Bobby waited by the phone. He practiced the ritual to remove the bracelets. He made lunch. Then, later, he made dinner. He watched as the moon rose and lit the snow banks outside the window. Pulling out a bottle of whiskey, he leaned back and drank half of it down. Whatever had zapped the boys away that morning; would likely zap them back tomorrow. The overwhelming need to pace rushed over him. Damn chair. He scoffed. Damn legs. He drank the rest of the bottle. Odds were they'd be back in the morning. And Bobby believed in playing the odds. He rolled to the freezer and took out bacon to thaw.
The next morning the snow outside was deeper and the only sound inside the house was the creak of Bobby's wheelchair over the wooden floor. Bobby grabbed the bacon off the counter and tossed it back in the fridge.
"Dammit." He said slamming the door shut.
He rolled to the back room, fumbled around in his desk and closet, and set up equipment on the oak table. Scrying was close to a dark art. He didn't use it unless it was an emergency. Too close to witchcraft for his comfort. But it worked pretty damn well. And he needed to know where Sam, Dean, and their angel had ended up.
By midday, Bobby had put the instruments away. They were nowhere. Maybe the runes carved in their ribs hid them. If they could hide them from angels; they could hide them from him. Made sense. He wheeled himself into the kitchen, put his head in his hands and exhaled. Those two always found their way back he told himself. Even from hell.
Bobby started. He looked up. Sam stood in front of him, his brow wrinkled, and his eyes big and concerned. The bracelet looked loose on his arm.
"Are you okay?" Sam leaned closer.
Bobby glanced around. Dean stood to the left of him. The boy looked down and fiddled with his band when Bobby caught his eyes.
"Where the hell have you two been? I've been worrying myself sick." Bobby growled out.
"Huh?" Sam said, swallowing. "Oh…um…yeah. Well."
"That's real enlightening, Sam." He turned to Dean. "You mind explaining this?" Bobby glanced at Sam again and then back at Dean. Something wasn't right. "You're farther than four feet apart." He said.
Dean grinned. "Yep."
"You're still cursed?" Bobby said.
Bobby ran his hand over his head. He snatched his cap off the counter and pulled it on. "Where's Castiel?"
Dean snickered. "He's gone to catch up with Zachariah." Dean took in a deep breath. "He'll be back soon enough."
"Alright." Bobby was in no mood for any nonsense. "Like I said, where the hell have you two been?"
"Hell." Dean said. He shrugged. "But now we're back. Nice place to visit, but I don't want to live there."
Dean looked away and sat down at the table. "It was no biggie. Cas drew this magic circle around us and then we chilled out until we changed again."
"No biggie?" Sam stalked up. He looked about as pissed as Bobby ever remembered seeing him. He jerked out the chair and slammed himself down. "Seriously, Dean?"
"Sam…" Dean said.
"It was hot and terrible and demons sneered and gawked at us the entire time." Sam slammed his fist on the table, the hollow sound echoing in the room. "One day up here is four months down there."
He said to Bobby like Bobby didn't know. Bobby had read everything he could about hell when Dean been stuck down there the first time.
Sam cut his eyes back to his brother. "And you spent the entire time shaking in the middle of the circle begging me to get away from the edges. You did that for four months."
Dean was silent for a moment. He waved at Sam dramatically. "Well, can you blame me?" Dean huffed. "Being stuck in a ten feet diameter circle with you is enough to drive anyone nutty. That was my real fear. Not being a soul trapped in hell, being a soul trapped in a hell circle with you. I'm surprised Cas didn't zap himself away. You even drove the angel bonkers."
Sam leaned closer into Dean's space. "Cas didn't 'zap' himself away because he was too busy trying to keep the circle unbroken and help me calm you down. Besides, he didn't have the power." The words came out quick and angry.
Dean's lip twitched. He gave Sam a mirthless smile. "Yeah. And you handled hell so well. Cas had to manhandle you back inside the ring five times." Dean caught Bobby's eyes and nodded to Sam. "Genius, here, tried to jump out of the protective barrier so he could rough up some smack talking demons." He raised an eyebrow and turned back to his brother. "Because, you know, that works so well. Roughing up demons. In hell. Where a normal day is nonstop torture." Dean paused. "That was probably the best time they'd had in centuries, dipshit. You want to mess with them, ignore them. Like me."
"You didn't ignore them. You curled up in a ball and cried the whole time." Sam's face lit up in anger. "And begged. Don't forget the begging."
"If I was crying it was because you kept wrapping your giant arms around me like a damn leech and talking crap. No one should have to deal with that shit. Terrifying man." He shuddered.
"It's called comfort, Dean. And you wouldn't let go of me most of the time." He crossed his arms and leaned back. "Besides. Those demons got theirs."
Bobby held up a hand. "Stop." He said. They both turned to him. "Enough." He pulled his cap down tighter on his head. He needed to get them back to the matter at hand. This wasn't the time for a fight. "So up here...the day ended and you three wound up topside again?"
"Not exactly. We were still in hell." Sam said. The anger drained from his face. A sly smile replaced it. "One of my greatest fears is becoming Lucifer's vessel." He smiled bigger. "Hosting an arc-angel."
"Okay." Bobby waited.
"Yeah." Dean laughed. "Like I said, super-powered. We smote the freakazoid demons lurking around the circle and got the hell out of…well…hell."
Sam hit him with a pissy look.
"Fine." Dean said, pointing towards his brother. "Tall with anger Issues here smote the demons and then we followed Cas out of the pit." He shrugged. "We would have been by earlier, but, you know, busy morning."
"Hold up." Bobby glanced between them. "You're tellin' me the two of you are angels."
"Nah." Dean said, full on smirking. "Just…angel-powered. You know. For a day or so. We think."
"Watch." Sam said. He disappeared from his seat and reappeared standing next to Bobby. "I don't know how Cas ever makes himself walk. Really, Bobby, this is so much more efficient."
Bobby bit his tongue. Sam should know better than to tell him how inefficient walking was. The boy was lucky Bobby was into cutting him some slack. Dean seemed to pick up on his agitation.
"Sam's trying to say it's awesome." He explained.
Bobby had the impression of fluttering wings and Dean suddenly was leaning against the fridge pulling out the bacon.
"And it's nothing like flying. More like driving with the windows open. I'd get a beer, but I don't think we can get drunk like this." His face fell a little like someone had snagged his favorite toy. "But bacon's bound to still be good, right?"
Bobby shook his head. "Angels?"
"Well." Sam shrugged. "Kinda. Till sun up." He took in a deep breath. "At first…well…I mean after I took care of those dumb demons that had been jeering at Dean for the four months…we thought maybe we should go after Lucifer. You know, hit him while we have an advantage."
Dean reappeared with a plate of perfectly cooked bacon. "But Cas said Lucifer is like a super-super powered arc-angel. He didn't think it would work." He stuffed three pieces of bacon in his mouth. "Dude's such a buzzkill sometimes."
Sam put his arm on Bobby's shoulder and looked down at him. "So...um…Dean and I got a better idea. We just had to keep Cas busy for a little while we did research. I suggested he find and interrogate his old boss. Promised him Dean and I would lie low."
"And he bought that?"
"I don't know." Dean said. "But I think he liked the idea of roughing up Zachariah." He chuckled. "That guy grows on me more and more."
Bobby looked at each of them in turn. He let his skepticism show. "What are you boys up to?"
Dean full-on smiled at him. "It's a surprise." He said. "We figured out something else to do. Maybe even better that kicking Lucifer's ass right back to hell."
Bobby sure as hell didn't like the sound of that. Anger rushed over him. The last thirty hours had been some of the longest of his life, worrying the boys had gotten stuck in hell, were being tortured or torn apart or worse. And now he finds out his worries were substantiated. And the stubborn bastards act like the whole ordeal was nothing. Typical. Just like their daddy.
"Hey, man. We're really sorry to have worried you." Sam said. "We would have called. But, you know, no reception downstairs."
Bobby cocked his head at him. "You listening to my thoughts now?"
"Um…Sorry." He looked down sheepishly. "It's hard not to…you know…read people like this. We're really alright, Bobby. The whole angel inside kinda diminishes the bad effects of hell."
"And what about tomorrow?" Bobby said. "Cause you got two more days of this and I'm pretty sure you won't be angels at sun-up."
Dean shrugged. "We deal with bad shit all the time. We'll just push it down and ignore it. Gotta go with what works."
"So." Bobby didn't mention how well that hadn't worked for them. Figured they could read it from him just fine and dandy. "What's this grand better-the-world plan you two came up with?"
"Um…well…it's a good plan. Maybe not for the world in general. But." Sam squeezed his shoulder tighter. "It took us a little while to figure out how it worked. Well…it took us about an hour."
Bobby's patience was ending. "What are you two going to do?" He said weariness heavy in his words. Never trust a Winchester, he reminded himself for the second time since this curse had started, not with anything more than your life or your family. And sure as shit never with their own lives. "Out with it." He made sure the stubborn jackasses knew it wasn't a request.
"Geezus, Bobby." Dean appeared beside him and grabbed his other shoulder. "It's a surprise. We're not gonna destroy our souls or anything."
"You know I don't like surprises. Now spill it."
The two exchanged loopy grins.
"I have a better idea. We'll show you." Sam said.
A bolt of tingling heat worked from each of his shoulders down to his chest and to his abdomen. The warmth moved lower to his thighs and calves and toes. Wait. He looked down at his legs. He hadn't felt anything past his navel since stabbing himself.
"What the…" Bobby started. "Did you boys…did you just…" He choked on the words and tried wiggling his toe. His boot shifted. "I…I.." He looked up at them, not knowing what to say, afraid to hope that this meant what he thought it meant.
"Surprise." Dean said, his face alight. "Figured if we had enough juice to ascend outta hell, we should be able to fix your legs. Sammy found out how to do it real fast. Just takes concentration."
Sam's expression was more serious. "So…um…can you walk?" He said, pulling Bobby his feet. "I think it should hold after today. Like mostly sure. Almost positive."
Bobby stood, steadied by the boys' hands on his shoulders. His knees felt scrawny. His chest tightened. He considered everything again. His knees felt. He felt his knees. And his toes.
"Bobby?" Dean's smile faltered. "You alright?"
Bobby's couldn't speak. He was standing up. He was standing up and it was so overwhelming the room was spinning. He laughed loud and Sam's and Dean's faces contorted with worry. Oh lord. He was about two seconds from passing out. He'd never live that down. No way was he fainting in front of a Winchester. No way.
"Gimme…gimme a second." He forced out. He pulled out of their grasp and took a tentative step. He circled the room. His third time around, Castiel showed up.
The angel cast a curious glance at him trotting around and turned to the boys. "I received little information from Zachariah. However, as he is dangerous, I placed him in a fortified room for the time being. Until someone releases him, he will be forced to stay."
"Bobby's got his legs back." Dean told him, looking half guilty and half defiant.
"Yes." Castiel considered the statement. "I am surprised that you and Sam were able to channel enough power to heal, but I am happy for you."
Bobby walked up to Sam and grabbed him in a hug. He did the same to Dean.
"About damn time, too." He turned away from them so they didn't see the his eyes watering up.
"Yeah. Well." Dean patted him on the shoulder. "You got that right."
The angel sighed. And Bobby realized he was picking up some of Sam's bad habits too. Pouting chief among them.
Castiel held up his palm. "I know this brings all of you joy, but we must prepare for the next two days and the ritual to remove the bands."
Dean rolled his eyes. He mouthed 'buzzkill' at Bobby. Bobby could care less. He walked over and gave the angel a pat on the back.
"Thanks for taking care of them. Down there."
The angel peered at him. "I had little choice. My powers are limited with my separation from heaven. I simply contained us until the curse again shifted. We were lucky the more powerful demons have been sent to the earthly realm to fight for Lucifer. We were lucky Sam fears him with such fervor that my powers were enhanced for this day."
Bobby went to the fridge and grabbed four beers. "You may not feel the alcohol, but I'm up for a celebratory beer." He gave one to each of them.
The angel took the beer easily enough. But he didn't seem to quite get the idea of celebrating.
"I fear being unable to serve." Castiel said. "This could translate into something bad."
Dean shrugged and clanked his beer against Bobby's bottle. "Relax. It won't be as bad as hell or as effin' great as today. We'll handle it." Dean stretched out. "Come on. Let's go smote the hell out of anything dumb enough to sniff us out."
The next morning Bobby held his breath as he sat up in bed. He tried to move his leg. It stretched. He stood up. He checked the house for the others by walking into every room. It was empty. Before Bobby's worry had overcome his thrill at walking, the phone rang.
"Bobby?" It was Dean. Peaceful music played in the background.
"You alright? Where are you boys?" Bobby sat at the table. Then he changed his mind and stood up to lean against the counter.
"I don't know. I think it's some sort of spa. They won't let us do anything. Dude, they brought breakfast to my hot tub. And I don't think there's an evil thing in a hundred mile radius. If this is Cas's idea of not being able to serve, the guy's got serious issues. This place is great."
"You're all safe." Tension left Bobby's body.
"Bobby, we are all fan-friggin'-tastic."
Bobby heard Sam's voice in the background. "It doesn't make up for that day in hell." Sam said.
Dean's voice turned away from the receiver. "But pretty damn close. Hey, Sammy, tell the girl I want more pancakes." His voice redirected towards Bobby. "Except for having to be within four feet of Sam – this is the best thing ever, Bobby. I not sure I even wanna break this curse. Cas said he could zap us back, that we could do nothing at your place as easily as anywhere, but I told him we'd ride this one out here…"
He kept blabbering and Bobby hung up on him. He went outside and walked to the store.
The final morning, the boys and the angel showed up fifteen minutes after sun-rise. They were dressed as flight attendants.
Castiel turned to Bobby. "Dean did not want to 'ride this one out'." He said.
Sam laughed. He was holding five little bottles of liquer. "Oh." He followed Bobby's gaze down to them. "I…um…grabbed them before Cas brought us here. I was going to get Dean drunk and stuff him in the lavatory until he calmed down, but Cas said he could bring us here."
"You could remove them from a plane while cursed but you couldn't get 'em out of hell?" Bobby said.
"No." The angel replied. "The curse transported us to hell because Dean feared being a soul in hell. Souls in hell do not leave hell. Dean's fear of flying made us into flight attendants. Flight attendants leave airplanes often. Besides, it is beyond my normal power currently to ascend and descend into hell. Removing us from an airplane is easy."
Bobby shook his head. He grabbed the bottles out of Sam's hand put them in the kitchen. He walked over to Dean. The boy had his head between his knees and was taking in and out deep gulps of air.
"Solid ground, Dean." Bobby stomped his foot to show it. "You're really that afraid of airplanes, boy?"
Dean turned up enough to glare at him. "Look. I've been on exactly two flights before today and both of them almost crashed. Flying's stupid." He turned back down and kept with his breathing exercises.
"I take it this means you've rethunk your second thoughts on gettin' the damn things off."
Dean didn't look up. "Yeah." He muttered.
The boys wanted to keep the bands after they were off. Bobby told them they were idiots and the angel agreed.
Actually, Castiel had said, "We should do something more prudent than put them in the trunk of your car, Dean." But Bobby translated that from angel ease into 'No way in hell are you two idjits keeping them'.
Bobby waited until Sam and Dean drove off and Castiel disappeared to god knows where. He put the Sumerian bracelets in a magic box and hid it under the middle cushion of the couch, beside another curse box containing a broken horseshoe. There they'd be safe. He looked down at his legs again and grabbed one of the little liquor bottles he'd conviscated from Sam. He rose it up in a toast.
"Best curse ever." He said to whoever was listening. And then he added "Thanks." Because tonight no one was dead nor stuck in hell, and he could walk across the room to make his dinner.