Chilly air rushed past, making Charlie's long locks flutter constantly while Mia flew expertly through the vast metallic tunnels of the air vents. Now this was what she called an adventure! Seeing the world from an impossible angle, it almost felt like a forbidden secret she was let into. An entirely new world. And the company wasn't unpleasant, either.
Mia hadn't spoken since their ascent, tunnel-visioned on her mission. Charlie couldn't even get a read on what she was thinking behind those glossy goggles of hers. She sure made the flying look effortless. Now that her mechanical wings were fixed, Mia acted like flying was merely an extension of herself. A little tilt to the right, a little angle of her legs together... It was incredible, how easy she made it look. Charlie mentally made notes of her performance, wondering if maybe, after this all blew over, Mia would be generous enough to let her go for a spin herself.
At a dark junction, a fork in their path, Mia pulled back into a hover. Her wings slowed down upon her will, and she lowered to the ground.
"Why are we stopping here?" Charlie asked, dismounting from her grasp.
Mia pulled off her goggles and held up a finger to shush her. She cocked her head to the side, her blue eyes sternly fixed on a random point. "Do you hear that?" She whispered.
Charlie frowned, straining her ears. At first, all she heard was the rattle of the air conditioning. But after a moment, something in the background grew more prominent: an eerie, wretched whispering noise, and something moving through the vents.
"The witch," Mia exclaimed, already backing away. "Damnitall, she's coming this way! Come on!"
She seized Charlie's wrist and pulled her along with her. They sprinted back along the vent on foot, tiny footsteps clicking on the metal. Charlie veered right, steering Mia towards the first opening they passed. Filtered light poured in through the darkness: a grate cut off the tunnel, leading them to an entry point to a room in the bunker.
"The latches!" Mia whispered urgently. She raced to fiddle with the hinges securing the grate in place. Charlie mirrored her, grasping the metal bolt and shoving it to the left with all her might. She managed to make it click open just as she realized Mia had stopped moving. She froze up and whirled around: the green smoke traveled past in a deliberately sinister fashion. It was so close, she could smell the rancid odor of blood and fear. Or maybe the fear part was just her. Charlie didn't dare breath as the smoky green mess moved through the air vent, so afraid and feeling like a rat in a cage.
The witch traveled onward without so much as pausing by their vent opening. Even after she was out of sight, Mia and Charlie waited a few seconds until the eerie whispering noise had passed before deciding it safe to talk again.
"I hate close calls," Mia muttered, laying a hand over her heart. "Only way to take down that bitch is by ambush. Can't do that when she's in her smoker form."
Mia touched the sheath on her hip. Charlie frowned, cocking her head curiously at the weapon.
"Dorothy said she couldn't find a way to kill the witch." Charlie said skeptically. “Poppy bullets stun her, but they won’t keep her down forever… Right?”
"Plenty of ways to piss her off. Only one way to actually kill her.” Mia replied. She pulled the knife out of its sheath, tilting it to hit the light. It glinted a radiant shade of crimson as a ray of light hit its polished surface. The knife looked handmade, with a metal handle crafted onto the base of a ruby shard. “Took me half a decade to get my hands on this."
"Oh, like the ruby slippers!" Charlie connected, her face lighting up.
"Well, it's not real ruby persay." Mia said, slipping it securely back in place. "It's actually a crystallized stone formed from the blood of fallen-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Charlie waved her hands dismissively with a grimace. "I've had enough of my childhood ruined today."
A shuffling sound drew her attention- Big, heavy steps. It came from the room this time. Charlie turned around, peering through the metal pattern of the grate. The vent wasn't far off the floor, positioned under a table. She could hear voices though, and knew her friends couldn't be far. A pair of denim-clad legs strode into view further into the room, which Charlie recognized as Dean's.
She smiled. "Great timing." Charlie made quick of unlatching the clasps like she'd watched Mia do.
"Charlie!" Mia whispered. "What are you doing?"
"Help me with this," Charlie implored. "We can't just sit around in a vent while she's in her creepy smoke form. We need a better spot."
For a moment, it looked like Mia might refuse. But watching Charlie strain her meager upper body strength against the grate softened her resolve.
"Don't hurt yourself." She grumbled, bracing herself on the metal.
It took a few grunts of effort between them before they managed to pop the old vent open. Mia took Charlie's hands, helping to lower her to the floor. Charlie turned around to help her down in return, but Mia had herself taken care of. In a flash of skin and armor, she landed in a tense crouch next to her.
"Wow." Charlie couldn't help but be impressed all over again. Mia caught the utterance and smirked as she passed.
Pushing her goggles more securely on her head, Mia ambled over towards the table leg, careful to stay out of sight from the menacing human not twenty feet away. She craned her neck back, trying to see beyond into the rest of the room. The wicked witch was unpredictable at best. There was no telling where she would materialize next, considering she had the key. Any door would do make herself a portal to Oz.
Smiling proudly, Charlie strut right towards Dean. From what she could see of him, the blonde hunter was pacing in his methodical search for the wicked witch, checking around large shelves and furniture pieces. Anywhere the mangled witch could be lurking. Charlie imagined the shock on his face when he discovered she had gotten out of the safe room. Boy, would he be impressed with her now. Five inches tall, and she couldn't be shut down!
For the longest time, she could only see his legs, then his chest... Geez, there was so much of him! Finally, his face came into view. It sent butterflies involuntarily through her entire body to see him from this angle. It was like looking up at a denim-clad god. It was a shame she left her cell phone in the kitchen before shrinking. No way to take souvenir pictures.
Fearlessly, Charlie took a step out in the open, waving her arms over her head.
"De-nnmph!" Mia pulled her away from calling out to Dean, clapping a hand over her mouth and slinging a strong, lean arm around her stomach. Charlie's muffled protests were finally eased when Mia released her under the table.
"You're entirely daft." Mia hissed. "You want that behemoth to see us?"
"You don't have to be a jerk about it." Charlie brushed off her sleeves from the tight grip, giving her a reproachful look.
"It's called being careful." Mia sneered. "I used to be human once, too, remember? But your friends can't be the same to you anymore. Not if you want to survive."
"Dean? Please, he's a big teddy bear." Charlie scoffed. Under the shadow of the colossal table, they watched Dean shift his weight from leg to leg across the room. The .45 caliber swung into view at his side. "...with a gun." Charlie admitted under her breath. "Look, It's fine. He would never hurt me."
"I don't have time for your suicide mission." Mia snapped impatiently.
Charlie held up her hands for her to wait. "Just... Watch. You'll see."
Mia crossed her arms across her chest, pale eyebrows raised severely. Charlie backed away again towards the edge of the table's protective shadow. Dean looked like he was getting ready to leave the room, so she had to act now.
"Dean!" Charlie called over to him.
Her heart sank when the seconds ticked by and Dean ignored her entirely. No... Not ignoring. Was it possible she was too small to even hear? With that humbling thought in mind, Charlie edged towards him with a heightened caution.
"Dean!" She shouted. "Hey! Over here, big guy!"
The massive boots twisted in her direction. A triumphant smirk appeared as she leaned back to meet his eyes. Charlie's face fell: Dean wasn't looking down. The sickening realization that she was too small to be heard from the floor crashed upon her like an anvil.
He couldn't hear her. And there she was, stranded in the middle of the floor. Morbidly hypnotized, Charlie watched the gigantic boots shift mere inches as Dean glanced over his head at the air vent. Finding the room clear, he started for the entryway the bridged to the study hall.
Paralyzed by shock, Charlie stood rooted in place as certain death loomed closer. As Dean's shadow consumed the floorboard she stood upon, Charlie broke out of her daze. Consumed by the burning adrenaline of a woman who wanted to live, she dove to the right of the incoming boot. But she wasn't quick enough. The toe of his shoe collided with her stomach, sending her sprawling across the floor.
She sputtered for a decent gasp of air-- it felt like the wind had been knocked out of her and a leaden elephant was sitting on her chest in the meantime. The world still shook. With white spots dotting her vision, she gazed up at her titanic friend. Dean had his gun raised, his eyes scanning the room all around. Charlie groaned weakly. He wasn't sure what he heard, but he wasn't looking down yet.
"Dean," she squeaked out breathlessly-- a useless attempt at this point.
She was still struggling to sit up when, to her horror, he took a step forward. She was thrown back onto the ground, shaken like a crumb during an asteroid impact. Words failed her entirely as she watched Dean move too quickly for her to react. His shadow enveloped her, a dark precursor as the huge wall of leather and rubber that came rushing at her. With less than seconds to act, Charlie suddenly regained control of her body. She dove out of the way with a panicked yell. Dean’s boot slammed down next to her. She scrambled to move away further, only to find the hood of her jacket was trapped between the treads of his boots.
"No!" Mia screamed.
The minuscule blonde dove in front of her, one arm outstretched to shield her while the other plunged her dagger through the wall of Dean's shoe. Victory was realized when Dean gasped in pain far overhead and shot a confused glare down at his feet.
In an instant, his expression melted into a mixture of horror and shock.
"Charlie," he rasped.
Dean stepped away in sheer horror before crashing to his knees. His gun was set aside, forgotten for the moment as he leaned down close. No blood... Yet, his hands still trembled as he reached for her. Mia stepped up again, slashing at his knuckles.
"Don't even think about it." She snarled.
Dean snapped his hand back in surprise, eyes widening when he found the tiny woman had actually knifed him, a thin line of blood running across two fingers. His eyes snapped back to her and hardened. Mia swallowed hard under his intimidating glare. She ran to grab Charlie, her wings in a light hover-- and was seized off the ground by a massive hand. Charlie was left to catch her breath on the ground as Mia's vision became consumed by an angry face.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Piss off," she grunted, struggling fiercely for leeway in his enveloping fist.
"Took the words right outta my mouth." Dean shut her up in his grip. She started squirming immediately, minuscule hands and feet searching for escape between the coiled digits. Ignoring the bizarre feeling, though careful not to crush her, Dean made sure she wasn't going anywhere.
His Adam's apple dipped in his throat as he lowered his free hand to the floor. Fingertips brushed against Charlie's side, easing underneath her to lift her off the ground. She barely moved, hands clutched over her heart while she caught her breath.
"Charlie?" Dean's deep voice rumbled over her. The concern rattled her bones.
She raised her head at last, finding a pair of massive green eyes peering at her with inescapable worry. Charlie sat up and gave his palm a pat to signal she was unhurt.
"Let's not do that again." She groaned.
Dean chuckled softly; it would never cease to amaze him how courageous Charlie could be. He looked her up and down, quietly noticing that she was still trembling. That had been so damn close. So close to Charlie becoming a tiny smear of blood on his hands- or rather, his shoes.
"I told you to stay in the safe room." He said, a stern edge to his voice.
"Bad time for a 'that's what she said' crack?" Charlie asked with a weak smirk. Dean gave her a flat look. "Yeah, not my best line..." She admitted.
Her scarlet locks tumbled gently as she looked this way and that. She leaned off to the side of Dean’s hand, trying to glimpse the floor. She got a split second view of the hardwood below before Dean’s fingers curled inwards towards her, a protective half-cage. She appreciated the gesture, but she hadn’t gotten a good look. Everything had happened so fast, she had lost track of the person who had saved her life.
“Wait… Where’s Mia?” Charlie muttered.
“DEAN!” Sam’s greeting was a bellow from the hallway.
Sam and Dorothy came rushing in, guns poised. They faltered a few steps away when they caught sight of Charlie.
"What... What happened?" Sam asked breathlessly.
"Just a close call here." Dean answered, eyes barely glancing away from Charlie as if this would make up for terrifying her into this shocked state. "Any sign of the wicked bitch?"
Sam shook his head, hair falling from behind his ears. Dean gave him an odd look, only to remember that this was the first time Sam had really gotten a good look at Charlie since she'd been downsized. The guy couldn’t take his wide eyes off her.
"I thought you said you put her in the safe room," Sam muttered, coming to stand next to his brother.
"I did." Dean said defensively. He looked at the tiny redhead in such a way that informed her an explanation was overdue.
"I-I may have had a little help," Charlie said, then froze. A tiny arm wriggled out from Dean's other fist, foreign curse words following. Horror-struck anew, Charlie snapped a shocked glare up at Dean. Suddenly, it became very obvious to her where Mia had disappeared to so quickly.
"Dude! Put her down!" Charlie couldn't get the words out fast enough.
Halfway complying to her request, Dean unfurled his other hand, revealing the second shrunken woman sprawled out upon his palm. Charlie raced to the edge of Dean's hand, bracing her tiny hands on his fingertips like one would peek over the edge of a fence.
"She's on our side, Dean. She knows how to kill the wicked witch!"
"And she’s the one who brought you back into the line of fire." Dean gave the tiny blonde an unappreciative look for unraveling his protective action. Sam leaned down closer, eager to get a better look at the impossibly small woman.
Mia took advantage of the fresh, non-skin flavored air. She adjusted the wings on her pack and threw a dirty look over her shoulder.
"More than I can say for you." She grunted at Dean. "You're the guy who locked her in there in the first place. You lock animals up, not people." Mia narrowed her eyes at him.
"I'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe." Dean countered, a growing edge to his voice. Mia flinched as the massive fingers around her twitched, and she suspected he’d be shutting her up in his unforgiving grip all over again if not for Charlie’s presence.
"Guys!" Charlie interjected. "Big picture here."
Dean and Mia deliberately ignored her in favor of a glare-off.
"Mia?” Dorothy clamped a hand over her mouth.
“What?” Dean half-snapped, still entirely agitated. Dorothy ignored him. She pushed in front of Sam and dropped to a crouch.
"I'll be damned," Dorothy breathed, leaning forward. "Mia… I- I thought you were gone."
The minuscule blonde lit up with a new life at the sight of the preserved hunter. She smoothed back her ruffled gold bangs, looking almost shy all of a sudden.
"Can't get rid of me with just a life-long curse." Mia said, scuffing her shoe on one of Dean's callouses self-consciously. "Besides, you think I'm gonna let you take down the witch by yourself, you got another thing coming."
Her wings sprang open, lifting her off Dean's hand and up in a strong hover closer to Dorothy. They took a moment to visibly drink each other's new appearance in, the present intermingling with memories of past battles in Oz.
Charlie could feel Dean swivel his head to the side, craning his neck to exchange one of those wordless conversations with Sam. Life-long curse. She turned warm head to toe with the self-consciousness that she knew it was about her this time. Their giant, watchful eyes were impossible to ignore, especially the way their eyes kept finding their way to her.
“Friend of yours?” Dean asked.
Distractedly, Dorothy glanced at him and nodded curtly. “I ran into her in Oz, before the Emerald City massacre. She ditched her business to help kickstart the revolution.” Looking at the tiny fluttering girl, Dorothy's hardened expression softened into a smile that seemed to take years off her face. "It's damn good to see you."
"Even like this?" Mia lowered her gaze, a bitter smile on her lips.
"Especially like this, you idiot." Dorothy countered. She reached over to touch Mia's skinny little arm with a surprisingly steady fingertip. "I thought you were dead."
Dean cleared his throat, bringing the sentiments to a screeching halt. "This is real touching, but we've still got a witch loose with the key to Oz."
Cupping his second hand around Charlie protectively, Dean stood up. "Let's get you back downstairs, kiddo."
She was immediately dizzied by the stomach in her throat sensation from Dean standing up. Though his intentions were courageous as always, she felt entirely helpless cupped in the shadow of his protective grasp.
"Hold up, I'm staying with you." Charlie called up.
"The hell you are." Dean snorted.
Thinking quick, Charlie used both hands to squeeze the skin of his middle finger. Once again recovering a tiny blip of pain, Dean paused at the door, eyebrows raised at her rather impatiently. Charlie sighed, relieved to have his attention again, and hating that she had to fight for it at this size.
"Look, I can't help when I'm locked up." She huffed, trying not to look as flustered as she was.
“Uh, yeah, you lost your helper card when you shrank.”
Charlie opened her mouth to argue, but couldn't quite choke out the words. What if that was her fate? Too small now. Too small for anything. It was hard not to despair under such pressing circumstances. Sam put a hand on Dean's upper arm, urging his brother to ease his stubbornness with a single glance.
"Let’s hear her out, Dean.”
Giving Sam a flicker of an appreciative smile, Charlie sucked in a deep, steeling breath before continuing. "Mia has a ruby shard. It’s a-a blade of some sort. Oz magic... Fatal magic." she said, standing tall as she could under the looming attention of the giant hunters. "We actually have a shot at killing her, guys."
“She’s right.” Dorothy interjected. “The ruby magic is our only shot at putting her down for good. Small or not, Mia’s a good soldier. I’d trust her with my life.” Her brown eyes flickered down to Charlie, giving a little nod to indicate her. "I'm sure you'd say the same of Red here."
Dean blinked and followed her gaze, giving his tiny friend a flicker of a smile as he considered all she had done for them, amateur hunter or not.
"Yeah, I would." Dean admitted quietly. Charlie swelled with pride, sharing a warm look with those large green eyes overhead.
There was a brief moment as Sam and Dean weighed their options. Having more visitors from Oz was unexpected enough, but the inflicted size difference was enough to make any hunter skeptical. But time wasn’t on their side, and they couldn’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Alright,” Dean conceded. “What’s the gameplan?”