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When The Sky Turned Gray

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His father stood in the driveway waiting when they rolled down the old, familiar street, the road wet, trees naked. The man supported himself heavily on his cane, holding it tight in his grasp, his posture stiff.

 

Stiles swallowed down the bitterness that welled up, refusing to let negative thoughts cloud their reunion. For Talia. For his father.

 

“There he is!” Talia cried from the backseat, taking off her seat belt before Stiles even had a chance to park the car. She ran to her grandfather on bare feet, dark brown hair fluttering behind her back in her hurry. Stiles’ heart jumped in his chest, afraid she’d make them both fall over with his father’s poor balance, but the lopsided grin on his old man’s face told him not to crash the car to save the two of them. He parked safely as Talia clung to her grandfather’s paralysed side, face buried in his jacket.

 

“Shit!” Stiles muttered to himself, turning off the ignition before joining his family out in the drizzle. “Hey, Dad.” He pressed his face against his father’s neck, hugging him tight, patting his back, as sorrow filled Stiles’ gut at his dad’s silence and lack of reciprocation.

 

“Our drive went fine,” Stiles told him, answering the question he knew his father would have asked. “The rain didn’t start before we reached the Entering Beacon Hills sign.” He let go of his father carefully, making sure he stood on his own before going to the trunk of his car to extract their bags. “Let’s hope it’s not a bad omen.” He grinned at his father.

 

Stiles started carrying their belongings inside, beckoning Talia over to get her stuff out from the backseat. He hadn’t admitted it to his father, but the drive had actually been extremely tiring, exacerbated by the reasons for their journey. Stiles had tried to seem positive from the moment he picked up Talia from school and pushed his feelings as far away as possible—just to get them safely inside his childhood house. In the car he’d reinforced his daughter’s interest in detective work and mysteries in an attempt to focus her thoughts on something that he knew made her excited. He promised to take her and her grandfather down to the sheriff’s old workplace soon, to show her a real police station and meet some of his dad’s old colleagues.

 

He carried their things up to his old room and came downstairs again just as his father reached the front door. Stiles closed the door behind him, helped him take off his jacket, and lastly hung up his own jacket on the peg that was his own a long time ago. His dad’s old sheriff’s jacket and belt still hung on the dedicated peg by the door, not a speck of dust in sight on it.

 

Stiles walked behind him into the kitchen, observing his father’s body movements as he slowly limped towards a chair and sat down stiffly, moving his right foot forward by grasping his slacks with his left hand. When he’d placed his cane safely in the corner between the table and the wall, his father lifted his right arm up on the table with his left hand. The sheriff then set his eyes on his son.

 

“Uhm,” he grunted, gaze steady on Stiles’.

 

Stiles opened his mouth to start on a short version of the day’s events, something that would have to be enough for now, when Talia came running back down the stairs, interrupting.

 

“Dad, I’m hungry!” she exclaimed, like she’d expected food to be ready at the table already. She dragged a chair noisily over to her grandfather, looking down at the notebook lying open in front of him. “Do you want me to draw you something while dad makes us dinner?” she asked cheerfully. “I’m good with animals.”

 

“Talia! If you help me out it’d all be done quicker,” Stiles started, but stopped himself at the sight of his two living relatives hunched over the same paper, his daughter already deeply concentrating on a drawing. He sighed, opening the fridge to take stock of his options, even though he didn’t expect to find much in there. Seeing the groceries, they didn’t make any sense to him and all the colors floated together, one big, brown mess. It felt like he’d used up all his energy supply to get them home to Beacon Hills safely, and as if his legs suddenly felt like they couldn’t carry him a foot further.

 

A squeeze to his shoulder made him turn to see Melissa standing beside him. Surprised, he whispered, “Hey,” into her gray hair, her arms around him instantly, holding him tight, the smell of lavender in his nose.

 

“You’re here earlier than I expected.” Melissa patted his back. “Welcome home.” She let him go to catch Talia rushing to her with open arms. “Hey, girl! Look how much you’ve grown since the last time we saw you! Nate’s always been tall, but now you must be about the same height as him.”

 

“Melissa,” Talia squealed.

 

The woman bent down, looking properly into the girl’s face. “I bet you’ve learned a lot at school.” She poked the girl’s freckled nose. “Became smart like your dad.”

 

Talia rolled her eyes, glancing up at her father from the corner of her eye, but didn’t comment. They both knew what she’d say if she’d answered the woman.

 

Melissa straightened up slowly, one hand supporting her lower back, and gestured to the counter where a casserole had magically turned up at the most perfect time. Stiles lifted the lid, and as sweet aromas filled his nose, his mouth began to water; He couldn’t remember eating anything all day.

 

“I’m forever grateful to your parents for making you, Melissa.” Stiles placed the dinner on the stove, lighting the gas.

 

Melissa laughed, grabbing Talia’s hand to make her follow her upstairs. “Come, sweetie. I thought you’d like to have your own room if you’re staying here for some time, so I cleaned up the old guest room for you.”

 

Stiles turned to his father, eyebrows raised. “New room?”

 

The sheriff shrugged his left shoulder and gestured to the chair beside him with his gaze, his mouth turned slack to the right, silent.

 

Stiles sat down, and his father put the weight of his elbow on his notepad, carefully pulling off the bear drawing Talia had made, and grabbed the pen, starting to write.

 

It’d taken some time before his father would be done writing down what he wanted to say, and Stiles’ tired mind wandered before he knew it, thoughts chaotic, neck muscles tense. His boss’ face popped up immediately, as anticipated. Her fingers toying slowly with her spectacles while she gave him his death sentence; he was expected to take a long, unpaid vacation until his investigation was completed. He didn’t remember much of the rest of the day until he sat with Talia in the backseat and they were on their way to his old home town. At some point he must have called Melissa to let them know they were to be expected.

 

“Uhm,” his father grunted beside him, snapping Stiles back to the present, surprised to find himself located in his childhood kitchen.

 

Bewildered, he looked down at the notebook, the paper half-filled with scribblings, barely readable to most. Stiles read it without difficulty though, used to other doctors' bad handwriting after years of working in the healthcare system.

 

What’s happened? You look like hell. Remember, Talia needs a steady and predictable life. School.

 

“Shit, Dad. Do you think I’d ever forget that?” Stiles jumped up when he’d read the last line, his chair toppling over in his haste to get away from the paper. He punched the kitchen counter with his clenched fists, feeling the impact shoot up to his elbows. Breathing in deeply, he spun around.

 

“Look, I do a good enough job at tormenting myself right now. I can’t think straight and have honestly no idea what to do. I need you to give me some space to come to terms with the situation myself first, before I can think rationally.”

 

Stiles's father looked at him determinedly, dipping his head to the notepad.

 

“Yes, I saw the last bit. I’ll deal with it first thing in the morning.”

 

Stiles sighed, found a spatula in the top drawer, and stirred the casserole. He turned down the heat when hot steam hit his face, and fetched plates and utensils from the cupboard. When he’d filled Talia’s plate, he sat it down at the table, filled her glass with water and went out in the hall, calling for the girls to come down to eat. He heard their laughter from the guest room.

 

He started on his father’s plate; it needed more preparation than his daughter’s, but Melissa took it from him when she came back downstairs.

 

“You sit, I’ll fix your father’s meal,” she ordered.

 

Stiles was grateful for her presence and ability to read situations, and he told her so. She ruffled his hair when she walked past him, serving his father his mashed food, a spoon by his side and a napkin in his lap. She found one of his dad’s plastic cups, filled it with juice and added thickener for him to be able to swallow the fluid without being choked, and pushed a lid on.

 

Talia happily munched on her dinner, and soon her plate was empty. Stiles rose to give her a second helping, and after he sat back down, he addressed them all while he pushed his own food around his plate, unable to eat anything despite the delicious smell and the empty feeling in his stomach.

 

“Talia and I hope to stay here for as long as my vacation lasts, if that’s all right, Dad?”

 

His father grunted his agreement.

 

Stiles looked to his daughter.

 

“Talia, tomorrow I’ll go to the school to talk to the principal about enrolling you.”

 

“Is it the same school you and Mom went to?” She talked with her mouth full of food, but Stiles got the message.

 

He smiled softly at her. “Yeah.”

 

Melissa placed her hand over Talia’s. “You’ll be in Nate’s grade, so you’ll already have a friend there!” Hearing Melissa’s cheerful voice, Stiles smiled at her. He could count on her for support. She always knew what to say and what to do to help out.

 

“That’s fine,” Talia said after drinking her water. “I’m not worried about that.”

 

Melissa glanced at Stiles out of the corner of her eye. “What are you worried about, sweetie?” she asked.

 

Talia looked up at Melissa. “Well,” she dragged out, and Stiles wondered what would come next. “I’d like to stay with Grandpa, but I’m not sure if Dad wants to.”

 

Oh.

 

His daughter was sometimes too smart for her own good. He should have seen that one coming. He’d clearly not done a good enough job earlier explaining to her why they were going to Beacon Hills, with the haste he’d been in, and overwhelmed by his own feelings.

 

He grabbed Talia's hand, to get her attention, making sure she looked him in the eyes and saw his sincerity. “I like staying with Grandpa too, baby. Very much.” He glanced up at his father, making sure his dad also knew he meant it, then looked back at his daughter. “What I don’t like is the reason for our coming here.”

 

She gave him her typical precocious nod before turning her attention back at her food, clearly done with dealing with him at the moment. Stiles rose, rinsed his dish, and placed it in the washer.

 

“I’m going to bed soon. You want me to tuck you in for the night, Talia?” He reached his hand out to her.

 

She shook her head, her long hair falling in her food. Melissa stroked it behind Talia's ear lovingly, before looking up at Stiles. “I’ll do it tonight if you want, Talia? We can read the book I showed you.”

 

Talia smiled at her. “I’d like that.”

 

Stiles felt desperate for some time alone and he sighed gratefully for the opportunity. He kissed his daughter’s hair. “Good night then, and thank you for everything, Melissa.”

 

“Good night,” Melissa returned softly.

 

His father grunted his answer.

 

Up in the bathroom, Stiles brushed his teeth quickly and hunched over the sink to scrub his face. He refused to look in the mirror—he knew exactly what he’d see there tonight. In his profession he’d eventually learned how to hide his true feelings from showing on his face, but now, so close to a meltdown, he didn’t need to see his face to know he was unable to hide it. Didn’t want to see the feelings he knew his face would be showing, clearly.

 

He closed the door to his old room, sagging against it, but before he let the tears come, he crawled over to the bed, burying his face in his pillow, cocooning himself in his blanket. It was the only comfort he could find at the moment.

 

 

*

 

The next morning when Stiles woke up, he felt groggy like he would with a hangover. The sun shone straight on his face, mocking him with its clear, bright light. He groaned, rolling over to his back to hide from it, and when he opened his eyes, it took him a few seconds to remember he’d slept in his childhood bed.

 

The house was all quiet, but from outside his open window, the sound of birds chirping in the tree struck his eardrums like nails on a blackboard. He couldn’t even remember opening the window last night. God! Yesterday had been one of the worst days of his life, definitely in the top five. His memories of it was clouded, making his stomach contract at the mere thought of it.

 

He stretched his back, heard joints crack, muscles stiff and sore. He wanted to lie there in bed all day, all week, the rest of his life, but his bladder objected, and he reluctantly sat up, the elevation making his head spin and shoulders tense further.

 

Minutes later Stiles dragged himself downstairs, hoping he’d find something light to eat to help get rid of the tightness in his upper stomach and queasiness. Passing the door to the living room, his feet faltered and he bent back to see Melissa lying on the sofa. As he stood there, she opened her brown eyes and stared at him, and he gave her a curt wave before moving to the kitchen. He filled the kettle with water, placed a tea bag in his cup and found a soft slice of bread. Rummaging at the back of the corner cabinet, he found their old toaster and he sighed in relief when it still worked.

 

He sat down with his tea just as Melissa came in, tying a bathrobe around her waist, her hair charmingly flat on one side, and soon joined him with a cup of her own. It said Grandpa in swirly Talia-letters.

 

She smiled softly at Stiles, the wrinkles around her eyes making her beautiful. She gestured to the piece of toast Stiles bit into. Swallowing, it slid down his throat with less resistance than he’d anticipated, but he took a sip of his tea to make sure it went all the way down effortlessly.

 

“I had no idea your dad has a toaster.”

 

Stiles shrugged, hating that after all the progress his father had made over the years, Stiles still felt bitterness over the fact that there wasn’t a need for a toaster anymore. Everything to drink and eat in this house had to be soft and thick. Stiles resented himself for feeling like this. His father deserved a son able to focus on the good things in his dad’s life, not the things he’d lost.

 

He cleared his voice, plucking at the burned corner of his toast. “You know as a shrink it’s mandatory for me to go to therapy, right?”

 

Melissa nodded, looking down into her cup, waiting.

 

“I’ve had a lot of use for therapy actually.”

 

“I can imagine so,” she agreed softly.

 

“Yeah, I guess you can. At least I’ve got it for free, right?” Stiles forced a curt laugh out of his throat. It sounded like a frog croak.

 

“But has it helped?” Melissa always knew to ask the right questions.

 

Stiles ate his last piece of bread, getting it all down even if it tasted of nothing. He didn’t have an answer. How would his life have been without his weekly soul searching sessions? There was no way of knowing.

 

“Probably,” he admitted at last. “It’s helped me pinpoint my issues and choose which paths to take to come to terms with them.”

 

He turned to look at her face. She looked chirpy for being up at five in the morning. “That’s what it’s about. Awareness. Life throws you challenges, your job is to uncover them and find the right way to attack.”

 

Melissa grabbed his hand, urging. “And that takes time. There’s no rule for how long it’s going to take. The pace is always individual. And some things are impossible to get over, it’s the way you view them that changes.”

 

He knew all this, but being reminded felt good. Stiles lay his free hand on top of their connected ones, sighing. Bracing himself. “I called you yesterday, didn’t I?”

 

“Yes, you did. You weren’t completely coherent, but I got the impression that something bad happened at your work, and you two were coming to stay for a while.”

 

She didn’t supplement, but gave him time to find the right words. That took some time, since it was still chaos up in Stiles’ mind, fear cluttering it.

 

“That’s the basics, yeah. I don’t know how long we’ll stay, but it will definitely take months, might even be a full year.”

 

Melissa patted his hand, her skin was thinner and lighter than his.

 

“Your father will be very happy to hear this.”

 

Stiles whipped his head up to her face, anger flaring up in his chest and spewing out his mouth without control. “Happy to hear I screwed up? Happy I might have been responsible for another person’s murder?” He shot up, chair bouncing to the floor as he started pacing back and forth between the counter and the table, wringing his hands tightly.

 

“I have no idea what to think! What to do! How to feel! It’s all such a fucking, stupid mess and there’s no way out of it. I’ll lose my job, my doctor’s license, my colleagues, my references. . . any future with a job that pays well enough for me to handle my loans. We’ll lose our apartment, insurances, and the college fund I’ve set up for Talia will be thrown away. I’m so fucking alone and I hate life!” His legs collapsed under him, making him sink down on the floor, ending up curled in a fetal position, his wrist hurting from bracing himself from the impact of the fall.

 

Melissa sat down beside him, stroking his hair, carding her fingers through his strands. Stiles, a grown up man, a father, and psychiatrist used to helping others in desperate need, laid on the linoleum floor in his father’s kitchen, sobbing until there were no more tears left.

 

Eventually, his breath came in shallow hiccups, the sleeve of his hoodie was covered in snot and his head was pounding. Melissa still had her fingers on his scalp and in a way it calmed him down, knowing he had someone beside him, keeping him in the present.

 

“Sweetie, there’ll be two humans waking up soon in this house. They might not be as fragile as they might look, but I think you should go take a shower and get dressed fully. Use up all the hot water if you need to. But when you’re done in the bathroom, and you take the first step out of it, you’re going to start dealing. I’m here, your father is here and your perfect daughter. No situation is too hard for you to handle, one step at the time. I have faith in you.”

 

Stiles felt her hand slip away, heard her get up, and even if he didn’t believe in himself right now, there was someone who did, someone he trusted with his life. He could get up from this floor, even if it was for her only.

 

As he slowly sat up, shaky and head pounding, Melissa rummaged in the upper cupboard, taking out a locked box. She turned to Stiles, holding out one hand with two painkillers in it and the other with a glass of water. All right. He could reach out his arms, take the items from her and swallow the meds down. He could, because she knew he could do it.

 

If he mastered that simple action, he’d also be able to take the shower she ordered him to take; she had decided he needed one, and that meant he did. Up on his knees, he put his weight on the chair and rose to his feet. There was nothing more to it.

 

 

*

 

He did indeed use up all the hot water. Perhaps the water tank had started to give in, because he felt like no time had passed from when he’d started soaping himself up to the water started cooling. Drying his body still standing in the shower, he gripped the handle that’d been bolted to the wall after his father had come home from the hospital years ago, half of his body partially paralyzed.

 

Dressing himself, the throbbing in his head started to ease a little, and when was finished, he grabbed his bag and took out his laptop before remembering that the house didn’t have internet. He sighed, opening the drawers in the desk and found an old notebook with his chicken scratches in it and a pen with flowing ink. One of the things his experience told him worked for him when he felt overwhelmed was making lists. Getting everything down on paper, it became easier to acknowledge the problems and looking for paths to the solution, and identify the steps to get there.

 

At work, planning, making decisions, and recognizing the whole picture had always been one of his skills. He was famous for handling pressure at the hospital, being able to keep his head clear and having an answer or action at hand in time of crisis, and there were a lot of those. He was a master of delegating tasks and shouting orders—his colleagues had nicknamed him capt’n. Yet, in his private life, dealing with the issues concerning his own person, he found it to be opposite and harder the more serious it became.

 

Eventually he sat back and scanned the page in his hand. The pen was bitten to pieces already while he thought, considered numbering the points, making them steps to achieve . . . Achieve what? What was his ultimate goal? For him and Talia to be happy, was way too broad: happiness was in the moment. How about getting back his job?

 

Stiles looked out of the window. Would he be able to work in the same hospital, even if the best thing happened—that he got his job back? Would he have been classically conditioned to get sick to his stomach just by walking into the corridor there? Smelling the familiar scents used to make him happy before this event. Would it trigger the bad memory if he came there again?

 

He sighed, curling the sheet into a ball and throwing it to the paper basket. He missed. Story of his life.

 

He stood up, picked up the paper and smoothed out the wrinkles, and stuffed it into a random book on the shelf. He locked the door firmly behind him and went downstairs, stopping by the living room where his father and Talia sat on the couch watching SpongeBob.

 

“Hey, Dad,” Talia said cheerfully, her hand resting in her grandfather’s lap, their fingers entwined. Stiles sat down heavily in the armchair on the other side of the coffee table.

 

“So,” he started, considering how much to reveal in front of his daughter when the situation was so chaotic. He quickly decided to address them both at Talia’s level. “You know the patients I work with at the hospital are sick, right?”

 

Talia looked over at him, rolling her eyes. “That’s the whole point of being at in the hospital, Dad.”

 

“Yeah, it is,” Stiles agreed. His daughter's attention went back to the cartoon.

 

“I see a lot of patients every day, and even if I always try to do my best with each one, I screw up from time to time. Because I’m merely a human being.”

 

Talia obviously found his speech old news, her eyebrows rising to her hairline. Stiles wondered who she got that from. Not from him or her mother, at least.

 

He sighed. “Yeah, I know you frequently see me screwing up, Talia. Can you please be gentle with me while I try to tell you both something important?”

 

His daughter huffed. “Then say it already.”

 

He took a deep breath. “Yesterday my boss told me one of the patients I’d sent home the day before because I believed he was well enough for it, wasn’t after all. I made a mistake and discharged him when he should have stayed at the hospital longer.”

 

His father’s eyes sought out Stiles’, his right eyebrow frowning. He wanted more specifics. Stiles shot him a glare, pointedly jerking his head to his daughter who was still facing the TV.

 

“My boss told me she needed some time to think about what we should do about my mistake, how to fix it, and meanwhile I thought it would be a good thing for the three of us to spend some time together. It’s so rare that we have more than a few days with each other.”

 

His father grunted in agreement.

 

This was probably the best place to stop his explanation, and let Talia herself come to him when she had questions or opinions to express. She always did.

 

“All right.” He smacked his thighs, getting up. “I’ll head over to school now to talk to the principal about you transferring here for a while, Talia.” He looked to his father. “Melissa’s gone home?”

 

His father gave him his weak nod, mostly it was his eye blinking.

 

“She’ll be back later, right?” Stiles wasn’t ready to face reality without her yet.

 

His father blinked.

 

“Okay, I’ll go now. You let Talia call me if anything comes up, right?”

 

His father grunted.

 

Stiles put on his jacket, made sure he had his cell phone and keys with him before he went outside. For a few minutes, he sat in the car without turning the ignition, thinking. Making his list earlier, he’d realized a couple of things needed his immediate attention. He’d do as Melissa told him. It was time to get the ball rolling.

 

 

*

 

The trip to his old school turned out to be easy; Talia was welcome there the next day. Stiles' next stop would be harder.

 

He parked at the hospital parking lot. Trying to brace himself, he repeatedly whispered as he went inside the building that it wasn’t a big deal, he’d meet a friend, someone wanting his best. He had lost her phone number a long time ago, but hopefully she was at work today. These days, they spoke mostly on Facebook chat.

 

“Sir? Are you all right?”

 

The receptionist assessed him with a worried face.

 

“I’m sorry. Yes. I was looking for Dr. Martin, please?”

 

The woman turned to her computer, clicking on a few things. “I’ll page her for you.” She gestured to a group of chairs by the door, the table overflowing with magazines. “Please sit.”

 

Stiles sat down, fidgeting, ignoring the glossy model faces and articles with the latest news on celebrities’ drug problems. He was biting at his thumbnail when Lydia came to the reception area.

 

“Stiles? What are you doing here?”

 

He jumped up, walking over to return her hug. She smelled of flower shampoo, and her stomach was round between them.

 

“Congratulations!” Stiles tried to smile, gesturing to her belly.

 

“Thank you,” she gracefully accepted, steering him back the way she came from. “We’ll go to my office to have a chat.” She waved at the receptionist. “Thanks, Heather.”

 

Stiles sighed in relief.

 

In her office, Lydia pushed him into a chair and thrust a coffee mug in his hand with the hospital logo on it. He blew on the hot liquid, watching her over the cup.

 

“You look well,” he acknowledged. “Content?”

 

She sat down gracefully, crossing her legs. Her shoes were glossy red with a black underside. Wearing her trademark high heels at any cost.

 

Her lips were just as red as her shoes, Stiles noticed as she opened her mouth.

 

“What’s the matter?”

 

Ah. Straight to business.

 

It suited him fine.

 

“I’m in trouble.”

 

“Okay. More specific, please?”

 

“I’ve screwed up at work and I need your help.”

 

“All right,” she agreed immediately, opened a notebook and started writing. “Tell me all about it.”

 

Stiles’ cup was empty before he knew it. Coming back to reality, he dried his eyes.

 

“I see,” Lydia dragged, scribbled some more and underlined a few sentences effectively. Then she put her pen down and turned to her laptop. A few commands and one post-it note was pressed into Stiles’ hand. Two phone numbers.

 

Mr. Mahealani, cognitive therapist.

 

Mr. Whittemore, lawyer.

 

He glanced up to her, questioningly.

 

“Well?” Lydia drummed her fingers on her desk impatiently. “You obviously need someone to talk to, and a lawyer to defend you. An attorney at your side with your interests at heart.”

 

Stiles looked down at the curled note in his hand. “Okay. I had actually thought about contacting my union.”

 

Her smile dazzled him. “Excellent idea. Do that as well. Today!” She twirled her desk chair. “These contacts don’t exclude the other. They’re all equally necessary.” She hit her small fist to her desk. “You need to fight back!”

 

Stiles felt faint. This was the proof. He was in deep shit.

 

“Hey!” Lydia looked at him sharply. “You don’t actually think you’ve done anything wrong, do you?”

 

Her question made Stiles jerk back in shock.

 

“Stiles! What’s the matter with you!” She scolded, leaning over the desk as much as her pregnant belly allowed. “This. Is. Not. Your. Fault!”

 

She got up now, and went over to him, beckoning him to rise. She placed her manicured hands on his shoulders, looking him straight in the eye. “You listen to me, mister. You aren’t responsible for the man’s actions. The patient you believed was well enough to get discharged, having made no threats of any kind, either to kill himself or anyone else, is the one responsible. From what you’ve told me, you had no way of knowing what he was going to do, and it might not even have been a planned action on his part.”

 

“No, but he was clearly not well enough to go home,” Stiles sniffed.

 

“You followed the hospitals’ procedures on this case as you do on any other case of yours. We can’t be responsible for any action our patients do after they’re out of our hands. You couldn’t have prevented this.”

 

“But it was such a stressful day, Lydia,” Stiles whined. “The ward was at the brink of its absolute limit. I got phone call after phone call about new patients in the ER waiting for a free spot, and I had to send someone out.” He ripped his hair at the roots. “What if I overlooked a sign from him? What if he was trying to tell me about his intentions too subtly for me to tell?”

 

“For all we know, he could have done this at the spur of the moment. He hadn’t made any threats before. This is how it is, Stiles. We make tough decisions every day. We deal with life and death.”

 

“Usually not death on my ward.” He smiled grimly. “Well, if they don’t find a way to hang themselves on the door handle, swallow a fork they’ve managed to smuggle with them, or jump out of a window that’s supposedly impossible to open.”

 

“Semantics. You’re a doctor first and foremost—you’ve worked your way through the system—and you’re a psychiatrist second. We doctors need to know how to deal with the consequences of our decisions. We learn that from day one.” She pushed him down in his seat again. Gave him a glass of water.

 

“Now, drink this up and we’ll talk about something else. Then, the minute you sit down in your car, you call these two phone numbers, and the second you get home you call your union. Clear?”

 

Stiles dipped his head faintly as he sat the empty glass on her desk. She immediately snatched it up, dried the wet spot on the wood and placed the glass at the sink beside her instead.

 

“Will you stay here as long as you’re on suspension?”

 

He swallowed hard. Suspension. “Yeah.” His voice trembled. “It’ll be good for Talia, Dad and me to spend time together.”

 

She nodded thoughtfully, twirling a lock of her red hair between her fingers. “I suppose it’s a good thing for you to get a change of scenery as well.”

 

Stiles looked down at his shoes. He hoped he’d have enough energy to make the three phone calls later.

 

“Now!” her voice whipped, taking Stiles’ attention effectively. “I want you to help me.”

 

He gaped at her. How was he supposed to find the strength to help others when he didn’t know how to help himself?

 

“Don’t look at me like that!” she scolded, drumming her nails on her desk. “I know of a man who refuses to become a patient. And you are just the right person to make sure he isn’t forced to be.”

 

“What?”

 

“He refuses to talk to me. God knows why . . ." She sighed deeply as she scribbled on a new post-it note.

 

“Look, Lydia,” Stiles started, reading the address she gave him. He needed to work on his own demons and if he ever got back his trust in his abilities as a psychiatrist, it was up in the air if the license board would agree with him.

 

Lydia held up her hand, stopping him effectively. “He refuses to have any contact with the health system at all, and I’m not asking you to, you know, psychoanalyse him or work your . . .” she flapped her hand vaguely in the air, “magic. Check up on him, see if you pick up on any signals.”

 

Stiles sighed. “So how can you possibly know he’s not well?”

 

“His uncle is in a permanent vegetative state in my ward. A few months ago one of my nurses overheard him talk to his uncle. He hasn’t showed up here since.”

 

“And?”

 

Lydia placed her hands on her desk, staring him in the eyes. “He believes he’s a werewolf.”