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Chapter Eight


In the early hours before dawn, John sits under the dim glow of the overhead lights in Stiles' room and waits for something to happen. It's arduous business, this waiting. It's a grueling, torturous process that only manages to frustrate the hell out of him and intensify the headache slowly building up steam in the spaces behind his eyes. He digs at them with calloused palms, but nothing works so he tries his best to ignore it all and goes back to watching the gentle rise and fall of his son's chest under the sheets.

Now that Stiles is off the ventilator there's nothing mechanical about that movement now. In fact, his breath seems hitch at times and Stiles will have to pull in these ragged, shuddering breaths that sputter John's heart to a stop in his chest every time that they happen. And it doesn't kick back into a regular rhythm again until Stiles settles into one of his own, beading the inside of his oxygen mask with condensation on even, regular breaths.

John pushes out of the chair he's been occupying all night and moves over to stare out the window with tired eyes. Beyond the four walls of the hospital, a new day is dawning. The sun peaks over the far horizon, wrapping its arms around the tall, purple peaks of the Cathedral Mountains, which sit shimmering in the pale morning light. John has spent so much time in this hospital room worrying over Stiles he's forgotten that quiet mornings like this can still exist, that the world still comes alive each morning and that it's beautiful and peaceful to watch. He's forgotten all of it and takes a moment to just stand there and take it all in.

After the night he's had, it's nice to focus on something else for a while. While Stiles has managed to resurface a few times since coming of the vent, John is still anxiously waiting for that one time his boy is able to wake up completely and actually talk to him. It hasn't happened yet (hence the waiting), his moments of consciousness short lived with never enough time to do much else but look around with bleary eyes and unfocused gaze before passing back out again. John has been trying very hard to be patient with the whole process, but it's difficult… Arduous even.

Pulling his eyes away from the serene light of the dawning morn, John glances over at Melissa who's sleeping soundly in a chair on the other side of the bed. The overworked nurse has been with him all night, holding his hand through the extubation when they finally removed that damn tube from Stiles' throat; talking him through the worst of the panic when his boy struggled for breath afterwards. She even stayed with him through the long, endless hours when all he did was sit, unmoving, just staring at his son and watching for any sign that he'd regained movement in his legs. The doctors still say it's too soon to tell, but that didn't save John from another sleepless night of waiting around to see for himself. Melissa was only able to fall asleep herself a few hours ago so John reaches a hand out to draw the blinds, blocking out the gathering light of the sunrise so it won't disturb her. The woman has been such a godsend to him that he doesn't mind the loss of the light.

Now wanting to sit back down just yet, John lets out a weary breath and runs a hand through his unkempt hair, pausing at the base of his neck to kneed at the tense muscles there with a palm. Even though the blinds are drawn, morning light still manages to make its way into the room and it's a peaceful kind of light… like the world is peaking in to see if Stiles is okay and trying to offer a bit of it's own kind of comfort.

And maybe it works a little.

Now that Stiles is off the vent, there aren't quite as many machines crowding the room and everything feels just a little bit lighter. John knows this openness won't last for long; that the liberated space will soon be filled with the visitors who will inevitably come once news of Stiles reemergence spreads. But for now it's just him and Melissa. It's Saturday already so the kids will start arriving soon and begin their normal schedule of one person keeping watch over Stiles while the rest are off off doing god knows what. John still hasn't seen any sign of Liam or Kira, but he's pretty much given up on trying to get answers from everyone on where they might be. Melissa wants him to trust that things are being handled. Well, John's a cop and trust is not a word in his vocabulary, so while he's begrudgingly agreed not to press anymore, it still bothers him that half the pack is AWOL.

And speaking of trust, there's something that's been bothering John ever since Stiles' surgery and he spends the next few minutes studying his son's face from his place by the window and wondering how he'll eventually broach the subject with the kid. He supposes he could just throw it in there along with the news of the hardships ahead of him should his spine not heal completely, but he can't help but wonder if it's a sign that more is going on with Stiles than John could ever know.

A little while after the surgery and after Stiles had been settled into his room, the other trauma surgeon, a Dr. Bruah, had come by to ask John a few questions about a strange wound they'd found on Stiles shoulder. It was deep, he'd explained, and older than the other injuries he'd suffered when the jeep flipped. It looked like the kid was been trying (albeit unsuccessfully, as it was well on its way to infection) to take care of it on his own, only John didn't have any answers for the doc. He had no idea what the wound was from, and no idea why his son would keep such a thing from him.

It's a sign, he figures. A sign that secrets are making them strangers, and he's not sure how to reverse course and get them back on the path they used to be on. The one where his son would come to him with the bad things, and not try to hide it to the point it was detrimental to his health. He also can't help but wonder if the wound on his shoulder has something to do with his jeep being attacked and flipped upside down.

John sighs heavily, forgetting for a moment that he's not completely alone, and when he glances over at Melissa a moment later to make sure he hasn't woken her, she's looking over at him with sleep soft eyes.

"What time is it?" She asks a little groggily and John glances down at his watch.

"A little after 5."

"Did you manage to get any sleep?" She stretches her arms high up over her head and stifles a yawn.

"Couldn't," he admits, looking away before he starts to yawn, too. "Every time I closed my eyes I kept thinking I could hear him starting to move or calling out for me. I couldn't turn it off... Stupid, right?"

"Hardly," Melissa smiles. "I'd have done the same thing in your shoes." He tries to return the smile but knows it's going to look forced. "Hey, you're allowed to go a little nuts during this, John," She goes on. "This isStiles we're talking about."

John chuckles a little at that but the mirth doesn't last long and he goes serious again. "I just wish he'd wake up long enough so we can know for sure how he's doing, you know? This waiting around bullshit is driving me crazy."

"I know," she responds sympathetically. "Maybe he'll stay awake long enough today for the doctors to finally assess him."

"God I hope so," John sighs. He slips back into his chair and something occurs to him. "You know Melissa," he begins tentatively, "you don't have to stick around with me all day again today. If you have things you need to do…" She's already done so much for him John figures the least he can do is offer the woman an out if she needs it.

"There's no where in the world I'd rather be right now, John," she replies before he can even finish and he swallows thickly.

"Not even with Scott?"

"Oh I'm not worried about, Scott," she winks. "In fact, I think he would be pretty pissed at me if I didn't stay today."

"I don't suppose you'll tell me what he and the other kids have been up to this past week, will you?" He tries but Melissa's still playing it close to the cuff.

"School?" She offers up sheepishly and John shakes his head at her feeble attempt at pacifying him. She's partly right, he figures. John knows for a fact that at least Malia and Lydia are still attending school and the mounds of homework slowly taking over the room's only table can attest to that. They've been bringing Stiles' assignments by the hospital every day when they visit so the kid will have something to do when he finally comes around and they litter the table in tall, haphazard piles.

"Whatever you say," John sighs again, admitting defeat. "But thanks for stickin' around."

"No problem," Melissa replies like she really means it before heaving herself out of the chair to give her cramped muscles a proper stretch. "I could use some coffee," she announces a moment later when she's done. "Could you use some coffee?"

Her smile is almost infectious. "I could use some coffee."

"Alright then. I'm going to get us some coffee." She breezes out of the room without another word and John watches her disappear out the door.

For the first time in days John is finally alone with his son, and as that realization slowly sinks in, he finds that he's kind of glad for it. He understands that Scott and the rest of the pack are taking all of this pretty hard. He understands that all they want to do is be near their friend and to protect him, but it's difficult for John having them here sometimes. This thing that's happening to his son, it's real and it's serious and it's tearing him apart from the inside… only he hasn't been able to really deal with any of it yet. He can't break down or get angry when they're around. Can't rage or scream or put his fist through a wall... He's gotta stay strong for the kids...

But he's tired.

Christ almighty, John's wearier than he's ever been in his life, trying to hold it all in, and it's gotten so bad that his body doesn't even feel like his own anymore. He's detached from it, though he still manages to feel all it's aches as it trudges through its processes like it's nearing the end of its shelf life and is ready to quit on him altogether; only John can't afford to quit. When Stiles finally escapes from whatever limbo he's trapped in… if his son looks down at his legs and realizes his bottom half won't move like it should, then John is going to have to be there for his son. He's going to need to be the foundation on which Stiles' rebuilds his life, but John can't do that half covered in cracks that snake out from his center like tiny little fissures, threatening the structural integrity of his very soul. He's no good to his son like this and he's trying desperately to pull himself together and fill back in the holes.

Knowing that at any moment Melissa could return with the coffee or that Scott, Lydia or Malia could show up to visit, John gets up from his chair and walks back over to the window. The emotions he's spent the better part of a week trying to keep under control are threatening to explode and his hands shake with the strain of trying to contain it. Desperate for a distraction he throws open the blinds again and the California sky is cloudless outside the window. He stands for unknowable moments just searching its azure depths for some sign that all of this will all be okay, that this terrible thing that has happened to his boy really isn't as bad as he imagines.

But John doesn't find his answers written across that pristine sky, though he certainly spends enough time looking. So long in fact, he nearly misses it when something speaks behind him.

D-Dad?" He freezes, all the air punched out of him in an instant as time stands still. The word is muffled by the mask and pushed past cracked lips on barely enough breath to make it anything more than a whisper, but it's there and enough to rip John in two.

"I'm here, Stiles," he chokes, racing back over to the bed. He cups one side of his son's fever warm face with a hand and guides the meandering gaze over to where he sits. "I'm right here, Son."

Stiles' eyelids are heavy and cumbersome, like he might not be able to hold them open for long. Yet despite this tenuous hold on consciousness, Stiles still manages to smile up weakly at John.

"Shit kid," he half sobs when that unfocused gaze finally settles on him and John can tell that his son's really there with him, "took you long enough."

Stiles' eyes have always been the color of wheat fields after a warm summer rain and John hasn't realized how much he's missed them until he's finally looking into them again. He collapses back into his seat and drinks in the moment.

There are dark times in his life that John will never forget. That night on the rooftop of the hospital is one, when he had to hold back his hysterical wife to keep her from attacking their eight-year-old son. So is that rainy Sunday afternoon in June when he finally buried her in the ground. There's that time Stiles went missing for two whole days after some psychopath with a grudge decided the Sheriff of Beacon Hills needed to be taught a lesson and they're all the things his nightmares are made of. Yet, for every terrible, horrible moment that won't let him be, there are a dozen or so bright, shiny ones just waiting in the wings, ready to come to his rescue when the darkness threatens. They're luminous and numerous and this moment is quickly making its way up with the best of them.

"S'wrong Daddy-o?" Stiles wheezes out, lungs weak and voice still hoarse from the intubation. He somehow manages to lift a trembling hand from the bed, bandages and all, to touch at the moisture that has begun to track down the sides of John's face unchecked.

Nothin' kid," he snifs, capturing that meandering hand in his own and pressing its warmth into the side of his face. "Nothing's wrong now that you're back."

"I go somewhere?"

"You could say that."

Stiles' skin is so warm and John knows it's because of the fever he's running, but he still finds the warmth reassuring. It means Stiles' is alive, that blood pumps through his veins and his body is working hard to heal itself. It means he's pulled through.

"Are you in any pain? Do you need anything?"

Stiles has to think about it for a moment. "Thirsty," he finally croaks and John chastises himself for being so dumb. Of course the kid is thirsty.

"Ok, hold on a sec." He turns in his chair and rescues a pink plastic cup from amidst the piles of junk on the room's rolling table. He's been anticipating this moment so the cup is still semi-filled with ice. He chases down some of the bigger chips with a spoon and, once they've carefully pulled the oxygen mask away from Stiles' pale face, he carefully slips the ice past his son's parched lips. Stiles seems to savor it, closing his eyes and working his throat so that the soothing coolness runs down his abused skin slowly. It breaks John's heart a little to see and when Stiles asks for more, John gives it to him despite remembered warnings not to let him have too much, too fast.

"Do you remember what happened?" John asks as they run through the ritual a few more times.

Stiles goes internal for a moment like he's trying to wade through the memories and make sense of what he sees.

"I remember being in the jeep with Theo," he begins; voice a little stronger thanks to the ice. "Something attacked us. It pulled Theo out and then the next thing I knew, the jeep was flipping over." He pauses; drawing in a sharp breath like something hurts, but goes on. "I hit the ground, and then nothing."

John offers him another spoonful of ice, but Stiles lifts a heavy, bandaged hand and waves it off. He's starting to fade so John lets the spoon plop back into the melting water and sets the gaudy pink cup aside. He gently lowers the oxygen mask back down over Stiles' face and ignores the glare his son gives him when he does it.

"I don't need this thing," Stiles whines a little, even as he pulls greedily at the reestablished flow of oxygen. John ignores that, too.

"After your jeep flipped, can you remember anything else?"

"Nothing," Stiles admits a little heatedly from beneath the mask, but softening a moment later as he looks back over at John. "At least not until… I woke up and saw your ugly mug." He tries for a smile but the continued conversation and the way he has to concentrate on pulling in oxygen every few seconds is beginning to take its toll. Stiles eyes are little more than thin slivers rimmed in red and ready to close again but he surprises John a moment later with a question.

"D-dad," He stumbles a little, gripping at the mask, "what… h-happened to me?"

The question takes John by surprise and he lets his sightline drop to the hands he has resting in his lap. There's a part of him that wants to save this bit for later, but he's so afraid that if he waits, the news will come out some other way and scar his kid for life. Better for John to just do it himself and help Stiles to process and accept what's been done to him.

"When your jeep flipped, you got tossed around pretty well," John starts to explain and Stiles watches him closely from over the mask. "There was some swelling around your spine. You weren't breathing on your own so they had to put you on a respirator for a while."

"Oh yeah?" Stiles fingertips ghost up to his throat like he's remembering the feel of the tube there.

"Yeah, and it was pretty touch and go for a while there, too. They were worried that maybe you… well, they thought you might be…"

Fuck.

"Might be what, Dad?" Stiles rasps, looking uneasy.

But it's too damn hard. John pulls himself up from his seat, suddenly unable to just sit there and look into his son's anxious eyes. He turns his back on him, feeling like the worlds biggest failure.

"Dad!" Stiles pleads, ending on a wet, hacking cough, but John still can't make himself turn.

He's a coward. There's no other explanation for it. He's supposed to be the strong one, Stiles' foundation, and he's failing at it completely.

"Dad, please… just tell me what happened." Stiles voice is weak. He sounds so young that John half expects to find his eight-year-old son lying in the bed when he finally turns back around. But it's just Stiles, looking up at him with pleading, confused eyes and John knows in that moment that he can't put this off any longer. He sits down on bed, right beside Stiles' unmoving legs, and heaves a defeated sigh.

"The swelling in your back was really bad and they think that you might have done some damage to the nerves there," John explains, voice going soft. "They can't say anything for sure at this point. And actually there's a good chance they might not even be right, so you can't loose hope, okay?"

"Come on… D-Dad, you're s-scaring me."

John draws in a breath and steels himself. "You might be paralyzed, Stiles."

There.

It's out.

He's delivered his terrible news, and he tries to prepare himself for what's coming next: the panic attack or complete meltdown he can feel beginning to brew.

He waits for it, but it never comes, and Stiles surprises the shit out of him a moment later when he flat out refuses to believe what he's just been told.

"No I'm not," he announces, reaching for his oxygen mask like he's about to pull it off again. John stops him with a hand at his wrist.

"I know it's a lot to take in, but I'm being serious, Stiles."

Something like amusement flashes behind Stiles eyes. "Dad…"

"Stiles, I don't think you understand what I just told you, kid!" John exclaims, bewildered at his son's unexpected response. "The doctor's say there's a chance you may never walk again!"

But Stiles isn't getting it. John was right; the kid's too out of it, too medicated to deal with all this right now.

"Dad, relax," Stiles' hand chases after him when John launches off the bed, but he's not fast enough. "Everything's…" he has to pause to drag in another breath, "gonna be okay!"

"Okay?" John repeats, fear making his voice go high. "How is any of this supposed to be okay!?"

"Because they're wrong, Dad!" Stiles starts to cough from the strain of trying to talk over the mask and be understood and when he can't continue on with words, he lifts bandaged arms from the bed and hikes the blankets covering his lower half up and away from his feet with more strength than John would have thought him capable of. Stiles' feet are cocooned in a pair of those ubiquitous hospital slippers, the fuzzy kind with the painted on white treads. John looks back and forth between them and his son, completely at a loss over his son's strange behavior.

When he just continues to stare, Stiles rolls his eyes (actually rolls his eyes) and points down at his feet.

"Look!" The word uses up whatever remaining oxygen he has left and Stiles clutches at the mask, trying to draw it in closer. He's struggling and John should help him, but he's suddenly frozen in place, held captive by the impossible thing that's happening right before his eyes.

Stiles is wiggling his goddamn toes; would probably be moving the whole damn leg if he had the energy for it, and John chokes on something hysterical that tries to claw its way up the back of his throat.

"See," Stiles wheezes, collapsing in on himself as the last of his reserves are depleted. "I told you!" and John Stilinski starts to laugh.


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