Characters/Pairings: Dean, Sam, Charlie
Word Count: ~2100
Warnings: Spoilers for 8x20 Pac-Man Fever and all episodes prior.
Summary: After Charlie leaves, it’s time to move forward. On an adventure. Coda to 8x20.
Beta: analineblue looked this over; all mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer: Do not own, or lease.
Author Notes: Quotes are from Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The title is also from a quote in that book.
After he’s hugged Sam, after he’s felt the warmth of him and made a silent promise that he hopes he can keep this time, Dean grabs an unfinished beer from the counter. There’s nowhere for the two of them to run off to right now. They have to do research, call the few contacts they’ve got left, make a decision or two.
Dean takes one swig from the bottle, then another, as he stares off at the wall. He can see Sam looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Sam’s laptop is open, and his face glows a soft blue as he types. There is still a part of Dean that wants to tie Sam down somewhere so that he can’t leave, so that he stays safe, because letting go just isn’t something Dean’s good at. But what argument can he make now? ‘You could die’ has become almost as meaningful as ‘you could stub your toe.’ It’s a joke, if not a particularly funny one.
The beer is weak and not as cold as he’d like. He takes a long gulp that finishes it off. It tastes sour and hoppy and stale on the back of his tongue.
Thing is, Dean still trusts Sam with his life. He always will, he thinks, no matter what happens. Even when he tries not to, even when his gut tells him he shouldn’t. He just has a hard time trusting Sam with his own life.
There’s a soft thud of glass-against-wood next to Dean’s hand. He looks up; Sam stares at him from behind his hair, the neck of an open beer bottle clutched in his hand. This one looks colder, frosted with condensation.
“You okay?” Sam asks, nudging the bottle forward.
He has deep purple smudges under his eyes and his skin is pale and his mouth is a thin line, and Dean just wants to erase it – erase the pain, the past, whatever. Sam always seems to hurt, and Dean always seems to fail at making it go away.
Dean says “Yeah,” shrugs, and tries to smile.
“Right. I think I’m going to call it a night. I sent a few emails. You may get a call from Garth.”
“Okay. Yeah, okay. Look, Sammy, we don’t –“
“Dean, I’m fine. Really. I just need some sleep.”
Sam puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder and walks away, and Dean almost believes him, for a minute, until he hears Sam coughing on his way to bed. It’s more of a hacking, really, a horrible wheezing sound followed by something brittle. It goes on for what seems like hours.
Dean brushes the back of his own hand against his shoulder where Sam’s had been, feels the damp from where Sam held the bottle, and then rubs his face.
His phone beeps. He picks it up; he hadn’t heard it ring, but he has a new voicemail. Sighing, he plays it, expecting Garth’s eager, high-pitched voice.
Instead, quiet words, just shy of a whisper: "’In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.’"
Dean waits for more, but there’s nothing except silence. He can’t tell whether he wants to smile or not; it’s good to hear her voice, even after only a couple of hours, but she sounds so ragged, like she’s close to tears. He knows what that’s like, what that sounds like, too well.
Hey Kiddo, he writes, we’re going to Tulsa. Sam got some reports about activity. Still looking for Yoda. How are the zombies? He shuts the laptop.
An hour later, on the road, he gets a text from an unknown number that just says, Yoda was not a prophet.
He grins, sends back something like It’s a codename. Deal. Sam shoots him a look from behind the wheel, still pale but more alive in the sunlight – the glance is half smile, half concern.
“Charlie’s correcting my Star Wars references,” Dean says by way of explanation.
“Ah. I see.”
Dean doesn’t get another voicemail until their first night in Lyman, South Dakota. Again, he didn’t hear it ring. He considers that she may have somehow hacked his phone to go straight to voicemail when she calls. Normally, something like that would annoy him, but now all he feels is an inexplicable sense of pride.
Charlie’s voice is clearer this time as she reads. Stronger, brighter. Dean feels something in him relax, like there had been a ball of tension in him that only this could ease. He settles back on the rickety motel bed and closes his eyes.
She reads for a while this time, somehow going past the usual time limit. Definitely hacked. There is a long pause and Dean assumes that she’s done, except then she starts again, repeating one small passage in a tone that somehow fills his head with echoes.
"Far over the misty mountains cold, to dungeons deep and caverns old, we must away ere break of day to seek the pale enchanted gold."
A click, then silence.
Anyway, we’ve moved to North Dakota. Sam said to tell you that he thinks we found Lord Voldemort. That work for you, Princess? Anyway. You good? You better be. Oh, Sam wants your Monster app. Any way you can get it to him? Guess it could come in handy.
"’Some sang too that Thror and Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business.’"
Wendigo today. Got Wendigos on that app of yours? Still no luck on He-Who-Whatever. Haven’t heard from you – you okay?
They spend almost a full week in Burnett County, Wisconsin, tracking down a Buruburu. Practically a whole street was sick, all awful people in their own way; petty sniping, backstabbing, the usual suburban run of atrocities. At least, that’s what Sam had said. Dean had left him to handle interviews – oh, he could’ve used the backup, the pain in his arm is enough proof of that, but Sam’s been looking more drawn and grayer lately, and it wasn’t worth the risk.
Sam still insists that he’s fine, despite bloodshot eyes that can barely stay open and a cough that’s getting worse by the minute. There are blood-stained tissues in the garbage of every motel they’ve stayed in this past month.
He’s also worried about Charlie and her radio silence, but what can he do? He has no idea where she is, or where she’s been, or what she’s doing. It’s like he’s friends with a ghost.
God knows he doesn’t need the worry: Cas is gone, Kevin is missing, Sam is dying by inches, and now Charlie is quiet.
And the last Trial still needs to be completed. He barely remembers what they’re for anymore. What’s the point of sealing the gates of Hell? They’ve tried similar things before, and they’ve failed. What makes anyone think they’ll succeed this time?
The sun has gone down, and the road reveals itself slowly as he drives, like they’re just going to keep going into something black and endless. Not Heaven, not Hell, not Purgatory – just nothing for all eternity, just dark and quiet. It’s a tempting thought, but it’s the one impossibility.
“I’m sure she’ll call,” Sam says gently after the silence stretches on for too long. “She’s probably just caught up in something.”
Dean tries to agree, but his “yeah” comes out cracked and fragile. He clears his throat and tries again.
“Listen, Dean, she’s fine.” Sam pauses for a minute, his breath short and sharp with whatever the hell has got him falling apart at the seams. “You know, I used to wish we had a sister.”
A quick glance to his right – Sam is clutching his hand into a fist on his thigh, his fingers tightly pressed together. It’s what he does now when the shaking gets bad, hides it from Dean, as though Dean is completely blind.
“You and Dad, all you ever talked about was protecting me. ‘Watch out for Sam.’ ‘Don’t let Sam out of your sight.’ And I think I just wanted someone to protect, too. Someone who needed me.”
Dean swallows, lets his eyes close for just a second. “I need you,” he says.
“Sure, now. But then? You didn’t need me then.”
The conversation ends there – Dean can’t think of anything to say and Sam’s breathing has evened out into a continuous rattle of air.
"’The mere fleeting glimpses of treasure which they had caught as they went along had rekindled all the fire of their dwarvish hearts; and when the heart of a dwarf, even the most respectable, is wakened by gold and by jewels, he grows suddenly bold, and he may become fierce.’"
Where the hell have you been, Princess? Slaying dragons? I told you, no hunting without backup. Anyway, Sam’s…well, Sam’s barely able to walk without hacking up a lung. But he says hi. I think he wants to adopt you. We think we know where Kevin is, so we’re headed there now. Call that number I gave you last month if you need anything. Kid named Garth. He’s a good guy. Well, he grows on you, I guess. But call him. He’ll help.
“She’s – she’s okay?”
In his hands, Sam clenches a bloodied tissue. Dean can’t tell if it’s relief or dread that he’s feeling now that Sam can’t even be bothered to hide it anymore. Still, he’s alive and maybe this is almost over, finally. They’re close now, at least, and Charlie’s okay if not completely safe, so maybe….
“Yeah, she’s fine. She left me a voicemail last night. We’ve got about twelve hours on the road, and then we’ll stop for the night. You good to go?”
The warehouse is completely dark. They’ve been watching the place from different locations all day, and they’ve seen no one coming or going, or any wards against anything. But none of that means a thing.
Dean finishes off the last bite of his burger and moves in on the fries. Sam has barely eaten in the past day and a half, and now only picks at his piece of plain toast and a cup of water. He’s got to eat, Dean knows, if they’re going to survive this, but he just doesn’t have the heart to scold right now.
The café is quiet. Well, it’s late, and they’re in a small town. The only other people are two teenage boys smoking and splitting a plate of gravy fries, the cook (presumably) in the kitchen, and the waitress (Betty). It’s nice, warm and well-lit and sparkling clean.
Dean leans back in the squeaky upholstered booth and sighs. “Sure you don’t want something else? You want my fries?”
Sam gives him a half-hearted smile. “Don’t tell me you’re full,” he says. “They’ve got pie, I’m sure.”
He opens his mouth to respond, but then his phone beeps. He fishes it out of his jeans, and plays it on speaker so that Sam can hear, too. Maybe it’s a last-ditch effort, he isn’t sure, but for the first time since he’d started receiving these messages, he wants to share them with Sam.
Charlie’s voice seems loud against the hush of the restaurant, and tinny. But it’s still clear and strong as she reads to them for a solid ten minutes.
"’And why not?’” she finishes. “’Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies just because you helped them come about. You don't really suppose do you that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck? Just for your sole benefit? You're a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I'm quite fond of you. But you are really just a little fellow, in a wide world after all.’"
There is a long pause and Dean’s finger rests above his phone to shut it off, but he lingers for a moment.
“Time to save the world, boys,” she says. And then a click.
Dean glances up at Sam, who has somehow finished his toast, his water, and the rest of Dean’s fries. He doesn’t really look any better, he’s still gray-toned and tired, but there’s something about his face that makes him look…renewed. Dean grins.
“Right. You heard her. You ready?”