Paint it Black

By dragonnan

Action / Mystery

It's That Three in the Morning Kind of Color

Within the first twenty-four hours, they started to wean Shawn off of the heavy barbiturates. It would be at least ten days before they'd remove the tube from his skull – a balancing act between assuring drainage and preventing the inevitable infection that would result if it stayed in place too long.

Abigail had been called the night of the surgery once Shawn's condition had stabilized. As expected, the news had horrified her and had prompted her to confess something to Gus between her tears. She'd been gone for the past week in Washington. She'd told Shawn it was a work related retreat. It was... but not for her job at the school. In three months, she was leaving for Uganda. She didn't know how long she'd be gone, or when she'd be back. And she hadn't told Shawn.

Gus had assured Abby that he'd keep her updated until her return in the next two days.

Henry and Gus had taken turns watching over Shawn. While Gus had a block of time in which to stand guard, he had been forced to leave every night in order to get some rest for the work day. The only one to remain behind, the only one allowed to stay for a few hours past the standard curfew, had been Henry.

That first couple of days had been brutal – most of his time spent alone with his son and watching for anything whatsoever to indicate there was hope of recovery. It had been slightly easier, though, when Abigail returned from her trip. Right around four every day, she would come straight from her class to let him go home for a few hours. As much as he'd wanted to stay and look after his boy, he'd known he couldn't keep it up forever. Besides, it had given him a chance to call Maddie without disturbing the peace of the ICU.

But now, with the drugs filtering out of Shawn's system, Henry was back to staying right by his son's bedside, even into the night, with special permission from the doctor.

Consciousness returned almost before he'd had time to worry if it ever would. The first time Shawn opened his eyes was around three in the morning the day after he'd been taken completely off the Nembutal. He hadn't been able to speak with the ventilator in place, but he hadn't stayed awake long enough for conversation anyhow. His eyes had rolled back and forth a bit and then, sighing, he'd slipped under once more.

Still, the neurologist was able to confirm increased brain activity and Henry took every positive he could find.

The second time Shawn woke up was four hours later. Henry had dozed off, but a nurse taking Shawn's vitals had been there for the event. Waking Henry with a pat on his shoulder, she'd left to get the doctor.

Pushing up a bit with his hands braced on the chair arms, Henry watched for a few moments, assuring himself that this wasn't just another ten seconds of consciousness. Shawn was still a little high on pain medication so anything said to him would probably be passing through a fairly thick filter.

“Hey, kid.” As he spoke, Henry placed his hand on Shawn's wrist.

Barely more than a flicker of his eyelids, the only thing indicating awareness was an increase in his heart monitor.

“Shawn, calm down, son, you're okay.” Henry kept his hand in place and his voice low as Shawn seemed to wake up more and more. As he soothed, the door behind him opened again with the returning nurse as well as Shawn's primary surgeon. The two didn't say much as approached the bed, though the doctor greeted Henry with a nod before leaning over to check Shawn's vitals. The nurse, meanwhile, switched out the nearly empty bag hanging from the IV pole.

“You're looking good, son.” The doctor patted his patient on the arm as he straightened. “Henry,” he lifted his eyebrows as he turned to address the nervous father hovering a protective twelve inches away, “you mind fetching some ice chips? I think he'll be wanting them in a few minutes.”

The distraction play was all well and good for feeble parents on the verge of hysterics. However, Henry never had and never would fit that label. He crossed his arms and stood his ground until the doctor returned his attention to the person who actually needed his concern.

Removing the ventilator was more difficult to watch than Henry had thought. No wilting pansy, he still felt a tight pain in his gut at the rough coughs and gagging as the tube was pulled from Shawn's throat. The kid seemed more awake afterward; the doctor praising the efforts of his patient who'd had no choice in the matter. Finally, though, the contraption gone and the mass of tubing was replaced by less intrusive nasal leads.

All the while, Shawn's eyes moved, constantly looking, searching. He had yet to look towards his father – or at anyone else in the room. His lips had begun to move but no sound followed other that a wheeze of air. The doctor had warned that he may not be able to speak right away, but it was still disheartening to see.

“I'm right here, Shawn. You're safe. You're in a hospital.” The assurances struck against the bubble around his son and clattered to the floor. Still, the drifting eyes moved towards his voice... but fell short – staring instead towards the closet.

Once the nurse had completed her few duties, the doctor leaned over his side of the bed and placed one hand against the rail.

“Shawn? My name is Doctor Belic. Can you say hello?”

Now squinting, the look of odd searching changed to one of confusion. The request for a simple greeting was a gauge for determining the level of post operative success. Eyebrows lifted, still appearing to be trapped in a fog, Shawn mouthed the request. Though mute, his compliance brought a trace of relief to Belic's face.

“That's good, son. Now, I'm going to touch your shoulder and take a quick peek at your stitches. Do you understand?”

There was hesitation, but then Shawn nodded. He still stiffened and snuffed in a breath at the contact, but held still as the doctor leaned in and checked first the shoulder wound, and then moved to his skull. When Belic touched the tight line of stitches above his ear, Shawn flinched and raised his hand, his brows pushing tight at the center. Gently, Belic pushed his arm back down to the bedding.

“Now, now – we wouldn't want you tampering with these.”

The doctor kept up his assurances while Henry remained silent. Shawn was breathing more or less evenly now and that was what mattered.

It only took a few moments to make certain the stitches were still intact. Seeming pleased with what he found, the doctor finished up his exam by pulling out a penlight and giving a visual system's check of all the working parts. Shawn flinched now and then when the doctor leaned in too close. He swallowed hard a few times but hadn't tried speaking again.

Finally Belic stepped back. “Alright, Shawn, I'll be back in just a moment. Sit tight, okay, son?”

Shawn nodded again and sank back into his pillow – his face blank.

“Dad, would you mind coming with me for a moment?” Belic guided Henry towards the far end of the room. Keeping Shawn in his line of sight, Henry crossed his arms leaned back against the wall.

Belic sighed. “As I'd suspected, there are some complications from the surgery as well as the injury itself. Shawn's speech hasn't yet returned, but that will likely be a short term inconvenience and should resolve itself soon. However, due to the location of the bullet, we have another hurdle to deal with now as well.

“He's blind.”

The doctor didn't seem surprised that Henry had noticed the problem. He nodded back.

“The bullet is lodged in the base of the occipital lobe, the part of the brain that controls vision. It also appears that some fragments splintered into the cerebellum as well, so it's possible there may be some loss of fine motor control on his right side. We can't know for certain how badly he's been affected until we're a little further along in his recovery, but you need to be aware of what Shawn might be up against.”

Henry swallowed as he rubbed one hand over his face – leaving his fingers pressed against his lips as he studied his son. Shawn was still fighting with his medication – and losing given the long blinks of his eyes. Right now his awareness was probably out the window. But in another day...

“How long?”

Belic knew immediately what was being asked. “We can't know for certain. His sight could return in a few days, or... or it could be permanent.”

If asked, Henry would say he preferred a straight answer every time. He didn't tolerate waffling; even less so the tendency to be evasive. That went for criminals, doctors, and his own son. And while part of him appreciated the facts spelled out in black and white, the part of his mind that was inexorably attached to his soul wouldn't stop repeating the same three words over and over until they ricocheted in a blur through his skull. Shawn is blind, Shawn is blind, Shawn is blind.

“If Shawn remains stable through the rest of the day, we'll consider moving him from the ICU tomorrow. Visitation time will be less restrictive and you'll probably even be allowed to remain with him through the night.”

Fine, great, but tomorrow was tomorrow. It was this moment, right now, that he needed to be with his son. The last trickle of information sounded close enough to a wrap up for Henry, so he thanked Belic without more than a glance at his face and wove around his body to return to the bed.

Shawn was still awake, though just barely. His gaze had stopped roving about the room and was now locked in a soft stare almost directly at one of the overhead lights.

“Shawn.” The address was more to let his son know of his presence than because he had anything to say. He touched the blanket next to Shawn's fingers and had them instantly clamped in a moist grip. The eyes started moving again, though now there was squinting as well – he could almost feel the strain Shawn was putting into trying to see. However, it was short-lived. On his next blink, his eyes remained shut. Soon after that, the grip slackened until Henry was clutching limp fingers. Resting the hand back on the bed, he leaned over to pull the blanket higher before stepping back and taking a deep breath.

“He's asleep.” He whispered as Belic moved to the opposite side of the bed. The doctor nodded in response.

“He'll probably be out again for the rest of the night. Why not head home? There will be someone in here to check on Shawn about once an hour.”

Henry smoothed a wrinkle in the blanket – brushing fingers against fingers and then keeping the contact without returning the doctor's look.

“No.” He coughed out the thickness in his throat. “No, I'll stay.”

He heard Belic move nearby, and then a hand patted his shoulder. He managed not to shake it off.

“I'll have one of the nurses bring in some fresh bedding for you.”

Henry didn't plan to sleep. After Belic left, he returned to the chair he'd abandoned over twenty minutes ago. The blanket he'd used the night before was still draped over the arm. Pulling it across his lap against the coolness of the room, he felt down beside himself for the magazine he'd fallen asleep while reading earlier.

Good Housekeeping wasn't his first choice, absolutely the reason he'd passed out while halfway through an article about the best garden flowers for a fall bouquet. Still, it would get him through the next hour or so until he could slip down the hall and charm the morning paper from the nurse's station.

But then, maybe by that time, he wouldn't need it.


His hands dragged over his scalp, over and over, exploring the smoothness of the it. It reminded him of the warm skin on a puppy's belly. Not even the dusting of prickles normally left over from a close shave. He didn't touch the right side of his head. Not after that first time. Something was sticking out of his skull right above his ear and from underneath a square of bandaging. It was fascinating, but kinda freaky too.

He finally dropped his hand back to his side. He blinked. Still dark. Where was he anyhow? Granted, he assumed it was a hospital or possibly the Humanidyne Institute. Well it was freaking dark wherever the hell it was. He squinted again as he tried picking out even the smallest glow. There were machines nearby, he could hear the hum, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to think that they had dials or readouts or some sort of illumination.

Nada. Or, in the words of the great Jack Spencer, it was darker than Jabba the Hut's asshole. He cleared his throat for the zillionth time and really wished he had a glass of water. He'd tried asking for a glass of water, which hadn't been possible because his throat was so dry he couldn't speak – which meant he needed water – which he couldn't get because... he couldn't speak. He'd never been a big fan of circular arguments unless they worked in his favor and/or pissed off his dad.

So, with the choices being another attempt at speech or feeling up his Gus-like dome, he opted for number three. Of course, pouting was way better with an audience. However, it was a quiet activity and allowed him to return to a question he'd studied on not long after he'd first woken up.

What the hell happened to him?

He was getting panicky. He needed to not do that. He needed to figure out what happened and that meant he needed his mind to cooperate with him.

Backtrack. What was the last thing he remembered? And actually, that was a stupid question because the last thing he remembered was everything going theatrically black. The better question was, what was the second to the last thing he remembered?

Ice cream. Something about ice cream on the police scanner. He and Gus had been in the office and... and they been flicking cashews at each other. Okay, Shawn had been flicking cashews and Gus had been trying to defend himself with a tennis racket. And that was when they'd heard a staticy voice mention ice cream. Gus's tummy had growled like a baby pug and so they'd called a truce on nut wars and had headed for the car.

And... And then everything after that was empty. Yet, somehow, he'd gone from ice cream to lying in a dark room with his head shaved and his arm in a sling. So, memory was out... what next? He still couldn't talk, though he tried again just to be sure. This always worked so much better if he could talk it out. He needed to be reassured by the soothing mellow tone of his own voice... Accident! That had to be it! They were driving to where the dispatcher had said there was a truckload of unclaimed frosty goodness when... when they must have been hit. They must have... But if he was here... where...

God, Gus... Where was Gus?!

Panic again, but this time it wasn't going away. He felt around beside himself, knowing there had to be a remote or switch or something... call button, it was a call button. He reached farther – straining – and finally felt something other than his blanket. It was a... he walked his fingertips over the surface. A... head? He squeezed it as though testing the softness of a melon.

The head jerked and there was a muted grunt as it pulled from his grip. “Ow... Shawn?”

Dad! Of course it was dad! Holy crap, he must really be hurt if Henry was passing out on his hospital cot!

The mattress pushed down as his father shifted – probably sitting up. Shawn tried, again, to speak. He actually forced out a squeak of sound. Excited by the progress, he tried again.

“...dad...” It was shot through with gravel, but he had a voice regardless of the timbre.

“Hey, how are you doing, kiddo?” It was odd to hear his dad whispering. It didn't fit him. And yet, it was nice. And then the earlier worries came back in a flood.

“Gus?”

The bed moved again and then fingers wrapped around his own. “He went home a few hours ago but said he'd stop in... what's wrong?”

Shawn pulled his hand free to wipe it over his eyes. “He wasn't hurt?”

“Hurt? Why would Gus be...?” His dad now put a hand on his arm. “Shawn, do you remember what happened?”

That was a bonus round question right there. He really did try to think. Ice cream... they were looking for ice cream... but the solid wall that enclosed the rest of the memories from then till about twenty minutes ago was not only impenetrable, but painful. The sharp twist through his temples dragged a bright yellow strip of police tape across the wall. The “Do No Cross” was a warning he decided to obey for the moment when his stomach tickled its own warning.

“Here...” A light swish and clinking was followed by a cool, damp cloth pressing over his eyes. He winced at the unexpected cold, but then felt the muscles in his neck start to loosen as the throb in his skull began to tug its claws free.

And it was as he was settling back down against his pillow that all those easily ignored clues started to slide together in his mind. The unlit machines, the too dark room, the fact that his dad could spot a microscopic glisten of shine in his eyes; a wince of pain; when he himself couldn't see the end of his highly visible nose.

He pulled the cloth from his eyes. Everything was so dark. No hospital room was ever this dark.

“Dad...?” He swallowed on the question, knowing the answer now but not able to stop himself from actually hoping, for the first time, that his deductions were absolutely, a thousand percent, wrong.

But then his father, without needing to hear him ask it, answered.


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