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30 January 2013 @ 06:52 pm
While Angels Watched: When Darkness Reigns (Chapter 4)  

They’d been sitting for hours in shell-shocked silence, and by 11:45pm, as the two Winchesters waited for word—any word at all, Sam was busily torturing himself.

A/N: This story has been made presentable by the hard work of NongPradu and Numpty. Please hop over to their profiles and read one of their stories. They are both BRILLIANT writers and never fail to take me to my Dean-girl happy-place! And thanks to Beckydaspatz for all the comments and companionship during the writing of this story! You are always a joy and never fail to bring a smile to my lips. Especially when you send me transcriptions of arguments between you and your jeans!

While Angels Watched

Chapter Four
When Darkness Reigns

**O**

They’d been sitting for hours in shell-shocked silence, and by 11:45pm, as the two Winchesters waited for word—any word at all, Sam was busily torturing himself. He’d been so stupid—so, so stupid. How could he have just ignored it? He hadn’t even asked Dean about the hunt or what the skinwalker had done to his hand, because, well—because he had been lulled by Dr. Michaels’ and his dad’s confidence. He’d been so happy to have Dean awake and laughing and making sense again. He’d simply planted his head ostrich-style, wanting to believe everything was OK. He’d let it go; he’d become complacent, and now look what had happened. He should have called his Uncle Bobby. He should have gone to the library and done research on his own if he had to. He should have made absolutely certain that his brother was safe. This was entirely on him. Dean may be dying right now because Sam should’a done what he didn’t.

Sam was haunted by the image of his brother sagging into his father’s arms. He had thought Dean’s earlier seizures had been disturbing, but this? This had been savage and unrelenting. His brother’s limbs had stiffened and writhed spastically, and the shaking had gone on and on even after Muriel and Nan had run in and sounded an alarm. Soon, five or six other people were there, and they’d taken Dean straight away, leaving Sam and his dad standing in dumbfounded silence amid a mess of sour urine and french-fries. And that was it. They’d been waiting since then with absolutely no news whatsoever.

“We should call Uncle Bobby,” he said again, leaning toward his dad, refusing to let their ‘discussion’ go.

“Not another word about it, Sam,” John said, rocking in his seat erratically. The man’s huge palm pushed Sam back against his chair with more force than the boy expected. It shocked him. His dad had always been gruff, but he’d never been physically violent with him, not ever. Sam shrunk back in his chair but couldn’t help but try and get him to listen to reason.

“Dad, please. Let’s just call Uncle Bobby or Jefferson…or Travis. Somebody has to know something about skinwalker poison. I am beg…”

John spun around in his seat, snarling. His eyes were raw with intense pain and worry. His tone didn’t speak to that, though. It was wild and lashed out angrily at the child. “Stop it, Sam,” he seethed. “I’ve had it with this song and dance; now shut your goddamned mouth and wait for the doctor.” Sam sat stunned, tears dripping out of his eyes.

“I just wanted…” he began to gulp and heave. “I just wanted…” John’s shoulders drooped and he shakily massaged his temples. When he opened his eyes again, they were also wet, and the spite and frustration had left them.

“I know, Sam,” he said, blowing out a low, stuttering breath. “I know. I know you just want to help, but this isn’t helping right now.” He opened his stance a little. “Come here,” he said, fisting Sam’s shirt-sleeve and pulling him into a one-armed embrace. “Please, just sit. Let’s just wait and find out what is going on before we do anything.” Sam was fighting the sobs in his throat, swallowing them the best he could.

“Dad, I just ww—want Dean t—to…” John tried to rub his back a little, but he looked up when he felt Sam’s body go rigid. John turned and rose as a woman in a crisp lab-coat with an even crisper stride approached.

“Mr. Winchester?”

“Who are you?” John asked sharply, the furnace in his eyes reigniting. “What the hell happened? Where’s Dr. Michaels, and where’s my son?”

The woman extended a hand that John refused to take. “I’m Dr. Abbott,” she said, arching an eyebrow and withdrawing her hand. “I’m a colleague of Dr. Michaels,” she said primly and paused.

“All right. So, you gonna just stand there or are you gonna tell me what’s happening to my son?” John snapped, looking the woman up and down. Dr. Abbott sucked in a breath, staring at him, surprised and offended. She took a few beats before continuing.

“I’ve been asked to come take you to Dean. Dr. Michaels is on the phone, but he’ll be in to see you as soon as he’s finished,” she said.

“You’re telling me that the doctor had to take a phone call before coming to talk to us?” John blazed. The doctor held up her hand before he finished.

“Mr. Winchester, he’s making a call to a colleague in Phoenix concerning your son’s case,” she said, now somewhat peevish and defensive from his aggression. “Please, follow me. We’ve moved Dean back to the ICU and the doctor will meet you there as soon as he’s finished.”

“What the hell happened to my boy?” John demanded, refusing to move. The doctor stopped and regarded him quietly with a nod.

“The aneurysm ruptured,” the doctor said matter-of-factly. “The bleed has triggered a stroke, but as I said, Dr. Michaels will be in to see you and answer all of your questions just as soon as he can.”

John’s eyelashes fluttered as his brain balked against her words. “A stroke? Dean’s had a stroke?”

“Yes,” she said blandly.

“A stroke?” John said shaking his head, as though he hadn’t heard her the first time. “What does that even mean? What happens now?”

“The doctor is working on that. Please, Mr. Winchester, this is a time-sensitive situation. I’m sorry, but we really must go. Follow me, and the doctor will see you in a few minutes.” Dr. Abbott began moving at a brisk pace, and John and Sam had no choice but to follow her in horrified silence.

She stopped them at the door to the PICU before allowing them to go in. “I need you to prepare yourselves. Dean is still unconscious, and he’s been placed on a ventilator. Right now, this is for assistance only. You can go in and see him. Dr. Michaels will be in as soon as he can.” She opened the door and stood back, letting them enter before turning and walking away.

**O**

By 12:05am visiting hours were long over—not that it mattered. Visiting hours no longer applied to them. Sam’s brain registered that Sophia was in the room, as well as several other nurses, but they were merely indistinct forms in the vicinity. He only had eyes for Dean. His brother was in the same bay he’d been in a week ago—first bed on the left, wires, IVs and tubes attached to every limb. He even had a blood-pressure cuff on the calf of his leg. Sam supposed they’d run out arms to use. A ribbed ventilator hose was snaked down his throat, and Dean’s chest rose and fell every time the machine hissed.

Sam padded over to the side of the bed. Everything was distorted by haloes and starbursts due to his tears, but even taking that into account, Sam could see that Dean looked…horrible. Truly awful. Sam had seen his brother zonked out from pain-meds and sedatives before. He’d seen him battered and bruised, sleeping fitfully in pain. He’d seen his brother delirious with fever from the Chicken Pox. But at no time in Sam’s life had he ever seen his brother just not be there. The boy didn’t know where his brother was, but that form in the bed was not him. Dean didn’t look sick—he looked absent.

Sam’s glance swept up and down Dean’s body and then up again, settling on his brother’s eyes. Both were slightly open, the only Dean-like quality that Sam could recognize. Dean had often times slept with his eyes somewhat slitted. Sam had, in fact, teased him for it when they were young; that was until Dean had told him that sleeping that way was how he watched over Sam at night. Only the smartest and best hunters did that, Dean’d informed his brother, and it took a lot of skill and training to be able to do correctly, he’d made sure to add. Nothing could ever get Sam while Dean was on the nightshift, he’d assured him. After that Sam never poked fun again, and he always felt a little safer, slept a little sounder, knowing that Dean was there with his slow-roving eyes making sure nothing came close without his big brother knowing. Now, however, Sam saw no motion or vigilance in those eyes. The left eye showed nothing but the white peeking through the slit of the lid. The iris of Dean’s right eye was lying puddled in the bottom corner. It almost appeared that he was looking at Sam. Except he wasn’t. There was no sight in that eye, no thought, no life—no Dean. He simply wasn’t there.

“That’s OK, Dean,” he whispered low enough that his dad couldn’t hear him. “I got this watch,” the little boy said, sniffling. “So, don’t worry, OK? I got this one. I got this one, OK?” Sam quieted when he heard his father clear his throat and come up behind him, laying a hand on his shoulder. The two stood together watching Dean, silently. All the monitors ticked and pinged and whooshed, letting them know that, absent or not, Dean’s body was still there. He was still alive. The child felt his father grip his shoulder so tight that it hurt, but Sam didn’t say anything. He needed the contact just as much as his dad did.

They stayed like that until Sophia wafted over. Her eyes went to Dean and she stood with them. She was silent and sad.

“He’s not in any pain,” she tried to comfort them, her voice a soft, hymn-like whisper. She made a few adjustments to the ventilator and then turned back to them. “Can I get anything for either one of you while you wait for Dr. Michaels?” she asked.

John stared at her without comprehending. He finally blinked his eyes. “No,” he said vacantly. Sophia nodded, her face gilded with sympathy. “What is taking the doctor so damn long? What are you people going to do for my son?”

Sophia’s eyes became a little wary. “Dr. Michaels is in a phone-conference with some colleagues about Dean’s treatment. He’s actively working on this, Mr. Winchester. The doctor will be in as soon as the consultation is over. Be patient.”

John shook his head, appalled. “Would you be patient if this was your son?” he asked in disgust.

“No. I wouldn’t,” she admitted plainly, placing her palm on John’s arm. They stood in silence for a moment longer. “Let me know if you need anything—anything at all. Say your prayers and hang in there, Mr. Winchester.” She patted his arm again and gave it a little squeeze before turning back and joining the host of nurses huddled at the ICU station, stealing glances now and again as they quietly talked among themselves.

Muriel drifted in a few moments later. She’d stayed late doing paperwork, she told them. She gave both John and Sam a hug and then stood with them watching Dean, her eyes still and contemplative in her plump, cherub-like face. She remained there, a quiet guardian until she reached for a tissue in her pocket and left the room abruptly without a word.

“Take a seat, Sam,” John said after Muriel left, but Sam shook him off.

“No,” he said. “I don’t want to.” Sam heard his dad sigh, but the man didn’t press him. The boy took his place at Dean’s side, and he reached for his hand. Despite what his father had said, he turned his brother’s hand over, checking on the skinwalker ‘bite’. He had to be sure. He caught his breath when he looked and saw that the purple-red dot was still visible against Dean’s ghostly pale hand. The scab was gone, almost as if it had healed well, but there was still a small mark there. If the mark was still there, then any poison could still be at work. All this time and Sam hadn’t bothered to keep on top of it. He wasn’t just a horrible hunter, he was a horrible brother.

Sam said nothing. His dad would only fight him on it. Maybe the skinwalker had done something to his Dad, too. Maybe the skinwalker had cast a spell on his father, making it so that he wouldn’t listen to reason. Laying Dean’s hand down gently, he turned and looked at his father suspiciously. “I have to use the restroom,” he said.

Before John could respond, Sam had bolted out the door.

**O**

By 1:20am the doctor still hadn’t shown, and now John was wondering where the hell Sam had gotten to. He hadn’t a clue how long it had been since he’d left for the bathroom; the hunter’s sense of time was so out of whack that there was no way to be certain anymore. He estimated it had been long enough for the boy to have gone to the bathroom and back several times over.

“Sonofabitch,” John hissed. He left the ICU and jogged to the men’s room at the end of the hallway. A quick search inside revealed no Sam. “Goddamn it, Sam.” The kid was probably having a full-on meltdown somewhere. He headed to the elevator to go down to the chapel and check there. Of his two sons, Sam had been the one to show an irrational religious bent—Murphy’s doing, that, no doubt. Next time he saw the hunter he’d give him hell for filling the child’s head with nonsense. There was nothing out there except chaos and evil. Dean had always shared his pragmatism, but Sam…? Sam still clung to a belief that there was a god who cared, who looked out for them. John jabbed the down-button on the wall until the door finally opened. He nearly crashed right into Dr. Michaels who was getting off the elevator.

“John! Where are you going?” the doctor asked briskly.

“Sam went down to the chapel, I think. I was on my way to get him.” The hunter swung around and approached the doctor. “What the hell took you so long? What’s happening to my boy?” he demanded. “We’ve been kept in the goddamned dark for hours.”

“I’m sorry, John,” the doctor said. He took a breath. “There was a rupture in the aneurysm.”

“Yeah, I got that memo from your assistant before she grabbed her broomstick and flew off. Thanks for that, by the way,” he said venomously. “What’s happening to him now, and what happens next?”

“The rupture triggered a stroke, and due to the aneurysm’s placement in the right posterior communicating artery within the Circle of Willis, Dean is now suffering from Oculomotor Nerve Palsy as well as—”

“Jesus, do you people even know how to speak English? Stop throwing your fancy five dollar words at me and just tell me what’s happening to my son!” John erupted. Dr. Michaels stepped back and shook his head, sighing.

“All right, John,” the doctor remained poised and calm. “The aneurysm has ruptured. This means he is bleeding into his brain. That bleeding is causing damage, and until it’s stopped, Dean will continue to deteriorate.”

“So your coil slipped? Are you taking him back to the OR? How do you stop the bleed? How do you fix the stroke?” he barreled on. The doctor remained calm and patient while John paced in a predatory circle around him.

“The coil did not slip,” the doctor said. “You son’s aneurysm was very large—much larger than the coil we placed within it. We had hoped that the sac would shrink and adhere to the implant, but there’s been seepage into the chamber. This, in turn, has led to the rupture.” The doctor shifted. “As for the stroke, right now we can’t treat that since the damage is ongoing. The bleeding has to be stopped, and Dean has to be stabilized before we can adequately assess the amount of damage the stroke has caused.”

“So it didn’t slip. It was just useless,” John said bitterly as he paced.

“No, not entirely. It is, in fact, still acting as a dam between the artery and the aneurysm, keeping most of the blood out of the sac. Had the aneurysm ruptured without the coil in place, Dean would not have survived the initial breach. That is the sad reality we’re dealing with, John. Nevertheless, your son’s condition is very grave.”

“What happens now? You gonna make a few more calls maybe, huh?” John’s misdirected anger was laser focused on the man before him. He abruptly changed the direction he was pacing around the physician, circling now the other way. He stopped within inches of the doctor’s face. “Discuss the case with a colleague or two over a nice game of golf? The New York Times crossword calling your name?”

Dr. Michaels waited until John had exhausted himself. When the terrified hunter finally paused to pass a trembling hand over his stubble, the physician took a steady breath and went on. “Dean will not survive without a craniotomy. The aneurysm has to be clipped.” John did a small double-take, confused.

“Wait. I thought you said you couldn’t clip his aneurysm. Isn’t that why you put the coil in to begin with?”

Dr. Michaels looked at him steadily. “You are correct. I can’t perform a craniotomy in that region without compromising blood-flow to the rest of the brain,” he said guardedly.

“Then why the fuck are you even talking about it then?”

“John,” the physician put up a calming hand, placing it on the hunter’s arm. “We’re all on your side. We’re all on Dean’s side. I promise you that.” The hunter leaned back, pressing his skull into the wall and thumped it a couple of times to give him the patience to continue listening. He snorted and gave a slight nod, standing down. The doctor went on, quietly. “I can’t perform a traditional craniotomy on Dean. No surgeon can. But...” he pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to John.

“Dr. William Metzger,” the physician said with a nudge toward the business card. “He’s a colleague of mine—Director of the Barrow Neurological Institute. It’s a research hospital in Phoenix,” he said, pausing.

“So?”

“He’s pioneered a new surgical technique that may be able to help Dean,” he said.

“What technique?”

“It’s a unique procedure that will allow the surgeon to perform a craniotomy. The method is still experimental, but I just got off the phone with him and he has agreed to treat Dean if you will give your consent for the procedure.”

“He’s going to do a craniotomy?”

“If you give your consent, yes. The surgery is not yet available to the general public, but I felt that Dean was an excellent candidate for the procedure, given his age and exceptional health prior to the rupture.”

“How is this going to be done? Is he coming here?”

“No. We’ll have to fly Dean to Phoenix. It has to be done at the institute since the surgery is performed by a team of neurosurgeons who have been trained specifically for this. It is a very delicate operation. We don’t even possess the equipment that would be necessary to perform the procedure here.”

“Experimental? Don’t have the equipment? Yeah, that breeds confidence,” the hunter scoffed. So, what aren’t you telling me? What are you going to let them do to my boy?” he demanded.

Dr. Michaels cleared his throat and drew himself up. He spoke slowly, picking and choosing his words carefully, knowing that the explanation could cause a volatile reaction from a man whose emotions were already operating on a hair-trigger. “The surgery will involve reducing Dean’s body temperature and putting him in a type of…stasis, if you will, while they perform the craniotomy. In this state, his metabolic functions will cease—heart, lungs, brain activity—all of it will be shut down temporarily. Once this stasis or standstill has been achieved, they will drain the blood from his head. Under these conditions the craniotomy will be performed. There will be no threat of cutting off blood-flow to the brain, because there won’t be any blood flowing at the time.”

John was utterly floored. He stood blinking rapidly, trying to digest the inconceivable scenario he’d just been told. Finally, he exploded. “Jesus Christ!” His voice was nothing but gravel, now. “This is your fix? You want me to allow my son to be used as a guinea pig…for this? Stasis my ass! It sounds like death!”

“Well, for about half an hour during the procedure, clinically speaking? Yes. It will be,” Dr. Michaels said quietly. “As for being used as a guinea pig, though, you should know that Dr. Metzger has already performed over twenty Standstill procedures.”

“Yeah? And how many of those were successful, huh?” John asked with a glare, his breath galloping.

The doctor shifted. “About fifty-percent. But that means ten people are alive today who would otherwise have died.” He continued to watch John. The hunter shook his head and leaned hard against the wall, placing his hands on his knees as he strove to control his breathing. “John, would you rather have Dean ‘dead’ for thirty minutes or for an eternity? Because I’m not going to sugar coat this, here. This is it. John. This is it. This is Dean’s only option right now. Dean is bleeding into his brain with no other way to stop it. I can’t give him more than forty-eight to seventy-two hours before…” John winced, slamming his eyes shut against the unthinkable. “Without this procedure he has no chance. With the procedure, his chances are still slim, yes. No question about it. And even if he does make it through the surgery he will still be suffering the effects of the stroke. But there is a chance. And I wanted to offer that to you. I wanted to offer that to Dean,” he said with a passion that surprised both men. It forced John to open his eyes and look at the doctor.

The hunter paced back and forth, his hand spidering along the wall for balance. “The stroke…” John asked. “How bad was it? Be straight with me. Will he still be Dean or will he just be a vegetable when this is all over?”

The doctor firmly shook his head. “I can’t give you any guarantees, John. The coil is still blocking most of the blood-flow into the aneurysm and that has prevented damage that would have proven fatal had it not been there, but even a small bleed can cause a high degree of insult. I would expect a lengthy rehabilitation as a best case scenario. It will be a challenging journey for your whole family. But I wouldn’t have called Dr. Metzger if I thought there was no hope of giving Dean his life back. He is so young. He’s strong in body. But it’s more than that, John. That boy is unbelievably strong in will. He’s one of the most determined kids I’ve seen in my twenty years as a Neurosurgeon. I would not recommend this surgery for the average patient. The Barrow Institute does not normally take an emergency case like this, especially unsolicited in the middle of the night—and frankly, I’m shocked that Dr. Metzger agreed to it. I’m doing this because Dean is…” he fumbled a little. “He’s special. He’s strong. He deserves this chance.”

John leaned against the wall and closed his eyes in thought, in fear—in hope. “Jesus,” he said under his breath, pressing the heel of his palm to his temple. His own head was thrumming and throbbing painfully.

“I’m sorry, John. I know this is a difficult decision, but I need to know your answer. I can’t compel you to do this, since it is an experimental treatment. But I’ve already begun putting this process into motion and if this is not your wish, then I need to try and stop what has become a juggernaut of activity both here in Provo and in Phoenix.”

John’s eyes flew open. “Do it.”

“You’re sure?”

“Do it,” John said again. “If anyone can come back from this, it’s my boy. You say you owe him this chance? I owe him more. I owe him more than you could possibly understand—more than I will ever be able to repay whether this works or not. Do it.”

“All right, John,” Dr. Michaels said. “I’m going to make more phone calls. I have to fax copies of his angiogram and CT scans to the institute as soon as possible. I’ll be sending the originals with the paramedics. Things will soon become very chaotic, so get ready. The next twelve hours are going to be…well…they’re going to be hell. Buckle up. We’ll keep you as up to date as we can and get you and Sam where you need to be when you need to be there.”

“How is all of this going to work? How are we going to get to Phoenix?”

“The Institute is covering the medevac. We’re going to prepare Dean for airlift to the airport. Once there, an air ambulance will take you to Phoenix.”

John tried to take a deep breath. “Ok. Christ,” he said pacing and grabbing the wall for balance. “Ok. God, I have to find Sam.”

“I’ll leave you to it.” Dr. Michaels pressed the button for the elevator but then turned. “Oh, and John?”

The hunter eyed him. “What?”

“This is an experimental surgery. So, the Institute is covering the cost of this with their research grants. There will be no bill.”

John looked at the man. “I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care. I’d have sold my soul if that’s what it took. I’d have done whatever necessary to get the money.”

“I know you would have,” the doctor said. “But this hopefully sets one small corner of your mind at ease.”

“It doesn’t,” John said honestly. “None of that means anything to me.”

“I hear you. Just the same,” the surgeon added. “There will be several legal waivers that you will have to sign once you get to Phoenix.” The elevator door opened up. “I’ll be in and out quite a bit while we get everything ready on our end, but if I don’t get the chance to talk to you again…” he hesitated. “Good luck—to all of you.”

“Yeah,” John said as the elevator door closed on the doctor. John pushed himself away from the wall only to find he was too dizzy to stand unaided. He leaned back against it until he’d gotten his center. He staggered a few steps then slowly straightened up, his face becoming sharp and hard and resolute. He looked at his watch. He still had to find his wayward son.

“Dammit, Sam,” he said and pressed the button for the elevator.

**O**
When John reached the lobby by 1:35am, he spotted Sam at a bank of pay-phones feverishly dialing a number. John thundered over, grabbed the handset and hung it up forcefully.

“Who were you talking to, Sam?”

The boy looked at his father, shocked and intimidated. “I…no one,” he said, wide eyed.

“Who were you talking to, Sam?” John’s face was menacing. Sam couldn’t get his tongue to work fast enough.

“I—I…Dad, I ww—wasn’t!” The child took a stumbling step back from his father. He stopped quickly, regaining his footing and pushed back, his lips set like tightly strung barbed wire. “I’ve been trying to call Uncle Bobby, but I can’t get an answer, OK? Please Dad, let’s call him in the morning. He can help. I know he can!”

“You’re wrong, Sam. He can’t. Now let’s go.”

Sam’s mouth opened and closed as he strove to control his anger and frustration. “You don’t know that, Dad,” his voice cracked, and he swatted away the tears that began welling up no matter how hard he tried to stop them. “You don’t know! Even if Bobby couldn’t help, don’t you think he’d want to know what’s happening to Dean? Don’t you think he’d want to be here?”

“God damn it, Sam. Singer and I aren’t even speaking to each other right now. He can’t help us. He’s not Dean’s goddamned father. I am. I’m not calling him.” He reached for the boy and grabbed his shoulder even as Sam tried to flinch away.

“We have to fix what the skinwalker did, Dad. We can’t give up!” He was openly sobbing now.

The hunter shook his son. “This has nothing to do with hunting, Sam. He just got sick. I hate it, too. I hate it so damn much, but that’s the truth. Now stop this right now.”

Sam worked to get his words out. “W—we have to help him, Dad. We have to do something!”

“We are!” John nearly shouted. “They are. The doctors—they’re going to do another operation, but we have to go, now. You can’t lose your shit on me now, Sam. Focus.” John gentled a little. “I need you to keep it together, now. For Dean. This isn’t over, Sam. They’re gonna help him, I promise.”

“How?”

John stood and started pulling Sam down the hallway toward the elevator. “They’re going to do an operation in Phoenix. Now let’s go. We have to move.”

“What kind of operation?” Sam wanted to know as he struggled to walk. John was holding him at an odd, tilted angle, and he was more or less being dragged along.

“It’s nothing, Sam. Just a small operation. They’re going to clip the aneurysm and then everything will be fine. Now move,” the hunter said through gritted teeth.

**O**

By 4:15am things were moving a lot faster, and both John and Sam were numb with exhaustion and worry. Muriel, who had continued working long past her shift to help with arrangements, followed the Winchesters to their four-room apartment above an old Laundromat. It took them less than five minutes to blindly collect their duffels and throw as many random items in as they could gather quickly. John noticed that Sam had pulled out Dean’s duffel from under the bed and had begun haphazardly tossing clothes in that as well.

“We don’t need to take that much, Sam. What are you doing? Pick just a few things and go,” John barked, wanting to lock up and get back to the hospital.

“This is for Dean, Dad. He’ll need clothes to come home in.” Sam looked stung. “Won’t he?” John shook his head, surprised by his dark thoughts and the fact that he hadn’t thought about Dean needing clothes for the journey back home. He nodded.

“Yes. Of course—you’re right. Get it and let’s go.”

They left the Impala at the apartment. Muriel drove them back to the hospital and stayed by their sides until the medevac helicopter showed up, helping them get from place to place so they wouldn’t have to think about it themselves. They’d been unable to spend any time with Dean after coming back from the apartment. Too many people were in the ICU with Dean, getting him ready. Sam and John were no longer allowed in. Muriel took them up to the rooftop staging-area just inside from the helipad. There they sat with their duffels ready, saying nothing to Muriel or to each other. Sam’s head was pressed against the window, fingers absently ghosting patterns in his breath-mist. His eyes were far away.

By 6:30am the helicopter had arrived and John and Sam barely caught a glimpse of Dean as he was brought up, flanked by paramedics and other personnel. The Winchesters became separated from Muriel before they could thank her, and they found themselves being hustled toward the helicopter and boarded first, taking seats directly behind the pilot. Dean was brought in, and, once situated along with two paramedics, the helicopter was soon in the air. Upon landing at the airport a few minutes later, John and Sam were held back from getting out of the craft until after Dean had been taken out. They were finally ushered to the plane once the patient had been settled, and by 7:00am they were on their way to Phoenix at last. The air ambulance was more spacious and plush than John was expecting. Still, he and Sam were seated toward the tail of the plane, away from Dean. John could barely see his son with the paramedics incessantly hovering and seated within inches of him. The medics were constantly checking him and making small adjustments to the equipment he was attached to.

By 7:35 am the sun was yawning on the horizon as they flew over the Grand Canyon. John looked down at the majestic expanse below him and could no longer fight his tears. Dean had tried on at least three separate hunts to convince John to stop. Even though they’d been just a few hours away each time, John had always refused. He’d had more important things do at the time, more pressing issues on his mind, hunts that needed his attention, leads on Mary’s murder that needed looking into. There’d always been something. And John hated himself so fucking much for that right now. He searched his memory and tried to think, really think, if Dean had ever asked for anything for himself other than that. He remembered the kid not just asking but demanding more money for food a few years ago because the school nurse had said that Sam was underweight. He’d ask for better clothes for his brother or beg John to pony up to cover the cost of a school fieldtrip that Sam didn’t want to miss, or he’d hit him up so that he could take Sam to the movies on his birthday. But no matter how hard he thought, John could not remember one goddamned time that Dean had ever asked for anything for himself other than to stop at the Canyon for a quick peek. And John couldn’t be bothered, just like he couldn’t be bothered to even remember his son’s sixteenth birthday. He blinked as the sun dazzled his view. God Dean, he thought, remorse and longing burning a hole in his chest. Christ, I’m sorry. He looked over at his son. I’m so very sorry.

John glanced over at Sam who was slumped in his seat, his small body unable to resist the pull of sleep any longer. The child was bent nearly double, and John was glad the flight would be short, because the kid would have a couple of vicious kinks in his neck and back if he stayed in that position much longer.

The boy’s quiet sleep didn’t last very long, however, because by 7:45 am, Sam was shocked awake when the alarm on the ventilator went off, filling the cabin with a high-pitched whine that had John up and moving forward before he knew what he was doing.

“What’s wrong?” he shouted. The paramedics paid no attention to him and checked the equipment, making adjustments as they talked quietly together. “I said, what’s happening? Tell me,” he demanded. The male medic held his hand up, shaking the hunter off and putting his focus back on Dean until he was satisfied that the teen was stable. Finally he looked up at John still standing over them.

“Dean’s experiencing some respiratory distress. We had to change the ventilator from partial to full assist. He’s getting enough oxygen now. Go back to your seat.”

“Full assist? He’s not breathing on his own?”

“It’s not uncommon for the patient to require more assistance while in flight due to the altitude. Remain calm, Mr. Winchester. He’s stable. Now, please sit down. We’ll be landing in a few minutes.”

**O**
By 8:15am John was bellowing at a new set of paramedics who had met them upon landing. Apparently there had been a miscommunication, and they were not aware that any family members were accompanying the patient. They had initially refused them permission to board the helicopter. And by 8:16am John had loudly and decisively set each and every one of them straight, and Sam and John were taking their cramped seats in the front of the craft.

Once they’d reached the roof of the Barrow Institute, Dean was immediately whisked away without John or Sam being given so much as a single moment to spend with him. They made their way into the building where they wandered the hallways asking anyone for information. With all of the activity swirling around them, no one seemed to be able to tell them anything. They were missing the guardian angel they’d had in Muriel back in Provo, but they finally found someone who was able to direct them to the surgical waiting area. After signing all of the consent forms, Sam and John took seats and watched all the people milling about in a subdued, academic furor. Apparently, word had spread throughout the facility of the emergency procedure, and dozens of students, Fellows, and researchers had turned up to assist or observe as they could.

“Why is everyone so…excited, Dad? Is this all for Dean?” Sam asked, watching the non-stop comings and goings. “What’s going on?”

John shrugged. “It’s nothing Sam. It’s a research hospital. Everyone is interested because,” John fumbled. “Because it’s interesting. Now keep still and be quiet.”

Sam studied his father’s face. “You’re not telling me everything,” Sam accused him.

“I’m telling you everything you need to know,” John said with little emotion. “Just once, Sam, please don’t argue.” Sam shook his head at his father, disgusted. He fell silent, but the fight in his eyes soon faded and he stared listlessly ahead. After a moment, John reached over and absently stroked the boy’s head, knowing that Sam’s fears were as bald-headed and stark as his own.

“This will be over soon, sport,” he said.

Another interminable waiting game had begun.

**O**
For Dean, time had ceased in those seconds after his father had tossed the fast-food bag to him. He’d recalled being suddenly disoriented and lightheaded. He’d still been aware when he’d fallen to the floor and his father had held him tight. And he well remembered the sledgehammering pain in his head. After that, however, he had only one final, tenuous memory of white lightning shooting through his entire body and then nothing but an inky, shoeshine blackness. That could have been seconds ago, could have been years—neither would have been a surprise. Then again, Dean no longer marked the passage of time or even knew what it was. Then again, he didn’t know what he was or that he’d ever been. Dean had been a non-entity for over sixteen hours now, and he certainly had no idea that he’d been in the eye of a hurricane of activity. He had no notion of the grief and worry that his family had been experiencing. He’d been spared the terror of the plane flight and had been shielded from the disappointment—again—of missing his chance to see the Grand Canyon.

He didn’t care that by 9:45am he was lying on an operating table at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and he didn’t sense any difference when the Thiopental was administered as anesthetic at 9:55am. Dean didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious that some fifty doctors, students and researchers had gathered in a small room directly above him, all jockeying for one of the dozen available seats in the observation room. The losers of this game of academic musical-chairs would have to watch on closed-circuit TV in a large conference room. Everyone wanted a chance to witness Dr. Metzger performing Deep Hypothermic Circulatory Arrest, or Standstill, as it was more commonly referred to.

Dean never batted an eye when a massive dose of potassium chloride was injected, stopping his heart and never shivered when the cooling blankets were placed on his body at 10:40am. He never suffered the least inconvenience when his body temperature reached a frigid 15-degrees Celsius, never worried a whit as his blood was drained from his brain. Dean Winchester simply never knew that by 11:00am he was clinically dead.

Oddly enough, though, that was that precise moment when Dean’s consciousness suddenly kindled back to life.

The first sense to be returned to him was his sense of sound. Before he even had a sense of self, he could hear the sharp, guttural whine of what reminded him of a dentist’s drill. It was unpleasant, strident and shrill. The sound seemed to pool or centralize in the base of his spine where it soon became forceful and painfully vibrant. The vibrations traveled up his spinal cord and settled in his skull, and he screamed out, or thought he had, when the pressure became a vise. Fuck! I can’t! He cried voicelessly. It felt as though his head was going to jackhammer apart. Just when he thought he could take no more, he both felt and heard a loud whip-crack, and with that pop, the pressure and pain was instantly released.

The second sense to be returned to Dean was his sense of sight—or something akin to it, anyway. As the dust settled from his head exploding—for he was pretty sure that’s what had happened—a room began to take shape around him. It took him a moment to get his bearings and understand what it was that he was seeing, but now that the pressure had been released from his head he found it much easier to think. He studied his surroundings and got the gist quickly. He was in an operating room filled with bright lights, doctors, nurses, medical machinery—the whole nine-yards. Despite the ease of recognition, though, there were several differences that Dean noticed right off the bat. Everything around him was incredibly clear. Colors were richer and more textured than he’d ever seen them, and details were sharper and more complex than he’d ever thought possible. Objects that had been too small or too unimportant to notice before became vivid and dynamic. For instance, the nurse monitoring the output of an EEG had a fingerprint of her right pinky on the lens of her eyeglasses. She must have tried to adjust the glasses behind her ear just prior to putting her gloves on. The doctor at the head of the table had a small mole behind his left ear that was almost entirely hidden by his crescent-shaped hairline there.

“All right everyone,” the doctor with the small mole addressed the doctors and nurses assembled. “Almost there.” He turned off the miniature drill-like contraption that he’d been holding in his hands, passing it off to an assistant. Reaching down, he began to wiggle something free that he’d apparently been drilling or sawing into.

Watching the scene, Dean noticed that the doctor, as well as every other soul in the room, was focused on a bunch of drab, avocado sheets piled on a table in the center of the room. The moment he paused to wonder what or who it was, though, he knew. He just knew. He was the green pile, or…well…he was the body beneath that pile.

It was strange, though. In a situation where Dean would have normally wigged out completely, he felt oddly detached. Yeah, he was the one being operated on, and yeah that body was his, but at the same time it really wasn’t. His most significant response to what he was witnessing was simple curiosity, nothing more. He decided to move a little closer for a better look, but before he could ‘think’ to move he realized he already had, and he was now hovering directly behind the shoulder of the doctor who’d been working the little saw. Awesome! It was actually kind of fun. Thoughts that had been dulled for the past week were being processed at quantum speed, and movement was no longer hampered by molecules or atoms. Thought and motion were instantaneous, as though they were one and the same thing. Dean focused on the doctor again and watched as the man jiggled something loose, gently prying a large plate of bone away from the rest of the skull. He handed it off to a nurse for safe-keeping.

“There,” the surgeon said. “Thirty minutes, people. Let’s go.”

Thirty minutes, huh? Dean thought wryly. Domino’s does brain surgery? How cool is that! Whatever was happening, Dean didn’t figure it would kick up too much of a fuss if it only took a few minutes to do. He was just beginning to wonder if he was dreaming perhaps—maybe tripping on anesthesia or something—when the room began to take on a vague, dappled glow, like moonlight filtering through naked branches. Dean lifted his hands to his face and noticed a blue glow also welling in his palms. Or maybe it was coming from them, wafting off his skin in very soft, rainbow fractals. He felt a strange prickle, as though someone was standing behind him.

Dean turned around. Nothing was there; yet, the presence he was sensing grew stronger and more magnetic. There was a tug or surge deep within his own circuitry, like the bottomed-out floppy feeling of having driven the Impala over a dip in the road too quickly. That’s when he saw the tiny pin-prick of light in the corner of the room. There was an accompanying chime or musical chord attached to it, like wet fingers on a crystal glass, and as the light grew so did the sound.

The teen could feel his body begin to resonate with the light. He was tuning into its frequency, perhaps, or it was tuning into his, he wasn’t sure which. All else in the room began to slip away and fade into the background, shapes becoming amorphous, sounds becoming nothing more than white-noise, until only the light and that one majestic tone were left. Dean was being compelled toward the light. It was so very beautiful. There was power and strength and grace there—maybe the answers to all the questions he’d ever had. Dean wanted to find out more, but even as he was moving toward the light and entered a dark tunnel that pulled him along irresistibly, he suddenly remembered his family. Panic jolted through him. Sammy! Dad!

The third sense to be returned to Dean was his sense of terror.

Wait! Stop! he tried to bargain, struggling in vain to scuttle against the vacuum pulling him through the tunnel toward the light. No! I can’t leave them! They need me. Please…I’m not ready!

Go To Chapter 5


 
 
 
jpgr: SPN Then Now anijpgr on January 31st, 2013 01:00 am (UTC)
Ooh, Dean has an OOBE! This would give him a whole new perspective on spirits and dying - if he remembered...

Ah, and the all-important - to Dean, anyway - Grand Canyon.

Very well researched as always!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 05:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, totally! He's going to get quite the "bird's eye" for a bit, I think.

Speaking of the research, this whole story was inspired by the real life experience of a woman named Pam Reynolds. I read about her case some years back and always remembered it. I decided to put Dean somewhat through the same scenario. Or at least...my take on it. The experience is totally SPN'd up and all...but I did draw heavily from Pam's NDE.

Thanks as ever for your awesome comments. /hugs!
tifachingtifaching on January 31st, 2013 01:22 am (UTC)
You are an evil, evil woman. But a wonderful storyteller. Poor Sammy. This is not your fault, BB! And John, so terrified and lashing out at everyone, including Sam. Dean's out of body experience was perfect. He WOULD think it was awesome. Until the light.

Can't wait to see what you put the poor boy through next!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 05:12 am (UTC)
Thanks so much T! I really appreciate that.

Yeah, poor Sam and John...writing their side of the story was really and truly a moving experience for me. And draining! I can't imagine the sheer panic a person goes through in those types of situations...and for someone like John...it is a nightmare of powerlessness. Terrible for a man who strives for control.

Hah! Dean's story, on the other hand...was fun to write, and I really let myself go in the next chapter. LOL. Intense experience is intense...and writing that intensity was...um...intense! ;)

Thanks again, T. You always brighten my day.
dearheartx0x0dearheartx0x0 on January 31st, 2013 05:40 am (UTC)
*sobbing a little bit. Will provide a complete comment later....after i find chocolate and my dog to hold*
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
Aw! I sowwy! /hugs you and feeds you chocolate. It'll get better. Um...just not for a while, mk? ;)
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sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
Well, coming from you, that means the world. Thank you so much, marie! I struggled a little bit with this chapter, like I always do when there is a lot of information to dump. But it had to be done...and now it is and the real fun begins (at least for me). :)

Thanks so much for the comment. I appreciate it like you wouldn't believe.
(Deleted comment)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, thankfully NongPradu helped me smooth out the most "scripted" sounding parts. It's so hard when one person is giving the information and the other is really only useful to prompt MORE information...and can sound so damn dumb. LOL. "you don't say, Mr. Doctor...and THEN what happened...?" /snort. But this is all part of learning how to write, right? So it's good practice.
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sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 07:07 pm (UTC)
Exactly...very hard. I try to avoid it all costs, too. But every time I do a hospital scene...it inevitably happens. After this, Imma try and keep the Winchesters out of the hospital as much as possible. Hehe!
gypsy_atavarigypsy_atavari on January 31st, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
So so so well written but my poor heart.

*hugs the winchesters*
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on January 31st, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
Yeah, they really do need hugs right about now...all three of 'em. I wouldn't want to be in any of their shoes...but do I ever? LOL. Yeah...totally sucks to be them. If only people like me would leave 'em alone, yeah?

Oh well...off to torture them some more come Monday. :)

Thanks so much for the comment. :)
Kallielkalliel on February 1st, 2013 03:21 am (UTC)
I love the focus you place on how the experience affects John and especially Sam--even as all their attention is on Dean. It works really well for the mood and tone of the story. Great job; keep at it! :)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 1st, 2013 02:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was a little out of my comfort zone, here, because Dean really couldn't take much of the POV, so I had no choice but to rely upon John and Sam to tell his (and their) story. As an amateur writer and a Dean-girl...I really do prefer to stick with Dean whenever possible. So I'm glad that this shift (really born of necessity because Dean was just a wee bit incapacitated) worked. I was sweating it, and I kind of kicked up my heels and whined a bit to my betas while writing this chapter. LOL.

Thanks so very much for the comment. I appreciate it!
mdlawmdlaw on February 1st, 2013 03:33 am (UTC)
This is not supposed to be happening this way! m :O
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 1st, 2013 02:26 pm (UTC)
I know, right?! What the hell does the author think she's doing? This thing wasn't labeled as a death!fic, was it? Grar! ;)
stazzijenstazzijen on February 6th, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
I was going to write to say how much I am enjoying reading this,and whilst I am by the way, I sat back and thought about the detail that you include and realised the amount of research that you must have put into this before you even put pen to paper, so to speak.So to just say I'm enjoying this is totally inadequete. But I don't have your wonderful way with words to express myself so I'll just say what a moving and emotional piece of writing this is. I look forward to your updates and can't get enough of them.

Do you write professionally by the way? You should!
love

x
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 6th, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC)
Omigosh, your comments make me feel like I’m flying. I am beyond thrilled that you are enjoying this. You know, the inspiration for the story came from the real-life experience of a woman named Pam Reynolds (if you google her you can read the wiki about her…there are also some youtube videos where she describes her experience). She underwent the Standstill procedure and had an incredible experience during the operation. I read about her experience some years back and wanted Dean to kind of go through the same thing…or something close to it. His version is done Supernatural-style, of course. LOL. Anyway, so that’s where I got the idea from.

I did do quite a bit of research, but I actually really enjoy that part of story-telling. I get to learn something new every time I decide to write. You can’t beat that. And, too, especially with this story…there is a degree of bullshit mixed in with all the facts. I also suspect that I probably got some things wrong just by sheer misinterpretation. I have no head for medicine. I can’t even stand to watch my own blood being drawn, so trying to write a story that takes place in a hospital is really kind of humorous. But what the hell, eh? As long as the audience buys it (or kindly overlooks the errors), I’m good. ;)

LOL. I do not write professionally. The stories on this site represent my life’s work so far. Haha! I did major in English in college, but I only took one 3-credit creative writing class in all that time. I enjoyed reading literature rather than trying to make it. But SPN just got under my skin, and for the first time in my life, I started devouring fanfic like some poor crack addict. And then after snarfing down reams of other peoples’ hard work, I decided to try and give back just a little. I was foolish enough to think “how hard can it be?” Well…pretty fucking hard, actually! LOL. I’m very amazed and humbled by the amount of talent in many of the fanfic writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I’m just a beginner and have a lot to learn, but I’m really am enjoying the whole process. It gives me something to do, and it is entertaining. If others are entertained as well…then win/win, right? :)

Thanks again for the comment. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story! /hugs
asiajournalasiajournal on March 19th, 2013 02:51 pm (UTC)
The grand canyon bit made me cried!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 19th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
Awww! That really was a bit sad, huh? Dean certainly wasn't the type to ask for much for himself, I don't think. And he never got much as a result, more's the pity. Maybe that's why he takes such pleasure in those simple things (food, pie, drink, women...etc) as an adult.
dljensengirl88dljensengirl88 on October 22nd, 2013 10:37 am (UTC)
My goodness. You really know how to put Dean through the wringer, huh? And me too! You know, as much as Sam is getting on my nerves about that darn skinwwalker and his persistent need to know why even though John is as much at a loss as he is, I am beginning to think ok let's just have Bobby check this out a bit - just in case. Don't get me wrong. I know Sam wouldn't be Sam if he didn't question everything and he is a little kid to boot, I'm just worried for Dean, so chill out, Sam, would ya? :-)

Poor John. I've never seen him so powerless. Ah but what's got Dean under its' spell now? On with the show!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on October 22nd, 2013 03:47 pm (UTC)
Hehe...Sam is pretty young here. He doesn't have the worldly experience to know that sometimes bad things JUST happen. He's been trained to look for a supernatural angel. It's really all he knows. Poor thing. Wouldn't it be great if all illnesses could be cured with some salt and holy-water? ;)

We'll have to see how "right" Sam is, here.

Thanks so much for the comment, hon!

kat
JJ1564jj1564 on October 27th, 2013 04:52 pm (UTC)
I was crying with John as they flew over the Grand Canyon. The only thing Dean had ever asked for himself, sobs! You perfectly capture the terror and helplessness not only of Dean but John and Sam too. Anyone who's had a loved one in hospital would relate to the endless hours of waiting, frustrated and scared, and the lack of communication followed by 'doctor speak' that's so hard to take in. Dean don't go into the light!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on October 27th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
I agree...I actually read your review for chapter 5 first...hehe...but I said as much there. Here it's horrible...but we know it's a story. Sadly it's not so for a lot of families.

D'aww....Dean and his elusive Grand Canyon. Too bad Edlund went and spoiled it all with is "remember the farting donkey at the Grand Canyon" retcon! Dumbass! LOL. Oh well...it's still a poignant moment. ;)

/hugs

kat