Chapter 1: Where's the Remote?
Dean stood with shoulders taut as he stared down the Trickster. If he was wrong, there was no telling where they’d be sent next—another Japanese game show, idiotic commercial…he and Sam could be stuck in this wretched dimension for the rest of their lives. But Dean wasn’t wrong.
“Tell me one thing,” he said. “Why didn’t the stake kill you?”
The douchebag was silent for a beat. “I am the Trickster.”
Dean heard the tiny click and braced himself. “Or maybe you’re not.”
Sam threw the lighter down, igniting a ring of holy oil. Fulvous, red-orange flames burst up around the Trickster, who glanced around in mild surprise.
“Maybe you’ve always been an angel,” Dean continued.
The Trickster lifted his brows and let out a nervous laugh. “A what? Somebody slip a mickey in your power shake, kid?”
Dean smiled. “I’ll tell you what, you just jump out of the holy fire and we’ll call it our mistake.”
The “Trickster” shook his head with another feeble chuckle before his expression fell. “Well played, boys. Well played.” He sighed before asking curiously, “Where’d you get the holy oil?”
Dean suppressed a grin. “Well, you might say we pulled it out of Sam’s ass.”
Sam shot him a pissy look.
The Trickster’s shoulders slumped. “Where’d I screw up?”
“You didn’t,” Sam replied. “Nobody gets the jump on Cas like you did.”
“Mostly it was the way you talked about Armageddon,” Dean put in.
The Trickster frowned. “Meaning?”
“Well, call it personal experience, but nobody gets that angry unless they’re talking about their own family.”
The Trickster glanced away thoughtfully, not denying it.
“So which one are you?” Sam asked. “Grumpy, Sneezy, or Douchey?”
The Trickster gave him a meaningful look. “Gabriel, okay? They call me Gabriel.”
“Gabriel? The archangel?” Sam said in disbelief, barely able to contain his disgust.
Gabriel inclined his head. “Guilty.”
Dean’s jaw tightened. He was so friggin’ sick of angels, their destiny crap, and screwing with reality in order to ‘teach Dean a lesson.’ First Zachariah, and now an archangel? Though, how the hell did an archangel end up pretending to be the Trickster? Dean and Sam had tangled with him long before they’d even known angels existed. He shook his head; that was for another time.
“Get us the hell out of your little playground,” he demanded.
Gabriel snorted. “Or what?”
“Or we’re going to dunk you in holy oil and deep-fry ourselves an archangel.”
Lightning split the sky and the ground rumbled. Sam looked around nervously, but Dean wasn’t impressed. He’d seen Raphael put on a similar display while trapped in a ring of holy fire, and it was all show.
“Or maybe we just skip directly to barbecued angel wings,” he said. “I bet if we snuff you out, the power holding us here goes too.” He didn’t know, not for sure, but he was done screwing around.
Gabriel lifted his gaze to the churning sky. “Uh, that’s not me.”
The sun disappeared, replaced with roiling black clouds. A bitter gust kicked up, bending the holy flames almost horizontally. The chill almost instantly numbed Dean’s hands, and he exchanged an alarmed look with Sam.
“We-ll, this isn’t good,” Gabriel remarked, though the slight roll of his shoulders belied his nonchalance.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked.
Gabriel reached up to rub the back of his neck. “Heh, let’s just say, whoever said that ‘Hell hath no fury’ thing had nooo idea…”
A column of flames erupted to their left, blazing and scorching with the intensity of a bonfire. Dean and Sam recoiled a step from the sweltering heat, and blinked in bewilderment as the inferno died down, leaving a woman standing before them. Tongues of fire continued to lick up and down her form, a ravishing, sun-tanned beauty in a red blouse and black skirt. Her attire was elegant yet simplistic, save for the silver chain belt of skulls around her lissome waist and a gold bracelet on her right wrist. Brown hair curled about her shoulders, and her maroon-shaded lips were set in a sharp frown.
“Hello, Loki,” she said icily.
“Loki?” Dean repeated, shooting a glance back at Gabriel. “How many aliases have you been masquerading as?”
Gabriel shot him a look that said, ‘zip it.’
“Uh, hey pookie,” the archangel replied, and Dean didn’t miss the slight hitch in his voice. “What’s shakin’?”
For all the sweltering heat still radiating from where she’d been wreathed in flames, the woman’s expression was stone cold. “Your cavalier attitude is as disrespectful as ever.”
Gabriel lifted his hands apologetically. “I was gonna call.”
“Be silent!” Thunder cracked with the vehemence in her voice. Dean and Sam both took another wary step back. Whatever was going on, they did not need to get between two very powerful entities, one who was clearly pissed off.
Gabriel winced. “Kali, sugar-plum, listen…”
“No,” she snapped. “It is time you listen, Loki. Or should I say, Gabriel?” Her lip curled up in a sneer.
The archangel looked surprised for a moment. “How long have you known?”
“Long enough. You are quite skilled in giving the tricks, but now let’s see if you have what it takes to survive your own.” With a snap of her fingers, flames whooshed up to engulf her. Dean and Sam threw their arms up to shield their faces as a blast of heat washed over them, negating the chill from the storm seething above. When the fire died down, the woman was gone.
Dean turned in a half-circle, making sure it was just the three of them again. “What the hell was that?”
“You two need to let me out right now,” Gabriel said sharply.
Dean shook his head. “Not until you get us out of TV land, for real this time.”
Gabriel scowled. “I can’t. Not the quick way, anyhow.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam snapped.
He sighed, jerking his thumb toward where Kali had been. “Did you miss that? What do you think just happened? She hijacked my pocket dimension, alright? I no longer have control.”
Dean blinked. “Excuse me? Who has the juice for that? You’re an archangel!”
“Yes, and Kali’s a very pissed off goddess of violence,” Gabriel shot back. “Now release me before things get worse.”
Dean snorted. “How could they get worse?”
The scenery suddenly switched to walls of grayscale static before wiping the road stop away and depositing the three of them on a dry countryside. Scraggly shrubbery, large rocks, and spindly pine trees dotted the landscape as far as they could see. In the distance, a herd of cattle grazed.
Gabriel groaned. “You had to say it!”
Dean reached up to feel the wide brim of a hat shading his face. “Where the hell are we now?” He turned in a half-circle and stopped, quirking a brow at the huge, oblong-shaped cowboy hat sitting atop Sam’s head. He couldn’t help but snicker. “That’s a good look for you, Sam.”
Sam flicked his eyes up before tearing off the hat and tossing it on the ground. His gaze shifted to his hip where a gun holster sat. Dean patted his own side and found a pistol there as well. He drew it out, brows lifting at the old-fashioned craftsmanship: a light brown handle with dark steel barrel, engraved with a flourished design. Now that was a sweet piece.
“So we’re in some old Western,” Sam said.
Well, Dean could think of worse places to be. Too bad this wasn’t a game. He turned toward Gabriel. “How do we get out of here?”
The archangel pursed his lips. “There are backdoor portals. We simply have to find them and go through until we reach the outer one that spits us back out into the real world.”
Dean shook his head. “Great. Sam, let’s go.”
“Uh, guys! You can’t leave me here.”
“No?” Dean’s finger itched to pull the trigger of his gun, just to see what it would do to the Trickster/douche-angel. “Like you planned to leave us here?”
“I would have let you out eventually.”
Dean glanced at Sam and the two started to turn away.
“Hey! You need me. I can sense the portals.”
That stopped them, and the brothers exchanged another look. Crap. If they let the archangel go, there’d be no getting the drop on him again. But then, what were the odds they could find their way out on their own? Even if Gabriel was no longer in control, he still knew how to navigate a pocket dimension.
“Come on, guys,” Gabriel whined. “Let me be your wingman.”
A burst of fury popped in Dean’s chest, and he marched back to the ring of fire. “Where’d you stash Cas? Is he somewhere in this nightmare circus?”
Gabriel waved a dismissive hand. “Eh, he’s in some other channel.”
“Bring him back.”
The angel shot him a look that said, ‘idiot’. “I can’t move us so what makes you dimwits think I can move him?”
A muscle in Dean’s jaw ticked. “Fine, here’s how this is gonna go down. You’re gonna take us to these backdoors, bring us to Cas, and then you’re going to lead us all out of here.”
Gabriel pursed his lips. “Mhm, Cassie-boy can take care of himself. We really should be worried about our own skins.”
Dean shook his head and turned away again, nodding at Sam for them to get going.
“Okay, wait!” Gabriel called after them. “Fine, we’ll go pick up the extra baggage.”
“You’re the extra baggage,” Dean practically growled as he whirled back to face the archangel. He wanted nothing more than to leave the smarmy bastard there, but dammit, they needed him if they were going to get out of this.
Sam scooped up some dirt and hovered over the edge of the flames. “You give us your word?”
Gabriel rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Yes.”
“Not like we could trust it,” Dean muttered. But they had no choice. He nodded to Sam, who threw the dirt on the fire. Dean scuffed more into the ring with his boot, and the flames extinguished. He tensed instinctively, waiting for the Trickster to rear his ugly head as though this were some elaborate setup. But Gabriel merely snapped his fingers, and a dark brown cowboy hat appeared on his head.
He swung his arms around the Winchesters’ shoulders. “Well, partners, let’s hit the trail!”
Both Dean and Sam shrugged out of his embrace. Dean had a biting retort on his tongue, but a horse’s whinny interrupted him, and he turned as a group of four men on horseback came riding around a clump of large boulders. A massive dust cloud kicked up behind them, clomping hooves beating across the ground like drums. When the quartet pulled to a stop in front of the Winchesters and Gabriel, Dean tipped his hat at them.
One of the men, a scrawny guy with a dirtied baby-face, dismounted. “I got a bone to pick with you, Cartwright.”
Dean glanced over his shoulder. Was the guy talking to him? Right, they were still supposed to be in some damn TV show. He threw a questioning look at Gabriel, who just shrugged. Great, how was he supposed to play along without the script?
Dean cleared his throat. “Yeah?”
“I want that cattle stock from Cordell Hurst.”
“Uh…” He coughed lightly, turning his head to take in the cows on the range behind them.
The group’s spokesperson stepped forward and continued, “Hurst was gonna sell me that stock until you swooped in.”
“Heh, guess we offered a better price?” Dean said.
Sam made a disgruntled noise and shot him an annoyed look.
“I want what’s mine,” the cowboy said.
Gabriel crossed his arms. “I don’t see your name on them.”
Now it was Dean’s turn to give a black glare.
“Look,” Sam spoke up calmly. “I’m sure we can reach some sort of arrangement. Why don’t you come by…uh, our place…tomorrow, and we’ll discuss it?”
Cowboy-dude hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. “So you can jack up the price? Sell it to us for twice what you paid?”
“No, that’s not—” Sam started.
“You boys think you’re entitled to everything,” the guy spat. “I think it’s time someone taught you a lesson.”
As though that had been a signal, the other three guys dismounted and moved forward, shoulders taut and arms spaced as though ready for a fight.
Shit, they did not have time for this.
“I’d like to see you try, small-fry,” Gabriel rejoined.
“Hey, we don’t want any trouble,” Dean said, trying to salvage the situation, even as he registered it was futile. The leader was already charging toward him, arm swinging up with a right hook. Dean threw an arm up to block and rammed a punch into the guy’s gut. Kid wasn’t going down easy though, for he shoved his shoulder into Dean’s chest, thrusting him back a few paces. A left cross connected with his jaw. Head rattling, Dean staggered back as the guy advanced. He ducked the next swing, which ended up taking his hat off, and drove a fist into the dude’s lower back. Then Dean kicked him with the heel of his boot, shoving the kid face first into the dirt.
He turned to see Sam brawling with one of the other guys, while Gabriel took on two. The archangel looked to be having way too much fun, a wide grin on his face as he pummeled and punched. Then one of the burly guys got in a lucky strike, a meaty fist clobbering Gabriel in the face. The archangel flew off balance and landed on his ass, blinking dazedly.
Rolling his eyes, Dean strode forward and grabbed one of the smaller goons by the back of his shirt collar, swinging him around and chucking him back toward the horses. He pivoted as the guy with an extra one-hundred pounds on him closed in. Dean tried to dodge, but ended up being cuffed in the shoulder. Pain radiated through his collarbone as he stumbled away.
Before the guy could knock Dean’s lights out, Gabriel appeared, cupped the cowboy by the back of the neck, and flung him back toward the horses as well. Angelic strength sure did come in handy sometimes.
The guy Sam had been scuffling with teetered toward his friends, sporting a bloody nose.
Gabriel crossed his arms. “Run along, kiddos.”
They exchanged nervous glances with each other before looking toward their leader, who was also staggering to his feet, only his face was red with rage. He took a stumbling step as though to attack again, but winced and clutched at his back.
“Let’s go, Cliff,” one of the other cowboys said, and reached for his horse.
Dean watched the kid limp toward his friends, catching the murderous glare in his eyes as he passed. He’d thought the Wild West style of handling disagreements was manly and effective…unless you were the loser. Good thing Dean’s “role” was to never lose.
Cliff paused halfway to his horse and turned around slowly. Something in Dean’s gut twinged, all the way down to his fingertips, like a premonition. Cliff’s hand twitched and went for the draw.