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10 February 2013 @ 08:41 pm
While Angels Watched: Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley (Chapter 7)  
“Wh—what is that thing?” Dean asked in a small, frightened voice.

A/N: Thank you so much to Numpty and NongPradu for going above and far, far beyond the call of duty with this story. I can assure you all, this story would not be the same without them. I dedicate this chapter to Nong. One of my favorite passages in this chapter came as a direct result of Nong’s insightful criticism and patient guidance. Better yet, she helped to spare you all from blubbering!OTT!Dean. You can all quietly lift your hands in praise for her for that one. Special thanks to mzflea who had a preview of this story and gave me a creative suggestion that made its way into this chapter! Super-special thanks to Beckydaspatz—as ever—for reading and giving me feedback on this chapter as well!

A/N: Special thanks to Jennygeee who brought a continuity error to my attention!  Fixed!

While Angels Watched

Chapter Seven
Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley



**O**

“Wh—what is that thing?” Dean asked in a small, frightened voice. The spectral hag silently hovered in the corner of the hospital room, intently watching Dean’s body where it lay in the bed. Her hair was hoary and tangled, and the shredded tatters of her shroud wafted and billowed like kelp in a current. The ends swept the floor as she floated above.

The angel closed his eyes a moment, engaged in some internal struggle perhaps. He looked unhappy to see the apparition, and his wings tensed, feathers twitching erratically. Dean actually felt concerned for him. He reached out and set a hand on the angel’s shoulder.

“Hey, you OK, man?” he asked.

The angel’s eyes startled open at the touch, and he gave Dean a staid nod of his head. The angel turned toward the creature in the corner. “Yes,” he assured the teen; although Dean thought he sounded distracted and uncertain. “She is a reaper. Do not speak to her. She will not harm you.”

“A reaper?” Dean huffed out incredulously. “As in the Grim-freakin’-Reaper?”

“After a fashion, yes,” the angel said. “In truth, there are many reapers. She is but one of them.”

“She’s here for me?” Dean asked. “And you expect me to go with that thing? Are you nuts? No way. I’m staying right here. I’m not going anywhere with h—whoa!” he blew out a breath, his eyebrows pinching as he looked back toward the reaper again. The wraith-like figure had disappeared. There was only a short, trim, black-haired girl, about fifteen or sixteen years old, standing calmly in the corner of the room. “Uh…” Dean dithered. “Who’s she?”

The girl stared at him with moist, soulful eyes and gave him a Mona-Lisa smile. She nodded and began to walk toward them. Dean could suddenly feel the temperature in the room plummet as she drew near. His breath crystalized, steaming out as a white vapor, and he wrapped his arms around him. Goosebumps raised on the back of his neck. The angel moved quickly in between the two, holding up his hand to stop the girl’s advance. His wings extended fully from wall to wall. Lightning sprang from their tips. Dean winced from the thunder and power emanating from them.

“Stay where you are,” the angel warned her. She hoisted an eyebrow at him, regarding the angel with silent reproach. “You are not needed here, yet. Be gone!” he demanded.

The girl folded her arms, shaking her head. “I have a job to do,” she said. “I’ll do it whether you fight me or not.”

“My Father has not yet revealed the boy’s fate to me,” the angel said with a booming voice. The girl continued to study him with cool dispassion.

“No?” she asked. She clasped her hands behind her back, threading her fingers together. “Well, my father has,” she said. “And I will be back for him.”

“Her dad? Who’s her dad, dude?” Dean shivered as he spoke through the side of his mouth, staring at the girl. He looked at the angel when he didn’t reply. “Hey, who’s her dad?” he asked again, blowing on his hands to warm them up.

“Your father cannot claim someone that God has chosen for a special destiny. Have you not read the prophecies?” the angel responded to the girl.

“I have, cousin,” she said, looking past the angel to where Dean was shifting from foot to foot to keep his circulation going. “But I’ll do what must be done. Time is running out. Would you prefer that he be stuck here like this?” She looked around the room and then back at Dean, assessing him with a keen eye. “His spirit is already fading, and he’ll only continue to weaken. He’s going to have to move on when the time comes. Don’t encourage him to stay. He deserves better than that, and you know it.”

“I will look after my charge,” the angel said, his courtesy short and stiff. “You are not welcome here until his death is assured.”

“That won’t be long,” she said gently. “I’ll be back.”

The young woman evaporated right before Dean’s eyes, leaving a trail of coiling, bile-colored mist in her wake.

“Holy crap,” Dean said, his teeth rattling like dry bones. “How can such a hot chick be so cold? And I mean that literally,” the teen chattered out, shuddering and jogging in an attempt to warm up. “I’m not going anywhere with her,” he said resolutely. “There’s no way I’m leaving my family. No way. And what the hell is all this vessel, destiny, and prophecy crap? I’m not deaf, you know. This ain’t a Shakespearean play, no matter how much you make it sound like one; and by the way, you might want to ease up on the poetry, dude. Be gone! My Father has not yet revealed his fate…? Are you kidding me? How’s about you wing yourself on into the 20th Century? Hell, I’d even settle for the 19th at the rate you’re going.” The angel tilted his head and frowned, confused.

Dean coughed and felt a little awkward. “I just mean—you know—you kind of sound like one of those old fashioned authors. You don’t need all the thees and thous.” The angel still looked mystified. Dean rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Beethoven,” he smirked dismissively. The angel cocked his head again and raised a brow. He went to say something and then apparently changed his mind. “Anyway,” Dean went on. “This vessel thing you’re planning—it isn’t gonna happen, either. I’m not a vessel or whatever you think I am. I’m here for my family. I’m here for Sammy.” The angel studied Dean quietly. The teen brushed past him, wandering over to the hospital bed. He felt wobbly without the angel standing near him as he looked around, a little bewildered. “Where are my dad and brother, anyway?” he asked. “Why aren’t they here?”

The angel looked at the body in the bed, his eyes going soft and sad. “They are…” he said, trailing off.

“They are what?” Dean asked impatiently.

“They are coming to terms,” the angel replied.



**O**

John had gone from irritated to concerned to frantic. The boy was nowhere to be found. He’d not been at any of the payphones, and when John checked the chapel, it had been empty. The hunter scrubbed his face with his hands and kneaded the back of his neck. Grief and exhaustion were addling his senses. He tried to think it through. The kid was not going to leave his brother. He was off trying to save him. John had no doubt about that. But where would he be at 7:30pm? Sam had no transportation. They had been through Phoenix many times over the years, but they’d never hunted here, so Sam wouldn’t have learned the layout of the city. With a pang, John suddenly remembered him talking about a nearby library.

“Jesus Christ, Sam,” he scuffed out through gritted teeth. He found the nearest employee and was told that the Burton Barr Central Library was only about ten blocks away. He got the directions and ran full out, entering the building in a bluster, sweat and two days’ worth of grime radiating off of him.

The librarian was busy helping another patron, but John pushed forward, leaning in impatiently. “Where is your Navajo folklore section?” he demanded. The flustered librarian pointed out an area to her left and John was off and running again, despite the woman’s hushed protests. John trotted down the main walkway, checking every offshoot. With a huge sigh of relief and a fresh surge of anger, he saw the mop-head he was looking for.

Sam was crouched on the floor, at least ten different books opened and haphazardly strewn around him. The kid was engrossed in one large volume and didn’t hear John’s approach. He let out a frightened squawk as John pulled him up off the floor by the back of his collar.

“Dad!” he yelped, surprised and frantic. Seeing the hunter, though, the boy seized his opportunity. “Look!” he tried to break the hold his father had on him. “I found something.”

“Let’s go, Sam…” John said trying to hold on, but the child shimmied out of his father’s grip and bent down, snatching up a large volume.

“Did you know that skinwalkers can curse people and cause them to be sick?” He hefted the book up at his father. “Look! Please, Dad, you’ve got to listen to me.”

John heaved out a devastated sigh, took the book and without looking at it, he closed it and set it on the ground. He squatted down until he was eye-level with his son.

“Why are you doing this, Sam?”

Sam looked at his father as though he was insane. He coughed out a breath. “Dad, because if the skinwalker hurt Dean we gotta—”

John put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Why are you doing this, son?”

Sam looked flustered, frustrated. He barreled on. “Dad, all it takes is any little article of clothing, or skin, or even saliva and the skinwalker can get to you. If the skinwalker hurt his hand, then maybe…” He went to bend down and retrieve the book his father had discarded, but the hunter pushed the book out of his reach. Sam gasped out, pulling away, diving for the book desperately.

“A dead skinwalker cannot curse someone, Sam.” John held the struggling boy firm. “You’re not thinking this through, and you’re not answering my question. Stop moving and look at me. Why are you doing this?”

Sam shook his head. “No Dad, what if the skinwalker cast the curse before it was killed?”

“Answer my question, dammit. Forget the skinwalker. Why are you doing this?”

Sam backed away, angry, pulling his shoulders out from under John’s hands. He pounced on the book. “You aren’t listening to me, Dad! It’s the skinwalker. I know it is!”

“You know that’s not true, Sam,” John said, and his anger began to diminish, and he reached for his son again and pulled him close.

“It is true!” Sam countered.

“No. It isn’t. And you know it, Sam…deep down you know it isn’t. Stop lying to yourself.” The boy shook his head again, trying to squirm away.

“Let me go, Dad. Let me go. I have to help Dean!” he yelled. “You won’t do it, so I gotta!”

“Shhhh!” a disembodied voice scolded from a nearby aisle.

“Let me go!” Sam whispered hoarsely as he tried to peel his father’s fingers off his wrist.

John pulled the child into an unreciprocated hug. He held him as he bucked and lurched against him. “Why are you doing this, sport? Just answer me,” he said into the child’s ear.

“Because we can…” Sam started to say, but his voice hitched. “Because we can…” he took a couple more gulps.

“We can what, buddy?” John asked as he stroked the boy’s head. Sam was no longer fighting him.

“Because then we can fix him,” Sam sobbed. “Because then we won’t need doctors, and he won’t be brain dead! And he won’t be dying. Because he’s my brother and he can’t die. He can’t! Dad. Dad, help him. Please Dad! Why can’t they help him?” Sam’s knees hinged as he went limp against his father. The hunter held him tight and they wept into each other. Sam was inconsolable, his sobs shaking his body. He quivered and gulped incoherently, though John could hear Dean! being garbled every other breath the boy took.

John held him until the librarian found them and stood not far away, completely uncertain how to approach them. She cleared her throat and gave the man an awkward look, a mix of pity and admonishment. John looked at her and then whispered in Sam’s ear.

“Let’s go, Sam. You need to put this away.” He felt the boy stiffen and shake his head. “Yes, you do,” he said rubbing Sam’s back, feeling the vibrations of the boy’s sobs, trying to rub them away with the flat of his hand. “Listen to me, Sam.” The child still shook his head no. “Yes. Listen to me, now,” John said a little more sternly. Sam went quiet against his father’s shoulder. “If you spend what little time you have left with your brother like this, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Don’t do that, Sam. Don’t do that to yourself. Let’s go back to the hospital and be with Dean. Come on, now.” John lifted the boy up as he rose, but Sam drew the line there.

“Put me down. I can walk,” he said.

John nodded his head and set him down, hugging the boy’s shoulders and guiding him out of the aisle. The stunned librarian silently watched them go and then tip-toed quickly over to pick up the strewn books. The hunter never looked back.

Father and son walked back to the hospital in less than fifteen minutes, and they soon found themselves back in Dean’s room. Sam looked like shit. His hair was askew, his face puffy. He’d broken some blood vessels around his eyes from crying, so the boy now had a swath of red needle-pricks both above and below his eyelids, completing his zombie-look. John settled Sam down in a chair right next to Dean while he took up his own vigil on the other side of the bed. Each reached for one of Dean’s hands and held it. John was waiting for the boy to falter and lose his shit again like he’d done at the library, but Sam merely stroked his brother’s hand, holding it gently, reverently. After a few minutes, he looked up at his father.

“Let’s pray for him. For real, Dad,” Sam said. The little boy bowed his head, using Dean’s hand as a prayer-focus, rubbing and massaging the limb as Sam’s lips worked feverishly around his soundless prayer.

John watched Sam for a moment; the kid’s eyes were scrunched shut, his red, swollen nose trickling snot down to his lips that flapped urgently in prayer. And for the first time since Mary had been taken from him, John bent his own head and joined his son. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t anything close to Thy Will be Done, but he prayed nevertheless. He prayed for the strength to make it through this, prayed for the patience to deal with Sam, prayed for forgiveness for having failed both of his sons, prayed for a miracle—just this one time. Just once, and not for himself either. He didn’t deserve a miracle, he knew that. But his sons did. He prayed for Sam who would be lost without his brother, and he prayed for Dean who deserved a chance at life and maybe even at happiness. He prayed for all the people who would not live because Dean would not be there to save them, and if John knew anything at all, he knew his boy could and would save the entire world if given the chance.

With all of his heart, John prayed.



**O**

“Well, that’s something I never thought I’d ever see,” Dean said. The sight surprised and shocked him, but it also saddened him immeasurably. He stood not far away as Sam and John bent their heads quietly. The angel stood silently with him, supporting him. Dean was very tired. “I mean, Sammy, yeah OK, I get him, but my dad—that’s just so…” Dean didn’t finish. He felt as though he was almost intruding on them, that he had no right to witness this moment. He could feel all of their pain and grief. His shoulders sagged, the weight of their fears pressing heavily upon him. Heavier still was the burden of their hope, because he was terrified that those hopes were only going to be crushed. That hurt the most. It was unbearable, and Dean couldn’t watch it anymore. He turned away and walked toward the window, looking out at the dark, tumultuous sea. He felt cold and sick. A soft light radiated off of the angel’s wings. They flexed outward and slowly beat the air, stirring up a fragrant draft that helped to revive the weary teen. Dean breathed deeply and cleared his throat.

“I’ve never seen my dad pray before,” he explained. “He doesn’t even believe in
God. It sucks that his prayers won’t mean a thing in the long run.” The boy shook his head, still startled by his father’s obvious desperation. “Imagine that…a guy like him, praying…” Dean bit his lip and rubbed his jaw. He felt unworthy to be prayed for by the man. “Sammy now,” he ventured as he searched the surf. “He thinks there’s something there.”

“There is something there,” the angel reminded him softly.

Dean’s chin quivered with anger on behalf of his family. “Something,” he said hotly. “Something’s there, but if all it ever does is sit and watch, then it’s not much different than praying to nothing.”

“Heaven hears their cries,” the angel responded.

“Oh yay,” Dean said, not attempting to hide his bitterness. “Heaven may hear them, but who’s there to really listen or give a shit?”

“I am,” the angel said. Dean looked at him and rolled his eyes a little. The angel was unaffected by the boy’s anger. He put his hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I hear all of them. So many people are praying for you,” he said. Dean snorted derisively.

“For me?” Dean shook his head. “I don’t know many people, and the ones who I do know, the few who would give a shit, aren’t even aware that I’m sick. Trust me on that. I know my dad. He ain’t gonna be organizing any prayer-circles.” Dean smiled tartly.

“Everyone who took care of you back in Utah is praying for you,” the angel said.

Dean clicked his tongue and looked dubious. “Yeah, right,” he commented dryly. “They’re not going to remember some random kid—one out of hundreds that they see each week,” he contested.

The angel’s wings uncurled again, casting a fiery glow on him from above. “You are so blind,” he said, and his beautiful face became positively enflamed with impatience and frustration. Dean reflexively stepped back, fearful of the angel’s sudden stormy mood. “How can you not see your own light or how it affects those around you?”

“My light? What the hell are you talkin’ about?” Dean scoffed.

The angel let out an irritated sigh, raking up a wind that tossed Dean’s hair and clothes about. He turned to the teen and looked at him directly. The wings stretched out, flapping fully as he unveiled his power again, leaving Dean on his knees and quaking. The boy held up his hand to shield himself from the majesty. “Look at me, Dean,” the angel commanded. Dean tried to obey but it was nearly impossible to withstand the intensity, and tears filled his eyes, threatening to fall as he gazed upon the angel’s naked grace. “Know this,” the angel said in a loud, vibrant voice. “What you feel standing in my presence—however difficult it is—it is just as hard for me to stand in yours.” Dean looked up, stunned. “The light of your soul overwhelms. It is almost not to be borne. It is so pure that it sears. And yet, I am drawn to it as a moth is to a flame.” The angel’s radiance diminished to a level that Dean could cope with, and the boy breathed in great gulps of air. “I have never felt the like of it,” the angel marveled to himself. “Even contained and housed within your body, that light touches everyone you come into contact with. It is indelible. It is eternal. So, of course they are praying for you: Nan and Layla, Sophia, Angie, Dr. Michaels, and especially your nurse Muriel—they’re all praying for your recovery.”

“Muriel? That old battle-axe?” Dean laughed. “I thought she hated me,” he said. “I don’t think I ever saw the old girl smile the entire week I was there.” Dean saw the angel’s face relax, his features once again gentle and serene. He wrapped his wings about him and turned, looking out the window. They were both quiet for a moment before the angel began to speak, so softly at first that Dean had to strain to hear.

“Muriel was born on March 10, 1936. When she was nine years old, her appendix burst, and she spent over two weeks in the hospital. She never forgot how kind and helpful the nurses had been to her, and she wanted to help other people in the same way. After high-school she attended nursing school and began her career as a surgical nurse in 1958. She thrived on the intensity of the operating room, and she was very dedicated to her work. Muriel married her high-school sweetheart, Mark, on May 1st 1959, and they looked forward to starting a family of their own. Their first born child was a little girl named Celine, born on November 13, 1963. She died from Neuroblastoma on January 22, 1970. Muriel switched her nursing specialty to pediatrics after that. She and Mark had one more child, another girl they called Joy, born on February 4th 1973. Joy’s going to graduate from college this year—a BA in Theatre.” He looked at Dean, the angel’s eyes dewy and deep. “Muriel is worried for her—thinks she should have studied something more pragmatic. She and Mark remain married, still deeply in love. They vacation in Florida every other year. It is Muriel’s dream to move there when they retire because she loves the balmy evenings and the sound of seagulls.” The angel made a soft sound like a sigh.

“That old battle-axe, as you call her, has been praying for you, Dean. Her prayers look a bit like a Cassatt painting. And the vibration?—well, you would not care for it,” he said with a slow smile. “But it resonates not unlike the finale of Haydn’s Symphony #104. Humans are strange to me, but they have the potential for such sublimity, I think,” he said, closing his eyes. His head tilted and he swayed a little as if experiencing Muriel’s prayers right then and there. The feathers of his wings spun about and played with the light that they stirred up. “Humans can experience such exquisite tragedy over the course of their lives. Yet, they are resilient, overcoming their own sorrows only to turn around and help others during their times of need. Wondrous, complicated creatures—humans are.”

Dean felt small in the face of Muriel’s goodness and generosity. He swallowed thickly and watched the angel, losing himself in the beauty of his feathers as they flocked and danced and shifted in the opaline light that flowed like liquid over them. He thought about peoples’ prayers and the types of things one would pray for. He didn’t think he’d ever prayed—not really, anyway. Rousing himself from his thoughts, he sighed and looked up. “What are my dad’s prayers like?” he asked.

The angel’s eyes sparkled. He turned around and approached the hospital bed, watching the Winchesters as they prayed. “Thunder and drums, sound and fury,” he said, almost amused. “The clash of sword on shield, a cacophonous salvo of demands and predatory threats.”

Dean laughed. “Yeah, that’s him, all right. And Sammy’s prayers?”

The angel’s humor evaporated and he intently watched the little boy. Sam was still holding Dean’s hand. The child’s lips were pressed against his brother’s skin, whispering his deepest hopes into the curl of Dean’s palm. “His prayers are ceaseless—a Van Gogh painting with a million individual brush-strokes all swirling and combining to form one message. The prayers are beautiful—pure and gentle, like blue sky and clouds sitting upon the surface of a still pond—but there is an ardent panic and terror burning the edges, creeping inward. He believes strongly; yet, like me, he also does not understand why my Father has not spared you.” The angel looked guilty. “There is true desperation behind his requests. He loves you very much,” the angel said simply. “But there is great need there, too. He does not believe he can continue on without you.” The angel sighed and looked confused and unsettled again.

Dean looked at the angel. “You think I’m going to die, don’t you?” he asked quietly.

“I do not know,” the angel confessed as he turned his weathered, tired eyes upon Dean. They slowly searched Dean’s face. “They pray, and so, too, do I. I am praying to my Father on your behalf.”

“How would you know if he answered your prayers?” Dean asked.

“He would reveal His will to one of my brothers or sisters, and they would instruct me” the angel said.

Dean smirked. “You mean like the douche who was here earlier? I don’t think he was on my side.” Dean looked at the angel’s contrite, pained face. “Typical,” he said with an overblown shrug. “I sure do know how to win ‘em over when it counts, huh?” Dean shook his head and turned his back on the angel, walking out of his fortifying bubble. The teen’s legs shook and he stumbled as he moved closer to his brother. Sam was snuffling and wiping some tears away from his face, but he kept praying the whole time. His eyes were swollen and irritated. He looked exhausted. Dean had never seen the kid so broken.

The little boy rubbed Dean’s hand and whispered. “Please don’t leave me, Dean” Sam begged. “Please stay. Please.”

Dean’s bravado crumbled and he bent down by Sam, putting his hand over his brother’s, close enough to touch but not touching. “I’m here, Sammy,” he said to the boy. “I’m here, little man.” He was quiet for a long moment and tears sprang from his eyes. “I’m right here. I won’t leave you. I won’t!”



**O**

John winced and squinted as the sunlight hit his eyelids. He opened them hesitantly, blinking away the glare of the morning sun with a hiss. Dammit, he’d overslept, and the boys would be late for school. Kelly would be pissed when he showed up to work late, too. Fucking beautiful. He had no recollection of drinking heavily the night before, but his splitting headache told him otherwise. With a cough and a sigh he sat up and looked about him, and as he did so, the dream shattered utterly and reality hurled itself at him so forcefully that it wrenched a guttural cry from the man.

Sam bolted up at the sound, and he sat blinking dumbly at his father. John watched reality freight-train its way into his child just as it had done with him, and soon both of them were watching the wreckage in the other’s face, sharing a moment of stark, galled grief. Sam shook his head in near disbelief, his eyes pooling.

They both knew that today was the day.

John looked at his watch. It was a little after 8:00am. He hadn’t slept long, maybe an hour—hour and a half. Sam had slept restlessly for about four hours. The child looked completely wasted, and it scared the hell out of him. Sam’s eyes showed little life, nearly matching the vacancy in his brother’s. How Sam would ever recover from this, John had no clue. They both sat listless and frail. And it occurred to John how their power-source was lying in the bed, about to be doused for good. John shook his head, utterly bewildered. How could a flame that had burned so brilliantly, a fire that had fueled an entire family, ever falter? It was inconceivable to him.

John attempted to clear his throat. “Bathroom.” His voice scraped like dried clay, and he beckoned Sam to follow him. They walked down to the end of the hallway and cleaned themselves up as best they could. John splashed cold water on his face and blotted it off with a paper-towel. He looked in the mirror. His hair was greasy, his cheeks hollow, his eyes as lifeless and desolate as Sam’s. John looked at the boy. Sam was standing in front of the mirror, staring into it as though he’d forgotten where he was or what he was doing.

“Hey Sammy,” he said, causing the boy to flinch at the nick-name. “Wash your face and let’s get back,” he said. Sam nodded but said nothing. He stood staring a moment longer and then shut off the water without having remembered to wash. He grabbed a paper towel, wiping his dry hands robotically. John didn’t have the heart to say anything.

As they made their way back to the ICU, John couldn’t help but notice all the mindless activity going on around them. A doctor bustled by looking at his watch and frowning—thinking, no doubt, that missing his tee-time was a tragedy. It wasn’t. Not even remotely. A woman in a smart outfit passed them, walking with authority and purpose. She took no note of them, on some errand that didn’t matter, striding toward a pointless budget meeting, maybe. Off to John’s left there were two nurses deep in conversation, giggling about something they had no goddamned right to laugh about—not today—not today when the world was about to stop spinning. Everywhere John looked there were smiles on faces that should have been devastated. There was an orderly walking with a chipper spring in his step, when he should have been still and paralytic with grief. There were people talking casually when they should have been hushed and mute, because something precious was passing from this earth. How could they not feel it? How could they all just go on as if it didn’t matter? His son was dying. How could they not feel the power of that loss? Dean was leaving the world. Dean was leaving the world and taking with him the lion’s share of its compassion, loyalty, humor, wit, zest and honor. How could they not stop whatever the fuck they were doing and tremble and quake with grief? John wanted to scream and shake the impassivity out of them—make them all fall to their knees and hide their faces and weep for daring to live their lives while his son’s was being stolen from him.

John stopped and bent over, gasping erratically. There were spots before his eyes and his stomach was churning. He couldn’t catch his breath. It was making him physically ill watching those heartless people go about their lives as if his and Sam’s weren’t falling apart. He eyed the people—in their cruel indifference—cluelessly behaving as if Dean’s life and death was not rocking the very foundations of the earth.

“Dad?” Sam said. John felt the boy’s hand on his back, and he tried to let him know that he was all right, but no words came out. He clutched his stomach as it writhed and churned. Grabbing the wall for balance, he pressed his forehead to it, shaking his head as he tried desperately to anchor himself. He could hear Sam snuffle, terrified and worried. John reached out with his hand, finding the boy’s head by touch, placing his hand on it to ground them both.

For the past twelve years, John Winchester had believed that he had felt the epitome of grief that a person could ever experience when Mary had been stolen from him. He’d watched as his soul-mate, the love of his life, was snatched from the world by an unspeakable evil. Grief had taken him to a place that people rarely ever find themselves in life. He never thought for one second that anything could ever rival that agony. He’d been so wrong, so naively and catastrophically wrong. This was worse. God forgive me, Mary; this is worse. This is unendurable, he thought.

“God forgive me, Mary,” he said aloud, unable to keep the words from tumbling into the air, twisting the wedding ring that he’d never removed, not even once. “God help me, baby. God help me, please,” he sobbed. “Where are your angels, Mary? You always said they were watching. Where are they now?”

“Dad?” Sam cried pitifully, and John pulled the child to him, crushing the boy against him as the man tried to master his breathing.

“I’m here,” he rasped out. “I’m OK,” he tried to assure his son. He felt Sam’s arms wrap around his waist, could feel the moist heat of the boy’s breath as he wept against him. “We’re OK,” John said, petting Sam’s head. They took another minute to settle from the wave of grief that had nearly pulled them under, and John went back to treading water. “We’re OK, buddy. Let’s get back.” He turned, placing a hand on Sam’s shoulder, steering him. Still, he kept one hand on the wall for balance as they slowly struggled toward the ICU.



**O**

When they finally entered the ICU, they found that Dr. Metzger was already there with a few colleagues examining Dean, making their final assessment. One of the interns had his hand on Dean’s head, pressing this thumb just below the teen’s eyebrow. John could see the amount of pressure the insensitive man was using, and the hunter dove for him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” John demanded. Dr. Metzger held him back, but John barely noticed. “Get your hands off my boy!” he shouted. The enraged hunter made another attempt to lunge for the younger man, but Dr. Metzger pushed him back.

“Mr. Winchester,” The surgeon continued propelling the hunter backwards until his back met the wall abruptly. He put his hand on John’s shoulder and patted it, trying to diffuse the situation. “We’re just doing an exam.”

“He was hurting him. You think I’m blind? I saw how hard he was pressing,” John spat.

“Testing the pain response is part of the exam,” Dr. Metzger explained. “Why don’t you wait outside until we’re done? You can spend time with Dean afterward.” John stood down but shook his head.

“No. I’m not going anywhere. My boy needs me,” he said, misery and defiance colliding. “I’m good,” he assured him. Dr. Metzger looked at John with pity, but his grip on the hunter’s shoulder remained stern.

“Then stand back and remain calm. If you interrupt us again I will have you removed until we’re finished,” the physician warned. John nodded, agreeing to his terms.

As the doctors went back to their exam, John noted that they seemed to be going through a checklist of sorts. After having pressed his thumb into Dean’s eyebrow, the young doctor looked to Dr. Metzger for the OK to continue. The surgeon nodded and the intern glanced at John uncomfortably before continuing his exam. John watched the man perform a friction rub on Dean’s chest. After that the intern took the boy’s hand, pressing on the beds of his nails, looking for a response that didn’t come. They repeated each test twice.

“Motor response is a 1 on the Glasgow Scale. Patient has no response to pain. The patient was initially exhibiting decerebrate posturing immediately following the surgery, potentially due to the ventilator, but over the course of the past several hours, the body has become flaccid,” the younger physician said. Another doctor made a notation on a chart.

John’s heart broke when they lifted Dean’s eyelids and flashed a penlight into his pupils. John knew how much Dean had always hated that. There was absolutely no response or reflex now, however—no mischief or life sparked in those sightless, mismatched eyes. The right pupil was still offset and pointing toward the corner of his eye. The hunter had to flinch away when the doctor bent in, peeled back the boy’s lids and pressed on the ball of the eye, manually forcing the iris into a position from which he could perform an accurate test with his penlight.

“Pupils are fixed and dilated. No response to light or verbal commands,” he said. Another mark went on the chart.

Dr. Metzger bent in and called Dean’s name several times, looking for any kind of reflexive telltale. There was none.

“Verbal response is a 1?” The young doctor asked to confirm. Dr. Metzger nodded.

“The patient has scored a total of 3 on the Glasgow Scale,” the intern said. John wasn’t completely positive what that meant, but judging from the faces in the room, it wasn’t what they were hoping for. The intern waited for Dr. Metzger to respond.

“All right, set him up for the EEG,” the surgeon said. As one of the other doctors began to gently work on the bandages around Dean’s head, Dr. Metzger looked at Sam and turned to John. “Why don’t you and Sam step out for this,” he suggested. “We’ll be done in about forty-five minutes.” John was about to say no when he realized that the doctor didn’t want the boy to witness his brother’s bald head and incision site. He nodded his head.

“We’ll be right outside,” he said. “Come on Sam.” He steered the shell-shocked child from the room.

The Winchesters waited outside the door without speaking one word to each other. At some point a woman in a suit walked by and into the room and then a few minutes later a man in a sweater-vest, of all things, slipped past them and also entered the room. Finally both of the interns walked out silently, rolling the EEG equipment in front of them. Avoiding eye contact with John and Sam, they strode down the hallway quickly. The Winchesters were allowed back in to see Dean a full hour and twenty minutes after they’d been forced out. Dr. Metzger was standing with the woman, an administrator of some kind, no doubt, and the sweater-vested man.

“Mr. Winchester.” The woman held out her hand and John took it numbly. “I’m Faith Mitchell, the Family Outreach administrator. This is Gordon Delaney, our hospital Pastor.” The pastor took John’s hand and sandwiched it in his own, awkwardly patting the hunter’s hand until John withdrew it abruptly. He wanted to ask what was going on, but he already knew. His mouth was too dry to get anything to come out.

“Mr. Winchester,” Dr. Metzger said. “We’ve completed our exam. I’m very sorry to inform you that the EEG has shown no metabolic response or brain activity whatsoever. Dean has scored a 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, which also indicates that there is no discernable brain function. At this time, it is my recommendation as the attending physician that life-support be withdrawn.”

John and Sam stood side-by-side, blinking at the threesome in front of them. No words came to John. Sam was completely mute as well. The hunter’s eyes burned and his head pounded. His stomach was empty and yet threatened upheaval at any moment. He stood completely still until the threesome began to eyeball each other. The administrator cleared her throat.

“We’ll need you to sign these consent forms, if removing Dean from life-support is your wish.” John looked at the woman as though she were speaking Greek.

“My wish?” he scalded, appalled.

“I just mean that, well…I’m sure you will want what is best for Dean,” she said kindly. John glared at her and held his hand out for the form. She handed it to him with a sigh of relief. As John blindly signed the form, the woman watched him intently. She gripped his shoulder as he finished writing. “Hopefully this will give you some closure, Mr. Winchester. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

John pushed the papers at her angrily. “I’ve signed, now take your consent form and get the hell out of here,” he said. “You don’t have a goddamned clue, lady. Closure? What the hell are you talking about? There will never be closure. Never,” he hissed. The woman swallowed and backed away, preparing to leave with her tail between her legs. “And take the pastor with you,” John added over his shoulder. “He’s not welcome here. Dean is an atheist. And so am I.” The minister raised his eyebrows but silently nodded. He also made his way to the door.

“My sincerest condolences to you both,” the pastor said and left. John looked at the doctor.

“Sam and I want to be alone with Dean for a moment,” he said.

“Of course,” Dr. Metzger said. “I’ll be right outside.” He too slipped out without another word.

Once the doctor was gone and they were alone, John and Sam slowly walked to the foot of the bed. Dean’s head had been re-bandaged. John was sorry that the kid had not been able to keep his hair. Dean’d had so few vanities, but John knew that despite the boy’s roguish outer shell, he had secretly taken pride in his appearance, always making sure his hair was styled the way he liked it, taking the effort to be sure the swoops and spikes were just so. John couldn’t help but smile at the memory of his son standing in front of the small motel mirror, surreptitiously fussing with his hair until he was satisfied.

He looked down at the boy’s legs and rubbed them. The blankets and sheets had been rumpled and pulled up during Dean’s final exam when they had tested his motor reflexes. John could see his son’s foot peeking out from under the blanket. He pulled the sheet back and caressed the pale limb. It was the exact same foot he had inspected on the date of his son’s birth. He remembered how he and Mary had lit up with joy, awestruck—wiggling each digit, counting them—so relieved they were all there and that their beautiful baby was healthy and whole. Bending down, now, John kissed the foot just as he had done that cold, January morning sixteen years ago and pulled the blanket back down, tenderly covering Dean back up.

Both he and Sam made their way up to the side of the bed, and John settled in the chair, taking Dean’s hand in his own. They sat there for several minutes, neither one speaking—just caressing, looking, memorizing—steeling themselves. At last John broke the silence.

“You did real good, Dean. You fought hard. I know you did. But you listen to me, bud. Listen to me, OK? Don’t hang around. You go on. We’ll be all right. I know you. I know what you’re thinking, but you can’t do it, Dean.” John stroked the boy’s hand. “Sammy and me, we’re going to miss you more than words can say, but it’s not right to try and stay. You go on, now. That’s an order. We clear? Go see your mom.” John smiled as tears dropped onto his shirt. “You give her a hug from me.” He sniffed and paused to collect himself. “She’ll have some tomato-rice soup ready for you, yeah? I know you’ll like that.” John’s chin quivered and he clenched his teeth until the wave of grief passed enough for him to speak again. He cleared his throat. “We’ll be all right. We’ll catch up with you later. You did real, real good. I’m so proud of you, Dean.” He was quiet a moment, trying to find the words, but they were all hollow and unworthy. “It has been a privilege and an honor, son. I didn’t deserve you, but I’m glad I had you for as long as I did. I love you, Dean. I love you so goddamned much.” He placed a kiss on Dean’s cheek and then one on his hand, pressing it to his heart. “Remember now, no hanging around. If there’s a reaper there, you go with him. I know you’re scared and I know you don’t want to go, but it’s the right thing to do. I’ll look after Sammy. I promise.” John nodded to Sam and boosted him up, setting the boy on his own lap and let him lean in close to his brother.

Sam didn’t say anything. The child looked to be in shock. John pulled him back and looked into his glassy eyes, wondering if the boy was aware of what was happening. “Sam?” he asked and patted the boy’s cheek. Sam looked at him with eyes steeped in grief, his suffering keen and raw. “Don’t let this moment pass without telling him how you feel,” he advised the boy. The child swallowed and nodded feebly. John leaned him in toward Dean again, and the little boy pressed his lips against his brother’s ear and whispered his goodbye. John could not catch what was said and figured that was the way it should be. It was between the two of them. It had always been so. It had always been the two of them against the world, even against him when push came to shove. Sam kissed his brother and John pulled him back.

The hunter got up without another word and went to the door, opening it and nodding to Dr. Metzger. The surgeon stepped in and went to the ventilator. He took a moment to assess their state of mind, to gauge if they were prepared. Taking a cleansing breath, he turned to John. He placed his finger on the off-switch.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

John held Sam tight and continued to grip Dean’s hand, sending him what strength he could, knowing his boy was about to fall into eternity. If anyone could do it well, it would be his son. Sunlight from the window spilled across his son’s radiant face. John’s heart swelled, bursting with boundless love. He never took his eyes off of Dean as he spoke.

“Do it,” he said.

Continue to the final chapter


 
 
 
xlittleangxxlittleangx on February 11th, 2013 02:35 am (UTC)
Oh god...I think you broke me...I'm crying my eyes out here! And I never cry at fanfic! I have actual tears streaming down my face :*(
Wow you sure know how to write grief. Methinks you have a lot of fixing to do in the last chapter...*curls up in the foetal position & continues sobbing*
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 11th, 2013 11:09 pm (UTC)
Aw, /hugs you! Yes, the final chapter is a bit on the long side. I really got all of our heroes into a pickle. Lots of fixing to do indeed!

Thanks so much for the comment! Is it, like, totally weird that I cheered when you said you cried? ;)
(no subject) - xlittleangx on February 11th, 2013 11:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 12:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
jpgr: SPN Son of a Bitchjpgr on February 11th, 2013 03:55 am (UTC)
Damn you for making me cry! John's goodbye was so beautiful! You go on, now. That’s an order. We clear? Go see your mom.” John smiled as tears dropped onto his shirt. “You give her a hug from me.” He sniffed and paused to collect himself. “She’ll have some tomato-rice soup ready for you, yeah? I know you’ll like that.”

On a somewhat lighter note, I like how you have Cas the angel "receive" the prayers, comapring them to art or music.

I am so glad I remembered to check my flist before signing off.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 11th, 2013 11:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I gotta say, that it was emotional to write it, too. And I totally hate goodbyes in real life. heh.

Yes, I love playing around with Synesthesia whenever I can. There's something about it that I really love. I was certain that if anyone would see, touch, taste, hear prayers...it would definitely be an angel. My fascination kind of all goes back to "Killing Me Softly", I think...and I can't quite let that idea go. :)

Thank you again for the lovely encouragement that you always so freely give me. I truly and sincerely appreciate it. :)
Kallielkalliel on February 11th, 2013 05:26 pm (UTC)
The dialogue in this fic is so punchy; I love it. Dean's relationship with this angel is really endearing/refreshing as well--his youthful attitude here is something you can't help but all in love with. Sam's as well, albeit in a different form. Great job!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 11th, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you so much for that. This is my first time that I've ever written teen!Dean. I really enjoy myself writing him. I would definitely like to revisit his youth in future stories!

Thank you, thank you, THANK you for the sweet comment! :)
(Anonymous) on February 11th, 2013 08:05 pm (UTC)
Jesus H. Christ. That was one of the most beautifully written chapters I've ever read. Ever. Really. You capture the emotions truthfully, exquisitely, and heart-wrenchingly.
Btw, there better be a recovery sequel or epilogue or something after the last chapter because I don't think I can let this story go!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 11th, 2013 11:20 pm (UTC)
Gosh, thank you SO very much for that. That means the world to me. I'm so glad that it resonated with you! Sadly, I think most of us have at one time or another dealt with profound grief. That's just part of being human, I suppose. I must say, though, I can't imagine the absolute horror it would be to lose a child. That has got to be the worst grief anyone could ever feel.

Ha! Oh yes, there will be a lengthy final chapter. I have lots of unraveling and decompressing to do for the characters AND the readers! :)

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I may or may not have squealed when I read yours. :)
thruterryseyesthruterryseyes on February 11th, 2013 09:11 pm (UTC)
You're killing me...if you kill him...i will be forced to hunt you down...
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 11th, 2013 11:22 pm (UTC)
/gulp! Well...HOPEFULLY I won't have an entire mob after me come Thursday. But I'll be wearing my tennies just in case. ;)

Thanks so, so much for the comment!
tifachingtifaching on February 11th, 2013 11:53 pm (UTC)
I'm in tears here. John's speech just gutted me. You better fix this!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 12:04 am (UTC)
Yeah, I have a lot of fixing to do! Let's just say that the final chapter is a little on the long side. Heh. I had my work cut out for me! :)

Mwah!

xwacky: spn dean hurtxwacky on February 11th, 2013 11:56 pm (UTC)
Goodness! Such a beautifully written story. I love how in-character you've made all of them, and the emotional punch this fic lends--I simply could not put it down. I'm eagerly waiting the next chapter.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 12:15 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you SO much! I'm so glad you are enjoying it! Yep, yep...next (and final!) chapter will be out on Thursday. I've gotten my heroes into such a collective pickle that I have my work cut out for me to try and get them out of it! :)

Thanks again for the comment. Joo are so awesome !
Lala: Hell House Symbol / ksocklalablue on February 12th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC)
I am broken. This chapter was really good. I love the angel's descriptions of the prayers. I cannot wait to see how this ends.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 04:23 am (UTC)
/duct-tapes you back together! Aw, I'm glad you liked the prayer description. I still can't get my first fic out of my mind. It's a story that features Synesthesia...and I'm still fascinated by that phenomenon. So anytime I can explore cris-crossing the senses...I'll do it. LOL.

Yep...last chappie will be out on Thursday! Whew!

mdlawmdlaw on February 12th, 2013 02:00 am (UTC)
Are you kidding me! You're stopping there!!! If I die before the end it is YOUR FAULT!!! m :O
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 04:25 am (UTC)
/ducks! I know...I KNOW, mdlaw! I'm sorry. I can't help myself. I blame my mother entirely. Damn that woman! :P OK, now...just don't die before Thursday and we'll be in the clear, OK? :)

Thanks for the comment! :)
iontasiontas on February 12th, 2013 04:03 am (UTC)
First you made me cry and then I felt like I fell off a cliff with that ending. Ouch. I want Thursday now.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 04:27 am (UTC)
You were supposed to hang by your fingernails! I'm sorry that you splatted. I'll try and dust you (and Dean) off on Thursday. :)

I can assure you there won't be a cliffie with the next chapter. See? Not so bad in the long run, right? ;)
(Anonymous) on February 12th, 2013 05:03 am (UTC)
I´m in tears and a complete wreck here. I have a lot of prize to give you (your writing is beautiful, your characters so reliable, your way to give details without being boring, your fresh dialogs, the correct pace, that amazing John’s speech, etc.), but I can´t articulate, as I said, I´m in tears here!
I will give you a meaningful review next chapter, when you fix this and I stop crying.
Cecile
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 01:27 pm (UTC)
Well, I think you did a wonderful job of articulating...and I am bowled over. Thank you SO much for that. I am terrifically thrilled that you are enjoying the story...even if this chapter was a pretty brutal one. Hopefully our hesitant angel will finally pull his head out of his ass with a squelching pop (omg, that is SO gross!...LOL). We'll have to see. :)
gatorpezgatorpez on February 12th, 2013 11:04 am (UTC)
I don't comment much on fic, but I had to post something about this chapter. I loved John's speech, but what I loved even more was the angel telling Dean about his light. That was just gorgeous and so true! Dean needs to hear how good he is and that was just perfect. Thank you.

I can't wait to read the next part. :-)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 12th, 2013 01:31 pm (UTC)
I have to say it...I'm a HUGE fan of stories that feature Dean's light. If memory serves, there is an AMAZING short piece by Tifaching that really touched me. It's called "Radiance". I read it on fanficdotnet, but I'm certain it's also available at her LJ page. You should check it out. It's one of my faves.

Thank you SO much for taking the time to comment. Next and final part will be out on Thursday. You take great care until then!
gypsy_atavarigypsy_atavari on February 12th, 2013 08:14 pm (UTC)
Omg. What a mistake to read this with other people around. So hard to keep the tears back. *sniffs* what an emotional punch in the gut. This chapter is the best written yet.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 13th, 2013 12:51 am (UTC)
Aw, poor thing! LOL. That's happened to me, too, a few times from reading fanfic. Nothing worse than having your coworkers give you that *look* while you're crying over your frozen dinner in the break room. Heh. :) Thanks so much for the comment, gypsy! I really appreciate it. Hopefully next chapter won't require too many tissues!
arafel979 on February 15th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC)
I also rarely read or comment on fanfics, but this story(and this chapter particularly) is glorious. Kudos.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 15th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC)
Wow arafel, I'm touched and honored. Thank you so much. I'm thrilled that you are enjoying this one. I know this chapter was extremely emotional...as it was for me to write! Hopefully now, the Winchesters will get some comfort they so desperately need.

Thanks again for the comment. You made me giddy with joy. :)
jenny: Sad - Dean tearjennygeee on February 18th, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
OMG I can't breathe my nose it blocked my eyes are steaming!! You did this to me!!
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Five minutes later - I'm still upset but I'll try to write a comment:

”The prayers are beautiful—pure and gentle, like blue sky and clouds sitting upon the surface of a still pond—but there is an ardent panic and terror burning the edges, creeping inward. He believes strongly; yet, like me, he also does not understand why my Father has not spared you”

So beautiful!

”Off to John’s left there were two nurses deep in conversation, giggling about something they had no goddamned right to laugh about—not today—not today when the world was about to stop spinning. Everywhere John looked there were smiles on faces that should have been devastated. There was an orderly walking with a chipper spring in his step, when he should have been still and paralytic with grief. There were people talking casually when they should have been hushed and mute, because something precious was passing from this earth. How could they not feel it? How could they all just go on as if it didn’t matter?”

This is so real to me, this is exactly how I felt when my mother died, how dare people carry on as if it were a normal day, who dare they laugh when I’m dying inside!

“You did real good, Dean. You fought hard. I know you did. But you listen to me, bud. Listen to me, OK? Don’t hang around. You go on. We’ll be all right. I know you. I know what you’re thinking, but you can’t do it, Dean.” John stroked the boy’s hand. “Sammy and me, we’re going to miss you more than words can say, but it’s not right to try and stay. You go on, now. That’s an order. We clear? Go see your mom.” John smiled as tears dropped onto his shirt. “You give her a hug from me.” He sniffed and paused to collect himself. “She’ll have some tomato-rice soup ready for you, yeah? I know you’ll like that.” John’s chin quivered and he clenched his teeth until the wave of grief passed enough for him to speak again. He cleared his throat. “We’ll be all right. We’ll catch up with you later. You did real, real good. I’m so proud of you, Dean.” He was quiet a moment, trying to find the words, but they were all hollow and unworthy. “It has been a privilege and an honor, son. I didn’t deserve you, but I’m glad I had you for as long as I did. I love you, Dean. I love you so goddamned much.” He placed a kiss on Dean’s cheek and then one on his hand, pressing it to his heart. “Remember now, no hanging around. If there’s a reaper there, you go with him. I know you’re scared and I know you don’t want to go, but it’s the right thing to do. I’ll look after Sammy. I promise.”

This is what broke me, I think there is only one other fic that has ever upset me this much!

Wow woman, you can write!!!!! I’m speechless – I have no words to tell you how good this is, I know for sure that I will be re-reading this one many times and if it’s ok with you I will rec it in my journal, as I did with Dust Devils.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 18th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. Yes, I'm sure far too many people can relate to John's grief-stricken anger at people who were blind to the gravity of his and Sam's loss. I lost my mother many years ago, and I always remembered that feeling. It is irrational, perhaps...but understandable in the teeth of such a profound moment.

You are more than welcome to rec this. THANK you for that. That's extremely generous!

/hugs!