and steps back. "So where's the church, then. And you'd better have a damn map this time."
Old Swedes is set in its churchyard like a tombstone among tombstones, rising four stories of brick and whitewashed wood.
A late model, silver Volvo station wagon sits in the parking lot. The hood is cold. Sam takes his hand away and says, "This is Linne Jennings's car."
The south entrance is bricked over. A flight of stairs down the side of the building leads underground. The steps are chipped grey stone, moss in the seams and along the walls. A trail of red drips down the stairs. Sam crouches at the top and touches it, looks closely at his fingers.
He nods at Dean as he stands. "Blood," he says as he pulls his Desert Eagle from inside his jacket.
Dean already has his Beretta out. He lifts it in a two-handed grip and shrugs, telling Sam to step back, let him go first.
Sam gets out of the way, and follows Dean down.
The cold, grey-brown morning disappears as they enter the open basement door, careful to step on either side of the blood trail.
Cobwebs, thick and tangled, hang from the ceiling. The stone walls weep moisture. A bare bulb hangs a few yards ahead, illuminating a four-way junction. The weak yellow light shines on the blood trail as it turns right, heading underneath the nave of the church to the altar.
As they inch along the damp wall, Sam whispers, "Five children are buried inside the altar rail in unmarked graves. Spirits don't like to be forgotten like that--especially children."
Dean whispers back, "So they're eviscerating random men?"
Sam shakes his head, frowning.
They reach the limit of the bare bulb's light. Ahead there is the faint smell of blood and wet stone, trails of water glinting here and there in the darkness.
Dean pauses and Sam pushes past him, twisting his mini Maglite on. A few steps into the dark, something brushes past Dean's leg. He goes still.
Sam says, "Hey!" and the beam of his flashlight glances over shiny, black, thin, gone.
"What the hell," Dean says. "Sam?"
"I'm okay," Sam says. "You?"
"It's just a fucking spider, Sam," Dean says.
Sam laughs a little breathlessly. "No, it really wasn't." He adjusts his grip on his gun and trains the flashlight back into the darkness. He takes two steps forward.
Sam falls. He says, "Oh--" as he goes. His head hits the wall and his breath is knocked out of him when he hits the floor.
"Sam!" Dean yells, against the sound of a body being dragged away. He lifts his pistol, sighting into nothing.
The flashlight illuminates three feet of wall and dirt floor. The corridor is quiet.
"Sam?" Dean calls.
He picks up Sam's flashlight, holding it in his left hand against his gun as he continues down the hall. There is the long, easily-identifiable trail of a body on the ground; he follows it.
The flashlight shows him another intersection, two tunnels leading north and south. The trail of Sam's body goes south, and Dean turns.
He hears her before he sees her, rapid footfalls and then a blur of white face and blond hair in the flashlight's blue LED light.
"Back off," he says, his gun on her, and she stops in front of him.
Her face is streaked with tears and dirt and--blood. She is hunched over slightly, ready to start running again. Her hands are held up, palms out, dirty. Her clothes are muddy. She takes two steps away from him.
"Are you with him?" she asks. "Agent Boise?"
He's only confused for a second. He nods and says, "I'm Agent Mulgrew."
She sobs and presses her wrists against her eyes. "Oh god," she says.
"What's going on?" he says. She doesn't answer. He takes a guess. "Mrs. Jennings?"
She says, "Yes--I--" and stops. She starts crying, quiet weeping sounds.
Dean swallows his impatience and very carefully doesn't scream at her. "I need to know what you saw, Mrs. Jennings--" what you did.
Her breath hitches and she lowers her hands. "It dragged him into the sepulchre," she says. "It would have attacked me if I'd tried--"
"This way?" Dean asks. He starts to pass her and she grabs his arm. He doesn't bend his elbow and snap her ulna, but he wants to.
"I--I'll show you," she says. She lets him go and walks back the way she came, wringing her hands, limping. Her jeans hang in shreds below her knees, drying blood shining on her calves. Dean moves the flashlight so it shines over her right shoulder.
They walk silently, quickly. It's not far.
A golden glow flickers around a corner up ahead. Mrs. Jennings stops and turns. She looks up at Dean and she's crying again. "In there," she says. "Be careful of the candles."
Dean ignores her. He edges past her and into the doorway of the sepulchre. Hundreds of soft white candles are lit on wooden shelves around the room. The rough stone ceiling is stained black from smoke.
Sam is on the ground beside a pool of brown water, unconscious. There is blood on his face, from a cut beside his left eye. Something the size of a small dog is poised over his stomach, reared up on four of its spindly black legs.
Dean drops the flashlight and raises his gun in both hands. It cocks its head up and makes eye contact. Its eyes are beady and black and bright in its pale, drawn face. Its teeth protrude from its lipless mouth: they are as sharp and long as the four legs it has extended over Sam's bare abdomen. Slowly, it folds its legs towards its body and crouches low. Dean fires two shots into it before it has a chance to jump at him.
It screams as it falls back and apart, high-pitched and feral, like a cat. Two of its legs land in the shallow pool; half its head snuffs out the candles nearby. What's left lands in an awkward heap, smoking. Thin blood leaks from it, and drips from the candle shelf.
Sam jerks awake and groans, puts his hand on his head.
"All right, Sam?" Dean says.
Sam rolls on his side, towards Dean's voice, and nods. "Did you get it?"
"What the hell kind of question is that?" Dean says. He looks over his shoulder at Linne Jennings, pressed tightly against the wall on the edge of the candlelight. "Are there any more of those things?" he asks her.
She shakes her head. "I killed the rest of them, when I realized what was happening," she says. "It must have followed me when I came to bury the last one." She points to four patches of disturbed dirt floor at the foot of a candle shelf.
Sam pulls his shirt down and sits up, edging further away from its body. "What were they?"
"I don't know!" she says. "This wasn't supposed to happen."
"You told me that yesterday, Mrs. Jennings," Sam says. "What was supposed to happen?"
Dean puts his gun back in his jacket. "No," he says. "I'm going to dig up the other bodies and then we're going to get out of here." He picks up a shovel from the ground.
Sam looks like he wants to argue, but doesn't. Mrs. Jennings comes into the sepulchre and helps Sam up.
"I'm sorry," she whispers to him. She touches the sticky blood on his face.
The four bodies fit in Sam's plaid shirt and are bundled into the back of Mrs. Jennings's station wagon.
Dean nods at the forest of fall-bare trees and tombstones behind the church. "Back there," he says.
She drives slowly on the gravel tracks that run through the churchyard. Sam leans on the window in the back seat, holding a small gauze wipe to the cut on his temple. Dean sits beside him, behind Mrs. Jennings. His Beretta is in his lap, just in case.
Five minutes from the church Dean directs her to pull around behind a ten-foot avenging angel, wings spread and robes billowing. The stone is dark and eroded. The name and dates on the pedestal are illegible.
With the efficiency of long practice, Dean and Sam lay a fire at the angel's back. Sam pours kosher salt and lighter fluid over the branches and bodies. Dean lights a match and tosses it into the centre of the pyre.
They watch silently for a while. The burning bodies smell a little like charred red meat, a little like rubber. The smell isn't terribly strong. The smoke is light grey, like a pile of leaves on fire.
"We couldn't have children, any of us," she says eventually. "But our husbands could. There's a ritual, a way that my grandmother taught me. It was given to my ancestors by the old gods." She wipes a hand across her eyes. "They came to me for help, and now their husbands are dead." Her voice cracks as she says, "Now my husband is dead."
Dean gives Sam a look. In it is every lecture they've ever given on using supernatural means to mess with human concerns. Sam shakes his head. The woman is grieving and has probably learned her lesson. Dean shrugs and doesn't see the thing she made crouched over Sam, about to slice him open.
"Sometimes," Sam says, "with these old spells, it's hard to reproduce their effects in a modern context. Things just--go wrong." He makes a sadly sympathetic face at her.
Her eyebrows draw together. "Nothing went wrong," she says defensively. "I've been doing this for fifteen years. I've delivered over fifty men, and no one has ever died." The fire pops loudly.
Sam says, "This shouldn't have happened," at the same time she does. She meets his eyes.
"It won't happen again," she says, and she sets her jaw.
A cold rain starts falling. The bodies are already burned, so Dean's not worried about it.
Inside the church, Mrs. Jennings sits in one of the choir pews beside the altar. She looks up into the exposed beams of the ceiling. Sam sits on her right. Outside, in the rain, Dean is covering over the ashes with dirt and leaves.
"Please tell me about the ritual you used," Sam says quietly.
Her mouth purses and her fingers knot together.
"We fix things like this," Sam says. "Anything you can tell me will help somebody, but we can't help anybody if you say nothing at all."
Her fingers twist, the knuckles going white and red. She takes a deep, shaking breath. "It's runes," she says. "I cast them, draw on their power. Then I write them, and other things, on the man's body, in the places where I want things to happen. And then sacrifices are made to the old gods; Freyr, and Freya, and Odin."
Sam remembers his notebook, on the backseat of the Impala. He asks, "What kind of sacrifices?"
She smiles, bitterly. "Whatever the parents are comfortable with: small animals, birds, sometimes no more than good food and drink." She meets Sam's eyes. "The bigger the sacrifice, the stronger the magic." He nods. This is an old rule; he knows it.
"It all has to be done at once, on the same night. I used to do it in the amphitheatre, outside, it's better in the open air, but a few years ago the church had a labyrinth painted on the stage." She makes a face. "Labyrinths trap all kinds of things besides the magic you need for this. Alan and Jane Martin were the first couple I'd had since the labyrinth was painted. I decided the sepulchre was a preferable space."
Sam looks over at the altar. Not ten feet below it is the smoky, damp chamber. "So something was different," he says.
She looks too, then at him. "Yes, but--"
The difference falls into place. "Mrs. Jennings, the spirits of the children buried around the altar--"
Her eyes widen and her mouth falls open. She looks completely horrified.
Sam says, "You didn't know?"
She shakes her head. "Of course not!"
"I read it on the church website," he says helplessly. Mrs. Jennings puts her head in her hands. He doesn't think she's crying; she's quiet and still.
The front door of the church bangs open and Dean comes in, his coat and hair dripping. He walks up the aisle and stands over them. His hands are dirty; the knees of his jeans are soaked, dark and muddy.
"I was right," Sam tells him. Dean gives him a confused half-squint. "About the unmarked graves inside the communion rail."
Dean looks over his shoulder. "So this has nothing to do with the set of rune staves you found?"
Mrs. Jennings makes a low noise. Sam puts an arm around her shoulders. "She was using them as part of a fertility ritual," he says. "She impregnated the dead men--before they were dead, of course--"
"Whoa, whoa," Dean says. He backs away, hands up.
Sam rolls his eyes. "Would you--"
"Stop," Mrs. Jennings says hoarsely. Sam shuts his mouth and Dean drops his hands. She sits up, pushing her hair behind her ears. She doesn't shrug Sam's arm off. She wipes her hand over her eyes and under her nose. "I want to go home," she says.
Dean is looking at her warily, as if she might pull out a wand and zap him into the third trimester.
Sam pats her back. "Of course," he says. "We just need to know one more thing."
She sighs and nods.
They follow Mrs. Jennings back to her house and park across the street as she gets out of her car. Sam is writing furiously in his notebook, trying to get down everything she told him before he forgets it.
She waves from the porch. Dean nods and raises his hand. She watches them for a moment, then goes inside.
"I'm not sure I believe her," Dean says.
"About what?" Sam says. He sounds distracted.
The front room light comes on inside the house, and then the one in the window above the staircase.
"When she said there weren't any more--." Dean shrugs. "You know."
Sam looks up. "Pregnant men?"
Dean winces. "Yeah."
Sam flips the page in his notebook and draws half of a knotty, thick-lined bindrune, incomprehensible to Dean. He pauses with the tip of his pencil in the middle of a large dot.
"It's a reasonable solution," he says without looking up. "It makes sense, if you think about it, for a couple to have it as an option."
Dean stares at Sam. "My god, Sam," he says. "You're right. It's a beautiful thing." He reaches across the seat and clutches Sam's shoulder. "Will you have my baby, Sammy?"
Sam's pencil lead breaks against the paper.
"Fuck you, Dean," he says, but his voice isn't cold. He doesn't shake Dean's hand off. He clicks his mechanical pencil sharp again and keeps drawing.
Dean moves his thumb along the seam of Sam's heavy coat. He lets go, crosses his arms on the steering wheel. He looks out at the deepening night. The porch light of Linne Jennings's house comes on. Behind the streetlights' orange glow, the clouds from the afternoon's rain have disappeared. The sky has reached a shade of blue that's almost three-dimensional. Stars fade into brightness.
In a minute, he'll start the car again. They will drive back to the church and desecrate another house of worship. They will dig up the floor around the altar until they find the children's bones. Out back, behind the avenging angel again, they will salt and burn the bones. Sam will insist they return the ashes to the unmarked graves. Dean won't argue.
Those movements aren't pressing. No one's in immediate danger. He closes his eyes.
Beside him, Sam is softly speaking the names of runes.