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Stiles learns to live his life in a series of contradictions. His body is his. It isn’t, it hasn’t been since the nogitsune possessed him. He’s still himself, still Stiles Stilinski. Maybe he isn’t, maybe he’s still the nogitsune but he’s gotten so good at pretending that no one knows if he’s Stiles or not. Some days he lives in one side of the contradiction, sometimes in the other. Sometimes it takes seconds for his state of mind to switch between them, sending him down a horrible spiral of what-ifs and identity crises.

 

He’s fine. He isn’t. He hasn’t been fine since he dragged Scott to the field that night to see a dead body ( who does that? Who goes out of their way to find a dead body? Normal fucking people don’t do that. But Stiles did, even before the nogitsune. What does that say about him? ) and Scott got bitten. He hasn’t been fine since Scott turned for the first time and Stiles got sucked into this horrible supernatural world filled with things that could kill him. Things that have tried to kill him, repeatedly. And even humans who have tried to kill him.

 

Sometimes, Stiles wishes they would.

 

Whoever said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger was fucking lying. Or didn’t have constant supernatural threats that almost killed them before they even turned seventeen. Either way, what a fucking lie.

 

Why is Stiles so sure? He can barely walk across a room, that’s why.

 

When the nogitsune separated itself from Stiles, it somehow created two of… of him . There was the original Stiles, his original body, and the new Stiles, cloned by magic or witchcraft or whatever it was that kept the nogitsune alive. The nogitsune kept Stiles’ original body and shoved him in the new one.

 

A new body, weaker and frailer than normal Stiles. The bags under his eyes were more prominent than ever, his skin paler than it ever was, limbs thin and gangly, grip weaker than ever. And, perhaps the worst part, he didn’t have scars anymore. And he knows it’s a dumb thing to miss, but lately he’s been thinking about what Scott said months ago, about needing something permanent and that’s why he got the tattoo. Well, Stiles would probably pass out if he ever got a tattoo, so he got scars instead. Cheaper, hurt less, and he could get as many of them as he wanted (or didn’t want).

 

The tiny, barely visible scar on his forearm when Scott smacked into him and the ridiculously heavy chemistry book he was carrying broke Stiles’ skin. The cross-shaped scar on his knee that he got during his skateboarding phase. The small indent on the back of his thigh from when he and Scott wrestled in the playground as children. The scar on the palm of his right hand from where he’d picked up a vase his mother had thrown, on one of her bad days when she couldn’t tell is Stiles was her son or not.

 

And no scar on his stomach when the nogitsune had cut his stomach open to release a horde of demonic flies. No lighting scars. No dementia (he’s grateful about the last one. It’s the only thing he’ll ever be thankful to that monster for).

 

All of it was gone, as if it hadn’t happened. As if all those things Stiles had experienced had simply never happened.

 

His body was good as new. So why did he feel this way?

 

If this new body was so perfect, practically brand new, why did he get so cold at random intervals? Why did his hands shake every time he tried to lift something? Why did he get tired whenever he was on his feet for too long? Why couldn’t the stupid fox take the fucking ADHD when it made Stiles a magical clone of a body? Why couldn’t it take the nightmares? Why did it take Stiles’ original, true body, and not the new one?

 

Scott knocks on the door, pulling him out of his internal spiral, “Your heartbeat’s getting faster,” He says, and Stiles has to take a second to remind himself that he can’t hide anything from Scott. Stupid werewolf senses. “Are you cold?”

 

Fucking freezing , Stiles thinks, twisting his hands into the blanket covering him. He’s in Scott’s bed, in his room, in his house, because the nogitsune took that from him too. Here is where I took over you and made you walk out into the freezing cold. Here is where I sat, waving at your father through the camera. Did you feel helpless, knowing that I took your home from you, made you feel unsafe when it used to be one of your favorite places in the world? How did it feel to know your father was going out of his mind trying to save you? That all your friends were uselessly trying to save you, when you’re not even yourself? When you know that you and I are one?

 

Scott drapes his hoodie over Stiles’ head, pulling it until the hood covers Stiles’ hair. And then, because Stiles isn’t a child, he pulls his arms through the sleeves and sighs deeply. Yeah, it is way better to have the hoodie on. It smells like Scott and it’s warm and it’s all Stiles needs, really.

 

Well, and—

 

“Scott?” He says, voice breaking.

 

His best friend, his brother, looks at him and nods encouragingly, almost reaching out to take Stiles’ hand but stopping at the last second. “Yeah? What is it?”

 

I’m sorry I killed Allison. How can you stand to look at me? How do you know I’m me? How can you be sure that the nogitsune didn’t take my humanity? I don’t even know if I’m Stiles Stilinski or if I’m just the nogitsune pretending. I don’t know who I am anymore. How can you stand to be near me?

 

Instead, Stiles says, “I’m tired.”

 

And Scott cracks a smile, “I’m tired too. Wanna be little spoon?” He doesn’t give Stiles a chance to reply, merely brings him into his arms, arms wrapped around his chest, chin on his shoulder. “Do you want some socks? You’re really cold.”

 

Stiles chuckles incredulously and his toes search for Scott’s calfs, tucking underneath them. “I just want to sleep.”

 

Scott shrugs and squeezes him, pulling him impossibly close, warm and safe , and that’s how they sleep.

 

It’s the first time Stiles has slept through the night since… since so long, it feels like a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t last, naturally.

 

Stiles returns back to his own home, already feeling like he’d overstayed his welcome at the McCall house. Melissa and Scott had their own lives to deal with, their own grief to sort through. Stiles couldn’t be the center of it all the time, it wasn’t fair.

 

He goes home, tries not to throw up at the sight of his own bed, where all the red string tied so it points to the center of the pillow he always uses to sleep (as if he were the unsolved case which, in a way, he is. His body is back, his mind is sort-of back, but there’s something deeply wrong with him, something he’ll never be able to fix).

 

He tries not to feel guilty about how people died because of him. How he remembers using the oni to kill deputies and people at the hospital, twisting a sword inside his best friend, taunting Melissa about telling Scott why Rafael left, his own voice turning to a higher pitch, faking being terrified ( “He’s gonna kill me, dad, please don’t let him hurt me, please—“ ), when Argent pointed a gun at his head. (Argent should’ve pulled the trigger).

 

How he remembers the chaos and pain the nogitsune inflicted. That he enjoyed it. And he doesn’t know if it was him or the fox or some fucked up combination of both. Maybe they’re one in the same.

 

He starts pulling out the string, throwing in the trash, along with the entire mystery board. He looks at Mr. Harris’ picture from before he got kidnapped to be a sacrifice for Derek’s girlfriend of the week and Stiles laughs, thinks shit, we really got desensitized to death, huh? And when he turns his head, seeing himself in the mirror, he doesn’t recognize who it is. It’s Stiles’ body; sunken cheeks, purple bruising under his eyes, sickly pale skin— but it’s not him . It’s a killer. It’s the fox. It’s Stiles. It’s both of them and neither of them and—

 

The first punch he throws to the glass is weak. The second one makes a crack. The third actually breaks it. He throws a book at it and watches it shatter. Digs his fingers into the glass to pull it away, blood staining everything he touches. It’s fitting. There’s already so much blood on his hands— he thinks he could wash them in bleach and they would still never be clean— but that blood was never his own. It was Allison’s. Aiden’s. The dozens of deputies’. The dozens of hospital workers’.

 

His dad’s screaming, pulling him away, telling him it’s alright, and Stiles is sobbing. His dad pulls him into a hug and squeezes him as tightly as he can, “You’re you, Stiles. You’re okay. You’re going to be okay. The nogitsune is gone. It can’t hurt you anymore. You’re you—“

 

He isn’t. He is. He isn’t.

 

Maybe I fooled him too .

 

Fucking contradictions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stiles almost doesn’t attend Allison’s funeral.

 

He hasn’t seen anyone in days, preferring to stay on the couch or in his dad’s room, but not his own. Never his own.

 

He wasn’t going to go, but it’s Lydia who asks him to. She shows up three hours before, pulls him from the couch, manicured nails pressing into his skin, and all but throws him into the bathroom, and tells him to shower whilst she finds him some clothes. He does as she says. He’s never been good at denying her anything, as a friend or as a lover and neither and both.

 

She re-bandages his hands, staring at the cuts and her eyes are teary, “What happened?”

 

He shrugs, pointedly staring at the floor, “Something stupid. Guess I do that a lot, huh?” It doesn’t comfort her as he hoped it would. None of the tension is diffused. Tough crowd, he would’ve said, in another life. In this one, he lets the awkward silence hang between them. For once, he doesn’t know what to say.

 

She flinches when Stiles raises one of his hand, pushing his hair away from his eyes. He pretends it doesn’t sting. He deserves it, anyway. It’s his fault Allison and Aiden are dead. “Why did you come for me?”

 

“I’m not letting you miss the funeral.”

 

“It’s my fault she’s dead.” His eyes meet hers, and he thinks he can see a hint of grief. “She was your best friend and it’s my fault she’s dead.”

 

“No it isn’t,” She says sharply, pulling at the bandages so tightly that Stiles almost flinches. “It wasn’t you. It was the nogitsune. And the oni.” Her eyes reflect deep sorrow, “Allison was your friend too. You loved her.”

 

Something in his chest stirs. He had indeed loved Allison, with her kind heart and deadly aim and comforting presence. Now she was dead and he was alive. How was that fair?

 

It feels like a betrayal, for Stiles to be at her funeral. It also feels like an insult to Argent, to have to see the face of his daughter’s killer. An insult in a way to Scott and Isaac and Lydia too. And everyone who’d ever known Allison, who’d ever befriended her, who’d ever loved her. Stiles shouldn’t be here, but he refuses to leave after the service has already started. That would certainly be a slap to the face.

 

He keeps his head down all throughout, buries his hands in his pockets and closes them into fists. His nails can’t even dig into his skin because of the bandages.

 

When it’s over, and people are leaving, he feels Lydia pull gently at the sleeve of his suit. Pretty much everyone had taken their vests and jackets and blazers off because of the hot weather. Stiles hadn’t. As a side effect of the nogitsune, he got cold at random intervals. Sometimes, he didn’t think he’d ever feel warm again. But he also kept it on as some sort of respect to Allison. It’s not much, but at least it’s something .

 

“Stiles,” Lydia says insistently. He doesn’t budge.

 

Scott calls his name and Stiles pulls his arm from their grasps, approaching the grave and tombstone and, standing before it, Chris Argent, looking as if he’d aged ten years since Allison died. Stiles can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child.

 

“Stiles?” Argent says, clear confusion on his face. He looks so tired. The bags under his eyes, his unshaved face, haunted eyes—

 

Stiles thinks he can feel his cheeks heating up in shame, can almost feel his heart squeezing itself inside his chest. “I’m sorry,” He breathes out, his nails digging into his bandages as if he could break through them through sheer force of will. “I’m sorry—“ Words get stuck in his throat. It’s my fault. The nogitsune went after me for a reason. It knew I couldn’t resist it, it knew I was the weakest link, it knew I’m so fucked up that I would end up reveling in the chaos it left. If I hadn’t gotten possessed Allison would still be alive. It’s my fault, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry—

 

Argent’s arms wrap around Stiles’ frame, the older man’s arms around his shoulders, and Stiles grips the back of Argent’s suit. “It isn’t your fault, kid,” Argent says, squeezing Stiles tightly. Like a father would. Like Argent would never get to do for his own daughter again. “You— all of you— you’re too young to be dealing with this, any of this.” Argent pulls back, looks at Stiles right in his eyes, “You’re a victim too, Stiles.”

 

Stiles doesn’t know why that’s the sentence that breaks him. Doesn’t know why a sob rips its way out of his throat and his knees buckle, but Argent is still holding onto him, not letting him fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stiles doesn’t return to school for a while. He still struggles with just walking from place to place, his body still struggling to adjust to daily life. He’s taking vitamins and supplements and antidepressants but even the most minimal of tasks exhaust him. He gets to play a fun game of is it depression or a side effect of not having yet broken in the new Stiles-suit except it isn’t fun and there’s no prize at the end and even if he knew the answer, it wouldn’t change anything.

 

Things have to get back to normal, at some point, so Stiles does the most normal thing of all: homework. Or tries, at least. It’s for English, an essay on the effects of grief through the character of Holden in The Catcher in the Rye (it feels ironic, purposeful even, that that’s the theme they have to write about). Stiles doesn’t know how he’s supposed to read the whole book and plans to Sparknotes the whole thing— that’s at least one thing he’s kept post-possession. That’s his life now: Pre and Post possession. Pre and Post trauma. Pre and Post living in contradictions.

 

But just because Stiles is having a hard time, it doesn’t mean he can abandon everything. He wants to, desperately. Wants to lock himself in a room until he dies, wants to isolate and push people away until they stop caring so he can’t hurt them anymore. He also wants to be locked in a little bubble with no one but Scott, maybe with Melissa and his dad too. No one but his family in a little bubble, where they can hurt each other beyond belief and still come back because that’s what families do. But Stiles doesn’t want to hurt Scott or Melissa or his dad. Fucking contradictions.

 

He stares down at his homework and sighs deeply, tugging at the bandages on his right hand. He opens the book and tries to read, tries to do something productive and useful for once.

 

The words twist on the page. It seems like they’re floating, almost, combining themselves with others and jumping to the farthest corners of the page. They don’t make any sense and Stiles closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and counts to ten, and when he opens them again, he can read. He gets three sentences in before his chest caves in on itself, his hands turning ice cold and he can’t breathe. He can’t breathe and the nogitsune is back and this is a nightmare or maybe it’s reality and—

 

He grabs a marker, he always keeps one close, and starts writing on his forearm. A backwards five, the kanji for self. He writes it again. And again and again and again and again and again it’s never enough

 

When he wakes, Scott’s sitting beside him, holding his hand. He’s put an oxygen mask over Stiles’ nose and mouth (he’s at least 90% sure Melissa stole it from the hospital, which, good for her ‘cause healthcare is a scam ). “Are you okay?”

 

Stiles blinks slowly, the hand that isn’t being squeezed to death by Scott trailing down his chest. He’s wearing a hoodie he knows he didn’t have, and the covers are pulled up to his chin. There’s a backwards five written on his palm. He must’ve ripped the bandages off without noticing. “How did you know?”

 

“I was downstairs,” Scott shrugs. “I brought chicken soup.”

 

Stiles wants to laugh but he has a feeling that if he tries, he’ll start crying. He sits up, pulls Scott to rest against the headboard with him, puts his head on his best friend’s shoulder, and promptly passes out.

 

When he wakes again, Lydia’s sitting on his swivel chair, right next to his bed. Scott’s still holding Stiles’ hand and the oxygen mask is gone. “PTSD,” Lydia says quietly, arms wrapped around her stomach as if she were trying to hug herself. Stiles realizes she’s speaking to Scott, not him. “People who have it can have panic attacks and severe anxiety. And sometimes, that makes them feel as if they’re reliving a traumatic event. It’s all psychological, but the effects manifest physically.”

 

Stiles thinks about what that means for him, thinks of how to fix it, and blanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stiles used to sleep in his dad’s bed after his mom died. He spent nearly every night curled up under the blankets, clutching his pillow, with one of his dad’s arms around him. It took him about a year to grow used to sleeping by himself, in his own bed. But even when he got older, he often found himself crawling under the covers, curling into himself with his trusty pillow, and sleeping with the knowledge that his dad was right next to him.

 

Stiles hadn’t done that in a while, not since Scott got bitten and he spent hours researching and having nightmares and developing insomnia.

 

But tonight, he’s cold. He’s so cold he’s freezing and he’s not going to call Scott at this hour. So Stiles grabs his pillow, pulls on the hoodie Scott left him, and keeps a hand on the wall as he walks to his dad’s bedroom. He hopes he doesn’t collapse before he reaches the door, that’d be embarrassing. It had been happening less as of recent, but sometimes he just got so cold that his entire body felt like it was shutting down. Lydia’s voice in his mind reminds him of PTSD and Stiles pushes it away. He can’t drown his dad in more debt. He won’t.

 

His dad’s already sitting up when the door opens, as if he had some sort of sixth sense for when Stiles needed him. “You okay, kid?”

 

It takes Stiles a few seconds to muster up the courage to reply. “No.”

 

His dad shifts, making room for Stiles to crawl in. He pulls back the covers and Stiles slips into the place where his dad had been in, the covers still warm from his body heat. His dad wraps his arms around him, pulls him close, and says, “You know you can talk to me, right?”

 

Stiles is really tired of leaving his dad in the dark. “Sometimes,” He starts out quietly, gripping his pillow as tightly as he can. “I don’t know if I’m me. Of if I’m the nogitsune. Or if… if I’m neither. Or both.”

 

His dad stays quiet for a few seconds, “He possessed you for a long time, Stiles. He made you watch as it did all of those horrible things, you were basically trapped inside your own body. It’s natural to feel that way.”

 

“Maybe,” Stiles shrugs. “I still don’t know if I’m me or not.”

 

“Is that why you broke the mirrors the other day?” The silence is a response within itself.

 

“This isn’t even my real body,” Stiles chuckles dryly, shoulders shaking. “It’s a clone. It ran off with my original body.”

 

“You keep referring to yourself as ‘me’, Stiles. You know you’re you, you’re Stiles Stilinski.”

 

He hadn’t thought of it that way. “I don’t think this body will ever feel like my own.”

 

“Stiles, do you want to… to change something about yourself? Maybe to confirm that this is you, your real self? And that this… body that you’re in is… you?”

 

Stiles doesn’t know how his dad’s words even made sense (isn’t it funny to think about an outsider hearing the shit they talk about and just… that person losing their fucking mind trying to figure out what’s going on in their lives?) or why the first thing he thought to do was— “Do you still have your razor?”

 

And ten minutes later, Stiles runs his hands over his buzzcut as he stares at himself in the mirror for the first time in weeks.

 

He takes a deep breath. This isn’t the nogitsune. When he was the nogitsune, when it took over him, it looked completely different. It had long hair and sunken cheeks from lack of sunlight and eye-bags from lack of sleep and it didn’t feed or hydrate or wash its hair or shave. It wasn’t human so it didn’t care. But Stiles did. He was human and he cared. He cared. He cared about himself and his friends and his family. He cared.

 

He was human. He was Stiles Stilinski. He was himself.

 

“You’re you,” His dad repeats, pulling Stiles into a tight hug. They’re both sobbing, but Stiles feels good and more like himself than he has since the whole nogitsune disaster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he walks into Scott’s house for movie night, with Lydia as the newest addition, it’s the first time neither of them flinch when he first enters the room. As if they saw him and they just knew he was Stiles and not the nogitsune, this time.

 

“Nice haircut,” Lydia says when he sits beside her. She runs her hand over the side of his head, her nails scratching gently.

 

“You look like you’re fourteen again,” Scott says with a laugh, not unkindly, and takes a seat on Stiles’ other side. He reaches out, touches Stiles’ hand, a hisses, “You’re freezing, dude! Where my hoodie?”

 

“I left it at home,” Stiles shrugs. “I’m not even cold—“ Scott’s already dashing upstairs to get a new one.

 

Lydia laughs, “He’s just worried.”

 

“Like a mother bear.”

 

“Or mother hen?”

 

“Mother wolf?”

 

“Mother werewolf?”

 

“I am not a mother werewolf,” Scott says, throwing one of his hoodies at Stiles’ face. Whilst Stiles puts it on, Scott queques up the movie.

 

The second the familiar intro plays, Stiles nearly jumps out of his seat, “Did it seriously take me almost dying for you to finally watch Star Wars?”

 

“It’s confusing,” Scott defends. “This is the fourth movie but Lydia said it’s the first one.”

 

“It is the first one,” Stiles and Lydia say in sync.

 

Scott’s head tilts to the side. Stiles thinks he resembles a confused puppy. “So which movie is the fourth one?”

 

“This one, Scott,” Lydia says, shaking her head. “You know what? It’s fine. Stiles, we should know better than to try to explain this to a himbo.”

 

“You really think he’s a himbo?” Stiles asks, turning his whole body to look at her.

 

At the same time, Scott tries to chime in, “What’s a himbo?”

 

“I mean, yeah, he’s a total himbo,” Lydia says. “A himbo with emotional intelligence, but still.”

 

“I can see that.”

 

Scott grumbles miserably, grabbing at Stiles’ waist to pull him back as if that would force the attention back on him, “What’s a himbo? Stiles, come on—“

 

“Shh! Movie’s starting!” Stiles says in lieu of a response, but doesn’t resist when Scott pulls him into a side hug that Lydia eventually joins. The three of them watch the whole movie in a semi-cuddle pile, and by the end the only one who’s awake is Scott. (He doesn’t mind. He glad that Stiles smiled, laughed, and Lydia did too. The happiness is almost radiating off them and Scott feeds on it, takes it in, and wraps his arms around them a little tighter. They’re pack, his pack).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Are you coming to lacrosse tryouts?” Scott asks him, shoulder brushing against Stiles’ own. He’d been hovering as of lately, as if to make sure that Stiles wouldn’t promptly fall apart the second he was gone. Surprisingly, Stiles found it sweet and not at all frustrating. (Maybe a little frustrating). “Coach asked about you.”

 

Stiles found it funny, in a way. They faced supernatural threats every 2-3 business days and still found time to complain and worry about tests, homework and lacrosse. “Coach asked about me?” Stiles replies, sarcasm in his voice.

 

“Yeah. He wanted to replace you with Greenberg, even if you’re… you know,” He motions to Stiles’ entire body.

 

“So weak I can barely walk?”

 

“You’re walking now! By yourself, no less,” Scott insists, playfully bumping his shoulder against Stiles’. “You’ll be back at full strength soon, I know it.”

 

Full strength wasn’t exactly comforting when Stiles was the only human in a pack of supernaturals. “Yeah, Scott. I’m sure.”

 

“Plus, Coach was just talking about you being bad at lacrosse. He doesn’t know about the whole… everything.”

 

“I’m not bad at lacrosse!”

 

“You’re pretty bad, dude.”

 

Stiles has to give Scott the win on that one. “Well, you’re only good because of the stupid werewolf powers.” Scott gives him that one.

 

He sits on the bleachers, smiling gratefully at Kira as she moves her bag to make space for him, and just as he’s settling in and trying to ignore just how much the walk tired him out—

 

“Stilinski!” Coach bellows. “What are you doing? Get on the field!”

 

“I’m not playing this year, Coach,” Stiles says. “Taking care of myself. Did you know sweat is bad for the skin? And so is sunlight, oddly enough. Causes wrinkles. Are you wearing sunscreen?”

 

“Are you kidding me!” Coach grunts, almost stomping his foot like a child. “Whittemore’s gone, Lahey’s gone, Boyd’s…” He stops abruptly, eyes widening as if suddenly remembering, “…dead.” Stiles winces at the reminder, but Coach doesn’t let the slip up interrupt his roll. “You’re not playing. And Greenberg! Got! Held! Back!” He smacks his clipboard with each word, taking out his anger on it.

 

“What’d the clipboard ever do to you?” Stiles asks, already growing amused. He’d missed Coach’s… frankly insane demeanor. The man is hilarious.

 

“Who’s Greenberg?” Kira asks Stiles in a mock of a whisper, but Coach still hears her.

 

“Who’s—“ He stops abruptly, his face turning red with anger. “Greenberg!” He bellows, causing for the senior to turn  from where he’d been talking to the freshmen. “Two laps around the field! Move it!” And Greenberg, far too used to this, took a little jog until Coach turned around, already ignoring him.

 

“So what, Stilinski, you’re just gonna sit around judging?”

 

“Yes. Obviously,” Stiles says. “It’s my best talent, Coach. I do it every day.”

 

Coach’s eyes narrow, “Absolutely not. I’m not going to have you sit around judging and doing nothing except being McCall’s cheerleader. If you’re going to be at practice, make yourself useful. You’re my new assistant.”

 

Stiles sputters, “What? No—“ Coach blows on his whistle to shut him up. “Coach—“ Whistle again. “Coach!” Goddamn fucking whistle.

 

“I can do this all day, buddy,” Coach taunts, blowing the whistle again.

 

Stiles is already borderline out of breath, “Okay!” He shouts over the whistle, and Coach finally drops it. Stiles pursued his lips, “I’m not going to be an assistant.”

 

“You wanna have a go with the whistle again?”

 

“I’m not going to be an assistant.”

 

“How about assistant… coach?”

 

Stiles opens his mouth to decline, but reconsiders. His eyes narrow, “Do I get a whistle?”

 

“You are not getting a whistle.”

 

“Well,” Stiles throws his hands up. “What’s the point if I don’t get a whistle?”

 

Coach’s face turns beet red. Stiles has to bite down on his own tongue before he bursts out laughing. “…fine. You can get a whistle.”

 

Stiles, suddenly overcome with energy, grabs Coach’s whistle and blows in it, “Freshmen!” All the children turn towards him like baby birds would to their mother. Geez, how old are they? Twelve? “Two laps around the field!”

 

“Yeah, two laps around the field!” Coach echoes, but still ends up grabbing Stiles by the ear. “Who told you to do that? Are you crazy with power already?”

 

“They’re children, Coach!” Stiles insists, gesturing to the closest freshman that hadn’t yet started running. “That is a child! There is no muscle in that body, they need to build it up for games.”

 

Coach’s eyes narrow in the direction of the poor freshmen he’d chosen to be scrutinized. The kid’s practically shaking in his boots. “You know what, Stilinski?” Coach says, letting go of Stiles’ ear and slapping him on the back. “I’m surprised you had a half decent idea.”

 

“Thanks, Coach.”

 

(Stiles doesn’t know, but Scott’s grinning from the field, having heard the whole conversation. He can’t stop smiling the whole practice. Coach yells at him, stop grinning like a psycho, McCall! And Stiles adds, you’re scaring the children! But nothing can get Scott’s mood down. Not when this is the first time Stiles has truly acted like himself, like Scott’s hyperactive best friend who banters and argues with Coach for no reason other than because he finds it amusing. And Stiles doesn’t pass out at any point, doesn’t get so cold he stops breathing or forgets where he is, but he does end up having to sit down for a little while. He gives the freshmen on the bench tips and Scott thinks he looks like a mother duck instructing her children. It’s so truthfully and irrevocably Stiles that Scott has hope that, one day, all of them will get through this. They’re all going to be okay).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After weeks of tracing the kanji for self into his own skin, Stiles walks into a tattoo shop.

 

He’s bad with needles and passes out at the first twinge of pain, but when he wakes up he has the kanji for self tattooed on the inside of his right wrist, where he can always look at it and trace it and remind himself that he’s here. And he gets one in the back of his ear too, as if that was the ultimate confirmation that Stiles was Stiles and not the nogitsune.

 

The first person who sees his new tattoo is Melissa, who doesn’t look like a disappointed mother at all. Rather, she looks intrigued, “What’s the significance behind it?”

 

“It’s the kanji for self,” Stiles says self-consciously, nervously tracing the kanji over the plastic thingy the tattoo artist had wrapped around it. Something about aftercare. She promised to email it to Stiles after he asked because in no universe would he be able to remember any of the things she’d said. “The oni used it to make sure that the nogitsune wasn’t possessing us.”

 

Melissa’s gaze softens in understanding and she wraps her arms around Stiles, squeezing him gently, “I think that’s very brave, Stiles.”

 

He cries into her shoulder. (He’s so tired of crying). “Sorry.”

 

“Don’t be,” Melissa says, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “I’m always here for you, Stiles. You’re my kid too.”

 

And now they’re both crying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Do you blame me?” Stiles asks into the darkness of Scott’s bedroom.

 

Scott’s hand finds his in the dark and squeezes tightly, pulling him closer, “Of course not, Stiles.”

 

“I feel like you should,” Stiles admits, voice barely above a whisper. He can’t stop the way his voice wobbles. “If I hadn’t been possessed, Allison would still be alive. Sometimes I think I should’ve died with the nogitsune.”

 

Scott stays quiet for a few moments, “I don’t,” He says. “And I’m glad you didn’t.”

 

“I can’t stop thinking about what everyone’s going through,” Stiles continues. “About Lydia losing her best friend. You losing the first girl you’ve ever loved. Argent losing a daughter… can you imagine that? Losing a child?”

 

“I can’t,” Scott admits. “But sometimes, when you get hurt and you’re in the hospital, I think of what your dad would feel if he lost you. Or what my mom would feel if she lost me, or if she lost you, even.” And Scott must’ve somehow seen the confusion on Stiles’ face even through the dark (stupid fucking werewolf senses). “You’re my brother, Stiles,” Scott shrugs, as if it’s that obvious and that easy.

 

“It’s not the same.”

 

“Family’s not all about blood,” Scott shrugs. “My mom considers you a son, and I’m sure your dad considers me one too. You’re my brother, my best friend, practically half of me by this point.”

 

Half of me . Hadn’t the nogitsune said something like that too?

 

“And if I lost you, I would lose my fucking mind.” Scott pulls Stiles closer, arms wrapping around each other until Stiles isn’t quite sure where he ends and Scott begins. “I love you, Stiles. All of us do. We’re all mourning Allison, but we’re happy that we didn’t lose everyone. You’re still here and you’re okay. We can celebrate those victories.”

 

“I’m half of you?”

 

“Half my soul for sure,” Scott laughs, as if it’s that easy, and Stiles cracks a wet smile, tears slipping down his cheeks. Scott wipes the away with his thumb.

 

“I love you, dude,” Stiles says, because he really can’t be entirely serious even in moments like these. It’s so much easier with Scott, who’s never judged him or pushed him aside or blamed him for anything. Maybe he should, this time, but Stiles has never doubted Scott’s judgment before. Who is Stiles to tell him otherwise?

 

“I love you too, man,” Scott says. “Now please stop crying. Otherwise I’ll start crying too and wet pillows are disgusting.”

 

“They really are,” Stiles laughs. And for a moment, things are back to normal. They’ll be different sometimes, and feel normal others, and back and forth, a constant switch that’ll sometimes take days, others seconds. Pesky contradictions again. But Stiles thinks he can live with this one, so long as he has Scott.