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, although nothing graphic

WORD COUNT: 30K+

GENRE: Gen/Hurt-Comfort/Adventure

A/N: A great big thank you to all of you who read Chapter One. A shout out, too, to those of you who were kind enough to leave some feedback but didn't sign in. I can't thank you privately, so I'll do it here - THANK YOU!

This fic is written for JaniceC678, based on a plot bunny she kindly 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 Two

"A blonde woman left first - three men a minute or so later. The guy in your photo there - man, was he drunk. The other two were basically carrying him."

Standing outside the motel room three doors down from his own, talking to witnesses to Sam's kidnapping, Dean had to fight to maintain his FBI facade.

After spending the night making phone calls, not caring who he was waking up in the search for his brother, he had little. The cops had no reports of any disturbance at or near the motel and any hunter he trusted in the area had either heard nothing about Sam or had yet to return his messages. His only lead was a powder he'd found on the carpet of their room, near the bloodstain; it wasn't sulfur but, beyond that, Dean didn't know what the hell it was. He'd strong-armed the New Orleans Police into hauling a lab tech out of bed to analyze it for the FBI, but was still awaiting the results.

At first light he'd started banging on doors in the motel, flashing his FBI badge in search of eyewitnesses. It was a long-shot – the usual clientele at these places were notoriously uncooperative – but, for once, the gamble paid off. A young family, heading from south Texas to Florida for a new job, had been forced to make an unscheduled stop in the wake of car trouble. The Wilsons had checked in late the previous night, and seen two men load Sam into a black pick-up.

"First, he wasn't drunk - he was being taken against his will." The muscle along Dean's jaw jumped as he slipped Sam's photo back in his pocket. "Second, this blonde - was she tall, pretty, long hair, legs up to her neck?"

Jim Wilson, standing in the open door of his room, his wife and two kids sitting on the edge of the bed behind him, nodded.

Son of a bitch. The blonde chick from the bar was somehow tangled up in this mess. "And you saw her with the men who took Sam?"

Jim shook his head. "Technically, no. We'd just checked in and were pulling up in front of our room when she came out. She closed the door and crossed the parking lot. I didn't see where she went. The three men came out right after I turned off the engine."

"Sam… the one who seemed drunk – was he talking? Or the others? Did you hear them say anything about where they were going?"

Again, Jim shook his head. "The two doing the carrying were laughing, making fun of the drunk for not being able to hold his liquor…." He lowered his voice so his kids couldn't hear. "Said his wife was gonna kill him when they took him home for being so plastered, never mind checking in here and calling for a hooker."

Dean's scowl deepened. "So they knew you'd seen them?"

Jim nodded. "They made no attempt to hide, and that's why I thought that guy was just drunk. Believe me, if we had any idea he was being kidnapped, we would have called the cops."

Dean wanted to put his fist through a wall. "What about the two men? What'd they look like?"

Jim folded his arms as he leaned against the door. "One guy was black, shaved head, muscular – a bouncer type, you know? The other guy was white, middle-aged, wore jeans, a ball cap, plaid shirt."

Dean scribbled the info in his notebook, more for appearances than anything. "And you said the vehicle was a late model black pick-up?"

Jim nodded.

"Don't suppose you got a license plate?"

Jim shook his head. "I'm sorry, Agent Smith. It was late, we'd spent all day and almost every cent to our name getting the car fixed. I hated having to bring my family to this dump in the first place, and when I saw that man get thrown into the truck, my only thought was getting my wife and kids inside and locking the door."

"The truck was real dirty." This was from the Wilsons' eight-year-old son, seated on the bed beside his mom. "When I see cars like that at the mall, I write Wash Me in the dirt."

"Brandon, hush." His mom wrapped her arm around the boy's shoulders as she bounced her two-year-old on her knee. "Once Daddy's helped the FBI, we can go."

"Hey, every little bit helps. Thanks, Brandon." Dean smiled at the boy. "You notice anything else about the truck, anything that might help me find it?"

Brandon screwed up his face. "My daddy gave me a notebook just like yours when we started this trip – said I should look at all the license plates and write down the ones I'd never seen before. You know, where they came from." He shrugged. "I looked at the truck's license plate, but it was just Louisiana. I've seen lots of those. Besides, I could only see the first two letters…. The rest were covered in mud."

Dean's heart skipped a beat. "You remember what those letters were – the ones you could see?"

Brandon nodded. "It was the alphabet. A-B. If the third letter was 'C' I was gonna write it down 'cause that's cool. But I couldn't see it." The little boy's face crumpled with disappointment at not being able to help. "Sorry."

Dean shook his head. "Don't be sorry. You did great."

Brandon brightened at the praise. "It had a gold star, too – like the ones the teacher gives me when I read stuff out loud and don't mess up."

Dean frowned. "A gold star?"

Brandon nodded. "On a flag. It was kinda like the Texas flag – that's where we're from. But that doesn't make sense. Why would somebody from Louisiana have the Texas flag on their truck?"

"You're a smart kid, Brandon. You'd make a good cop."

Suddenly shy, the little boy dropped his head, his longish hair falling over his eyes - just like Sam's used to do at that age. Dean's throat tightened as he turned back to Jim. "One last question. Which way did the truck drive off?"

Jim waved his hand to the left. "That way."

Dean nodded. "Thanks for your time. Have a safe trip."

He walked quickly back to his room, slammed shut the door, and loosened his tie as he began pacing. His brother had returned to the motel with the blonde from the bar after all. "Good one, Dean." He scrubbed a hand down his face. "Push Sam to hook up with a psycho bitch."

Sam's bed was still made and his computer open on top of it so there had likely been no action between them – that was something, but was the blonde just bait for his brother's kidnapping or something more?

Instinct told him the two men were hunters. They'd put on an act for unexpected witnesses; Big Mouths and demons either wouldn't give a crap about covering their tracks, or simply wouldn't have left him any witnesses to interview. But why the hell would hunters be after Sam now? His psychic abilities and demon-killing powers had been AWOL since his return from Hell, and there'd been no recent rumblings about anyone targeting his brother. Walt and Roy had – wisely – gone underground since finding out Dean had made good on his pledge to return from the dead. Tim and Reggie, who'd tried to force-feed Sam demon blood to make him hulk on demand, had backed off their vendetta since Sam sacrificed himself to re-cage Lucifer. They were still out there hunting, but he'd heard nothing to suggest Sam was back in their sights.

Then there was Steve Wandell's crew. Wandell's brother and daughter had no way of knowing Meg was possessing Sam when he'd killed the hunter, and avenging a family member was the kind of grudge that never just went away.

Fuck, it could be anyone. Hunting meant they pissed off people daily. Dean pulled off his suit jacket and tossed it over the back of the chair. He'd drive himself crazy with what ifs; he had to stick to facts, even if the best lead he had was a partial plate courtesy of an eight-year-old.

He turned to stare out the window, across the parking lot and to the street beyond. According to Jim Wilson, the truck had turned left – the same direction he and Sam had walked the previous night on the way to the bar. He closed his eyes, replaying the route in his mind's eye; they'd passed at least three gas stations. All no doubt had outdoor security cameras. His FBI badge would get him access to the footage and maybe, just maybe, one of the cameras had captured an image of the truck and/or its occupants.

Dean's phone beeped and he yanked it from his pocket, glancing at the screen; it was an e-mail from the New Orleans police lab telling him the analysis of the dust sample had been completed and the report was attached. Clicking open the attachment, his heart rate picked up as he read the results.

The dust was a mixture of herbs with hallucinogenic and sedative properties and pulverized bone – human bone. "Son of a bitch." He knew what that was.

It was bone dust – used in Bo, or dark side Voodoo.

Dean sank down onto the edge of the bed. Bone dust was rare, used almost exclusively by bokors, Bo's sorcerers or dark priests, to test a follower's loyalty. The person was forced to inhale the dust; if the demands of the loa, or spirits, they worshiped had been followed, the dust would have no effect. If they hadn't, the follower would either hallucinate and be told how to repent, fall ill as punishment, or drop dead on the spot. Among its side effects, bone dust also took the fight out of a victim quickly, and opened them up to the power of suggestion, something the bokor often took advantage of.

But why would bone dust be used on Sam? And how the hell did two hunters get their hands on it? Its formula was a zealously guarded secret and, simply put, bokors didn't deal.

Dean stared down at his phone, then scrolled quickly through his address book to J. Delacroix and hit send. Jack was a hunter, born and raised in New Orleans. These days he lived a few hours east in Mississippi but he knew more about Bo and the bokor than almost any hunter still breathing. A close friend of Pastor Jim's, he was also on a very short list of casual acquaintances Dean trusted. He'd left one message already, but had yet to hear back from him.

"Yeah?"

"Jack. It's Dean Winchester. Don't you listen to your freaking messages?"

"When I'm not sleeping. Morning to you, too. What's up?"

"Sam's missing. We're in the Big Easy and he got dragged from our room last night. Hunters took him, but they used bone dust. You heard of any of our kind in bed with a bokor?"

"What the hell have you two stepped in?"

"Damned if I know." Dean shoved himself up and began pacing. "We came to town for a straight-up 'geist hunt. Spirit is toast, we were hitting the road today. I came back last night, room was a mess, Sam was gone and there was bone dust on the floor. Witnesses described a salt and pepper, Mutt and Jeff team. That sound like any hunters you know?"

"Yeah – half of 'em." Jack exhaled loudly. "I ain't heard of any unholy alliances but there is trouble brewing in New Orleans and it involves a bokorTi-Jean L'Esperance. To say he's a nasty son of bitch is being kind. He's the third generation of his family to serve as a dark priest, but for the past month or so, there've been rumblings someone's out to take him down."

"Hunters?"

"Uh-uh. Someone wants his job - and Ti-Jean ain't gonna give it up without a fight. From what I hear, he's been messing with darker and darker shades of black magic to make damn sure he doesn't get ousted from office."

Dean's stomach lurched. "And you think this is somehow tied in with Sam being taken?"

"Bone dust used in a kidnapping right when a bokor power struggle is about to come to a head?" Jack snorted. "I don't believe in coincidence, son. And from what I recall, neither do you."

Dean's mind was spinning, trying to put the pieces together. "But... my gut still says the men who took Sam were hunters, and they had a blonde chick with them. Maybe they're all on the bokor's leash. Hell, could the blonde be this rival mambo or bokor, or whatever they're calling a Voodoo sorceress these days?"

"If this blonde is a player in Bo, she's new in town. I ain't heard of no blonde mambo in these parts."

Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "What the fuck, Jack? How the hell did Sam end up in the middle of a Voodoo turf war?

"That's the $64,000 question, ain't it?" Jack exhaled loudly. "Just what kind of shit have you two been stirring up lately?"

"All kinds, every day – but nothing to do with Voodoo." Dean shook his head. "Hell, we haven't touched a Voodoo case since… since before Sam left Stanford. And that was me, not him. If that was behind this, I'd be the one MIA."

Jack was silent for a moment. "I'm about three hours from New Orleans but I'm gonna head your way. I'll make some calls, find out what I can, but some people who may have answers are only gonna give'em face-to-face so it might take some time. Where you at?"

"The Crawfish Motel. But just call this number, I'm heading out." Dean grabbed his jacket and his keys from the dresser. "Where do I find this Ti-Jean?"

"You stay the hell away from him 'til we know what's what."

"Don't talk to me like I'm fucking four." Dean's temper got the best of him. "If this bastard has Sam-"

"Then you better damn well be prepared when you do take him on so that you and Sam both walk away." Jack sounded like Dad and Bobby all rolled into one. "You listen to me, boy. Ti-Jean is a con-man, but he is a master of black magic, no joke."

Dean's eyes flashed. "Color me impressed."

"You should be. Plenty of us have tried to take him out over the years and, like the snake he is, he's always managed to wriggle free and take down an awful lot of good people in the process." Jack's voice softened. "Look, if they wanted your brother dead, you would've come back to a corpse on the floor. You know that. The fact they took him-"

"Says they need him alive." The fire in Dean's belly went out suddenly, extinguished by cold dread. "And that scares the crap out of me."

Jack gave a worried huff. "I know, but I need you to think like a hunter, not a brother."

Dean nodded; Jack was right. "I've got a lead on the truck the kidnappers used. I'm gonna follow that."

"Good. I'll call as soon as I get close to town. Hang in there." With that, Jack hung up.

Dean clicked off the phone and glanced again at the road where the truck carrying Sam had disappeared. "Like Jack said, what the hell have we stepped in, Sammy?" He cleared his throat. "But don't you worry, I'm gonna get you back. You just show'em what a pain in the ass you can be 'til I do."

xxxXXXxxx

Once the guard opened the chain-link gates, Mike Wandell continued driving along the gravel road that wound through the swamp, finally pulling into the clearing in front of a big cabin. The morning sun was just peeking over the tree canopy as he shoved the pick-up's gearshift into park and turned off the engine.

"What do you think they're gonna do with him?" His partner, Maillet, sat in the shotgun seat staring suspiciously at the cabin.

"Winchester?" Wandell glanced through the rear window to the covered truck bed where the crate containing their prisoner was stashed. "Dunno, but I'm damn sure it won't end well for him and that's all I care about."

Maillet swallowed. "So… no regrets about dealing with the bokor?"

Wandell snorted. "My only regret is not getting to take out the kid myself. After what he did to Steve…." He cleared his throat. "Whatever. Bottom line, Winchester gets what's coming to him, and we get a bokor in our debt. That's win-win in my book."

Maillet looked skeptical. "If we call in that debt, you really think Ti-Jean's gonna pay up? The son of a bitch has short-changed me more than once."

"Then you're the fool for letting him." Wandell checked the gun holstered under his jacket. "Look past the mumbo-jumbo and he's just human. He screws us, it'll be my pleasure to put a bullet in the smug bastard."

The squeal of screen door hinges drew their attention to the cabin; Ti-Jean and his lapdog DaCoste emerged, walking down the wooden steps as the door clanged shut behind them.

DaCoste tapped his watch as Wandell climbed out of the truck. "'Bout time. You stop for breakfast on the way?"

"Fuck you." Wandell scowled at the crack. "Maybe if you'd stayed to help us load the kid back into the truck, we could have been here sooner. You may have noticed, he ain't little."

"Stop bickering like children." Ti-Jean's deep voice shut them up, but his attention was locked on the truck. "Get him out. I want to see him."

With a glare at DaCoste, Wandell turned back to the truck. He and Maillet peeled back the canvas bed cover to reveal the crate inside. They pulled it from the truck, set it down on the ground and yanked off the lid.

Inside, Sam's eyes slammed shut at the sudden light, then peeled open slowly, blinking as he took in the faces above him. His arms were still fastened behind his back, long hair plastered to his flushed face, his slashed T-shirt stuck to the contours of his chest, dark with sweat. The anger in his eyes was unmistakable even in his weakened state.

Ti-Jean stared down at his prisoner, a slow smile spreading across his face, as if he'd just been handed a coveted prize. He crouched down and reached out, pressing his hand flat against Sam's chest.

Sam flinched at his touch, glaring up at Ti-Jean. "Get the hell off..." His voice was barely audible, more a dry croak.

The bokor ignored him, his eyes closed as he muttered something under his breath, the words indecipherable to the men around him. Then his eyes snapped open suddenly, and he yanked back his hand.

Wandell caught a fleeting – and unexpected – glimpse of fear on Ti-Jean's face. The hunter scowled down at Sam; what the hell was there about this kid that could rattle a bokor?

"His loa is... scarred. I've never felt... But, the power... there's so much potential..." Suddenly aware he was thinking aloud, Ti-Jean quickly schooled his features and turned to DaCoste. "He's dehydrated. Get some fluids into him. I want him strong when the time comes." He shot a look of contempt at Wandell. "And I want the hunter's poison flushed from him."

DaCoste nodded and disappeared back into the cabin.

Wandell snorted in disgust. "Winchester's plenty strong – Maillet's black eye is proof of that. As for what I shot him up with, if cats and dogs can deal with it, a horse like him will be fine."

Ti-Jean stepped in front of Wandell, towering over him. "You were told to use the dust, nothing more."

"Look, Ti-Jean, you wanted the kid, I got you the kid." Wandell glared up at the bokor. "Now, let's talk payment."

Ti-Jean smiled unexpectedly. "Let's."

Wandell never saw Ti-Jean's hand move, but suddenly he was choking on the dust blown in his face.

Ti-Jean's eyes narrowed. "We'll leave it to the loa to decide payment for your service."

Wandell couldn't breathe; he felt like he was drowning on dry land. He clawed at his throat, desperately trying to draw in air but his lungs had seized, his throat closed tight. His legs gave out and he fell to his knees, eyes widening as he stared up at the bokor.

The bigger man's cold smile returned. "It seems that the loa have decided it is you who must pay them."

Those were the last words Wandell heard. He was dead before he hit the ground.

xxxXXXxxx

Sam couldn't seem to clear the fog from his head, but he was pretty damn sure he'd just watched the hunter – Wandell – drop dead. He wanted to sit up and see where the man had fallen, make sure he wasn't hallucinating, but he couldn't get his body to co-operate.

He could see Ti-Jean though, the big man's cold smile now directed at Wandell's partner.

"Do you demand payment also?"

Wandell's partner said nothing, just gave his head a terse shake.

The squeak of the screen door pulled Ti-Jean's attention to the cabin. A man – the knife-wielding man from the warehouse – stood at the top of the steps holding a bottle of water, staring down at Wandell's corpse.

Ti-Jean chuckled. "Surely you're not shocked, DaCoste? Wandell went against the wishes of the loa. It should be no surprise he failed the test."

Sam screwed his eyes closed, trying to process what Ti-Jean said. Loa? Those were Voodoo spirits. What the hell did Voodoo have to do with all this?

Ti-Jean turned again to the man on the stairs. "Take care of the boy. Now - before the loa ask me to test you, too!"

DaCoste swallowed, moved quickly down the stairs and crossed over to the crate.

Sam groaned involuntarily as Wandell's partner wrestled him into a sitting position, then scowled as he was smacked in the face.

"Come on, kid, wake up. We need to get some water in you."

The hunter moved behind him, supporting him as Sam's head fell back. Sam jumped when DaCoste slapped his cheek, this time more forcefully.

"Wake up."

Sam scowled at him, then coughed and choked as DaCoste held the bottle to his mouth and poured the water, none too carefully, down his throat.

"Drown him and the same fate awaits you," Ti-Jean hissed in the background.

Sam coughed up as much water as he was able to swallow but, damn, it felt good in his parched mouth. DaCoste tried again, this time taking more care. They'd force-fed him more than half the bottle before Sam rolled his head away.

Ti-Jean nodded, seemingly satisfied and the hunter lowered Sam back into the crate. Ti-Jean then bent down, pulling aside his prisoner's sweat- and water-drenched T-shirt to study Sam's tattoo. Sam frowned; the tattoo again. Why the hell were they so fascinated with his tattoo?

Ti-Jean's expression darkened, but he said nothing until he stood up. "Take him to the peristyle, secure him there. And take care no further harm comes to him." He shot a look at Wandell's body. "Throw that in the river – our friends are hungry. They-"

Sam never heard the end of Ti-Jean's directive as consciousness drifted away. He was completely unaware of being lifted from the crate and carried off through the trees.

xxxXXXxxx

Tie straightened, Dean slipped on his jacket, yanked open the door and almost ran smack into Parise, who was standing in the doorway about to knock.

She stepped back, startled. "Dean… hey."

"Parise." Dean frowned, thrown by her unannounced appearance. "What are you doing here? How did you even know where to find me?"

Parise pouted playfully. "Nice to see you, too, mon cher." She shook her head. "You told me last night… said you'd given up the room here to your brother. It's how we ended up at my place, remember?"

Dean's frown deepened. He'd had a fair amount to drink the night before but not giving away their home base was S.O.P. Even drunk out of his gourd he didn't make rookie mistakes like that. "Look, I don't mean to be rude but I'm… late for work."

Parise nodded. "I just wanted to return these." She held up a small carrier bag and smiled. "Boxers and socks – freshly washed." She winked at him. "They turned up when I put the room back together."

Dean absently took the bag and dropped it on the chair just inside the room, Parise's words from the night before suddenly spinning through his head - "… a direct descendant of Marie Laveau…." "Throw in a few Cajun words and a Juju doll…." Voodoo references were second nature to her. OK, juju dolls were in every tourist shop in the city and Marie Laveau's name plastered on everything from soap to candy bars, but now he knew Bo could be linked to Sam's disappearance, it was another coincidence he couldn't ignore.

"Dean?" Parise wore a puzzled smile at his silence.

"Um, thanks – for the clothes." Dean pulled the door shut behind him. "I really have to go."

"Of course, of course…." Parise's face crumpled with worry as she reached out and touched his arm. "Something is wrong. There is a great fear that… that wasn't there last night."

If this was an act, she was damn good. Her concern seemed completely genuine. Fine; he'd put it to the test. "One of my co-workers didn't show up today. It's not like him and his family's worried. We're all worried, but we'll find him. I'll find him." Dean's eyes narrowed, watching for any tell she knew what he was talking about, but there was only apparent surprise and alarm.

"I'm so sorry. Look, if his family is open to it, I may be able to help." Parise reached into her purse and pulled out a business card, offering it to Dean. "Give them this. I know we laughed about my mojo, but my gift is real. Whatever I can do…."

Dean studied Parise, the unsettled feeling back in full force. It was way more than the usual morning-after-the-night-before-awkwardness. But it wasn't what she said that sparked his Spidey senses, as much as what she didn't say – he was standing there in a suit and tie after telling her he worked in pest control and that hadn't even raised an eyebrow. He slipped her card in his pocket and offered a tight smile. "I'll keep that in mind. If they're interested, I'll be in touch."

She smiled and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. "Take care, mon cher. I hope your friend returns home safely."

He nodded, then quickly moved off to his car. Crossing the parking lot, Parise gave him a friendly wave as she reached her own vehicle. As Dean pulled out onto the road, he grabbed his phone and hit redial.

Jack answered on the second ring. "Dean? Something happen?"

"Maybe." Dean glanced back through the rearview mirror. "What do you know about a local psychic named Parise DuBois?"

"Parise?" Jack sounded surprised. "Damn, I haven't heard that name in years. Where'd you pick up on it?"

"Met her last night at a bar about a block from our motel."

"She's in New Orleans?"

"Yeah." Dean frowned. "So, you know her?"

"Kind of. I knew her daddy, Bill. He was a good ol' Cajun boy like me. He fell hard for a Creole woman named Marie LaSalle." Jack whistled. "Sweeter than a praline she was. They got married, were building a nice life together… 'til a drunk driver put an end to it. Ran Bill off the road on his way home from work when Parise was about five.

"Marie was devastated. She'd always followed Voodoo but stayed in the light until Bill was killed. Then she kinda went off the deep end, said she couldn't live without him and started asking her priest to bring him back. When he told her no, that the loa frowned upon such things, she turned to Ti-Jean and the dark side."

Dean scowled into the phone as he turned into the closest of the three gas stations. "Did he do it? Bring her husband back, I mean."

"No, but the drunk driver who hit Bill died mysteriously in jail awaiting trial."

Dean shoved the car into park. "And you think Ti-Jean hocus-pocus'ed him into an early grave for revenge?"

Jack snorted. "He's done far worse for less. Marie and Parise were part of his loyal flock from there on in. Marie died – cancer, I think – when her daughter was about fifteen, and Ti-Jean became Parise's guardian 'til she finished school. She left the state to go to college, and kind of turned her back on New Orleans after that. Settled up in New York, as I recall. She's been off my radar since then."

Dean frowned. "But you know all the players in this neck of the woods, know she's tied to Ti-Jean - you had no clue she was back in town?"

"No - and, trust me, that sticks in my craw. But when you're dealing with the kind of black magic Ti-Jean's wrapped up in, they got plenty of ways to block us... hide what they're up to."

Dean's scowl deepened. "Look, I'm suspicious on a good day, and today's anything but…. But we have a woman with psychic abilities, raised by a bokor. She drops off the Bo map for twelve years then shows up again, right when that bokor is facing his biggest threat, from someone nobody can identify. To me that says one of two things – she's either here to back him up, or-"

"To take him down." Jack whistled. "Damn, you think she's the rival bokor."

"Ding, ding, ding." Dean shook his head. "You wanna take down a dark priest, what better place to hide than right under his nose, pretending you're there to help."

"It would take some pretty powerful spellwork to keep Ti-Jean in the dark." Jack cleared his throat. "I say we need to find out what that little lady's been up to for the past twelve years."

xxxXXXxxx

Parise's cell phone rang as she watched Dean drive away. She answered without checking the caller ID, knowing who it would be. "Ti-Jean."

"You have the other Winchester?"

"Not yet. It's best we wait."

"It is not for you to decide what's best." Ti-Jean's deep voice was dangerously low. "The loa demand we take him."

Parise's knuckles whitened as she twisted the fabric of her skirt, but her voice did not betray her building anger. She'd learned a long time ago to mask her true feelings. "Exploit weakness… that's what you taught me. Each brother's biggest weakness is the other. You have Sam, so Dean's focus is solely on getting him back. While he's… occupied, that gives us time to prepare. Far better than trying to cage two lions just waiting to tear off our heads, ne c'est-pas?"

Ti-Jean sounded suspicious. "Or is it that you've gone soft for this man? The hunter casting a spell on the witch?"

Parise twisted the fabric a little tighter. "I'm just being practical. We need time." She frowned, this time genuinely puzzled. "The loa did not reveal to me the tattoo… as a test, perhaps?"

"Indeed. A reminder that you are still the apprentice… that you still have much to learn." Ti-Jean's impatience was evident. "If the loa are pleased when the Blood Moon rises, my place will be secured – and, with it, so is yours. If the loa are displeased, it's not my wrath you need fear."

Parise forced a smile into her voice. "Dean will be ours when we need him. The loa will have no cause to be displeased with me on that." She stared down the road where Dean's car had disappeared moments earlier, and frowned. "The bond between the brothers, the loa that guide them… I've never sensed anything like it."

Ti-Jean's laugh was cold. "And that is exactly why we need them."

"Of course." Parise frowned at the images suddenly flashing through her head. "Tell those couillons you have working for you to watch Sam closely. He –"

"You let me worry about the boy." Ti-Jean's voice was harsh now. "Find the spell and bring the brother to me by sundown."

Ti-Jean hung up before Parise could respond.

xxxXXXxxx

Consciousness returned slowly this time. Lifting his head with a groan and blinking to force his vision to focus, Sam glanced around to get his bearings; it was light – which meant he wasn't in the crate anymore. For that simple fact, he said a silent thank you.

Even as the fog of drug-induced sleep lingered, the hunter in him took over, assessing his surroundings, gathering information to aid in escape.

He was lying on the dirt floor of an empty room and he was alone. There was a single door in the wall opposite him with a small window just to the left of it. He could see daylight through gaps in the raw wooden boards that made up the walls, and the rafters above him were exposed; the room was more likely a shack or storage shed or some kind.

Sunlight forced its way through the window's grimy glass. Given the angle of the shadows, it was late morning, but Sam had no clue which morning; he could've been unconscious for hours, or days.

Sam tried to sit up but grunted as pain shot through his shoulders; he was still restrained, his hands tied behind his back around some kind of slim, wooden support column near the center of the room. His ankles were bound too, but thankfully, the tape that the woman had ripped from his face had not been replaced. His feet were still bare, but now so was his torso, his slashed T-shirt disappearing at some point while he was out cold.

Sam pushed himself up with a groan, then leaned heavily on the column at his back while he waited for the room to stop spinning. He closed his eyes and listened. It was quiet. Real quiet. There was no traffic, no trolleys, no voices… just the buzz of insects that had found their way through the gaps in the walls, and the distant splashing of water.

"Take him to the peristyle, secure him there."

Ti-Jean's orders filtered into his memory. Peristyle – that was a type of Voodoo church. He glanced around; the pole he was secured to was in the center, there was a dirt floor and behind him an altar covered in clay pots, glass jars, and candles. Those all fit. He froze as he took in the elaborate design which decorated the floor around the perimeter of the room. What could be mistaken for a foot-wide carpet, but was actually a piece of ceremonial artwork known as a veve. Powders in shades of brick red, white, black and soft yellow were poured onto the floor to form hundreds of occult symbols, honoring the pantheon of Bo loas, or gods. Creating it was an incredibly intricate, labor-intensive process and done only for heavy-duty ceremonies. That meant something big was in the works – and soon, given it was almost complete - and he was right smack in the middle of it.

"One problem at a time, dude," Sam muttered as he shifted his attention to getting himself free. He'd been tied up when he came to in the warehouse, so to secure him to this post, his kidnappers would have first had to separate his wrists, and that meant removing the original tape. And if they were lazy…. Sam wrestled with his restraints, testing them out and, for the first time since the two hunters barged into the motel room, he smiled. The most efficient way to get tape off wrists was to cut through it, which his captors had done. But they hadn't removed the old tape when they'd re-bound his wrists; they'd just added more. The cut tape inside allowed his wrists to move, which gave him some play. With time, he could work the tape, stretch it and, ultimately, pull a hand free.

Time. Sam wondered just how much he had. Logic suggested his captors would be routinely checking up on him, but he had no way of knowing what that routine was. He kept an eye on the window as he worked at the tape and sifted through the few facts he knew.

Ti-Jean seemed to be calling the shots, which would make him the bokor. The woman from the warehouse, the one Dean had met at the bar, had been giving orders there and was likely the mambo, or priestess, serving as the bokor's second-in-command. Carrie answered to the mambo which made her a hounsis or novice priestess, perhaps?

Then there was Wandell, the hunter. If payback was his only motivation, he could have killed Sam at the motel. Instead, he'd handed Sam over to the bokor. Why? Ti-Jean had killed Wandell so it seemed pretty clear that hunter and bokor were not fighting for the same cause. Sam could still see the big bokor's face, dark eyes boring into him. No. He wanted something from Sam, and it had nothing to do with Wandell's revenge.

As Sam worked to free himself from the tape, he glanced down at his tattoo.

"Yeah, he's got one, too."

Both the bokor and the woman at the warehouse had seemed taken aback by his tattoo. The 'too' meant the woman had obviously seen Dean's – no real surprise there given his brother's plans when he left the bar with her. But she also knew what it meant, rightly guessing that Sam would have the same protection from possession.

"This has just… delayed things, not changed them."

Those words made Sam shudder. Was the end goal of all this possession of some kind? Possession played a major role in Voodoo. The priests, dark and light, could communicate with the loa, act as their spokesmen, but if a spirit wanted to speak directly to followers, it could also possess a person, ride them for as long as it deemed necessary. Unlike demons, however, loa didn't like roommates; when they took over a body, the human soul was kicked out. The soul, in theory, was tethered to the host body and would bungee back in when the loa vacated the premises, but there were stories of the tether snapping and the soul being lost. Unclaimed by Heaven or Hell, it quickly became a formless angry spirit while the body lived on as a zombie.

Sam shuddered; he was still haunted by his possession by Meg, not to mention his actions while soulless. There were only a few things he could think of that would be worse than reliving either of those nightmares, but simultaneously becoming an angry spirit and a zombie was definitely one of them. Just another reason to get himself the hell out of there.

A shadow jumped across the glass, and Sam threw himself to the floor, feigning unconsciousness just before the door opened. Thanks to his long hair falling over his face, he could keep his eyes partially open and watch as booted feet crossed the floor toward him.

This man – his guard? – was alone. He carried a gun but the hand holding the weapon was relaxed at his side. That, and the lit cigarette hanging from his mouth suggested he wasn't expecting a fight. The man stepped closer, studying him; Sam closed his eyes, held his breath and listened. There was nothing until a sudden explosion of pain as the guard delivered a vicious kick to his prisoner's ribcage. Sam grunted involuntarily but maintained the pretense of unconsciousness.

Seemingly satisfied that the drugs or dust still had Sam in their grip, the guard turned to leave. Sam opened his eyes to see him pull a two-way radio from his belt and lift it to his mouth. "LeBlanc reporting in. Prisoner check confirmed. Out." With that, he stepped outside and closed the door.

Sam retched. Fuck – that hurt. But then, what didn't? His headache was a Category Five and building, his shoulders were burning and his legs were numb from being bound so long. Now he could add bruised ribs to the list. He snorted softly as he resumed trying to free his wrists. Apparently the do no harm directive had yet to trickle down to the front line troops.

The guard came back three more times – every half hour or so by Sam's estimation – before Sam worked the tape loose enough to yank a hand free. When he did, his arms fell to his sides, feeling rubbery and weak. He'd expended a helluva lot of energy just getting loose – and this was the easy part.

Sam inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly as he leaned forward to pull the tape from his ankles. If the guard kept up the pattern, he'd check in again soon. Sam quickly had his legs free; with a surge of adrenaline, he shoved himself to his feet, only to crash onto his knees when the room tilted and pins and needles took his legs out from under him. Hissing at the pain of restored circulation, he shot a wary glance at the door, expecting the guard to come barreling back in to investigate the noise. When he didn't, Sam's chin dropped to his chest in relief. Pull it together, Winchester, he admonished himself. To take out that guard, you gotta get moving… get your legs working.

Again, Sam pushed himself up but this time kept a hand on the column until he was steady and then stumbled over to the wall behind the door, out of sight of the window and of anyone who came into the shack. The guard had a gun and Sam was a long way from full strength; one misstep and he'd either get himself shot or the guard would raise the alarm – either way he was screwed. Then, he waited.

When finally he heard the doorknob turn, Sam's chest tightened. His heart raced and muscles tensed in an instinctive fight or flight response. Fight won; the guard barely had time for it to register that his prisoner was no longer tied to the post before Sam's fist slammed into his temple, snapping his head sideways and sending the gun flying from his grasp. A second punch sent him crashing to the ground, and Sam tumbling after him. Fueled by equal parts fury and adrenaline, Sam threw three more punches and the guard was out cold without ever throwing a counter-punch.

Sam staggered to his feet, snatched up the guard's Glock and dragged the man behind the door.

Curling his fingers around the gun made Sam feel a little less vulnerable, but what he really needed was a phone to warn Dean. Or did they have his brother locked up somewhere else? Think, Sam. Think. He ran a hand over his jaw; his stubble was short, barely a day's worth – that meant he'd likely been unconscious only overnight.

"You and your goons stay clear of the brother…. "

The woman at the warehouse had told the men to stay away from Dean while she figured out a way to break the tattoo's protection. He could only pray that was taking a while and Dean was still free.

Sam checked the guard's pockets – cigarettes, matches, a switchblade, but no phone. He started to push himself up, but scowled at his bare feet; if he had to run for it, he needed shoes. He pulled off one of the guard's boots, trying it against his own foot; it was about three sizes too small. No surprise there; post-growth spurt he'd always had a bitch of time finding shoes that fit. Dean had teased him mercilessly about the size of his feet and Dad surprisingly, had come to his defense. "You're a big boy, son. If you didn't have big feet, you'd fall over." The memory fueled a smile as Sam studied the boot and flicked open the switchblade. Maybe he could–

A loud splash outside grabbed his attention and sent his heart racing again. No voices followed but Sam's flight response now kicked into overdrive. He had to go. He dropped the boot but wrestled off the guard's shirt; the man was short but muscular so it looked like it would fit. It did, at least without fastening the buttons.

Moving quickly toward the door, Sam snatched up the two-way radio, pressed the Talk button, and tried to mimic the guard's voice. "This is LeBlanc. Prisoner check confirmed. Out." He held his breath, expecting an angry demand to know, "Who the hell is this?", but like with the guard each time previously, the check-in was met with only radio silence. He exhaled in relief. That should give him a half-hour or so before anyone suspected anything was wrong; more if he took the walkie-talkie with him and kept up the false check-ins until he was a safe distance away.

But away from where? It hit Sam then that he didn't have a clue where he was. His captors had mentioned something about a 'camp' which likely meant outside the city, but was he a mile outside or a hundred?

Sam stepped cautiously outside, shielding his eyes against bright sun as he got his first look around. The 'peristyle' seemed to be an old fishing shack right on the bayou. There was a slow-moving river less than fifteen feet in front of him, a large fire pit halfway between the river and the shack, and the ground was cleared in a fifty-foot radius around the building. Trees along both banks were heavy with moss and narrow inlets on either side of the shack were thick with algae.

There was a small, decrepit wharf littered with sun-bleached crawfish traps that stretched out into the river but no boats were moored to it. It would be an easy swim to the far side – the river was less than fifty feet across – but there were no buildings, no roads, no other signs of civilization to run to. He glanced to each side of the shack; ditto – no other shacks, no other guards, just miles of tree-lined riverbank.

There was however, a rifle leaning against the wall and a box of cartridges on the window sill. Sam tucked the handgun into the waistband of his sweat pants and the walkie-talkie into the breast pocket of his shirt before snatching up the rifle. He checked to make sure rifle was loaded, dropped extra cartridges into the other breast pocket, then crept along the weathered veranda, cringing as the rotten wood groaned under each step. Peering around the corner, he saw a path that led through the trees away from the river but still no guards. This didn't make sense; they'd gone to a lot of effort to grab him – imitating Dean, the dust, the drugs, the damn crate – why leave him down here with just one guard?

The answer came with a sudden splash and a strange sound that was a cross between a cough and a hiss. Sam's head snapped toward the river in time to see two large – very large – alligators breach the surface, move soundlessly through the water and pull themselves through the mud onto the shore, their unblinking gaze locked on Sam.

Alligators. That explained the rifle. Instinctively, Sam raised the weapon; a shot would scare off the gators, but it was also bring whoever was on the other end of that walkie-talkie to him in a hurry.

With no other viable option, Sam ran – flat out.

He jumped from the veranda and barreled along the path through the trees, raising his arm as protection against low-hanging branches and ignoring the pain in his feet as roots and rocks ripped into them. As he ran, his Dad's deep voice from a childhood hunt in the Everglades echoed through his head. "Gators may look slow, Sammy, but they're damn fast, in the water and on land. Shooting them's your best bet, but if your only choice is to run, make sure you've got a helluva head start."

Sam had covered nearly 500 yards before he dared slow down enough to glance over his shoulder; there was no sign of the gators.

He stumbled to a stop, falling to his knees and coughing as he fought to catch his breath. Warily, he scanned the trail ahead for any new signs of danger. The path continued curving through the trees toward some still-hidden destination, the ground on either side of it sloping steeply into swamp. He swallowed, eyeing the bracken water suspiciously; if there were gators in the river, god knows what was hiding under the swamp algae. Now he knew why there was just one guard: This path was the only way to and from the shack – the only access, the only means of escape. Mother Nature had all other options covered. All his captors had to do was watch wherever this trail came out.

Sam groaned loudly as he pushed himself to his feet, screwing up his face as the adrenaline ebbed and pain registered. Lifting his foot, he saw blood mixed with dirt covering his sole. Son of a bitch – why couldn't that guard have bigger feet? He hobbled forward, rifle raised. Paradoxically, with each step he was both closer to freedom, and to running into those who'd taken it from him.

Away from the river, it was sticky hot, the late season heat wave that had gripped Louisiana since they'd driven into the state still in full force. His borrowed shirt was quickly soaked through with sweat, his hair plastered to his head. He stumbled around yet another bend in the trail, and then threw himself behind the cover of a tree when the path opened suddenly into a large clearing.

On the far side, directly opposite Sam, a gravel driveway disappeared into the trees, likely wending toward a road. To the right was a large cabin, to the left an oversized garage of some sort, likely built to hold a boat as well as a vehicle.

Peering around the tree, he saw two men standing beside the wide wooden steps that led to the cabin door. Sam didn't recognize either one, but he doubted they knew of his escape; there had been no chatter on the radio and while each man carried a handgun, the weapons were holstered.

Sunlight glinting on metal drew his focus to the second building, and to an old Jeep parked beside it. If he couldn't get his hands on a phone, wheels were the next best thing. But to get to the vehicle, he would have to cross right in front of the guards. Both buildings backed onto swamp; to sneak behind them would mean wading through the swamp and the clear memory of the gators climbing onto bank by the shack told him that was a bad idea. Damn it. The place was set up like a fucking military compound – controlled access from every side. Anyone coming or going was forced into plain sight.

Sam shifted his focus to the guards as he sorted through his options; he could hunker down and stay hidden until dark, then pray there were enough shadows at the perimeter of the clearing for him to make it over to the Jeep. But the longer he waited, the greater the odds his escape would be discovered – and the more time that woman had to sink her claws into Dean.

His second option was riskier, especially since he had no idea how many people were in that cabin, but since he couldn't afford to wait, it was really his only choice.

He moved to a larger tree, positioning himself so he was hidden from both the trail and the clearing, pulled the radio from his pocket and lifted it to his mouth. "It's LeBlanc – the prisoner's loose! Repeat – the prisoner's loose! Damn couillon jumped in the river!" Couillon was Cajun for fool – or at least he hoped it was. Sam switched off the radio and held his breath.

The guards swore loudly enough for Sam to hear them, then charged across the clearing, chambering their guns as they unknowingly ran past their quarry's hiding place and down the trail toward the cabin. Sam waited until they were out of sight, then pushed himself up. He was forced to duck down again when the cabin door was thrown open and the man from the warehouse – DaCoste? – barreled down the stairs, yelling into a walkie-talkie. He was followed by Ti-Jean, the fury in his expression in complete contrast to the calm manner in which he moved. They both walked right past Sam and headed down the trail, about a minute behind the first two. The moment they disappeared from sight, Sam launched himself across the clearing, ignoring the pain as the sharp gravel bit into his injured feet, and dived into the space between the garage and the Jeep.

He stayed hidden and unmoving except for the heaving of his chest, expecting to hear a door banging, a shout of, 'He's over here' or, worse, the click of a gun behind his head. When there was nothing, he cautiously pushed himself up, scanning the windows and doors, the clearing and the trail. He saw no one.

Hope momentarily dulling the pounding in his head and the pain in his feet, Sam tossed the rifle into the Jeep and crawled up onto the seat after it. He kept himself hunched over and out of sight as he pulled wires free from under the steering column, used the switchblade to strip them, then said a quick prayer as he sparked the ends together. The engine had barely roared to life before Sam was upright, had shoved the Jeep into gear and was slamming his foot onto the accelerator. Yanking the wheel hard left toward the road, he was aware of sudden movement to his right. DaCoste and Ti-Jean had doubled back and were now running into the clearing toward him. Sam's eyes widened when he saw DaCoste raise a gun; Sam straightened the wheels and gunned the engine, gravel spraying out from under the tires as the vehicle launched itself down the drive.

Three shots rang out, two quickly followed by metallic thuds as they slammed into the Jeep. Sam grunted as the third ripped through the canvas of the cab before burying itself into his biceps, but his foot never came off the accelerator – not when the bullet hit, not when the Jeep careened around a sharp bend, not when he smashed through the locked chain-link gates at the entrance to the compound, and not even when he yanked the vehicle hard left onto the cracked pavement of a two-lane back road.

He was free.

xxxXXXxxx

"Imbeçile!" Ti-Jean knocked the gun from DaCoste's hand, but not before the latter had squeezed off three shots. "I was clear – his blood must not be spilled." He scowled at the dust cloud kicked up by the speeding Jeep. "Parise was right. I underestimated the boy…." He shot a murderous look at DaCoste. "And overestimated your ability to do your job."

Breathing heavily, DaCoste looked sullen. "We thought he was in the water."

Ti-Jean snorted in disgust. "You heard Tissot – his guard is out cold. If LeBlanc sounded the alarm after the boy jumped in the river, who knocked out LeBlanc?"

"I…." DaCoste decided that question was best left unanswered. He turned toward the garage. "We'll go after him."

Ti-Jean held up an arm blocking his path. "Very lucky for you, there's no need for panic." He smiled. "We know exactly where he's running to, n'est ce-pas?"

Continued in Chapter 3…

A/N: And the trouble for both brothers is only just starting *evil chuckle* Thanks so much for reading.