: L’etoile de la mer Author
: Sarah Ellen Parsons (se_parsons
: inksheddings Rating
: PG-13, language and adult situations Author's Notes
: It’s amazing what you can find on the internet these days. Summary
: Monsters aren’t always where you look for them.
Dean started sweating even before he got out of the car. His baby was a full-size classic, with factory A/C, factory in 1967, and it was near to noon in August in Mississippi.
Dean knew he was going to hell at the end of the year, he didn’t figure he needed to train up for it.
"Ok, and why’re we here again?" he asked, wiping at a trickle of sweat already moving down the back of his neck.
Sam pulled out the printout and shuffled the papers.
"Denise Brown, 14, of Natchez, is the fourth area teen to disappear within the past year. Her family is leading search parties, combing the river up and down from where she disappeared. Law enforcement from both Mississippi and Louisiana are working together to search the river. The bodies of Lakiesha Potter, 13, and David B. Ford Jr., 15, both of Vidalia, were found near the river not far from a popular fishing area. That would be right here where we are now. Both were drowned. The fourth victim, Kenyetta Marie DePauw, also 15, was found abandoned in the same area some seven months after her initial disappearance from her home near St. Catherine Creek. She had obviously suffered from her experience and has experienced what doctors have termed a "psychotic break", where she is unable to recall any details of either her capture or experiences while missing. During her time away, her hair turned completely white, a symptom that remains unexplained."
"Oh you are totally shitting me," Dean said, looking up and down the riverbank, squinting at the glare. "They did NOT write that in the paper."
"Typical small town kind of thing, you know. Four kids missing and three drowned is a pretty big deal," Sam shrugged. "Someone is also ‘clinging to life’ after a shooting and some cop was arrested for child porn."
"I also didn’t really need to know that." Dean couldn’t see a thing that seemed suspicious. "So this is where they all showed up?"
The only thing out of the ordinary about the riverbank was the little shrine set up nearby. Probably by the families of the kids who had died, like you sometimes found along the road at the scenes of car accidents. There was a very faded, cheap plaster statue of a female saint, maybe Mary, because that was usually how it went. The stubs of candles and some dried up flowers that somebody had left there. And then he saw the pictures, four kids, three teenaged girls and a boy, definitely a shrine.
"Yeah, but according to the papers, it isn’t where they all were taken. Kenyetta disappeared on her way to a neighbor’s house, Denise was swimming at some pond and David had been out with some friends fishing. None of them were anywhere near here, and nowhere near water that would have brought their bodies here, if they’d drowned normally."
"So they were taken, killed and dumped is what you’re saying," Dean left the shrine and walked over to the edge of the river and still saw nothing unusual. It wasn’t like he expected a glowing trail of slime from the creepy Mississippi river monster or the Creature from the Black Lagoon waving a big sign that said, "this way to the missing kid" or anything. But something weird that gave him a funny feeling about things would have been helpful, anything to go on. But there was nothing.
"Yeah, except for Kenyetta, who came back here, but was still alive." Sam shuffled through his papers, also obviously coming up blank.
"And what makes this our kind of thing instead of some freaky murderer who likes to drown kids?" Dean slapped a mosquito sucking blood from his bicep.
"Kenyetta’s hair. It really did turn white, Dean. There are pictures," Sam explained, stepping up beside him and looking over the same big bunch of nothing riverbank as Dean. The Mississippi flowed past brown and silty, not telling them anything either.
"I don’t see anything weird here, Sammy, do you?" he said finally, hoping maybe Sam had noticed something he hadn’t.
"No, but there is something weird, and there’s another girl missing now."
"And when did she disappear, and when did the other kids disappear and how long until their bodies showed up?" Dean was frustrated and he couldn’t keep it out of his voice.
"It doesn’t say," Sam sounded sheepish, like it was his fault.
"This fit anything in Dad’s journal, or anything you’ve read?"
"No, but the white hair thing comes up in all kinds of ghost encounter stories, legends from all over the world and now a little girl here in Mississippi," Sam wiped sweat away from his forehead. It really was hot as hell.
"So it could be anything." Dean squinted at the water, but saw nothing but glare.
"We know it’s something that drowns people, so that’s something to go on, anyway.
"That’s not much," Dean said. "Police reports first? Or do we have to go try to bother the kid?"
"Police first." Sam turned toward the car, glancing back over his shoulder at the river. "Wouldn’t be too hard to drown here, though. That’s a lot of water."
"Yeah," Dean agreed, and despite the oppressive heat of the day, he shivered. "Let’s saddle up."
They were lucky. The Natchez police department was understaffed and it didn’t take much fast talking at all to convince everybody they were the Feds, seeing some of the kids were from across the river in Vidalia, making it a case that crossed state jurisdictions. They got quick access to the relevant documents and Dean was just as quickly bored by how little danger there was and how little they had to lie. Sammy just accessed the information on the computer, they looked at the pictures of the kids and even got copies, the poor cops were so desperate for help. He spent a lot of time staring into space until they got back into the car.
"Well?" Dean asked. "Are we going to try to see the kid or what?"
"She’s traumatized, Dean," Sam was already making the concerned face that got everybody to open up and spill their guts.
"And that means we shouldn’t question her why?" Dean put the car into gear. "Tell me where to go."
"Turn left up there," Sam sighed, resigned.
Kenyetta did not live in a good neighborhood. In fact, she didn’t live in a neighborhood at all, but out on the edge of town where the houses were smaller and the people were a lot poorer even than the usual low standards around Natchez. The house was wood and needed paint, there were a few scrawny chickens running around the yard and an old red Caddy that had two flat tires and probably hadn’t worked in the past decade. It made Dean want to go and open up the hood to see what was wrong, but he kept his Fed face on and tried not to wipe at the sweat running down behind his ear and wetting the collar of his stupid dress shirt.
Sam already had his smooth professional mask in place, the one that made him look competent and approachable, inspiring confidence in everyone he spoke to. Dean had always envied it. Even while he was laying on the charm, whenever he wore a suit, he was sure people could tell he was a poser who belonged with grease under his nails, not pushing paper in an office somewhere.
It was kind of weird, though. That he still always felt like that. There were plenty of cops out there, and even Agent Hendrickson, who did a lot of the same kinds of things they did. And those guys wore suits. And Dean was actually ok at research and he kicked ass at investigating things and even at asking the right questions, just like a cop. But as soon as he got the suit on he felt like he had IMPOSTER written across his forehead in neon letters for everybody to see.
Dean tried to be cool and act like the suit fit him somehow, even in the fucking zillion degree heat. He could see a little boy up on the porch now, maybe six or seven years old, playing with toy cars. That might be his way in. Kids liked him, even if their parents were wary.
Sam was already looking at him encouragingly. Sam’s dumbass long hair hung limp in the heat, plastered to his neck where he was sweating. If they hadn’t been about to question somebody, Dean would have made some crack about him putting it in a pony tail like the girl he was, but he restrained himself. People would have been surprised how often he did that.
"Excuse me," Dean used the gentle voice he reserved for talking to kids, but this one wasn’t having anything to do with that. The boy was on his feet and through the screen door like a shot, yelling for his mama like Dean was the Devil himself, and not an official-looking visitor.
Dean looked over at Sam, who shrugged. It would be up to him, now. Sam always did better with people’s mamas.
After a minute, you could hear voices and footsteps inside the house. One of the chickens decided to check them out and sidled up to Sam, turning its head over on one side like a dog. When it didn’t get a handout, it wandered off again to scratch in some weeds near the Caddy’s flat tire.
Footsteps approached them out of the house, and instead of the boy’s mama, like Dean was expecting, there was a girl, about fifteen years old, Kenyetta herself, he supposed, wearing jean shorts and a tank top. And the newspaper hadn’t been lying, either. Her hair had turned white, and what was more, it was straight. All she needed was blue eyes and she’d have been Storm from the X-Men, if Storm had been an ordinary teenaged black girl from Mississippi instead of Halle Berry.
Kenyetta stopped at the top of the stairs and just looked at them. With eyes far too old and knowing than belonged in the face of any fifteen year old girl.
Dean felt a chill go down his spine, because at that moment she reminded him a lot more of Missouri Moseley than any comic book character. It wasn’t so much that she was looking at them, as that she was looking through them, or into them or some damn thing that Dean didn’t like at all.
"Are you Kenyetta DePauw?" Sam had his friendly smile in place like some freaky girl wasn’t staring straight into their heads.
"You get out of here." Kenyetta’s dark eyes never seemed quite to focus on them standing there, but on something else inside them. "You get out of here with your bad blood, and you take the dead man with you." Kenyetta pointed back up the driveway at the road.
"Miss DePauw, really, my partner and I are just here to ask you a few questions," Sam continued on, taking out his pocket notebook as if he was going to write things down, even in the face of the scary psychic girl and Dean had to admire that, but they were totally busted and he doubted they’d get anything out of her.
"Your brother and you need to leave me and my family in peace," Kenyetta turned her gaze full on Sam now. "We don’t need any more trouble. We sure don’t need the kind of trouble you bring along with you. And we don’t need to be touched by any more death, like he’s got all over him."
"Then tell us where Denise is and we’ll go," Dean stepped forward, trying to draw her attention away from Sam. "Because we know you know. She’s wherever you were for seven months. And she’s in danger there. Two other kids have already died. We want to know what took them and why."
"That happens sometimes," Kenyetta shrugged, seeming unconcerned. "Not everybody is worthy."
"What do you mean, worthy?" Sam stepped forward, looking worried.
"Like you were worthy, you mean?" Kenyetta smiled, and it wasn’t a nice smile at all.
"Lay off him," Dean threatened.
"Or what? You’ll hit a girl?" Kenyetta leaned against the porch rail, arms crossed over her thin chest.
"Tell us what you know, Kenyetta, or Denise could die," Sam was angry now, a little muscle working in his jaw as he fought to keep his temper under control.
"Yes, she could, but it’s not up to me or you, neither. It’s all up to her." The girl said the word her with an almost reverent tone.
"And who is her?" Sam pressed on straightforwardly. Kenyetta had seen through their disguises, but if she knew that they were fakes, then she probably also knew that they were absolutely sincere about wanting to rescue Denise.
"Someone who will chew you up and spit you out like the demon spawn you are," Kenyetta sneered. "You best stay away from her. She won’t have anythin’ to do with the likes of you. She’s better than that."
"Why not let her decide for herself?" Sam had his reasonable voice on, but Kenyetta was unmoved. "Where is she? At the beach, where you and the others were found? We only want to talk to her."
"You want to kill her," Kenyetta turned her sneer on Dean now. "Or at least the dead man does. He wants to make everything dead as him."
"I want to make anything that murders kids dead, yeah," Dean wiped a bead of sweat off his cheek with the back of his hand. "And I’m not ashamed of that. Because I’m not somebody who’s going to sell out somebody else for something that I want. Is that what you did, Kenyetta? That why you’re still alive and the others are dead? You buy her off by luring more kids for her to kill?"
"I never sold anybody… not even myself, dead man. I never lured anybody anywhere. I’m alive because she picked me. I’m alive because I was worthy. The others, she found them wanting." Kenyetta shrugged one thin shoulder under her tank top. "You go down to the river tonight; you call to her and throw yourself in, if you want to meet her so bad."
"And if I do that, she’ll come?" Dean was as determined as he’d ever been.
"Call her how?" Sam asked. And Dean could see the wheels in his head turning, planning something to make sure Dean stayed safe.
"She won’t come for you, demon spawn," Kenyetta rolled her eyes. "She’s too clean and good for you. But the dead man isn’t bad, he’s just dead. Maybe she’d come for him."
"Sam isn’t bad, you stop saying that!" Dean shouted at the girl, his hands balling into fists.
"It’s in his blood and blood will tell." Kenyetta just shrugged again, about as bothered by Dean’s raised voice as a lion would be by a barking Chihuahua. "She won’t mix with bad blood. But she might talk to you. You’re pretty, and she likes pretty. And your soul is bespoke, but it isn’t dirty. Not while it still belongs to you, anyhow. You go down to the river, and you give her some love, and maybe she’ll tell you about Denise."
"Give her some love how?" Dean asked.
"You really don’t know anything, do you?" Kenyetta’s smile transformed her face now all totally normal fifteen year-old girl astonished that anybody could be so out of it. "Tonight, after the moon comes up. You go down to the water and give her your love. She likes anything from the sea, shells, pearls, stuff like that. And she’s a lady, so don’t forget to bring her something fine, like champagne or candy. And maybe some pretty beads, she likes anything blue or white, or clear, shiny, like the water. And play some music. She really likes music. Then you go down and stand in the water. If she wants to talk to you, then she’ll come."
"But you disappeared during the day," Sam argued.
"Not really. I’d been hearing her calling me for a while, in my dreams." Kenyetta smiled softly now, remembering. "And one day I came out here and heard her calling so I just started walking. I wound up at the river when the moon came up. And she was there. And she chose me then. That’s all it was. But that’s not what anybody wants to hear. They all want me to make up some story about a strange man or some killer or something. They want some story from CNN, not what really happened."
"But you know that’s not what we want to hear," Sam prompted.
"You know what can really happen," she looked at them again, with her too knowing eyes. "You know that serial killers and bad men aren’t all the things there are. Denise might be all right. She might be one of the chosen ones. She hasn’t been found yet, and the other two came back right away. That’s how you know they failed. They come back right away."
"And when they don’t come back right away?" Dean asked.
"Then they learn things." Kenyetta looked right at him. "Like I did. They learn to see and they learn to know and they are changed. I’m better now than I was, because she made me better. And folks around here know that, too."
"Is that the important part?" Sam was surprisingly cynical sometimes, Dean noted.
"What I can do now is the important part." Kenyetta smiled again, but this time it wasn’t a look that belonged on any fifteen year-old’s face. "You ought to know that better than anybody. But you’re being stupid about things."
"I don’t think so," Sam was grim. "It matters where you’re getting it from. If you know anything about me you know I know that better than anyone."
Kenyetta’s gaze went very hard and she glared at Sam.
"And who are you getting yours from, Kenyetta?" Dean asked.
"You go see her and you’ll know."
"If she’s telling you the truth," Sam frowned. "Demons lie."
"Good thing she’s not a demon, then," Kenyetta smiled nastily again. "You go now. You got to get ready if you want to see her tonight. And my stories are on in five minutes, so I’m busy."
She turned her back on them and went inside, the screen door slamming shut behind her.
Dean looked at Sam and they both took off their suit jackets and got back in the car, after a minute to let the hot air out. Days like this, his sweet baby being hot and black was more of a liability than an asset.
"Where to?" Dean asked once he got the keys in the ignition.
"To prepare for the ritual," Sam’s mouth was a thin line.
"I hate shit that lives in the water," Dean told him and backed the car out of the drive. "You can’t see what you’re doing down there. And you’re usually the only one that needs to breathe."
After Sam explained it all, it wasn’t too hard to see what was really going on. But when you heard dead kids, the first thing that popped to mind was not crazy-ass voudou water goddess, a hard-working, people-possessing loa, at least that wasn’t the first thing that popped into Dean’s mind.
Even at moonrise it was fucking hot. And the mosquitoes had gotten even worse despite the fact that they’d both doused themselves with like a bucket of DEET. But Dean was as careful as he could be about setting up the shrine just so, placing his own picture there, along with those of the others who had sought the goddess’ favor. He laid out the flowers, the beads, several nice shells that Sam had found at a craft store and poured some champagne into the glass. The rest of the bottle, he took with him as he waded out into the water, singing the song that Sam had found online.
La Sirene, La Balen,
Chapo'm tonbe nan la me.
Map fe kares pou La Sirene,
Chapo'm tonbe nan la me.
Map fe kares pou La Balen,
Chapo'm tonbe nan la me.
He felt like an idiot as he waded into the water, singing some stupid song in pidgin French, praising the goddess and promising her his fidelity. It made him strangely grateful for all the time he’s spent memorizing prayers in Latin as a kid, because though the words were equally meaningless, he could do it, and he knew that they would work. That was, if she was in the mood to listen and felt like showing up.
Dean was up to his waist now, and the bottom was getting mucky as hell, sucking at his boots like it was trying to drag him under. If there was one thing he hated more than fighting something in the water, it was fighting something in the water at night.
He poured some of the champagne into the water, thinking ridiculously about his dead homies, and kept on singing the song, over and over again, as loud as he possibly could. He wondered how she could ever know where he was in all that black water, but that was the thing with the supernatural, it always found you regardless of where you started out, especially if you were dumb enough to go looking for it.
Dean stopped when the water was up to his chest, bracing himself against the current growing stronger with each step. His boots were still sinking into the bottom and the mosquitoes were buzzing around his head even out from shore like he was. It would be his typical luck if he went through all this to wind up with nothing but a throat sore from singing and a head full of mosquito bites.
Dean felt something brush up against his leg in the dark water. The touch was gentle, probably just weeds or something washed down the river from upstream. He didn’t want to think about what else it could be. He moved his leg a little to knock it off, but it hit a little harder. Fish, then, maybe. He didn’t think there were gators this far up the Mississippi. At least he hoped there weren’t.
He didn’t stop singing, but he looked back toward the shore, where Sammy stood still next to the shrine, making sure the candles didn’t blow out. It was good to see him there safe on the shore, not a dumbass like Dean out in the dirty black water in the middle of the night.
He was just drawing another breath to start the song again when something grabbed his leg and dragged him under, just in time to take a deep breath of filthy river water.
He flailed and kicked, but whatever had him, had him good and he was being dragged backward with a speed like some sort of reverse underwater waterskiing. He tried to kick again and choke up the water he’d inhaled, but that just meant he’d drown faster, and his lungs were already burning and screaming for mercy.
He was totally screwed.
Dean could feel himself weakening already, but he tried to turn his head to face in the direction he was going, not that he could see anything in all that dark water. Just his luck he’d run into something washing downstream and put an eye out on top of everything. Though maybe he’d look cool with an eyepatch in his coffin before Sammy burned him.
He squinted, but there was nothing but the red in his vision that he knew from experience came just before the black. What a useless waste of time this had been. Not a chance to save the kid or even talk to what took her, just a dumbass drowning in the Mississippi river and going to hell ahead of schedule.
Man, he hoped Sam found his body quick. He’d seen a few floaters in his time and it was gross.
The red faded until there was only black and the sound of water rushing in his ears.
Dean opened his eyes to light, to find himself in a tunnel. And not the typical "walk into the light" kind of tunnel people reported from near death experiences, but the normal kind, that looked poured out of concrete.
He expected to be lying in a pile of scummy garbage, like in a sewer drain or whatever this was, but instead it was perfectly clean, as if it had been washed and polished until the concrete nearly glowed. But that wasn’t the weirdest part. The fact was that he was obviously still underwater, but he was breathing fine, like he’d grown a set of gills or something. He felt the side of his neck to check, but it was still normal. He was also still totally wet, but it wasn’t uncomfortable at all, just kind of like being in a warm bath. He also felt a little beat up, and his ankle was sore where he’d been pulled backward through the water, but he could stand on it ok.
He looked around and saw that the light was brighter farther down the tunnel, and that it opened onto a snag of trees and garbage and brown water that could only be the Mississippi. But it was like where he was standing was in a bubble or something, even though he realized he was still under the water. The water inside the tunnel was crystal clear, and he was having no problem breathing it at all.
If he hadn’t spent a lifetime hunting, he’d maybe have thought it was some last hallucination as his brain drained of oxygen. But that wasn’t the case.
He turned his back on the dirty river and headed down the tunnel, slowly like what he was, a man walking underwater.
As he progressed, the tunnel remained perfectly clean, but the glow grew brighter, shining out from the concrete itself, like the phosphorescent lichens in caves. The light was a little blue, and the color a little off because of it, but Dean could see just fine. The tunnel curved upward slightly, cutting off his view ahead, but he just followed it up. There was no use pulling his knife out of his boot. Whatever could make him breathe underwater had some seriously powerful mojo. And he wasn’t about to mess with that without the proper ritual.
He moved up the slope until he reached a place where several tunnels came together, creating a rather large room. It was a lair full of things pulled out of the river.
Mirrors lined almost every wall, nice furniture was scattered about in seating areas, and several boxes spilled what looked like straight-up pirate treasure from gold necklaces to sparkling coins onto the glittering floor. And sitting in front of the largest mirror, was the most beautiful thing of all, a woman in a long flowing gown of silvery blue, with pale café au lait skin and straight dark hair. Her eyes were deep blue-green, the color of the sunlit ocean. She looked into the mirror, but somehow into Dean as well.
A young black girl, hair already straightening and beginning to fade to the palest brown, combed the seated woman’s hair with a golden comb. Stroke, stroke, stroke, over and over as if hypnotized. And, Dean figured, she probably was. Or at least she was under a spell.
"I’m still alive," Dean stepped well into the room so the woman could look at him more closely.
"And you will remain so as long as you amuse." Her voice was low and melodious, as beautiful as her flawless face. "You brought me presents. You sang my song. I am in a kindly mood so I will listen to you."
"That’s Denise, isn’t it?" Dean wasn’t going to be drawn into whatever it was this sea witch was brewing. It was powerful magic, and, even if she wasn’t exactly a demon, things like her were dangerous enough to not screw around with them.
"Oh, a rescuer, how sweet!" The beautiful woman clapped her hands in delight. "And how do you know my little girl?"
"I don’t," Dean said. "But she’s got family that wants her back. There are people out looking for her, dragging the river. And there are two other kids that came back dead. What’s up with that? Weren’t they amusing?"
The woman made a moue of annoyance.
"I have no reason to answer to you." She gave a haughty shake of her head, interrupting the girl’s brushing.
"No, you haven’t." Dean spread his hands to show he was being reasonable. "But don’t you think those kids’ families deserve to know why they died?"
"And you think they do not already?" The woman turned from her mirror and rose up to a regal height, shimmering gown swirling around her… fins, it turned out.
"I really don’t know, lady, and I don’t really care. I just want to take Denise back to the people who love her," Dean explained.
"They do not love her more than I." She looked hurt, as if Dean had actually insulted her. "In Denise’s case, especially not. It was why she threw herself on the mercy of the water in the first place. And she called not to me but to my darker sister, crying out for vengeance against those who would harm her."
"Her family’s trying to hurt her?" Dean was skeptical, he’d seen the police reports and news articles full of her mother and uncle’s pleas for Denise’s safe return.
"Denise, please explain to this man why you wish to stay with me," the woman, the creature said, gracefully motioning to the girl at her side.
"When the hurricane came, we had to leave home and come up here to live with my Uncle. Daddy went out west to get a job, but he never came back. After a few months he moved and stopped callin’ and we couldn’t find him. Mama hasn’t been able to find work here, neither, so it’s been hard. But not harder than it was on a lot of other folks," the girl explained, frowning as she thought of it. "It’s just that when I turned thirteen, my Uncle started comin’ into my bedroom at night. And when I told Mama, she… she didn’t believe me at first. Then she caught him at it and she said we couldn’t say nothin’ because we had nowhere else to go and no money. She said she’d talk to him. He didn’t stop. So I came down here to the river for help. And I prayed, and I was taken in. And now I belong to her."
"So you came all the way up from the ocean to answer this girl’s call?" Dean asked the creature. "That’s a long way out of the way."
"Since the hurricane, I have been here, where I am needed." The woman was matter-of-fact. "Many people have had nowhere to turn, no one to heed their cries and help them. But I have not forgotten them. And those who come to me with true need, and with the right kind of questions, I bless them and give them my power, so they will not be helpless again."
"Is that what Kenyetta asked for? Power?" Dean thought power was a pretty crazy thing to give some teenaged girl who would probably just use it to even scores with the popular chicks at school or put a love spell on some boy.
"Kenyetta was in need and her open heart heard my song, just as Denise has done." A gesture indicated the rich room. "She came here, stayed for a time and learned what she needed. Now she can see what others can not, and she has the power she needed to heal her brother and many others. She also has the wisdom to use it, just as she had the will to learn. Without that, I would not have chosen her."
She looked Dean over shrewdly with her ocean-colored eyes, her dark hair swirling around her artfully in the water’s currents like a woman’s costume in a slo-mo take from a Hong Kong action film.
"I had thought, Dean Winchester, that when you petitioned me, you, too, were going to ask me for my help."
"You can’t help me," Dean’s hands balled into fists at his sides. "You and I both know that. I get ‘help’ and Sammy dies. That’s not going to happen."
"It is your choice," the woman inclined her head beatifically.
"You’re damn right it’s my choice." Dean felt stubborn rage rising up inside him. Every damned supernatural thing was always trying to get him to undo the deal. He didn’t know if they were just afraid of Sammy, or if they just wanted to tempt him, but it wasn’t a temptation at all. Supernatural things just couldn’t understand how important Sam actually was. "And I won’t unchoose it to save myself. Now give me the girl."
"The girl doesn’t wish to go with you. She is safe here with me." Her eyes were darker now, shadowed gray like a stormy ocean, and Dean found he was having a little trouble breathing water after all. He doubled over and struggled for air that seemed too thick to flow through his lungs.
"Take your spell off her and let her decide," Dean said, when he could manage to get the breath for it. "I won’t ask her to do anything she doesn’t want to do."
"Denise isn’t under any spell. She has agreed to stay with me for a time, and serve me, and learn from me. She will eventually return, and she will never again be powerless in her own life."
"Denise?" Dean asked, focusing all of his concentration on the human girl who was becoming less human every day she stayed.
"I want to stay here with La Sirene. I promised to stay for seven years, and she’ll make me a Mambo so I can help other people," Denise stood up straight and smiled proudly, dark eyes flashing with conviction. "You should understand that. Didn’t you practice what you do first?"
"And what, you’re just going to let your mama think you drowned?" Dean asked. "At least let her know you’re all right. If you are all right. Making bargains with loa is dangerous."
"La Sirene, La Balen, Chapo'm tonbe nan la me.…." The girl prayed to the creature beside her, who beamed with delight and stroked the girl’s hair as if she were her own daughter. "My hat has fallen into the sea, Dean Winchester. I’ve made my choice. Seven years and then I’m the greatest Mambo in the world."
"If that’s the way you want it," Dean shook his head. Making bargains with the supernatural was dangerous, you never got quite what you expected. Nobody knew that better than he did.
"Even if she wanted something else, all that matters here is what I want," La Sirene said, waving a graceful hand back in the direction of the tunnel Dean had come in from. "You have ceased to be amusing. Hurry back now, to where you belong, before you find yourself out of time."
There was another of those sickening tugs on his lungs, like the water-breathing was about to go away. Dean glanced back at the loa, returning to her seat, and the girl, returning to her service and started swimming for his life, back up the tunnel.
Dean’s lungs were nearly bursting when his head cleared the water, and he was disoriented as hell. But he could see the shore and swam for it as fast as he could, the current bearing him downstream even as he pulled against it. And damn, he was tired already.
When he came up for air, he didn’t see Sam anywhere. No knowing where La Sirene’s tunnel really was. There were faint lights on the shore, so he headed for them, but they receded all the time, even as he swam. Dean’s heart sank, though he could see he was making progress and was pretty confident he’d make it. It meant a long, wet and filthy walk back to civilization and all he wanted to do was have a hamburger and sleep for 12 hours.
As he neared shore, he did see a little bit of light and heard a monotone mumbling, like someone listening to a tv turned down too low. So maybe there’d be a house and maybe he could call Sam on his cell. Just his luck it would be some fishing shack without a phone, but light and noise meant somebody was there, so that was something. Dean didn’t feel much like dealing with strangers, but it was better than the alternative of being lost and stranded on the shore of the Mississippi like some kind of Huck Finn retread.
At first, all he could do was drag himself out of the water and lie there on the muddy shore like a beached whale, taking deep breaths, thankful that Dad had made them train at swimming just like everything else. When he finally dragged himself further up the beach, he could see that the light actually came from candles around the little shrine to La Sirene and that the noise actually came from Sam, kneeling before the little statue of Mary, in her aspect as Star of the Sea.
Not being particularly sneaky, considering every step he took was made with a wet squelch of water in his boots and jeans, Dean came up to Sam and listened for a minute to his song.
inter omnes mitis,
nos culpis solútos
mites fac et castos.
Vitam praesta puram,
iter para tutum,
ut vidéntes Iesum
Sit laus Deo Patri,
summo Christo decus,
honor, tribus unus. Amen."
"You know, that would sound a lot better if you sang it to something more badass like ‘Enter Sandman.’ It’s what I always do." Dean moved close enough to dip down the back of Sam’s t-shirt. "But seeing you can’t sing worth crap, I guess plainsong is more your speed."
"Dean!" Sam was on his feet in a heartbeat, wrapping his huge paws around Dean’s biceps like he was about to hug him, face beaming with joy. "Do you know how long you were gone?"
"I dunno, a couple hours, I guess?" Dean took a better look at Sam. It wasn’t good.
Sam looked like crap, way crappier than when Dean had seen him last. He was unshaven and had dark circles under his eyes like he hadn’t slept in days. He was pale, you could see it even in the candlelight, and maybe he hadn’t eaten in days either.
Sam just shook his head, so choked up that he couldn’t get any words out.
"A lot longer than that, huh," Dean reached out and patted Sammy’s shoulders, to help him know that he was really real, and really ok. "How long?"
"A week," Sam said. "A week, and that’s when the kids… the kids who died…washed…"
"Yeah, that’s the thing about her. She likes to do things in sevens," Dean remembered as he said it. "But I’m ok, Sam. I’m here and I’m ok. She took me down there where she is, and I saw Denise. Denise doesn’t want to come back. She’s some kind of apprentice or something, gonna learn all La Sirene knows and become a Mambo. That’s what she said, anyway."
"Dean, I tried to get you back. I stayed right here and I called and called, but she never came," Sam was fixated on his guilt. Dean just didn’t want to deal.
"It’s ok, Sammy. Kenyetta said she wouldn’t talk to you. And she said, herself, that the reason the other two kids died was that they came to her for the wrong reasons. She didn’t tell me what they were, but maybe that they were totally selfish. Kenyetta and Denise, they wanted to learn things so they could help other people. And I was there to help somebody, so that was ok with her. And then she sent me back, safe and sound. And I’m here now, so you don’t have to be a big girl about it. I realize that’s your natural state and everything, but I’d kinda like to go back to the motel and get some dry clothes if that’s ok with you. And maybe something to eat." Dean gave him a shake, and Sam had something to do now.
"Um, right." Sam still looked kind of lost, but he was getting a grip and not just on Dean’s arms. "Clothes and food. That would be good."
"Not just good but great, because my shorts are seriously starting to ride up here," Dean observed, picking at his boxers through his sodden jeans.
"I so did not need to know that." Sam didn’t quite smile, but the look he gave Dean was somewhere north of hangdog and that Dean would absolutely take.
"Get the towel out of the trunk, I’m not going to screw up my baby’s seats," Dean ordered, walking to the car more bowlegged than usual in an effort to keep his shorts from bunching any more than they already were.
A couple hours, a shower and a Big Mac later, Dean was starting to feel more like himself, and Sam had stopped staring at him like he was about to dissolve into a puddle on the floor at any moment.
"So you really think Denise wasn’t being coerced into staying?" Sam looked up from the screen of his laptop.
"There’s really no telling, but she seemed pretty convincing," Dean slumped against the headboard of the only slightly saggy motel bed and printed carefully on the plain notebook paper he had propped up on Dad’s journal on his lap. "Which reminds me. We need to make a payphone call to the police department once we get out of here. Got to tell them Denise ran away because of her uncle. She’s got a little brother and he may or may not be in danger, so we gotta make sure the police at least start looking at the family."
"What are you writing?"
"Letter to Denise’s Mom," Dean carefully traced the printed letters, making sure it didn’t look like his usual hand. "I want to tell her where she really is. She might not believe it, but I think maybe she will. And she already knows why. I just want her to know that in seven years, she’ll come back. It’s just wrong to let her think Denise is gone for good."
"She didn’t do anything to help Denise," Sam said, "Maybe she doesn’t deserve to know."
"She’s her mom, Sam," Dean kept writing. "Even if she’s crappy at it, she’s going to want to know where Denise has gone. Even if there’s nothing she can do about it. You know how bad it is to wonder what happened and to spend your life searching for something you can’t find."
"Can’t argue with that," Sam shrugged, and turned back to his computer screen, searching, Dean knew, for a way to get him out of his deal.
Dean sighed and finished his letter and folded it up.
"Better get some sleep, Sammy. Gotta drop this off in the mailbox and blow this town before anybody is awake."
"Yeah, I’ll be there in a few minutes." Sam hunkered down in front of the machine, for the duration it looked like.
Dean watched his brother read by the glow of the screen for a while before he closed his eyes. At least tomorrow he could end one person’s futile search.
When Dean slept, he dreamt of the ocean.