I finally decided to post this one here. Let me know what you think


Disclaimers: I don't own anyone/anything you recognize.

Rating: M

Thus Always To Tyrants

Chapter 1 – Ab Initio

They didn't sound like gunshots at all, not among the frantic mass of people screaming and moving as if in slow motion. They sounded more like faint pops in the background, hollow, beating out an unsteady rhythm in the night air. The whole thing couldn't have lasted more than 30 seconds really, but it felt as if her brain was trying to play catch up, trying to muddle through the flashes of pictures in her head to join reality. The first thing she noticed were that the screams hadn't been in her head, in fact now that she felt the haze lift from her mind they seemed even louder than before. The second thing she noticed was the warm body pressed against hers, awkwardly draped across her as she lay on the cool cement. Then she remembered the look on his face as he fell against her, shock and pain on his features as she pulled him down.

"Aiden," she said hesitantly, trying to get her voice to stop shaking. She didn't know if the ringing in her ears was from the gunshots or the pounding in her head.

The boy didn't respond, however, merely grunted and Ashley pushed him off her slightly to look at his face. He was pale, but looking at her clearly, his mouth slightly open as if meaning to speak. He leaned up farther, trying to push himself up, but ended up sitting on the ground instead. Aiden lifted his hands in awe and Ashley noticed the blood glistening on them in the dim light.

"Oh my god, Aiden," her voice had taken a slightly panicked edge to it now and she reached over, trying to see where he was hurt. She stripped his tuxedo jacket off of him, flinching when he hissed in pain and immediately noticed the bright red stain spreading along his left shirt sleeve.

They locked eyes and Ashley swallowed hard, unsure of what was going on. The buzzing in her head had only grown louder and she noticed her hands were shaking as she reached out to touch his sleeve. There was a hole in his shirt and through it she could see the bleeding wound in his arm. It didn't look too bad, really, and Ashley grabbed his jacket to press against the wound. Suddenly she felt nauseous and swallowed again. The adrenaline must be wearing off, she thought, trying to keep her mind busy enough to not have a complete meltdown.

Someone had shot at them. Someone had been callous enough to spray a crowd with bullets, not caring who they hit. Ashley pressed a bloody hand to her forehead, willing the buzzing to stop. There was something else, something behind the noise pounding through her skull. She looked up and turned her head, noticing the other people around her suddenly. People running around in a panic, others on the ground crying and some forms weren't moving at all. Ashley blinked, feeling the bile rise in her throat. She turned her head to the other side. Nothing. And then the buzzing stopped, a clarity so sudden coming over her, she couldn't fathom not having realized it sooner.

"Spencer!" she yelled, already standing up, ignoring the dizziness at the motion. She turned in a circle, unseeing and lost, but her mind was so clear now. Ashley blinked again, wondering why her vision kept getting so blurry. She swiped at her eyes, streaking her face with blood and realized she was crying.

"Spencer!" she yelled again, fighting the rising panic within her. That's when she heard someone yell her name.

Ashley turned towards the voice, noticing Glen crouched on the floor a few yards away. He looked at her, so emptily that she thought she might throw up on the spot. She saw the flash of blue fabric on the ground next to him, saw Madison clinging to his arm and was next to them in an instant.

"Ashley," Glen rasped, his eyes bloodshot, his chin trembling. His eyes, she knew what they meant, but her brain refused to believe it. "Clay...he's...and Spencer."

"No," she said forcefully, surprising herself at the strength of it. Ashley knelt down across from him, oblivious to the concrete digging into her bare knees.

Spencer was still on the ground, her right arm spread out, the left draped across her abdomen. She was slightly turned towards Ashley, left leg drawn up and resting on the right. Ashley looked at the blonde's face, swallowing the sob wanting to escape. Her face was upturned, eyes closed and stained with blood from a bullet hole to the right of her forehead.

Ashley traced her fingers down the blonde's left cheek, gritting her teeth. This wasn't happening. "Spencer," she said softly, ignoring Glen who was sobbing across from her now. She hung her head, squeezing her eyes shut tightly. She tried to ignore the nausea, the dizziness, but they fought so hard to envelope her in their darkness. Ashley took a deep, shaky breath and opened her eyes again.

At first she thought she was imagining the blue eyes staring back at her, her teary curtain still blurring her vision as she leaned over her unmoving girlfriend. But after a few moments Ashley shook herself out of the web of dread that had settled over her and immediately grasped the blonde's hand lying on her abdomen.

"Spencer?" The girl's hand felt slightly cold to the touch and she gave no response. "Spence, can you hear me?"

The younger girl showed no sign of having heard her, but her eyes were still open, looking at Ashley fearfully. The brunette once again felt the same clarity from earlier take control of her and she glanced over at the blonde's brother.

"Glen!" She had to yell to get him to look at her, his eyes redder than before, but her voice was steadier than ever this time, "Glen, Spencer's alive. Give me your jacket and make sure someone called 911. Now, Glen!"

He looked at her blankly. He must've thought she was crazy and in a way Ashley understood. There was blood oozing out of a hole in Spencer's head, a bullet had entered her skull, but she was looking at the brunette so clearly. She was still there, Ashley knew, it was still Spencer. Glen took a few precious seconds to follow her eyes, noticing for the first time what she saw and shrugged out of his jacket to hand it to Ashley. She immediately draped it over her girlfriend to keep her warm and sat cross-legged on the cold ground, laying Spencer's head carefully in her lap.

Ashley leaned over the blonde, really seeing the bullet wound for the first time, the blood drenching the blonde hair and now pooling in her lap. But she ignored it, ignored everyone around them as she tuned out her surroundings and leaned forward so she could once again meet Spencer's eyes. She noticed the tears swimming in the blue orbs, Spencer's jaw working as if she was trying to speak and Ashley pressed a finger gently against the girl's lips.

"Shh, don't speak, Spence. Just stay with me, okay? Don't go. I love you, Spencer. Stay with me."

And she sat, oblivious to the blood drenching her clothes, to the harried voices around her, to the sirens and the flashing lights drawing near, watching the blonde. Even when Spencer's eyes drifted shut several times, Ashley never stopped watching over her.

* * *

It was strangely quiet. They were standing, all six of them, silently, though with an air of nervousness. It seemed wrong somehow, this inactivity, and she wiped a shaky hand across her forehead. The shakiness was only worrisome to someone who didn't know her, who hadn't seen her steady as a rock composure when the time came. A clock on the wall ticked loudly with every passing second, throwing an eerie echo across the silent room.

Dr. Jordan Black threw a questioning look at the head nurse standing in the trauma bay just a few feet from her. They all felt the same awkwardness, not used to standing around idly. Some of them had been paged for a mass casualty event and although they still looked as if they'd just rolled out of bed, they were all wide awake. Most of the victims of the shooting had yet to make it to the hospital, but the separate teams had been readied. Dr Black, as the most senior trauma resident, had volunteered to take on the more challenging case.

The dark-haired doctor threw another anxious glance at the wall clock. LifeFlight had radioed in about ten minutes ago, they should definitely have been there by now. The radio static had been bad and they were unsure of what the flight doctor had relayed, but Jordan knew it was likely to be grave. They didn't send a LifeFlight helicopter out into the middle of LA for nothing.

She looked up hearing the commotion at the end of the hall and immediately noticed the two guys dressed in flight jackets, wheeling a stretcher. The six idle people from just a second ago immediately sprang into action, each responsible for a specific job that they would complete to perfection. The stretcher reached the entrance to their trauma bay and Jordan stepped up. Her calm eyes and features betrayed the adrenaline now pumping through her. Jordan looked up at the paramedics, waiting for them to give her all the pertinent information.

"GSW to the right frontal part of the skull, no other injuries present. She was in and out during the ride. Pupils are responsive bilaterally. Pulse Ox is stable at 90, BP 80/60 and has been dropping steadily, pulse is 40 bpm. According to her brother there is no past medical history and no known allergies," the first paramedic rattled of in quick succession, stopping the stretcher in the middle of the room.

The girl on the stretcher couldn't have been more than 16 years old. She was covered nearly to her neck in sheets and blankets, but the doctor still noticed the blue, shiny fabric underneath. A prom dress, she realized immediately and brushed away the thought. Her eyes were closed, dried blood caked on her eyelids, cheeks, nose and forehead. A large, formerly white, gauze pad had been secured to her head, wrapped tightly with more gauze. Blood was already beginning to seep through. An oxygen mask was secured over the girl's nose and mouth and fogged up rhythmically as she breathed.

The team immediately moved the girl from the paramedics' stretcher to the trauma bay one, one nurse carefully holding her head to prevent excessive movement. Someone else drew away the blankets and began cutting the dress from her body, covering her with a thin hospital gown instead. Another nurse grasped the girl's hand in hers, the pale flesh standing out bright against the nurse's purple glove.

"Alright, start a rapid infusion of 2 liters Ringer's and type and crossmatch 4 units, she's going to need surgery. Someone page neuro and tell them to get ready. We need to get her up to CT asap," Jordan instructed her team, her voice steady and clear even across the hustle the room was now swept up in. Even though she could hear an increase in activity outside her bay, she was focused on nothing but the still girl on the stretcher.

Donning her own gloves, she removed the gauze from the girl's head, needing to assess the extent of the damage. The blood continued to ooze out of the wound, matting the blonde hair and staining the doctor's gloves. The brunette swallowed hard, realizing the girl had actually been shot in the head, this wasn't just a graze – this was serious. A slow, but steady, beeping filled the room as a tech hooked the girl up to a monitor and the doctor studied it with a frown. She couldn't even fathom how this girl was still alive, let alone breathing on her own. Her oxygen was low as was her blood pressure, but she was still alive and Jordan refused to let that change.

"Does anyone know her name?" she asked softly, looking around the room at her team.

"Her name's Spencer. Spencer Carlin, her mom works here." The voice was shaky, nevertheless it was loud enough to carry across the room and Dr Black noticed the brunette girl off to the side of the room for the first time. The girl was dressed in formal wear as well, but her dress and hands were covered in blood, her make-up smeared with visible tear tracks. She stood in a corner of the bay, a determined look on her face.

"Shit, someone find out where Dr Carlin is." Jordan momentarily closed her eyes at the dread of having to tell a co-worker that her daughter was close to death. Looking back to the girl, she sighed, wondering how the brunette had even gotten in here. She was trembling, arms wrapped tightly around herself, but it didn't look like she was moving. "Who are you?"

The girl frowned, shifting her weight and Jordan noticed the smears of blood on her forehead, "I'm...I'm her girlfriend, Ashley. Please, is...is Spencer gonna be okay?"

The doctor sighed, glancing back at the monitor as a nurse replaced the gauze with fresh pads until Spencer could be sent to surgery. The IV fluids seemed to have stabilized her blood pressure for now, at least and Jordan leaned over the girl to start her neuro exam. "Someone take Ashley to get checked out please, and give her something clean to change into. We'll let you know her condition when we know a little more, okay?"

Shining a light into both of Spencer's eyes Jordan was relieved and surprised to find them reacting normally. From the corner of her eyes she noticed a nurse gently trying to lead the brunette away, who refused, "No, I'm fine, it's not my blood. Please, just let me stay here with her. I have to know she's gonna be okay."

Not having time to deal with the girl, Jordan returned her gaze to her patient's, "Spencer. Spencer, can you hear me? Open your eyes, Spencer."

More than a few gasps could be hear around the room when the blonde wearily blinked her eyes open, suddenly looking at them clearly. Jordan expected this bout of consciousness to last seconds perhaps, but Spencer's eyes stayed open. It was easy to read the naked fear in them.

"Spencer, do you know where you are? Can you tell me what day it is?" Jordan continued her questioning, another test to assess the girl's neurological level. She didn't respond.

"Can you squeeze my hand sweetie? Let us know you can hear us," a nurse said from the other side of the stretcher. After a few seconds she looked at Dr Black, shaking her head no, and turned back to Spencer, "It's alright honey, we're gonna take good care of you."

Jordan reached for Spencer's other arm, applying painful pressure to the girl's fingertips. The girl immediately pulled her arm away, drawing it across her chest in a protective gesture. A nurse repeated the test on the other side, receiving the same response. Motor responses to pain were an important part of the neuro exam and Jordan was glad the girl wasn't completely failing. Nevertheless, the prognosis looked grim.

"Stop hurting her," Ashley said angrily and Jordan grimaced, having nearly forgotten the girl was still there.

"That's an 8 on the Glascow Coma Scale. Where the hell is Neuro? And someone please get the girlfriend out of here!" Jordan turned her attention back to the steadily beeping monitor, frowning at it. "Alright, push 25 g Mannitol, 50 mcg Fentanyl and keep the fluids wide open. We're gonna need to intubate before we take her up to CT," the dark-haired doctor ordered, standing back as the nurse injected each medication into the IV.

"What...what're you doing to her?" The voice now sounded a lot shakier than before and Jordan turned her gaze back to the brunette in the corner. Why the hell was she still here? Every time she looked at the brunette, the girl seemed to get more pathetic. The fluorescent lights made her look pale and the dried blood stood out ghastly on her skin. She looked extremely cold in her thin dress and heels, still trembling slightly. Jordan suddenly felt extremely sorry for her.

The doctor took the endo tracheal tube and endoscope from the nurse and stood at the head end of the stretcher. Spencer's eyes had slowly drifted shut again with the administration of the sedative and Jordan intubated her easily. A nurse quickly attached the ambubag, squeezing it every few seconds to breathe for the blonde. Jordan turned back to Ashley, figuring it couldn't hurt to provide some answers to the desperate girl.

"She's been sedated, we don't want there to be any more damage to the brain. We're going to take her up to get a CT scan of the head, so we can see where the bullet went. She's going to need surgery to clean the wound and take out any bullet fragments they can find. If she makes it through surgery, the first 48 hours are going to be critical. Now, you really shouldn't be back here and we're gonna have to take her to CT, but I'll let you say bye to her for a few seconds. But after that, I want you to go with the nurse to get cleaned up, changed and have a seat in the waiting area. You look like you're ready to drop," Jordan explain, watching as the brunette seemed ready to protest, but then gave in, nodding weakly.

A nurse led her over to the stretcher, where another nurse was still mechanically breathing for the blonde. Ashley gritted her teeth, and swiped at the tears cursing down her cheeks. She shakily took Spencer's hand in hers, squeezing it lightly. It felt a lot warmer than before and somehow that gave her hope. She looked at her girlfriend's face, so peaceful and relaxed, dried blood still clinging to her skin even after someone had tried to clean it off. She looked like she was sleeping and, in a way, Ashley figured, she was.

"I'll be right here waiting for you, Spencer. Don't you leave me, you better make it through this. I love you," she said softly, her voice trembling. She received no response, but she hadn't expected to. She was sure Spencer could hear her. She leaned forward and pressed her lips gently against the blonde's cheek, wiping at her eyes again as she leaned back.

The orderly pushed the stretcher forward, the nurse still squeezing the ambubag, as Ashley let her hand slip from Spencer's. Then she was alone.

* * *

The air-conditioner hummed loudly. The cheap clock on the wall made that annoying 'tick-tock' noise with every waning second. Muffled voices penetrated the glass walls and door. Ashley didn't know how long she had been sitting there, hardly remembered the nurse leading her to a staff bathroom and letting her clean the blood off. Spencer's blood, Ashley reminded herself bitterly, swallowing the hard lump in her throat. She shivered slightly as the cool air blew down on her, but she wouldn't move. The scrubs the nurse had forced her into were a little warmer than her bloody dress, but not by much. Ashley sat in a padded chair in an otherwise empty waiting room in the surgery unit, bent forward, arms resting on her legs, staring blankly ahead.

Her legs felt numb, but it was nothing compared to the numbness currently enveloping the whole of her. Ashley had never thought it possible to feel this empty and this terrified all at the same time. She barely heard the door to the room open, a glassed in area curtained-off for privacy, but looked up when she heard a familiar voice.

"Ashley." Arthur Carlin took one look at the miserable looking teenager in light blue hospital scrubs and knew he didn't want to know what she knew. He knew it would kill him to know why she looked so broken, yet he also knew he had to know.

The brunette looked up at her girlfriend's father, Glen just behind him, his face incredibly pale. She didn't know if she could be the one to tell them about Spencer. She opened her mouth, but she couldn't get any words out, it was almost like she was frozen in place, frozen in this hellish spot in time. Arthur and Glen both stepped closer, looking ready to bombard her with questions Ashley didn't know the answers to, when another door to the left of them opened.

Paula Carlin was wearing surgical scrubs when she stepped into the room and the only difference between every other day she did this and today was that today it was her child. She met her husband's eyes and swallowed hard, trying to hold the tears at bay. He walked towards her with that look, that look that expected her to be able to fix this because she was a doctor. But she couldn't fix this.

"It...it's Clay. He didn't make it," her voice broke at the end and she brought a hand to her face. She felt Arthur's arms around her, the sobs finally shaking her body. Reaching out, she drew a near catatonic Glen to her, clutching at him as if he were her lifeline. The silence was near overwhelming for the minute that nobody moved or spoke, just their tears and sobs to share with each other. And it took Paula exactly that long to realize something wasn't right, something she hadn't quite comprehended in her grief, a thought that had been nagging her.

"Where's Spencer?" she whispered, her throat raw from crying, and pulled back from her family. That's when she noticed Ashley sitting in one of the chairs, alone. "Where's Spencer?" she repeated, taking a few weak steps towards the silent brunette. Ashley met the woman's eyes, at a complete loss for words.

"Paula." Both women turned at the sound of the new voice and looked up at Dr Black standing near the doorway, looking extremely uncomfortable. Jordan walked farther into the room towards her colleague, noticing the red-rimmed eyes of the occupants. She'd waited until Spencer was in the hands of neuro until she came to find Paula, but when she had been notified by a nosy nurse that Dr Carlin's son, Clay, had just died from a gunshot wound, she had almost turned around. Jordan was sure in the book of life this was about as unfair as it got and this family definitely didn't deserve this.

Jordan noticed the girl from earlier, Ashley, sitting in one of the chairs and nodded at her. Indicating for the rest of them to sit down, she waited until they did so and perched herself on the armrest on one of the chairs. "Paula, I'm the one who treated Spencer in the ER."

Paula sat on the edge of the chair, feeling as if getting even the slightest bit comfortable would be treason towards her children. Her son, who was dead, her daughter, who she hadn't even realized wasn't around for several minutes. She felt sick. Rubbing her sweaty palms across her scrub pants she nodded, refusing to meet her husband's eyes across from her.

"Is she alright? Can we see her?" Paula asked anxiously, hoping despite the look in her colleagues eyes that Spencer was okay. She had to be. Sitting next to her, Ashley dropped her head into her hands and Paula felt her stomach drop.

Jordan hesitated, though she had done this type of talk a thousand times, it had never been this hard. "She's in surgery. Paula, I...I don't know how to tell you this," the brunette doctor stammered, knowing she had to pull herself together for her patient, "Spencer suffered a gunshot wound to the right frontal lobe. Her vitals were weak when she was brought in, we got her stabilized in the ER and sent her to CT before Dr Rasgotra took her to the OR."

Paula brought her hand up to her mouth, stifling the sob wanting to escape. This time she met her husband's eyes and could read the confusion in them. Times like these it was almost better to not be a doctor, to remain blissfully unaware.

"Paula, what's going on?" Arthur asked, the look of pure agony on his wife's face scaring him.

She shook her head, trying in vain to hold the tears back, "Spencer was shot in the head...she needs brain surgery.

Arthur fell back against his chair, all feeling leaving his body. The numbness in him just wouldn't let him go, it seemed to pull him under, leaving him without thought, without feeling. First Clay and now Spencer, this just couldn't be happening.

"Jordan, please tell me her...her chances," Paula begged, almost wishing she could let the doctor give her a bunch of bullshit without knowing what it meant, without knowing it spelled disaster for her daughter.

"Her GCS was 8, she was conscious and opened her eyes, but didn't respond or move voluntarily. She was breathing on her own the entire time and her BP stabilized some with fluids. But the bullet definitely entered the cranium and judging by the CT scan it fragmented inside the skull. We won't know the extent of the damage until neurology gets done with the surgery. I'm so sorry, let me know if I can help, okay? Dr Rasgotra will let you know more after the surgery, but it'll probably take four or five hours," Jordan said, trying to keep her voice neutral in the face of such loss. Someone she worked with was going through something so horrible and despite being a great doctor, Jordan felt like she couldn't do a damn thing. The brunette stood and nodded at them, fleeing the room as quickly as possible without appearing to.

It was the soft 'click' the door made shutting behind the doctor that set Ashley off. She'd been fighting the tears ever since the doctor had sat down, thought she could be strong enough, for Spencer. She'd been wrong. She was sobbing with an agony that gripped her chest so tightly she could hardly breathe, sucking in breaths in quick, painful gasps. The tears drenched her face, her hands, her neck and she could no longer feel the cold wind from the A/C. Leaning forward even farther she pressed her face against her legs, wrapping her arms around her thighs, her shoulders shaking with the sobs. If she could have sunk into herself, she would have. She would have done anything to get Spencer back. Anything, like take that damn last dance, like telling Aiden to back off, like taking twenty bullets to keep one from Spencer. She cried, choked sobs, salty tears, bawled so loudly she thought someone was bound to yell at her for disturbing the peace. But it just hurt so bad and she couldn't turn it off. She was so cold, yet so hot, so shaky, yet couldn't move, so in love, yet in such agony.

Paula watched the brunette girl, fighting with her own emotions. She knew what Jordan had told her, knew it meant Spencer had maybe an 8% chance of surviving and knew she couldn't lose another child. Arthur was sitting in his chair, crying silently and Glen seemed to have gone into some sort of shock. Paula drew in a deep breath, her stomach roiling every time she exhaled and glanced at the wretched, sobbing girl next to her. She couldn't have explained her actions if she wanted to, but ultimately the intense grief and despair had pushed them all into a delicate emotional state.

Ashley thought she was imagining it at first, but the arms drawing her up were very real. She didn't bother looking up, turning her red, splotchy, wet face into the chest of the woman next to her. Paula clung to the teenager, the girl's shaking body reverberating against her own as she cried. For some reason, at this time, she felt as if Ashley was the closest she could get to her dying daughter.

* * *

Glen was pacing the length of the waiting room, up and down, up and down, a grim look on his face. Paula was still sitting in the same chair, her face dry and stoic, reading some kind of medical journal, though her shaking hands and the fact she'd been reading the same page for two hours betrayed her. Ashley sat, with her legs drawn up against her chest, sideways in a chair closer to the door, eyes blankly gazing outside the waiting room to the hospital corridor. People kept walking past, families, husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, none of them caring about Spencer. Ashley watched them in a kind of hazy amazement, that they could continue blithely on, not caring at all that in this room a family's whole world had fallen apart and her heart had shattered.

The door to the corridor opened and everyone looked up half-heartedly, watching Arthur walk back into the room, two cups in his hands. He offered one to Paula and then Ashley, who both took it without much enthusiasm. Arthur straightened and gestured back towards the door, "Look who I found wandering the halls." Arthur was trying to be optimistic, at least after his initial crying and anger spell, and was trying to keep his family, and Ashley, from falling into this pit of despair.

Three pairs of eyes centered on the person standing in the doorway and none of them seemed too pleased. Aiden managed a weak smile, trying to ignore the looks he was getting, and walked into the room towards Ashley. He'd been walking around after getting the 'all-clear' and ran into Arthur by the vending machines. Admittedly, he'd been looking for Ashley, who'd vanished so suddenly from his side he'd wondered if she was okay. Seeing her sitting here, just a little worse for wear, he felt relief, and sat down next to her.

"Look, I'm all bandaged up. Where have you been?" he said lightly, showing her his left bicep that was wrapped tightly in gauze.

Ashley stared at him for a few seconds before responding, "Are you serious, Aiden?"

"What?" he asked, not knowing why she was giving him such a look. Glancing around he noticed half of the Carlin family present, none of them looking as if they'd had an easy night. "Is Spencer still mad at you? I think we need to talk about this."

The look of disbelief flashed across her face and Ashley unfurled herself from her withdrawn position, "I honestly couldn't care less about that at this point, Aiden. I'd be happy just to have her survive being shot in the head. And finding out her brother is dead. I don't give a rat's ass about your feelings right now."

Aiden drew back, the sudden venom in her voice surprising him. Her words registered and he went pale, realizing while he'd been getting patched up his friends had suffered much worse. He opened his mouth to speak, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He looked up at Arthur, who threw him a somewhat sympathetic glance, "I think it's best you leave, Aiden. Tensions are kind of running high right now."

The boy nodded and stood, running a shaky hand through his hair, "I'm really sorry about Clay, Mr Carlin. I hope Spencer's gonna be okay."

The older man merely nodded, managing a weak smile. No one else even acknowledged him and Aiden quietly left the room, glancing back at the brunette girl only once.

Ashley tapped her fingers nervously against her thigh, glancing at the clock on the wall every few minutes. It had been over five hours already, what if something had gone wrong? What if Spencer was already dead and they were sitting here completely unaware? Ashley swallowed the lump in her throat and continued watching the other occupants of the room. Arthur was now sitting next to his wife and they were holding hands, yet no words were being spoken. Glen hadn't stopped pacing.

Ashley almost wished she hadn't told Kyla to go home, the only family she really had. But this was awkward enough, painful enough, without dragging someone else into it. Leaning her head back against the wall, the brunette closed her eyes. She was exhausted, yet there was no way she could sleep. Not until she knew Spencer was okay.

At first she didn't realize someone else had entered the room, but when the Carlins moved closer towards her she looked up. A young woman in green surgical scrubs had entered the room and nodded at Paula as they sat around Ashley. The tension in the room had increased tenfold, if that was even possible.

"Mr Carlin, Paula, we've just finished Spencer's surgery. She's being moved to recovery as we speak," Dr Rasgotra started, knowing the news about whether their daughter lived were really the most important to them.

"So she's alive? She made it through?" Arthur asked, relief evident in his voice. He turned to his wife, who didn't look quite as relieved as he did.

"Yes, she's alive. Her blood pressure was dropping during the procedure so we had to give her two units of blood, but she stabilized. You'll be able to see her once she gets moved to the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit."

Paula ran a hand across her face, feeling completely drained. Spencer being alive was good news, but this was far from over; brain injuries were serious, it wasn't as simple as being alive. "Dr Rasgotra, what's her prognosis? Were you able to remove the bullet?"

The doctor nodded, looking at them in turn, "We had to do a craniotomy to reach the site of the injury, some of the bone in the area was completely shattered. The thick bone of the skull caused the bullet to fragment upon entry, preventing it from penetrating far into the brain tissue. We were able to remove a large amount of the individual fragments, however, some were too dangerous to try and remove. Other than any direct tissue damage they may have caused, they shouldn't pose a problem later on. Most of the damage was restricted to the right dorsolateral area of the brain, some of the tissue was necrotic and had to be removed. We closed the dura with water-tight stitching and re-used as much of the skull bone as we could. The entry area had to be covered with a titanium mesh plate, but it is not very large and should hardly be noticeable."

Everyone but Paula looked at her in slight confusion, not completely sure whether what she was saying was good or bad. Knowing her husband was about to ask questions, she waived him off, needing to know for herself how bad it was. In terms she understood, without the sugar coating. "How significant was the damage?"

Dr Rasgotra sighed, knowing it was hard for patients' families to understand the guessing game behind brain injuries, "It's hard to tell, really. The damage was mostly confined to one area and due to the fragmentation the damage wasn't very deep. Some of the remaining fragments might have caused damage we haven't been able to see. As with any frontal lobe damage she might undergo personality and behavioral changes, as well as have problems with motor skills and schoolwork. We've managed to keep the swelling under control and hopefully can avoid any additional damage. At this point we really won't know too much until she wakes up and we can do our neurological tests. I know that's not what you want to hear, but a good amount of how the brain operates is still a mystery to us. Considering the injuries, however, I'd say she's done exceptionally well and if she wakes up within the next 48 hours I'd give her a good prognosis."

Having at least understood that last part, the four people in the room let out collective sighs of relief. It wasn't the greatest news, but Spencer was alive and had a decent chance of making it through. Arthur shook the doctor's hand with a smile on his face, the first real one he'd worn all night. "Thank you, doctor. When can we go see her?"

Dr Rasgotra stood, "She'll be moved to the NSICU in about half an hour, you may go see her for a short time. Family only, of course. I will you take there now, if you'd like."

The Carlins, eager to escape the confines of the waiting room they'd spent the past 6 hours in, stood and gathered their few possessions to follow the doctor. Ashley stood nervously, looking at Paula, "What about me?"

Paula looked at the girl, the fear in her eyes of being denied to see the one person she'd been agonizing over for the past few hours. Maybe during this six hour battle they'd forged a truce of sorts, a silent, unspoken pact to get Spencer through this. "Spencer would want you there."

If she hadn't been so exhausted and drained Ashley might've been surprised at Paula Carlin's inclusion of her, but at the moment she was nothing but grateful she'd be able to see for herself that Spencer was alright. She followed the others out of the room that had seen her weakest moment.

To be continued...