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more power than anything waiting in the dark

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When Scott jogs back inside, his mom stands against wall, watching Stiles, eyeing the tangle of bandages and dusty old clothes.

"Get them off," Stiles is saying, dazed and soft. "Get it off." He tugs at the bandages weakly, as if he has no idea that two fully grown werewolves just struggled to hold him down.

Scott stares, maybe a beat too long, but he doesn't know what to believe. He just watched this figure, this thing, climb right out of his living room floor. He still has phantom aches in his gut, reminding him to never trust a fox, you can't trust a fox, but he was just in Stiles' mind and he knows that Stiles trusts him, trusts his strength, trusts his wits, trusts his howl, trusts the pack.

Beneath the dank, rancid smells of decay and mildew, Stiles smells like himself. But he still smelled like himself when he was possessed. Even with all the blood and hate muddying Scott's senses, the nogitsune still smelled like Stiles' soap and deodorant and the gross-familiar scent of stress.

Stiles looks up. "Scott," he says, bewildered and scared. "What's happening to me?"

Scott's chest goes tight. He forgets his resolve, forgets Lydia and the other Stiles, forgets Deaton and Peter running after them. He kneels down and says, "Mom, help me," and starts unraveling the musty, damp bandages from Stiles' body.

Stiles struggles to help, uncoordinated and trembling. His skin is really cold. It sets off warning bells, but Scott doesn't know what any of it means. Is he hurt? Is he sick? Is this totally normal behavior after you've basically been thrown up by an evil spirit living in your own actual body?

"I don't like this, Scott," his mom says, her hands steady as she unwraps the last damp strip from around Stiles' neck. She presses her fingertips to his throat and looks up at the clock on the wall and even Stiles, dazed as he is, seems to notice that she's not treating him like he's normal, like it's him.

Stiles always took it harder than Scott when they both got in trouble with Scott's mom. Scott understood every time, because he hated the sheriff being mad at him more than anything else.

Stiles lowers his gaze, bows his head, pulls at the rotting leather at his sleeves. "I'm sorry," he's whispering, exhaling it over and over like a mantra. It's sickeningly reminiscent of the few times Stiles got so wasted he lost the ability to do anything but apologize to Scott, over and over, senselessly — like he desperately needed Scott to acknowledge that there was something wrong with him, that he was bad.

"Mom," Scott says. He waits for her to look over. He needs to know that she believes him. "It's him."

"You don't know that." Her lips go thin and she looks scared too, but not as scared as Scott's trying not to feel. She'll know what to do. She always knows what to do. "He... I don't know what I just saw, but that—"

"Mom." Scott doesn't know how to explain — doesn't want to explain — that he can tell that Stiles isn't faking it. Doesn't want Stiles to know that he can feel his shame and fear and confusion. It's not the fox putting on a show. Whatever this is believes its Stiles. Scott believes too, mostly. And the little part of him that isn't sure still wants — needs — it to really be Stiles.

His mom sighs quietly, and after a moment of hesitation, runs her fingers through Stiles' hair and makes a face. "Let's get you cleaned up, kiddo."

Stiles looks up when she touches him, wide eyed and nodding, and her expression softens.

Scott does most of the work. The clothes crumble and tear easily. It feels satisfying, like unwrapping a present. Beneath the rot, Stiles' skin is clean and cold, but he stills pushes at his own bare arms and thighs and whines softly, and the animal in Scott understands that it's wrong and bad to smell like something you're not.

Stiles smells like death, and Scott doesn't know if soap and water will wash it away.

He lifts Stiles to his feet and takes most of his weight and leads him to the downstairs bathroom, where his mom already has the water running.

"What's wrong with me?" Stiles asks, grasping at Scott when his legs don't move right.

"I think you're learning how to use your body again," Scott says, neglecting to mention that this body might be a brand new body. That he's never been this confused in his life. It's simpler to focus on Stiles' heartbeat and his unsteady breathing and the way he holds onto Scott without hesitation.

"What happened?"

"We helped you wake up."

"Where's Lydia?"

"Peter is looking for her. Kira too. They'll find her."

"I can't hear lies like you can," Stiles says.

Scott help him navigate the turn into the hallway. "I know."

"This is real?" Stiles asks, just a little more steadily.

"It's real to me," Scott's mom interrupts, throwing a towel to Scott. "So I'm going to keep averting my eyes. I'll be just outside the door with some clean clothes to change into."

Scott allows himself a tense laugh as they head into the steamy bathroom. This isn't a totally abnormal situation given Stiles' track record for hatching really terrible plans. "Hey remember that time we tried to make a treehouse?"

"When we got sap all over us?" Stiles asks, clinging to Scott so hard it leaves Scott no choice but to walk right into the stand-up shower with Stiles, only managing to toe his sneakers off before the hot water hits them both.

"Yeah and Mom had to cut all your hair off because it was stuck in there so bad," Scott says.

They'd showered together right here, nine or ten at the time and covered in mud and sap and dry leaves, and his mom had stood outside the door listing off all the reasons why climbing 18 feet into an oak tree with a chainsaw was the actual stupidest idea she'd ever heard of in her entire adult life and did they understand precisely how grounded, forever and ever, they were?

Stiles has his eyes closed and his cheek pressed against the tile, and he barely seems to know where they are or that he's naked or that the water is almost unbearably hot. "You gotta sit," Scott says, easing him down. He grabs the orange loofah hanging from the shower handle and loads it up with the vanilla body wash his mom keeps in there. "Sorry dude, but you're gonna smell like a candle."

It's a lot like washing the dogs at Deaton's. Scott scrubs him twice over, pays closer attention to his hair and his armpits and swipes the scratchy loofah at his crotch carefully, recognizing that Stiles isn't flinching or reacting and probably isn't going to tell him if anything hurts. He doesn't see bruises — even the ones he knows should be there. But he recognizes old scars. A divot at Stiles' knee from skateboarding, a long flat mark at his elbow from ditching off his bike. A faint line above his ankle from barbed wire when they snuck into a junk yard.

The words slip out before Scott can swallow them down. "It's you, right?"

Stiles blinks his eyes open, wipes the water out of his lashes. "You're asking me?" He makes a sound like a laugh, but hysterical and unhappy. "You're the one who's sure. Can't you... alpha scan me or something?" There's a rising, uneven pitch to his voice and Scott grips his shoulder, trying to calm him, ground him. "Scott, you have to know. You have to be sure!"

"Scott." It's his mom, just outside the shower curtain, reaching in and turning the water off. "Get him dry before one of you slips," she says, like they're roughhousing. Like everything is okay.

They make it as far as the bath mat.

Stiles is panicking in a weird, exhausted-looking way, like his gulping breaths are tiring him out. "What if it's a trick? Scott. Where's Deaton? Where's Derek? You can't fight me by yourself if it's a trick, you—" His voice cuts off when Scott's mom pulls an old green shirt over Stiles' head and takes his arm and starts shoving it through one of the sleeves.

"You're demonstrating signs of dehydration, sleep deprivation, mild shock and god knows what else," she says. "Now I'm not saying I'm an expert on the supernatural, but I am saying you are medically incapable of good judgement right now. Scott — get out of those wet clothes, you're flooding the bathroom."

Scott strips down in the hallway, keeping an eye on Stiles and his mom. Stiles is watching her, so riveted to her words he doesn't even seem to notice her dressing him.

"The anxiety you're experiencing is related to your physical condition  — which, frankly, is seriously concerning me. You're not going to hurt anyone in this house," she says, handing him a cup of water from the counter. He drinks it with quick, small sips, watching her over the rim. "We're safe. And — kid, I don't know if you're safe. So I need you to try to rest. I need you to get well."

"Don't make me sleep," Stiles says. He wipes his mouth. The cup tumbles out of his fingers as he balls them into fists, holds them against his belly. "Please."

Scott pulls on the clothes his mom left in a pile for him, hopping and hurrying, rationally aware that Stiles can't be left alone with his mom like this and hating himself for thinking that Stiles might be capable of hurting her.

"Just lay down in my room while we wait for your dad, okay?" Scott asks, giving his mom a hand to stand and putting himself between them before he helps Stiles to his feet.

"I'm going in to work for a few things for Stiles," his mom says. "I will be back in half an hour. You text me if anything changes. And text me if you hear from... anyone."

"She's not getting sedatives, is she?"

"I don't think so. I'll tell her not to, if you want," Scott says. "You probably need antibiotics or something."

It isn't until they're upstairs that Scott has to acknowledge that something's really wrong. Stiles' coordination is coming back, and he takes most of the steps himself, but he's ashen and out of breath by the time they reach Scott's bed.

Stiles studies Scott as he eases him down onto the bed. "That bad?" he asks. As awful as he looks, there's a clarity to his gaze that wasn't there when he — when Scott uncovered him.

"I don't know." Scott sits beside him. "You don't look too hot."

"I can't think straight. I can't... connect anything." Stiles curls onto his side, shifts around. He nuzzles into Scott's pillow, taking deep breaths of it, so guileless it makes Scott smile. "I don't think that thing's been taking my meds for me."

"That thing is a dick," Scott says, rubbing Stiles' back. Now that they're out of the hot shower, Stiles is cold again, but he isn't shivering or complaining about it. Scott pulls an extra blanket up over him anyway, and then climbs in underneath it and spoons against Stiles' back.

The shit is going to hit the fan again. It's inevitable. Whether it's in 10 minutes or a few hours, it's coming. The chaos hasn't ended, and all Scott can do in this moment is hold Stiles to his chest like they're still little and a blanket fort and stern talking-to can fix even the biggest problems.

"Dude, are you crying?" Stiles asks.

"I'm trying not to. Don't screw up my concentration."

"That's some dire shit right there." Stiles finds Scott's hand and draws it up against his chest. His fingers are icy. "Will you stay here until my dad comes?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Scott says, letting his voice become a growl that rumbles against the back of Stiles' neck. He's not warning him. Not really.  But he's warning something away. His own fear, maybe — the possibility that something might take Stiles away from him. "I love you, dude," he adds quietly, because that's supposed to be enough. It's supposed to hold more power than anything waiting in the dark. It has to.