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A Difficult Child

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Świętopełk “Stiles” Stilinski had always been a difficult child.

From a young age he had trouble sleeping, took hours to put to bed only to be bouncing off the walls again at four in the morning. He couldn’t sit still even for a moment, blurted out whatever came into his head, touched anything and everything. His impulsivity had made them such frequent visitors to the urgent care that Nurse McCall finally slipped Claudia her personal cellphone number for advice on the more minor injuries. Neither John nor Claudia were surprised when he was diagnosed with ADHD at four years old. While they finally had a name for the root of their child’s troubles, it didn’t really change anything. The Adderall helped a little, took some of the edge off, but at the end of the day he was still Stiles.

Still a handful.

Still difficult.

When John got a elected as the Sheriff of Beacon Hills, it came with a higher workload than it did an increased salary. Claudia was thrilled for him, proud to see his hard work and dedication pay off, but John knew it was also hard on her to be left alone at home with Stiles day after day. They had both lost their parents at early ages, each with a sibling on the other side of the country, and they were used to being one another’s sole support system. John loved his kid, he really did, but he knew how draining Stiles could be. He was in pre-school, but it only met twice a week and only for half a day, and sometimes when she called John, Claudia just sounded so tired.

So the first time he came home to find several large shopping bags spilling out onto the kitchen table, and Stiles sitting cross legged and enraptured with a new video game system, John just rubbed Claudia's shoulders and wrote it off as a bit of retail therapy. He’d pulled enough double shifts that one little shopping spree wouldn’t break them like it might have the year before. He also wasn’t too proud to admit that the peace and quiet which momentarily accompanied the new Game Cube system and Mario Party game were more than worth the price tag.

And if John had noticed how quickly the ice cream and their secret stash of cookies disappeared, he certainly didn’t say anything. Claudia had always been a closet emotional eater, and John had worked late almost every night for two weeks straight. He made sure to clear his next weekend, just to be sure she got a bit of a break.

Kindergarten was supposed to be a game changer for them. It was all day, not just afternoons, so Claudia was going to have some time to herself, maybe even get a part time job to help with the bills. She’d been excited at the prospect, submitted a few applications just to see what would snag a bite, but in the end things didn't quite go according to plan.

The calls started within the first week of classes.

Stiles cut himself with a pair of scissors during an art project, put a marble up his nose that required another trip to the Nurse McCall at the Urgent Care, and got a bit too rough during playtime. One call detailed how he’d kicked down another student’s block tower, despite repeated reminders not to, and in the process had destroyed some of the cardboard blocks. The teacher and aids were kind, always insisting that Stiles was a bright fun-loving boy, but a handful. A bit too difficult for a class so large where he wasn’t getting the attention he needed, and was he getting enough attention at home?

Despite the fact that the school continued all the way to sixth grade, Claudia began looking around for a different school for next year. A school with smaller class sizes and support staff for kids who needed a bit more monitoring. John and Claudia upped Stiles’ Adderall to the maximum allowable dose for a child his age, and it helped a bit. He could focus a little more, could hold back on some of his impulses provided he wasn’t too keyed up. John came home one day to find Stiles wriggling and hopping about, the controller in hand and his tongue peeking out from between his teeth in concentration as he followed along with the dance instructions on the TV. Stiles was sweating a little, and while he didn’t stop he proudly declared it was Dance Dance Revolution and he was the high score. Claudia was sitting contentedly on the couch with her feet propped up, whispered to him that Stiles was the ‘only’ score, and had been dancing for the past two hours. John leaned down to kiss her and ruffled Stiles’ hair before heading to the kitchen to make dinner.

He later found ten more games and a handful of DVDs in a shopping bag, resting beside the couch. He didn’t even have to look at the receipt to know it had cost hundreds of dollars. John didn’t want to make an issue of it, didn’t want to spoil her good mood, which was appearing with less regularity week to week, but the shopping had become more than a ‘once in a great while’ ordeal. Claudia had always been the responsible one when it came to money, it wasn’t like her to be so careless. More than anything though, John wanted her to be happy, so he didn’t say anything when a few DVDs and Games became a new cookware set, or five pairs of shoes, or a back massager that strapped to their stuffed armchair. But when John came home to a new couch and loveseat being delivered, he knew he had to say something. Claudia insisted it wasn’t a big deal, that it was only money and that she’d liked them. She didn’t at all seem moved by John’s gentle reminders that they needed to stay within their means, that his promotion hadn’t come with a big pay increase. She just kissed him and told him he worried too much.

He began to wonder if he wasn’t worrying enough when he came home one day to find Stiles in the front yard unsupervised, wearing nothing over his t-shirt despite the fact it was March and not quite warm enough yet. Stiles ran to him, his head covered in a shower cap and hands stuffed into rubber gloves that went up past his knobby elbows. “Daddy make mommy stop wiping the bathroom,” he pleaded, rubbing at a sleepy eye. John could smell the bleach on the gloves from where he was standing, so he pulled them away from Stiles’ face and off his skinny arms.

“What are you doing outside alone, kiddo?” he asked.

Stiles wrapped his arms around John’s legs, told him he was bored, and could he please have something to eat, because they still hadn’t eaten lunch. John carried Stiles up to his room and told him to change into his pajamas before finding Claudia in the bathroom. She was standing in the tub, squirting cleaner onto the surrounding tiles and rubbing them down with a cloth, grunting as she rubbed hard on the already glistening wall.

“The room was dirty,” was her only explanation.

When the school year came to a close, Stiles’ teachers were a little too understanding to hear that Stiles would be attending another school the next year. They insisted they would miss him, that ‘boys will be boys’ and Stiles was a lively little addition to their class, but as they were leaving Claudia leaned over to joke that she could hear the teacher’s aid locking the door behind them, and it was a little too close to the truth for John. He loved his kid, but John just doesn’t know what else to do.

Stiles’ hyperactivity and impulsiveness had made it hard for him to make friends on his own, so when first grade started and he came home beaming that he had a best friend in the whole wide world, John and Claudia breathed a bit easier. They even lasted a whole week without a phone call, and when the teacher finally did call it was because Stiles had been sent to school without a lunch for the second time that week. The teacher was pleasant and friendly, assured him that she’d personally made sure Stiles got something to eat, but John could hear the undercurrent in her voice. It was the same tone he used when sent to investigate a home situation, just waiting for any indication that his suspicions of their negligence were valid.

John had promised Stiles’ teacher that he’d personally pack Stiles' lunch every night, that his mother was just having a hard time but they’d do better together. It appeased her for the time being, but when John confronted Claudia about the missed lunches, she didn’t seem at all upset in her lapse, insisted Stiles could just eat a big snack when he got home. John finally sat down beside her, took her hand in his and asked if something was wrong. She’d looked bewildered by the question, insisted she was fine, that she was doing well now that she had some time to herself.

He’d wanted to believe her, but the cleaning was becoming a daily thing, and while Claudia had no problem returning things if John asked, the shopping was still a bit out of control. She was still binge eating at night, and while she used to hide it she now did it openly in front of both him and Stiles. John came home one night to Claudia and Stiles in front of the TV, three empty packets of Oreos on the coffee table in front of them. Stiles’ sticky face was plastered with a wide grin, proud of how much they’d consumed until he was regurgitating them back into the toilet an hour later, John rubbing his back while he sobbed because it hurt his tummy.

John had thought that parent conferences for the first grade were a bit ridiculous, but as soon as they entered the school, Stiles spotted someone down the hall and took off running. By the time John and Claudia caught up, he was wrapped around a boy with darkly tanned skin and a crooked jaw, both of them clutching each other about the neck and grinning like little imps. Or rather, Stiles was like a goblin, the other boy had a look about him that John could only describe as “puppyish”.

“This is Scott,” Stiles proudly pronounced. “My most bestest friend ever.”

It turned out that Scott was the son of none other than Nurse McCall from the Urgent Care, or Melissa, as she insisted they call her. Her husband’s name was Rafael, a handsome man even taller than John. Rafael, “Just call me Rafa”, shook John’s hand while Melissa and Claudia chatted. He told John that Scott talked about nothing else but Stiles, but that with the name and Scott’s shy nature, they had at first assumed the other boy was merely an imaginary friend. He apparently was also in law enforcement, but as a detective.

Melissa’s suggestion that the boys get together soon for a sleepover sounded like music to John and Claudia’s ears, and the boys jumped around with clasped hands, whimpering that they should have one that very night. They were let down with a gentle “maybe this weekend, boys” by both sets of parents, and after some moaning and groaning begrudgingly agreed to the terms. Two nights later after relentless pleading from Stiles, Claudia called Melissa out of sheer desperation, and John smirked when she playfully high fived him and announced that Melissa had suggested both boys stay at her place that weekend, as they were going to the community pool.

It was the first night John and Claudia had been alone in years, the first time they’d been intimate in months. Later, when they were alone in bed and bared before each other, John finally got a good look at her and began to see the wear written across her face and body. Her knuckles and fingers were chapped, cracked in a few places from the harsh cleaning products she used. The circles under her eyes looked lived in, dark and deep, and John wondered how he’d missed them before. She went from showering every day to every three or so, and her legs and armpits hadn’t been shaved in quite a while. Not that John couldn’t handle a little hair, but he recognized it was quite a drastic change from his Claudia of even a year ago. She’d always carried herself with a certain presentation, had taken pride in it. John told himself such changes were reasonable in the grand scheme of things though, nothing he’d ever begrudge her.

Scott stayed over the next night, the boys keeping each other occupied in Stiles’ room or playing video games in the living room. It was a different dynamic, not having Stiles rely on them for everything, and John found himself tense in anticipation of a crash or loud noise, some sign that Stiles had broken something or irritated Scott, but it never came. Scott was a good kid, respectful and a little bashful, things John wouldn’t mind rubbing off on Stiles.

Stiles was still Stiles of course, still a handful, still difficult at times; but it was more manageable now that he had a new best friend and channel for his boundless energy. It’s a momentary relief.

John finally realized something might really be wrong when he got a call from Melissa at almost four in the afternoon. She never called him at work, so he answered at once. She immediately began gushing in a cheerful steady stream, telling him not to worry, that Stiles was fine but Claudia never came to pick him up after school, that she tried calling the house but didn’t get an answer. John swallowed hard, his head in his hand as he forced back the immediate rush of the worst case scenario. Melissa took his continued silence as an indication to keep talking. She said it would be no trouble if Stiles came over for a bit, that she had to go to work later but Rafa could keep an eye on the boys until John could come get Stiles. John thanked her profusely, insisted that this wasn’t at all like Claudia, though the words felt like dust in his mouth.

He used the sirens all the way home, bounding out of the car and up the front steps at breakneck speed. He called Claudia’s name, coming to a dead stop when she came out of the bedroom. She stood before him in the same pajamas he recognized from the day before, her hair hanging in greasy strands about her face, but she otherwise looked fine. When he pulled her into a hug, he winced at her smell, a pungent mix of sweat and body odor. She took one look at him and started laughing, her hands pressed over her mouth when he gaped at her in disbelief. John bit down the first few words which came to his head, angry and accusatory. He pinched his brow, chest heaving with a deep calming breath before trying to speak again.

“You were supposed to pick up Stiles,” he said, and for a split second, it almost looked like she didn’t know what he was talking about; who he was talking about. “From school,” John continued, slowly. “Melissa called and said she and Scott waited for you, but you never showed.”

“Stiles?” she repeated, distant.

John sat with her on the bed, held her gently. She denied taking anything when he asked, didn’t smell like alcohol. John closed his eyes when he told her he really thought it was time she saw a doctor, not wanting to see her reaction. Claudia insisted she was just feeling a bit off lately, that she hadn’t been sleeping well, that it would pass soon. John didn’t know what to say, finally relenting on the condition that if it didn’t get better soon she’d make an appointment. He helped her bathe, rubbed her back and washed her hair. He didn’t go get Stiles until she was tucked in bed and sound asleep.

Melissa was gone at work, but Rafael was there. He met John at the door, Stiles balanced on one hip with his head on Rafa’s chest, dead to the world. John thanked him profusely, said Claudia hadn’t been sleeping well and had been napping. Rafa helped him buckle Stiles into his carseat, shaking his head when John apologised again. He insisted that Stiles was no problem, that Scott had been only too pleased to have his friend over, that Stiles was welcome any time. John had actually laughed at that, tired and raw. “Been a long time since someone told me my son wasn’t a problem,” he admitted.

Rafa shrugged. “He’s wild alright, but he’s a good kid.”

John worried Stiles would be angry with his mom for forgetting him, if he even understood that she’d forgotten or if Melissa had smoothed things over for them. Much to his relief, Stiles didn’t act any differently towards his mother, but he began to get more clingy with John. He noticed it after the third time in so many days he found Stiles hiding under his robe after he was done with his shower. John had a towel about his waist, his face lathered for a shave, when movement caught his peripheral vision. He then noticed the lump under his robe, a suspiciously Stiles sized lump, and stooped to lift an edge up to find a pair of sleepy brown eyes gazing up at him. When he asked Stiles what he was doing, the boy just shrugged, said he liked to listen to the shower, that he missed his dad. John felt guilty, but told Stiles not to sneak in on him anymore, that it wasn’t appropriate behavior.

All the same, he let Stiles sit on the counter, lathered the boy’s face just like his own and gave him a comb to use as a pretend razor. They shaved together, Stiles repeatedly splashing the comb too hard in the water and sending shaving cream and water droplets splattering everywhere. John couldn’t help but smirk at the mess and ruffle Stiles’ hair with a sigh.

The next morning he heard Stiles sneak in, leaned out of the shower just enough to pointedly tell him to go back to bed, his voice just stern enough for his son to actually listen. John locked the door the next morning, heard the knob jiggle when Stiles tried to open it, heard his boy try a few more times before giving up.

Claudia began to call him a lot more, not remembering when he was due home or what time Stiles’ dental appointment was. John began to keep better track of their calendar at home, kept a duplicate with himself, and called her preemptively to remind her to get Stiles from school. He considered calling Melissa to ask for her advice, they’d known her for some time and John supposed she was close to what he might call a friend, but every time he pulled up her contact information, he stopped short of actually making the call. The whole situation was too personal, too uncertain.

When he came home one night in January and turned off the patrol car’s engine, John could hear Stiles screaming inside the house. John bolted from the car, not even shutting it behind him in his haste. He opened the front door to find Stiles crumpled at the bottom of the stairs, clutching his arm to his chest. He was wailing, face red and streaked with tears, snot smeared beneath his nose as he sobbed. John gently gathered him into his arms, immediately noting the odd angle of his wrist. “What happened, baby?” he asked, cradling Stiles’ head against his chest. “Where’s your mom?”

As if on cue, Claudia called out from the living room. “He’s just doing it for attention, John. I warned him not to play on the steps but he didn’t listen, he’ll be fine.”

John snapped to his feet, whirling to face her with Stiles still in his arms. Stiles’ face was buried into his chest, his sobs muffled there though their previous intensity still rang in John’s ears. “What the hell are you doing?” he bellowed, horrified when he found her sitting no more than twenty feet away, flipping through a magazine with a calm disinterest that curdled his stomach.

“It was just a little tumble-” she started.

“His arm is broken!” John snapped, angrier than he’d ever been. He didn’t recognize the woman before him, shocked he could feel this much anger towards someone he saw as his best friend, his other half. How had things progressed to this level without him realizing?

He couldn’t speak for a moment, wasn’t willing to say the first words that itched to fill his mouth. “When I get back,” he ground out through clenched teeth, trying to maintain a relative calm in front of Stiles. “We are going to talk about this.”

Melissa was working that night, her brows arching with worry when she saw Stiles’ and John’s haggard appearance. She’d stayed professional though, voice gentle and pleasant as she assessed Stiles’ injury and gave him something for the pain. She got him laughing, but her words seemed filtered through cotton to John’s ears, almost unintelligible as he remembered the look on Claudia’s face. Or rather, the lack of one. She’d had tears in her eyes the first time Stiles’ had skinned a knee, insisted on holding him all night the first time he had a fever. That impassive woman on the couch seemed a stranger.

They left the hospital a few hours later, Stiles floppy and plaint from the medication, his tiny wrist in a cast. He lay perfectly still in his booster seat, and for the first time John hated it. He wanted to see him bouncing and twitchy, Stiles’ own little hyperactive brand of normal. Once they were home, John tucked him in, sat on his bed and rested a hand on his chest to feel the rise and fall of his breaths. He lost track of time, his back creaking and his whole body heavy by the time he finally stood to leave.

He found Claudia in bed, sleeping peacefully. John stood above her, shoulders slumped but fists clenched in impotent anger as he tried to think of what to do, what to say, how to feel. He pulled up a chair to sit beside the bed instead of on it, needing the space. She woke easily, rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she squinted at him in the darkened room. John reached over to turn on the beside light, wanting to be able to properly gage her reactions. When she asked him what was wrong he felt another spike of anger, but kept his voice low when he repeated the evening’s events to her. Stiles’ fall, her apathetic response, that Stiles had broken his wrist and had to sit there in pain while his mother wouldn’t help him. She looked at him like she had no recollection of what happened, like she hadn’t been present, but she finally got that familiar pain in her eyes, finally hitched her breath and asked if Stiles was ok.

John sat next to her on the bed and held her. “Something is wrong,” he finally admitted, both to Claudia and himself. He buried his nose in her dark hair, silky and blessedly familiar. “You aren’t yourself, Claud...and it’s just getting worse.” he said. “I think it’s time you saw someone...we could do it together, but ignoring it hasn’t worked.”

She shook her head, wrapping her arms about him. “I don’t want to, John,” she said, her voice small. “Give me a chance, I can fix this.”

His eyes burned with the promise of tears, his throat thick from holding them back. “He broke his arm” he said, slow but not unkind, desperate to make her understand. “He was screaming.”

She looked far away, like he had to have made the whole thing up, and if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed it either. “It could be depression, it could be something simple, but it’s not going away...what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working.”

She agreed to make an appointment with a therapist, and while John felt hopeful he still picked Stiles up from school the next day himself.

Claudia’s appointment was in a little under a week. They’d picked a time when John could go along with her, but Stiles would still be in school. In the meantime he kept Stiles close. He brought him to the station, let him play with dinosaurs under his desk or watch movies on his computer while he did his paperwork. Stiles was beyond excited to be at the station, to spend so much time with John. So even though he was a little too loud sometimes, liked to sneak off to make faces at the people in the drunk tanks, John couldn’t bring himself to get too angry. .

The next few days went surprisingly well. Claudia still cleaned more than necessary and consumed a week’s worth of snacks from the cupboard in only a couple of days, but she was sweeter with Stiles than she’d been in weeks, and John found himself laughing with her while they made dinner like the used to. He left Stiles with her one afternoon and when he got home they were baking cookies, happy as could be. John grabbed himself a beer, offered to brave the cold and grill some hamburgers while they used the oven. He snickered when Stiles snuck a finger into the bowl while Claudia’s back was turned, stuffing the pilfered dough into his mouth with an impish grin.

John was digging in the fridge when he heard the smack, whirling just fast enough to see Stiles’ head still whipped to the side, Claudia’s hand hovering in the air from after having smacked him clear across the face. Her face was impassive when she reminded him cooly “I told you not to steal the dough.”

John stood locked in place for a moment, eyes darting back from Claudia to Stiles, his son’s lip quivering and cheek aflame as he stared up at his mother with confusion and hurt heavy in his watery eyes. Then John was moving, picking up Stiles and settling him on one hip. His covered his boy’s ears before hissing out “what the hell is the matter with you?”

All she offered was that same detached look, completely unaffected. It chilled him, but a small whimper from Stiles brought him back to the moment. “We’re going to the hospital,” he said, tone final.

She laughed, actually laughed, and tried to wave him off. Told him he was being ridiculous, that they were about to put cookies in the oven. John ignored her, instead stalking out of the house to buckle Stiles into the squad car. He didn’t want their son to hear any more than he had to, even though he knew the little boy had to be terribly confused. Stiles was shaking, lip trembling as he tried to hold onto John’s jacket and keep his father close. John kissed his son’s reddened cheek, stroked his hair. “You stay here, kiddo,” he said, hoping his stubborn kid would actually listen. “Mommy isn’t feeling so good, so we’re gonna take her to the hospital, ok?”

At Stiles’ tearful nod, John forced himself to go back into the house. Claudia was putting the tray into the oven like nothing had happened. He wanted to shake her, scream at her, but he knew it would do nothing to de-escalate the situation. Kept the conversation direct and to the point, like when he was out on call. “We’re going, Claudia,” he said, turning off the over before she had a chance to object. “No more chances, no more waiting. There is something wrong with you-”

“There’s nothing wro-”

“You hit Stiles!” John bellowed, his voice cracking in anguish. He stared at her, breath ragged as he took a moment to compose himself again. “I’m a cop, Claud, I can’t turn a blind eye to that. Now I don’t know if this is drugs or depression or what, but we’re getting some answers tonight.”

He was ready to drag her if he had to, but she finally relented. Halfway to the E.R., she looked around the car like she didn’t know where she was. When she asked where they were going he told her, reminded her what she’d done. Her brows furrowed, disbelief twisting her mouth until she looked back at Stiles and saw him flinch.

Claudia was quiet at the hospital while they waited to be seen, she gave a urine sample and allowed them to take her blood without complaint. John was braced to hear that she had something in her system, had been taking something without him realizing it.

He wasn’t prepared to hear the words neuroimaging, neuropsychological assessment, early onset dementia.

They told him the initial tests would take hours. Stiles was a sleepy dead weight in John’s arm as he took out his phone, his hand shaking as he scrolled through his contacts. Melissa answered on the third ring, the uncertainty of her greeting likely due to the late hour.

The words caught in John’s throat, the pain still too fresh to share. He could hear Melissa on the other end, her tone increasing in worry with each continued passing second. “I’m sorry, Melissa,” he finally said, voice cracking. “But could Stiles stay with you tonight?”

After that, nothing seemed real.

John felt detached as he helped her into a hospital gown, when they wheeled her off for x-rays and a whole barrage of other tests. MRI, PET, SPECT; he’d listened carefully when the nurse explained the purpose of each, but now couldn’t remember a single word. All he knew was his wife, his best friend, his whole world, was sick and not likely to recover. Alone in the waiting room, he allowed himself to weep for the goodbye he’d never get to truly give her, that she’d already slipped so much through his fingers before he’d ever gotten the chance to savor the best parts of her one last time. For the fact that as changed as she was, she was as much herself in that moment than she would ever be again.

Over the next forty eight hours, Melissa texted periodically with updates on Stiles and to inquire after Claudia. She insisted that Stiles was doing well, that Scott was putting his all into distracting him. Scott had started teaching Stiles how to play lacrosse, and Rafa was already planning to take them swimming the next day, so John didn’t have to worry about picking him up if he wasn’t ready. John listed the tests the doctors had performed, asked her not to say anything to Stiles just yet. He knew he couldn’t leave Stiles there forever, but in the moment was just grateful there was somewhere safe he could be. Somewhere normal, even just for a little while, before the poor kid’s life was completely upheaved.

Claudia was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia. Her brain was slowly shrinking, had been for some time if the scans were any indication. It explained her confusion, memory loss, eating and shopping binges, her apathy, lack of coordination, all which would only increase as the condition progressed. The doctor maintained a level of detachment as he described the stages the dementia would take as it progressed, talking about her complete loss of muscle control and motor function like she was an engine, not a person.

John just sat with his head in his hands, listening but not hearing, his mouth full of cotton and chest about to burst. He realized after a moment the doctor was repeating his name, had a steady hand on his shoulder. The doctor told John he ‘understood it was a lot to take in,’ that it was normal to ‘need time to process’ in that same aloof tone that made John tremble with the repressed rage.

John took her home after the final appointment, both of them too devastated to talk. John kept a hand on her during the drive, and while at first she only allowed it, Claudia eventually entwined her fingers with his and offered a gentle squeeze in return. Stiles was back at Melissa and Rafa’s again, the third time that week, and while John knew he should pick Stiles up and bring him home, he just needed some time alone with Claudia. John didn’t even feel guilty when he called Melissa and asked if she could keep Stiles another night.

Claudia had her good and bad days after that, but by the time Stiles was entering second grade, the good were getting fewer and farther between. She grew more forgetful, more restrictive in her speech; her descriptive words generalized and vague. The bedroom and bathroom were rooms, cereal, pot roast, and curly fries were all just food, and sometimes when she spoke, a seemingly clear and well enunciated sentence was merely a jumble of words. John was as patient with her as possible, clung to his memories and the little shards of her that still remained, but each further regression seared him like a burn.

Thought he was ashamed of it, this meant John had less patience for Stiles.

His kid had a good heart and wanted to help, but went about it in all the wrong ways. The seven year old drew a bath for Claudia which flooded the bathroom, made her pancakes and left a wreckage of mix and batter in his wake, used an entire bottle of expensive lotion to give her a ‘foot spa, daddy!’ which marred the bedclothes with wet greasy smears. After the discovery of each incident, John forced himself to leave the room, take a deep breath, and remind himself that Stiles didn’t mean to cause trouble. That he was just a kid trying to fix a situation he couldn’t even fully understand. Before, John would have given each infraction little more than a long suffering sigh, but piled atop everything else it became too overwhelming. He’d always had Claudia to balance Stiles with, and each time Stiles made him want to turn to her, it only served to drag the reminder of her decline back to the forefront.

More often than not, he took the easy way out and called Melissa.

Even though Claudia wasn’t to the point yet where she needed round the clock care, John didn’t feel comfortable leaving Stiles alone with her. Sometimes Stiles asked to be, and even after the cookie dough incident it was hard to deny their kid’s request to stay with his mom. A part of John was grateful that Stiles didn’t see her differently, didn’t seem to be registering the changes just yet. He showed Stiles how to use the phone, what exactly to dial and what words to say. He called every hour to make sure things were alright, tried not to get too distracted with worry in between. He kept all of Claudia’s pills in his cruiser, not willing to chance whether she or Stiles would try to get into them if left unattended.

Most days though, John kept Stiles with him at the station. It became such a frequent occurrence that Carla the dispatcher started bringing in crayons and coloring books her kids no longer used, a few battered picture books and some toy cars. The deputies either thinly tolerated his presence or treated him like the station mascot, and while no one had expressed irritation with the arrangement, John knew it wasn’t a permanent solution to their problem. At the end of the day, the station wasn’t a place for a kid. There were weapons, seized drugs, crime scene photos, all of which Stiles could get into with minimal effort.

He tried putting Stiles in daycare, but that little experiment failed quickly. He was too rowdy, too loud, too much work, and Stiles always hated going. The only place he’d go without complaint was Melissa’s, so John sent him there whenever he could. He took both boys as often as he could to return the favor, even though he knew it was paltry by comparison.

In November, Melissa finally got a new job at the hospital on the ICU level. It was also when Claudia started losing control of her bladder and bowels.

John awoke one morning to an acrid smell and a damp patch beside him on the mattress. Claudia was unfazed when he woke her, indifferent to the wet bedding beneath her. John managed to convince her to shower, helped her undress and balled her soiled nightgown with the sodden bedding, grimacing when he realized it had seeped into the mattress. After the third incident of its kind, John finally bought a plastic mattress cover and incontinence pads, unable to meet the eyes of the clerk at the checkout. .

They were at the dinner table together when she first lost control of her bowels. They were eating a boxed lasagna when John smelled it, nose curling before it sank in where the odor was coming from. Claudia looked down at her lap, seemed confused for a moment before going right back to her meal. John stared at her in disbelief, eyes burning with heat from repressed emotion that scrambled to burst through his careful veil of control. The bedwetting had somehow been understandable, easy to write off as the result of her sleeping too hard because of her medication. This was different.

Stiles’ face fell, eyes huge as he looked at his mom. They’d ingrained potty training in him at an early age, repeated the rules over and over of where he could go, that big boys didn’t wet themselves, didn’t have accidents. John knew the poor kid deserved some sort of explanation or reassurance, but at that moment tending to Claudia was his first priority. He sent Stiles to his room, having to repeat the order several times before the little boy complied. In his distraction and in true Stiles form, the kid managed to knock over his glass of milk when he pushed away from the table. It splashed all across the table, dripping onto both John’s lap and the floor. John just sighed and dropped his head into his hands until he heard Stiles’ apologies stop and his feet fumble up the stairs and towards his bedroom.

John managed to get Claudia into the shower, carefully balling her sleep pants so nothing would spill out on the way to the laundry room. He used the detachable shower head to clean away the remaining mess from her skin and send it down the drain. He had to hold her upright with one arm now when she took a shower, and eased her back to sit on the shower chair he’d recently purchased so he could finish washing her.

“What happened, Claudie?” he asked gently, voice threadbare in its desperation for some sort of explanation.

“Had go room with toilet....wanted eat.” She shrugged, her hands starting to flap in small jerks before her chest. She’d been doing that a bit more, either flapping her hands or jostling her knee, both apparently beyond her control and awareness.

Soon after, Claudia’s doctor advised John that it was time to bring in a full time nurse, and with Melissa’s help he’d hired one by the end of the week. Shondra was an a more than reliable caretaker for Claudia, but had little tolerance for nonsense, which Stiles happened to provide in droves. She indulged him at times, but made it clear to John that she was not a babysitter, and that at the end of the day, her responsibility was Claudia and only Claudia. John understood, it just meant he couldn’t leave his eight year at home anymore without getting him a babysitter, and John just didn’t have that kind of money lying around. He also wasn’t keen on the idea of yet another stranger in his house day in and day out.

Beacon Hills was a sleepy town, but there was still plenty of activity to keep John and his deputies busy. John and his deputy had just pulled onto the highway on a callout when Deputy Gainsworth let out frustrated groan and indicated the back seat, where John discovered none other than his son tucked down out of sight. Stiles, who was supposed to be staying with Carla the dispatcher while they were out of the station.

When John pulled over and demanded to know what the hell Stiles was doing, all his son did was bounce on the seat and beg John to flash the lights. Gainsworth was irritated, but John was just done. He knew yelling at Stiles wouldn’t accomplish anything, it never seemed to any other time.

He dialed Melissa’s home number, hoping she was awake and willing to let him drop Stiles off for the afternoon. It was Rafa who answered though, sympathetic when he told John that Melissa was out with Scott at the movies on a mother-son outing. At John’s glum acceptance, Rafa asked if he’d needed something, and when John explained Rafa insisted he drop Stiles off anyway. “I don’t have anything this afternoon,” he said. “And you sound like you need a break.”

Did he ever.

“Can’t I just stay with you?” Stiles begged, voice small. “I wanna stay with you, daddy.”

“Well you can’t,” John snapped, eyes on the road. He was sure he looked like a complete failure as a parent to Gainsworth, a Sheriff unable to control his own kid. Gainsworth had two kids young kids himself, sweet well-behaved kids who were probably the complete opposite of...well...Stiles.

Stiles sat with his head bowed, fingers scraping against the seatbelt John had made sure to secure around him. “Can you drop me off at the movies with Scott and Miss Melissa?” he asked, his voice small and hopeful.

John sighed. “No, son. They’re having some special time now, it wouldn’t be fair to intrude. Rafa’s free at home; maybe if you ask nicely he’ll play soccer with you.”

“I don’ wanna play soccer,” was the weak reply. “I wanna stay with you.”

John took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose when they came to stop at a red light. “We’re done talking, Stiles. And I expect you to listen to Mr. McCall, I want a good report from him when I pick you up tonight.”

Stiles was silent for the rest of the ride, but when John checked the mirror, he could see heavy tears track down his kid’s round cheeks. He felt guilty, but seeing as all he felt lately was a constant unyielding guilt, he was able to push it off with practiced ease. They didn’t currently have an alternative option, and whether Stiles recognized it in the moment or not, he would be better off at the McCalls where he could be properly looked after and cared for. It was probably a far healthier environment than John himself was currently providing.

When they got to the McCall house and John let Stiles out of the back seat, the kid wouldn’t even look at him, not even when Rafa had answered the door and invited Stiles inside. John glanced back to the squad car, ignoring Gainsworth when the deputy pointed to his watch with a scowl. He sank to his knees before his kid, Stiles’ shoulders so small beneath his hands. “I’m sorry, kiddo, but I have to work and it’s not safe for you to be with me. We’ll spend time together this weekend, I promise.”

Stiles nodded, but still wouldn’t meet his eyes.

A few weeks later, Claudia started forgetting who they were. John was doing the laundry when Stiles came tearing it, sobbing frantically. John had him up atop the dryer immediately, checked him all over for any signs of injury. Shondra had left for the day already, and while John had told Stiles countless times to let him know before he went to visit with his mom, Stiles rarely obeyed.

It took a few minutes, but he finally got out of Stiles what had upset him, that he’d visited his mother and she’d had no idea who he was. That she was scared of him and thought he would hurt her. “Why would she think that, daddy?” Stiles begged through ragged breaths, wet face buried against John’s chest. “I love her, why would she think that?”

John didn’t know what to tell him, didn’t know how to make this better, because the first time Claudia woke up and asked him who he was, it tore through his chest like a shot. He’d managed to hold himself together until he’d left for work, but had then pulled off the side of the road and sobbed alone in his cruiser.

He just held Stiles, told him he knew it was hard, that his mom loved him but was very sick, and was getting confused. Stiles then asked a barrage of questions, like why mommy couldn’t drive him to school anymore, why her hands shook, why she needed diapers, when she was going to be well again, and John realized that while he’d been meaning to explain all these things to Stiles, he never actually had.

They went to Stiles’ bedroom, sat on the Batman comforter they’d bought for him when he was four, and John forced himself to be as honest with his kid as he could. He told Stiles before that Claudia’s brain was sick, that it was shrinking, that she was never going to get better, that she was going to die. The words meant little to a child who had never quite experienced death before. They’d never had a pet, Stiles had never known his grandparents; death was still an abstract construct to him.

Though he may not have completely understood, the news still must have affected him, as after their little talk, Stiles’ began acting out. He colored on his walls with crayons then claimed that he hadn’t known it was wrong when John caught him. He’d call John at work crying in the school nurse’s office, saying his belly hurt and that he needed to be picked up from school instead of ride home on the bus with Scott, but when John took off work and collected him, he almost immediately dropped the act and begged to go pick up curly fries or go to the movies. He’d stay up until after midnight, coming into John’s room repeatedly and insist he’d had a nightmare even though John had just sent him back to bed not even five minutes ago. He’d hide John’s keys so he couldn’t leave the house, claiming innocence until John threatened to spank him.

John tried not to get too angry, knew his kid was hurting, but didn’t have the energy required to put up with him. He honestly didn’t know what he’d do without Melissa and Rafa taking Stiles nearly half the week, every week. He’d even gone so far as to add them as Stiles’ secondary emergency contacts at school.

In March, Shondra told John that Claudia has been having trouble chewing and swallowing. While a new development, it’s not a good sign. Claudia’s motor functions had already been deteriorating. She was already unable to walk or stand without assistance, her extra ticks and body spasms signs of her further losing muscular control. Shondra warned him that it wouldn’t be long before Claudia needed to be hospitalized for round the clock care, and John was surprised at the numbness he felt towards the news. He was glad that Stiles was with Melissa that night, unable to do little more than sit by Claudia and hold her hand, watch her sleep.

It was late when the McCall’s home number popped up on his phone, and John braced himself for Stiles’ tearful pleas to be sent home, grateful when he heard Melissa’s hushed voice. She immediately assured him that Stiles was fine and fast asleep in Scott’s room, that she knew he had a lot on his plate and she hated to add to it, the tone in her voice indicating she was about to do just that.

John sighed wearily but gave her the go ahead.

“Stiles has been having...accidents.”

John frowned. “As in...hurting himself?”

“No, no,” she amended, flustered. “Nothing like that...but he is wetting the bed, has been for a few months now.” When John didn’t speak, she continued in true Melissa McCall fashion at a hundred words a minute. She insisted that they all loved Stiles, that this didn’t change anything and he was still welcome as many days as he wanted to be there. It was normal under the circumstances, that kids regress in times of severe emotional distress. The mess didn’t bother her or Rafa, and they’d made sure that Scott never caught wind of it, but she thought it was a clear sign that Stiles needed some extra help, some extra attention, and had felt it was her duty to relay it to John.

Next thing he knew, John was sobbing. He’d gone to Stiles’ room to take the call and slumped down onto his son’s bed, his head in the hand not holding the phone. “It’s too much,” he was saying, and he didn’t know how long he’d been talking. “I can’t do this, Melissa....I can’t take any more...Claudia can’t even feed herself, I can’t…I can’t take this from Stiles too.”

Melissa told him to breathe, her voice clear but kind as she spoke. “You’re doing the best you can, John,” she insisted. “No one is ready to deal with something like this.”

“My baby’s hurting,” he let out, the words raw and vulnerable, his eyes clenched shut to push back further tears. “And I can’t fix it.”

“No one can,” she said. “But there are people who are trained to help kids through a trauma like this, and Stiles needs that..hell you could probably use it too with everything you’ve got on your plate right now. There’s no shame accepting help from them.”

Melissa made some calls and ended up giving John the number of a child psychologist who specialized in grief and trauma. John took Stiles to the first appointment with an open mind, but all the woman did was have Stiles draw a picture and play a board game. Considering the fee was $150 an hour John expected a bit more to say the least, and as Stiles didn’t seem too bothered about the prospect of never going back, John didn’t schedule a second appointment.

When they get home, Stiles settled in for some video games while John checked in with Shondra. Claudia hadn’t had a very good day, was agitated and confused for most of it, had resisted bathing and had been given a liquid diet as chewing had been too difficult. His head drooped forward dejectedly at the news, and Shondra gave John’s shoulder a sympathetic squeeze before leaving.

Claudia was asleep, as she often was these days, so John decided to get a few things done around the house. He threw a load of laundry in and then checked Stiles’ room, which turned out to be a complete yet expected disaster. John grabbed the toys off the floor, not wanting to step on them in the middle of the night if Stiles woke up with nightmares again. Stiles’ clean clothes were spilling out of his dresser where he’d carelessly tugged them out, apparently having found what he’d wanted at the bottom of the drawer. He refolded a few and replaced them, frowning at peculiar lumps from something resting at the bottom of the drawer.

There was candy beneath the shirts, a lot of candy. John rifled through at least thirty colorful lollipops and just as many individually wrapped sweets. John didn’t give Stiles candy, his kid was hyper enough on his own without adding a sugar rush to it, and they’d never allowed Stiles to keep food of any kind in his room. John wanted to know what they were from, but lately getting a straight answer out of Stiles had become a chore, and John was just too tired. He threw the candy away, figured that if Stiles had a problem with it, he’d bring it to John’s attention.

After feeding himself and Stiles, administering Claudia’s night time meds and putting her to bed, giving Stiles a bath and then cleaning the resulting devastation Stiles left in his wake, John was beyond exhausted. He forced himself to finish the paperwork he’d put off at the station, the task taking longer than it should due to the fact his eyes were practically crossing from fatigue. Before bed, he poured himself a small glass of whiskey. He didn’t know when it had become his nightly ritual, but it was one of the few things keeping him sane. Never more than one glass, just enough to loosen his muscles, release some of the tension. He hid the bottle back in the top cabinet and then ambled up the stairs to his bedroom.

Claudia was still sleeping, her medication strong enough to ensure she slept peacefully the whole night, unconscious muscle spasms aside. He kissed her forehead as he did every evening, imagined how she used to sound when she’d bite her lip and whisper good night in his ear. He lay down on his side of the bed and remembered the feel of her pressed against his side instead of clear across the mattress, a cold valley of space between them. Lately, he’d preferred to sleep on his side and face the door. It was easier to forget when he didn’t have to look at her, or at least easier to pretend.

He’d just settled into a comfortable position when his door creaked, announcing Stiles’ arrival into the darkened room. John sat up, shoulders hunched forward as he squinted into the shadows and asked Stiles what was wrong.

Stiles shuffled over to him, his stuffed fox clutched in his arms. “Daddy, can I talk to you?”

John sighed, fingers rubbing hard over his eyes. A quick glance at the clock told him it was after midnight, which meant he already had less than six hours to sleep before he had to get up and do it all over again. “Buddy, I’m really tired,” he said in lieu of an apology. “And it’s way too late for you to be up.”

Stiles worried his lower lip, his head bowed. “But I wanna talk to you now...please?”

John waved Stiles closer, rested a hand on his kid’s shoulder and looked him right in the eye. “It’s too late tonight, kiddo, but I promise we can talk in the morning, ok? I’ll get us McDonalds for breakfast and we’ll talk about whatever you want.”

Stiles tried one more time, but finally let John lead him back to his bedroom, his head slung low in defeat. John tucked him in and kissed his cheek, told him everything was going to be ok, that they’d talk in the morning. When the morning came though, Stiles didn’t bring it up again, and John didn’t ask.

By mid June, Claudia was hospitalized. John had foolishly hoped he’d be able to bring her home again, but the doctor was adamant that at this stage of Claudia’s dementia, that would be quite impossible without a private live in nurse. Seeing her in that hospital bed and knowing without a shadow of doubt that she would never leave it was harder than he ever could have possibly imagined. The sterile smell, the constant sound of the machines, and chatter from the hospital staff and visitors in the hall were incessant reminders of her swiftly advancing mortality. At home she was sick, there she was dying.

It curdled John’s stomach to see the love of his life waste away in a hospital bed. To a certain extent, he felt as though he’d already lost her, that the woman he loved wasn’t still inside the frail shell lying before him. He brought Stiles as many times as he could stomach it though, sat with him and let their little boy cling to every second he had with his mother. Stiles was different when they were visiting Claudia, quiet as a church mouse and content just to sit beside her and hold her hand for hours on end. John wouldn’t have believed this was his same hyperactive little boy, his same difficult child, if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes.

John didn’t have the heart to deny Stiles’ requests to be left behind when John was called away for work. Couldn’t bring himself to say no when Stiles looked at him with those big honey eyes brimming with tears, begging for five more minutes. Like if he just kept holding onto her, she wouldn’t be able to leave them. Melissa kept an eye on Stiles as best she could, and the other nurses all took pity on the little boy with the dying mom, snuck him juice and snacks and sat with him on their breaks to ensure he was looked after. Under any other circumstances, John never would have allowed it, but what else was he supposed to do?

John’s greatest fear was that Stiles would be there alone with Claudia when she died, so of course that was what happened.

John dissociated enough to get through the funeral arrangements, continue working, and take care of his son. Food didn’t taste, sympathy was empty, sleep didn’t come. John existed, that was all.

John wanted to be there for Stiles, to stop sending him to Melissa’s and take some time and responsibility to help his son, but then just after Stiles’ ninth birthday, the Hale house burned down.

Eight people died in the fire and Peter Hale was left burnt and comatose, leaving only sixteen year old Derek and his older sister Laura unscathed, both so young to be burdened by the weight of such a tragedy. John gave Laura his jacket, and draped a blanket over Derek’s shoulders while he took their statements. He stayed with them for a while, watched Laura stare at the still smouldering remains of her home and family, her face a guarded mask betrayed only by the tightness of her jaw and the water welling in her eyes. Derek’s gaze was distant; confused, afraid, and so full of loss that John had to look away from him. It was too familiar, too visceral. Instead he let his hand rest on Derek’s shoulder, watched as the crew doused the last of the flames.

John dove headfirst into the investigation, relishing the distraction. He completely immersed himself in the case, brought the files home with him only to go over each detail again and again, often until he finally dropped off to sleep while still hunched over the kitchen table. He kept tabs on Derek and Laura, and wasn’t too surprised when Laura confessed to him that she was leaving, taking Derek with her for a fresh start. John almost envied her.

He didn’t know when it started, but on the nights Stiles spent at home he began helping John make dinner. A paper plate of Eggo waffles and syrup were presented in front of him one evening, dropped atop his case file. Stiles sat across from him, sawing at his own waffles with the wrong side of a knife. Next was a bowl of macaroni and cheese with too much milk, but still more than John would have expected Stiles capable of. John was proud of him, but also consumed by a wave of impotency that his nine year old child felt compelled to take care of him.

Ashamed as it made him, John pushed Stiles away and sent him to stay with Melissa and Rafa for the weekend. That first night he took his bottle of whisky down from the cupboard and drained it, fell asleep at the kitchen table so he didn’t have to go back up and face the bed which she was no longer in. Sometimes he slept in Stiles’ bed, the twin mattress comfortingly unfamiliar. One night he drank two glasses of bourbon and dragged the mattress he’d shared with Claudia out to the curb. He stumbled twice on the stairs, banged his forearm hard against the banister, but he felt better having done it. Felt like he could finally breathe a little.

He bundled her clothes next, loaded them in black trash bags and donated them. He kept a few of her sweaters for Stiles, her robe that smelled the most like her, but he put them in Stiles’ closet. He bought a new bed and mattress, which Rafa helped him drag up the stairs when he came to drop Stiles off. Stiles stayed in his room while they built the bed, and John wondered if it was hard for Stiles to understand, if he felt John was pushing her memory away.

John began getting more calls from the school, the principal sympathetic but obviously nearing the end of his tether when it came to Stiles. The kid was acting out, being disruptive, not bringing in his assignments on time. The faculty were aware of his situation and were trying to be patient, but they couldn’t ignore the behaviors, especially since he was now pulling Scott into the mix as well. John told Stiles to knock it off, but it was Melissa who finally sat Stiles and Scott down for a proper lecture. She called John to tell him that Stiles had confessed to not taking his Adderall regularly, so John began to make sure he watched the kid swallow it every morning.

Stiles gets a bit better at school, but at home nothing had changed. John found a bundle of sheets shoved into Stiles’ closet, recoiling when he got closer and was granted a whiff of old urine for his troubles. Stiles claimed he’d been embarrassed, that he’d thought he’d get in trouble for the mess, so John showed him how to work the washer and dryer, He walked Stiles through how to load the clothes properly, how much soap was needed, and which settings to use. Melissa insisted the bedwetting was normal for a kid who’d been through such a trauma and urged John to get him back into therapy, but John didn’t see the point.

He relented when Stiles got his first panic attack at school. One moment he’d been in the middle of art class, drawing a sad little boy next to a tall man, and the next he couldn’t breathe. When John came to pick him up, the initial attack had passed, but he was still trembling, clothes and skin sticky with sweat. He’s begged to be held like a little kid, told John he’d thought he was going to die like his mom, that a part of him wished he had because he missed her so much.

Stiles snuck into his room that night, lay curled at the foot of his bed like a puppy until John woke up and noticed he was there. He looked scared when John roused him, afraid of being sent back alone to his own room, but he happily scurried forward when John patted the bed beside him. While they both slept better than they had in weeks that night, but John knew better than to make a habit of it, let Stiles or himself come to depend on it. John was developing enough bad habits as it was.

Stiles has another attack when Rafa arrived to pick up the boys from school, gasping and wheezing into the phone as he begged his dad to come get him. John really couldn’t spare the time, had too much work to do between the frustrating Hale case and an animal attack which no one seemed to be able to explain. He was about to say as much to Stiles, but then his kid was panting on the phone, breath dragging in and out, and he could hear Scott frantically ask what was wrong with his best friend. John could hear Rafa on the other end, telling Stiles to breathe, to close his eyes. His voice was soft, gentle in a way John could barely manage anymore. John almost resented him for it.

He took Stiles to the first available appointment he could get with a new child therapist. John sat in the waiting room during the hour long appointment, idly flipping through a six month outdated People Magazine with bored disinterest until Stiles reemerged. He crossed immediately to John, face completely shut down. The doctor recommended they schedule a follow up visit, but the second they walked out the door Stiles mumbled “I don’t wanna go back.” John didn’t see a point in pushing him.

Stiles continued to do things for attention, continued being elusive with the truth when asked a direct question, which was why John had no patience when Stiles suddenly developed an aversion to swallowing food. It was Eggplant Parmesan that Rafa had sent home with Stiles, ready made wrapped in foil and actually pretty damn good. John and Claudia had both loved to cook, John specializing in breakfast foods, but he was now too tired to prepare much beyond frozen meals or something he could just add water to. Stiles was getting more comfortable in the kitchen, but still had not moved beyond similar simple dishes, which meant it had been a long time since they’d enjoyed something genuinely home cooked from scratch. John had been perplexed when Stiles just stared at the meal on his plate and asked if he could warm up something else. John had refused him, told him he had a perfectly good dinner which he wouldn’t see go to waste, and to just eat it. Stiles took a few small bites, chewing endlessly but never actually swallowing.

John felt his patience wear thin the first time Stiles discreetly spit his mouthful into a napkin, but the third time he saw him repeat the action without having actually ingested a single bite he called him out on it. Stiles made a face when he went to swallow, gagging a little. He shook his head, nose screwed up as he spat the food into the napkin again. “I can’t,” he insisted weakly, not meeting John’s eyes. “Can I just make some poptarts?”

Stiles kept choking, said he couldn’t make himself swallow, and it made John see red. The memories of Claudia were still too fresh, how she lost control of her muscles and physically couldn’t work the food down. How she had choked and coughed nearly until she threw up when she half managed and it lodged in her throat. He’d always suspected that Stiles’ bedwetting issue stemmed from him copying his mother, hoping to garner the same attention she did, and it made his fist clench against the tabletop. He wouldn’t have it though, not for one minute.

“You eat your goddamn dinner and knock this crap the hell off,” he fumed, pointing at the plate before Stiles with an accusatory glare. “I will not allow you to belittle your mother’s illness just to get out of eating something you don’t like, not for one goddamn second, Stiles.”

Stiles’ eyes flew wide, his head shaking as he began to stumble over his denials. That he wasn’t lying, that he really couldn’t, he felt like he’d throw up when he tried, that he was sorry.

John didn’t want to hear sorry though, pained at the memories this dredged up, so he sent Stiles up to bed. Even after Stiles left the room though, John was stuck in a vivid memory of coaxing Claudia through a liquified meal, watching her eyes flash in panic every time she couldn’t get it down. He downed a fifth of Jack straight from the bottle before bothering to pour himself a glass on the rocks. When Stiles crept into his bed later, John was loose from drink and only half aware of his surroundings. Stiles tried to apologize, swore again he hadn’t meant to make John angry, but John just dragged him into a hug, too tired to do more than mumble that he loved him, that he was sorry he yelled. He let Stiles sleep beside him that night, and in the morning when Stiles tried to apologize again, John just ruffled his hair and told him it was fine.

The Hale case ran cold over the next year, though not for lack of effort on John’s part. None of their leads or suspects sat right with him, none of the motives made sense, but since the last surviving Hales were either in a nursing home or on the other side of the country, there wasn’t much in the way of an external demand for progress. Crime wasn’t rampant in Beacon Hills, but it still occurred, and new cases required attention.

When Stiles was eleven, John was grazed by a bullet on a raid. It wasn’t bad, the resulting paperwork more painful than the actual wound, but it sent Stiles into a panic. He became increasingly obsessive in checking in on John, called him repeatedly throughout the day to know where he was, if he was on call or not, what sort of case he was working on. John knew it was fueled by anxiety, that Stiles was terrified of losing his other parent too, so he tried his best to not get irritated by the hounding and appease Stiles without indulging him too much. It was a tough balancing act but never enough to actually placate Stiles, so when one of the portables from the station went missing, John didn’t doubt for a second that his son had taken it.

He found it behind Stiles’ bed, covered further in a few articles of clothing. A part of John wanted to just let him keep it so Stiles could check in whenever he wanted, save himself the relentless phone calls, but he also knew how fixated Stiles could be. If Stiles had unlimited access to the police scanner he’d do nothing but obsess over it, which John knew would only serve to exacerbate his anxieties instead of alleviate them in the long run.

John wished his kid could focus on his schoolwork the same way he could that portable, maybe then Stiles’ grades wouldn’t still be in the toilet. His teachers insisted he was still young and still learning to cope with his mother’s death, but John didn’t see any improvement, and it had been a year since Claudia died. Not that he was doing much better, between drinking nearly every night and working more than nearly everyone else at the station put together, but Stiles seem fixed on the idea that John was in constant danger, and it hindered his ability to function day to day.

Stiles’ constant attentions only made John more aware of his own failings. Stiles noticed everything; every drink John had, the tell-tale signs that John hadn’t slept the night before, every time John winced from a pain in his back after falling asleep at the kitchen table again. John was doing his best just to get through each day, and having to constantly come up with the reason behind every yawn and twinge was draining.

When John was called to Sacramento for a conference, he knew Stiles wouldn’t take the news well. He called Melissa while Stiles was at school to give her a heads up. They’d gotten past the point where John would ask if she and Rafa could watch Stiles, the kid’s presence in the McCall house so frequent that he had his own drawer in Scott’s dresser. Melissa winced sympathetically when John said he hadn’t told Stiles yet, and asked John to be gentle with him. John wanted to get offended at the implication, but was man enough to admit he probably deserved it.

He ended up making them steaks for dinner, kept the conversation light and easy as they ate, and then came clean to his hid. “It’s only a couple of days” he said, his hand covering Stiles’ smaller one atop the table. “Three at the most, I promise.”

Stiles’ lips were pressed into a thin line, his eyes wide and John could practically see the gears turning behind them. “Could I go with you?” Stiles asked cautiously, voice small.

John began to shake his head when Stiles jumped back in, swearing he wouldn’t be any trouble, that he’d be good, that John wouldn’t even notice he was there. John assured him it wasn’t about him being good or bad, it was just a police conference and there would be no one there to watch Stiles, that kids weren’t even allowed. Stiles’ cheeks began to pink, the color blotchy as it crawled up his throat as well, his eyes were beginning to redden and John knew they would soon be welling with tears.

“You love spending time with Scott,” John reminded him. “And Melissa promised to make breakfast burritos-”

“I don’t want a breakfast burrito,” Stiles cut in bitterly through clenched teeth, a fat tear slipping down his cheek. “I want to be with you.”

John’s chest clenched, his regret of his previous excitement at getting away for a few days instantaneous, but the conference was mandatory and he really couldn’t bring Stiles along with him. “I’ll take some time off when I get back,” he promised. “Just you and me, kiddo, ok?”

Stiles didn’t respond, just sat his hands in his lap and his head bowed, tears steadily rolling down his face as he stared down at his half eaten steak.

That night, Stiles had another panic attack. John pulled him into his arms and held him through it, rocked Stiles like a little kid and counted with him to help calm him down. John figured Stiles was just scared about them being truly separated for the first time since Claudia’s death, but felt compelled all the same to ask him if there was something else going on, something that was upsetting him. Was Jackson being mean, was Lydia Martin still ignoring him?

Stiles froze, shook his head too forcefully but wouldn’t speak, wouldn’t look up at him even when John urged him to with a finger to the underside of Stiles’ chin.

“Is it about your mom?” John finally asked, not wanting to talk about her but prepared to reopen the wound if Stiles needed it.

Stiles was silent for a moment before awkwardly nodding, though he still wouldn’t meet John’s eyes. “I just miss her,” he said in a small voice.

John hugged him close, Stiles’ head tucked beneath his chin. He sat in Stiles’ room for over an hour, back screaming from being hunched forward for so long, but Stiles was finally calm again. At least, as calm as Stiles ever really got. His hands were fisted in John’s shirt, fingers clenching idly now and then, his foot tapping against the bed. They talked a little bit about school, how Scott forgot his inhaler yet again and had a bad asthma attack during gym, so Melissa gave Stiles an extra one to keep with him. How Jackson had smashed the clay octopus Isaac had made for the class Under The Sea diorama and had to sit in the classroom during recess. How Lydia Martin already knew her multiplication tables to the hundreds, that she was the smartest girl Stiles had ever known EVER.

John smiled, felt a little less tired as he talked to his son, realized how long it had been since they just sat and talked about nothing and everything like this. He asked Stiles if he had plans to woo Lydia Martin, and after he explained what “woo” meant, laughed when Stiles gaped at him like he’d suggested Stiles try breathing underwater because “she’s Lydia Martin, dad!”

John stayed until it looked like Stiles was asleep, momentarily worried when he tried to stand that he’d caused permanent damage to his back from sitting in such an awkward position for too long. He wanted some Aleve or a stiff drink, but didn’t want to face the stairs again that night, too tired to think of doing more than going to bed. He was just walking out the door when Stiles’ small voice called after him. He turned, his hand resting on the door jam as he leaned back into the bedroom to find Stiles sitting up in bed, his hands in his lip. “Yeah?”

Stiles looked down at his hands again, fingers wiggling against each other. “Can I ask you a question about...um...sex?”

John’s eyes nearly bugged right out of his head at the word. Christ, one little talk about asking a girl out and his kid was already getting way ahead of himself. He groaned, eyes rolled up towards the ceiling. “How do you even...what the hell do you kids talk about on the playground these days?”

Stiles opened his mouth to speak again, but John silenced him with a wave.

“You’re twelve, Stiles, you’re way too young to even think about sex yet, ok? That’s for older boys….much older...”

“But-”

John shook his head again. “I don’t have enough sanity left in me to broach this conversation tonight, ok buddy? Just...ask me tomorrow, after I’ve had my coffee, ok? I promise to give you the big long extra embarrassing Sex Talk my dad gave me.” ‘But not til I was sixteen’ he mentally added.

The next morning he woke up late, and he and Stiles had to scramble to get ready to leave. He didn’t remember his promise of “The Talk” until after he’d dropped Stiles off at school, and that night Stiles asked if Scott could sleep over, so they didn’t have any time alone to talk. Stiles never brought the subject up again, though, so John was too only happy to drop it.

While John was at his conference, he called Stiles twice a day to check in, once in the morning and once at night. Stiles sounded off over the phone, the first night, and when John asked what was wrong, Stiles glumly whispered into the receiver that Melissa was going to be working both nights, that he’d barely see her. John knew what a comfort Melissa had been to Stiles in the past year, and that Stiles had become quite attached to her, so he sympathized with Stiles and reminded him she’d be there plenty of other nights.

After the conference, Stiles became more withdrawn, preferring to spend his time in his room instead of playing video games in the living room or sifting through comic books at the kitchen table while John caught up with bills or work. When John tried to talk to him, Stiles just shut down.

Work picked up and John began staying at the station later and later. Stiles started pestering him about being able to stay at home by himself, insisted that he was old enough to be on his own until John could get home. John didn’t like it, remembering incidents like the time Stiles forgot to take the fork out of his leftover chinese food and shorted out the microwave, almost starting a fire. But John knew he’d long since sailed past taking advantage of Melissa and Rafa’s hospitality and was steadily pulling into “burdensome” territory with his increasingly late pick ups. He was almost ready to consider letting Stiles try to stay home alone a few days a week when he got yet another call from the principal.

Apparently, there had been several complaints made about Stiles’ hygiene, or lack thereof. The principal wanted to bring to John’s attention that Stiles had apparently not been bathing, and that his body odor was becoming disruptive to his fellow students and teachers. They had apparently warned Stiles several times already, and had given him a note he was supposed to have delivered to John. A note wherein they explained that if the problem was not resolved or could not be resolved at home, the next time Stiles came to school dirty they would be forced to either send him home or have him take a shower in the locker room at school. Stiles also was failing three classes and had at least thirteen missing assignments between them all, which they would have told John if he’d shown up to parent teacher conferences the week before.

John was humiliated at the implications he’d been negligent as a parent, and foolish for believing for one second that his problem child was responsible enough to look after himself, when he apparently couldn’t even take a fucking shower without having his hand held. He was furious at Stiles for his behavior at school, for purposefully not telling him about conferences, likely to try and hide the fact he was failing. John assured the principal that from that day forth, Stiles would come to school clean and properly prepared for class, and gave them permission to have him shower there if he didn’t comply.

John left the station early that day, was waiting outside the school next to the patrol car when school let out for the day. Lately, Stiles had been taking the bus home with Scott after school, so he looked baffled when he came outside with Scott and saw John standing there, his arms crossed over his chest in stormy expectation. It was the fall, but still too warm out for the sloppy layers that Stiles wore. John frowned when he took in his son’s appearance, finally noticing the greasy hair and dirty fingernails, finally got a good whiff what his kid smelled like and felt his jaw clench until it clicked.

“Hey dad….can Scott come-”

“No,” John snapped, cutting him off, his eyes narrowed to angry slits. “Sorry Scott, but not today. Get in the car, Stiles.”

As soon as they got home, John let him have it. Told Stiles he knew all about his failing classes, how he’d been warned about showering and purposefully not done it. That if Stiles wanted to act like some goddamn baby who didn’t know how to wash himself, he could forget about being trusted to stay home alone while John was at work.

Stiles’ lip trembled as he listened, tried interjecting but John had no interest in whatever bullshit excuse his kid was going to try and dole out on him. He ordered Stiles up to take a shower and put on some clean clothes, mumbled under his breath about how he didn’t even want to know what Stiles had on him after going for so long without a shower, had no clue why Stiles would want to sit in his own filth like this.

John worried he’d gone too far when Stiles was still in the shower after nearly an hour. He stood outside the bathroom door and listened, ears perked for any sort of sniffle of sign of distress. Despite having discouraged the action many times before to a very impulsive Stiles, John turned the knob and stepped into the bathroom. It was cloudy and humid with steam, and John could hear Stiles bump against the shower wall with a stumble at his impromptu and privacy invading entrance.

“Hey son,” John said, looking away even though Stiles’ body was completely covered by the opaque shower curtain. “I’m sorry, I handled that all wrong downstairs...you do need to get your grades up, and you do need to take more personal responsibility, but I should have calmed down before I talked to you.”

Stiles turned the water off but stayed behind the curtain. “It’s ok, dad...I…I deserved it.”

John shook his head, his forearm reaching up to rest against the door jam. “No, kiddo, you didn’t. I lost my temper....just stretched a little thin lately. I’ll leave you to it so you can get dressed, and then we’ll sit down and work out a plan to get you caught up with school, ok?”

“-Ok,” came the tentative reply.

John gave Stiles his own deodorant to use, and inspected him for school the next day. Stiles was clean and in fresh clothes, but still wore several baggy layers that swamped his slim flame. When John asked about them, Stiles just shrugged, said they were comfortable.

Before the bus arrived to pick Stiles up, John told him he was willing to think about letting him stay home alone if he could go two weeks staying clean, getting his homework caught up, and being respectful at school. Stiles beamed at him, proud as could be as he wrapped his arms around John’s waist and swore he could do it, still babbling about how awesome he was going to be the next two weeks when the bus pulled up and he had to run out the door to catch it.

It actually went pretty well for a while after that. Stiles was still hammy and outspoken at school, but no longer throwing things at teachers or students, not too much of a distraction or problem. His homework was sloppy and misspelled, but it was handed in on time. He took up bathing as a full time occupation, sometimes showering twice in one day, burning through soap like crazy.

But he was still Stiles, and Rome wasn’t built in a day, so John begrudgingly found himself waiting for the other shoe to drop. He eyed his phone every time it rang for the by now familiar number of the principal’s office, but surprisingly enough it was Melissa who called him first.

As soon as he answered, she took off. “John I’m so sorry, I have no idea how I let this happen, it’s totally my fault-”

He sat up straight, told her to slow down in full Sheriff mode but with the tremulous undercurrent of nervous father.

“It’s Stiles,” she said, breath hitching with a little sob. John’s heart immediately sank, his entire body rigid as the words washed over him, her sniffles and tears chilling him to the marrow.

“I’d just got home from the store” Melissa continued. “And I asked him to go out to the car and help bring in the bags, and he just took off.”

“What do you mean,” John began, jaw almost aching from his attempt to keep his tone even and level, “he took off?” Stiles often did what he wanted on impulse, but while he’d run outside if something snagged his attention, he’d never fully run away.

“That he took off!” she repeated, as though her increased volume was explanation enough. “He went out to get a bag and never came back in. Rafael is out looking for him now with Scott but I have no idea where he’d even go...I don’t know what to do, I’m so sor-”

John mumbled something about calling if she found anything and immediately leapt to his feet, forcing himself to take a deep breath and not jump to conclusions, though the only conscious thought that kept roaring to the forefront was that he couldn’t lose his son too, he just couldn’t. Difficult as he was, John’s little problem child was all he had, all that kept him there.

Once he’d managed to calm himself in the cruiser, John radioed Gainsworth and Deputy Martel to be on the lookout for Stiles, giving his last known location and time of last sighting before tearing out of the lot, his lights flashing. He then called Rafa to see if he’d found anything but Scott answered, tearful when he discovered John hadn’t found Stiles yet either. John called Melissa back, told her to stay home in case Stiles returned, which she readily agreed to do.

John had no idea where Stiles could have possibly gone, so he drove to the preserve first. If Stiles had run away and wanted to be alone or not to be found, it seemed as logical a place as any. He drove slowly through the entrance, eyes scanning the treeline for any sign of his son, tried to think of what Stiles had been wearing that morning and felt a pang of guilt that he genuinely had no idea. John exited his cruiser, panning between the trees as he cupped his hands on either side of his mouth and called out Stiles’ name, but the woods were silent in reply. He shouted that he wasn’t angry, that he just wanted to know Stiles was safe, that he loved him and needed to know he was ok. He listened carefully for any sign that Stiles was hiding, but there was no way his hyperactive son could be there without somehow giving away his location.

It took John another half hour to fully convince himself that his son wasn’t actually in the preserve, but still felt the a sharp pang of panic when he slowly turned the cruiser around and headed back towards the main road. Gainsworth checked in to say he hadn’t found any sign of Stiles, but then Deputy Tandy radioed to say that a young caucasian male in a red hooded sweatshirt ID-ed as Stiles had been spotted walking in town along Aspen Street within the last half hour. John thanked her, heart racing as he turned down the street and headed back towards his own house. Aspen Street was close by, familiar to Stiles, so with any luck Stiles had been heading home when he was spotted, would be at the house when John got there.

John didn’t even bother to close the cruiser door, his vision practically tunneling onto the front door. He slipped running up the steps, his shoulder catching on the door jam but not slowing him even for a second. He shouted Stiles’ name, his stomach turning at the memory of Stiles huddled at the bottom of the stairs, clutching his arm. Stiles wasn’t by the stairs though, he was in the kitchen drinking orange juice straight out of the carton. He’d apparently showered and changed his clothes as he was wearing sleep pants and his hoodie was now blue, the hood pulled up over his head. He glanced over at John as soon as he burst into the house, the carton poised by his mouth.

“Hey dad,” Stiles offered offhandedly, casual as could be.

John stalked forward, gripping Stiles by the neck and dragging him into a fierce hug. Stiles babbled something John paid little attention to as he wriggled out of his dad’s strong hold. John just wanted him still, wanted to feel him there, alive safe and tangible. But Stiles never really did what John wanted, never had.

John’s eyes snapped to where the hood had slipped back to expose some of Stiles’ scalp amidst his struggles, and quickly jerked it all the way back to expose his son’s hair, or at least what was left of it. His kid’s thick and unruly hair had been shorn down to little more than peach fuzz. John could do little more than gape at him, so shocked by his son’s altered appearance. Stiles tried to duck out but John quickly gripped him by the back of his shirt and reeled him back in.

John squinted at his kid, hardly recognizing him in his changed state, confused and then enraged by the way Stiles’ eyes were shifting and evasive, like he couldn’t wait to get away despite having just practically given his father a heart attack.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” John finally ground out, anger escalating when Stiles offered little more than a blank stare.

“It’s just a haircut-”

“You ran away!” John bellowed, releasing Stiles’ shirt so he could clench his fists and ground himself. “What the hell were you thinking, Stiles? Running off like that without a word...Melissa was nearly hysterical, I had two deputies waste hours looking for you, not to mention that you scared me half to death. Christ Stiles I thought I’d lost-” He paused, swallowing down the lump rising in his throat before his voice could break, before he could break.

John fully expected Stiles to take advantage and jump in with his usual whirlwind of excuses, but his kid just stood there and gaped at him with that same blank expression. It reminded John so much of Claudia that he had to avert his gaze.

John braced his hands on his hips, stared down at his feet as he let out a deep long exhale through his nose. He asked Stiles why he’d run off, but Stiles wouldn’t say. John asked if he’d had a fight with Scott, if he was mad at Melissa, mad at him, but Stiles denied everything, couldn’t even be bothered to meet John’s eyes. After a little more prodding, Stiles finally said he’d just wanted to be at home, that he’d been staying with the McCalls too much and wanted to be in his own house. John asked why he hadn’t just said so to Melissa or Raphael, or even called him at the station, why he hadn’t called anyone when he got home, to which Stiles merely shrugged and mumbled that he hadn’t thought about it.

John rubbed at his tired eyes and studied his kid, trying to discern any sort of clues from his posture or expression. Stiles had always been impulsive, had even once cut his own hair because he was sick of how it tickled his face. That however had been a hack job, and considering the precision of the buzz cut, it had obviously been done professionally. When John asked who shaved it, Stiles offered up the name of the barber shop, one John himself often frequented. When asked why, Stiles shrugged disinterestedly and claimed he’d just felt like it.

“Where did you get the money?” John asked, squinting at him as he tried to quell his mounting frustration.

Stiles bit his lip, clamming up once more, but John’s patience had reached its limit.

“I took it,” Stiles finally admitted, meeting John’s gaze.

John was taken aback, disappointment heavy as he parroted the words back to his kid, just to be sure he’d heard them right. “Where did you take it from?” he asked. “From me? From Melissa?”

Stiles’ jaw clenched, the bones shifting beneath the skin. “From Mr. McCall’s wallet” he ground out.

John could practically feel the throb of the blood pounding in his ears. He knew he hadn’t been a perfect parent, that he’d been absent lately, but he wondered when Stiles had become so callous, grown such a disregard for the lessons of honesty and integrity John had tried so hard to instill. “And why would you do that?” he finally asked, voice rough through a mix of hurt and anger. “After everything they’ve done for you, why would you turn around and steal from them like that?”

Stiles held John’s gaze, jaw still clenched, his arms crossed over his chest and twitching from the rigidity of his posture. He sniffed, shrugging once more. “I dunno.”

John grabbed him without thinking, fingers gripping his skinny upper arms hard as he jostled the kid with a hard shake. “You have to stop this shit!” he snapped, the words tumbling out. “Is this about your mother? Because you miss her? I miss her too Stiles, but you’re going to kill me with this nonsense!”

Stiles’ face fell, his eyes rounding as he gazed up at John, shocked by the words and the anger, like he hadn’t considered how John could have been affected. His mouth fell open as he shook his head. “I’m not...I don’t want…”

John rested heavy hands on his thin shoulders, leaning down so they were eye to eye. “I’m hanging on by a thread right now, kid...I know you’re hurting, but I can’t take this crap any more. I’ll try and be home more, but things are going to change, you hear me? You’re going to behave at school, do your homework, and follow the rules, is that clear?” At Stiles’ shaky nod he continued. “You’re also going to pay Rafael back every cent you stole from him, got it?”

Stiles averted his gaze, the muscles in his jaw twitching once more, apparently not liking that idea. John would be damned though if he’d let his son get away with theft consequence free, even if he was acting out in grief. John saw it all the time with parents of delinquents he encountered; they let one thing slide and their kid took it as permission to engage in similar behavior again with a gift wrapped excuse at the ready. He wasn’t about to make the same mistake.

After his lecture, Stiles retreated to his room and John called the McCalls to let them know that Stiles was safe. Rafael answered, expressed both his and Melissa’s relief to hear that Stiles was alright. When John told him about the theft, Rafael just sighed, like he wasn’t all that surprised to hear it. “Stiles is just having a really hard time,” he offered, insisted that if Stiles had stolen money for a haircut, he must have really needed it. John appreciated the sentiment, but didn’t hang up until Rafael agreed to let Stiles mow his lawn for a month to repay him.

Though John knew better than to expect too much, Stiles did actually turn things around a little. He didn’t get into as much trouble at school, the homework he turned in actually received good grades, and Stiles began helping out more around the house. He also got clingy with John, wanted to be home more, which made John’s recently increased drinking harder and harder to hide. He’d thought he’d done a good job concealing it, but Stiles was observant and made his objections quite obvious.

Stiles began insisting that he and Scott stay at the Stilinski house on their sleepovers, told John that Melissa had been more tired lately, that Scott had been asking to stay at their house more. The boys weren’t little like they used to be, were better able to look after themselves, so it wasn’t much of a hardship to have them over. John suspected though that Stiles was more interested in keeping tabs on him than giving Melissa McCall a much deserved break.

Then one morning, Melissa stopped by his office while the boys were in school. She had just gotten off a night shift, her eyes tired and red-rimmed from what John quickly realized wasn’t just exhaustion. Her arms wrapped about herself defensively as she sat opposite him, her entire body wound taut as she asked what steps she could take to keep Raphael away from the house.

It took all John’s experience as Sheriff to hide his shock at the news she had kicked Rafael out of their house for good, that she had filed for divorce and was vying for sole custody. Guilt ridden by the extent to which he’d been broadsided by the news, John asked her why she’d done it. He’d never noticed anything awry with Rafael, and while John may not have been up to his usual standards of late, he’d always prided himself on being a good judge of character.

Melissa’s words tumbled out almost as though they’d become beyond her control, flowed in a half realized rush as she told him about suspicions she’d never received proper confirmation of and concrete issues they’d apparently struggled with for some time. John’s stomach curdled to hear Rafael had been drinking, that he’d been secretive and withdrawn from her, that she’d felt so alone and isolated. He remembered all the times he’d dropped Stiles at her house and gotten out as fast as he could, all the times he’d ignored how tired she looked so he could have the night to himself and drink without Stiles watching his every move. His guilt only intensified when Melissa told him she hadn’t wanted to burden him, a widower, with her marital problems as a segway into her suspicion that Rafa was having an affair. That while his absences had been increasing the last few months, he no longer bothered to offer any explanation. That when Rafa was home, he spent every waking moment either in his office or with the boys and pretended she wasn’t even there.

John looked down at his hands when she told him that Rafa had been more irritable with Scott, his fuse short and temper sharp, and vividly remembered Stiles telling him that Scott wanted to have more nights at their house. He dragged his chair to sit beside her, a hand on her knee which she immediately took and squeezed with a watery little smile.

He went through the usual barrage of questions, if Rafael had hit her or made her feel unsafe, if he’d threatened her or Scott in any way. She confessed that Rafael had slapped Scott while drunk when the usually docile kid mouthed off, that Rafael had been horrified by his own actions and would likely never do it again, but it had rattled her enough to finally tell him to pack his things and leave.

“I just don’t know what to expect him him anymore,” she admitted, wiping her eyes with the side of her index finger. “I don’t know what he’s capable of...and I’m not willing to find out.”

The divorce was quiet and relatively quick. Despite Melissa’s initial worries, Rafael hadn’t returned to the house since she’d kicked him out. Scott stuck close by her, and Stiles stuck by his best friend, so they spent almost every night Melissa wasn’t working at the McCall house. John knew she was grateful for the company, and he supposed Stiles relished having a mother figure dote on him for a while.

Things finally calmed down by the time the boys entered Junior High. They were 13, gangly and up to as much mischief as Scott’s asthma could manage, but it was all typical teenage boy stuff. John and Melissa both commiserated over the woes of dealing with teenage trouble like rocketing hormones and being eaten out of house and home, and coping with finding themselves having to navigate such choppy seas without the partner they’d anticipated having. John found himself venting to Melissa most nights instead of turning to the bottle, and as a result felt more himself than he had in years. He was able to think clearly, focus on his job, handle Stiles’ boundless energy and shrug off his impulses rather than be immediately sent over the edge.

John survived his kid’s first year of Junior High, teachers’ complaints Stiles’ rowdy behavior relegated to regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences instead of the previous weekly phone calls. Stiles’ grades were pretty good, his interest in history and abilities in math improving his shaky confidence.

Things continued in this way through eighth grade as well, only improving by the time Stiles and Scott entered real honest to god High School. Stiles was on a stronger dose of Adderall, and while the kid would probably never be able to actually sit still, he was able to get through class without causing too much trouble. Some mild twitches and jitters and the occasional sarcastic snark the worst of his classroom disruptions, and his focus was better than ever, especially on subjects of interest. John wished Claudia could have seen it, but the feeling was finally starting to bring back fond memories instead of just pain.

With the boys growing up and involved in sports and school activities, it was getting harder for John and Melissa to manage driving them everywhere. The second John suggested that Stiles could use his mom’s old battered Jeep when he got his license, Stiles latched onto the idea with glee. By the time he turned sixteen in the spring semester of the 10th grade, Stiles had already completed driver’s education and managed to pass both the written and driving portions of his test before the week was out. While it was convenient for John in that he no longer had to play Taxi, it opened a whole new door of trouble for his beloved little problem child to get into.

Normal kids might go out and drink by the quarry, John’s kid drove to the nature preserve in the middle of the night to hunt for a dead body. A dead body that turned out to be none other than Laura Hale, which was almost as much of a punch to the gut as arresting a freshly returned Derek Hale on suspicion of the crime. John had to drag Stiles out of the cruiser where his kid was apparently trying to annoy a confession out of Derek, who barely said two words the whole time he was in custody. The kid just glared at John after his release when John tried to offer his condolences and apologies.

Stiles continued his one teen crusade against John’s sanity by sneaking into crime scenes with the aid of yet another pilfered police scanner, and going on a health kick after John had a not-so-great routine physical. He showed up at the Station nearly every night with a something leafy and low-everything (including taste), ordered everyone at the station to monitor all of John’s eating habits and report any and all fast food slip ups, which they all traitorously agreed to do. Stiles stole a police van to play a prank of the Whittemore boy who, while a brat, wasn’t worth a goddamn felony theft conviction. It took a lot of posturing and ass kissing to get the Whittemore’s to drop the issue, not that Stiles even cared.

It seemed that every time any sort of crime scene was erected, Stiles was sure to be found in the general vicinity, and there was a disturbing rise of unexplained phenomena to both keep Stiles occupied and John on the lookout. Stiles joined the Lacrosse team with Scott the start of their Junior year, but it unfortunately did little to deter his crime scene stalking or curb his energy, as he was benched almost every game.

But then people were disappearing, were dying. The bodies were piling up and John couldn’t piece together any answers. None of the victims had any clear ties to one another, though Stiles had some hair brained idea they were all sacrifices of some sort. John felt impotent in his ability to make sense of it all, almost wished he still had the excuse of alcohol muddling his brain. He kept away from the bottle, but felt himself slipping into other old habits. His nights got later and later, he fell asleep at the kitchen table the evenings he brought his work home, and he left Stiles for Melissa and Scott to look after. He knew the feds were coming in to “assist”, take over more like, and he knew he was nearing his breaking point, so of course that was when his phone rang with a call from Beacon Hills High School.

John winced when he recognized the number, assuming that his son was getting back into his old tricks of disruption and disobedience, but regretted it immediately when the school nurse introduced himself and opened with the ever unhelpful greeting of “Don’t panic.”

Stiles had suffered a seizure during history, his last class of the day. John was already putting on his jacket and out the door as she told him that Stiles was doing alright, was sleeping in her office but his neck and legs were sore from the strain. John immediately took him to the hospital and had a full barrage of tests and screenings, not willing to take a single chance. Nausea wracked him as he watched his kid get laid down for an MRI, memories of Claudia flashing before him. They didn’t find anything though, nothing abnormal or indicative of illness or disease. The doctor kindly explained that sometimes seizures were the result of trauma, suggested that Stiles was having a harder time processing his mother’s death than he let on, asked if John had gotten him any counseling.

Scott called later to make sure Stiles was ok, had insisted he wanted to go over but his mom hadn’t let him. John had a brief moment of appreciation for a kid who sounded so bound by the word of his parent before assuring Scott that Stiles was fine. Scott then went on a mini little tirade about his dad, about what an asshole he was, and he shouldn’t have bothered any of them that day and was just questioning Stiles to be a dick. John frowned, “Rafa’s back in town? He questioned Stiles?”

Apparently, Rafael McCall was now a Federal Agent, and was assigned to try and clean up their mess in Beacon Hills. He’d questioned many people, including Stiles, but John was beyond pissed that he hadn’t even been told as a courtesy that his kid had been questioned as part of an ongoing investigation.

As soon as he hung up with Scott, John tried Rafa’s old mobile number. Some things didn’t change, apparently, as the man himself picked up on the third ring. He wasn’t at all as John remembered, his snide self-satisfied tone completely different from the laid back man John might have once called a friend. It wasn’t until John mentioned Stiles’ seizure that Rafa seemed to back off a little, the edge of concern in his voice finally somewhat familiar. Rafa claimed he hadn’t seen Stiles for very long, and while Stiles hadn’t been particularly happy to see him, he had seemed fine when they parted ways. He warned John though that his superiors expected him to find answers to the goings on in Beacon Hills, and that he intended to fulfill his obligations to the letter, no matter what it meant for John and his department. John liked to think he imagined the excited lilt to Rafa’s voice, but then Melissa’s words rang in his ears. ‘I don’t know what he’s capable of.’

Then the world went crazy.

He figured out too late that the killer was Ms. Blake, one of Stiles’ teachers, and found himself kidnapped with Melissa McCall and Chris Argent beneath the roots of a tree, waiting to be sacrificed. Werewolves existed, apparently, as did druids, darachs, and all the other ridiculous things Stiles had tried to tell him about. Nothing made sense but at the same time it did, pieces fell into place and cold cases became a lot more clear now that the chessboard was revealed to him.

Craziest of all Stiles, his hyperactive problem child, was the one to save them from being buried alive, with a goddamn baseball bat no less. Once the danger was behind them, John clutched Stiles to him, holding him tight as he could manage, overwhelmed with pride in his son and regret in how he hadn’t believed him, no matter how farfetched the secret had seemed.

Of course his boy would run with wolves.

Afterwards, despite the fact that John finally had answers to the bizarre occurrences of Beacon Hills, he was faced with a new set of issues. It was one thing to know that Scott, Derek, Isaac Lahey and Peter Hale were all werewolves, that Ms. Blake had been a Darach vying for power, but it was another to come up with excuses to cover up supernatural activity. It was hard to know Rafael McCall was gunning for his job without being able to clear his name and make his department seem less incompetent. He could feel himself sinking, knew this would probably end with him losing his job, but was unsure of how to stop it.

He got used to hearing about “pack business” and “encroaching Alphas”. He let Stiles keep a jar of mountain ash in his desk at the station ‘just in case’ and allowed him to hold pack meetings in their living room. Everything seemed tinged with the supernatural, and John almost longed for the days when calls to the station were over the result of nothing more than delinquent teenagers.

After his near death experience, John had vowed that he would mend his relationship with Stiles, that things would change. No more secrets, no more walls, no more sneaking around, but Stiles still remained closed off. His grades were slipping once again, he’d lost weight and he was more skittish than usual. At first John figured he’d gone off his meds, and started watching Stiles take them every morning, but that soon proved to not be the cause. He tried to be patient, figured Stiles would come to him when he was ready.

John’s patience ended when Stiles had another seizure.

They were both home when it happened, the whole pack over plotting what to do about Agent McCall and the feds to get them off their scent when Stiles started shaking. John’s blood ran cold when Allison shrieked and he watched his kid begin to slide off the couch, his arms and legs jerking in short convulsions. John rushed forward just as Derek and Scott got Stiles onto his side on the carpet, their hands hovering in care he made any sudden movements. John shoved Scott out of the way, his hand on Stiles’ forehead as he called his name, watched helplessly as Stiles panted, his whole body wound tight as the seizure wracked through him.

Another trip to the hospital lead to another bout of tests which found no abnormalities. John pinched the bridge of his nose as yet another doctor told him there was medically nothing wrong with his son, no neurological root to the episodes. It just didn’t make any sense.

“Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures are most often a manifestation of psychological distress,” the doctor explained. “They’re usually rooted in some sort of traumatic event... has your son experienced any sort of trauma to your knowledge? A sudden great loss or change, physical or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, even divorce can-”

“His mother died eight years ago,” John said with an exasperated sigh. “But these seizures have only happened recently.”

The doctor nodded, arms crossed over her chest. “I can’t officially diagnose him with PNES without a few more tests,” she said. “But sometimes the trauma can be dormant until triggered, and some believe PNES seizures are merely the brain’s way or releasing repressed trauma which is given no other outlet.”

John frowned at that, resting heavily beside Stiles who lay prone on the hospital bed. He’d never followed through with therapy for Stiles after Claudia passed, despite the repeated insistence of everyone around them. Could it be that if he’d taken Stiles to more sessions, let him draw a few pictures and play some more games, they wouldn’t be there now?

John rested his head in his hands and took some steadying breaths, thanked the doctor for her time and just listened to the steady beat of the heart monitor. He thought back to the past eight years, to how neither of them had properly dealt with their grief, to how he’d neglected his own son in his refusal to face the fact that his wife and partner was dead. Something was missing though, and John was still a good enough cop to know to never ignore a doubt.

He turned to Scott and Melissa, even to Derek now that the werewolf cat was out of the bag and he begrudgingly had to acknowledge that the older boy had come to befriend his son in some capacity. No one seemed to know of any other possible cause, though all agreed that Stiles hadn’t really been himself lately. No one knew of anyone bothering Stiles at school, of any girlfriends or crushes he might have hidden. Derek said he didn’t know much of what Stiles did, but that he constantly smelled sour with fear, shook his head when John tried to explain to him that Stiles had always been an anxious kid, partly due to his ADHD. “Something scares him,” Derek insisted. “Or someone.”

“He wont tell me,” John said with a heavy sigh, the truth behind the words leaden in his throat.

Derek’s arms were folded defensively but John could recognize the pain behind his eyes, the understanding. “He’s a kid,” he offered, his words clipped as though it physically hurt him to offer John the advice. “Kids always think their parents won't understand...you’ll have to look for it yourself, Sheriff.”

Since the universe had apparently upended itself and nothing was beyond the realm of possibility anymore, John took the advice of the stoic previous former murder suspect and did his own digging. He waited until Stiles left to hang out at Scott’s for an afternoon of “bro time” as they called it, waited at least twenty minutes after Stiles left to get to work.

He didn’t look for anything specifically, instead thought of places where things might possibly be hidden. Stiles’ computer was password protected, but if John knew his kid, he wouldn’t trust to keep anything too secretive on a laptop when he knew how good the IT guys were at the station. John tried the closet first, checking every shoe box and storage bin, even checking behind the access panel to the pipes for the bathroom. He checked the pockets of every hanging jacket, finding little more than some change and a stale Tootsie Roll with an orange Halloween wrapper. He went through the papers in Stiles’ desk, uncovering a few poorly graded homework assignments and a new employee manual of police codes which he ‘knew’ he hadn’t given Stiles permission to take. They’d have a chat about that later.

John didn’t find anything in the desk, or in Stiles’ dresser drawers. He pulled the drawers all the way out to inspect the inside of the dresser, and found a small envelope taped far back on the left hand side, right in between where the first and second drawer would rest. There would be no way to see it unless both drawers were removed as John had done. John stared at it for a moment, swallowing thickly as he took in the broad strips of duct tape securing the paper to the wood, obviously intended to make sure it remained affixed and couldn’t be knocked off accidentally .

John knew deep down in his blood that whatever was inside was going to hurt, his fingers trembling as he carefully pulled the tape off and withdrew the envelope, but he still deflated when he upended it and found polaroids inside.

There were only a few pictures but they were all of Stiles, far too young and in various stages of undress. He looked posed, practiced, his big eyes staring up at the camera in a way that made John sick. The last picture was of Stiles on his knees, glaring up at the camera, a shiny wetness smeared around his mouth. John gripped the photos so hard they crumpled in his fist, his other hand covering his mouth as he took in sharp breaths through his nose. He wanted to burn the photos, wanted to throw one of the empty dresser drawers against the wall until it shattered, wanted to die because he’d failed his son so horribly.

Instead he retched, his stomach twisting in on nothing as it tried to empty itself when he wondered if Stiles had kept the pictures in the hope that John would do something like this, uncover what Stiles had been too scared or ashamed to tell.

Taking several deep shuddering breaths, John forced himself to examine the photos one last time with as clinical an eye as he could manage, inspecting them for any writing or indication of where they were taken or of what sick son of a bitch took them. There was nothing though, so he slid them back into the envelope.

He found the clothes next.

He had lifted Stiles’ mattress and found the bag beneath it, an oversized Ziploc bag carefully tucked away above the boxspring. The red material inside turned out to be Stiles’ old red hoodie. John was immediately struck by the memory of coming home the day Stiles ran away back when he was twelve, recalled noting how Stiles had changed into a blue sweater before being distracted by his son’s shorn hair. He held the sweater up to inspect it, something small and green tumbling out and onto the floor. It was a pair of Ninja Turtle briefs, the insides stained at the back with dark stiff smears of blood and the crusted stains he recognized with a sinking clarity as semen. The underwear looked so small in his hand, and while Stiles was still a skinny thing, he couldn’t possibly have worn them for at least several years.

John vividly remembered yelling at Stiles for running away, how angry he got at his son’s detached attitude when asked why he’d run or shaved his head, the look on Stiles’ face when he’d told the kid he’d be paying back all the money he’d stolen from Rafa. John recalled Rafa’s comment about Stiles needing a haircut bad enough to steal for it, his mind immediately supplying a reminder of that last polaroid

John finally managed to throw up.

Derek looked surprised to see the Sheriff at his door, and perplexed at the bag held up before him. John was practically shaking by the time they were inside Derek’s apartment, throat thick and eyes burning from his effort to hold himself together and just get through the moment. “Smell it,” John practically begged as he offered the bag to the younger man. “It’s old, probably a long shot, but I know you wolves have a sharp nose and I just….I figured it was worth a try, and I just need to know-”

Derek’s eyes narrowed at both the words and the Sheriff’s broken face and slumped posture. He plucked the bag with careful fingers and opened the seal, nostrils flaring with his inhale. His shoulders immediately went rigid, his head snapping up to fix John with a gaze laden with a telling whirl of rage and dismay.

John pointed at the bag, “You know what that is...what’s on it.” It was more a confirmation than a question.

Derek nodded, empathy softening the edges of his pinched expression. His knuckles were white where they gripped the bag but he didn’t move to return it to John.

“You know who it was, don’t you.” Again not a question, but John’s voice still wavered like he was begging for Derek to just tell him he was wrong. Any hope of such was dashed ever before Derek’s nod by the pained look which pushed past his simmering rage to twist his handsome features, like he knew the revelation would crush John. If John wasn’t holding on by a thread he’d take a moment to appreciate how much Derek fucking Hale seems to actually care.

John was nodding then, tears prickling at his eyes. “It was him, wasn’t it...that son of a bitch raped my baby-” John’s words cut off with a choked sob, his shaking hands pressed over his face to try and keep the despair welling up in his throat at bay. He couldn’t look at Derek anymore, didn’t deserve the sympathy offered to him. Couldn’t stop thinking of all the times Stiles had begged him to be allowed to stay home, clung to him like he thought it would make John understand.

John didn’t know when it had happened, but he found himself slumped on the floor, his back braced against the wall with Derek kneeling before him, one broad hand warm on John’s shoulder. “You didn’t know,” he said, the words slow and calculated, obviously not meant as empty condolences. “You can’t change what happened....but you can be there for him now.”

John felt like he’d failed every person he’d ever helped through a rape case, that he’d lied to them, because he knew in that moment that he’d never find peace if the monster who touched his son got off on some plea bargain or god forbid beat the charge. He didn’t foresee any ‘closure’ from a trial that didn’t end with a lethal injection, didn’t think he could live with himself if he didn’t kill the son of a bitch immediately. How could he ever expect Stiles to trust him again, prove to his son that he could keep him safe with that bastard still walking the Earth?

“He doesn’t feel safe because he thinks he’s alone, and you’re no good to him behind bars” Derek said, making John realize he’d actually verbalized his thoughts.

John shrugged, defeated. “I didn’t do him much good before either...my own kid didn’t think he could come to me when he needed me the most-”

“He probably blamed himself, thought he’d done something to deserve it…worries you’ll see him differently” Derek’s gaze was fixed on the floor, words a little too knowing. “Just show him he’s wrong...it’s a start at least.”

John let Derek drive his cruiser home, took the younger man for his word that running home after would be no trouble. The jeep was in the driveway, and John just hoped that Stiles hadn’t been upstairs to see the wreckage left behind in his bedroom. Apparently he’d been allowed this one small mercy, as when he walked into the house he found his sixteen year old in the kitchen making him dinner.

The second Stiles saw him, he began babbling about how John was busted, that he’d gotten the details from Marcy at the doctor’s office about John’s cholesterol levels. John just stood there a moment, listened to his kid ramble on that John had to eat better, and that he’d bought John a water bottle he had to refill at least four times a day and actually drink from. Stiles was only silenced when John crossed over to him, dragged him into a hug and held him tight.

Stiles wriggled against his firm grip, asked John what was wrong after a few moments of prolonged silence. John told him he loved him, which Stiles laughed off with a quick “I know dad.”

“You could have come to me,” John finally said, still keeping Stiles practically crushed to his chest, his nose all but buried in his son’s hair.

Stiles went rigid against him, arms hanging at his sides. “What are you...I don’t-”

“Nothing will ever make me stop loving you,” John assured him, voice choked off at the mere thought Stiles would ever doubt that. When he pulled back, Stiles was staring at him with dawning apprehension, his mouth slack and eyes narrow as he studied his father.

John gently took his son’s face in his hands, holding him steady and forcing Stiles to meet his gaze. “I know what happened, Stiles. I found the pictures...your clothes.” John took in a shuddering breath when he caught the familiar beginnings of Stiles shutting down. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you...there’s no excuse, but I’m here now....”

Stiles’ breath came in rapid little pants, anxiety brimming to the surface as he pieced together what his father meant. He shook his head, tried to deny it as he pushed against his dad, but John held him fast. “I swear to you son, Rafael McCall will never fucking touch you again.”

The worst of it was when Stiles’ face finally crumpled, all the fight drained out of him. He collapsed against John, face burrowed in his father’s neck as he let John envelope him in his arms and hold him up as his skinny body was wracked with sobs. “I’m sorry,” Stiles hitched between heaving breaths. “You were never supposed to know, I didn't want anyone to know.”

John just shook his head, clung to Stiles like a lifeline and let him release everything the kid had been holding in all those long years.

Derek had been right, it was a start. John woke on the couch in the morning, Stiles’ long gangly body curled up by his side, his mouth slack and his breaths still deep and even. John winced when he lifted his head from its previously slumped position, his neck and back protesting each tiny movement, and he had a headache from crying so hard the night before, but John’s chest felt lighter than it had in years.

An hour later in called the station to tell Deputy Tandy he would be taking a personal day. She offered a quick throw away condolence which would have made John angry if she hadn't immediately launched herself into the newest update on the Fed's investigation and informed him that Agent McCall had been killed outside his motel the night before in an animal attack. Tandy barely managed to suppress the gossipy flair in her voice as she told him that McCall been mauled so badly that the Agent who found the body figured it had been done by a bear, but the Medical Examiner found traces of wolf hairs on the body. “So odd,” Tandy said offhandedly over the receiver. “I didn’t think there were wolves in California.”

When John took the trash out that evening, Derek Hale was standing by his patrol car, a grocery bag in one hand. “I should have let you handle it,” Derek said in lieu of a greeting. “But I couldn’t. Stiles is...he's pack.”

John nodded, understanding. He was torn between feeling he should have done it himself, and wanting to thank Derek for doing what he couldn’t.

Derek held out the bag, which upon inspection held clothes stained dark with dried blood. “Wanted you to have them, just in case it gets back to you somehow,” he explained at John’s confused squint. “Do what you want with them.”

John stared down into the bag before rolling the top down to close it. He rested a heavy hand on Derek’s shoulder, offering the firm muscle a squeeze before turning away.

He burned the clothes.

John took Stiles to see a new therapist. The sessions were expensive, and sometimes Stiles came out of them with red rimmed eyes and tear tracks, snuffled to himself in the car all the way home, but John knew they were helping because Stiles told him as much. John began to see someone himself, his first few sessions stilted and awkward, but made worthwhile by the little appreciative glance Stiles snuck him every Thursday when he got home.

Stiles and Scott graduated high school the next year. They were both eighteen and both planned to start the Beacon Hill Community College in the fall to get their generals out of the way. John and Melissa both figured it was also to keep better tabs on them, and because despite being legal adults, neither were quite ready to leave the nest just yet.

The supernatural events thankfully calmed down enough that John had some time to breathe, to sit back and just crack down on a few delinquent teenagers and the occasional drunk pissing in the bushes. Stiles had stopped seeing his therapist, but John still checked in with his own from time to time. He saw his little boy growing up, and found himself fondly imagining how Claudia would have reacted to their ridiculous kid’s hijinks instead of focusing on that she wasn’t there to see them in person.

John pulled into the Diner one day, his hankering for curly fries stronger than his fear of his diligent son’s retribution. He was fiddling with his portable when he looked up just in time to see Stiles and Derek walk out of the building.

They stood close together, their shoulders practically brushing even as they walked, Derek clad in his signature leather jacket and Stiles in a green flannel shirt. John watched as they crossed the parking lot and stood beside the blue jeep, Stiles talking animatedly and Derek standing perfectly still but fixing his son with a look so fond and private that John felt guilty for watching. Derek murmured something that made Stiles throw his head back with a peel of laughter, a hand pushing playfully at Derek’s broad chest.

John watched them get into the jeep and drive away, surprised at how little the whole interaction affected him beyond coaxing a wry little contented smile to his lips. He supposed some secrets were alright after all.

Even now, Stiles wouldn’t do anything typical or easy. He couldn’t just be gay, he had to be gay with an older werewolf boyfriend. He still made John’s blood pressure skyrocket, still used snark and sass as a means of expressing everything from irritation to affection. He was too controlling of John’s diet and not at all subtle in his attempts playing matchmaker with John and Melissa. He was still John’s difficult child, still ‘Stiles’.

For that John would never stop being grateful.