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Chapter Nine


"You're doing it again," an amused voice observes quietly from the bed and John straightens in his seat so fast the newspaper he's been pretending to read for the past few hours flutters to the ground near his feet.

"I was not," he defends himself dolefully, knowing full well he's been caught, and bends over to retrieve the paper from the floor to hide the fact that he's blushing. When he straightens back up, Stiles is smirking up at him from the bed. The kid is still two shades too pale, but he looks better than he has in days.

"Were too," He chuckles, scratching idly at the nasal cannula wound round his nose.

John feints indifference and makes a big deal of smoothing out one crumpled corner of a page. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Hey, just because I almost died doesn't mean you get to turn into a creeper." There's a hint of something mischievous in his eyes, like Stiles is enjoying his father's embarrassment a little too much.

John pulls a face. "Whatever, kid. I just thought you were having a bad dream."

"Sure Dad," Stiles sniffs sarcastically. "A bad dream."

John narrows his eyes at his son, makes a big production of straightening his paper with an overdramatic flourish, and goes back to pretending to read.

Truth is, he was staring again. Sometimes he just can't help it. After so many grueling, uncertain days of waiting around to see if his son would actually pull through, John figures he's at least earned the right to sit there and stare as his kid breathes. The whole damn feeling is surreal. It's like finding something again you hadn't even realized you'd lost and are all of a sudden rediscovering all the little things about it that made you love it in the first place. Not to mention dealing with the overwhelming realization of how truly fucked your life has been without this thing in it. So he stares. When no one's looking (and sometimes even when they are) he keeps watch over the gentle rise and fall of his kid's chest. He keeps it up even when Stiles leans in close to try and get Malia to smile or falls into quiet conversation with Lydia. He doesn't even stop when Stiles' catches him again and again and laughs as he makes fun of him for it.

John peaks discretely around the edge of his paper and sees that the kid has quiet and still again. He's been doing that a lot lately and John thinks he knows why. It's definitely not because of his legs or the fact that it's still difficult for him to move his lower half. Actually, the fact that he's going to have his work cut out for him to get back to 100% doesn't even seem to faze the kid. He's staying surprisingly optimistic about all that, but what he's having a hard time dealing with is the fact that Scott, his best friend in all the world, hasn't been around for days. Malia, Lydia, Mason, they all make their regular visits, but not Scott. The alpha has been mysteriously MIA and John can't help but worry that something is wrong.

Every day Stiles gets a little bit stronger and every day the worry John felt for his son during those god-awful days begins to ebb away, only it's slowly being replaced by something else. It's nothing like that piercing, panicked worry from before, but more like a dull ache at the center of his chest he just can't seem to shake. Scott hasn't been by once since Stiles woke up; though John has this sneaky suspicion the alpha might have jimmied the window for an impromptu midnight visit. Still, he can tell by the way Stiles' eyes always pull towards the door or that slightest hint of disappointment they fill with when he realizes whoever's just come in is not the person he's been waiting for, that if Scott has been here, Stiles doesn't know it. No one walking in would ever know anything is wrong. Stiles still smiles and promises that the burns don't hurt that bad like a champ, but John knows his son. He knows him better than anyone else in the entire world, and he knows that his boy is hurting right now in a way morphine could never hope to help with. John's been half expecting Stiles to ask him why his best friend is not there. He hasn't yet, but John can tell that he wants to.

John's been a cop for a long. He's built a career on his powers of observation so he can tell Melissa knows the reason why Scott stays away. It's in the line of her jaw and the way she seems to avoid Stiles' room like the plague anymore. She's tense when he tries to talk to her, too and sometimes he just wants to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she spills all. He's never been a violent man, which he figures is a bit surprising for a cop, but the frustration at being kept in the dark during all of this makes him wonder if he could be. Lydia and Malia show signs that something is wrong as well. They do their best to keep Stiles in good spirits but he can tell by the way they constantly check their texts or slip out to make quiet yet hurried calls that they're in the middle of what ever is going on too. Even Parrish is avoiding him and he's heard whispers around the hospital of impossible things once again descending down on the sleepy town of Beacon Hills.

Even though John wants to be out there in the thick of it, helping to stop whatever's going on, he knows that his place is here right now. If his department needs him, they'll call. If Scott get in too far over his head, surely Melissa will finally break down and read him in. So for now, John has to be content with just sitting and staring at his kid's gentle breathing when he thinks that no one is looking.

And speaking of staring at his son, John's started it up again without even realizing and Stiles is laughing at him again lightly from the bed.

"You're impossible," his son smiles, voice cracking a little from the perpetual dryness of constant oxygen. He looks content for the moment so John sets his paper aside and turns to face the bed.

"Can I ask you something you might not want to answer?"

Stiles averts his eyes and picks at something crusty stuck to the front of his gown. "Am I gonna like it?"

"Probably not."

"So why ask?"

"Stiles…"

Stiles sighs and looks back up at him. "Fine. Fire away," he replies with his hands and John tries to think how best to ask this without upsetting his son or shutting him down completely.

"What happened here?" He asks quietly, lifting a hand and gesturing towards the white bandage peaking out from just behind Stiles' shoulder. His son's own hand shoots out to cover it and adjust the hospital gown so it's no longer visible.

"I hurt it when the jeep flipped," he tries to recover nonchalantly, but John knows better.

"It's older than your others and Dr. Bruah told me it was starting to get infected." Stiles goes back to picking at that spot on his gown again and refuses to look back over at John.

Stiles has always had this tell. When he's truly telling the truth he's forceful with his words, always engaging and maintaining eye contact until he's absolutely sure John believes him. This kid before him now, picking at his gown with a blunt nail, is nothing like that other version of Stiles and it sets John's heart to aching a bit. He really is loosing his son, isn't he? It's not something that's happening all at once either, but rather bit by bit and there's nothing he can do to stop it.

"Stiles…"

"Can we please just not do this right now?" His son pleads. Stile' eyes have gone misty with moisture and when he finally looks back up and over at John, a single tear releases then rolls. "Please?"

John's own eyes narrow and he knows that he shouldn't give in, but his son is still so weak that he can't help but cave. "Alright son," he replies, sitting forward when more tears begin to crest and tack their way down Stiles' face. "Okay, we'll deal with it later. It's okay kiddo."

For the first time since all this began, John leans forward and pulls his son into an almost desperate embrace. He ignores bandages and wires and the tubes of the IV lines just to pull his boy close in his arms. Stiles shakes slightly against him but it isn't because he doesn't want the contact; quite the contrary in fact. He wraps his trembling arms so tightly around John it nearly hurts, and they spend long moments just holding on to each other, John rocking them slightly as Stiles dampens the side of his neck and shirt collar with tears.

"It's gonna be okay, Stiles" he sooths, pressing a kiss to the crown of his kid's head and running his fingers lightly against Stiles' scalp like he used to when he was just a kid. "Everything's going to be okay, I swear to god. I'm gonna get us through this. No matter what, I'm not going anywhere."

He's not just talking about the burns on Stiles' arms or the legs that don't quite move in the way they should just yet, but about everything that has been going on: Liam and Kira's sudden disappearances, Scott's absence from the hospital, everything going on with the Dread Doctors and the people dying in Beacon Hills. All of it. John's going to get them through all of it; even if it kills him.

When Stiles finally stills in his arms and sags against his chest like he's no longer able to hold himself up any longer, John eases his son's frail form back onto the bed. The tears have left his reddened cheeks wet and John swipes away some of the moisture with the pad of a thumb before collapsing back in his seat. Stiles looks completely drained, like he might not be able to stay awake for much longer, so John pushes out what he still has to say as quickly as he can.

It isn't much. Just a soft, "I love you, Stiles," murmured low as he watches his son struggle to stay awake.

John doesn't know what's going to happen tomorrow, if he'll wake up one day and find that his son has become a stranger. He doesn't know if they'll even come out of this gathering darkness alive, but for now his little family is safe and that's more than John could have ever hoped for.

"I love you, kid," he repeats as Stiles finally looses his battle with sleep.

"More than you'll ever know."


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