Got a shitload of notes to make here, so I'll stick the disclaimers up here and talk about the music at the end. First, the dubious ass-covering: All things Supernatural are the property of Kripke and the WB and anyone else lucky enough to point at the show and say, "I did that." I envy you, you bastards. Similarly, all things Hellblazer are the property of Vertigo, Alan Moore, et cetera ad infinitum.

And now for the other thing: Judging by the timeline we've been given ("Scarecrow" takes place in April, and John disappeared six months earlier; also, the pilot starts on Halloween), Dean would have been in New Orleans in early October 2005. I'm not sure what the writers intended in regard to real-life events, but I imagine the pilot was written and even filmed long before Hurricane Katrina struck at the end of August. More to the point, I have absolutely no intention of writing such a recent tragic disaster into a crackporn crossover. Whatever the timeline is supposed to be, for the purposes of this story, it takes place in an alternate universe where Katrina either doesn't happen, or hasn't happened yet.

In regards to the Hellblazer universe, this takes place after the All His Engines storyline, after Chas leaves John in Los Angeles: "I move in mysterious ways, Chas. I'll walk home."

Finally, and I do hope this goes without saying, but you never know: The depiction of voodoo herein is about as close to reality as Supernatural or Hellblazer's depictions of any of their salient plot points, to wit, there's a vague resemblance if you turn your head and squint. Everything I know about voodoo, I learned from Wikipedia.

Thanks to Maryavatar for the lovely Brit-pick. Any inconsistencies left are totally my own fault.

Notes on music

Finding Hell
by Maya Tawi

part one


It was Dean's job, start to finish. He noticed the pattern, he cut out the newspaper articles, and when he spread them out in front of his father and John Winchester nodded and said, "Good eye, Dean," he couldn't help the small burst of pride he felt at the approval, any more than he could help the even smaller burst of resentment that the man could still sometimes make him feel like he was twelve or something, instead of twenty-freaking-six.

He ducked his head as he gathered up the clippings, just in case his face decided to do something undignified or unmanly. "It's about a thousand miles, give or take. We leave tomorrow morning, we could probably make it before midnight."

His father gave him a hard look. "With who behind the wheel, exactly?"

Dean grinned, composure regained; he never lost it for very long. "Hey, I never hear any complaints till the lights start flashing."

"Because you can't hear anything over that music you play," John shot back. It was an old argument, and his lips twitched as he spoke.

Though Dean would never say so, these were the times he liked best, when his father wasn't barking orders, or falling into a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red, or even when they weren't hunting, but rather when he talked to Dean almost as an equal, a partner instead of a son. Those times never lasted, but Dean didn't really mind. He figured a little went a long way.

"Anyway," John was saying, "I have to be in Lincoln tomorrow. I already told Carl I'd check it out."

Dean was very, very careful not to let his disappointment show. It was hard not to crumple the newsprint in his hands, but he managed. "What about New Orleans?"

John shrugged. "You can take care of it yourself, can't you?"

"Well," Dean said after a long moment. "Yeah. Sure."

God, he sounded like a nervous virgin, and he wasn't even nervous. Just surprised, really. He'd been on his own jobs before, of course, but they'd all been local, a day's travel from wherever his father was at most. He'd only needed the backup once, but knowing John was always there if he needed him, Dean had assumed that was deliberate.

So either he'd been wrong, or he'd just gotten some kind of promotion and missed the memo.

His father smiled a little at the expression on his face, and he hastily rearranged his features into a confident half-smirk. "Hey, man, you wanna turn me loose in New Orleans without supervision, I'm game."

John narrowed his eyes, all amusement abruptly fled. "Do the job, Dean."

Dean felt his smile freeze, like concrete setting, but it didn't change. He said mildly, "Always do."

Transportation wasn't an issue. Dad had his own wheels, though they rarely used it on jobs, because Dean loved driving while John viewed it as a necessary evil, and the only thing Dean loved more than driving was driving his car. He did wonder if the battered truck would make the drive-- John didn't show his vehicle nearly the level of attentive (obsessive, Sam would correct, except Dean wasn't thinking about Sam anymore) care that Dean lavished on his Impala-- but it was a fleeting thought. One thing Dean had learned, above all else, was that his father knew what he was doing. Generally.

So there he was, hurtling down I-55 in the dark, blasting some Creedence to get in the Louisiana mood and enjoying the rare opportunity to sing along without feeling like a dork, when his headlights flashed over a figure trudging along the side of the highway and some impulse he didn't quite recognize compelled him to slam on the brakes and back up.

The figure had stopped next to a sign that warned Picking up or discharging of passengers prohibited. He was little more than a silhouette, darker black against the night with only the glowing end of a cigarette to break up the monotony, but Dean couldn't shake the feeling that the man was watching him approach-- not his car, but him.

He stopped halfway on the shoulder and leaned across the front seat to throw open the passenger door. The face that peered in at him was older, lean and weathered but not unattractive, under a rebellious tangle of dark blond hair. He looked kind of like Sting used to, back when Sting was still even a little bit cool.

"Get in or get lost," Dean said shortly, still not sure why he'd stopped in the first place.

Blue eyes squinted at him through a curl of smoke. "Not much of a reader, are you?" the man asked, and he sounded English, not like Masterpiece Theater English, but Beatles English.

Dean glanced back at the sign and allowed himself a small grin. "Oh, I read. I just don't always pay attention."

"That's a comfort," the man said blandly. "Where to, squire?"

"New Orleans," Dean said, ignoring the small warning bell in the back of his brain. "You?"

"That'll do." The man started to slide in, and Dean stopped him with an upraised hand. He eyed the hand, looking for a second like he might bite it off.

"Two rules," Dean said, undaunted. "First, not one word about the music unless you're complimenting my taste."

"And the second?"

"You burn my upholstery, your ass is mine."

"Fair enough," the man said, settling into the passenger seat with a swirl of rumpled tan trench coat. "Most blokes just ask for it up front."

Dean considered that, then declined to respond. "And roll the window down, you smell like a strip club."

"Eau de titty bar? It's me signature scent."

"Classy." He shifted gears and hit the gas, slamming his passenger back against the seat with a creative string of curses. Dean grinned into the darkness ahead, his earlier doubts all but vanished. Warm wind whipped through the open window, the sound and the roar of the engine drowning out the music, and he cranked up the volume just in time to hear John Fogerty warn I see trouble on the way.

Yeah, he thought, and here I come.

Over the next two hours, Dean learned that the man's name was John as well, a common enough name that it'd stopped freaking him out back in grade school; that he lived in London and was taking the scenic route home; and that if he seemed vaguely peeved at being in the US in the first place, it was because he couldn't find Silk Cut cigarettes anywhere and regarded all other brands as a piss-poor substitute. This didn't, however, prevent him from chain-smoking all the way down 55 and onto I-10, until Dean, who was no wilting flower himself, started gritting his teeth every time he heard that damned lighter click and fighting the growing urge to cough in a pointed manner. He kept his mouth shut and comforted himself with the fact that the first time ash touched leather, John was gone.

He did ask, as long as John was feeling chatty, how he'd ended up in Mississippi in the first place. In Dean's experience, Mississippi wasn't a place many people found themselves by accident, or even usually on purpose.

"Favor for a friend," John said tersely.

"And he left you thumbing rides? Not much of a friend."

John lit a new cigarette, cupping the lighter in his hands, his features briefly aglow. "Don't you fret, son, he's still light-years ahead in the books. He's just burning off some extra karma." He took a deep drag and let the smoke trickle from his nostrils. "'Sides, I hate bloody planes."

Dean slanted him a quick sideways glance. "Oh yeah? Scared?"

"Can't smoke on 'em anymore." And there was something, a wry knowing twist to his lips, that made Dean snap his attention back to the road and stomp down on the pedal, feeling the engine rev as a prickle of heat crept up from under his collar.

"Hate to break it to you," he said after a pause, during which Danzig promised, If you wanna find hell with me, I can show you what it's like, "but I don't think you'll be able to paddle home."

John shrugged and flicked ash out the window. "Better a flight from the East Coast than L of fucking A."

"Dude, you hitchhiked from L.A.? No wonder you reek."

And so on, until Dean almost didn't remember that John never did answer the question.

Another time, he asked, "So what do you do, John?"

"Cock things up, mostly." John gave him a long, impenetrable look, for once not framed by a column of smoke. "You?"

"Troubleshooting." The lie was smooth and just this side of glib.

"So technically," John said, "you're my competition."

Dean shot him a series of quick looks, eyes cutting back and forth between the highway and John's face. He was leaning back against the door, hands in his coat pockets, chin tilted down and staring up at Dean through shadowed eyes. From that angle, he looked about twenty years younger, and really, really fucking hot.

Dean gripped the steering wheel and stared sightlessly ahead, neck muscles snapping taut as bowstrings, and didn't ask another question for a long time.

The next question, in fact, came just after they passed through the city limits. "Where to?" Dean asked, glowering at the oncoming headlights in the opposite lane from under lowered eyebrows. He was slumped back against his seat, driving with one outstretched arm while the other leaned against the half-open window, and his neck ached from not moving for so long. It was late even by Dean's standards, but the bar scene was still going strong, and he swore loudly and slammed on the brakes as one drunken partygoer stumbled out into the street in front of him.

"Here's as good as any," John said as they slowed, already unbuckling his seat belt. "Cheers for the ride, mate."

"Hey, wait," Dean began, but he was already gone, door slamming behind him as he strode off down the sidewalk, without even offering money for gas. Not that Dean had gone out of his way, but there was the extra weight to consider.

He watched the tan-and-blond figure retreat into his rearview, slowly vanishing into the crowd. He could still catch John if he ran, but he wasn't really out any cash, and there was no other reason to.

Dean shook his head and eased back into the slow-moving traffic. What he needed to do now was find a room and get some sleep. His last coffee had been way too many hours ago, and tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

And if there was some part of him that was disappointed, it could just shut up right the hell now.

The motel was cheap, which was pretty much all it had to recommend it. Dean had three fake credit cards in his wallet, one of which was probably still good, but he was feeling superstitious about this job. Maybe it was just the city's energy, or maybe it was the need to prove he could do this on his own, without a safety net. He intended to end this job with a kill, not an arrest for credit card fraud.

The desk clerk was a small, grizzled, basically oval-shaped old man, with shoulder-length silver hair surrounding a gleaming bald spot. He didn't look up as Dean started to count his cash and only grunted, "Hourly?"

"Nah," Dean said. "I'm feeling lucky. Think I'll spring for the whole night."

He scrawled Angus Young in the registry out of habit, and accepted his key with a gracious nod. The room was, as predicted, a rathole, but the sheets only looked yellow with age, and the wooden floor was meticulously swept. Dean collapsed onto the twin bed with a squeak of rusty springs, and lay there for a few minutes on top of the covers, fully clothed, staring at the ceiling.

He should sleep. He tried to hold on to the thought, repeat it like a mantra in his head, but it was soon drowned out by other voices. I should sleep. Do the job. You're my competition. Always do.

"Fuck it," he said aloud, and slapped the mattress and sat up. He was in New Orleans, for fuck's sake. He was single, he was twenty-six, and he was on his own.

Sleep could wait.

No alarm clock and no wake-up calls-- Dean figured the closest this place got was the mid-morning rousting-- so he set his cell phone alarm for nine, and was just sober enough to make sure it said a.m. instead of p.m. before crawling naked under the sheets and passing out cold. It seemed less like a good idea the next morning, when the tinny chirping jerked him straight from blessed unconsciousness into a world of pounding pain and too-bright sunlight, but Dean forced himself out of bed with the vague if reassuring knowledge that it had been worth it. Probably. As far as he could remember. There wasn't much there, just the fleeting memory of brick against his back and an eager mouth on his dick; if he'd been thinking straight, he would have brought her back to the motel for something a little more involved, maybe, but long years of traveling with his father had drilled into him rule number one: Never In The Room, Ever. So far they'd never had The Talk, and Dean preferred to keep it that way.

Still, blowjobs were good, blowjobs were fantastic in fact, and he strolled into the police station about an hour later with a distinct bounce in his step. The suit itched like a motherfucker and the tie felt like it was strangling him, but it couldn't be helped. Dean didn't bother dressing the part when questioning the locals, but cops were a different matter-- not harder to deal with, just different. And cops on their home turf, well, the penguin disguise went a long way, as long as no one looked too close at his boots.

He found the suit in charge and flashed his FBI badge, too quick for the guy to get a good look at the name. "Agent Malcolm Young. So what've you got?"

Nobody questioned him. With one officer dead, they seemed to take federal involvement for granted. It made Dean antsy, wondering if the real FBI was going to show up soon, but he didn't let it show, just nodded and listened and doodled on his notepad and even took a few notes. He'd gleaned the basics from the news articles: one corpse missing from St. Louis No. 2 cemetery, a dead guy in the Lower Ninth, and the MIA's fingerprints found at the scene. The victim had been some big name in the voodoo scene or something, and the cops had figured it for a hit, someone digging up the body and then leaving the prints to make it look like a zombie killing.

"Well, sure," Dean said, "it's not like a real zombie did it," and dialed back the sarcasm just enough to slip below the radar.

Detective Gabirel laughed politely, sounding not amused in the least, his expression still grave; the effect was unexpectedly creepy. "And, well, you know what happened next."

Dean nodded. "Sure. Sorry about your partner, by the way. She was a good cop." It was a safe guess. Even if Constance Lavelle'd had a starring role in the Rodney King tapes, now that she was dead, she would only ever be remembered as a good cop.

Gabirel didn't even acknowledge the condolence. "It has to be related. That was the only case we were working, and she'd stayed late to look at the files. She found something, and the guy killed her for it."

Dean leaned against the guy's desk as he studied the file, trying to look casual. "So what are you holding back?"

"Excuse me?" Gabirel looked like he might laugh, or punch Dean, or go get a sandwich; face like his, it was hard to tell. Dean had his fingers crossed for the sandwich. His stomach was finally starting to settle, and he knew he'd be ravenous in about fifteen minutes.

"Bobby," he said disparagingly, when it became apparent that no snacks were forthcoming. "Come on. I know the papers don't have the whole story. There's gotta be some other reason, because frankly, that's pretty thin, buddy." He was enjoying himself, despite the lingering remnants of his hangover. Asshole Fed was always a fun role to play.

Gabirel's jaw worked for a few seconds. "It was all in the files. You shoulda been briefed."

"Yeah, well, pretend I wasn't. How do you know it's the same guy?"

"Keep flipping," Gabirel said, and Dean obediently shuffled through the file until he reached the crime scene photos and Gabirel said, "That one. That's where they found her."

Dean frowned at the photo. It was a meat-packing plant; Lavelle's body was sprawled on the floor, staring up at the hanging ribs above her, face frozen in a rictus of near-comic surprise. His gaze shifted, and his frown deepened.

"That symbol," he said, tapping the photo. "There's something on the floor, right? I've seen it before." It was hard to make out, faint smudges of white on the concrete, but it looked like a cross, with some kind of box beneath it.

"Really." Gabirel arched a cool eyebrow. "You're familiar with vodun, Agent?"

Dean flashed him a small, toothy grin. "I've run into it once or twice. That's a veve, isn't it? Eggshells?"

"Talc powder," Gabirel said grudgingly. "Mostly gone when we got there, but we were able to reconstruct the design. It's the cross on the crypt. Baron Samedi."

"So there was a ritual going on, and Detective Lavelle must've interrupted." Dean pretended to slip the photo back in the file, and tucked it up his sleeve instead as he continued to read. Lavelle's neck had been snapped, same as the first guy-- he quickly checked the name again-- Yves Martine. "Any prints at the scene?"

Gabirel shook his head. "Too many. And no, none of them were Green's. If Constance surprised them, they wouldn't have had a chance to plant the prints."

Everett Green, the missing corpse resting in somewhat less than peace. "Have you talked to Green's family?"

"You know," Gabirel said, "of all the questions you could've asked just then...." He trailed off.

"Hey," Dean said, "I'm unpredictable. Also, unless these guys picked their meat puppet at random, it's gotta be someone who knew him. Just a thought."

"Yeah, well, believe it or not, we had that thought too. No surviving relatives. His brother died a couple years ago, and there's no one else."

He nodded. "So not a relative. Did he have a coven?"

"Seriously," Gabirel said. "Did you even read the file?"

Dean felt his face go slack for just a split second, a brief hiccup in the program before the lie slid easily onto his lips. "Well, I was gonna, but they had this movie on the plane, you know, and...." He gave his best sheepish grin and shrugged.

"Really?" Gabirel looked interested. "Which movie?"

Another hiccup. What was the last movie he'd seen? When was the last time he'd even been in a movie theater without having to kill something?

"Princess Bride," he said finally, and managed to shave off all but about a foot of the hundred-yard stare.

"You're kidding. They showed that as the in-flight? What a ripoff."

Dean's eyes snapped back into focus, and he scowled. "Hey. It's a good movie, okay? Can we get back to the case now?"

"Fine, fine," Gabirel said, raising his hands in surrender, but for some reason he looked marginally friendlier now. "Yeah, we asked around the coven. Shockingly enough, no one seemed keen to talk to us."

"Well," Dean said, pushing himself off the desk and slapping Gabirel lightly on the shoulder, "thanks, Bobby, I really appreciate it. I'll keep you updated."

"You--" Gabirel stared at him, anger warring with incredulity on his face. "You're shitting me. This is our case."

"Hey, you keep right on doing your job. You're doing great so far." Dean's grin was quick and sharp, the sarcasm a little more obvious now, and Gabirel's eyes started to narrow. "I'm gonna follow up a few leads of my own. We'll compare notes, right? I'll call you when I've got a minute. Seriously, you've been a big help."

His last glimpse of Robert Gabirel's face was cheering enough to chase away the last of his hangover. Dean strutted down the sidewalk to the imagined bass line of "Back in Black", and decided it was maybe time to get that sandwich.

Dean shucked the suit the first chance he got, tossing it in the general direction of his duffel bag and slipping back into his jeans and T-shirt with a happy sigh. One cop snowed, two potential leads, and a real Cajun sandwich; not a bad morning's work.

He spent the rest of the day talking to Yves Martine's relatives and trying to chase down the members of Everett Green's coven. He knew enough about voodoo to pose as an eager hounsi looking for a hounfour to join, and by the time he decided to clock off that night, he'd narrowed it down to one person who'd had a connection to both men-- some guy Green used to hang with, who supposedly had some kind of mad-on for Martine. All told, Dean was feeling pretty damn pleased with himself.

Dad's cell phone went straight to voice mail; the old man was probably out hunting. Dean leaned back against the cool metal railing behind him, waiting for the message to finish, and watched the crowd growing in the streets and on the sidewalks with appreciation. New Orleans was definitely his kind of town.

"Hey, Dad," he said when the beep finally sounded, eyes trailing after a wiggling sorority ass even as he spoke. "Just checking in. Got a few good leads today, and I'm looking at this one guy, calls himself Papa Minuet or something. Let me know if that rings a bell with you."

He opened his mouth to continue, then thought better of it and started to hang up. At the last second, he stopped and raised the phone again, and kept his voice casual as he added, "Be careful, all right?"

He just wasn't used to being so far apart, that was all. He was his father's only backup. It didn't feel right, not being there with him for the job.

Dean shook off the sudden sense of foreboding and stepped out into the stream of pedestrians, determined to enjoy a well-earned celebration, and was barely halfway down the block before a familiar flap of tan in the crowd caught his eye. His feet veered off the sidewalk before his brain even got involved in the debate, and he hurried across the street, just in time to see the back of a soiled trench coat vanish beneath a neon sign proclaiming, surprisingly enough, GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.

He stopped with one foot on the curb, chewing the inside of his cheek as he considered. He hadn't thought about John-the-hitchhiker all day, too lost in the familiar routine of lies, and now he couldn't help remembering. The dizzying aroma of cigarette smoke, the dangerous energy that grated at Dean like an itch he couldn't quite scratch, and that long, intent look... suddenly he couldn't think of anything else.

Dean didn't even bother trying to fool himself. He knew exactly what it was about the guy that got under his skin; he was too well-versed in the subject to mistake it for anything else. Dean liked to consider himself in touch with his inner child, if it counted that his inner child was one horny bastard. And the last guy had been ages ago, almost two years now, which meant that if history was any reliable indicator, he was just about due to circle back around to the less-than-straight side of then fence.

It wasn't a thing; with everything else they had to worry about, it was pretty much the farthest from a thing that a thing could get. Dean liked women, but he also liked a little variety now and then, and as far as his father was concerned, Dean could be off humping livestock on his off-hours as long as he got the job done. It was one of the many perks of never having had The Talk, or really any Talk at all. And if he'd never told Sam either, that was because it was nobody's business but his own, and maybe a little because Sam had lived among the Real People for the past four years, and he might have picked up a few of the natives' less savory customs.

It just wasn't something Dean was prepared to deal with, especially when he didn't even talk to Sam anymore. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his brother from a vantage point other than the bushes across from his apartment building.

And Sam was so not the issue, and if there had to be an issue and Dean had to pick just one, it would be that John was definitely not his type. Dean wasn't too picky about age in either direction, barring the usual standards of decency and good taste, but John had to be about his father's age, and the name thing wasn't easing that discomfort level any. And he was the first person in recent memory to make Dean feel so tongue-tied with just a few innocent words. Dean felt unpleasantly out of his depth.

But there was that look, and that irresistible sensation of barely-contained chaos that always piqued Dean's interest. And anyway, what were the odds of running into him again in a city this size? It was like fate or something. If nothing else, Dean could at least get a beer out of him in exchange for the ride.

He steeled himself and strode up to the door, and stopped as an arm the size of a tree trunk appeared in front of his chest, barring his entrance. Dean's gaze followed the arm back to its owner, and he found himself staring up at the bouncer's impassive face.

"Ten bucks," the bouncer said.

Dean jerked his head inside, where he could see John seated at the bar, lit cigarette dangling from his hand. "That guy didn't pay."

The bouncer frowned, looking confused. "What guy?"

He sighed and pulled out his wallet. "Never mind."

The club was small and dimly lit, more like Dean's usual haunts than the raucous tourist traps he'd explored the night before. The customers and the girls on stage all shuffled around with the same listless boredom. Nobody seemed to be watching the flesh on display. The whole thing was more depressing than erotic, and Dean almost turned and walked back out. The prospect of wasting ten bucks made him hesitate, and then John turned and saw him, and he was caught.

It was hard to swagger under that acid blue stare, but Dean managed, and slid onto the next stool with a studiedly casual air. "Hey, small world, huh?"

"I'm getting that," John said. He gave Dean a look that reminded him uncomfortably of a cat watching a mouse, torn between disemboweling it and playing with it first. "What's wrong, did I leave me toothbrush?"

"Just figured you could buy me a drink, that's all. You know, in case you wanted to pay me back for gas or something."

"I did notice you didn't ask."

Because you left before I could, Dean didn't say, figuring he was being baited, and from the gleam in John's eye he hadn't entirely succeeded in not biting. "Call it a good deed. Charity always makes me thirsty."

John waved at the bartender. "Another for my friend here, mate."

The bartender moved vaguely in the direction of the glasses, and Dean nodded at the half-full pint on the bar. "Guinness?"

"It's shit," John said succinctly. "Don't know what the fuck you people do to it at the border, but it's criminal."

Dean shrugged; as far as he was concerned, beer was beer was beer. "Hey, if you don't want it...." He reached for the glass.

"Hands off, grabby," John said, moving it out of reach. "Get your own."

"I'm trying."

John's grin was sharp and sudden and totally unexpected. "Patience is a virtue, son."

"Not my strong suit," Dean said. "And cut that shit out, would you? I'm not your son."

"And a good job you're not." It was innocuous enough that Dean didn't think twice about it, not until John leaned forward, dropping his voice, and added, "Enough fannying about, don't you think? I know what you want."

Dean felt his temperature shoot up, a dizzying tingle slipping across his neck like the ghost of a touch. He reached for John's cigarettes and lit one, more to keep his hands busy than out of any real desire to smoke. Was John offering? Was Dean even interested?

Who the hell was he kidding? Of course he was interested.

He inhaled, savoring the long-forgotten burn, and exhaled before the sensation became unpleasant. "Oh yeah?" he asked, lowering his own voice and propping his elbow on the bar, relaxing into a loose-limbed sprawl. "So what do you want?"

"Dangerous question, squire."

"I think I'll take the risk."

Another sharp grin, an almost-movement, and Dean was still assessing his prospects and considering how best to work around to Your place or mine, and wondering if it would just be weird if John said yours, when his cell phone rang and he nearly fell off his stool.

John's lips twitched as Dean grabbed at the bar and tried not to look like he was steadying himself. "Have it set on vibrate, have you?"

Dean opened his mouth to retort, then saw the caller's name and said instead, "I gotta take this."

"Of course you do," John said with another twitch, and Dean almost hit him. The patent disbelief in his voice spoke volumes; he thought Dean was chickening out.

For a split second, Dean considered turning off his phone and staying out of spite, but it was Dad and this could be important. He rolled his eyes and said "Whatever," crushed out the barely-smoked cigarette, and slid off the stool, making his way to the exit with the phone against one ear and a finger jammed in the other. "Dad, hey, what's up?"

The finger did nothing to muffle John's laughter; the grating sound followed him out onto the street. Dean was two blocks away before he realized he'd never gotten his drink.

The conversation, Dean reflected later, went a little bit like this:

Dad said Here, have some useful information and Dean said Hey, thanks, and then Dad said, By the way, here's some more useful information, and don't you wish you'd known that yesterday? and Dean said No problem and Dean's brain said Oh shit.

That was the short version. The longer version went rather more like this:

Dean said, "Dad, hey, what's up?"

"Papa Minuit?" It was all the greeting he got. John pronounced it Min-wee, and Dean fished out the scrap of paper where Martine's sister had scrawled the name, unwilling to speak it out loud.

He squinted at the small, neat cursive. "Yeah, that's it. What is that, French?"

John sounded amused, in a brisk, businesslike kind of way. "You can never pronounce Latin correctly either."

"Hey, my crappy Latin gets the job done. So what's the deal with this guy?"

"You know it's French. You should--"

"Yeah, yeah." Dean rolled his eyes, thinking. If this was something he was supposed to know, it wasn't because his father expected him to have a French-to-English dictionary in his head; he had to look at it sideways. He couldn't think of any Latin words that sounded similar, so.... "Minuit, min-you-it. Not a dance. Midnight?"

There were no words of approval, just of emphasis. "Midnight, Dean."

"That supposed to mean something to me?" But even as he said it, the name popped into his head, complete with eight-year-old's spelling. "Shit. Papa Midnite? I thought he was dead."

"Everybody did," John said grimly. "Be careful, Dean, this could get big."

"Don't worry. I'm getting close."

"That's what I'm worried about." Dean heard him take a deep breath. "Listen, Dean, there's nothing here in Lincoln. I'm heading out to California tomorrow."

Dean almost didn't want to ask, but.... "What's in California?" He'd asked the question a few times over the past four years, with the same trepidation, every time the subject arose, and he kept hoping that one day the answer would be Sam, that John would be the first to let go of whatever festering grudge they'd both clung to over the years. But not now, not when Dean was stuck here on a job. No way was Dad going to see Sam without him.

"Another job," Dad said, and for once Dean's relief outweighed his disappointment. "Town called Jericho. There's this highway outside town, drivers have been disappearing there for years. I'm going to go check it out."

And then it sunk in, and Dean tried to ignore the sick, slow roll of his stomach. California. And he'd thought Nebraska was a long way away. Even if he finished up in New Orleans tomorrow, Dad would probably be done in Jericho before Dean could make it out there.

"So, what," he said after a moment, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to sound casual, "are we splitting up now?"

There was an almost imperceptible pause. "Do you think you're ready?"

Dean rolled his eyes again. "Hey, Dad, guess what?"

"I know," John said, a hint of a smile in his voice. "You're a man now. I forget sometimes."

"So I'll see you at home?" Home these days was a one bedroom in a run-down part of Wichita, where Dean slept on the pull-out sofa. They moved a lot between jobs, until Dean sometimes couldn't even remember his own address, but though they'd never been back to Lawrence, they had never left Kansas either. Dean didn't know what kept John there, and he'd never wanted to ask.

"I hope so," John said, and there was a different note to his voice now, one Dean couldn't quite place. "I'll leave the clippings for you, just in case."

Just in case. It was SOP. Still, Dean frowned, vague, nameless concern unfurling in the back of his brain. Carefully he asked, "Everything all right?"

John sighed. "Yeah, Dean. Everything's fine. Listen, there's something else. What do you know about Constantine?"

Dean scratched at the back of his head. "Hey, you know, me and history, we never really--"

"I mean the man, Constantine, a warlock. British, mid-fifties. He's been spotted in your area."

Dean stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, ignoring the bodies jostling around him. "John Constantine?" he demanded, stomach knotting, dull metallic dread flooding the back of his throat.

"You've heard of him? He's dangerous, Dean, be careful. If he's in town, there's something big going on."

"Uh," Dean said, staring over his shoulder, as if he could still see John Constantine from here. "Dangerous how?"

John's voice sharpened. "Trust me, Dean. Stay away from him."

"No, I do, I believe you, I just--"

"Do you remember how Papa Midnite died?"


John was unamused. "He committed suicide."


"So Constantine was there. Be careful."

"You said that already."

"I'll say it again. Dean, if it gets too hot, get out immediately. We'll go back together as soon as I'm done in Jericho."

Dean's grip tightened on the phone. "I'm not bailing, Dad."

"There's no shame in it, son. I know you can handle things. You just might need someone there to watch your back."

Quietly Dean asked, "Is that an order?"

"No," John said after another pause. "Just an available option."

"Then forget it. I'm staying."

"I can skip Jericho, be there by tomorrow night--"

Dean took a deep breath. "Dad, I got it, okay? Do the job. It'll be fine."

"Remember what I said. If you need me--"

"I'll call. See you at home."

He tucked the phone in his pocket and ran back to the bar, and wasn't surprised at all to find Constantine already gone.

Dad's revelation pretty much killed any desire Dean had to stay out and keep partying. Instead, he bought a bottle of Southern Comfort and returned to his shitbag motel room, slamming the door shut behind him, then spinning and kicking it for good measure. It wasn't enough. He wanted to hit something, break bones, but the only bones in the room were his own, and he had to focus on the situation, assess the damage.

He dropped down on the edge of the unmade bed and slumped forward over his knees, dangling the bottle between his fingers. So John-the-hitchhiker was John Constantine, some big deal warlock or magus or whatever the word for it was this week. He couldn't be the one behind the killings, not when just yesterday he'd been thumbing rides in Mississippi. Still, it was too convenient for there not to be a connection, Constantine being here now, if this Minuit dude and Papa Midnite were the same person. Even if they weren't, it was a weird coincidence, unless Midnight and variations were a popular name in voodoo circles. It troubled Dean to realize that he didn't know, that his knowledge of voodoo was that spotty, and he resolved to start boning up on the subject.

But in the meantime, he had no choice but to assume that Constantine's presence wasn't an accident. The only question was, which side was he on?

The bottle still hung between his knees, unopened. That, at least, was a situation he could remedy. Dean twisted off the cap and took several long swallows, tipping his head back as the sickly-sweet burn hit his chest

He surfaced, gasping, and wiped a hand across his mouth. "All right," he said aloud, his voice deeper than usual to his own ears, and he felt the rasp in his throat like the rumble of the Impala's engine. Dean swallowed again and cleared his throat. "So this Minwy guy wants Martine out of the way, so he reanimates his old pal Everett to do the dirty work." And Constantine was involved how?

His voice sounded hollow in the small room. Ringing silence greeted the words, and Dean almost wished he'd asked his father to come help after all. This was what he needed Dad or Sam for, more than backup or anything else; Dean thought best out loud, and he'd gotten used to someone being there to answer, bouncing ideas back and forth and putting the pieces together as they spoke. Before Sam left, it'd gotten scary sometimes, the lightning-quick way the two of them could figure out a demon or a haunting or whatever the job was that week, trading off sentences like they shared a brain or something. Dean wondered sometimes if they'd still be able to do it, if the next time he saw Sam it would be like talking to a stranger, or if they'd just pick up where they left off like nothing had ever happened.

Usually, when Dean was on his own and he needed someone to help him think, he'd call Dad to talk it out, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was talk to his father. He didn't know how much the man knew about his extracurriculars, but if John even suspected, Dean didn't think he'd be able to talk about Constantine without letting on that he kind of really wanted to bang the guy, and that was just a whole can of worms that he didn't want to get into. It was galling to realize that he was too shaken even to trust his own self-control. They hadn't even done anything, for fuck's sake.

So to speak.

And his mind was still wandering. "Hell," Dean muttered, setting the half-empty bottle on the floor and leaning over to pull his laptop from under the bed. It was a last resort, but he was getting desperate. If he fucked up this job because he was too horny to think straight, he'd never forgive himself, even if Dad did.

The motel didn't have its own wireless network-- shocking, that-- but there were enough networks in the area that Dean connected without much trouble. It took him a couple of minutes to remember his password, but he got it on the third try, his license plate number backwards, and signed on to the message service. The window opened with a cheery ding and a message: 0 of 1 friend(s) online. Swinch06 is unavailable.

"Fucker," Dean muttered, and slammed the computer shut. No Dad and no Sam; he was on his own.

And he was over-thinking things, he realized, trying to rush the job, get it over with, instead of taking it step by step. He knew more or less what he was dealing with, knew who he needed to talk to, and had a pretty good theory about what had happened, and that was more than enough to go on. Constantine was the wild card, the one piece of the puzzle that didn't make sense. All Dean had to do was stay the hell out of his way.

His resolution to avoid John Constantine lasted approximately ten hours, until he drove up to Papa Minuit's house the next afternoon, just in time to see the back of a tan trench coat disappear through the front door. Dean stopped at the opposite curb and sat there, engine idling, as he stared at the house and wondered not for the first time just what the hell was going on.

Minuit's place was hard to miss. Like the others on the street, it was a perfect rectangle, the front door centered in one of the short sides; unlike the others, the clapboard was painted dark purple, and the front door and windowsills a flat, velvety-looking black.

"Man," Dean told the house, "your neighbors must love you."

So he could either drive around the block and wait for Constantine to leave, or try to sneak inside and eavesdrop. His father's voice echoed in his ears; he's dangerous; stay away from him. Coming from a man whose concept of danger was a little more elastic than most, it almost gave him pause.


"Hell with it," he said, and killed the engine. The absence of its sound was deafening, and he kept talking to fill the silence. "Like that's ever stopped me before."

Dean glanced over his shoulder before he popped the trunk, mostly out of habit. The street and the yards were empty, and if he did see something moving, he'd probably have a heart attack. The afternoon heat was oppressive, even in October, and the air was humid and still, like the earth itself was rotting. The whole street felt dead.

"Cheery thought," Dean muttered, and turned his attention to the hidden compartment. He considered the shotgun, then considered the possibility of being seen breaking into someone's house in broad daylight with a visible weapon, and slipped a handgun into his waistband instead. Almost as an afterthought, he propped one boot on the edge of the trunk, pretending to tighten the laces, and slipped a knife into the sheath on the side.

"Right," he said at last, slamming the trunk and turning back to the house. "Here's to living dangerously."

He skirted around the house, ducking beneath the windows, and found another black door around the other side, directly across from the front. He pressed himself against the violet clapboard and reached for the doorknob, expecting to feel resistance. Instead, it turned under his hand, and the door opened soundlessly.

Dean gave the door a skeptical look. It remained stubbornly ajar.

Wary, tense, he crept inside, ears straining for the sound of voices or footsteps. The house was dark, the only light coming through the open door. He shouldn't have bothered avoiding the windows; they were shrouded in dark, heavy canvas. The same dead quiet from outside extended into the house, and for the first time, Dean realized that the silence was complete. He couldn't even hear any birds.

He slid the gun from his jeans and edged further down the hall. The muted thud of his boots on the bare wood reassured him that he hadn't gone deaf, and he stepped as softly as he could, keeping his back to the wall.

Dean recognized Constantine's accent before he could make out the words. He sounded pissed, and also kind of amused. Dean heard something that sounded like gay day, and wondered if he'd misread the situation entirely, before Constantine's next words dispelled his doubts. "Don't think this'll end well. Those spirits, they're a tetchy lot."

The answering laugh was startlingly deep, and seemed to bounce around the whole house; Dean actually felt the wall vibrate against his back, and held his breath.

John asked coolly, "Something I said?"

The voice was just as deep, with a thick, unfamiliar accent that for some reason made Dean think of molten dark chocolate. "John fucking Constantine tells me to be careful who I piss off."

"Call it the voice of experience."

"And how does the voice of cunting experience feel about cleaning my foreskin with his tongue?"

Dean bit his lip hard to stifle a snort, and tasted blood.

"Queasy," Constantine said matter-of-factly.

"Too fucking bad. It's been a few hours."

This time Dean almost choked.

"Much as I'd love the play-by-play," Constantine said, "I must go wash my hair. D'we have a deal? No grudges on either side."

"Shit on my fucking dick, Constantine, are you afraid of me?" The voice sounded amused at the prospect.

"You flatter yourself. In many different ways."

Impossibly, the voice deepened. "Watch your ass, cockmonkey. I own your fucking life."

Dean tensed and gripped the gun tighter. He was closer to the door now, close enough to hear the sizzle of a match being struck. There was a brief silence, then a rustling and the sound of another match flaring to life. At last, the voice-- Minuit's, at a wild, flailing guess-- said, sounding much happier, "Congratulations, fuckwit, you've won yourself some leeway. Find me a warm, willing gash and you've got yourself a reach-around."

"I do hope that's metaphorical," Constantine said, and Dean thought, What he said. "Anyway, I'm fresh out. I did bring this, though."

"Aren't you a good little shitlicker?"

"Rum with peppers in," Constantine continued without missing a beat. "I hear your sort are fond of it."

"You hear, you hear," Minuit mocked. "The little white bitch did his homework. Do you practice fellatio when no one's looking?"

"Where's the fun in that?"

Another pause, during which Dean heard the unmistakable sound of someone drinking, and felt vaguely ill in sympathy. Then there was another sound, slow and monotonous, so out of place that it took Dean a few seconds to recognize; when he did, he turned and stared at the wall, like he could see through the plaster or something, to make sure he wasn't going insane and Constantine was, in fact, doing the golf clap.

Almost lazily, Minuit said, "You're pissing me off. Fucking stop."

"Yeah, you might start raping my virgin ears again. That'd be tragic."

"Listen, you pricksheath--"

"Know what?" Constantine said abruptly. "Message received. You can say naughty things, you can get all tarted up, you'll take me cigs and chug atomic Bacardi. You're Papa bloody Guede," and again Dean heard gayday, and felt himself go cold, "all right? Consider my knickers sufficiently wet. So is it a deal or not?"

Papa Guede. That was-- he knew what that was. Papa Guede, and what Gabirel had said, that Baron guy, the symbol at the crime scene; suddenly it all fit together. Dean held the gun in his left hand and fumbled in his pocket with the right for the crime scene photo. He squinted at it in the dim light, tracing the white smudges with his trigger finger. The cross on the tomb. It was the veve of Baron Samedi, who was Papa Guede, who was, among other things, the lord of death. If Dean was following the conversation correctly, and so far it was pretty damn hard to misinterpret, Constantine was standing in the next room with a death god.

The man deserved credit for sheer balls, at least.

Dean licked his lips and started to back away from the door. He'd heard enough, and he wasn't about to take on a death god with nothing but a few bullets and some silverware. Zombies were one thing, but this was a whole different level of bad. Maybe Dad had been right; maybe he couldn't take this one on himself.

Maybe he should stop acting like a whiny five-year-old and start getting his shit together.

He was halfway down the hall when he misjudged his position and felt his heel thud against the baseboard. Dean froze, eyes wide and fixed on the door. Were they still talking? He couldn't hear anymore.

Seconds passed. Dean held his breath and kept staring at the door, willing it to stay shut. After a few more moments, he exhaled slowly and took another step back.

His back bumped against something warm and solid, and the scent of stale tobacco filled his nose. Dean spun around and jumped back, heart pounding, gun raised. The sudden surge of adrenaline left him breathless.

Constantine narrowed his eyes and took one last drag of his cigarette, then tossed the butt to the floor. "You're bloody persistent, I'll give you that."

"Move," Dean barked, his voice ragged in his chest.

"Say pretty please."

"I will shoot your ass."

"Kill me, will you?" Constantine cocked his head to the side. "And what would dear old Mary have to say about that?"

Dean felt the blood drain from his face, felt old anger start to burn in his stomach, and dug his thumbs into the grip of the gun. "What the hell do you know about my mother?"

Constantine's eyes were dark and shadowed, and Dean thought he saw a flicker of flames before the man said softly, "I know she died screaming."

Blind rage descended, as flat and black as death itself. Dean growled low in his throat and pulled the trigger, and as the bullet passed through him, Constantine vanished in a puff of smoke.

His last thought, before something blunt and heavy crashed into the back of his skull, was that he really should have seen it coming.

In an unexpected blow for normalcy, Dean woke to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He started to grope for it out of habit, then discovered several things in quick succession: one, he couldn't move his arms; two, he couldn't move the rest of him either; and three, his head hurt like a bitch.

"Morning, sunshine," came a voice Dean was really starting to hate.

"Mmph," Dean said without opening his eyes. Four: his mouth was taped shut. Well, that blew.

At least he probably wouldn't be asked to fellate a death god.

"Imagine you're a bit curious about all this by now."

He opened his eyes reluctantly and looked around, taking in the situation with growing annoyance. He was lying on a bed with a paper-thin mattress that did nothing to cushion the springs digging into his back, and his wrists and ankles were tied at the bedposts. This room too was dark, more black canvas hanging over the only window. Constantine sat hunched over between Dean's boots at the end of the bed, the only piece of furniture in the room; all Dean could see was the stiff set of his shoulders, and the still-ringing phone being flipped from hand to hand. Dean's phone.

He growled and rattled the bedposts a few times to convey his irritation.

Constantine didn't turn around. "And I didn't even put a quarter in."

Dean slumped back to the mattress with a frustrated groan.

"Your dad keeps calling," Constantine continued, still not looking back. "Wondering what his spawn's up to, maybe? Or does he know?"

Dean rolled his eyes at the ceiling. Great; time for the fun and exciting taunting portion of tonight's enforced captivity.

"Long story short, squire, I need your help."

He said it so casually, it took Dean a minute for the words to sink in. When they did, he tensed, curling his fingers into fists, and glared at Constantine's bowed head in disbelief.

Constantine stood and turned, fumbling in his pockets, neither avoiding Dean's glare nor meeting it. Dean waited, resigned, as the requisite cigarette was lit.

"Thing is," he said at last, "you're in no position to decline. So me asking, it's more a formality, like."

Dean's fists were still clenched. He twisted the right one around and raised his middle finger.

Constantine regarded the finger with something like fond amusement, which did nothing to dispel Dean's growing suspicions that the man was seriously psycho. "Ah, memories. Lucky you I'm not the sensitive sort."

Dean repeated the gesture with his left hand.

"In stereo? Goodness me." Constantine smirked. "I'd ask how much you heard, but that seems a tad rude. Suffice to say Will bloody Shakespeare in there convinced Papa Guede to mount him, and now the loa is stuck. Which isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds."

Loa, that was the word. They were spirits, the gods of voodoo, and seemed to enjoy possessing people-- mounting them, which a twelve-year-old Dean had snickered over while Sam, eight and still relatively innocent, looked on in confusion, What is it, Dean, what's the joke? And just like that, he was hearing his father's voice again, remembered poring over the dense texts like it was yesterday. Papa Guede, the god of life and death and fertility, the corpse of the first man, who loved dirty jokes and filthy language and had the power to heal and to kill and to create life after death, not real life but zombie-life, and that was why Dean needed Dad or Sam with him, because he never remembered these things until it was too late.

But that wasn't how it was supposed to go. The loa were all-powerful; they fucked with humans, not the other way around. It didn't make any sense. "Stuck?" he tried to ask through the gag, and Constantine either understood him, or just figured it was the logical response.

"First rule of magic," he said, blue smoke trickling from his lips as he spoke. "There are no rules. There's always a back door. Minuit found one, and now he's just giddy with girlish glee over his cleverness. Sad, really. His real name's Chester Beaver, and don't think he didn't get a kicking in the schoolyard because of it. So he calls himself after Papa Midnite and thinks he'll show 'em all one day, 'cept even Midnite wasn't brain-dead enough to muck about with a death god."

He took another drag, and Dean waited, helpless against the rising tide of exposition. But Constantine didn't continue, seeming content to watch Dean with dark, shuttered eyes, and Dean made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat.

"Boring you, am I?" Constantine flicked more ash on his jeans, and he growled. "Better for the both of us if you'd never picked me up. My fault, I suppose, could've just watched dear old Chester implode from a distance. But Midnite was a tricky bastard, and now he's a tricky bowl of soup. Had to make sure an' all." He shrugged. "C'est que story of my bloody life."

Dean grunted; Get on with it.

"So you see," Constantine said with a faint smirk, "you turn up here and you've buggered us both. So really, you owe me now."

"Like hell," Dean tried to spit.

"Unbend a bit, squire, you're getting off easy. You don't even have to do anything, just lie there and play along." Constantine's smile was sharp and brilliant, a razor blade flashing in the dim light. "Chester knows he's playing with fire. Thinks he can buy off the Baron with a spot of human sacrifice." He pointed the glowing end of the cigarette at Dean like an accusatory finger. "And guess who's got the starring role?"

Dean lunged against his restraints again. The rope held tight against his wrists, digging into his skin like an Indian burn, like those annoying-as-hell few months when Sam thought it was the best trick ever to grab his brother's arm and just twist, and if Dean was unamused then, now he was frantic and spitting mad. Constantine just tossed the cigarette over his shoulder and rested a hand on the doorknob.

"Big night tonight," he said over his shoulder, as Dean spat garbled curses at his back. "Best be getting my party frock on."

The door slammed behind him, leaving Dean alone in the dark. Somewhere, he couldn't see where, his cell phone started to ring again.

The worst part, Dean decided later, was that he had no way to keep track of time.

Well, no, that wasn't quite true. The worst part was being trussed up in the spare room of some dude named Beaver who was possessed by a death god and intended to carve up Dean like a Christmas turkey. But that would come later, and in the meantime, the worst part of waiting wasn't what he was waiting for, but rather the crushing boredom entailed by the wait. He itched to fight, to do something, but all he could do was stare at the ceiling and fantasize about scratching his nose.

He'd already killed a few minutes, and lost a few layers of skin, trying to wriggle out of the ropes and/or break the bedposts; if he could just get a hand free, he could get the knife from his boot and the rest would be cake. If he could even reach his boot. Which, in the end, was a moot point, because the bedposts were sturdy and the ropes held, and the only thing Dean had to show for his troubles was a set of oozing rope burns that would make for some interesting scars in a day or two.

He slumped back against the mattress, breathing heavily through his nose, and resigned himself to waiting some more. What little light had filtered through the canvas seemed to be less now. It must be nearing sunset. Tonight, Constantine had said, and goddamn it, Constantine.

Dean closed his eyes with a muffled groan. He just couldn't figure Constantine's angle, and Dean was good at angles; usually they were all he saw. But Constantine... confused the hell out of him. It should have been inconceivable that not too long ago he'd wanted to screw the man against the wall, but however much he thought about it, it was still pretty damn easy to conceive. Even pissed off and fucked over and maybe just a little bit worried, he couldn't deny the urge was still there-- dimmed to an undercurrent, now, but very much present.

It was the sheer power that surrounded Constantine, the sense of the whole world being a chess board beneath his nicotine-stained fingers. Or maybe not chess, nothing so organized and rule-bound; more like dice, where the game wasn't fixed and the outcome was still random, but somehow he knew exactly how to work the numbers. Even knowing who he was didn't take the edge off any. This was a man who frightened even Dean's father, and the repressed teenage rebel Dean had never had a chance to indulge practically salivated at the prospect, even as he felt guilty for it.

And that attraction was dangerous, because it could cloud his judgment. Even now, some part of Dean, and he was pretty sure which part, wanted to go along with whatever Constantine was planning and trust him to get Dean out alive. As if Constantine gave a damn for any ass other than his own. Dean didn't have to know him to figure that much; it was in the man's eyes, that ruthlessness, the familiar willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done. The only difference between them was that Dean's job was saving people, while Constantine's... had yet to be determined.

Unfortunately, trusting Constantine seemed to be his only option at the moment.

His phone rang a couple more times, and each time he jerked at the ropes out of instinct, itching at not being able to answer. Dad had to be worried sick by now. How long before he ditched the job in Cali and came running to the rescue? Dean would almost rather trust Constantine. He could already see the disappointment in his father's face, and he didn't think his ego would be able to absorb the blow.

Then again, at least he'd be alive to suffer.

The darkness grew slowly from near-total to absolute, until Dean couldn't even see the outline of his own body anymore. It rattled him more than he cared to admit. He wouldn't be able to see anything, not even the door opening. Finally he closed his eyes and listened instead, the darkness easier to deal with when he didn't have to see it, until what seemed like hours later, there came the soft whisper of displaced air and the faint shuffle of approaching footsteps. His eyes flew open then, straining in the dark until he could almost make out the figure, a solid man-shaped silhouette looming over him. He held perfectly still, not even daring to breathe, and at the first cold touch to his wrist, he yelped and nearly leapt out of his skin.

Icy fingers unknotted the ropes, seeming undisturbed by his struggles. Dean's left hand came free, and he swung blindly in the dark, but the fingers held fast, the chill unyielding grip not entirely unlike handcuffs. He was manhandled into a sitting position, right wrist freed and then quickly lashed to the left behind his back, and just for a split second he almost felt like crying.

His ankles were untied with the same inhuman efficiency, and then he was flipped over onto his stomach, held in place by a firm hand at the small of his back. His struggles grew increasingly panicked, but no matter how he fought and swore through the tape, the grip didn't falter. Before long, his legs were bent up behind his back and hogtied to his wrists. Then, just in case the humiliation wasn't already complete, the figure picked him up and slung him over what Dean assumed was its shoulder, having the two main effects of making Dean feel like an idiot, and also like his arms were about to pop out of their sockets. "Hey, easy," he tried to say, "I don't bend that way," but all that came out was an indignant grunt.

The man carried him like that out into the hallway. It wasn't Constantine, he knew; he'd half-hoped, but Constantine didn't look like he could lift anyone bigger than a ten-year-old, and the fabric pressed against Dean's nose didn't smell like smoke, just something old and musty and vaguely rotten. Besides, if it were Constantine, he would have said something by now. Reticence didn't seem to be the man's strong suit.

The light in the hallway was dim and flickering, but after the complete blackness, it still took Dean's eyes a few seconds to adjust. He caught a glimpse of the floorboards, then of a rumpled black suit under his chin, and an uneasy suspicion began to form in the back of his mind.

He heard the drums before anything else. The sound was muted in the hallway, raucous and thumping once his escort emerged into the back room, and the rising beat was almost hypnotic. Dean felt himself start to drift off, dizzy from the music and the incense and the throbbing ache in his shoulders, and only snapped back to full consciousness when the world tilted out from under him and his chin scraped against something hard and rough.

This time the ropes were cut, not untied, and he tried to scramble away, until he felt the blade pressing against the back of his neck. Then he went limp and let the hands flip him over onto his back. His eyes stung from the smoke and the crack to the jaw, and he blinked away the automatic moisture and got his first good look at the man who had brought him here. It was a hollow victory to realize that his suspicion had been correct.

The man was Everett Green, and he was dead.

Dean jerked away, managing no more than a grunt of disgust. The dead man didn't react. His eyes looked empty, whether a trick of the candlelight or if they were actually gone, Dean wasn't eager to find out. Those empty holes watched him impassively as Green chained his wrists and ankles to each corner of the altar. Altar. He was on a freaking altar.

He was pretty sure this sort of thing never happened to Dad.

The zombie fastened the last cuff and went still, standing at the end of the altar and staring blankly, like a robot being powered down or something. Dean pulled against the restraints and whipped his head back and forth, taking in his surroundings with wide, wild eyes. He'd walked right past the altar before, hidden as it was by what he'd assumed was another window curtain; his mistake. To his right, between him and the handful of people seated cross-legged on the floor, was a figure that could only be Minuit. The man leapt back and forth in some kind of frenzied dance that should have looked ridiculous but instead kind of creeped the hell out of him. Dean watched, bewildered, as Minuit tipped his head back and poured some clear liquid over his face. He screamed something Dean couldn't understand, and the drums joined in counterpoint, throbbing through his body like a dozen heartbeats all at once.

Then, abruptly, they stopped. Minuit straightened and turned. His face was an eerie, glowing mask, the white powder streaked by whatever the liquid had been; over the smell of incense and candle smoke, Dean caught a whiff of some strong alcohol. Minuit wore some kind of fancy black coat and a black silk top hat and a pair of dark glasses with one broken lens, and somehow that last detail was more disturbing than anything else.

Dean tensed, making unintelligible noises of protest, as Minuit reached for his belt and withdrew a long, gleaming dagger. He felt his pulse speed up, breathing quick and shallow through his nose. It took him a few seconds to recognize the sensation, but then something in his head just shifted and his body crackled like charged ozone after a lightning strike, and suddenly Dean was more turned on than he'd ever been in his life.

He bit his lip hard, glaring down at his crotch with something like betrayal. When Sam had accused him of having a death wish, Dean didn't think he'd meant it quite like this.

Minuit started to speak then, a long, guttural stream of what sounded like French. Dean heard the word Samedi and shivered. He felt super-sensitized, far too aware of the press of clothing against his skin, the cool stone altar beneath him and the even colder clasp of the metal around his wrists. He inhaled sharply as the knife arced high and held the breath, staring up at it with a kind of sick anticipation, like the last suspended second before orgasm-- only this time the "little death" metaphor would be way too literal, and if he was going to die here, did he have to die with a freaking hard-on?

And where the hell was Constantine?

As if on cue, the sound of drums started up again, far away but getting closer. Minuit paused and glanced over his shoulder. The drummers were sitting motionless in the corner, looking confused.

"Who the fuck," Minuit began, the first words he'd spoken in English since the ritual began, and then the back door exploded inward and a stream of people poured into the room, stomping back and forth as they scattered some kind of seeds or powder or something over the floor. And there at the back of the crowd, sauntering inside with a flame cupped in his hand and a cigarette dangling from his lip, was none other than John Constantine.

Dean's lungs ached, and he exhaled, finally starting to breathe again; not a rescue so much as a reprieve, but at this point he'd take what he could get. Constantine had his party dress on, as promised. Like Minuit, he wore a tall black hat and an old-fashioned jacket instead of his usual tan trench coat; unlike Minuit, his clothes looked worn and tattered, as if he'd just dug up a coffin and pulled them off a corpse. Dean wouldn't put it past him. Next to him, Minuit suddenly looked cheap and shiny, like a dress-up doll.

"All right, squire?" Constantine asked finally, looking around as his entourage continued to dance.

Minuit's voice was almost friendly. Almost. "You try my fucking patience, Constantine. What in the syphilitic hells do you want?"

"Not me, mate." Constantine shrugged. "But your god's itching for a bit of a sit-down."

Minuit grinned, a flash of white teeth in his streaked, powdered face. Drops of alcohol still glistened on his skin. "You can sit down on my schlong if you want, you little cunt. Now get your fucking circus out of here, or there won't be enough left of you to screw."

Constantine cocked his head, cigarette flaring between his lips, and Dean was in no way staring at his mouth. He shifted uncomfortably, still far too aware of the throbbing between his legs. "What's wrong, Chester? Competition making you nervous?"

Minuit's smile disappeared. "Shut your fucking pisshole mouth."

"Dear me, I've touched a nerve." Constantine gestured grandly at the dancers and the drummers. "Let's hear it for the band, folks, all the way up from the Lower Ninth. Not a fan, are you, Chester? You having their lead singer killed and all. Most critics just write an angry letter."

Which explained where he'd gotten the backup; this was Martine's coven, probably itching for some revenge. Dean thought he recognized Martine's sister, but it was hard to tell through the shadows and the smoke.

"I said--"

"I heard what you said." Constantine's voice crackled with sudden power, though his easy expression didn't change. "Fact, I've heard you do a lot of talking today. Not so much in the way of follow-through."

Minuit bared his teeth again, and the knife dipped dangerously close; Dean's breath caught again. "You want action? Wait a few seconds."

"I'm not the waiting sort."

"You cock-hungry parasite. I should fucking kill you for this."

Constantine shrugged, unconcerned, and took a deep drag. "So kill me, Mr. Beaver," he said, spreading his hands. "You're Papa Guede, remember? Power over life and death and all. Take my life, if you think you can."

Minuit's hand tightened on the knife, his knuckles almost white. He stared at Constantine with black, burning rage, and for a few seconds, the only sounds in the room were the incessant drums and Dean's harsh, labored breaths.

"'Sokay, big guy," Constantine said at last, breaking the silence. "Happens to every man."

"Kill him," Minuit said, almost conversationally, and by Dean's feet, the zombie's head jerked up and it took a step forward. Its empty eyes started to glow.

"Funny thing about zombies, mate," Constantine said, not bothering to move. "Don't move too fast, do they?"

"He doesn't need to," Minuit said, and bared his teeth. "He gets the job done."

"Mm." And Constantine reached into his coat, pulled out a gun, and shot the zombie in the head. Dean's gun; Constantine must have taken it when he tied him up. Green staggered back and fell, skull hitting the corner of the altar with a wet crunch. Dean jerked his foot away with a disgusted noise.

For the first time, Minuit started to look worried. He wet his lips, looking back and forth between Constantine and the fallen corpse. "I don't--"

"Understand?" Constantine interrupted. "Lucky you, I've got a pretty good grasp myself. You never were Guede, were you? Just a show, like everything else." He snorted. "Like your name even. You think you just call yourself after Papa Midnite and that's all it takes? Midnite wouldn't even bother using your skull for a loo, you berk."

Minuit seemed to grow taller, his chin lifting as his shoulders straightened, visible eye glittering like a hard black gem. Dean curled his fingers into fists, wondering if that was it, if Constantine had gone too far, if he was even capable of realizing he'd miscalculated.

"This blanc," Minuit said softly, "this Englishman, he comes in here and dares to speak of our god." It was the longest sentence he'd spoken yet without profanity, and Dean dug his fingernails harder into his palms, sensing that something had changed, not yet sure what. His blood was pooling low beneath his stomach, body still caught up in the ritual, making it hard to concentrate. "Your pride is galling, Constantine. I am the Baron. I am Papa Guede."

Constantine flicked the butt over his shoulder and flashed Minuit a quick shark's grin. "The Baron begs to differ."

Then the drums grew louder, and Constantine spread his arms wide, flung his head back, and screamed.

Dean jerked at the unearthly sound, chains rattling as he moved. Minuit's reaction was similarly violent.

"No!" he shouted, and brought down the knife in a vicious swipe.

Dean had just enough time to see the flicker in Constantine's eyes, to think that maybe he knew he'd fucked up after all, before the blade bit into his skin. He didn't notice the pain at first, just the sharp white-hot-cold edge that felt so much like release it was almost a relief, and he felt his body arch up against his will, pushing into the touch like it was a lover's hand. Then the burning started, an acid line across his ribcage, so harsh and fierce it took his breath away. Minuit hadn't been aiming, had slashed across his chest instead of his throat. He fought to cling to consciousness with every last scrap of will he could muster, thanking whoever's god it was for small favors, until he felt blood gurgle in his throat and air rushing out of his chest with a whistle like a punctured tire and realized that he was just as dead either way. The room tilted and faded around him, and he saw the knife raise again, closed his eyes and waited, pulling the chains tight....

Chain. Singular. His right wrist was free.

He didn't stop to think or even wonder how it had happened. Moving hurt, like a steel band tightening around his chest, but he gritted his teeth against the pain and shot out his hand, wrapping numb fingers around Minuit's wrist.

They stayed like that for a few endless seconds, Minuit frozen in mid-strike, Dean struggling to pull air into his punctured lung; and then, with his last reserves of strength, Dean twisted his grip and felt the knife fall into his hand. Years of training kicked in, and he flipped the blade around and struck. No sideways slashes here, thank you very much-- the blade sank between Minuit's ribs like sliding home.

Minuit fell back with a screech, the knife hilt bobbing against his chest. Then everyone was screaming-- him, Constantine, the all-but-forgotten members of Minuit's coven. Everyone but Martine's drummers and dancers, who kept on drumming and dancing like nothing had even happened.

Dean sank back to the altar, exhausted, fumbling at the tape over his mouth with blood-sticky fingers. He was shivering now, teeth chattering, wheezing with the effort of moving, and he wasn't going to make it, couldn't stay awake, couldn't....

The air crackled again as his eyelids slid shut. He tried to open then, to look and see what was happening, but it was just too hard. Sorry, Dad, he thought, sorry Sam, and then the darkness and the candlelight slipped away.

Part One | Part Two


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