H is for Hero
Stiles shifted in the plastic chair, idly playing Tetris on his phone as he waited for his prescription to be filled. He'd woken up that morning unable to open his eyes, as they were sealed shut with gunk. When he finally pried his eyelids apart, he went into the bathroom only to discover that he looked like someone who was very, very high. His eyes were red-like, completely, disgustingly so. And then they'd started to ooze.
Such were the joys of pink eye.
So here he was, waiting in line at the pharmacy for his eye drops, sunglasses perched on his face so that no one was witness to his humiliation. An old lady kept shooting nervous, disapproving glances his way, as if he were some sort of delinquent. He stuck his tongue out at her. She gasped-actually gasped- and turned quickly away. Stiles couldn't help the small, satisfied smile that snuck onto his lips.
And then his already crappy day took a turn for the way, way worse, in the form of a sub-par criminal in a black ski mask bursting into the pharmacy and firing into the air. A few screams erupted, and Stiles felt a mixture of dread and anger boil deep within him.
"I want everyone down on the floor now!" the man shouted. "Face-down, on the ground! I want your phones out of your pockets and away from you!"
Stiles couldn't help but heave a sigh of frustration as he got up from the chair to lie down on his stomach and added his phone to the pile on the ground. Who did this guy think he was?
"You got a problem?" The man waved his gun in Stiles' direction.
"Well, I'm in a pharmacy that's being held up so, yes, I would say that I have a problem," Stiles answered.
The man kicked Stiles in the side, then bent down so his face was only a few inches from Stiles' and put his gun to the boy's temple. Stiles groaned in pain and closed his eyes and cursed the fact that his sarcasm didn't come with an off switch.
"You've got a smart mouth on you, kid," the man said. "I suggest you keep it shut for the remainder of my visit."
Stiles was glowering at the man's shoes as he walked toward the counter when he felt a hand on his wrist. He looked over to see the old woman looking at him with concern.
"Are you alright?" she whispered.
Stiles nodded. "Yeah. Thanks." He winced as a girl started screaming.
"Shut up!" the man shouted.
Her screams stopped, but Stiles could hear her sobbing.
"I said shut up!" the man roared, and Stiles thought he heard the sound of a gun being cocked.
"No, please! Please don't!" the girl sobbed.
Stiles couldn't take it anymore. Summoning all of his courage, his clambered to his feet. "Hey!"
The man turned, pointing his gun at Stiles' chest. "What the hell are you doing? Get down on the ground!"
Stiles had his hands up in the air as he took a slow, careful step forward.
"Hey!" the man cried. "Stop it! Stop right there!"
Stiles swallowed. He could feel eyes on him; the tension in the room was palpable.
"Listen, man," Stiles said, keeping his voice level. He took off his sunglasses so he could make contact with the man.
"What the hell's wrong with your eyes?"
"Pink eye. Listen, I get that things are tough right now, what with the economy being in the toilet. But robbing pharmacies? Come on. Is this really a good idea? I get it, okay? You're desperate, man. But I don't think you're a bad guy. And I don't think you would be doing this if you thought that there was any other way." Stiles spoke quietly, keeping his voice low and steady. He took another step forward.
"You don't know shit. You need to shut up and get on the ground now, or I will splatter the wall behind you with brain matter." The man's hand was shaking, his voice tight. "Now, damn it!"
Stiles a deep, slow breath, desperately that he wasn't about to get himself killed. With a shout, he lunged forward and drove his knew into the man's crotch, at the same time dodging out of the way of the gun and twisting the man's wrist, forcing him to release the weapon. As the man doubled over in pain, Stiles grabbed the gun and slammed it into the assailant's temple.
The man dropped like a rock. The teen stood over him chest heaving, gun aimed at his head. The girl from before was still crying and Stiles looked at her over his shoulder.
"Why don't you go ahead and call 911 now?" he suggested. "I'll watch this guy." His heart was pounding in his chest so hard it felt like it was going to burst out; he wondered if this is what Scott felt every time he fought a bad guy: A strange mix of exhilaration, pride, fear, and disbelief at what he'd just done.
"…Son? You hear me?"
"What?" Stiles asked, looking up. He'd been so absorbed in his thoughts, he hadn't noticed the men talking to him.
"Are you alright? You're shaking."
Stiles frowned and looked at the gun in his hand, surprised to find that he was, indeed, trembling. He took a shaky breath.
"I'm fine. Just the adrenaline wearing off, I think."
"The name's Eric." He reached out and gave Stiles a left-handed handshake. "That was a brave thing you did. It was incredibly stupid, but brave." The man smiled. "You're a hero, kid."
Stiles chuckled uncomfortably. "Nah. I'm not. I was just-I dunno-I guess trying to do what my dad would've done."
"The police are on their way," the girl said. She smiled at Stiles. "I'm Lexi by the way."
"Uh-good. Nice to meet you," Stiles stammered. He was getting uncomfortable with all the attention. The man on the ground chose that moment to let out a groan and move, putting his hand on his head and starting to sit up.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Stiles said, pointing the gun at him. "Not so fast. Just stay down."
The man froze. "Wh-what. You gonna shoot me kid?"
Stiles glared down at him. "Only if you make me. The cops are on their way. The only way you're getting out of here is in the back of a cop car, or an ambulance. You decide." Damn he sounded badass. Only he didn't feel badass. His hand was shaking worse now, and he felt sick to his stomach.
"Son, why don't you let me take that. I'll make sure he stays down," Eric offered quietly. "You look like you could use a breather."
Stiles nodded and reluctantly put the gun in the man's hand.
"Drop it!" a voice shouted.
Another masked man was standing at the back of the pharmacy amongst the shelves of prescriptions, a gun pointed at Eric.
"And that," said the man on the floor, "is my getaway driver. Looks like I'll be getting out of here my own way."
Stiles looked back at the new intruder just in time to see his finger tighten on the trigger.
"No!" he shouted, pushing Eric out of the way, just as the sound of gunfire cracked through the pharmacy.
Lexi screamed, and was crying again. "Are you hurt?" Stiles asked.
She shook her head. "I th-I think you are," she said between sobs.
Stiles looked down. In the middle of his right ribcage, a dark spot was growing. He pressed his hand against it, felt a warm liquid snaking between his fingers. When he pulled his hand away, it was red and slick with blood.
"Oh," he murmured as his legs gave way beneath him and he collapsed to the floor. Breathing was suddenly very difficult, and he found himself gasping for breath. He heard another gunshot (Strange, he thought, that was much quieter than the last one) and saw the getaway driver fall to the ground.
A strange coldness was beginning to seep through him, and his eyelids began to grow heavy. Just as he was about to let them close, though, a face appeared above him.
"No, no. None of that. None of that now, kid. You have to keep your eyes open. 'kay? Talk to me. What's your name?"
"Mm…Stiles…" he slurred. His mind was sluggish, and his body wasn't responding the way it was supposed to.
"Well, Stiles, you're doing great. Help is on the way, okay? You just need to hang in there a little longer." He had pulled of his sweatshirt and was folding it up. "Alright, here we go…" He pressed it against the wound.
Stiles let out a groan of pain and squirmed under the pressure. His eyes began to flutter.
"I know, I know," Eric murmured softly. "Stay awake. Stay awake now."
"Mm…'m shot," Stiles slurred. "I…I can't feel m' legs…" He felt strangely detached from his body, held there only by the persistent pain in his chest. A cough racked his body, and he tasted blood. Fear surged through him, and he felt tears in his eyes. "'m…'m d-dying…aren't I…"
"No," Eric said firmly. "You are absolutely not dying. Do you hear the sirens? Help is here. You're not dying."
But Stiles was no longer listening. The pain in his chest was too much and breathing was too hard and the darkness was beckoning, so he went to it.
"Sheriff! Oh, thank god. I've been trying to reach you."
Stilinski frowned. "Melissa, what's wrong?"
Stilinski's blood ran cold, and his heart skipped a beat. "What happened?"
"He's, uh…" Melissa's voice cracked and she sniffled. "He's been shot. The robbery at the pharmacy…I guess he was there."
Stilinski nearly dropped the phone. "Holy shit. Is he-is he okay?"
"He's, uh…he's in surgery right now. He lost a lot of blood, and…and the bullet damaged his lung. Sheriff, I'm so sorry."
"I'm coming over there, Melissa. I'm coming right now."
"Yeah, I think that's good…Scott doesn't know yet. Should I call him, or do you wanna…"
"No, call him. Stiles would want him there. I'll be there in a few." He hung up the phone, and only then did he allow the tears to fall.
He was determined about one thing: once he made sure his son was okay, he was going to find the bastard that had done it, and he was going to make him pay.
By the time Scott got to the hospital, the sheriff and Lydia was already there. As soon as Lydia saw him, she was on her feet and running into his arms, crying onto his shoulder. He put his arms around her.
"Is he…Lydia, is Stiles…?" He didn't finish the question. He couldn't. But his meaning was clear.
"He's…he's alive. But he's in bad shape. He's on a ventilator and…and Scott they don't know if he's going to make it through the night!" She broke into sobs and Scott could feel her hands grabbing fistfuls of his shirt as if it were her only purchase. Unsure what else to do, he ran his fingers through her hair.
"Ssh. Ssh. He'll be okay, Lydia. He'll be fine."
"How do you know?"
Scott swallowed back tears of his own. "Because it's Stiles." He had to speak in a whisper, for fear his voice would crack. "Because he's always okay."
He hoped and prayed that he was right.
Stiles made it through the night. But he didn't wake up. Three days later, and his eyes remained closed. He laid in the hospital hooked up to IVs and monitors and a ventilator to do his breathing for him. His skin was sallow, with dark rings under his eyes and to Lydia, he sort of looked like a corpse.
She sat quietly in the chair, reading The Iliad and listening to the steady beeping of the monitors. Honestly, she was having a hell of a time focusing, and was reading the same paragraph for the fourth time when the rhythm changed. She looked up sharply as the heart monitor sped up. She leaned forward and placed her hand on his, rubbing in slow circles. She could see his eyes moving under the lids, and his hand twitched under his. "Stiles?" she breathed.
And then, his eyes opened, just a little, and Lydia caught a glimpse of the big brown eyes. And then, his eyes snapped open and he was coughing, choking on the tube down his throat, eyes wide and watering with fear and pain and confusion and Lydia was calling for a nurse.
It was Melissa who came bursting in not more than a minute later. She ran to Stiles' side and put a hand on his forehead, gently pushing him back against the pillow.
"Sh. It's okay, baby. I'm just gonna get that tube out of there for you, okay? Calm down for me…" She talked to him quietly as she removed the ventilator. "There you go."
Stiles coughed and gagged and heaved for breath. His monitors were blaring, and he looked terrified.
"Breathe, Stiles, breathe. Come on, you're okay," Melissa urged as more hospital staff came rushing in.
Lydia was jostled out of the room, and she stood on her tiptoes, desperately trying to see what was going on. A few minutes later, the flurry died down, and the nurses filed out and left Melissa there standing by Stiles' bed. Lydia slipped back into the room.
"Is he okay?" she asked softly.
Melissa nodded. "Yeah. Poor kid woke up with that thing jammed down his throat, it's no wonder he panicked. His lung is still healing, though, and he's not quite ready to breathe on his own. We've got him on oxygen now." She indicated the canunla that was now settled in his nose. "The panic attack exhausted him, so he's resting now. But he woke up, Lydia. That's a great sign. It means he's recovering."
Lydia nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. Melissa pulled her into a hug.
"Hey, sweetie. I know you're stressed and tired and worried about your friend. So how about you go let his dad know what's going on and then go home and get some rest," Melissa suggested.
"Okay," Lydia answered. "Can I come back tonight?"
"Of course," Melissa answered with a small smile.
Lydia walked up to Stiles and planted a kiss on his forehead. "I'll be back," she whispered.
As soon as the sheriff heard the news, he was at the front desk.
"Where can I find Jackson Barnes?" he asked. The woman looked up at him.
"Sheriff Stilinski, I'm not sure it's a good idea…"
"Ma'am I am the damned sheriff. You tell me where he is."
The woman sighed. "He's down in room 407. Do yourself a favor, Sheriff, and don't kill him."
"I'm not going to make any promises," he mumbled as he stalked down the hall. He was dismayed, but not surprised, to find an armed guard outside the door. "Step aside, Deputy."
"I'm sorry. I can't do that, sir. I'm under order-"
"I don't give a shit about the order. That son of a bitch nearly killed my son. Now step aside."
The deputy reluctantly moved to the side and the sheriff went into the room, closing the door behind him.
Barnes was sitting up in the bed, his upper arm wrapped in bandages, flipping through the TV channels. Looking at him made the sheriff's blood boil, and he had an urge he'd never felt before-the urge to kill the bastard right then and there.
Barnes had finally noticed, and his eyes were wide with panic. "You-you better not do anything. I'll press charges," he stammered.
"You'll press charges? You put a bullet in my son's chest, you piece of shit! I want nothing more than to kill you right now, but that would be too easy. Too easy for you, I mean. Instead, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure you get charged to the full extent of the law. You're going to spend a long time in a cell and, let me tell you, hospital food is nothing compared to prison food. I've got a lot of friends in a lot f places, Barnes, and I'm telling you that as soon as you get out of this place, I am going to make sure the rest of your worthless, pathetic life is a living hell. Have a nice day."
He stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him and went into a bathroom stall and punched the wall into his knuckles split.
When Stiles woke up the next time, it was to his dad reading aloud to him from Where the Wild Things Are. He smiled. "Hey, Dad," he said, his voice hoarse from having had a tube down it for days.
Stilinski looked up and broke into a smile. "Hey, Son," he said. "How…how're you feeling?"
"Like I've been shot," he answered with a grin.
"Smartass," Stilinski said with a chuckle. "Really, Stiles. How are you?"
Stiles sighed, pondering the question. "More tired than anything, really. They're got me on some pretty good painkillers. How's…how's the pack?"
"Just what you'd expect: worried sick. They've been staying here in shifts. I finally convinced the, to go to school today."
"Mm," Stiles responded. He was already exhausted.
"I'll let you go back to sleep," the sheriff said, concern lacing his voice.
"No, wait. Can you finish the book please? It's the same one you read to me when I had that appendectomy."
"You remember that?" his dad asked incredulously.
Stiles nodded and settled back into his pillows as his dad continued to read.
"'Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things.'"
Disclaimer: Where the Wild Things Are is by Maurice Sendak. Not me. Darn.
Thanks so much for all your support and suggestions! I've gotten some really good ones. Y'all rock.