"Tell me something," Dean says, looking from Castiel to the jar of oil that is apparently The Plan for going up against a freakin' archangel. "You keep saying we're gonna trap this guy. Isn't that kinda like trapping a hurricane with a butterfly net?"
"No," says Castiel. "It's harder."
Well, that was exactly the reassurance Dean was looking for. "Do we have any chance of surviving this?"
"And this is the only play we've got here? You don't know of any other moves that might, you know, not get us killed?"
Castiel frowns, and looks away.
Dean can tell when Castiel is, well, not exactly lying, but trying to avoid telling him something. "Cas?"
"There is one other thing we could try. Most would consider it a last resort. It won't be pleasant."
"Will us get us killed?"
"That outcome is unlikely."
"Well, then I'm all for 'unpleasant but not fatal.'"
"All right," Castiel says, and the but don't say I didn't warn you is neatly implied. "I will make the call," he says.
Dean is expecting something, you know, angelic and mystical, weird languages and invocations. So he's really not expecting Castiel to follow this up with, "May I borrow your phone?"
As Dean watches, Castiel dials a long string of numbers – way too long for a normal number – listens for a moment, and then pushes another number. Listens again, pushes another number. And again.
"Shhhhh. I am attempting to navigate the automated menu," Castiel says.
It goes on for a solid fifteen minutes. Finally, a look of relief crosses Castiel's face, and he says three words. "Prudence. It's starting." Then he hangs up and gives Dean back his phone.
"That was it?"
"It went to voice mail. Now we wait to see if anyone got the message."
"How will we know?" Dean asks.
"Trust me, Dean. We'll know."
As far as Dean can tell, whatever Castiel did with the phone got them nothing. Twenty-four hours later, they're in the middle of Plan Get Killed, with a pissy archangel in the middle of a ring of fire.
"Do you remember the twentieth century?" asks the pissy archangel, also known as Raphael. "Think the twenty-first is going any better? Do you think God would have let any of that happen if he were alive?
"Oh yeah?" Dean asks, because bravado is always an option in the Winchester play book. Sometimes, it's the only option. "Well, then, who invented the Chinese basket trick?"
Raphael glares. "Careful. That's my father you're talking about, boy."
"Yeah, who would be so proud to know his sons started the friggin' Apocalypse."
"About that," a new voice says, calm and almost apologetic. Dean, Castiel, and Raphael all turn to look.
There's a young woman standing in front of the broken window, wearing a grey suit and a dark blue blouse, red hair pinned up in neat bun. And though the wind is blowing a hell of a lot of water into the room, she's both dry and unruffled.
She looks up from the clipboard she's holding and smiles. "Hello, Raphael. Castiel. And you must be Mr. Winchester." She comes over and holds out her hand. He towers over her, which is a surprise, because she looked taller over by the window.
She's hot. In a straight-laced sort of way.
He shakes the hand she's offered, and she smiles again. "Dean, it's very nice to meet you," she says. "I'm Prudence. I'm from The Committee."
Prudence? So this is Castiel's alternate plan? Call a hot chick with a clipboard? "What committee?" Dean asks.
"The Committee," she says. "Now, about this Apocalypse. Raphael, I assume you are still authorized to act as a representative of Heaven?"
The archangel sighs and nods.
"Excellent. I do, of course, understand that when one has a new project one does want to jump right in. And I would hate to discourage enthusiasm. But there are policies in place for a reason. And we have not received a completed copy of Form 666C, Request for Authorization to Commence an Apocalypse. We do need that filled out before this can proceed." And suddenly she's holding what looks like a couple of thousands of sheets of paper. "I'll just leave it on the table here, shall I? Remember, that needs to be submitted in triplicate. Please use blue ink and print neatly. By Friday?"
Raphael sighs and nods, again. The storm outside stops mid-thunder rumble.
"Perfect. Now, Castiel, I assume you have an import license for the holy oil. You know it's a controlled substance, pursuant to Regulation 40.7.12, right?"
"I will forward it to you," Castiel says.
"Wonderful," says Prudence, making a note on her clipboard. "Well, I think that's everything for now. If you'll excuse me, I have another appointment I need to keep. I'll be in touch," she says.
And then she's gone.
Dean looks over at Castiel. "So, you can't find God, but you found his attorney?"
"She does not work for God," Castiel says. "She is from The Committee."
"So she said," Dean says. "And what's The Committee?"
Castiel blinks. "It is . . . The Committee."
As explanations go, that isn't one, in Dean's opinion. But if she can help, who the hell cares? "And she can stop the Apocalypse?"
"No. But she can delay it. Significantly."
"Were it not for Prudence, God could have created the Earth in an hour."
"Instead of a week?"
Castiel looks at him like he's crazy, and shakes his head. "Instead of four and a half billion years."
"Sam? Sam?" says a voice, and Sam would know it anywhere. He opens his eyes, and isn't at all surprised to see Jessica lying beside him. He kisses her neck and she rolls over, so he can see her face.
"So, this is your life now? Think you can just live forever with your head buried in the sand?" she asks.
"I love you, Jess," he says. Because that's important, and he needs to make that absolutely certain before he tries to explain the rest. He sits up, turning away from her for a moment and . . . and who the hell is this?
A woman in a grey suit, with red hair and a clipboard, is standing next to the bed. "Sorry to interrupt," she says. "But I have a Cease and Desist Order from one . . ." she looks down at her clipboard ". . . Jessica Lee Moore, deceased, who has not authorized or consented to the use of her name, likeness, or voice, for the purposes of attempting to coerce or persuade one Samuel Winchester into accepting a position as the vessel of Lucifer, nor for any other purpose without her express consent."
"What?" Sam says.
The woman ignores him. "You heard me," she says, to Jessica. Or to not actually Jessica, because a second later, the person beside Sam has morphed into a man he doesn't recognize.
"Hello, Prudence. I would say it's good to see you again, but I would be lying."
"And I know how you never lie. Hello, Lucifer," she says.
"Lucifer?" Sam jumps up out of the bed. "What the. . . who are . . . what's . . . ?"
"Articulate vessel you've picked, Luce," Prudence says. "Hello, Sam. I'm Prudence. I'm from The Committee. And I'm here to make sure that the Apocalypse is conducted in accordance with all rules and procedures."
"Rules and procedures?"
"Of course. You don't think there aren't rules for this sort of thing, do you? What a mess that would be," she says. "I just need to discuss one or two little things with Lucifer, here."
"What do you want, Prue?" Lucifer asks.
Sam is a little too stunned to ask anything.
She smiles. "An Environmental Impact Assessment, projecting and outlining any and all possible ramifications of the proposed Apocalypse, with particular attention to any species, flora or fauna, that will be in any way affected, negatively or positively, by your intended course of actions. By the end of the month."
"That would be all of them; it's the Apocalypse."
"Did you need to file for an extension, then? I can give you that form."
"You'll get your assessment," he says, tersely. And when she opens her mouth say something else, Lucifer adds, "By the end of the month."
"Fabulous," she says. "Oh, and do try to avoid using impact as a verb. The Chairman hates that."
"And you'll need to apply for work visas for the Horsemen." She hands him a stack of papers she wasn't holding a second before.
"Anything else, Prue?"
"Not right now, Luce. Sam, very nice to meet you. Carry on," she says, and vanishes.
"What was that?" Sam asks.
Lucifer looks up from his papers. "That was Prudence," he says, in much the same tone one would say that was an IRS agent. "Do you have a pen I can borrow?"
Prudence, and her clipboard, just keep turning up. Every move anyone tries to make that is even remotely related to the Apocalypse is hobbled by yards and yards of red tape.
She comes after Zachariah for not getting a proper tourist visa before he sends Dean to the future. "Did you think we wouldn't notice?" she asks, while Dean looks smug and Zachariah turns an odd shade of purple. "Temporal Passport Control has been calling all day."
She appears claiming that there have been reports of stolen hosts, and demanding paperwork from demons for their meatsuits, which Sam supposes is the cosmic equivalent of "license and registration" from a traffic cop.
She asks for proof that hellhounds have up-to-date rabies vaccinations, and the argument that no one who gets bitten by a hellhound lives long enough for rabies to be a concern is dismissed as an irrelevant technicality.
She makes every one of those freaky fans at the convention sign a "Indemnification Agreement, Liability Release, and Assumption of Risk of Injury" form. Dean doesn't even know what that means.
And then there are her concerns about the Antichrist and violations of child labor laws. Sam suspects that even if he had managed to finish law school by now, he would be pretty floored by those arguments.
It's almost impossible to get anything done. She's everywhere. Even dimensions that have only existed for fifteen minutes.
"Where the hell are we?" Dean asks. Aside from apparently stuck in the middle of episode of Dr. Sexy, M.D.
"Like it? It's all homemade. My own sets," the Trickster says, rapping on the glass of a window in a door, and indicating the extras all around them. "My own actors . . . call it my own little idiot box."
"Oh, so this is your production?" Prudence asks, appearing between the Winchesters and the Trickster. "Are you aware that none of these performers belong to any kind of actors' union? That these sets were not built by licensed carpenters or electricians? And that none of this oh-so-brilliant dialogue was written by a member of the Writers Guild?"
"Do you mind, Prudence? I'm in the middle of something," the Trickster says.
Dean looks from him to her. Is there anyone this woman doesn't know?
"Not really, Dean," she says, answering a question he hasn't asked out loud, and at this point, he can't even managed to be surprised that she can do that.
She turns back to the Trickster. "And you're not in the middle of anything. I am suspending production until such a time as The Committee is satisfied that all applicable regulations and requirements are being met."
In Carthage, Sam stands on what was once the site of a Civil War battle, and is now the site of a very different sort of massacre. Dean's not moving, not since he hit that tree, and the Colt didn't work, and now Sam is stuck listening to Lucifer grandstand about how alike they are and how wronged he is and does the Devil know how freaking whiny he sounds?
"Anyway," Lucifer concludes, "You'll have to excuse me. Midnight is calling and I have a ritual to finish. Don't go anywhere. Not that you could if you would."
But before he can resume his shoveling, a now familiar woman is standing with them.
"Prudence, this is not a good time," Lucifer says.
"I just need a couple moments," she says. "I'm afraid your Form R-723D, Application for a Permit to Conduct a Ritual, wasn't quite complete. You needed to sign . . ." she flips through the hundreds of pages she's holding, " . . . here."
Lucifer rolls his eyes, drops his shovel, takes the pen from her, and scrawls something across the page. "Happy?"
"Also," Prudence says, "here. And here. Here. Here, here, here, here, initial here and here, sign here, here, here, here, initial here, sign here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here."
Lucifer takes the reams of paper from her, flipping through the pages so fast they're a blur to Sam, stopping to sign them at all the little yellow flags that have appeared, and then thrusts the papers back at Prudence.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I can't accept this."
"I got off work at five," she tells him. And that was . . ." Prudence checks her watch, ". . . twenty-three seconds ago."
"Five? It's almost midnight," Lucifer objects.
"Not by my watch. And I have dinner plans. You'll have to resubmit your request tomorrow. And until then, you have no permit and cannot complete this ritual." Prudence pauses, and then continues, "Oh, and all Forms R-723D had to be in by close of business today, because that version is being discontinued. So starting tomorrow you'll need to submit Form R-723E," she says, producing an even larger stack of paper than the one Lucifer is holding.
Lucifer makes a strangled sort of sound and the papers in his hand burst into flame.
"You did remember to get an Open Burning Permit, right?" Prudence asks.
Given the way the earth starts shaking and the sky glows red, Sam is guessing no.
Prudence tosses her suit jacket across the chair just inside the door and steps out of her heels. "I'm home," she yells.
"Well, it is the Apocalypse," she says. "There's going to be some overtime. But I get time and a half for that, so it's not all bad." She comes into the kitchen. "Something smells good."
"Stir fry," says the man by the stove. He turns so that she can kiss him hello. "How was work today?"
"The usual. You know what they're like," she says, sitting down at the table. "I had to make Lucifer put the whole state of Missouri back where it belongs. He is fond of his temper tantrums, when he doesn't get his way."
"He always has been. Witness the current situation." He pours wine into two glasses. "How long can you really stall this, Prue?"
"Long enough to buy you some time. A few millennia, anyway," she says, taking her wine from him. "Thank you, Cas."
"You're welcome." Castiel sits down in the chair opposite hers. "What are you planning to do next?"
Prudence grins at him. "I'm thinking of hitting them all with audits . . ."
A/N: Thanks are due to On-A-Dare, for the beta. Not mine, no profit, just for fun.