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Side Effects

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They’d both been diagnosed in the same week.

It’s something they’d laughed at, at the time. Something both of them chuckled about in the few weeks leading up to hell. It was scary, but it was gonna be ok- people survived cancer everyday, right? And compared to that, ADHD was like a paper cut. So they didn’t worry, because everything would be fine.

-But then his mom had to shave her hair, because otherwise it’d just be falling out.

-And then Stiles had his first panic attack.

Before you knew it, the side effects started kickin’ in for both of them.

It wasn’t funny after that, Stiles thinks.

 

 

They were never hungry.

Dad fretted and fought, tried to get them to eat something, anything. But between Stiles’ lack of appetite, and his mom’s near constant nausea, it was a lost cause. Even their favorite foods held no appeal— his mom threw it up, and to Stiles, everything tasted like cardboard and cotton.

“Eat, something, anything, please.”

But good intentions and heartfelt prayers amount to jack-shit when the sight of food makes you gag.

So dinner was just a terse silence; a table filled with clinking water glasses and Dad shuffling his food around in awkward intervals.

They tried to assure him that his eating wouldn’t offend them, but to no avail.

And in between the nights of awkward silences and days of chemo and prescriptions pills, the entire family manages to lose weight. Fast.

“At this rate, I’ll be able to fit my old jeans”, Mom had joked, and Dad had smashed a plate on the ground.

Dinner became a mandatory hell, then, even if no one wanted it to be.

 

(Stiles still doesn’t eat. Between the constant state of panic lying just underneath his skin and the tight feeling in his stomach the meds leave him with, the thought of food tends to seize his stomach in disgust.

Besides, Scott eats like a— well, like a teenage wolf. So he’s fine with giving his portions of lunch/dinner/food. It’s fine, it shouldn’t go to waste, right? Come on, Scott is fighting off paranormal baddies of the week, he needs to pack on the carbs.

Stiles isn’t hungry, anyway.

If his Dad smiles at the lack of remaining food in his lunch sack, then, well, what’s one more white lie?)

 

 

At first, his weight loss wasn’t even noticeable. He lost a bit of baby fat on his face— his shirts stopped pulling so tight against his skin. Besides, there were bigger things to worry about.

Like his Mom gaining twenty pounds in less then a month.

The doctors had said this was pretty standard—that chemo messed with the pituitary gland, that there was nothing they could really do. All she needed to do was eat healthier foods, exercise a bit more. That she’d be fine.

But she could barely get up from the couch to the bathroom. She couldn’t take runs in the woods, couldn’t lay on the floor and do her silly yoga poses. She couldn’t do anything but sit in the living room armchair, blankets piled upon her as she shivered.

So no one noticed Stiles’ change until he asked for a belt: his pants don’t fit anymore.

Then it’s a frantic call to his pediatrician, Dad pacing in the kitchen, phone cord twisted around in worry, Stiles stuck in the living room next to his mom, barred from overhearing their conversation.

“What a pair we make,” his Mom had basically whispered from her cocoon of family quilts and wool sweaters.

Stiles had hiked his pants up and tried not to cry.

 

(He still can’t put on the weight. He tries to eat, goes through periods of inhaling curly fries and milkshakes, trying frantically to cram in the carbs and desperately wanting any sort of meat on his bones— he likes lacrosse, loves it, he wouldn’t be dealing with coach and practice and Jackson if he didn’t whole-heartedly want it.

But he can’t put on the weight, can’t get the muscle he needs to make first line, to make it off the bench even. And in between forcing down protein shakes and puking them back up, Stiles thinks maybe this is just part of some larger form of penance.)

 

 

Headaches were something they’d shared.

They’d started two weeks after Mom was admitted. Her immune system was too compromised, they said—it’d be better if they could observe for a night.

A night became a weekend, became a week, became her last two months. School was made even more difficult. What little focus he’d had was snatched away by the fears of ‘Was yesterday the last time? What if I’m too late? Did I remember to say I loved her?’

Dad used up every sick day, every vacation and day off, sitting in that crummy hospital chair. Mom would drift in and out of sleep, exhaustion slowly dragging her down like physical weights. Stiles missed a day of school to spend it at the hospital, and he didn’t end up going back.

Their family had been a snake consuming it’s own tail, using themselves up in terror and stress until they’d been whittled down to the very bones.

And somewhere between the florescent hospital lights and smell of antiseptic, Stiles didn’t even notice the buzz that grew behind his eyes. It wasn’t until the buzz became a full blown throb that he even recognized it was there.

It was one more thing Dad had to worry about, one more thing that was Stiles’ fault.

The plus about being with Mom—besides, you know, being with Mom—was that she knew how he felt. She had the same headaches, though hers were no doubt worse. She hated the bright lights just as much, hated the noise and commotion of TVs and radios and idle chatter in halls.

So Stiles would lay next to her, in that cramp hospital cot. He’d hugged her knees and fallen asleep to her soothing hands rubbing his head, trying to think back to a time he didn’t constantly feel as if his head would explode.

And if, by chance, they had both heard Dad crying in the hallway, they’d chosen to ignore it.

 

(The buzz is still there. It’s always been there—like an angry bumble bee trying to get Stiles’ attention every moment he’s awake.

Coffee helps, keeping active helps, moving helps. If he can keep his attention away from it, he’s less likely to feel the snare drum snapping a rhythm against his eyes. Wikipedia is a godsend, at points—coupled with werewolf drama and whatever life or death crises currently plagues Beacon Hills, Stiles’ rarely has time to remember heads aren’t supposed to hurt all the time. Ibuprofen becomes another daily or twice-ly dosage in his regime.

The doctors say that drugs will never cure him of his problems, just make them manageable. So that’s what Stiles does—makes his problems manageable.)

 

 

Restlessness, his Mom had said once, was in their bones. It was one of the things that drove Dad crazy. They could never stay still, never sit, never be satisfied—spending days exploring the woods, sliding down halls in socks, sitting on couches in dissatisfaction until the twitching of their legs couldn’t be ignored.

‘We’re sharks!’ Mom would say, gripping onto his hands and spinning him round and round.

They never stopped moving, never wanted to. There was an entire world out there, waiting to be sniffed and felt and lived.

So this Mom, the one lying in a bed, is like a stranger. This Mom doesn’t start tickle fights, doesn’t laugh till she snorts.

Stiles fought his own restless feet trying to stay near her; he tried to stop himself from all but flying out of his chair. She was motionless and he was an object in motion.

That was, if there could even be such a thing, the worst part of the whole thing—he can’t stop moving. She can’t move.

It was a Thursday. A restless day. Stiles had come home from the first school day he’d had in weeks, and his dad packed him right back up in the car—no questions, not right now, Stiles please, Stiles god damnit get in the car-

She was lying the hospital arm chair, eyes dark and sunken underneath a bright headscarf. She’d smiled at him, brittle and tender and in the span of a single minute Stiles knew.

She’d held on as long as she could. She’d spent the rest of night with his Dad and him, not talking, not doing anything. Just being.

And then she’d gone to sleep.

And that was that.

Within the span of six hours on a Thursday night, Stiles had lost his mom.

 

(Stiles hates Thursdays .)

 

 

On the back of his prescriptions sits a tiny paragraph.

Right before the dosage explanation, but after the instructions, there is a list side effects.

Loss of appetite, weight loss, dry mouth, stomach upset/pain, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, headache, diarrhea, fever, nervousness, and trouble sleeping may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor promptly.

Well, the funny thing is, that’s been Stiles’ entire life. For the past five or so years, the world has been reduced to the constant thrum of nervousness in his stomach, the buzzing noise of his mind, the never ending loop of can’t-eat-won’t-eat. His days are filled with a haphazard mix of school, supernatural, and the strained relationship of a father kept out of the loop.

‘Notify your doctor promptly’, it says, and isn’t that funny? Because he’s so past promptly it isn’t even worth trying. ‘Hey doc, I forgot to mention, I haven’t eaten, slept or just about worked properly for about, oh, five years now. Am I doing ok?’ Yeah, no. Not happening.

So, like so many other things, Stiles keeps it hidden. Right behind ‘my best friend’s a werewolf’ and just before ‘I killed my mother.’ He takes his pills, stays up at night, researches ways to fix, to heal, to help. His bed is unused, unneeded. He can’t sleep, won’t sleep, doesn’t try.

Stiles doesn’t do many things quietly, but this—falling apart—he does.

 

(But the biggest secret, the worst part? He’s never had trouble sleeping. He can drop in the blink of an eye —sleep in a chair, a desk, a car, even on the charred, cold, wood floor of Derek’s house. He can sleep, has always been able to, but lately? Lately, he can’t.

And it’s not because of the medication, not because of the werewolves even. It’s because, ever since the night of Lydia’s party, he’s been having…dreams. Nightmares.

‘You killed your mother,’ his not-dad had screamed, ‘you killed her, and now you’re killing me.’

He remembers it. Every time he closes his eyes, every time he thinks about sleeping, a soft sort of terror creeps up from his ribcage. Strangles his heart and blasts against his eyelids until the very thought of shutting them, the idea of voluntarily lying down chokes the breath out of him. So he’s tired all the time and he wants to sleep, wants to sleep so badly it pains him, but he can’t. He just can’t.

It might be an effect of the meds, but deep in Stiles’ heart he knows the truth.

It’s the side effect of being him.)