SUMMARY: Casefic. The tables are turned on Sam and Dean – this time they're the hunted, and it's a new enemy who wants them.

SPOILERS: Set late in Season 7. References to canon incidents through Season 6, and some oblique references to a couple of Season 7 incidents but no plot spoilers for anything in Season 7. This is a casefic which takes place in-between canon hunts.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Supernatural belong to Eric Kripke & Co. I am playing in their sandbox, with their toys, with much gratitude.

RATING: T for swearing, including the 'big boy' words, as Jensen once called them, adult situations, and violence.

WORD COUNT: 30K+

GENRE: Gen/Hurt-Comfort/Adventure

A/N: Thank you all for the amazing support for this story; I've been blown away!

I've done research for the medical and Voodoo aspects of this story, but am certainly no expert in either. For the medical info, please forgive any inaccuracies. For the Voodoo, I have done what Supernatural itself does – take factual elements and present them in a fictional way, mixing together lore from New Orleans, Haiti and West Africa.

Written for JaniceC678 and LittleLady, based on a plot bunny they came up with, and gave me to play with. The full prompt will appear at the end of the story so as not to spoil things. Beta-ed by the always awesome Harrigan. I tinkered post-beta, so any remaining goofs are mine and mine alone. Enjoy.

BLOOD OF THE BAYOU

By Scullspeare

Chapter Four

This wasn't supposed to happen.

Dean couldn't move – not of his own volition. He was conscious, aware, but his movements, his actions were the mambo's to control, not his. Whatever powder that bitch had blown in his face, whatever spell she'd slapped on him, had made him a passenger in his own meatsuit, his body a puppet.

Parise had been lying in wait at the motel, hidden from him by some magic. He'd just turned the key in the lock when he sensed her….

Dean snapped around, instinctively reaching behind his back for his gun, but the dust was in his face before he'd fully turned. The mambo's goons – two men, one on either side of him – had his arms pinned and were shoving him inside the room before he could even lift his shirt.

Parise followed them in, smiling as she closed the door behind her. "Your hunter's instincts are sharp, mon cher. That spell should have made us completely invisible to you until you breathed in the dust, but you knew didn't you? Could sense we were here? Impressive." Her smile darkened. "But I would expect no less from a man who has walked Heaven and Hell – and escaped both."

OK, Wandell had definitely been shooting his mouth off, but Dean could only spit curses at Parise inside his head; the dust had also stolen his ability to speak. But how? He'd drunk the Jimson Weed potion that was supposed to protect him from this kind of hoodoo crap; her spell shouldn't have worked.

'Ain't no guarantees in Voodoo.' Jack's voice sounded clearly in his head. Well, fuck.

Parise moved in front of him, motioning for her men to let Dean go and step back. Somehow being free of their hold made things worse – there was nothing physically restraining him, but he was still frozen in place, at her mercy.

"You covered your tracks well." The mambo ran her hands down Dean's shirt and over his jeans, stopping over the pocket that held the gris-gris bags and pulling them out. She shook her head. "And this explains why these two couillons could not see you until I made it possible. Whoever made these gris-gris is a worthy adversary." She handed the bags to the younger of the two men. "Burn them."

Parise turned back to Dean. "Perhaps you're thinking you were betrayed?" She shook her head. "Don't underestimate my gift. I saw you in this place before you even left my bed. Finding you here was always meant to be. The glamour of the gris-gris was just… an inconvenience."

The mambo frowned, studying him intently. "But you are hard to read, cher. Some things are so clear, but others…. It's like I open one door only to be faced with another."

That was good, right? Maybe on some level the Jimson Weed was working. He had no free will to move or to speak, but his mind was clear and Parise didn't seem able to read his thoughts.

"No matter. Erzulie will unlock them. Those things you hide from me, you will not be able to hide from her." Parise slid her hand behind his neck, pulled him to her and kissed him.

In stark contrast to the night before, Dean's skin crawled. There was a whole lot to be said for free will. And who the hell was Erzulie?

"If only you'd stayed with me…. Just think how much more pleasant these hours until the Blood Moon could have been." Parise ran her fingers down Dean's face, then traced the outline of his lips, her expression coy. "Perhaps Erzulie would have joined us… she loves beautiful things."

That was it; Erzulie was the goddess of beauty and sensuality – kind of Voodoo's answer to Aphrodite. But Voodoo spirits didn't fall into the traditional definitions of good and bad; each embraced both dark and light qualities, so Erzulie was also the loa of jealousy and vengeance. If Parise was out to take down Ti-Jean, Dean could see why she'd want the goddess of vengeance on her side.

"But there's the matter of this." Parise pulled down the neck of Dean's T-shirt to stare at his tattoo. "I've spent almost every hour since you left working to find a way to pick this lock." Her smile faded. "It will open, and the loa will claim you. That much I've seen. After that… the future grows darker." She bit her lip. "Sometimes the loa like to hide things, even from me."

For a moment, she seemed vulnerable, scared… but the confident mask slipped quickly back into place.

Parise brushed her knuckles along Dean's jaw. "And then there's Sam." She tut-tutted, shaking her head. "Kidnapped, drugged, tied up, shot at…. Does he give up? No." She cupped Dean's face in her hand. "But a simple bokor's prison is no match for a man who escaped Lucifer's cage, n'est-ce pas?"

Dean's heart rate picked up noticeably.

"I warned Ti-Jean... but he's been in power too long. It has made him arrogant… careless – and that makes him vulnerable."

If Dean needed confirmation that Parise was out to take down the bokor – there it was.

"But first, your brother." The mambo's expression hardened as she stared up at Dean. "Soon, he'll be here and we must be ready."

Son of a bitch…. Dean's gut twisted. How the hell could he warn Sam to stay away?

Parise opened a small cloth pouch. From it, she pulled a handful of grayish powder. "I have his blood so just a little of this in his face will turn him into a puppet like you." She tipped the powder back into the bag and dusted off her hands. "But you're a clever man, Dean. I need to know you're not practicing some glamour of your own."

Shit. Could she sense he was not completely under the dust's control?

The mambo grasped his chin, turned his head, then leaned in, her lips inches from his ear. Her whispers were at first unrecognizable – a Voodoo spell spoken in French – but when her words turned back to English, her directive was clear. "When Sam comes to the door, hit him. Knock him out."

Fuck that.

But when Sam had shown up, bloody and barely standing, that's exactly what he'd done. He'd opened the door and there was his brother, about two seconds from face-planting on the sidewalk. Even as Dean was silently screaming at Sam to run, to get as far away from this crazy bitch as he could, he'd grabbed his brother by the shirt, hauled him into the room, and decked him. He'd fought to control the strike even as he felt himself winding up for the punch, but Sam had gone down hard, and stayed down.

And now, Dean stood helpless and unmoving over Sam's unconscious body. He wanted to check on him, wanted to throw him over his shoulder, haul him out of the room and as far away from Parise and Ti-Jean as he could get; let their little power struggle play out with him and Sam in another state. But he could only stand there while her two flunkies moved Jack's truck and backed a van right up to the door, while Parise bent down and ran her hands over Sam, a scowl darkening her face when she unwrapped the bloody bandage on his brother's arm and saw the bullet wound. He could do nothing to stop the two men when, once sure there were no witnesses, they'd picked up Sam and loaded him into the van. Then, like a dog on a leash, Dean could only follow Parise obediently, climb into the van and sit on the floor, across from his brother.

Sam was a mess. His right arm was covered in blood, as was the sleeve of his shirt. The soles of his bare feet were cut, bruised and bloody and he had the beginnings of a black eye. He was pale but his cheeks were flushed, his body obviously battling infection.

As soon as the van doors were closed, Parise pulled out a knife to slice open Sam's shirtsleeve. She used bottled water to clean away the dried blood from the bullet wound, then mixed together some kind of poultice from ingredients in a metal box that didn't look like any first-aid kit Dean had ever seen. She rebandaged Sam's arm, lifted his head to force some kind of liquid down his throat, then made two angry phone calls, speaking in French both times, before retaking her place in the shotgun seat.

They were on the road more than two hours before the driver pulled to a stop and turned off the engine. Sam still showed no signs of coming to, even as the two men hauled him out of the van and carried him from the cabin they'd parked in front of, down a trail through the trees to a rundown shack by the river. Dean again followed Parise, fighting his hoodoo shackles with each step, but her spell showed no signs of weakening.

As the trees gave way to the slow-moving river, Dean got his first glimpse of the old shack turned peristyle that Sam had described.

The door to the shack was opened by the blonde woman from the bar – Carrie, that's what Sam had called her – and his brother was carried inside. Dean scanned the room as he stepped through the doorway; there was a tall post in the center that climbed through the rafters to the roof peak and a chest-height altar against the back wall, its surface covered in flickering candles, amulets, bells, drums, clay pots and other items sacred to Voodoo. A smaller yet similar altar was set up in the corner to his right. Bo symbols covered the lower half of each wall and an elaborate artwork, which resembled a carpet, decorated the dirt floor around the perimeter of the room.

Dean could only watch as Sam was laid down on a large white sheet on the floor in front of the altar. Candles at the four corners of the sheet stood in glass holders, each adorned with a different Bo spirit, the images seeming to laugh and scowl as the light inside flickered. A small wooden crate on one side of the sheet held a stainless steel tray covered in basic medical implements, another on the opposite side held jars and bottles filled with god knows what.

The men then left, closing the door after them. Dean stood in the shadows, helpless to stop the women as they stripped off Sam's clothes, but silently spitting every curse word he knew. He relaxed only a little when he realized they were bathing him, cleaning the blood and dirt from his injured feet and from the bullet wound in his arm before redressing him in a pair of simple white linen pants. He still wanted to launch himself across the room, pull Parise and Carrie off Sam and, women or not, smash their faces together.

Parise glanced back at him, her puzzled expression turning into a smile. "Such anger, mon cher. We're taking good care of your brother. If he woke now, he would be in great pain. Surely you don't wish that on him?"

No, but I sure as hell wish it on you. Internally, he scowled. Had she sensed his anger – or was it simple, common sense telling her that, freed of the Voodoo hex, he'd cheerfully rip her head off for what they'd done to Sam? He watched Carrie continue to treat Sam's feet, pulling pieces of rock, dirt and other debris from the shredded skin of his soles before slathering them with salve. As she began bandaging them, Dean's attention jumped back to Parise who'd picked up a knife that better resembled a scalpel.

The mambo's eyes narrowed as she turned towards Dean. "Taking care of Sam has always been your job, n'est-ce pas? Fine… come." She motioned with her hand for him to come over. "You shall do just that."

Dean crossed the peristyle, for the first time not fighting her orders, and dropped to his knees beside Sam.

Carrie moved to his side, took his hands and washed them before Parise pressed the knife into his palm. "We both know that the bullet needs to come out. The loa tell me you've done this before so, go ahead – do what you must to fix your brother."

Yeah, he'd performed meatball surgery on Sam more times than he cared to remember but never when someone else had a hand up his back. Dean stared at the knife, praying for the free will to slash his arm sideways and hold it to Parise's throat, but a quick glance at Sam told him payback had to wait. His brother's breathing hitched with pain, and as Dean closed his hand around Sam's arm to turn it, get a better look at the wound, the skin was tight and fiery hot.

There was no exit wound; the bullet was still in Sam's arm, the swollen skin closing around it. Removing it meant cutting into the wound, risking further spread of infection. And if the bullet had nicked a vein or an artery, which he wouldn't know until he moved it, Sam could bleed out in no time. Damn it, a doc should be doing this, not me, and in a fucking hospital not a god damn fishing shack dressed up as a church.

Parise seemed to sense his hesitation. "Do what you must, mon cher. The loa will guide you. Now is not his time to leave us."

Screw the loa. Dean made a small cut into the wound. If Sammy dies, you will be right behind him, bitch. Puppet or not, I will find a way. He took the pair of oversized tweezers Carrie handed him, gently pulling open the incision until he could see the bullet, trying but failing to block out Sam's pained groans as he did. He used a second pair of tweezers to not-so-gently grab the bullet; it fought him but on his third try, it came out cleanly. Sam flinched noticeably before settling back into still unconsciousness.

Dean's focus was on the wound; it quickly filled with blood but there was no spurting, no gushing…. I think those Popeye arms may have saved you, Sammy. Looks like the bullet took a bite out of the muscle but missed the plumbing.

Carrie used a wad of gauze to soak up the blood while Parise flushed the open wound; the two women repeated the process several times. Then, after Carrie patted it dry, the mambo opened a silver filigree jar, scooped out the salve inside and packed it into the wound.

Carrie reached for suture thread and a needle but Parise shook her head. "Give the herbs time to draw out the infection. Dean can sew him up in the morning when it's under control and the fever has broken."

Parise handed Dean a rolled bandage. After Carrie pressed a large gauze pad over the wound, Dean quickly wrapped Sam's arm, fastening the bandage with clips the mambo provided.

While he worked, he felt perversely normal, instinct and experience – not Parise – guiding his actions, his ability to take care of his brother. But now he was done, the mambo had her hands on the controls again. Dean remained at Sam's side, unmoving, while the women coaxed Sam half-awake to dose him with some other liquid, then cleaned up the first aid supplies. Dean's focus stayed on his brother; some of the tension was gone from Sam's face and his breathing had settled into a normal rhythm, both good signs.

Carrie returned and knelt opposite Dean. She placed a folded blanket under Sam's head before dipping a cloth into a bowl of water, wringing it out and then wiping down Sam's face and chest to help bring down his temperature. Once that task was completed, she took more soaked cloths and wrapped them around Sam's neck and forearms. Dean hated to admit it, but she was doing everything he would do for Sam if given back his free will.

"That's good, Caroline!" Parise's voice was sharp. "Now leave us."

"Oui, Maman." Carrie quickly gathered up the supplies and pushed herself up, anger flashing across her face as she did. Behind Dean, he heard the door open and close.

That was interesting. Dean's fingers curled into fists, knuckles whitening. Carrie obviously answered to Parise, but given the look he'd just seen, she wasn't about to nominate her for Boss of the Year any time soon. Wait. His gaze fell to his fists. Parise hadn't told him he could move them, hadn't given permission; slowly, and not without effort, he opened his hands. The spell was wearing off – or the Jimson Weed kicking it up a notch; either way he was getting control back.

He almost allowed himself a smile but Parise was suddenly beside him, hooking her arm through his. "Come, mon cher. Your brother is resting, now we'll take care of you."

Dean rose as ordered, not yet able to fight her control.

"Take off your shirts."

What the hell? Dean balked instinctively but Parise had her back to him; by the time she turned, he was obediently peeling off his plaid shirt and grabbing the collar of his T-shirt to pull it over his head.

"Your brother will recover." Parise wrung out a cloth in a bowl much like the one Carrie had used for Sam, then wiped the blood – Sam's blood – from Dean's hands. She glanced up at him as she worked. "Healing is at the very heart of Vodoun. Long before there were doctors, the mambo could cure illness, heal injury of all kinds. The salve that will help defeat the infection in Sam has been used for centuries, and will still stand up to any drug modern medicine can offer. Impressive, no?" She dropped the soiled cloth on the floor, soaked a fresh one in the bowl of water, then worked the cloth in gentle circles up Dean's arms and across his chest. "Of course, medicine is just a small part of what we do – but you know that… know there's a greater purpose for us bringing you here."

She was watching him carefully. Did she suspect her spell was wearing off – or was she just inspecting him like a prize bull? Dean channeled his thoughts to some of the bloodiest hunts he'd taken part in, to his time in Hell, filling his head with some of the most vile images from his memory, but Parise showed no reaction. Good… that was good.

Parise again rinsed out the cloth, wiped it over his face, then over his neck and shoulders, massaging tense muscles as she did. In the sticky heat of the bayou, the cool cloth and her hands felt good – damn good – and under different circumstances he could really get into this kind of foreplay. But not now, not with her. What a difference a damn day made.

The mambo paused and ran her hand down Dean's cheek. "Be grateful Erzulie will fight for you. The alternative is not so pleasant. And while you may not like the journey, I think you will like where it leads."

What the hell did that doubletalk mean?

Parise stepped behind him. As she moved the cloth in circle after circle over his back, he realized she was chanting softly under her breath; it was a spell of some sort, that was obvious; but the words were in French so he had no clue what they meant. What the hell was she doing to him this time?

In front of him again, she put down the cloth, reached for the waistband of his jeans, undid the button and unzipped his fly. He fought not to react, to stay relaxed, hoping she wouldn't pick up on his tension at her touch.

Parise smiled. "Fear not, cher. As much as I would enjoy an encore of last night, anyone who comes into my bed does so willingly." She kissed him lightly, her lips barely brushing his, then crossed to a basket sitting next to the medical supplies they'd used on Sam. From it she pulled out a pair of white pants identical to those they'd dressed Sam in, and pressed them into Dean's hands. "Take off your jeans and boots and put these on. Erzulie demands you wear white to the ceremony."

Awesome – pyjamas. Dean kicked off his boots, slipped off his jeans and pulled on the loose-fitting pants, studying the peristyle as he did. If Parise served Erzulie, the small altar in the corner was in tribute to her. Between the bottles and bowls which covered the surface were mirrors, perfumes, ropes of pearls – all pretty items favored by the goddess. That meant the big altar must be dedicated to Ti-Jean's patron loa. Dean scanned the items which covered the surface but from his vantage point, he couldn't tell which of the Bo gods they honored. His gaze returned to Parise as she moved to the small altar and, with her back to him, mixed together herbs, powders and oils in a small stone mortar and pestle.

Dean checked on Sam; he seemed less restless, less feverish than he had in the van. He also seemed too damn vulnerable for someone his size. As the two of them moved from town to town, bar to bar, invariably there'd be some jackass who needed to prove himself by picking on one or both of them to taunts of pretty boy or sweetheart. Dean always got a perverse thrill when the would-be bullies tripped over their own feet backing down when Sam unfolded himself from his chair and revealed his full height. His little brother could be a tough son of a bitch when he wanted to, and in a fight there was no one else he'd rather have in his corner. But when Sam was sick or hurt, Dean didn't see the Sasquatch he'd become, the hunter who'd survived Hell; he saw the five-year-old who always turned to Dean like he could fix anything.

Damn, what wouldn't he give to fix this – to snap Parise like a twig, grab Sam and jump in the car, not stopping until they ran out of road. He flexed his hands; moving was getting easier, although he doubted he could choke the life out the mambo just yet. Soon, though; with each minute that passed, more and more control was again his own.

A flash of movement pulled his attention to the window. There was no one there but, for the briefest of moments, he would have sworn he'd seen Carrie spying on Parise. But if the mambo was aware she was being spied upon, she gave no sign.

Parise scooped up the mixture from the stone bowl, placed it on a large, brown leaf and then rolled the leaf so it resembled a cigar. Then, after cutting off the end, she lit it using a long match, fanning it slowly with her hand until it glowed red and a sweet-smelling smoke curled into the air.

Turning away from the altar, she moved to Sam's side, muttering an incantation as she wafted the smoke over him. When the spell was done, she knelt down and pressed the burning end of the cigar into the center of Sam's tattoo.

Son of a bitch. Dean lurched forward instinctively as Sam groaned in pain, but froze when Parise's attention jumped to him.

"Don't fret, mon cher. Momentary pain is often necessary for the greater good." Parise smudged the ash across Sam's tattoo, then stood up and moved in front of Dean. There she began the same incantation.

Fuck. He knew what that meant, and couldn't quite stifle a grunt of pain as she pushed the lit end of the cigar into his skin.

The mambo used her finger to smudge the ash, then placed her hand flat on Dean's chest, next to the tattoo, over his heart. "Your loa, your brother's…. They have each seen the halls of Heaven, the deepest circles of Hell. They have knowledge… access that none other who still walk this world possess. And to have the chance to take them under the Blood Moon…." Her eyes glittered as she looked up at him. "Do you have any idea how much power that gives them? How much power it will give those who control them?"

Power…. As Parise lifted her hand, Dean's heart began racing over the possibilities behind her statement. Whatever they had planned sounded a helluva lot bigger than just taking back souls they considered no longer rightfully his or Sam's. Souls were also a source of power – nuclear power – he got that. Exhibit A – Cas's recent… power trip. But what knowledge, what access made Winchester souls so high octane? If it was some memory from Heaven or Hell that set his soul apart, he didn't have a clue what it could be.

Parise walked over to Sam. "But still Ti-Jean is not satisfied. He has heard the stories of the demon blood, of the power it fed that was strong enough to re-cage the Lightbringer himself…. He wants it – and he'll drink your brother's blood to get it." She crouched down, placed her hand on Sam's chest and shook her head. "But that darkness is gone. I don't know if Ti-Jean's thirst for power has blinded him or if that demon he prays to has fed him lies, but tomorrow we shall all be witness to his disappointment."

"That demon he prays to…." Dean's heart was racing even faster. How was a demon tangled up with Ti-Jean?

Parise stood up and crossed back to Dean. "Of course, his disappointment will only be the beginning. He-"

The door to the peristyle opened suddenly, a big, muscular black man striding inside. Dean got his first good look at Ti-Jean when the bokor stepped in front of him, likewise studying his prisoner.

He was as big as Sam, maybe bigger, with a shaved head and dark, hard eyes that seemed to stare right through Dean. Behind him, Dean saw anger flash briefly across Parise's face before she dropped her head and stepped back in a show of mock subservience.

Ti-Jean's gaze moved to Dean's tattoo. "You have broken the lock?"

"Yes. You doubted me?" Some of Parise's veiled anger leaked into her response.

"No. You know too well the cost of failure." Ti-Jean turned from Dean and walked over to Sam. "And this one?"

Parise joined him at Sam's side. "He'll live – no thanks to DaCoste's bullet."

"So the body will survive the loss of his loa?"

Parise nodded.

"And his blood?"

Dean's stomach lurched at the thought of Ti-Jean drinking Sam's blood. Even on the dark side, blood as part of Bo ritual was way more Hollywood than fact; this was something the bokor had cooked up all on his own.

Parise again crouched down, pressing her hand to Sam's forehead, his chest and then his arm above the bullet wound. "By the time the Blood Moon rises, the drugs and the infection will both be purged from him. His blood will be pure. You will be able to share in whatever power it possesses."

"Good." Ti-Jean nodded, then turned and walked in a circle around Dean. "They're both strong… fit…. Their zombies will make good soldiers." The bokor smiled coldly at Dean. "You will serve me well."

Zombies? Now Dean really felt sick. He stared back at the bokor, fighting the instinct to throw a punch, to give himself away. Now was not the time, but as he locked stares with Ti-Jean, Dean knew that before this was over, the two of them would have it out.

If the bokor picked up on any of Dean's fury, he made no show of it. Ti-Jean turned and walked toward the door without looking back at Parise. "Come. We have final preparations to make."

Parise's anger was no longer veiled. "And leave them alone?" She placed her hand on Sam's wounded arm. "This… fixing this would not have been necessary if you'd listened to me and watched him more closely."

Ti-Jean stopped in the threshold, still not turning around, but Dean didn't have to see his face to know he was pissed. "Remember your place, Parise. If they were sheep, we'd have no use for them. Kalfou has tested us, made certain we are worthy of his gift. We will not fail him a second time."

Kalfou. Dean knew that name – he was Voodoo's crossroads demon and Lucifer all rolled into one. While Papa Legba guarded the gates to Voodoo Heaven, Kalfou controlled the gates to Hell; he dragged loa in, but also let out evil loa to wreak havoc among the living. He was among the nastiest of the dark loa and a favorite patron among the bokor.

Some said he was a demon, although Kalfou himself denied it – no shock there. But if he was a demon…. Dean swallowed. Then he'd know a helluva lot more about him and Sam than was circulating on the hunter grapevine.

Parise pushed herself up and crossed the room, pausing beside Dean. "Sit… rest. Tomorrow is a big day." Anger again flashed in her eyes as she glared at the departing bokor, her next words muttered under her breath. "Even bigger than some of us can see."

She followed Ti-Jean out the door, closing it behind her.

Dean wanted to let out a primal yell that rattled the rafters. He wanted to put his fist through the window of the peristyle. He wanted to sweep his arm across the altar, knocking every damn thing on it onto the floor – all to prove control of his body was his. His. He wanted Ti-Jean to come back so the two of them could have it out, so he could batter the smug bastard into a bloody pulp.

But he couldn't, not any of it – not with Sam hurt. Awake and healthy, his brother would be right with him, fighting at his side, but until he was, Dean would have to rein in his temper, and wait.

He stumbled across the peristyle, needing concerted effort to force one foot in front of the other until he dropped to his knees at Sam's side. He checked his brother's pulse – it was steady; his breathing – also steady, and without the hitch that had been there just a short time earlier; and his temperature – still high, but falling.

Dean sat back on his haunches and glanced around the shack. If he couldn't fight his way to freedom, there had to be another way out of this mess.

xxxXXXxxx

Sam was back in the crate – only now the lid was glass and inside it felt like a sauna. His mouth was dry and it was hard to breathe. In the confined heat, he felt himself getting weaker and weaker as he pounded his fists against the glass yelling for help.

Dean appeared suddenly above him, expression stony. His brother pulled back his fist and drove it down toward Sam's face, smashing it into the lid. The glass shattered under the blow, an explosion of shards raining down on Sam. He threw up his arm to protect himself, pain shooting from his elbow to his shoulder as glass sliced into flesh.

"Sammy!"

He woke with a jolt, heart racing and breathing rapidly.

"S'okay…. Chill."

Sam's head snapped toward his brother's voice, eyes darting about the room as he did. He wasn't in the crate – he was lying on the floor, Dean sitting beside him, the room lit by candles. The pain, though, was real, his whole right arm pulsing with it. He groaned, instinctively cradling the limb against his chest. "Son of a-"

"You got shot." Dean cleared his throat as he stilled Sam's arm. "Bullet's out, but you're still fighting infection so no stitches yet. The wound's open, capice? So… keep still."

Sam swallowed against pain-fueled nausea, then nodded. Dean sounded strange, his voice hoarse like it hadn't been used in a while. What the hell had happened? His mind was a kaleidoscope of images: the kidnapping… the crate… his escape… getting shot. But he'd gotten away, gotten back to Dean. Sam's breathing escalated as he stared at his brother in confusion. "You decked me."

"Yeah, about that…." Dean rolled his eyes. "The witch… bammied me. Made me hit you to make sure I was under her control."

"Witch?" Sam frowned. "The mambo? And what the hell's bammied?"

"Shit." Dean cleared his throat again. "Whammied…. The bitch whammied me."

"With a Voodoo spell?"

Dean nodded. "That's how they got us."

Sam studied Dean worriedly. "But the spell-"

"It's wearing off, but the bad guys don't know it yet – and let's keep it that way for now… until we figure out what's what." Dean raised his hand, methodically opening and closing it, flexing his returning control. "Jack gave me some Jimson Weed. Thought at first I got a bum batch, but it's just taking its damn time to kick in. Had some for you, too, but it didn't make the trip with us."

"Trip? Where are we?" Sam groaned as a more clear-headed glance around answered his own question. "Damn it, it's the camp. We're back at the camp."

"Yeah, they – fuck, we've got company." Dean froze, his gaze locked on something at the side of the shack.

Sam's head snapped around, following Dean's line of sight. The sudden movement almost made him throw up, but through the gaps in the wooden planks that clad the building, he caught sight of a light bobbing as someone approached the peristyle.

"Play possum," Dean hissed under his breath. "Now."

Sam slammed his eyes shut, his heart pounding against his ribs as he heard the door open.

"Stay outside. They can't harm me."

It was a woman's voice – familiar, but not the mambo's. Sam sensed her settle at his side, beside Dean, as the door was closed by whoever she'd been talking to. She placed her hand on his forehead to check his temperature, then on his chest to gauge his breathing before unwrapping the bandage on his arm to clean the bullet wound. She was gentle but every touch, every movement sent needles of pain ripping through Sam, further stoking the nausea already churning in his gut. When she pressed some kind of ointment into the open wound, the burn was the last straw for his stomach.

Sam's eyes shot open, he rolled onto his side and threw up. He vomited twice more before the nausea turned to dry heaves and he fell onto his back, eyes watering and breaths coming in short, ragged gasps. The woman produced a cool, damp cloth from somewhere and wiped his mouth and face, her long blonde hair falling forward as she did. "Jess?" Her name slipped out before his conscious brain caught up and realized it wasn't… it couldn't be. Damn. It was the woman from the bar – Carrie.

"You'll be OK. The poison is being purged from your system. Soon you'll feel stronger." Carrie turned to Dean. "Sit him up while we clean up this mess."

Dean did. Sam leaned back against him as Carrie changed out the soiled sheet beneath him for a fresh one. He could feel his brother's heart racing, sense the tension in him – both signs of just how hard it was for Dean to maintain this submissive façade. He was obviously still in recon mode, keeping their captors in the dark while he weighed their escape options. Sam knew there were few; and since he'd already bolted once, their captors' guards would be up. With the ceremony approaching, too, there would be a lot more people descending on the camp – a lot more obstacles between them and freedom.

He groaned as Dean lowered him onto the fresh sheet, but nodded to signal he was OK when his brother's hand lingered on his shoulder in an unspoken show of concern.

"Come – sit beside me." Carrie motioned to Dean as she pulled items from what looked like a first-aid box. "It's time to sew him up."

Carrie washed Dean's hands, then handed him a needle and suture thread. "The infection's under control. The salve inside the wound will soon take care of what's left."

Dean took the needle and turned to Sam, shooting him a look that clearly said, 'Sorry, dude, but this is gonna hurt like hell,' before setting to work.

Oh, it hurt – like hell and then some. Dean was better with a needle than half the doctors who'd ever treated them, but Sam was still grateful there was nothing left in his stomach to throw up. When his brother tied off the last stitch, sweat was running freely down Sam's temples, his chest rising and falling noticeably. Carrie smeared the stitches with more salve; then, as Dean pressed a fresh gauze pad over the wound and deftly re-bandaged it, she moved to Sam's feet and changed those dressings.

Shit, his feet. He'd managed to block out that pain, at least until Carrie started her ministrations. Sam exhaled in relief when she finished rebandaging them and left him alone.

Dean's eyes flashed angrily as he tracked Carrie's movements but his expression was neutral again when she placed two bottles of water in front of him. "One for you, one for your brother. Make sure you both drink them." Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. "You're fighting it, aren't you? The orders, the control…. They said you would." She smiled. "Don't waste your energy. Your loas will be taken… just not in the manner some expect." Her gaze fell to Dean's tattoo; she ran her fingers under the burn mark from Parise's spell, but said nothing. As she picked up her bag, she glanced over at Sam, nodding in satisfaction when she noted the same burn on him, then headed for the door. "We'll be back when the sun rises to begin preparations," was all she said before closing the door after her.

Dean exhaled audibly as soon as the bobbing light outside disappeared into the trees. "Sammy?"

Sam swallowed. "M'okay."

"Oh, yeah. Nothing screams OK like puking your guts up."

Sam held out his good arm. "Help me up."

Dean ignored the proffered hand, moving behind Sam and slipping his arm around his back to sit him up. He held on until he was sure Sam was steady, then grabbed a bottle of water and twisted off the cap, sniffing it before passing it over.

Sam drank from it greedily, the water still cold and numbing his raw throat. He scowled when Dean pulled the bottle from his mouth. "Dude, I got it. Get off."

"Just… go easy." Dean let go, but jabbed his finger at the water. "Or that's gonna come right back up again."

He was right. Reluctantly, Sam took the cap from Dean and refastened the bottle. He frowned when it registered that his brother was bare-chested and wore loose-fitting white pants. "What the hell are you wearing?"

"Same thing you are." Dean looked down in disgust at the pants, then quirked an eyebrow at Sam. "But at least I dressed myself."

"What?" Sam glanced down to see that his track pants had been replaced by the same type of white pants Dean wore.

When he looked up, Dean winked at him. "The women gave you a sponge bath, Sammy, then redressed you. And you slept through the whole damn thing. Typical."

"Not funny." Sam had no memory of any of that. "You're screwing with me… right?"

"Uh-uh." Dean made a cross over his heart, then his expression turned serious. "No bullshit, just how messed up are you?"

Sam snorted softly. "I was having a really bad day before I got shot and it's been downhill since – but I can handle whatever it takes to get us out of here."

"That's my boy." Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder, pushed himself to his feet and walked over to the window, peering into the dark outside. "They brought us here in a van, parked it up by some cabin. I saw a lot of people milling around, but this shack, that river seem deserted. Think you can swim?"

"Sure, but so can the gators."

Dean quirked an eyebrow as he turned back to Sam. "I'm gonna go out on a limb and say you're not talking about the football team."

Sam quickly gave Dean a rundown on the layout of the camp.

"One way in, one way out…." Dean was pacing now. "That's… awesome."

Sam frowned. "How long have we been here?"

"Most of the night. I don't think we're far from dawn." Dean again cleared his throat, but the more he talked, the more he sounded like himself. "The blonde chick's been checking up on you every couple of hours but I was able to poke around some in between visits. We're on our own but, from what you've just said, it doesn't matter. Without a boat we're screwed."

"The blonde… her name's Carrie." Sam took another drink of water. "She was with the hunters who took me from the motel."

"Yeah, that much I figured out." Dean shook his head. "What I don't know is whose side she's on."

Sam was surprised by that. "You think she might be able to help us?"

Again, Dean shook his head. "Uh-uh, no way. Look, Cliff's Notes version – they want our souls. Souls are a power source, right? Pure energy. But something about ours having been to Heaven and Hell makes them high-octane. Ti-Jean's planning this big shindig under the Blood Moon to take'em – which apparently turns high-octane into nuclear fuel rods. What they plan to do with that power I haven't quite figured out. But what I do know is that Parise is tired of playing second fiddle, wants that power for herself and says she has her patron loa, Erzulie, on board with the double-cross."

"Erzulie?" Sam twisted and untwisted the cap on the bottle of water. "Jealousy is one her biggest traits. If she thought another loa was getting a shiny new toy, she'd want it for herself. Who's Ti-Jean's patron?"

"Kalfou – and we both know he could teach Lucifer a lesson or two when it comes to playing nasty. Bottom line – there's a tug-of-war about to play out with you and me as the rope. Now, this Carrie chick seems to be working with Parise but there's bad blood there, too." Dean stared at the door Carrie had just disappeared through. "And what she just said – 'Your loas will be taken, just not in the manner some expect' – I see two ways to read that. One, she's loyal to Parise and Ti-Jean's about to get screwed over by two high-ranking members of his flock, or two-"

Sam's eyes widened. "She's a double agent – reporting back to the bokor on everything Parise does."

"Yahtzee. In which case, it's my one-night-stand-from-Hell who's about to get screwed – something I'm totally onboard with, by the way." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "Of course, the main flaw in this showdown is that you and me are royally boned whichever way it plays out."

Sam frowned as he noticed the burn that now scarred the center of his tattoo, wincing as he ran his fingers over it. "Did the mambo do this? Did she break the tattoo's protection?"

Dean nodded slowly. "She thinks so."

"So how does possession tie into this?" Sam tilted his head to stare up at the big altar. "We don't follow Voodoo, we've never pledged ourselves to any loa. I guess that means our souls are up for grabs. If they possess us, maybe it-"

"Brands us like cattle?" Dean snorted. "Man, this just keeps getting better. Come tonight, they plan to steal our supernova souls AND turn us into zombie mercenaries." He did a double take at Sam's look of surprise. "Oh, did I leave out that last part? Yeah, once our souls have left the mother ship, whoever wins the battle of the bokors gets to keep our meatsuits as hired help."

"Zombies?" A chill ran through Sam. "They wanna turn us into zombies?"

Dean's exaggerated grin was back. "Two-for-one special – that's us!"

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "Never think your day can't get worse, because it always can." His mind was spinning. "OK, I get why Kalfou wants our souls. The loa, the gods, are souls themselves – ancient souls, sure, but in their purest form they're still energy. Over time that energy gets depleted, which gives us the whole animal sacrifice ritual. Kill the chicken, its life-force is released and the loa uses that energy to recharge its batteries."

Dean snorted. "If Sunday dinner can recharge a god, just think what Kalfou can do with our souls amped up under the Blood Moon."

"But that's my point." Sam winced as he turned to his brother. "Kalfou gets 'roided up on our souls, but what about Ti-Jean? What about Parise? One, they expect to get a couple of zombies out of this deal, which means we can't be dead… well, dead-dead, at the end of it all. And two, from what you said, they think they've hit the jackpot finding us and harvesting our souls. That's kinda over-the-top if Kalfou gets the mojo and all they get is a pat on the head and the leftovers."

Dean scowled. "Dude, I am nobody's leftovers. But you're right. If Ti-Jean and Parise are jacked about taking the souls, we're missing a piece." He turned around and started poking through the items that littered the top of the big altar. "OK, one thing at a time. First, zombies. We both know bokors can't really raise the dead, but Kalfou needs our souls to check out of Hotel Winchester if he wants to power up on them. So, to give the boss what he wants but still make Zombie Sam or Zombie Dean, what does the bokor do?"

"He fakes our deaths."

"Bingo. Zombie Making 101. He doses us with some kind of neurotoxin which tricks the soul into thinking the body's dead. The soul leaves, Kalfou nabs it, then Ti-Jean gives us the antidote. You wake up as Soulless Sam 2.0 and I turn into one scary-but-damn-good-looking son of a bitch."

Sam felt like he was about to lose his lunch all over again. "I didn't much like my soulless self when I was driving. I sure as hell don't want him back with someone else at the wheel."

Dean snorted. "I have issues with someone else driving my car. How do you think I feel about someone else driving me? It was bad enough with Parise at the wheel. I-" He froze, staring at something on the altar.

Sam frowned. "What? What is it?"

"Damn it…. I must've picked through this altar half a dozen times already. Why am I just seeing this now?" Dean reached over and picked up a small clay pot with a lid, Bo symbols encircling the widest point. He held it up for Sam to see. "What does this look like to you?"

Sam's eyes widened. "That's a po'tet – a head pot. What they use-"

"To keep souls in." Dean reached across the altar and picked up a second, identical po'tet. "And why would he have two? Couldn't possibly have anything to do with plans to yank out our souls later tonight, could it?"

Sam stared at the pots. "No way Ti-Jean is stupid enough to think he could steal the souls from Kalfou. He'd smite his ass in a heartbeat. Not to mention how would he do it? I mean, when you die, the soul is expelled like a bullet from a gun. No way a human, even a bokor, has the power to trap it."

Dean quirked an eyebrow at his brother. "Come on, Sammy. I know you're not firing on all cylinders but you know the answer to this."

Sam scowled at Dean; then it came to him. "Damn it. When a bokor's making a zombie, the poison only simulates death. The soul – it's confused. It doesn't know whether to stay or go, so it hovers over the body – and that makes it easy to trap."

"And once it is, it's bound to whoever traps it – forced to carry out their orders." Dean put down the pots and tapped his tattoo. "Parise picked this lock, which says Kalfou and/or Erzulie are gonna make an appearance tonight to claim our souls. No way is Ti-Jean gonna try stealing them with the bosses around." He looked over at Sam. "Parise said Erzulie is onboard with her coup attempt. What if Kalfou knows what Ti-Jean's doing? What if he's behind the plan?"

Sam frowned "Why? Why would he give up that kind of power?"

"For another kind." Dean turned to face Sam. "What if he wants to turn us into zombi astral – soul eaters."

Sam felt his insides twist. Soul eaters were the most powerful weapon in Bo, an unstoppable spirit assassin, hunting down whoever the bokor or loa ordered and consuming each victim's soul in the process. With each kill, the soul eater became more powerful, more unstoppable. "But… they're more myth than fact because, well, step one is stealing a soul – never a good career move. And even if Kalfou's onside in this case, the other loa aren't just gonna sit back and do nothing if he suddenly rolls out Bo's answer to a WMD."

Dean shrugged. "How are they gonna stop him? Roll out one of their own? To even come close, they'd have to wait until next year's Blood Moon. Kalfou could do some serious damage between now and then. And if any loa challenged him, my guess is they'd become the next target."

Sam forehead furrowed as he considered that fact. "Is that even possible? Can a zombi astral kill a god?"

"Not really my area of expertise." Dean shook his head. "But they're soul eaters – and the loa are souls."

Sam swallowed. "Maybe that's where Heaven and Hell come in. One of the few places Kalfou is barred from is Heaven. His twin, Papa Legba, keeps him well outside the velvet rope."

"So if old Kal wanted to stick it to Legba, wanted to snatch a soul safely stashed in Heaven…." Dean straightened up. "He could send in a zombi astral and have them – us – grab one right from under Legba's nose. Erzulie can't get into Hell; if she and Parise win this little tug-of-war, she'll send the souleaters downstairs, have them steal from Kalfou."

Sam nodded. "We've had our tickets punched for both Heaven and Hell. Maybe that means they can't keep us out of either place. Son of a bitch…. We'd be the only hitmen in existence who could go after the living and the dead, with full access to Heaven and Hell."

Dean frowned. "Access. That's exactly the word Parise used."

"Well, it's not happening." Sam started to push himself up, stopping only when Dean put a warning hand on his shoulder.

"Where the hell are you going?"

Sam scowled up at his brother. "I wanna find something – anything – to stop them from turning us into soul eaters. I want-"

"Amen to that, but you need to stay put. The longer we keep Ti-Jean and the rest in the dark about what kind of shape we're in, the longer they leave us alone, and we need that time to figure things out." Dean cut him off as he started to object. "If someone checks in on us, bandaged feet plus dirt floor equals dead giveaway you've been moving around. Now, park it."

"I'll stay on the damn sheet."

"You don't and I'll knock you right back on your ass." Dean's threat was in complete contrast to the gentle way he helped Sam up and kept an arm around his back to support him. "How are the feet?"

Sam bit his lower lip. "Fine." He grimaced as he took one tentative step forward, then another.

"Uh-huh." Dean didn't sound the least bit convinced. He held on to Sam until they reached the end of the sheet, at which point Sam gently but firmly pushed him away.

"Dude – thanks, but if we have any hope of getting out of here, you can't be carrying me. I gotta do this on my own." Unsteadily, Sam turned around, but could still feel Dean's worried gaze locked on him. "And you staring is not helping."

"It's not like I have someplace to go." Dean folded his arms as Sam studied the altar contents. "And unless you can figure out a way to MacGyver that stuff into a boat, there's nothing that gonna help us."

"Damn it." Sam raked his fingers through his hair, an unconscious habit that this time almost toppled him.

Dean took an instinctive step forward but halted himself when Sam regained his balance. "I've got a plan, but you're not gonna like it."

Sam turned to face Dean, a little steadier this time. "I pretty much don't like anything that's happened today, so try me."

"We need a diversion. And for the biggest impact, the best time to-"

"No, Dean. No way." Sam could see where this was going.

"…create one, is during the ceremony. Dude, you said it yourself – this place has one way in, one way out. At the end of that one way are guys with guns and a big, bald dude and a bitch who have the means to hex us into submission. And thanks to you Great Escaping once, they're gonna be on high alert." Dean waved at the altar. "Screw making a boat, if you can figure out a way to mix up that crap into some kind of gator repellent, we'll swim out of here. But other than that, I'm out of options."

Sam let his eyes slide shut. Dean was right, but there was so much that could go sideways if they were still here when the ceremony began.

Dean seemed to read his mind. "Sammy, look – I know it's risky, but right now, for us, the best place to hide-"

"Is in a crowd." Sam exhaled audibly, then opened his eyes. "I know. And there'll be a crowd here tonight. No way will Ti-Jean miss the opportunity to show off how tight he is with Kalfou or his shiny new toys. Fine. What did you have in mind?"

"I'm thinking explosion." Dean moved to the altar, twisted the lid off a jar and sniffed the contents. "Gator repellent may not be an option but there's gotta be something here that'll give us enough of bang to scatter the crowd and let us disappear with them."

Sam stumbled as he moved toward Dean and, this time, his brother was forced to catch him. "Damn it." He shoved Dean away in frustration. "How the hell can we bolt out of here if I can't even walk across the fucking room."

"When we get our chance, you'll be ready." Dean scowled when Sam turned suddenly, moving towards the outside of the room. "Where you going now?"

Sam gestured at the artwork that decorated the floor. "That might give us what we need."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "The carpet thing?"

Sam nodded. "It's not a carpet, it's a veve – kind of a ritual magnet that draws the loa to earth, forces them to walk among the living." He pointed to a couple of the symbols. "The hearts – they're for Erzulie, the gates for Kalfou-"

"Dude…." Dean's scowl deepened. "We already know who's coming to dinner. How can we use this thing?"

"The veve is made from powders that the artist pours on the floor to form the Bo symbols. If they're following tradition, the yellow is cornmeal, the red is brick dust, the white flour and the black…. Just… sniff the black and tell me it's not black pepper."

"Sniff it?" Dean gave Sam a look that clearly said he thought his brother was losing it, but did as he was asked. He picked up a pinch of the black powder, sniffed it then turned to Sam, eyes wide. "Definitely not pepper. Put this on your steak and you've got the world's worst case of heartburn. It's gunpowder."

Sam allowed himself a small smile. "Good. You wanna blow something up, that should help."

Dean snorted. "We're sitting in a shack full of lit candles and gunpowder. Only you would think that's good."

Sam shrugged. "The loa are watching over us, right? They need us…. They're not gonna let us blow ourselves up."

"Yeah, right." Dean frowned when he realized Sam was leaning heavily against the altar. "OK, you need to lie down before you fall down." He moved back to Sam's side. "Sit down, at least." His jaw clenched when Sam didn't move. "OK, let's make this simple. Sit down, or I sit you down. Trust me, it's not gonna take much effort."

Sam didn't want to sit, but his body was fighting him. Reluctantly, he let go of the altar and more or less fell onto his ass, slowed only by Dean's hold.

As Sam reached for his bottle of water, Dean grabbed a small, empty bowl off the big altar. He hesitated, then moved to Erzulie's altar, grabbing ropes of pearls and some delicate silk scarves from amongst the goddess's tributes before returning to Sam's side, sitting on the edge of the sheet. "I know you've got a Rainman memory, but how the hell did you know all that obscure crap about this… veve?"

"Bobby." Sam smiled tiredly. "I was nine, ten maybe…. just getting over the measles. Dad dumped me at Bobby's while you and him took off on a hunt. Bobby was looking for something – anything – to keep me busy."

Dean snorted. "You and a gnat pretty much had the same attention span at that age."

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Anyway, Bobby was doing research for some Voodoo case and reading about veves. I asked what they were and he told me. Then he figured making one would be a good way to keep me occupied. He gave me a tray, every jar in his spice rack and a picture in a book to copy. Things were going great 'til I used pepper to make the black lines. It made me sneeze and I blew away the whole art project."

Dean snorted at that.

Sam smiled. "Yeah. Course, Bobby said I would've blown up him, me and the whole damn house if I was doing the real thing, 'cause in Voodoo you use gunpowder, not pepper."

Dean shook his head. "Most kids get finger paints, you get a Voodoo art project."

Sam shrugged. "Bobby and I laughed a lot after I sneezed. I had fun. Maybe that's why I remember it."

"Or maybe it's just that you don't have an awful lot of fun memories to keep straight." Dean started pinching up gunpowder into the bowl, taking care to fill in the gaps so the veve looked relatively undisturbed. "Course, I'm having a bit of a hard time picturing Bobby 'Which-can-shall-I-open-for-dinner-tonight?' Singer owning a spice rack."

Sam snorted softly. "I think it was his wife's. When did Bobby ever throw anything out?"

"True. Especially true if the stuff was Karen's."

Sam frowned as he watched Dean snap the string holding the pearls, and dump the loose beads into the bowl of gunpowder. Then he used his teeth to rip the silk scarves into smaller pieces. "Wait, are you-"

"Yep." Dean grinned. "MacGyver ain't got nothing on Dean Winchester. We may just get our sorry asses out of this mess after all."

xxxXXXxxx

In the harsh light of day, Dean wasn't feeling quite so confident.

He'd had too much time to think about everything that could possibly go wrong.

Sam had eventually drifted off, despite his best efforts to fight the pull of sleep. The sound of hammering and muted voices woke him after only a couple of hours as workers had shown up at dawn to begin pulling off the boards that covered the upper half of each wall of the shack. The door and window were soon gone, too, leaving the roof held up by the four corner posts and the tall center column. None of this came as a surprise; peristyles were usually open-air structures. Those directly involved with the ceremony stayed under the roof, while the Bo followers gathered around the outside of the building to watch the proceedings.

Parise and Carrie returned a few hours after the workers. They changed the bandage on Sam's arm, removed the bandages from his feet, only applying salve rather than replacing the dressings, and left a bowl of fruit and bread and fresh bottles of water as breakfast.

Since then, the brothers had had little time to themselves. Junior priestesses came and went throughout the day, bringing fresh flowers and sweets for Erzulie's altar, garlands of flowers to wrap around each post and other ceremonial items. Two men showed up with drums, placing them just to the right of Kalfou's altar. The veve artist returned, tweaking and tidying his work – but if he noticed a significant drop in the amount of gunpowder it contained, he gave no sign. Still more workers set the large campfire in front of the peristyle while DaCoste and his armed men patrolled the bank of the bayou to keep the alligators at bay.

Dean studied Sam. He seemed steadier, stronger than the night before – at least the forced rest had had that one benefit. The flush of fever was gone and he was now more pissed than in pain. Still, he was a long way from being ready to fight his way out of the camp.

Sam seemed to read his mind. "I want outta here, Dean. Whatever it takes, I'm up for it."

Yeah, the mind was willing but the body needed a few more days rest to back it up.

Sam waited until DaCoste had turned away from the peristyle. "What about you? Any aftertaste from Parise's hex?"

Dean reflexively curled his fists. "I'm back in the driver's seat – one hundred per cent."

Sam still seemed worried. "How long does the Jimson Weed last?"

"Good question." Dean could only offer a small shrug. "Let's hope it's long enough."

Half-way through the afternoon, Parise showed up with DaCoste and another armed man in tow, and dropped a pair of pull-on canvas loafers in front of each brother. "Put those on."

Sam picked up a shoe and scowled at the mambo. "Why?"

Parise huffed impatiently. "Because, to be blunt, you stink. You need to bathe before the ceremony. Erzulie demands it. Now, I can have DaCoste toss you in the bayou, and you can take your chances with the alligators, or you can come up to the cabin and shower there. The choice is yours."

"Turn the stars of this shindig into gator bait hours before the show is set to open?" Dean turned slowly toward her, a dangerous smile spreading across his face. "Kind of an empty threat, don't you think?"

Parise returned the smile in kind. "And the caged lion bares his teeth."

"Oh, I have quite a bite." Dean winked at her. "Course, you knew that already."

Parise chuckled. "I was wondering how long you could keep up the act, mon cher. I know when a man is under my spell – and when he isn't."

Dean snorted. "That is such crap – I'm just tired of playing this game." That was the truth; he'd watched the comings and goings of the camp all day long, gathered as much intel as he could, and no longer saw any tactical advantage to playing the spellbound submissive. He shot a glare at DaCoste. "From here on in, save your orders for your lapdog. I'm done."

Parise nodded at DaCoste, and he gave Sam a sharp kick to the sole of his injured foot.

Sam's pained yell elicited a loud, furious, "You son of a bitch," from Dean. He leapt to his feet, his fists full of DaCoste's shirt before he was even fully upright. Only the rifle jammed into his ribs stopped him from decking the man.

Parise's smile was now bemused. "I'd rethink your stance, Dean. There are plenty of ways to make the time until the ceremony very unpleasant, especially for Sam, without doing any real damage. So, why don't you just do as you're told, put on the shoes and come with us."

Dean let go of DaCoste's shirt, giving the man a shove as he did so, and stepped back. He jammed his feet into the deck shoes without ever breaking eye contact with DaCoste and held out a hand to help his brother get to his feet. "Sam? You up for this?"

"Let's just do it." Sam bit back a groan as he pulled the shoes onto his injured feet. "Besides…." He grabbed Dean's wrist. "I'm kinda ripe."

"Well, I wasn't gonna say anything…." Dean glanced down; Sam gave him a look and a small shrug that clearly said, 'Let's take the chance, dude. Maybe we'll see something we can use.'

Sam was not moving fast enough for DaCoste's liking. The guard grabbed him by the arm, right below the bullet wound and tried to forcefully yank him to his feet.

With Sam's agonized shout, Dean snapped. He spun and slammed his fist into DaCoste's jaw, knocking him to the floor and sending him tumbling toward the center post. He turned on the second guard but took a rifle butt to the temple, the blow dazing him, the impact knocking him to the ground at Sam's side.

Through blurred vision, Dean saw the guard raise the rifle for a second blow, but Sam grabbed the barrel one-handed, eyes flashing with fury as he wrestled with man for control.

"Don't even fucking think about it." There was a threatening growl to Sam's voice that surprised even Dean. Apparently his brother had also reached the end of his tether when it came to playing passive prisoner.

"Enough!" Parise stepped in front of the guard, pushing him away from the brothers. Her glare turned on DaCoste as he staggered to his feet. "Both of you, wait outside." She reached for Dean's face, his eye already starting to swell and blood trickling down his temple. He angrily batted away her hand. "Fine. Get yourselves on your feet and meet us outside. You have five minutes." She quickly crossed the peristyle and disappeared down the steps.

The moment she was gone, Sam turned to Dean. "Y'okay?"

"No." Dean screwed his eyes closed, his head muzzy from the blow. Sam said nothing, but Dean felt his brother's hand close around his upper arm in a silent show of support. He opened his eyes, blew out a breath and pushed himself to his feet. He staggered, more unsteady than he cared to admit, even to himself, but held out a hand to Sam. "Come on, let's get this over with."

"Roger that." Sam groaned as Dean hauled him to his feet, the sudden set of his jaw clearly stating that his feet were not yet ready to support the considerable weight now on them. Dean slipped his arm around Sam's back, while Sam threw his good arm over Dean's shoulders.

Sam snorted softly as they began moving toward the doorway. "Who's holding up who, huh?"

"Shut up."

The trek from the peristyle to the cabin was slow going, with Sam setting the pace, robotically putting one foot in front of the other. Still, they made it without incident, although by the time they arrived Sam was a few shades paler and Dean's burgeoning black eye was beginning to impair his vision.

Entering the cabin, they were the center of attention. Preparations for the ceremony in the kitchen and living space ground to a halt, conversation giving way to silence as they passed through. Once inside the bedroom, Parise closed the door and motioned for Sam to hit the bathroom first.

He leaned more heavily on the furniture than Dean liked to see, but he made it under his own steam. Parise stopped him at the door with one final instruction. "Be sure to wash your hair."

Sam just closed the door and Dean rolled his eyes but, yeah, that was part of the whole Voodoo ritual, too – a do-it-yourself version of the lave tete, or washing of the head, before a planned possession.

Ten minutes later, Sam emerged wearing a clean pair of white pants, his wet hair brushed back off his face and the bandage missing from his arm. The skin was bruised around the stitches but there was no longer any visible sign of infection.

"Dean." Parise motioned with her head toward the now vacant bathroom, as she placed a fresh towel and a clean pair of pants on the counter.

Dean cut her off as she started to speak. "Yeah, yeah, I know – don't forget the shampoo. Got anything with extra conditioner? This bayou heat makes me all frizzy." He slammed the door in her face before she could answer.

He stripped quickly and turned on the water, but once he stepped under the shower, he started to shake. It was anger, it was frustration – it was fear….

All the way from the peristyle to the cabin he'd had his eyes peeled for any opening to take advantage of, any way they could move up their escape attempt to well before the ceremony. He didn't want to be part of it any more than Sam did, but there was nothing. Not a damn thing. His brother had caught Ti-Jean's men with their pants down once; this time, they'd made damn sure the compound was firmly zipped up. There were armed guards along the trail, guards in the clearing between the cabin and the garage, and even guards along the long, gravel driveway that led to the road. Hell, there were even guards along the river now – although more to keep the gators in than the brothers out.

It was déjà vu all over again as Dean curled his fingers into a fist and channeled all his anger and frustration into punching the wall, slamming his fist into the tiles three, five, seven… he lost count how many times. He stopped only when his knuckles were bloody, fresh cuts joining the reopened gash from the motel room. Then he shut off the hot tap, letting the stinging needles of ice cold water cool his temper, steel his nerves and help him regain control. When he pulled open the bathroom door minutes later, his mask was firmly back in place.

Sam was sitting on the end of the bed as Parise taped closed a fresh bandage on his arm. She kept working as Dean emerged. "It sounded like there was a fight in there."

She looked up when Dean said nothing. "Whatever. Let's go."

The walk back was uneventful, although Dean was still scanning every person, every building, every tree looking for any possible advantage, anything to help with an escape. He saw nothing of use.

At the peristyle Parise motioned for them to retake their places on the sheet. Settling beside his brother, Dean noted the relief of Sam's face now he was no longer on his feet.

Parise held out her hands. "Shoes."

Dean looked up at her in disbelief. "You have got to be fucking kidding me. Where the hell are we gonna go?"

Parise didn't move.

Dean rolled his eyes and yanked off the loafers, slamming them into the mambo's hands. Sam did the same. Once she had the shoes, she turned and left without saying another word.

A priestess came up the steps right after the mambo left, giving the brothers each a bowl of hot chicken, rice and vegetables, and a spoon to eat with – no damn knives or forks. Then, they were left alone.

Sam nodded in approval after trying the food. "Gotta say, they feed us better than anyone else who's ever kidnapped us. Although it kinda feels like fattening the lambs for slaughter, you know?"

"Yeah." Dean, strangely, was the one with no appetite. "They don't give a crap about us, they're just taking care of the meatsuits that'll host their damn loa." He shoved aside the bowl of food. "Look, we know what's gonna go down, we just don't know how. But first chance we get, we gotta take it. Right?"

Sam frowned, the spoon stopping halfway his mouth. "Right. If you're closest, you'll do it, if I am, I will. Where you going with this?"

Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "If one of us is screwed… if it's too late, the other's still gotta make a break for it."

Sam dropped his spoon into the dish. "Translation, if you go down, I'm supposed to run and leave you behind. You gonna make me the same promise if they take me down first?" When Dean didn't answer, he snorted. "Thought so. So let's just make sure both of us get the hell out, alright?"

Dean almost smiled at that. Almost.

The sun had gone down the next time they saw DaCoste. He strode into the peristyle with two men and a priestess in tow. He said nothing but motioned with his rifle for the brothers to get up. When they did, one of the men grabbed Sam's arms, pulled them in front of him and bound his wrists with leather rope.

Dean's jaw clenched at the pained grunt the rough handling elicited from Sam and glared at DaCoste. As the man with the rope moved over to Dean, Dean raised his arms, crossing his wrists. DaCoste smirked as his partner grabbed Dean's arm, spun him around and pulled his arms behind him, fastening his wrists behind his back. Fuck. That added another wrinkle to their escape plan. He winced as the rope was tightened, the leather biting into his skin.

The priestess gathered up their dishes, folded the sheet and redistributed the candles around the peristyle. Then she set about lighting every candle in the place until it was filled with a warm, yellow glow. Outside in the gray light of dusk, the moon was just beginning to climb over the tree line on the far river bank.

DaCoste's smirk was still in place as he nodded at the brothers. "It's time."

Continued in Chapter 5…

A/N: Just one more chapter to go – and there's lots of action in store! Thanks so much for reading. Cheers.