The Third Wheel
by Destiny's Darkness
Disclaimer: If you think I own anything, you're in for a laugh. One of those belly-aching ones. Where you can't get up from the floor.
Author's Note: I was really hoping to read a story like this, but when I wasn't able to find one, I decided to write it myself. It starts somewhere around the middle of the first season, and will be mostly following the story line, with the exception of the obvious change. Enjoy, let me know what you think, yadda yadda yadda. I don't mind flames, but I'd prefer that they provide some sort of constructive criticism. Make me better!
Chapter One : Meet Charlie
It should have been an easy job. Stake out the place, wait for the spirit to show, run in guns blazing to save the girl. They'd been lead to her here in Chicago by the newspaper article, "Lady No Luck", chronicling the numerous unpleasant experiences she'd gone through, starting with the deaths of her parents and brother in a suspicious car accident four years before.
Sam thought the expose was the epitome of bad taste, bordering on cruelty to the already suffering girl, but he was still forced to admit that it had drawn their attention, the first possible step to helping her. She had been through too many apartment fires, near freak accidents, and close calls to not be of supernatural interest. They just had to figure out what the blasted thing was. They'd considered a trickster first, but no one they knew had ever heard of one fixating on a single person for such a long period of time. Dean had mentioned a German Kobold, but the incidents were really beyond the usual severity of the mischievous sprites, not to mention that they usually didn't follow their targets from one home to another. The next idea was the black dog of the Hanging Hills, which fit the profile fairly well, except they never found any record that she'd ever been to Conneticut, much less enough to see the black dog twice. Hobgoblins also came up in discussion and were dropped quickly when they couldn't find any signs of the creatures, which were fairly obvious to anyone who knew what they were looking for.
They'd run out of time to figure it out before the night they knew for a fact that it would show. Dean had surprised Sam when he realized the one time activity had always been recorded was the Ides of every other month. This month. So they'd laid in wait, prepared to move the instant they noticed anything supernatural or threatening. Waited...
The sun had nearly come up, making it the day after they expected, when they saw the girl frantically burst out of her apartment building. Without thinking, without speaking, they flew out of the car -- Sam racing to catch her while Dean grabbed the door before it closed and headed up to the second floor where she lived.
The front door to the apartment was still standing open when he reached it. Dean took half a second to check the rock salt cartridges in the shot gun and silver blade at his hip, then slipped inside, checking cautiously for whatever distressed her. It didn't take long to find. Something had marked up the wall, as though it had taken a blade to the paint, carving out her name over and over. It was still carving when he entered, but by the time he'd taken in the sight and raised the shotgun to aim, it stopped -- mid letter -- and its presence was gone.
Sam had marginally better luck. Chasing after her as she darted down the street and away from her home, he called after her, hollering for her to stop. When she reached the corner, it seemed to sink in that the person yelling was yelling for her. She turned and waited for him to catch up, bracing her hands on her knees as she worked to get back her breath.
"Are you okay? What's wrong?"
The questions seemed to throw her for a loop, though he couldn't tell if she was simply surprised to hear them asked or, more likely, unable to find the words to answer.
The hunter took pity on her, reaching for an easier topic. "You're Charlene Palmer, right?"
Her blue eyes went immediately wary, studying his wrinkled and slept in clothing before giving a slow nod.
"Charlene, my name is Sam. I'm here to help you."
She scoffed. "Help how? Another exclusive on how I'm a danger to everyone around me?"
"No, not at all. You're not the danger, but something else is. I want to help you get rid of it." He waited for the disbelief and sarcasm that inevitably came next, but the blonde just maintained her study of him and waited for him to continue talking. "Look, you probably don't want to have this conversation on the street in your pajamas." He got his first glimpse of humor in her face. "Why don't we head back to your apartment and take care of this?"
She hesitated, just long enough that he knew whatever happened had thoroughly unnerved her, but took a visible grasp of her will and followed him back.
When they got back upstairs, they found the door still open and Dean carefully examining the scratchings. He faced them at their entrance.
"Charlene? This is my brother Dean. He's gonna help you too."
She seemed to snap out of her silent state at Sam's voice. Making a face, she waved a hand in protest and told them, "Call me Charlie. Everyone does."
Sam smiled in response, while Dean grinned and obviously checked her out, causing his brother to do the same. Charlie certainly wasn't Dean's type, wasn't one of those gorgeous, glamorous types whose every sound and motion promised dark, illicit, guilt-free fun. She was cute enough, sure, short and in shape with waist-length blonde hair that obviously hadn't been brushed before her flight out of the building. Rather than the lacy lingerie they were used to seeing on female.. friends, she wore a mismatched, slightly oversized pajama set with cartoon characters insulting each other. Not Dean's type at all. Still, Sam cast a quick look at the man beside him, relieve not to find him pouring on the charm.
"So, Charlie," he was saying with a brief nod toward the vandalized wall, "tell us what happened."
She made a face, moving over to an armchair and dropping in, tucking her legs underneath herself and gesturing for them to take seats of their own. "I don't... it was..." she started, expression focused in as she tried to find the right words. "My tv woke me up. I mean, I thought it was my tv. I have this bad habit of watching movies really late, getting tired, and going to bed without shutting everything... anything... down, so it happens. It was blaring, and while my neighbors like me, no one appreciates that kind of wake-up call, so I came in here. You know, it never even occurred to me that it couldn't have been going off the whole night, that it must have been turned on." She shook her head at herself. "Anyway, I come in, and it's still blaring, but the tv's off. So's the stereo, the radio, everything. Just as I realized that, it went silent."
"The noise shut off?" Sam asked, trying to clarify.
"All noise shut off. I mean, no birds, no electrical noises. Like I'd gone deaf, only to the hear the start of some sort of scratching. I turned around and saw that starting up." She pointed to the carved names, then let out a quiet laugh. "I was already upset by my tv blaring without being on, and that was so the last straw. I was gone."
"You know it's not just 'Charlene' up there, right?" Dean asked abruptly.
"Yeah, I know. I managed to make it for a couple seconds, but when I saw the other names showing up, that's when I freaked." She explained, "They're all old nicknames. My friends in high school and I had this, well, weird game where we'd call each other by false names in public. Some of them sorta stuck. Jamie, Sarabeth, Krissa. Different names for different reasons."
"Seeing names no one had called me for years would freak me out, too," Sam admitted.
"Especially when there's no reason for anyone to know them anymore? Yeah."
The brothers looked at each other, seeing from her expression that story time was over and it was time for them to do some explaining. Just how much to tell her, and what, was the question. As usual, Dean took the lead. "Charlie, this is going to sound crazy, but what did that this morning isn't human."
True to his word, she looked at him like he was certifiably insane. "Um, you think?"
The meaning of the words and the attitude behind them threw Dean for a loop. "What?"
"I'm guessing that you've read that little article about me, about how I'm cursed. Do you honestly think I could deal with all of that crap and craziness and not realize that something unexplainable was going on? I mean, do you know many invisible vandals?"
They looked at each other, Sam with surprise, Dean with wry amusement.
She sighed. "So what is it?"
"We don't know," Dean admitted. "But we're going to find out. Now we know that it likes just you. It fled the moment I came in the room."
She narrowed her eyes. "It's never done that before. Stop just because someone came in." She looked between them, back and forth. "What does that mean?"
Sam shook his head, turning back to his brother. "It's changing its pattern."
"It's been escalating," Charlie informed them. "That article didn't make that very clear, but it's been escalating. First it was doing little things that were annoying, then they started getting worse. Stuff to startle me, then stuff to scare me. The last couple incidents, someone could have gotten hurt."
"Someone meaning you?"
"Someone meaning that the time before this, I was in a full subway car when the 'unbreakable' window behind me exploded in on us."
Sam began drumming his fingers on the coffee table, clearly disturbed by her confession. In response, Dean leaned forward, "Do you have anything to drink?"
"Some bottled water," she replied, faltering from the sudden change in topic, "Cokes, some fresh sweet tea."
"Tea would be great," the boys requested simultaneously.
She rose and walked across the apartment to the little kitchenette. Dean allowed himself a self-congratulatory smirk at having correctly judged her to be a good southern girl when she pulled out large glasses and started filling them with ice, giving them a moment to talk.
"Dean, it's getting violent. It's done playing games."
"I know." The older brother leaned back against his seat. "So we need to stop it. Now."
"What if it doesn't come back right away? According to the article, there's been months between some incidents."
"And other times it's only been a matter of hours, which means we have no idea when it'll strike next." Dean swore silently. "We can't stay here, doing nothing for months on end until this thing decides to go another round."
Sam agreed. "So what do we do?"
"I don't know, man. I don't think she really knows anything that could help us identify it, which means we don't have any way to summon it and force it back here." He hushed, leaning forward to take his glass as she returned with the iced tea.
"So what's the verdict?" She asked as she curled back up in her chair.
Dean grimaced. "How tied down are you to this place?" He cast a semi-apologetic glance at his brother, who shrugged in acknowledgement that they didn't really have any other choice.
"Tied down? Why?"
"How do you feel about a road trip?"