Oz is awesome.
It's everything that Charlie hoped life could be, when she first found out that the fantastical and horrible weren't so fictional after all. After the letdown of the real world, where the supernatural ended up being more blood and black ooze and politics than magic and swords and dragons, Oz is a breath of weird, wonderful fresh air.
And Dorothy? Much, much cooler than in the books. Unfortunately, also much more into adventure than in the books. Much less into dating than Charlie had hoped.
But still, Oz. Awesome.
And Charlie's still Charlie, tech geek and thinker-of-thoughts-outside-the-box. She’d figured, why not try and talk to home? Sure, they could try and open up another portal, go through all that tearing of space-time and general disturbing of the peace. Or she could come at it a different way: a sneakier, subtler, more Charlie sort of way.
That's how she's found herself here, crouched under a giant poppy, six-inch-high clockwork men gathered around her, as she builds a circuit board out of metal foraged from the ruins of the Wicked Witch's palace.
"Excuse me," she says, pushing against one of them with a gentle fingertip. "I need some space, okay?"
One of them lets out a squeak and pushes the others back, settling into a ticking semicircle around her. She stares at them for a minute, then shakes her head and goes back to work.
There’s no wi-fi in Oz, that’s one major downside. But she’s been researching magic since she first met Sam and Dean two years ago and she’s pretty sure it’s not all that different from the stuff she’s used to messing with.
There’s a current of it she’s been able to measure, here in Oz. The colors are different than on Earth, brighter somehow, and Charlie’s pretty sure it has something to do with the magic.
She wishes she’d brought her copy of The Amber Spyglass, because she’s felt a lot like Mary Malone the last few months (although more ex-programmer, less ex-nun). But the whole “using native technology to figure out science” thing? And the “trying to explain Earth technology through a language barrier” thing? Yeah. Those definitely apply here, too. Dorothy’s been helpful, sometimes, but there’s the “Earth vs. Oz” stuff, and then there’s the “1935 vs. 2014” stuff. Dorothy’s not much help explaining the internet. Or microchips. Or even, like, vacuum tubes.
Also, there’s only so many times a girl can have her references go completely over the heads of everyone in the universe she currently inhabits.
So yeah, she’s getting a little antsy. And while Oz is great, and she's not really interests in packing up and headingback, she’s ready to at least reconnect to her own world.
That’s why she’s here, in this field, trying to mix magic and electricity and a giant dash of hoping really hard into some sort of way to connect with home.
After all, this is Oz. Isn’t being able to get home the point of the whole story?
She twists the wire into place, then picks up the hex bag. She’d put it together based on a mix of Dorothy’s recollections of the spell that brought her to Oz and the data she’d gathered in her trusty iPad hunter’s journal app. She's had to do a few substitutions, since the stuff she brought with her didnt include everything she needed, but Oz has a lot of Earth stuff that's fallen through storms and tornadoes and who knows what else. The resulting hex bag is small and lumpy and it smells kind of weird, but she’s pretty confident it’s close enough to an actual spell that it might do the trick.
So she threads the loops in its knot with the end of the last wire, then twists the wire’s two ends together to complete the circuit. Then she steps back, picks up a flask of oil, and tosses it carefully over the whole metal-and-cloth-and-weird-herbs-and-stuff situation, whispering the spell in English and Latin and Enochian and even Klingon for good luck as she lights a match and touches it to the edge of the oil.
There’s a crackle of fire, then a high pitched screech, then suddenly everything goes very, very bright and–
Charlie opens her eyes to a cloudless blue sky and a tiny, metal face. She’s laying in the field, flat on her back, and for a moment she’s not sure where she is or how she got there.
The clockwork man scurries back, dropping down off her chest and disappearing into the tall grass, Charlie turns her head to watch him go, wincing as muscles protest. That's when she sees that her bag is beside her, and that something inside is glowing. She reaches out, rustles around in the bag, and pulls out–
“Holy crap!” She sits up, head spinning a little from the sudden movement, and brings her iPad close to her face. “Seriously?”
There’s a signal. It’s faint, but there’s a signal.
She decides not to worry about the image where the carrier name should be; it’s been so long since she paid for internet that it’s been blank since she got the device, but now next to the single little wifi bar there’s what looks like a beer can or something like that.
Instead, she starts up her web browser and clicks her bookmark for Wikipedia.
There’s a few moments of loading, then–
She frowns and navigates to the settings page. Everything looks like it should be working, and when she flips the display over to the code there’s the expected bits of magic interwoven with the operating system. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work, not when she’s hooked it into the current of magic that connects Oz to Earth. She should at least get some kind of extended service from some carrier. She’s never, ever not been able to get internet, anywhere on Earth.
Maybe it’s connecting to somewhere on Earth where there just isn’t internet? Somewhere under a mountain or the ocean, maybe, where there’s no signal getting through, or somewhere where satellites only pass infrequently, like the North Pole, or the Cocos Islands or something. Or maybe someone's lair, somewhere blocked from signals or–
She rolls her eyes. "Come on, Charlie," she says under her breath, swiping to the Maps app. "Don't be an idiot."
If the signal is coming from Earth, it'll show up on the map. Or at least, it should.
Charlie frowns at the screen. The blue dot is jumping around, the circle wide enough to encompass nearly all of North America. As she watches, the screen shifts and suddenly it's over Asia, now the Middle East, now southern Africa, and then back to where it's started. Finally the iPad gives a sad beep and an error message pops up.
"What do you mean you can't find my location?" She grumbles. "If there's a satellite signal, there's a location. That's just how this works."
The iPad doesn't answer.
"So what the heck are you even connecting to?" She asks, flipping through the connection data.
She taps a line of code and the screen goes dark. She's about to do a hard restart when an eight-bit style figure walks across the dark screen. It turns to face her, flipping its pixelated hair, and a speech bubble appears above its head.
WELCOME TO THE BADASS NETWORK, it proclaims. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO?
A list of options pops up to its left, text-adventure style, and Charlie can't help the grin that spreads over her face. She settles back against the flower stem, cross-legged, and clicks on LEARN MORE ABOUT DR. BADASS.
The figure zooms in until its face fills the screen. Now that there's more detail, Charlie can tell that it's a guy, wearing a sleeveless flannel and a long blond mullet.
HELLO, says the character. YOU CAN CALL ME DR. BADASS. THIS IS MY NETWORK. IT’S AWESOME.
“Okaaaay,” says Charlie. “That tells me–nothing.”
The character lifts a tiny beer can and chugs it. Charlie watches in fascination as his mullet actually ripples and his throat moves as he swallows.
He tosses it aside, and another speech bubble appears.
I’M DEAD. IT’S COOL, THOUGH.
Charlie waits, but nothing else happens. “Creepy, but not useful,” she mutters, and clicks the back button. This time, she selects WHAT IS THE BADASS NETWORK?
THE BADASS NETWORK IS A SYSTEM THAT PIGGYBACKS ON THE AXIS MUNDI IN HEAVEN.
Charlie blinks. “Heaven? Like, Heaven?”
IT’S HALF STRING THEORY, HALF A PRETTY WILD INTERPRETATION OF ENOCHIAN, AND ALL AWESOME.
She clicks the TECHNICAL SHIT button that appears and a set of equations pop up, scrolling across the screen almost too fast to be read. Charlie’s eyes widen. “Whoa. Okay, yeah, that actually is awesome.” She drags them around with a finger, rearranging them until she can follow them backwards through the various different cobbled-together languages and codes. There’s a healthy dose of magic and angelic stuff in there, too, and it’s a similar concept to what she’s doing here, but with a totally different set of rules and inspiration. It’s everything she needed for the other half of her project, and she’s pretty sure her work from Oz could fit neatly into this network’s functionality, too.
Suddenly, she really needs to meet this Dr. Badass.
“Dead. Heaven.” She mutters. “Oh, crap.”
Because yeah. That’s gonna make a meetup a little more difficult.
That’s when the chat window pops up, and Charlie nearly falls over in surprise, glaring at her iPad once she’s got her balance back. “You don’t even have a chat app.”
The iPad just beeps again, and she’s pretty sure it sounds smug.
DrBadass : hello there
DrBadass: anyone here?
Charlie scrambles to reply.
CaptainJaneway: Yes! Hi! I’m here! What is this? Where are you? Who are you?
DrBadass: whoa there with the questions. name’s ash. like the site says, i’m in heaven. and this is my network.
CaptainJaneway: Wait, you’re in HEAVEN. Like literal halos and choirs and stuff heaven?
DrBadass: more like beers and ladies, but yeah, that heaven. did i mention the dead thing? are you not here somewhere? this network’s never made it past the pearly gates.
CaptainJaneway: if you’re dead, how am I
CaptainJaneway: Sorry, dumb question. I’m in Oz, so I really can’t judge. I’m Charlie.
DrBadass: wicked witch, cowardly lion oz? how the hell did you end up there?
CaptainJaneway: it’s a long story, but I helping out some friends who were trying to save the world again. Oz seemed like a better option than Earth.
DrBadass : saving the world again? you wouldn’t happen to know a couple of guys named sam and dean, would you?
CaptainJaneway: Yeah, exactly! Just saw them a few weeks ago. Wait, you know them too?
DrBadass: the hunting world isn’t that big. i haven’t seen them since the last time they died. musta been a couple years since.
Charlie blinks. If this Ash guy knows Sam and Dean from a few years ago, then...
It’s been a while since she read the Supernatural books, and she’s skimmed over most of them, but something about this guy is ringing a bell.
CaptainJaneway: Wait, you’re THAT Ash? Roadhouse, MIT Ash?
DrBadass: the one and only. now tell me, who are you, charlie?
Charlie grins. Ash had been one of her favorite characters in the books (well, people, she supposes she should say. If the books are real, and of course they are, all the characters are actual, real live humans. It’s something she tries not to think about too hard, especially given the number of awesome, now-dead ladies).
It’s only after Charlie’s fought off another group of those stupid flying monkeys (you’d think they’d have disappeared once their leader was gone, but no, they just lost all sense of strategy and attack anyone and anything now) that she has a chance to put the new ideas she and Ash had developed to good use.
She’s figured out how to increase the signal strength until it’s running much, much faster (she wishes she could put it into some kind of measurement, but there don’t seem to be actual numbers involved, which she’s trying to just go with). But the signal icon’s wings are much bigger, more like an eagle or something than the pigeon they started as, and it’s time to try something new.
Ash says he’s got visuals on a lot of people’s heavens, and even on parts of Earth. She’s not sure how exactly he’s managed that, but she’d give her collection of original Trek Pez dispensers to get a look at his system close up. This whole magic-and-tech thing is pretty much the best thing ever.
Oz time is not anything like Earth time, she's pretty sure. At least, the days don't seem to be the same length, and they don't seem to ever match up to he idea of an earth day. Her iPad clock gave up a few hours in, and now just displays the time as 12:00, blinking like a broken VCR. And she's also pretty sure heaven time is different from both, because, duh, it's heaven. So it's not like she and Ash can, like, plan to chat.
It's a few days, by weird Oz-time, before she can get a minute to do more work on her little project. There's always something going on to keep her busy, here, whether it's a munchkin political coup or a new species of poppy that's taking down large chunks of the more common kind. It's not like she can fix any of it– she knows she's a tourist here and doesn't really know the landscape, but she's happy to help the locals with her weird, specialized areas of knowledge. It’s amazing how often legal issues here can be helped with vague ‘myths from her homeland’, and no one has to know the stories are actually the plots of various Trek episodes. Star Trek is sort of a cultural mythology, though, she’s decided. The closest the modern, western world has, anyway. And it's a better framework for political structure than anything Tolkien or Rowling wrote.
But anyway, she gets the tablet going and sits under the bright, oversaturated Oz sky (so bright, in fact that her solar-powered charger can just power her indefinitely, without even needing her to stop using the iPad during recharge), pondering her next step. It’s not like there’s a guidebook for connecting magical kingdoms to Biblical realms to the real world, but Charlie’s found she really does best when she’s got a problem and no real guidebook to solve it with.
The signal’s stronger today, and it’s not just on her end. Ash must have done something on the other side, something that made the system point at Oz rather than just sort of catching the wave or wifi or whatever it is that she’s hooking into.
She’s got an idea today, and she’s gonna test it out.
She's figured out that certain spots in Oz have stronger connections: places with water or wind or where it's recently rained; so she's found a spot that was hit a few days earlier by the storm that swept the countryside. It's a little windy and exposed, and even though she knows she and Dorothy took care of the worst of the monkeys, she still glances warily at the sky as she settles into a nook. There's no movement, though, and no clouds for them to hide behind, and that makes her feel a little better.
She boots up, typing commands into the interface, and soon Ash's network pops up on the screen. She clicks it, monitoring the connection on a bar at the bottom, and crosses her fingers.
There's a dial tone, then what sound a like a fax machine booting up. Then, finally, the sound of a phone ringing. "Come on come on come on," she whispers, but the phone keeps ringing and no one answers.
"Crap." She knocks her head back against the column. It should have worked, she thinks, reaching for the disconnect button.
Charlie almost drops the tablet. There's a video window open, blurry but there. As she stares it clears, the image sharpening. “Hi! Hey! Whoa–” she squints as she puts the video to full screen. “Yeah, you’re so not Ash. Unless–.”
There’s a girl on the screen, about Charlie’s age or maybe younger (although it’s Heaven, so who even knows), and she’s seriously hot. Like, Willow in season six hot. Except blonde, and Charlie’s always had a problem with blondes. Mostly that she can’t resist them. At all.
The girl narrows her eyes. “Who the hell are you?”
“Uh, Charlie. I’m Charlie.”
“Charlie? How are you still broadcasting? Where are you? I thought I was the last one!” The girl’s grabbing papers and computer parts and throwing them in a bag, and unbelievably hot or not, Charlie still winces with every crash. Then the words percolate through.
“Wait, what do you mean the last one? Where’s Ash?”
The blonde huffs. “Where do you think? That douchebag angel got him. He’s wherever they’re keeping everybody. Ash, Victor, Pam, my mom–they’re all missing, everyone.” She waves at the door that Charlie can see in the back of the room. “I’m getting out too. Did Ash give you the coordinates for the safe house?”
“The safe house, Jesus. Did he tell you anything?”
“Uh–” Charlie’s getting more and more confused.
“Wait.” The girl stops her packing and leans into the camera. “Wait, you’re not one of them, are you?”
“One of what?”
“One of the angels. One of the assholes stealing all my friends and hiding them somewhere in this fucking place.” Her voice is deadly, quiet. “If you are–”
“No! Nope, definitely all human, here! I’ve never even met an angel, you’re safe!” Charlie knows she’s babbling, but she’s also getting worried. Angels taking human souls? She’s read about what happens when that starts up and she’d really rather not see it again.
Life was much easier as an atheist, she thinks, vaguely.
The girl’s staring at her, packing forgotten. “Wait, never even met one? How is that possible? They did a census, everyone had to speak with one. Wait–did you, like, just die?”
“Oh!” says Charlie. “No! I’m not dead.”
“I’m not dead! Not even pining for the fjords.”
Charlie clears her throat. “Um, I’m not in Heaven.”
“Then where the hell are you? How are you even connected? Are you sure you’re not dead?”
Charlie blinks. “I mean, I’m pretty sure? I mean, there was a light and a tunnel, but it was a portal, and Dean said–”
The girl’s face clears. “Dean? Dean Winchester?”
Charlie brightens. “Yeah! I was in their bunker when–”
“Oh, yeah, see, their grandfather was apparently in this awesome secret society of nerds and–” a bright light sweeps across the screen from one of the windows and the girl jumps back up, sweeping machinery into her bag.
“I gotta go, they’re coming. Look, I’ll contact you again. I’m taking Ash’s laptop, it should work anywhere in Heaven.” She pauses a second. “I’m Jo, by the way.”
“Hi Jo,” says Charlie, and Jo gives her a toothy grin before disconnecting.
She’s explored an entire red-glass town when her iPad chirps again with the Skype alert, and she settles back against a spindly column, tablet on her knees. Jo’s face is a little calmer, and in the background all Charlie can see is rock. “Hi, there,” says Jo. “This a good time?”
Charlie snorts, unladylike. “It’s not like my schedule’s packed.”
“So–” Jo squints, peering at the camera. “Where are you, anyway? It doesn’t look like Heaven, and I’m pretty sure there’s nowhere that calm in Hell.”
“Oh! Right! I’m in Oz.”
Jo’s mouth drops open. “Oz, like, Oz? Lions and scarecrows and flying monkeys Oz?”
Charlie shudders. “Yeah. But I’m pretty sure we’ve gotten rid of most of the monkeys. Those things were not cool.”
“Yeah, even in the movie–” Jo shudders. “How the hell do you end up in Oz?” She looks thoughtful. “Wait, you are human, right? From Earth?”
“All human, I promise! It’s a long story, involving Sam and Dean and a whole bunch of weird stuff.”
“The Winchesters and weird stuff? Yeah. I can buy that.” Jo shifts, settling herself back against the rocks. “So, what, they trapped you there?”
“Oh! No, no, I decided to come. Earth is cool and all, but finding out about all this supernatural stuff? Kind of a letdown.”
Jo frowns. “What do you mean?”
Charlie sighs. “I was expecting–I dunno, magic and good and evil and, like, Harry Potter, I think. Finding out everything was just sort of bloody and grey? Major buzzkill.” She clears her throat, awkward all of a sudden. “So how about you? How’d you end up, y’know, in Heaven? Or is that a rude question?”
Jo smiles, cheeks dimpling, and Charlie gives up on trying not to crush on her, because damn, she is adorable.
“My dad was a hunter. I grew up around it all, so I didn’t really have the illusions you did, I guess. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.”
"So you were a hunter, too?"
"For a little while. My mom didn't really want me hunting. Said she didn't want me to end up like my dad."
Charlie has a pretty good idea of how that went.
"Anyway, yeah, I hunted with Sam and Dean for a while, then kind of--died. Trying to stop Lucifer."
"Oh." Charlie remembers that book suddenly, in crystal clarity. "Yeah. That happens with them."
"But yeah, hunting. It's pretty much all I wanted to do, even though I knew how rough it could be."
"Like I said, I had no idea it was even a thing until last year. But it turned out my boss was an ancient evil from the depths of Purgatory."
"No shirt." Jo looks impressed. "So, what, the Winchesters came to save the day?"
Charlie laughs. "Uh, sort of. I mean, they sort of recruited me. I was perfectly happy to just do my thing, but then--" she sighs. "I couldn't just look away, you know? The Leviathan were trying to take over the world."
"They didn't, though, right? Thanks to you?" Jo is still smiling at her, side and white and toothy, and Charlie can't help but grin back. "Well, yeah. I guess. I've got some pretty sweet hacking skills."
"Modern hunters," says Jo, rolling her eyes. "What will they think of next?"
"Hey, I helped stop the total distraction of the human race," says Charlie. "I'd say that was pretty awesome."
"Yeah," admits Jo, and Charlie is pretty sure she can feel her own face pinking a little at Jo's gaze, "yeah, it is."
She clears her throat, trying to get away from the subject before she totally embarrasses herself. "So, uh, what's your specialty, then? Obviously not computers."
Jo reaches behind her and pulls out a knife, flipping it end over end and catching it neatly. "Knives. I've got a whole collection."
Charlie whistles. "Okay, yeah, that's awesome."
"This one was my dad's," continues Jo, holding the hilt up to the camera. "Or, at least, the real one was. The one that's with my body, wherever that ended up." Her good humor fades as quickly as it arrived.
Charlie shakes her head. "At least you got to live your dream, I guess? Do what you wanted?"
"Well, for a little while. I was just a kid, you know? I mean, I even did try my best to get Dean into bed."
"Oh," says Charlie, deflating. "How'd that go?"
"Well, you may have noticed, Dean's not exactly the most, um, emotionally intuitive guy. So I got over that pretty quick once I got to know him." She shakes her head. "He did try the 'last night on earth' line with me one time, though. I kind of wish I'd taken him up on it, since it actually turned out to be my last night." She gives a wry smile. "Unfortunately, I've got self respect."
"Hey, I'm sure Dean's, uh, great with the ladies," says Charlie, suddenly feeling the need to defend her friend. "It doesn't sound like there were any complaints."
"What do you mean? How many of Dean's ladies have you talked to?" Jo looks a little suspicious, like she's worried Charlie's a stalker or something. "Or have you, uh–"
"Oh, jeez, no, definitely not. And none," Charlie assures her. "That would be really weird." She frowns. "Either one would be weird. He's not my type."
Jo rolls her eyes. "Dean's pretty much everyone's type."
"Not everyone," says Charlie, "Some of us aren't into dudes."
"Oh," says Jo. "Okay. Yes. So that would be weird."
"Also Dean is way too needy for me," continues Charlie. "I like them a little less codependent, personally."
Jo lets out a laugh. "That's actually a good point. He is, isn't he?"
"I mean, don't get me wrong, he's pretty much my best friend at this point, but I like a girl who's a little more emotionally settled, you know? Dean's a good LARP buddy, though. All that pretending to be the FBI. Gave him an eye for improv."
Jo leans in, eyes wide. "Wait a minute. You got Dean to LARP?"
"Oh, yeah. He's the official head handmaiden of the Kingdom of Moondor. He looks great with the flowing wig and leggings."
"This is Dean Winchester we're talking about, right? Green eyes, giant brother, daddy issues? You're not mixing him up with some other Dean?"
It's Charlie's turn to lean in, lowering her voice. "Jo, I'm gonna tell you a very important secret, okay?"
"Dean Winchester? Is a giant dork."
Jo grins at her, and Charlie grins back. "Okay, I guess I probably knew that. I just didn't know he knew."
"Oh, don't worry. I'm making sure he knows." Charlie shakes her head, the amusement fading. "Not that we've had much time for fun lately. Especially the Winchesters."
"What do you mean?"
"Dean's not big on calling people, or keeping them in the loop, but the last few times we've talked he's been–" she searches for the word– "distracted. Things on Earth with Metatron aren't all that great either, you know. You probably noticed the lack of angels up there."
"Well, they're all on Earth. And they're not happy about it. He's got a couple of them on his side, and the rest are split between a couple factions or are panicking and either going nuts or going catatonic."
"What about Castiel? Is he–"
"He's alive, as far as I know. Again, apparently. Dean doesn't talk much about Cas, though. Kind of a touchy subject. But Sam–" she sighs. "There's something weird going on with Sam, and I'm pretty sure it has to do with the angels."
"Shit." Says Jo. "So much for reaching Earth and getting help from the hunters. Sam and Dean are kind of the only big names left down there, now that's Bobby's up here." She grins. "Unless you count Garth, but from what I've heard from bobbly it might be safer to leave him out of it."
"Yeah, he's a good guy, but, uh, kind of a werewolf, now? Don't even ask," she says to Jo's incredulous face."Was that Ash's plan?"
Jo shrugs. "Ash isn't really one for giving detailed instructions, but yeah, that was the gist of it. Double pronged attack, all that."
"Well, you've got one sort-of-hunter on your side, now," says Charlie, hopefully. "Maybe I can do something?"
Jo smiles, sad. "I hope so. Otherwise we're all screwed, Heaven and Earth."
The storm is starting up again, swinging back around in that unnatural way that storms in Oz tend to, and she glances up at the sky. Clouds, grey and heavy, are building swiftly above her. "Oh, jeez. I gotta go, Jo," she says, regretful.
"Weather?" Jo asks, and Charlie nods, gathering her equipment in her bag. "Well, uh, call back when you’re settled. I want to hear more about Dean in a wig, and all that. And hey,” her voice loses the edge of laughter, "be careful, okay?"
"You too, Jo," says Charlie with a smile, and she slides the cover of the iPad closed, standing. The clouds are darker and thicker than she’d thought they were, and they’re swirling ominously. Light flickers in the edge of her vision and a drop falls on her shoulder, than another on her wrist. She thrusts the tablet in her bag and swings it around her front, trying to protect it as the rain falls harder and she runs for cover.
But by the time she’s under the overhang of a nearby tree, she’s soaked through. “Crap,” she mutters, under her breath, as she reaches into the bag. It’s not as waterproof as she’d hoped, and trickles of water have wormed their way into its protective flaps. The special case she’s built for her iPad is directly in the path of one of these little streams and she brushes the liquid off, frowning. As the sky clears again as suddenly as it darkened, Charlie pulls it out, tentatively pushing the power button.
The screen stays dark, and she lets out a sigh. Crap.
It takes a few days, but her system’s finally back up. She’d had to pop the back cover off and dry the whole thing out, then replace a couple of the connections, but it’s starting up and functioning finally. This time she’s learned her lesson, and though she’s in another one of the magic-wifi-spots, this one’s got a solid roof over her head.
She dials, crossing her fingers that it connects, and the icon only flashes a few times before it disappears and Jo’s face pops up on the screen.
“Oh, thank fuck,” says Jo. “I wasn’t sure if I should worry or not.”
“Computer problems,” says Charlie, apologetic.
“I figured it was something like that. If something was really wrong, you’d end up here, right?” She smiles. “It's nice to have a friend who's not dead."
Charlie chuckles. "Now you sound like Dean."
Jo rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well, I never thought it’d be weird to have friends who are alive.” She sobers. “How are they, anyway? Sam and Dean? I guess you know them pretty well.”
“You know how they are. Everything’s ‘saving the world’ or ‘destroying evil’ or ‘sacrificing myself for humanity’. Betrayals, tearful reunions, all of that. Last I saw them, they were doing pretty okay.” She frowns. “There was something weird, though, last time I saw them. Between the two of them. Weirder than usual."
“Yeah, sounds like the Winchesters,” says Jo. “Like I said, I hunted with them for a while, just a few hunts.” She smiles sadly. “Died for them. To save them. Save the world, or that’s what they said.”
Charlie’s not sure how to respond to that, so she gives an awkward smile and a thumbs-up. “Well, uh, world’s still there! So good job there, I guess? And hey, I actually died once with them too. A whole thing with the Wicked Witch and stuff. So you’re not the only one, at least.”
“But now I’m stuck trying to save Heaven instead.” She shakes her head, then meets Charlie’s eyes. Her gaze is open and vulnerable, and Charlie is reminded suddenly that Jo’s young, probably not more than 23 or 24. “Charlie, I don’t know what to do now that Ash is missing. He was in charge of all this. He was the one with the plan. I’m trying, but–” she sighs. “He’s a genius, and he doesn’t leave any notes on anything. He just does stuff and it works. I’m not like that.”
"But you're still a badass lady hunter, Jo! Come on, this is basically a big hunt! What would you do if this were, like, a douchey new kind of vampire or something?"
Jo blinks. "I hadn't thought of it that way. Uh, I guess I'd go through the lore first, see what his weaknesses are."
"Okay, so what do we know? Besides the fact that he's a dick."
"Well, he's not patient, that's something we've learned; he's willing to sacrifice his people to get the job done faster. He could have waited for Ash to leave on a mission, tried to get him there, but instead he launched a full on assault on the Roadhouse."
"Oh, yeah, that's definitely good. And we know he's all about stories; Dean said that was the excuse he gave for all the crap he pulled on Earth. He just wanted to hear good stories."
"Huh." Jo leans back, a glimmer of a smile on her face. "I know a story he'd like."
"What, the story of your knife in his face?"
Jo snorts. "Well, yeah, that. But, uh, there's this girl who's hunted vampires and ghosts and leviathan, who's traveled to Oz and defeated the wicked witch, who's already died once and been torn from his grasp–"
Charlie's shaking her head. "I dunno, Jo–"
"Look, if you popped into Heaven when whatever happened with the witch happened, he knew it. He's watching every entrance to the Axis Mundi. So when you got pulled back, you can bet he was pissed."
"Pissed enough to use it against him?"
"Okay," Charlie's mind is working. "Okay, so here’s what we can do.”
Gathering the ingredients for the spell isn’t quite as hard as Charlie had thought it’d be. Sure, they’re not exactly the same as their Earth counterparts, but she figures that’s probably good. The key to open the door from Earth to Oz had components from both sides in it, she discovered when she studied it; probably better not to have anything from Earth or she might end up back there instead. She's pretty sure that's how she ended up connected to Heaven instead of earth in the first place.
In theory, it shouldn’t be that difficult. Oz is part of the faerie realm, after all, where the veils to everywhere else are thin and pretty permeable. Stuff falls through all the time: bits of trash, houses, people, whatever. It’s kind of like Torchwood’s rift in that way, and Charlie wishes she could ask Captain Jack (or better yet, Tosh, because awesome) for help. She’s figuring out this magic stuff, but it’s still way outside her comfort zone.
But she’s got a handle on the tech part of it, that she’s sure of. It’s taken a lot of scavenging, some favors called in with Dorothy’s contacts throughout Oz, and some creative meteorology, but it’s all set up and she’s just waiting for the next storm to build.
“You’re really doing it, then?” asks Dorothy, plopping down on the grass beside her and staring out at the Oz countryside spread out before them. “You’re really gonna try and take Heaven?”
Charlie nods. “That’s the plan.”
Dorothy whistles and rests her elbows on bent knees. “Part of me wants to come with you. It’ll be like nothing else you’ve done, I’m sure.”
“You’re still welcome,” Charlie says, quietly. “You’re always welcome, Dorothy.”
Dorothy smiles, wistful. “I know. But I’ve got things to do here, Charlie, you know that. People who count on me. I can’t just jump through a portal any time I want adventure, not anymore.”
“You’re happy, though, right?”
Dorothy nods, a smile creeping over her face. “I am. It’s interesting, all this political stuff. And there’s just enough action to keep me sharp.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about going soft anytime soon,” says Charlie. “You’re kind of a total badass.”
Dorothy grins at her. “I know.” Her face softens. “And Charlie, you’re welcome here any time. In Oz, I mean. There will always be a place for you.”
Charlie reaches out, impulsive, and wraps her arms around Dorothy’s shoulders, yanking her into an awkward hug. “Thanks,” she says, quietly. “And if I don’t make it back–”
“You will.” Dorothy squeezes her once, then pulls back. “Charlie, you’re one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, and one of the bravest.” When Charlie starts to protest, Dorothy shakes her head. “No, I’m serious. You didn’t grow up with this, not like I did, or like the Winchesters or the rest of the Men of Letters. But you’ve learned it, and you’ve done more good work than most of them ever did. So you can do this, too.”
“Thanks,” says Charlie, something thick in her throat. “I–” she clears her throat. “Thanks, Dorothy.”
A drop of rain lands on her nose and she looks up at the sky. Dark clouds are building, low and ominous, and she jumps to her feet. “Showtime.”
So the key’s not as pretty as the one from Earth to Oz, yeah. But hey, it’s got personality. And Charlie’s pretty proud of it, even if it looks kind of like something a drunk Borg tried to assimilate.
There aren’t all that many doors in Oz, not ones big enough for full-size humans, anyway, and not after Dorothy took out the Wicked Witch’s bases. Still, they’d managed to scrounge one up, frame and all, and its standing all by its lonesome on a grassy hill high above the Ozian plains.
“Last chance to back out,” she mutters to herself, then shakes her head. “I am the keymaster.”
Dorothy gives her a weird look at that, and Charlie resolves to get some of the newer classics downloaded if she ever makes it back to Oz and actually gets the wi-fi to Earth working. Dorothy is missing out on seventy years of film trivia and it’s not good for their friendship.
The makeshift key glows a little in her hand as she gets closer to the door, and she’s pretty sure that’s a good sign. There’s also a force of some kind being exerted, some sort of magical magnetism or something, because the key is being pulled towards the lock and Charlie’s just being towed behind it.
In for a penny and all that jazz, she thinks, and stops resisting.
The key flies forward, dragging her too, and she nearly loses her balance before steadying herself on the wood of the door with a palm flat on its surface. She pulls away quickly, though, because the key is in the lock and the wood is heating up and–
There’s a loud noise, then darkness.
Charlie’s eyes flutter open, slowly, to a bright light and the sound of–birds? Crickets? Some kind of nature sounds, anyway.
There’s blue sky above her, brighter blue than she’s ever seen, and she’s laying somewhere soft and comfortable and she pretty much never wants to move. She has to, though, she thinks, although she can’t quite remember why.
She shifts a little, blinking, and there’s a fraction of a second where everything changes, goes dark and fragmented, then everything resets to the beautiful day.
There’s a field all around her, plush green grass and flowers as far as the eye can see, broken up by a few trees here and there and the occasional bush. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is bright and directly above her.
She blinks again, and there’s that moment again, of everything shifting. It’s bigger than she can comprehend, that darkness, and something in it is moving.
Charlie recognizes the place, though. It’s familiar, like something from a dream, and she’s getting really tired of this weird, foggy state she’s in.
She sits up, shoving against the lethargic calm suffusing her body, and it’s like breaking through a bag over her head, or–
Suddenly she’s picturing Neo bursting from his pod in the Matrix, and she shudders. Maybe a little too accurate.
This must be Heaven, she realizes, things coming back to her now. This is some poor schmuck’s idea of Heaven, and she’s managed to land in it. And she’s right out in the open, in enemy territory (Heaven is enemy territory, and that will never not be weird).
There’s a shed in the distance, or maybe a gazebo, and she pulls herself to her feet, brushing off her pants and shouldering her bag. For a moment as she stands she has to fight that lethargy again, pulling her back down and whispering to rest, enjoy, be finished, but she clenches her jaw and thinks of Buffy and Hermione and Martha Jones and that gets her moving.
From talking with Jo, Charlie knows what she’s got to do. There’s a road through Heaven, a road that weaves its way through all the different Heavens of every person who was ever deemed worthy of one. If she can find that, if she can get near it, she can find her way to Jo.
She knows better than to actually go on it, though. It’s the only part of Heaven that’s consistently watched. Heaven is huge, bigger than any human could comprehend, and she figures the angels assume that if no one’s travelling, everything’s hunky-dory. That’s how the resistance has managed to stay hidden so long.
The dark underbelly of Heaven, thinks Charlie as she sneaks through the dim forest. I should write a book or something if I survive this. Maybe a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Or would that be too close to home for Dean and Sam?
She’s not sure if it’s her own brain or some sort of twisted bit of Heaven’s code, but suddenly, there’s a path in front of her, and it’s bricked in bright yellow.
Well that’s ironic, she thinks, staring at the path. It looks an awful lot like the one she’s followed a hundred times through Oz, though there’s a strange sheen to it, different than that of Oz and faerie. Must be a Heaven thing. She shakes her head. Boy, when did being able to tell realms apart become a thing I do? She considers the road for a moment. Well, outside, like, Skyrim.
She steps aside, careful not to step on it, and starts through the woods a few feet to its left. Over here the brush is thick, but almost–nonspecific, like it’s the idea of underbrush rather than actual, defined plants. It’s like the watercolor background in old sci-fi movies, or the kind of houses you can’t interact with in a video game. Somehow too stiff and too sketchy at the same time.
Staying off the path isn’t easy, though she knows she’s got to. The second she puts a foot on those bricks, the angel Jo calls Metadouche will know exactly who she is and where she’s headed. So she fights its pull, staying a few feet away and veering back every time she looks away long enough to get pulled in.
Her iPad hooks into the network, though, when she thinks to pull it out, and the signal is much, much stronger here next to what’s basically the main conduit for Heaven.
She knows she’s somewhere near Jo. Jo’s signal is what she used to latch onto in the spell, after all, so she can’t be too far away. She’s not sure how to proceed, though, beyond just staying near, but not too near, the Axis Mundi.
There’s a beep from her iPad and she stops, pulling it out, and there’s Jo’s face, flashing above the Skype icon. Charlie smiles and accepts the call.
Jo’s face is crystal clear, now, finally coming through without the interference that bouncing between realms causes the signal to have. Charlie hates to be shallow, but Jo is even more gorgeous when her image is clear.
“Hey! You made it!” says Jo, teeth white and perfect in her smile. “Hold on, I’ll come find you.” She pokes through a bag beside her and pulls out what looks like an iPhone and fiddles with it a few moments. “There,” she says, holding it up to the camera. “There you are.” She points at a flashing dot on the screen. “See you soon, Charlie.” The screen goes dark.
It’s only a few minutes of waiting before there’s the snap of loose branches under feet and Charlie jumps up from where she’s been leaning against a tree.
“Hi there,” says Jo, real and there and in the flesh (or soul, maybe), and for a minute Charlie can only gape like an idiot at her, until Jo’s grin falters and she stops a few feet away. “Charlie?”
“Um!” Charlie scrambles to her feet. “Sorry, hi! I’m, uh, glad you’re here. And–not a ghost, or anything. Or just me going crazy.”
Jo raises a brow. “You going crazy?”
Charlie laughs. “Well, I was in Oz talking to a dead chick in Heaven via Skype. Doesn’t exactly scream sanity.”
“That’s fair.” Jo holds out a hand. “Let’s try this the right way, though. Hi, I’m Jo.”
Charlie takes her hand and shakes it, unable to keep the grin off her face. “Hey, Jo. I’m Charlie.”
“I figured that much. You’ve got everything you need?”
Charlie pats her bag. “I think so. At least, everything I think I might need. There’s gonna be some improvisation going on, I’m just warning you. And I’m not great with improvisation. Or fieldwork. I’m more of a, um, behind the scenes kind of girl.”
Jo claps her on the shoulder. “You’re my Hermione, then. I’ve always been more of a Harry, myself.”
Charlie, to her horror, can feel herself blushing, because she’s totally helpless against pretty, smart, fearless girls who know their Harry Potter. She clears her throat. “Does that make Dean Ron? Or Neville?”
Jo giggles, eyes lighting up. “Oh, man, if I weren’t dead, I’d love to tell him that.” She frowns. “I guess I’d have to make him read them first.”
“Oh, he’s read them. Well, the first four, anyway. He thinks he’s Sirius.”
“Hah! He would.” Jo sobers. “Maybe make him stop there. Might be better that way.”
“That’s what Sam says, but I think Dean liked ‘em a lot more than he’s willing to admit.”
“I’m just glad I didn’t die before the last book came out. Can you imagine how much that would suck?”
Charlie stares at her, horrified. “Oh my god. I never even thought of that.”
“Right? I’m still pissed I never got to see Iron Man 2.”
“Or the third one!” Charlie shakes her head. “After all this is over, I promise you, I’m gonna get you internet access up here. You probably won’t be able to upload anything, but I’ll get you into a filesharing program at least.”
“I–” Jo smiles, and it’s soft, this time. “Thanks, Charlie. That–that would be awesome.” There’s a long, quiet moment where she meets Charlie’s eyes, then she clears her throat and turns back to the task at hand. “What do we need for the spell?”
Charlie pulls out the bouquet of poppy buds she’d brought from Oz, carefully keeping them wrapped up in their paper sack. “Let’s start with these.”
“So?” Charlie sets the last flower in place and turns to stick the key in the door’s keyhole and lean the chunk of salvaged cubicle against it to shield it from view.
Jo’s leaning against a wall, arms crossed, a furrow between her brows. “So you think this might work?”
Charlie shrugs, pushing herself to her feet. “It’s the best shot we’ve got.” She looks around at the scene, which looks nearly unchanged from when they arrived. Their spell–their trap–is well hidden, she thinks.
“And if it doesn’t work?” Jo asks, shifting from foot to foot. “What happens then?”
“I mean, I’m already dead. There’s not much he can do to me, besides trap me wherever everyone else went. But you’re alive, you’re–”
“I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. We’re gonna do this, Jo. Together.”
Jo smiles a little at this, the worry fading the tiniest bit from her face. “Is this where I give you the ‘last night on Earth’ speech? I mean, if we were on Earth, I guess.”
Charlie blinks. “Um–”
“I just– I’m not sure what’s going to happen, after this. And I know we don’t have time, that we’ve got angels on our tail. And I’m dead, and you’re not, and all that, but–maybe when this is all over, we could get a drink or something? If we’re in the same realm, anyway?”
Charlie steps closer, into Jo’s space, and smiles. “I’d like that, Jo.” Her smile turns a little dark. “And hey, if things go wrong, we might be spending a lot of time together. Eternity, even.”
“Yeah, I like you, Charlie, but let’s try to avoid that, all right?”
“Good plan.” she’s about to turn back to her spellwork, and hesitates. “I wish we’d met–differently, Jo.” She leans in carefully, hand wrapping around Jo’s (awesome) bicep, and presses a kiss to Jo’s cheek.
Jo turns a little pink and she grins, wholeheartedly this time. “Yeah,” she replies, and reaches for Charlie, hands landing on Charlie’s hips. “Yeah, me too.”
This kiss is firm, her lips perfect against Charlie’s, and Charlie can’t help a whimper escaping as her arms tighten around Jo for just a moment, before they both pull away.
“Let’s do this,” says Jo. “Let’s do this, and let’s get everyone out, and let’s find a way to bring me back to Earth, or to get to Oz, or whatever, because I refuse to let that end there.”
Charlie stares at her a moment, then salutes, giddy. “Yes, ma’am.”
The moment stretches out, taut, until there’s a beep from the tablet under Charlie’s arm. She flips open the cover and swipes the lock, then sighs. “It’s ready.”
“Tell me again how this thing works?”
Charlie can’t help her excitement. “Okay, so the Axis Mundi is like a network, connecting all the heavens, right? Well, that means it’s not directional, not really. It’s more just–whatever points happen to be touching at a given moment are connected. There’s no real order to it.”
Jo nods. “Okay.”
“So any connection is like a wormhole, linking the two parts regardless of where they are.” She taps the screen.
“Like the Borg transwarp stuff at the end of Voyager?”
Charlie stares at Jo. “Oh my god.”
“I–” she takes a deep breath– “Okay, so we’re not going to talk about this anymore, because if you know Star Trek then I’m pretty sure you’re some kind of dream or I’m actually dead and in Heaven for real.”
Jo grins, all white teeth and sparkling eyes, and Charlie knows at that instant that she’s totally, completely gone on this girl, and that there’s nothing, not Heaven, Death or the Wicked Witch that could make her fall out of love.
But now isn’t the time for that.
She breathes in again, then out in a whoosh of air. “So yeah. Um. I guess it’s time to go.”
“And we can get back here any time?”
“Yeah, anywhere I mark on here.” She turns the iPad around to show Jo the screen, where a tangle of lines and flashing lights are weaving on the screen. “I can’t really track anywhere else, and it’s way too big to keep tabs on everything, but yeah. This spot is basically bookmarked.”
Charlie turns, pointing down the road, which has lost its bright yellow hue and is more subdued, halfway to asphalt, and she wonders if that’s a result of having two minds working on it at the same time. They only need to use it at the nexus points between Heavens, though, and Ash’s notes are enough to figure out how to hide them briefly enough to travel.
Fingers twine with hers, on the hand not holding the iPad, and squeeze gently. “What are we waiting for?”
Charlie nods firmly, taking one last glance at the network map, and starts walking.
It’s pretty cool, actually, the system she’s built to find the central hub of Heaven. Charlie’s not one to toot her own horn (well, not too much, anyway), but it might just be the most awesome thing she’s ever come up with. And she built it in less than an hour.
Without a marker in that location, there’s no way to jump there right away. Instead, they have to follow roads that’ve recently been connected.
It stands to reason that Metatron’s favorite Heavens would be the ones that popped up, since he’s the only being left up here who he hasn’t rounded up, so as the residual signals from the connections get stronger from more frequent use, they know they’re getting closer. It’s like crowdsourcing, she explains to Jo. Crowdsourcing, except the whole crowd is Metatron.
Jo shudders at this, and Charlie has to agree with the sentiment. She’s not thrilled with the prospect of one encounter with Metatron, and here they are, tracing his footsteps across Heaven.
The map on her screen gets more dense, the further they go, glowing paths of light like little Tron grid streams, weaving together until it could be a map of capillaries and veins all heading into the same, central heart.
“At least there aren’t any guards,” says Jo, quietly. “If he threw all the angels out, we know that much.”
Charlie nods, emphatic, then stops in her tracks. In front of them is the slight patch of blurriness, the section of air they can’t quite look straight at, that signals the boundary between Heavens. “This is it. This is the last one,” she says, voice steady, but just barely. “You ready?”
Jo shrugs. “I’m already dead. I’m always ready.”
Charlie grips Jo’s hand tightly and takes a deep breath, closing the tablet and tucking it in her bag. “All right. Let’s do this.”
Jo squeezes back, and together they step forward into the buzzing air.
This transition takes longer than all the others, and Charlie’s body burns all over as lights and colors and noises assault her senses. They’re almost numbers, somehow, numbers she can’t quite read, and in a tiny, lucid part of her mind all she can think is that this is the code of the universe, right here, that this is the language of God and of nature and no matter what else happens in her life, if she dies or if her soul is winked out or if she’s trapped for eternity in Heaven’s waiting room it’s all worth it for a glimpse of this.
And then it ends, like they’d never been trapped, and there’s a sweaty hand still clutching her own and Charlie swallows and tries to keep her stomach from rising up and leaping out her throat. They’re both on the ground, curled before a door on dark wooden paneling. The walls are wainscoated, the ceilings low, and gas lights flicker on the wall.
Jo coughs beside her and clambers to her feet, pale and unsteady, and pulls Charlie up with her. “Wow,” she says, staring at the dark walnut of the walls and the unsteady light of the lamps. “It’s like Masterpiece Theatre on steroids.”
Charlie snorts, feeling a little more like herself. “Yeah. Majorly douchey.” She pulls out her iPad. “This is near where the signal is strongest, though.” she points to the door in front of them. “Through there.”
“Any sign of Ash?”
Charlie swipes over to what she’s decided to call On-High-fi (because she’s hilarious) and scrolls through the signals. It’s kind of a mess, as any network hub might be, but there’s something new, something different than all the background signals of Heaven.
She clicks through, pushing aside the buzz of the Axis Mundi and the hum of what’s gotta be Angel Radio (although there’s no one listening, as far as she knows, which is kind of depressing).
And there, under it all, is a familiar signal.
“Got it!” she says, pointing at the wobbling wave on the screen. “He’s here.”
Jo leans in as an info box pops up. “Wait, is that–are you picking up his bluetooth?”
Charlie shrugs. “Hey, if it works, it works.”
“It’s just–we’re not even on Earth, and bluetooth still works?” Jo shakes her head. “I thought you’d have to build something special or something. I mean, it’s not even a real phone.”
“In Heaven, you can make anything real, anything you really know the heart of, you know? For people like me and Ash, it’s computers and tech and wires. For you, it’s probably something like blades and weapons, right?” Charlie leans in and taps the hilt strapped to Jo’s belt. “This is your real knife, up here. It’s as real as anything I brought in.”
Jo’s hand slides down to cover Charlie’s, then slips under it to flip open the strap that holds the hilt in place. “Then I better have it ready.” Her smile is crooked. “You’re right, I know this knife better than I know my own hands. So I guess that means it’s real.” She hesitates. “You ready for this?”
Charlie rests her hand on the doorknob and breathes out a long breath. “Yeah.”
The door swings open silently, like the hinges have been oiled, and the two step through it.
More paneling and dark wood greets them on the other side; a long hallway filled with doors and old oil paintings of famous playwrights and novelists and poets on the walls. Their eyes seem to follow Charlie as she walks carefully past them, Jo close behind her, following the flashing dot that’s Ash’s signal.
It’s empty, dim and quiet and waiting, this stillness, and Charlie almost wishes something would happen, just to break it and tear those dead eyes from her neck. It makes her want to scream, and she doesn’t even realize she’s tensing until a hand rests on her shoulder and squeezes.
“Hey, hey, don’t let it get to you,” says Jo, quietly. “He wants you to panic, wants you to feel this way. It’s part of his security system.”
Charlie blinks. That makes sense, she thinks, focusing on the touch of Jo’s hand rather than the thudding empty nothingness. He sounds like the kind of asshole who’d use a person’s loneliness to make them vulnerable. If he doesn’t have anyone else up here, he’s gotta keep people out somehow.
This is his Norton, and we’re the Klez virus. Only, his software? Not gonna cut it.
She straightens, forcing her shoulders to relax. It’s easier, having a metaphor, like it always is. It’s a sheet of glass between her and the world, and it’s keeping the terror at bay.
She keeps moving, Jo’s had still curled around her shoulder.
It’s not easy, hunting a blinking dot whose signal ebbs and strengthens erratically like this one. They’re definitely getting closer, that’s for sure, but the corridors twist and turn and she’s starting to worry how long their cloaking system will hold. They’re inside his stronghold, now, infiltrating the Death Star, and there’s only so much time until someone realizes she’s a little short for a stormtrooper.
Charlie knows she's nervous, and she tries to tamp it down, but her brain can't help spouting references. Briefly, she wonders if Metatron has this problem. He's definitely the worst kind of fanboy, she thinks, then grits her teeth and focuses back on the situation at hand.
“Hold it!” she whispers as they turn a corner and her map pivots, putting out a hand to stop Jo from crashing into her. “I think this is it.”
They’re in front of a door, just like all the others in the endless halls, but the signal is stronger than ever before and it’s steady, not even blinking on Charlie’s screen.
The door is locked, of course, because this has all been way too easy. Charlie’s shaking the doorknob, rattling the hinges and wondering if she can manage to pick the lock or something, when Jo clears her throat.
Charlie turns to look at her, and sees her standing, hand on her hip, holding her own phone and dialing.
“What are you doing?” Charlie asks, hand still on the wood of the door.
Jo holds up a finger and puts the phone to her ear.
Charlie can just barely hear the tinny tone of its ring, once, twice, then a familiar voice saying, “Jo?”
“Holy crap,” she whispers. “You just–called him?”
Jo shrugs. “Hey, Ash.” She pokes at the screen putting it on speaker. “Charlie and I are here to break you out.”
“Nice,” he says. “I got your mom here, Jo, and some other people, too. Looks like we’re being held underground, somewhere, but I’ve got my phone and he hasn’t figured out how to block the signal. As you know.”
“We’re at a door that looks like it leads to you,” says Charlie, leaning in towards the phone. “But it’s sealed up pretty tight.”
Ash snorts. “The lock might be, but I know for a fact Metatron’s got a little less patience than he should. He likes to skip steps.”
Jo’s eyes widen, and she fumbles in her bag before pulling out a screwdriver. “Gotcha.”
“What?” asks Charlie, but Jo just hands her the phone and leans in towards the hinges, sliding the blade between the knuckles and the central bolt, wiggling it carefully up and down, and Charlie suddenly gets what her plan is.
“Well that’s just lazy,” she comments. “He only sealed the lock?”
“Bingo,” says Ash. “Like I said. Lazy. Doesn’t take the time to do it right.”
“A fact you should be grateful for,” chides Jo as the middle bolt pops free, and she goes to work on the bottom hinge. “Or else you’d be a lot less close to rescue.” This bolt comes out a lot quicker, and she moves on to the final one, the top one. She pulls Charlie closer, gesturing to her that she should hold the door while Jo works at the last hinge, and Charlie complies, bracing herself against the polished floor and tucking the phone in a pocket.
The bolt pops free and clatters to the floor, rolling down the hall, and Charlie winces at the sound while Jo sticks the screwdriver between the door and the frame and levers the door out. Her shoulders bunch, muscles standing out against her tee shirt, and Charlie tries to focus on the door she’s holding rather than on staring at Jo.
There’s a pop, and the door swings out a foot or so before Charlie stops it. Jo grins at her and slips through the opening.
Charlie follows her through, carefully pulling the door back almost into place, but leaving enough of a gap that they can reopen it if need be.
They’re at a landing at the top of a set of stairs, much less ornate wood paneling and more just concrete and steel. It feels like the service end of a fancy hotel, where there’s a line to cross between form and function. This staircase and back way is firmly in the function category, all the more jarring for the ostentatiousness of the hallway behind them.
The light is dim, flickering, but more fluorescent and less mood lighting, and Charlie pulls the phone back out and whispers, “Ash? You still there?”
“I’m here,” he says. “I can see you on my tracker, now. You’re getting closer.” He pauses, and Charlie follows Jo around a corner as the stairs turn. There are doorways on the landings they pass, closed and dark and ominous, but the signal keeps getting stronger.
“Stop!” says Ash, and Charlie freezes. “You guys just passed us, I think.”
Jo steps up past Charlie to stand in front of a dark, metal door. “Here, Ash?”
Charlie follows her. “Bingo,” says Ash. “You’re real close now.”
This doorknob turns easily, and they share a glance and a shrug before pushing it open and walking carefully through. There’s more deserted corridor on the other side, and Charlie spares an idle thought for the fact that if she ever took some place over and help a bunch of people prisoner, she’d definitely remember to keep some of the guards around.
This is too easy, she thinks, and then shakes her head. Stop it. Don’t jinx this. Easy is good. We like easy.
The corridor leads to another door, this one locked with what looks like a padlock, but it’s hanging open.
“I don’t like this,” says Jo, abrupt, and Charlie nods, but they’ve really got no choice at this point, so she slips the lock from its bracket and steps back, swinging the door open.
And there's a guy who must be Ash, and Charlie recognizes Bobby and Ellen from a picture Dean's got hanging in the bunker, and a crowd of other people and pushing at the door. Beyond them is a void, dark and hard and empty despite the bodies appearing from it and Charlie tries not to look at it too long as the people start to stream out around them.
Then they freeze, Ellen's arms around Jo and Ash reaching out to shake Charlie's hand, staring behind her, and Charlie turns slowly to face whatever's caught their attention.
And there he is. Metatron is standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall, arms casually crossed over his chest. "Welcome to Heaven, Celeste Middleton," he says, he corners of his mouth stretching up like the Grinch. "Or is it Heinlein? Bradbury? You have a certain fondness for stories, too, I think."
Charlie takes an involuntary step backwards, but meets his gaze squarely. "At least I know they're not mine to write," she replies, and he laughs. Behind her, she hears Jo whispering something to the others. Just gotta keep him talking long enough for everybody to hear the plan, she thinks.
"I like you," Metatron says. "I want to hear your story."
"Yeah, that's never happening," she says, and he laughs again.
"You can't get away from me, you know," he says, smiling, calm, suddenly, like a spider in a well-woven web. "You're heroes, all of you, good people. You'll just end up back here again eventually." He shrugs. "But I don't want to wait that long. And you know what? I don't have to."
He surges forwards reaching for Charlie, and she tries to see behind her, to make sure Jo and Ash are getting folks organized and touching according to their plan. Metatron takes another rep forward, smiling at her, and she moves backward again, bumping into someone who grabs her hand, and it's time. Everyone’s grasping at each other, a long chain of human souls, and Charlie can’t wait any longer because Metatron’s hand is about to close on her forearm. She closes her eyes and hits the bookmark on her screen as his fingers touch her skin, wishing and hoping and all that jazz for this ridiculous plan to work.
And it does, yanking her through that terrifying void again to land in the Heaven where she and Jo had set up only a little while earlier. And there’s a horde of ghosts with them, all shoving forward, a thick line of souls pressing themselves between Metatron and her and she stands up tall, yelling, “You want my story, you dick? Come and get it!”
Metatron stalks forward, shoving people aside left and right, and Charlie feels Jo’s familiar presence beside her and it steadies her as she reaches a hand back to grip the key.
“What about Jo’s, here? I bet it pisses you off that you couldn’t get her, too!”
She steps back one more small step, and them Metatron’s on them, suddenly huge and shadowy and nothing like the little hobbitty man he'd appeared as earlier. Charlie can feel the weight of his presence pressing against her chest, but she’s shored up by Jo beside her and the solid weight of the key in her hand.
It’s Jo who moves, though.
“Fuck you, and your damn bathrobe,” she yells, reaching out to grab Metatron’s lapels. He’s so shocked that he falls forward when she yanks him around, and Charlie wrenches the key in the lock and shoves the door open. She tumbles through, fighting the urge to black out as the darkness consumes her. There’s a whirling and a howling and then it’s gone and she lands hard on grass and dirt. Metatron tumbles after her, followed by Jo and a horde of others before the portal winks out of existence.
Jo lands deftly, rolling her momentum away and popping to her feet beside the angel. Metatron draws himself upright, face stormy and nothing like the mask of casual, unconcerned observer he’d maintained in Heaven. He opens his mouth, about to say something, but there’s a flash of light as Jo’s knife slams into his chest, blinding and blue-white and bleaching out the view of his shocked face. Charlie throws her hands over her eyes, but it barely dims it at all. She remembers, faintly, tales she’s heard about angels, how their grace can burn out your eyes and burst your eardrums or make your heart explode, and she prays to anyone out there even though she knows they just emptied Heaven.
But she her eyes don’t burn to a crisp, and she doesn’t die, or at least, she’s pretty sure she doesn’t. Instead, the light fades to nothing, and there’s silence.
After a moment, she peels her hand from her face, blinking away moisture and the colorful splotches covering her vision.
There’s Metatron, eyes closed, blood seeping from a wound in his chest. All around him, weeds and ferns and wildflowers are blooming, breaking through the yellow bricks of the road and mixing with the native poppies. They’re all tall, at least waist-high already, and scattered among them are people, laying flat on their backs, eyes closed.
She drops down beside Metatron, staring at him cautiously, but his eyes are open and unblinking and there’s no pulse when she tentatively rests her fingers against his neck. So she stands and rushes to Jo’s side, dropping back down to her knees.
“You’re already dead,” she whispers, “you’re already dead, so you’ve gotta be okay.”
Or maybe not, she thinks, terrified. Maybe the blast did something. Maybe it burnt out her soul, and finally, totally, extinguished her. Maybe she’s gone, and it’s–
Jo groans, shifting on the ground, and Charlie gasps. “Jo!” She falls down beside her, like a puppet whose strings have been cut, and pulls Jo against her. “Holy crap I thought you were dead. Or–more dead. Or something.” She buries her face in Jo’s shoulder. “Oh my god I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Charlie–” says Jo, and there’s something in her voice that makes Charlie pull back, something a little panicked and a lot confused.
“What? What is it?”
“Charlie, I’m–” she’s staring at her hands, eyes wide. There’s a scrape across her knuckles, and a bruise forming on her opposite wrist, and– “Charlie, I’m alive.”
“What?” Charlie grabs her hands, pulls them up close for inspection.
“I never change, in Heaven,” says Jo, voice almost dazed. “Nothing ever changes, not for long, anyway.”
“Oh my god,” says Charlie. “Oh my god.” And she has to do it, because Jo’s laughing and she’s alive and there’s dirt in her hair and her eyes are shining and Charlie just does it, just leans in and kisses her, and Jo’s kissing her back, hands burying in Charlie’s hair, when there’s a loud snort from behind them and then a muffled what the hell.
Jo pulls back, eyes still fixed on Charlie’s, and calls out, “Ash? You good?”
“I'm good!” calls Ash from a pile of brambles. “Looks like I’m not dead anymore, though!”
“Great!” calls Jo, and she kisses Charlie once more, closed mouthed and gentle and a promise of more to come. Then she stands and smiles at Ash, and Charlie’s breath catches in her throat at how freaking beautiful she is, and how alive.
All in all, twenty or so people made it through, to the field of Oz. They’re all back, alive and well, Ash and Ellen, Bobby and Rufus, Pamela and Kevin and Victor, and everyone who’d been gathered near them in the veil Metatron had trapped them in. The strangers Charlie smiles at, handing them cups of tea from Dorothy’s stores. She leaves the explanations for someone else to deal with. She’s done her part: they’re all alive and safe from Metatron, if confused and exhausted, but they’re alive nevertheless.
She figured she’d give them a night here, in Oz, where weirdly enough it’s safe from angels and demons alike because Faerie bows before nothing. The beds are soft, the water is cool, and there’s all sorts of clothes that have floated through the rift for the people who died in their underwear or in their pajamas to pick from. They’ve got to be ready for the world as it is now, because that’s where they’re headed.
She’s sitting for a moment on a wide, flat stone that’s peeking out of the new tangle of bushes and flowers when Ash plops down beside her, hair fluttering in the Oz breeze. It’s their first real chance to talk, after the adventure the day before and the stunned, exhausted night.
“So,” he says, “guess it worked.” He holds out a hand. “Good to meet you finally, for real this time.”
She shakes his hand, grinning at him. “I can’t believe your phone worked in Heaven.”
He shrugs. “Well, you know,” he tosses his hair and shrugs. “Maybe I made a few–modifications, here ’n there.”
She raises an eyebrow. “A few?”
He ducks his head, his smile spreading across his face. “Maybe more than a few.” He turns toward her more, meeting her eyes. “Seriously, though, Charlie, I owe you a couple beers for sure. You did more than your part on this. You saved the world, my friend.”
Charlie laughs. “Apparently that’s a thing I do, now. Help people save the world.” She shrugs. “We do what we have to.”
“Is that what this is?” Ash asks, gaze flicking to Jo, who’s standing beside her mother and glancing at the two of them. “Nothing to do with that señorita over there, giving you the eye?”
“Hey, I do what the world needs from me,” she says, grinning at him. “Ladies love a hero.”
“That they do,” he replies, pushing off from the rock. “That they do.” He tips his trucker’s cap to her. “‘Scuze me, I’m gonna go see if Pam needs some company.”
“You do that,” says Charlie, shaking her head fondly.
Victor Henricksen’s the next person to stop by her rock, all slow smiles and cool grace, and she likes him immediately. Dean’s mentioned him once or twice, the guy who could have been their friend, their ally for too short of a time. She remembers him from the books, too, a shadow on the Winchesters for years, then a sudden co-captive and believer.
“So from what I’m piecing together,” he says, no preamble, and she likes that about him, “this is Oz. Like, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Toto, Oz.”
“Huh.” He leans beside her. “I should have known it was real. Everything else is.”
He snorts. “Except Bigfoot.” He stares out at the field, and the people milling around it. “So what happened? Nobody’s talking about it.”
Charlie sighs. “I’m not sure. I’ve got a theory, though.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Angels–they’re supposed to be about creation, and protecting humanity, and all that, right?”
“And here in Oz, we’re basically outside their jurisdiction. This is faerie territory, not God’s.” She leans back, staring up at the sky that’s just a little too blue. “So they don’t have their powers. They’re useless.”
“Like a federal agent in Canada. Okay.”
“Exactly. Their grace is held in, repressed, not compatible with the matter, here. So they’re vulnerable.”
“That’s how you killed him.” He shakes his head. “Still doesn’t explain how I’m sitting here, alive.”
She smiles at him. “I’m getting to that. So the grace is still there, just can’t be used. But when he died, it had to go somewhere.”
“And that somewhere–that was us?”
Charlie nods. “You’re human souls where you don’t belong. Above all, angels are about order and life. So when his grace burst out, and the only thing made of anything it could affect was a group of human souls–”
“It built us bodies. Brought us back.”
“Huh. So Metatron did what he was supposed to, in the end. He created, even if it wasn’t his plan.”
Charlie shrugs. “How ironic. Since what he really wanted was to keep everything to himself.”
Victor smiles, then shudders, a sudden question occurring to him. “So what am I made of, then? If it can’t use the stuff here?”
“I–” Charlie frowns. “You know what? Maybe it’s better not to ask too many questions.” She pats Victor’s arm. “You’re human enough to make it through to Earth, that much I know.”
“Guess we’ll see.” He glances out again and his eyebrows go up. “I’m gonna go see if anybody needs anything.” He nods at Jo, who’s making her way over. “You two kids be good, now.”
Charlie smiles, but she’s only got eyes for Jo.
Now that the chaos has cooled, she can just take a moment to be grateful. Not a rushed, desperate prayer, but a fervent, heartfelt thank you to the universe for her good fortune. She met a girl, an incredible girl, and they’re both alive, they’re together, and if she’s really, really lucky, there might even be some kissing in their future.
“Hey,” says Ash, appearing beside her again with a nod. “So. Yeah. We’re definitely not dead.” He winks at Pamela and straightens the collar of his sleeveless shirt. Pam gives him a slow smile and he lets out a long breath. "Suddenly I'm more grateful for that."
Charlie raises an eyebrow.
"Rees, uh, not much passion in Heaven, if you catch my drift. But anyway. That's between me and the ladies."
Charlie grins. "Lucky lady."
Ash shrugs. “Lucky me." He flops down beside her on the rock. "So this is Oz. Nice place.”
She shrugs. “Yeah. Especially now that you all are on your way back to life, basically.”
He shakes his head. “You are something else, Charlie, you know that?” He points a finger at her. “You be good to Jo, now.”
Charlie blinks at him a moment. “Uh, yeah, okay?”
“Because Heaven’s a mess, amiga. And now there’s nobody up there.” He cocks his head, hair flipping in the breeze. “You get my drift?”
“Wait a minute.” She stares at him. “You’re taking over?”
He shrugs. “I got the tech running, so why not? I've got a few changes I think need making.”
“Huh.” There’s a heady, giddy feeling rising in her stomach, and she grins at Ash. “Humans running heaven. I like it.”
“It’s a new era up there, Red. Gonna break down the barriers, rebuild it all.” He’s grinning too. “But don’t worry, it’s all gonna be open source. People can mess with their own heavens, if they’ve got the skills.”
“And the angels?”
Ash shrugs. “They can come too. But I’m in, now. I’ve got full access, my friend, and they can’t boot me out.” He shrugs. “They’re gonna be working with Dr. Badass, if they wanna come back to the human side. And I’m not gonna mess with their end of it.”
“Life in Heaven’s gonna change,” says Charlie, as a warm figure presses against her side. She smiles at Jo, who grins back.
“And this is where I say adios,” says Ash, tossing his hair over his shoulder. “I hope I don’t see you two too soon.” He pulls Jo into a hug, then Charlie, and takes the key from her. “I’ll get this back to you.”
“Keep it,” says Charlie. “I can always make another one.”
“I’m tightening the borders, though,” says Ash. “All this travel isn’t good for the universe.”
Charlie nods. “We’ve all read the Subtle Knife. We get it.” She hesitates. “But, uh, keep a line open, okay? Just in case.”
He gives a thumbs-up, then wanders into the crowd that’s milling nearby, waiting to go home. He’ll find his own way, Charlie thinks. And we’ll see him again.
“So.” Charlie turns to Jo. “I think you said something about a drink?”
Jo grins, bright and gorgeous. “I think I did. Ready to go?”
The door to Earth is ready, waiting for them to turn the key. Jo slips her fingers into Charlie’s and Charlie steps forward and twists the key in the lock.
Golden light spills from around the doorframe, and the crowd behind them goes silent, awed and expectant, and the door shimmers, vanishing into nothingness in the bright light.
Jo grins at Charlie, and Charlie grins back.
“Geronimo?” says Charlie, and then sighs. “Right, you weren’t around for the Eleventh Doctor.”
Jo rolls her eyes. “You can show me when we’re home. Come on.” She tugs Charlie forward, and they disappear into the glowing light of Earth.