Crowley invited Dean out for a drink that night and Dean, being Dean, said yes.  He would have never admitted it to a blessed soul, but he missed Crowley sometimes.  

What he hadn’t known, when he said yes, was that Jovi was coming too.  Sam, who also hadn’t known that Jovi would be there either since if he had he would have never trusted Dean go it alone, begged off.  He and Castiel had decided to warn as many of the lesser gods as they could track down, that Lucifer was on the hunt.  Or that’s what they said, anyway.  Dean figured that it was most likely all part of their not-so-secret plan to de-God-ify him so he let them alone to pretend like they were accomplishing something.  So he and Bobby found themselves accompanying their frenemies to a dive bar in a place called East Wenatchee that looked as if it hadn’t seen rain for 400 days and 400 nights.  Everything was coated with a thick layer of beige dust and Dean’s beer tasted gritty.  But after the first few drinks he didn’t much care.  

Jovi had done the librarian transformation, taken off the eyeglasses, let her hair down, and was wearing a dress that stopped just above her knee.  It was coral and made of some sort of silky clingy stuff that didn’t leave much to the imagination.  He hated her for that.  It was easy to hate her after learning that Lucifer, who she had created AND freed for some nefarious purpose, had found a way to gain strength and would possibly get strong enough to destroy either or both of them eventually.  He was really regretting the energy he’d expended on resurrections.  Even though he knew he would probably be recovered by the time Lucifer was strong enough to move against him, it was still energy Dean wished he had in reserve.  He was primarily worried about Jovi, now that he fully understood just how much the act of creating him had to have taken out of her.  The idea that someday Lucifer might be strong enough to harm her caused a lump to rise in his throat.  One that was hard to swallow away.   But maybe that was just the grit in his beer.

Instead of enjoying his drink or joining Bobby and Crowley in the game of pool they’d begun to play, he found himself making contingency plans.  He wondered what would happen if he himself started eating the lesser gods – an altogether unappetizing notion – or if he and Jovi just killed them all in one fell swoop to prevent Lucifer from sinking his teeth into them.  But then he thought of the decent lesser gods he had met and calculated the energy it would require for the two of them to do that…probably more than they even had between them…and realized what a stupid idea that was.  Even if she agreed to it, which was unlikely, they’d be very much weakened by the endeavor and Lucifer was already more powerful than ever.  He’d just have to find some other way to get stronger. And more importantly, for Jovi to get her strength back.

She must have known what he was thinking, or at least that he was fretting, she seemed to have the knack of reading people that way.  He didn’t.  Here he was, God, supposed to be like, omniscient and everything, and he still didn’t have a clue what anyone was thinking, her least of all.  “How are you holding up?”  She shimmied her way onto the barstool beside him and her skirt slid up a little.  She had on what his mom had always called panty hose but modern women seemed to refer to as tights.  They were ever so slightly sparkly.  He tried to hang onto his hate but it dissipated.

“Ok.”

“Did you have any questions, maybe, or anything?”  

“Yeah.  Wouldn’t you rather have wine?”  Her little hands were wrapped around a bottle of beer.  Her nails were the exact same shade as her dress.  Dean wondered if she actually had to paint them or if she could just will them to be whatever color she wanted.  Then he wondered if her toenails were painted the same coral color, or a different color, or not at all; her shoes were closed at the toe and didn’t reveal any secrets.  “Seems more Biblical.”

She laughed.  “This vessel isn’t super into wine.  Kind of gives me a headache?”

“It’s the sulfites.”

“Yeah.”  She took a sip of beer.  “But the sulfites are what keep it fresh.  So much of creation is necessary evil.”  During the course of his experiments, Dean had drawn the same conclusion.  A lot of things he had always believed to be universally bad, like mosquitoes and cancer and monogamy, were simply necessities that had to be tolerated for the whole ball of wax to work as well as it did.  He tilted his glass to acknowledge her point.  “I meant, questions about the job, you know.”

He had a thousand questions like are you avoiding me and if so why and why are you making angels out of demons and how do you cut pieces of yourself off to make stuff with does it hurt and how come you never told me we could do that but he tucked them away for another time.  “Why can’t I make things like you do?”

“It’s cause you’re trying to jump in in the middle, Dean.  Not even in the middle.  Hm.  It’s like you’re trying to do professional brain surgery on your first day of medical school.  You might be the most talented surgeon in the whole wide world eventually, after your education and an internship and a residency and 20 years of practice, but you aren’t going to be able to do that on your first day of school.”  

“I know, I know, it took you millions of years to learn to do all this.”

“Trillions, actually.  But don’t be so hard on yourself.  You’re going to outpace me in no time.  I honestly can’t even get over how well you’ve already done.  And all on your own.” 

Dean felt a swell of pride in spite of himself.  “I could go faster if you helped.”

“You probably could, but I didn’t think you were interested in my help.”

“I’m not interested in being your companion.  I’d love your help.”  She looked hurt, then covered it up with a fidget and a smile.  He played it back in his head and realized it sounded too much like a rejection.  It was a rejection, of course, but, but maybe he could have sugar coated it better.  “Hey, uh, look.  Jovi, look, ok?  That’s not…that wasn’t exactly what I meant to say, there.”

“Hey, no, no.  I knew it was a longshot going in.”

God damn it.  Of course she had to be nice about it.  He was such an ass sometimes.  “So am I supposed to be like, answering prayers, or anything?  I been ignoring them up till now, I figured you were handling that part.”

“Prayers are…prayers are tricky, Dean.  Let’s not worry about prayers till we get this whole Lucifer thing sorted out, ok??”

“How come?”

“Well, because it’s not like Publisher’s Clearing House.  There are a lot of things that have to come together where prayers are concerned.  A lot of variables have to be taken into consideration.  You can’t just give everybody 10 million dollars and make all their dreams come true.  Some people will be completely destroyed if their prayer is answered, sometimes when you give one person what they want it makes someone else worse off.  The world is a place of limited resources, and some people have too much already, more than their fair share, and it’s ok to maybe…dial things back for them a little, let somebody else win for a change?  And that’s not even taking into account that every prayer you answer is a piece of your energy that you may need to do something else, something more important, for someone more deserving, the next day.   And even when you think you get it right, it’s all just a drop in the ocean, there’s like a bajillion more prayers the very next day to weed through, and most of them are junk prayers, like about algebra tests and stuff like that.  Why can’t they just study, lazy little jerks?  To be honest with you, I hardly ever answer prayers any more, it’s just too depressing.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just saying, I done a lot of praying over the years and it doesn’t feel like any of them ever got heard, let alone answered.”

She snorted.  “See, this is exactly what I was talking about with the prayers thing, Dean. People always want more.  And then even when you give it to them they’re all like, ‘Well what about that time in 1982 when I didn’t get the GI Joe under the Christmas tree?’”

“What about that time in 1982 when I didn’t get a GI Joe under the Christmas tree?”

“I made you God, Dean, try to be satisfied with that, would you?”

Crowley showed up then and boy howdy, was Dean ever glad to see him.  “My Lady, wouldst thou favor me with a dance?”

“With pleasure.”  And just like that she was gone.  The conversation he had hoped for, for months, was over, and he didn’t feel it had gone well at all.  Not at all.  He had hurt Jovi’s feelings without even meaning to, and he hadn’t learned a freaking thing.   Dammit.  Dean drained his beer and motioned to the barkeep for another.   Once he got it, he turned around to see what was going on behind him and he very nearly crushed the bottle in his hand.  He actually felt the glass start to flex beneath his fingertips before he stopped himself.  Super strength, dude.  Don’t forget.

Jovi and Crowley were dancing.  It was a slow song.  Love Hurts.  A song he normally liked.  But it was a real slow dance.  Not a polite, keep-your-distance dance between friends or coworkers.  Intimate.  It was a dance that meant something.  Her arms were twined around his neck, her head was resting on his barrel chest, his disgusting British sausage fingers were down there pret-ty darn low on the small of her back and she was leaving the offending hand there and not slapping at it and kneeing him in the nuts like Dean thought that by all rights she ought to be.  And while Dean couldn’t see her face, the look on his, Good God, the expression on that punchable, punchable face was not in any way shape or form angelic.

Of course.  It was obvious.  When women are slumming, going dumpster diving, they don’t do what men do.  They don’t go out to bars and go home with strangers.  She would have never done to herself what Dean was doing for himself.   Women don’t do that.  Women like Jovi didn’t, at any rate.  Women like that find the nearest cockroach they can pick up from the gutter and pretend like they’re having a real relationship with the insect.  And Crowley certainly fit the description.  A cockroach.  An insect.  Dean watched them a little while longer and then he realized he had learned something after all.      

He was a jealous God too.

********************

The first time, Oriphiel had cried afterwards.  He couldn’t help himself.   He cried and begged for her forgiveness for all the wicked things he’d done.  And it wasn’t like the shedding of a manly tear or two, oh no, it was full-on sobbing, blubbering like a blithering idiot, crimson-faced with shuddery breaths and a perfectly terrible amount of snot.  It had happened after the second and third times as well.  She assured him sweetly, gently, repeatedly that he had already been forgiven, long ago he had been forgiven, his sins had been laid bare before her, and he was washed clean, but he still cried.  

It took him 4 times!!  FOUR!! before he recovered a modicum of self-control, and by that point he had humiliated himself so fully it didn’t seem there was even a fragment of his carefully constructed Crowley persona left to hide behind.  It was infuriating.  She had destroyed him and remade him; he was Crowley no more.  He had played at being Crowley for hundreds of years and perfected the routine, but Crowley had been burnt away.  She knew him, the real him, to his very marrow, and he couldn’t even slither back into his comfortable old skin and pretend otherwise because of all the bloody crying.  She knew he wasn’t Crowley really, she knew that he never had been, and he knew that she knew.  He hated it, the vulnerability, the need, the good burbling up inside of him, and most of all he hated the unbearable sense of gratitude he felt that she let him, of all beings, touch her, after the dank and dirty places he had been.

She was very nice about it all.  Naturally that only made it worse.  She never lost patience, she assured and reassured him, she forgave him 10,000 times.  She forgave him in all the languages of the world.  She forgave him in languages that hadn’t been spoken for thousands of years.  She forgave him in every demon tongue.  She laughed at his jokes and made him cups of tea and ironed his shirts for him.  She brought him breakfast in bed and changed the sheets when he got crumbs all over the place and rubbed his back when his newly-formed wing muscles ached.  She told him that she wanted him because he had been so long in the dark, not in spite of it.   She wanted him because he wasn’t an angel, not really, not an old school angel.  He was a new kind of angel, a better kind.  She told him the old angels bored her and she told him that he was perfect the way he was because she never made anything that wasn’t perfect.  And then she washed his feet and he cried again.   She told him that she would forgive him until even he believed it.  

He felt both the luckiest and the most cursed being that had ever lived.

All along he knew that she was for Dean.  Eventually.  He knew that it would happen someday as surely as the sun rose and set, that eventually Dean would claim her.  And he wanted that for her.  He loved her so that he wanted it because he knew how she wanted it, and he wanted her to have everything.  He felt such a great pity for her, knowing for how long she had been alone, how much love she had to give that she was literally overflowing with it, how badly she needed someone, anyone, even a wretch like him, to cleave to.  Heartbreaking was what it was.  Utterly heartbreaking.  The fact that she had settled upon him, Oriphiel, of all creatures, as a tolerable replacement for what she had expected to have been true love only proved to him how desperately lonely she must be.  And so with one side of his heart he hoped and prayed most fervently that Dean would come soon to end her suffering.

The other side of his heart was a bit black around the edges yet, it seemed, and it was that side that decided perhaps he would kill Dean, instead.  There simply had to be a way. There was always a way.  

And once Dean was gone, she would forgive her faithful Oriphiel one last time and turn him into God instead.  He would be a proper God, very just, very hands-on, all business, no drinking and carousing as Dean had done, squandering her exquisite gift upon dalliances and self-indulgences.  After all, he had management experience, he had been the King of Hell.  If anything he was overqualified for the position.  It may take time but she would realize that and forgive him.  And then she would love him the way she loved Dean and they could live happily ever after, forever and ever, amen.

********************

When Bobby looked back on it, as he did many times over the weeks to come, it was that night that things took a turn for the worse, and he blamed himself for not seeing it right away.  It was Jefferson Starship, that’s what he should have seen.  Dean was listening to Jefferson Starship.

Bobby had thought they’d a decent enough time at the bar.  He surprised himself by actually enjoying doing some reminiscing with Crowley, laughing about all the times they’d screwed each other over and talking about all the crazy-ass things that had happened while Bobby had been away – the first all-demon presidential election, for example; nobody won – and having some laughs about how ridiculous it was that they were both angels now.  He wouldn’t have took that bet, for damn sure.  Never in a million lifetimes.   Crowley said the same, only not in a billion.  And he was a critter who knew how to win a bet, so.

But Dean was pissy afterwards.  Surly.  When Bobby asked him what his damn problem was, he blurted out, “Silk pajamas.  That’s what my problem is.  Silk, frickin, pajamas.”

“Ok, princess.”  The jibe didn’t even seem to register.  Whatever beef Dean had against silk frickin pajamas, apparently it ran deep.

They had drove to the bar.  They didn’t have to, but Dean still liked driving the Impala and Bobby hated poofing around from place to place like some kinda airy fairy.  So they drove, and so they had to drive back again.  And on the car radio came a song Bobby hadn’t heard for a while that he remembered kinda liking cause the 45 of it had been playing on repeat this one time while he was getting laid.  Maria Cerno.  “Miracles.”  Good times.  But he figured since it was Jefferson Starship and Dean hated Jefferson Starship, he’d insist on changing the station.  He didn’t though, just sat there listening to the words and then he looked over at Bobby with a disturbingly intense look on his face.  “This is actually a pretty good song.”  It was embarrassing though because it was, well, kind of racy, that was why Maria Cerno had liked it and why he had liked Maria Cerno liking it.   And Dean, who despite his best efforts, Bobby could never quite think of as anything other than an overgrown kid, was listening to it so hard he had the feeling the boy was about to start taking notes or something.   Bobby rolled down the window and waited for the moment to pass.

It was downright weird was what it was.  Jefferson Starship.  But Dean was older now, you mellow out when you get older.   At least it wasn’t Barry Manilow.

But then he listened to it again when they got back to that bunker place where Sam and Dean lived now.  Like 20 times in a row.  The kid went in a room and closed the door and listened to that damn song 20 times in a row and Bobby didn’t even want to know what was going on in there.

And that was it.  That was when it all started.  He was sure of it.

********************

Dean got to thinking that maybe the whole companion thing might be worth a second look.  Like maybe it was something a guy could do for a day or two or a week, before fully committing to the endeavor.  Like maybe it was something he could try on for size.

He could feel her pulling at him.  It was like quicksand.  The more he struggled, the harder she sucked.  That sounded funny.  Heh.  He remembered the thing he had always heard about quicksand was that if you stopped fighting it you could float right on top of it, and it couldn’t pull you under, so he tried that.  He just tried to float atop the sensation like a blob, not moving, not thinking, not breathing.  Somewhere along the way Dean had realized he didn’t always have to breathe;  sometimes he did, but other times he’d realize 10 minutes had gone by and he hadn’t inhaled once.

When he lay still like that, he could hear the prayers.  They were always there a little bit in the background but sometimes when he lay still and quiet he could really hear them.  He thought about what Jovi had said, that prayers were too much for him to handle yet.  Well, screw her, maybe he hadn’t managed to make a dodo yet but surely he could handle a little prayer or two.  So he opened up to them and started listening.  Damn, there were so many.  She hadn’t been kidding about that.  There were so many of them and a pretty high percentage of them were, like she had said, junk prayers.  People praying to pass drug tests or win the lottery or get into someone’s pants.  Idiots.  It was hard to find the legit prayers because of all the junk prayers in the way gumming up the works.  But eventually he found one, a family with a dying child, and he found he could extend himself out from his body, like letting out a fishing line, little by little, till he could be where they were, a part of him anyway, his consciousness maybe, while the rest of himself was still in his vessel.  

When he went in for a closer look he was nearly blown away by the pain that they were feeling, the family and the child.  It stunned him how sharp it was and intense it was, not like something in a movie, not at all.  Their pain was guttural, fundamental, devastating, they emitted pain with every breath they took, and then he was blown away again by the relief he felt that he could fix it for them.  So he did.  He willed that the cells in that little body would grow normally again…not too fast, he didn’t want to be too obvious about it, but he fixed it so that very slowly over time the child would get better and better and the doctors would scratch their heads and have no explanation.  

The joy he felt was as big as the ocean.  He had wasted all that time on dodo birds when he could have been answering prayers.

He pulled himself along like a kite on a string, moving from place to place, following the prayers.  Somewhere in the back of his mind he recalled Jovi had told him not to do much, that it would sap his strength, and he further recalled he needed all his strength to defeat Lucifer, but he didn’t want to stop.  Stopping meant that he would be letting a kid die, that his actions or his inaction would cause a child’s death, and he couldn’t do that.  He fixed child after child after child, and then he realized it was kinda racist that he was just fixing up the American kids and so he pulled himself across the ocean to Asia and Africa and there he came to a crashing halt because the suffering was so huge it overwhelmed him.  

There was so much grief and pain and sickness and suffering in those places that he felt it would take him forever to get through it one child at a time, and it wasn’t like a child in America that had cancer or had got hit by a car where he could patch them up and they’d most likely stay fixed.   He could fix up these poor kids but they wouldn’t stay that way, most of them.  Something else would happen to them tomorrow…they’d starve or get sick or be shot by a warlord or pressed into slavery and there were just so many of them, how could he get through them all only to have to start again the next day fixing whatever new problem they had in the meantime?

Humans sucked.  They really sucked.  Dean had generally attributed human misery primarily to the actions of demons in the past, but nope.  Most of it was really just themselves.  He wondered why Jovi even liked them so much.  I mean, why not let Lucifer have some fun, thin out the herd a little?  Give him a “scumbags only” rule and let him go hunting?  But Jovi would not approve.

Dean snuffed a couple warlords just for fun, made one of them choke on a hunk of meat and gave another one a heart attack, and then he gave some customers in Thai brothels various types of crotch rot to maybe teach them a lesson, but he knew it was pointless.  There would just be another warlord the next day.  More customers at the brothel.  Why did people have to be like that?  So selfish and greedy, so willing to hurt others so they could have a little bit bigger piece of pie or cross another experience off their sexual bucket lists?  He didn’t know, couldn’t wrap his brain around it, and considered how to possibly improve the species via a careful program of selective breeding coupled with a little bit of genetic manipulation.  Manipulation was too invasive-sounding, Dean thought, so he decided to call it genetic engineering instead.

Then from around the world he felt a matched set of prayers come in, special delivery.  Urgent.  He flew back across the world to Schenectady, New York where a clueless teenage boy running late for work backed out of his garage headed straight towards a toddler who had wandered into his driveway after a ball.  He didn’t even see her.  The girl’s whole entire family stood there watching.   Someone screamed.  Dean realized he wouldn’t make it in time, he couldn’t get there fast enough, and he severed the kite string that tied him to his body so his consciousness could move quicker.  He was still too late.  The car hit the little girl, went right over her with a gruesome grinding thump, and when the teenager saw what he hit he shrieked and it made Dean ache with sympathy.

Dean willed the little girl to sit up and start crying, so she did.  He fixed her injuries and gave her a big ol’ goose egg and the girl’s family rushed over to scoop her up and take her to the ER for a very thorough examination during which absolutely nothing would be found wrong with her other than some scrapes and bumps and bruises.  Satisfied, he moved off to find more miracles to work.

When Dean woke up from his adventures, back in his body, back in his bed, back in the bunker, Jovi was there.  She was sitting forward with her elbows resting on her knees breathing hard like she had just run a marathon or something.  She peered at him through her eyeglasses but didn’t speak.  He mulled over what he ought to say to her, if it would be strange if he asked her to maybe go get a pizza or something.  It seemed so right and natural that she be there, that it didn’t even occur to him to wonder why she was.  “We need to talk about Africa.”

She laughed and seemed very relieved.  He peered at her and realized beneath the eyeglasses there were dark bags under the eyes of her vessel and her skin was sallow.  She looked like she needed some sunshine and a Flintstones with Iron and a strong cup of coffee or two.  “You scared me.”

“Why?”

“You don’t even know how long you’ve been out, do you?”

“I don’t know, an hour?”

“Three weeks, Dean.  A little shy of three weeks.  You left your vessel.  You aren’t ready to leave your vessel, not yet.  I can’t even believe you figured out how to do it.  That’s like, some upper level God stuff there.  I’d say good job, but.”  

“Oh.  Whoops.”

“Whoops, he says.”  Dean sensed she was more than a little bit mad at him and hoped he hadn’t given her reason to be.  “You just had to stick it to me, huh?  Had to show me who was boss.  I say, don’t answer prayers just yet, and what do you do?”  She ran a tired hand over her forehead and he noticed that her hands were trembling and for the first time, her fingernails weren’t painted.  She had bitten them to the quick.  “It took me a lot to cram you back into yourself again, Dean.  A lot.”   He swallowed, guessing that the reason she looked so worn out was because she’d been sitting there at his side for a little shy of 3 weeks trying to bring him back to himself.  And then it all came rushing back, not off in the distance somewhere like it had been when he was busy answering prayers, but with a real world urgency and he realized just how badly he had screwed up.  Lucifer.  He had made her wear herself out even more.  “Get it now?”

“If Lucifer comes, he’ll kill you.”  

“No, Dean, he’ll kill YOU.  I think he has other things in store for me.”

“Don’t worry, he can’t.”  Dean decided to get up then, and he swung his legs around and realized with a chill that he was very, very tired.  He had been tired before, after the resurrections he did, but this tired was a different thing entirely.  This tiredness felt positively interdimensional, as if he was exhausted right down to his bones in multiple universes.  “I’d never let that happen.”  He tried to stand up and all of a sudden he wasn’t so sure what would transpire if Lucifer popped in right then.  He felt like he’d gone 25 rounds with Apollo Creed on one side of him and the Incredible Hulk on the other.  His legs gave out and he sat right back down again like an invalid or an old man.

“You’ve been performing miracles 24-7 for 3 weeks straight, Dean.  There’s not a lot of gas left in your tank.  How else do you think I was finally able to get you back here again?  You’re so weak right now that even I was able to beat you.  Not that it was easy.”

“Where is he, Jovi?”  Dean would have prayed for enough time to get his strength back before Lucifer returned but who would he have even prayed to?

“It’s kind of a funny story.”  That was all she would say.  He tried again to get up, and managed it the second time through.   She didn’t help him, she didn’t let him lean on her, and he had the distinct impression she didn’t want him to touch her at all.  He was curious about why that might be, but had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other without collapsing so he couldn’t ask.  He expended what little remained of his strength just to limp his way out of the room and down the corridor with his hand against the wall the entire way.  He had to stop and rest twice.

Sam and Crowley were playing X-Box, exchanging witty insults and laughing.  Dean remembered about Jovi, remembered what Crowley had done and was probably still doing and up swelled a surge of white hot jealousy in his throat and chest and scalp and behind his eyes.  He ground his teeth and felt power crackle in his fingertips, desperately wanting to obliterate the demonic angel for daring to rise above his station, for borrowing without permission what belonged to Dean just because Dean didn’t happen to be using it right that minute.   He was greatly dismayed when the power fizzled and wouldn’t come back when he called it.  

It was only then he realized just how bad things really were.  He had nothing.   Nothing left.

********************

Sam gasped when Dean came in.  He couldn’t even help himself.  Sam had seen Dean looking like Hell lots of times, sick, injured, old, dead, in chunks, but nothing compared to this.  Dean was stooped and skeletal and gray and the whites of his eyes were nearly pure red with broken blood vessels.  His hair was greasy and he stank.  Crowley must have thought the same because he shouted.  “Bloody Hell!”

“What happened?”  Because Dean hadn’t looked like that before Jovi had insisted, no, demanded that she be left alone with him.  Well, maybe the greasy hair and stink part, but he’d been lying in bed for 3 weeks, what could you expect?

“It took a lot to get him back in his body.  Took a lot from both of us.”

Dean grabbed at a dark-screened cell phone lying on a nearby table and used it to look at his reflection.  “Holy crap.”  He half-fell into the nearest chair and held out his hands to look at them.  His fingers were like skin-covered bones and his fingernails were blue.  “Sammy, am I dying?”

Sam ignored the question because he honestly didn’t know the answer.  “Jovi, you have to wait.”   She couldn’t go through with her plan, not with Dean in that condition.  They had to postpone.  “He can’t do it, not like that.  Look at him!”

“Sammy, what’s going on?”  Dean looked beseechingly at Sam and then at Jovi.

She ignored him.  “We can’t wait, Sam.  We can’t wait any longer.  Time, is UP.”

“You HAVE to, you have no choice!  If you go through with this, it’ll kill him.”

Crowley stood up then, rising to his mistress’ defense.  “Perhaps he should have thought of that before he decided to take a holiday from his body.  And his responsibilities.”

Jovi sighed.  “Oriphiel, come on, be a team player.”  Then she turned back to Sam and he felt his throat getting tight with rage.  Dean could NOT be allowed to go through with this insanity.  “It’s ok, Sam, for reals.  I’ll just, I’ll just, like, take more from me than from him.”

“I am being a team player, my lady, I am the only one who is being a team player, and you most certainly will not.  50-50.  It’s only fair.  Half from you and half from him.  That was the deal.  And they will abide by the deal.   You’ve done enough for him.  More.”

“Look at him, Crowley.  He can’t even stand up!”  

At Sam’s urging, Crowley inspected Dean.  “He’s looked worse.”

“Somebody better tell me what’s going on here, right now, or…”

“Or?  Or what, Dean?  The state you’re in?  You couldn’t manage to smite a baby!  Have at me, Winchester, do your worst.”  Dean did nothing and Crowley snickered.  “You’re utterly impotent!”  Crowley rolled the word “impotent” around on his tongue as he said it to make it seem even more insulting.  Dean still did nothing, and Sam realized how weak his brother truly was.  “That was the bargain you made with me, Sam Winchester, don’t you recall?.  That was the agreement, that they would go into it 50-50.  I’m not going to let you destroy her, for him, when it’s his fault things have gone pear shaped to begin with!”

“What. Deal?”  Dean, as ever, absolutely hated being out of the loop.

“Oriphiel.  Enough.”  Jovi and Crowley exchanged a look and Sam realized that even though he would always despise Jovi and could never trust her in any other arena, that come what may, she would keep Dean safe, at all costs to herself.  “Don’t make me fight you, too.”  Crowley squirmed and clucked his tongue and rolled his eyes and sighed noisily and then once he’d made his displeasure known, gave in with a gesture.  “Fill in the gaps, would you, Sam?  Oriphiel and I have some preparations to make.”    Sam nodded.  “You have the coordinates.  In an hour.”  She looked at Dean.  “Eat something.  It will help.”  She and Crowley vanished and Dean stared blankly at Sam.

“So we think that Lucifer…”

“Are they involved?  Do you think?”

“Involved?”

“You know.  Like THAT.  Like in a hoo-hoo haha kind of way?”

Gawd.  “I have no idea Dean, would you like to hear about Lucifer now?  Think you can pencil that into your schedule, because it’s slightly important!”

“Yeah, I guess.”  Dean toddled over on his withered polio victim/unwrapped mummy legs and started eating pretty much anything he could get his hands on.

“We think Lucifer and Michael have gone back in time.”

“Oh.  So?”  Dean spoke through a mouthful of Cheetos.

“I don’t think she meant eat Cheetos, Dean!  Eat some real food!”

“I will!  This is an appetizer.”

“So, we think the reason why Lucifer and Michael went back in time, probably, is so Lucifer can eat the lesser gods back then, you know, when there were more of them, and they were at the height of their following, you know, the most worshipers?  And so they were at their strongest.”

“And you guys are all worried about that?  Geez.”

“You aren’t?”

“No, because time travel, Sammy, time travel.”

“What about it?”

“Because time travel ain’t easy.  We know that Michael has been de-archangelized, he’s just an plain old angel now, and just like Cas, well, old Cas anyway, he can travel through time, but it’s hard.  It wears him out.  So that means Lucifer gotta be taking himself, and Michael, through time.  And even for Lucifer, that takes some energy.  So he has to expend energy on traveling, and then on killing a demigod, and then absorbing their power, and then he has to do that all over again.   And again.  We got all the time in the world to defeat Lucifer, Sam.  It’ll take him forever at that pace.”

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you, Dean, but that isn’t true.”

“Why not?”

“Because Lucifer found some way to make Michael back into an archangel again.”

Dean chewed slightly slower for a second in consideration and then swallowed.  “Oh, well.  Huh.  It’ll still take him a good long while, though.”

God, he was so dense sometimes.  “You realize, Dean, that the lesser gods have had…kind of a lot of impact on human history, right?  The religions they inspired, they were, they were pretty big deals, for thousands of years.  You get that, right?  In all those books you read, there had to be something about all those primitive religions, didn’t there?”

“I guess.”  Sam actually thought Dean might be looking a little bit better around the edges.  Less green-gray, more pink-gray.  The Cheetos were helping.  “Honestly, Sammy, I kinda skimmed all that, didn’t seem that germane to my unique situation.”

“Well, Dean, you see, if someone goes around killing all those gods and goddesses that those ancient religions worshiped, it has a little bit of a ripple effect on humanity.”

“A ripple effect, huh?”

Sam had to take a moment to press his lips together very firmly before speaking.  “Yeah.  Dean.   It matters.  So.  We can’t exactly just let Lucifer go around doing that, even if it doesn’t happen to affect you, personally, directly, within the next 10 minutes, it’s still bad, ok?  Undesirable?  I mean like, in an altering the course of human history completely kind of way?”

“Well you don’t have to be a jerk about it.”

“Sorry!”  Sam wasn’t sorry.  Not even a little.

“So what’s the plan then?  What’s all the 50-50 about?”

“Dean, this is going to be another one of those things that you don’t like.”

“It’s ok, Sammy, I’m downright getting used to it by this point.”

 

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