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new ways to fall apart

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i.

“Will you stop that? Just looking at you is giving me a headache.”

Stiles glances up at Jackson, and then down at his knee, which is vibrating back and forth with nervous energy. Stiles can’t stop, only has vague control over his body on a normal day, so he just snorts instead.

“Only you would be annoyed while voluntarily picking up your ex-girlfriend from the hospital,” Stiles says, and smiles. Jackson’s withering glances aren’t nearly as effective now that Stiles has seen what he looks like when he’s about to shit his pants in fear.

“Whatever,” Jackson says, and turns back to examining his fingernails. Stiles isn’t going to say anything, really, because talking to Jackson is usually about as fun as a staple gun to the face, but Stiles knows that Jackson genuinely cares about Lydia. No matter the circumstances of their break-up, and whatever secret insult code the two of them use to communicate. The opposite is obviously also true, given that Lydia was only mauled by a psychotic werewolf because she was looking for Jackson.

And Stiles isn’t trying to come between that. He really isn’t. He just – he wants to see her walk out of the hospital on her own two feet. He’s not sure he’s ever going to talk to anyone about any of the truly terrible things he’s seen in the past six months, but Lydia covered in blood, lying motionless in the wet grass is pretty far up on his list of don’t go there.

“Hiya, boys,” Lydia says, and Stiles looks up from his twitchy knee and sees her, her hair pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, her skin pale in the florescent lighting. She’s leaning against the nurses’ station, and he didn’t even hear her approach. “So which one of you is driving me home?”

Stiles expects her eyes to go to Jackson and not look away, they way they always have, but they don’t. She glances between them and smiles. If Stiles were any less observant he probably wouldn’t see the way she holds her left arm slightly behind her body, or the way her right arm is casually touching her stomach.

“We carpooled,” Stiles says, and shrugs.

“The, uh – Stiles’s jeep is better for space,” Jackson says, and even if he didn’t already know the kind of asshole Jackson usually is, Lydia’s sharp, skeptical look in his direction would make it clear.

“Fine,” she says, lips quirking. “But if either of you so much as thinks about helping me in any way, I promise I’ll make you pay.”

“And there you go,” Stile says. “Aggressive, much?”

“You haven’t seen anything, yet,” she says, and walks toward the front entrance. Stiles glances at Jackson, who is looking something close to relieved, and shakes his head.

 

ii.

Stiles catches them in the library a week later, which is only odd because he’s never seen either of them there before. Lydia has Jackson pushed up against one of the stacks in the history section; his head thuds back into a book on the Crimean War. Stiles only stays long enough to watch Lydia go up on her tiptoes, leaning in to whisper something inaudible in Jackson’s ear. He nearly trips over a chair in his retreat, and thinks, scowling, how he was already having a hard enough time not picturing the two of them having sweaty sex in just about every conceivable location, and now he actually knows what they might look like.

He’s not at all surprised to find that Lydia is somewhat domineering.

He hears Jackson laugh, and something tumbles to the ground and Stiles really, really has to leave.

 

iii.

“So, do you think they’re dating again?” Stiles pauses, and sighs. “Scott?”

“What?” Scott blinks, and Stiles watches his eyes focus in. He knew it was hopeless twelve minutes ago when he started this conversation, but he’d been hoping that Scott’s superwolf hearing would kick in, or something.

“Dude, I fix your problems all the time, the least you could do is listen to mine. I don’t think that’s asking too much of you.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Scott says, and ducks his head. “Seriously, say it again, I’m listening.” The annoying thing is that he actually means it, even if he’s just going to tune Stiles out again in two minutes, and so Stiles can’t really be angry. Which sucks. Scott isn’t the world’s best listener.

“Next time you need my help I’m making you summarize this conversation first, just so you know.”

 

iv.

Three days later, and Stiles’s life isn’t getting any less bizarre, seeing as Jackson has invited him over to study after school. Apparently, now that he and Jackson have sat on uncomfortable plastic chairs next to each other for a week, he rates high enough on the acquaintance scale to warrant the extra attention. This is news to Stiles, but Stiles isn’t the type to turn down an opportunity to act like he actually has friends other than Scott. He’s not exactly turning down other invitations left and right. Plus, there’s the hot factor.

Jackson’s house is pretty huge. Stiles vaguely follows Jackson through the front hallway and into the kitchen, trying not to touch anything. Stiles’s entire house could probably fit in Jackson’s dining room. An exaggeration, but not actually much of one. Jackson heads for the stairs, and Stiles trails after him.

“Wait, uh – where are we going?”

“My bedroom?” Jackson says it like he’s worried about Stiles’s mental status even though Stiles hasn’t been allowed in Jackson’s house since the first grade, and that was for Jackson’s seventh birthday party. Jackson’s parents forced him to invite the whole class. Stiles had spent the whole time in the kitchen helping Jackson’s father set the table and cut the cake. He’d been lying when he said that Scott brought his cool-factor down.

“Yeah, okay, sure,” Stiles says, and tried not to wonder if he should just abort this whole studying thing and jump out of the nearest window. Or through it.

Jackson is giving him the hairy eyeball, though, so Stiles just sighs, and follows him up the stairs.

Jackson’s bedroom is typically jock-ish – posters of burly lacrosse dudes on the wall and behind the door, some trophies stacked haphazardly in the corner, requisite navy sheets and comforter, a whole rack of lacrosse gear, and piles of laundry on the floor.

“So it turns out that you like lacrosse after all,” Stile says, unable to keep his fucking mouth shut. Jackson lets his backpack slide off of his shoulder and onto the floor. Then he reaches for Stiles, yanks his bag off of him by the strap, and pushes him down onto the bed. Stiles flails, and yelps, and then Jackson is leaning over him, one hand on his jaw. “Whoa –”

“Shut up.” Jackson taps the flat of his fingers against Stiles’s cheek, like a test slap. “Look, Stilinski, I know I’m not as smart as my girlfriend – ex, whatever – but I’m not fucking stupid, either.”

“Uh,” Stiles says, and has to mentally punch himself in the face to tamp down the urge to say something truly idiotic. Jackson is 1) a lot bigger than he is, and 2) has the advantage of already having Stiles on his back. He’s wondering if this means that Jackson has figured out something new and interesting – like Stiles’s rampant bisexuality – and if so, if he should be panicking. “Okay?”

“I know you like Lydia. Everyone knows that, especially Lydia.” Jackson’s face is taut, like he’s having trouble communicating that he has feelings other than contempt and vague anger.

“And?”

“And you should stay the fuck away from her.” Jackson’s fingers are still on Stiles’s jaw, and he’s got one knee on top of Stiles’s thigh, holding him in place. All Stiles can think, for one blinding moment, is how funny it would be if he got a boner right now. Funny, humiliating, and really fucking appropriate.

“Are you calling dibs?” he asks, instead. The idea is fucking ridiculous, but one never knows with Jackson.

“No, I’m – just, stay away from her. She doesn’t need any more trouble, not after –” Jackson cuts himself off, and digs his fingernails into Stiles’s face while he gets his emotions under control. It hurts, and Stiles sucks his breath in through his teeth.

“You know she’d beat you to death if you said any of this in front of her, right?”

“I fucking – of course I know, I just –” Jackson makes an frustrated noise in the back of his throat, and Stiles realizes, somewhat belatedly, that Jackson is trying to protect her. From Stiles. It’s so ridiculous that Stiles would laugh if he weren’t feeling so simultaneously appalled and charmed.

“Fine! Fine, whatever dude, you know she – it wouldn’t be like that anyway, so, you know, I’ll just. Can we do chemistry now?” Please?, he refrains from adding. Jackson is lying to himself if he thinks that he can keep Lydia from doing whatever the fuck she wants to do, but it’s kind of sweet, in a misguided Neanderthal sort of way.

“What? Oh, uh. Yeah, sure.”

Jackson pats Stiles’s cheek again, and Stiles tries really hard not to want to bite his fingers a little, or maybe suck them into his mouth or something, so when Jackson rolls off of him and goes to get his textbook, Stiles can’t be anything but relieved.

 

v.

Stiles avoids Lydia and Jackson for about three weeks before anyone says anything. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is, since they aren’t even properly friends – sure, he and Jackson spent a lot of time sitting next to each other in the hospital, but most of their conversations revolved around junk food and homework, so it’s not like that counts. And he’s had one real conversation with Lydia in his entire life.

But Scott calls him weird for sliding into practice five minutes late every day, and Allison thinks he’s incredibly odd – well, odder than usual – for asking for a copy of Lydia’s class schedule.

Lydia, of course, gives him enough time to think he’s past the worst of it and then shatters that belief by cornering him in front of his jeep after school.

“You do know you’re not nearly as subtle as you think you are, right?” As opening lines go, it could be worse. It doesn’t make him want to drown himself, anyway.

“Thanks?” Stiles would go for the door, but she’s sitting on the hood of his car. She’s been wearing long sleeves since she got out of the hospital, and he doesn’t want to hurt her. He also doesn’t want her to beat him up.

“So what’s with the new avoidance routine?” She has her head cocked, perfect hair falling over her perfect shoulder, and Stiles is overcome with the urge to brush her bangs away from her face, except that he knows if he did that she’d disembowel him and then probably spit on his grotesque corpse.

“I, uh. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, even though he knows it won’t work. She’s not Scott, or his Dad. She doesn’t let things lie, really.

She just purses her lips and rolls her eyes, giving him a long-suffering sigh. “You sit next to my hospital bed for most of two weeks, and now that I’m out you’re avoiding me? Explain how that makes sense.”

“Well, you know me, always with the wacky hijinks,” Stiles says, wiggling his fingers for emphasis and glancing from Lydia back to the front entrance of the school. He’s on the lookout for Jackson, if only because this is sort of ruining his cred as a keeper of promises, and it’s not even his fault.

“You should just tell Jackson to fuck off,” she says, twisting a lock of hair around one finger. Stiles would totally love to be that lock of hair. In fact, he probably already is, emotional speaking.

“I dunno,” he says. “Jackson seemed pretty committed. Also he’s bigger than me and – oh, yeah, you two dated for like a year and a half.”

“That doesn’t mean he gets to run my life,” Lydia says. She crosses her legs delicately at the ankles, and then laughs at him. “Especially after breaking up with me via text. Have we talked about Jackson’s issues? Because there are a lot of them.”

“I’m well aware. The guy likes to make my life suck just a little bit more. Are you going to get off of my car anytime soon? Or are you going to force me to walk home.”

“I was thinking that I’m kind of in the mood for a milkshake.” Lydia smiles at him, the one that is probably fake, but endearing anyway. It’s one of the things that she and Jackson have in common. “Let’s make a DQ run. Your treat.”

“Yeah, because I have unlimited funds with which to treat a girl to ice – cream, uh. On second thought, sure, why not.” Stiles only realizes the implications of his actually going somewhere with Lydia halfway through the sentence, but he does his best to recover. Lydia just laughs at him, but it’s not mean, and to be honest, Stiles probably wouldn’t care if it was. He likes that Lydia is kind of mean. Another thing she has in common with Jackson.

Apparently, Stiles has a type.

“Great!” Lydia says. “I knew you’d come around.”

Stiles is so fucked.

 

vi.

Stiles is so not surprised at all when Jackson corners him after lacrosse practice a few weeks later. Jackson is still slightly sweaty, and it makes the spray of freckles across his nose stand out. It’s unfair, the way his cheekbones are sharp enough to cut paper, the way his mouth purses in annoyance. Stiles is about to get yelled at, but mostly he just wants to shut Jackson up with his mouth before Jackson can say anything particularly grating.

Stiles has been alone with Lydia four times since DQ but three of the four were on school property. It’s not like they’ve even kissed. Which Jackson doesn’t know, but whatever, it isn’t actually any of his business.

“I thought I told you –” Jackson starts, like every cliché threat that Stiles has ever heard.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. You know what she’s like! She doesn’t take no for an answer.”

“You think I give a shit, Stilinski? When have I been known to give a shit?” Jackson’s stripping off his gear in sharp, jerky movements, and Stiles is watching him.

“God, Jackson, you may kind of get to tell me what to do, seeing as you’re you and I’m me, but you really don’t get to tell Lydia what to do. You know that. What the fuck is this about?”

Jackson turns to him with this expression that is suddenly something Stiles has never seen – vulnerable, maybe, or frightened. Then his whole face closes up, like shutters on a window, and he grits his teeth, pulling his sweat-soaked t-shirt over his head. Stiles tries really hard not to be distracted by the curve of Jackson’s collarbones, the flat planes of his stomach, and nominally fails. He even has pale freckles scattered across his chest, matching the ones on his cheeks and nose.

“Fuck off,” Jackson says, surprisingly harsh. “Just leave me the hell alone.”

Jackson storms off to the showers, leaving Stiles wondering what the fuck just happened.

 

vii.

“I don’t understand people at all. Boys, really,” Stiles complains, lying facedown on his own bed. Lydia looks up at him from the floor, and he considers. “Well, and girls.”

Lydia snorts into her chemistry text, her pen tapping an even rhythm against her notebook. “Is there anyone that you do understand?”

“Parents,” Stiles says mournfully. “I understand parents all too well.” He pauses. “Not that that does me much good, really. Now will you tell me what is going on with Jackson? I can’t decide if he’s just gone even crazier than usual, or if he’s working through some kind of emotional shit and I should be sensitive and/or helpful.”

Lydia hmms, not a noise that means she doesn’t know the answer to his question, but one that means she’s thinking about if she should answer it. Or, rather, if she wants to. Eventually she just sighs, put upon, and sets her pen down. “Jackson doesn’t hate you, Stiles. He actually sort of likes you, and he doesn’t deal with that very well. Jackson still doesn’t really appreciate the fact that he likes me, and, as discussed whenever ago, we dated for a year and a half. Danny only gets off easily because they grew up next door to each other.”

Stiles isn’t really sure what his face looks like, but it must be some combination of skepticism, surprise, and delight, because Lydia actually laughs. Stiles feels like he’s won a prize.

“So Jackson’s response to appreciating my existence as a human being is to threaten me away from his ex-girlfriend – the one he still makes out with, on occasion. Don’t lie to me, Lydia, I totally saw you guys in the library that one time.”

Lydia grins and bites her lip and fuck, Stiles totally wants to kiss her, but he’s really not going to. If Lydia wanted to make out with him she’d just do it, because she’s Lydia, and she knows he’s been half in love with her for eight years, and she always does what she wants anyway.

“Guilty. Though you should’ve joined us, I’m sure Jackson wouldn’t have minded.” She raises one eyebrow, arch, and Stiles sits up abruptly.

“Oh, no you don’t. No way, you are not doing this to me right now. I have enough trouble sleeping at night as it is.” And, wow, his mind had never previously connected the dots all the way through to having both Lydia and Jackson at once. It sort of makes his brain short-circuit, and he’s probably lucky that it won’t actually happen, because he’s pretty sure he’d die. Spontaneous combustion. Arousal overload.

“Stiles.” Lydia says it flat, like, god, how are you such an idiot. “I know you think Jackson is hot. I’m just saying it would be fun.”

“Lydia, Jackson already wants to punch me in the face most of the time for talking to you, and that’s with him sort of, kind of liking me.”

“You really don’t understand him at all, do you?” Lydia looks sort of curious, and Stiles has to say, no, not really. He doesn’t pretend to understand Lydia much, either.

“Didn’t we start this conversation with me telling you that I only understand the motivations of parents? I thought I said that, earlier.”

Lydia snorts, and flicks her textbook open again. “You’re hopeless,” she says, and, yeah, Stiles has to kind of agree.

 

viii.

Stiles, now that he’s first line on the lacrosse team, is actually required to go to lacrosse team parties. Like, required. Coach literally poked him in the chest and said, “You’d better be there, Bilinski. Team players know each others’ weaknesses.”

Stiles has no idea what that means, exactly, in relation to underage drinking, but he’s not going to tell Coach no.

Plus, free booze.

“Didn’t Danny say the party started at 9:30?” Scott is slouching down in the passenger seat of Stiles’s car, still miffed that Alison decided not to come. Smart, on her part – Stiles is pretty sure this whole thing is going to end in tears. He rolls his eyes.

“Jeez, you’d think I’d never taught you party etiquette. When a party starts at 9:30 it’s not customary to show up until at least an hour later. No one who’s anyone shows up to a shindig on time, Scott.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Scott says, though he doesn’t sound it. It’s 10:45, and when they pull up to Danny’s house, there are already cars plugging the driveway, and lined up on both sides of the street. It bodes well.

Inside, the press of people is so tight that it doesn’t take very long for Stiles to lose Scott completely. He’s not worried, though. He has, uh. Other friends. Only not really.

Stiles makes his way to the drink table and grabs a plastic cup. He’s been in his Dad’s whiskey enough times to not find it completely terrible, so he makes himself a whiskey and ginger ale, and tries not to chug it too fast. It’s honestly mostly whiskey. If he’s going to be at a party with Scott, Jackson, and Lydia all at the same time, he’s going to need the alcohol. If only so that he can laugh in horror when the fighting breaks out.

“Didn’t think you were going to show up, Stilinski.”

It’s Jackson, of course. When Stiles turns to look at him, he’s smirking, and wearing the flush of the already boozed up. Stiles refrains from wondering out loud why Jackson would care at all – he’s not nearly drunk enough to want to incite Jackson to violence. That’s a fantasy he only takes out when he’s not amid large groups of people.

“Uh,” he says, instead. “I’m pretty sure Coach would have me de-balled if I didn’t show my face, though how he’d know, I’m not sure. Not sure I want to know, honestly.”

Jackson laughs, throwing his head back. It startles Stiles enough that he jolts, and splashes his drink on his hand. He chugs the rest of it to keep such things from happening in the future.

“You’re a funny guy, Stiles. You know that?”

Stiles spares a moment to be thankful that Jackson has apparently imbibed a lot of alcohol already.

“Thanks?”

“Seriously, I don’t tell you that enough.” Jackson’s arm is mysteriously somehow around Stiles’s shoulders, tight enough that Stiles can feel the curve of Jackson’s bicep through his t-shirt, and Stiles tries to squirm away, but Jackson doesn’t let him.

“I’m glad, man, I am. I’m just going to –” Before Stiles can say, y’know, be over there, doing something, Jackson interrupts him.

“I almost let Derek bite me, you know,” he says, and they are in the middle of a fucking lacrosse party, and Jackson’s face is flushed, his mouth stained dark with whiskey and coke.

“Whoa, whoa, dude. Whoa. Not here, what the fuck? If you want to get that shit off your chest, we’d better go outside.”

Jackson shrugs, but he loosens his grip on Stiles long enough to grab Stiles’s wrist and tug him toward the back door, out into the yard. There are seven people smoking on the back porch, at least one cluster of them smoking pot, but Jackson just wheels him past, down the steps, and onto the lawn. Jackson pushes him down onto the grass, and Stiles goes, mostly out of sheer surprise. The alcohol must be kicking in, because he can’t even feel the chill in the air, and he’s light-headed enough not to mind. Jackson lies down next to him with a soft rustle, but he doesn’t say anything for a long time.

“I thought I wanted – you know, to be like Scott. Even after – even after Lydia, it was like. If I had that. I could – be the best, or something. But Derek wouldn’t. He pretended, and then he laughed, and I think he was right to.” Jackson stutters to a halt, and Stiles can hear him rub a hand over his face, but he doesn’t look, because that would make this whole stupid thing real. “Man, I am so drunk right now, how – don’t tell anyone this, Stilinski, not even Scott.”

“Sure, Jackson,” Stiles says, and then Jackson is leaning over him, kissing him on the mouth, slow and warm and sharp. He has one hand on Stiles’s shoulder, holding him down, and Stiles squirms. Jackson’s tongue is pushing into his mouth, and Stiles would try harder to push him away, except that he really doesn’t want to. “Mmph,” he says, and clutches Jackson’s t-shirt in his fist, just over Jackson’s left shoulder blade. Jackson is heavy and solid over him, his mouth insistent and sloppy at the same time. He uses his teeth. Stiles’s back is damp from the grass, and he’s probably going to be really uncomfortable in about ten minutes, but right now he doesn’t give a shit. His brain is half in complete defensive shut down mode, and half freaking out way too loudly about Jackson’s mouth, and how warm it is, and how soft, and how his tongue is in Stiles’s fucking mouth. No one is ever going to believe him – and that’s if he was allowed to tell anyone, anyway, without being murdered.

After what seems like forever and also not very long at all, Jackson pulls away, gasping for breath. He doesn’t go far – Stiles is still holding on to his t-shirt.

“Oh, man, that was probably not such a good idea,” Jackson says, and he looks slightly nauseous, or something close, anyway, and Stiles puts a hand on Jackson’s forehead without premeditating the move at all. He immediately feels sort of maternal and stupid. Jackson’s skin is sweaty, but doesn’t seem feverish. He licks his lips.

“Seriously, Jackson, what is going on with you? Not that I mind, because I really, really don’t, but I’m kind of confused over here.”

Jackson makes a pained sort of noise, quiet enough that Stiles probably wouldn’t have heard it if he were any farther away. He pulls back and stands, yanking his t-shirt out of Stiles’s grasp, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"I’ve gotta go,” he says, and Stiles is a little drunk, but Jackson is obviously lying. When he leaves, Stiles doesn’t try to stop him.

Jackson isn’t the sort of person that Stiles usually has deep, meaningful conversations with, but he almost wishes that he were. Maybe then he’d have some idea what was going on.

 

ix.

Stiles wakes up with a hangover and very little memory of the last couple hours of the party. At least, he assumes that it’s only a couple. He’s not entirely sure. His head is pounding, and his mouth tastes like Scott’s feet after lacrosse practice. Or something equally foul. Taking stock of his surroundings, Stiles realizes that he’s actually on his bed, though still fully dressed, with his shoes on, and lying on top of the covers. It’s better than crashing at Danny’s house. Danny wouldn’t be mean about it, probably, but he would laugh an awful lot, and Stiles isn’t ready to deal with that on a normal day.

He’s also clutching a note in one hand, which says, on inspection, dude you passed the fuck out. I have your car since you couldn’t keep your eyes open much less drive. you owe me big time. what the fuck happened? – scott

What the fuck had happened? Stiles’s last clear memory is stumbling to the drink table after Jackson left him on the lawn, and seeing Lydia wink at him from across the room.

He’s pretty sure he’d grabbed the whole bottle of Jim Bean and hugged it protectively to his chest, but he can’t be entirely sure. He doesn’t really want to be.

When he collects his brain enough to check his phone, he has a few mid-party check-up texts from Scott – lydia is looking for you man, and yo dude where are you, and, finally, seriously man wtf – and a morning after text from Lydia, which says, you were quite the shitshow last night. how’s the head? and what did you do to jackson?

Stiles manages to type out, top secret boy stuff, and send it to Lydia. Then, after some thought, he sends her a winky face, and heads to the shower. He has until he sees her in person, probably, and then she’ll somehow wrangle the truth out of him. He’s hoping to at least finish out the weekend before signing his death warrant.

When he gets out of the shower, freshly scrubbed and still headache-y, Lydia has texted him back. challenge accepted, it says, and Stiles rolls his eyes. Not much of a challenge, really.

 

x.

Stiles spends the rest of Sunday out in the woods with Scott and, by extension, Derek. He doesn’t pay very much attention to them, which is probably problematic, since Scott trips him on purpose and demands to know what the fuck is up.

“Still hungover?” he tries, raising both his shoulders and his eyebrows simultaneously. Scott pouts at him, a full force puppy-eyed, why-would-you-lie-to-me variety pout. Stiles wilts a little, and then wonders exactly what he’s supposed to say. Jackson attacked me with his mouth? Not very convincing.

“You smell like Jackson,” Derek says, trotting in close enough to destroy Stiles’s one chance at Scott not exploding, and then trotting off again. He’s a huge dickhead.

What?” Scott has moved on from puppy-eyes to shock and horror, and Stiles cringes a little. All of his friends have terrible tempers, why does he do this to himself?

“To be fair, I’m not sure if he even remembers,” Stiles says, trying and failing to furiously backpedal. “He was pretty drunk, and saying totally inappropriately morose things, and –”

“Wait, wait, no, stop, Stiles –”

“– and I wasn’t even that shitfaced until after, because Jackson’s hot and everything, but he’s going to kill me, and I wasn’t even the one that started it. The drinking was a coping mechanism!”

“Stiles.” Scott isn’t actually calm, but he does want Stiles to stop talking at light speed, so he’s trying. “What is it, exactly, that Jackson did while he was drunk?”

“Uh,” Stiles says. “Kissing, it was definitely kissing. And – the tongue thing didn’t happen until I didn’t recoil in terror and, uh. Did I mention that I’m kind of bi?”

Somewhere off in the woods, Derek is laughing. Really, really loudly. Stiles has never heard him sound quite so amused. Scott winces, and makes a couple of insane waggling hand gestures that could be, my worldview is shifting! help me! or my best friend is an idiot! help me! or I’m a werewolf and that’s the least of my problems! help me!

It could also be all of those things.

“You’re not going to disown me, right?” Stiles is squinting at Scott’s face, mostly to keep himself from freaking out and running away.

“I’m not going to disown you, Stiles, but I am going to mock you for the rest of your life. Seriously, Jackson?”

“That’s fair, I guess.” Stiles would probably mock himself, too.

 

xi.

Lydia and Jackson are arguing when Stiles gets to school. Stiles can’t hear any of the words, but there is enough gesticulating for it to be pretty obvious. They’re standing in the alcove by the water fountains, less than ten feet from the chemistry classroom. Stiles doesn’t want to attract their attention, but he also doesn’t want to miss class. He’s trying to avoid detention this semester. He creeps down the hallway, careful and quiet, while he tries to figure out if he can scoot by them without either of them noticing.

“I don’t! Stop projecting onto me, Lydia, I’m not your fucking pet project.” Jackson is spitting mad, spots of color high up on his cheeks. Lydia has her hands on his hips, and she doesn’t look much calmer.

“I care about you, Jackson. I don’t care that you apparently want to write our entire relationship off as a failed experiment –”

“I don’t!”

“– but that doesn’t change that I know you better than anyone. And you’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise.”

Stiles really doesn’t want to know any of this. It’s none of his business and it makes him a little jealous, which is just – stupid. And wrong. And he’s not sure which of them he’s jealous of.

He’s nearly sidled his way into the classroom, now, trying to block his ears as Jackson continually tries to speak, and Lydia talks right over him.

“You!” She says, and it’s loud enough, sharp enough, that Stiles jumps. He’s so close, if he could just – “Stilinski!”

Stiles jumps, again, and spins in place, pivoting to look at Lydia, who is still standing with her hands on her hips, and Jackson, red-cheeked and flustered, standing next to her.

“Me?”

“Who else?” she asks, and rolls her eyes. “You, me, and Jackson. After school. On the lacrosse field.”

“Wait, but, I’m not –” Stiles starts, and then realizes that there’s no point. “Fine. Whatever. Can I go to chemistry now?”

 

xii.

Stiles desperately doesn’t want to be the first to the field after school, so he dawdles.

“Yuck,” Lydia is saying to no one as Stiles treks across the grass, “if I’d known the lacrosse field was going to be so muddy I wouldn’t have suggested it.”

“It is a field,” Stiles says, and Lydia turns to look at him. He doesn’t have great memories of this place, and he doesn’t know why Lydia chose it, if not to play on that. He just sees her bleeding all over the grass, and he wonders how she can stand it.

Jackson is even later than Stiles. He stomps like a child with a temper tantrum, which would have more effect inside the school where his footsteps wouldn’t be muffled by grass and mud.

“Well?” Jackson says when he crosses to them. He folds his arms across his chest and scowls, brows pulled down, mouth pursed and sullen. He looks at Stiles, who holds his hands out, away from his body.

“Whoa, I obviously had nothing to do with this, don’t give me that look.”

“Seriously, Jackson, grow up.” Lydia has one hip cocked, and she’s chewing gum, loud and purposefully obnoxious. “It’s your fault we even have to have this conversation.”

“My fault?” Jackson is incredulous, eyebrows skidding up his forehead. “How could any of this possibly be my fault?”

“Probably it’s the laundry list of issues that is keeping you from being happy, which is, in turn, keeping Stiles and I from being happy. Sadly. What I wouldn’t give not to care.”

Stiles wonders when it will be safe to ask Lydia what the fuck is going on, but he thinks not yet.

“You’re both ridiculous, and have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jackson says, trying on his most carefully crafted hostile face.

“You did get really drunk and make out with me at a party,” Stiles offers, probably to the air, as neither Jackson nor Lydia are particularly good at the listening part of conversations. “And then you left, which was disappointing and weird, pretty much. Once you get over the weirdness of you kissing me in the first place.”

Jackson makes a low groaning noise, and Lydia laughs.

“What, you thought I didn’t know? Jackson, really.”

“Shut up, Lydia,” Jackson says, and he sounds almost like he means it, which just makes Lydia laugh again. She doesn’t have much empathy, really, and Stiles can’t decide if that makes her more attractive or not. Probably it does, if only because Stiles is obviously somewhat mentally damaged.

“Jackson, I know you. I know your faces, and your body language, and when you’re trying to hide something from me. It’s a shame for you that you were never very good at it.”

“Lydia, I really don’t mean to interrupt your power trip, and everyone, especially me, loves watching Jackson get taken down a peg, but why am I even here right now?”

“Well,” Lydia says, and wraps her hair around one finger. Stiles takes a moment to notice her long-sleeved shirt, and another to hate having to be on this field when he’s not playing lacrosse. “I’m here to organize a threesome. You’re here to reluctantly agree with me, and Jackson – well, Jackson is here to vehemently argue and then storm off.”

Jackson’s face looks like a thundercloud, his freckles standing out against his pale skin.

“Who do you think you are, Lydia? I’m not – I won’t – I don’t have to take this from you.” True to form, he storms off, then, footsteps make slick sounds in the mud, and Lydia clucks her tongue.

“I really thought he was going to put up more of a fight than that,” she says, and Stiles feels like a fish on a cutting board, mouth helplessly ajar, about to get his head chopped off.

“You – what?”

“One has to break things slowly to Jackson, so that he can come to terms with them. He’ll come around.”

“I don’t really think –” Stiles starts and then realizes that it’s useless. “For what it’s worth, I do think it would be pretty hot.” Fucked up, sure. Awesome, possibly. Hot, definitely.

“Well, yeah,” Lydia says. “Obviously.”

 

xiii.

After school, Stiles watches Scott and Derek run laps around the Hale House until they’re both sweaty and panting. It’s actually kind of a normal way to spend an afternoon, if Stiles ignores the occasional claw or patch of fur.

“Hey, Scott, you’re not the weirdest thing in my life anymore, how cool is that?”

“That’s – pretty sad, man,” Scott says. He’s flopped on his back on the porch. Derek is inside somewhere, probably having returned to brooding now that werewolf school is over. “Are you going to elaborate?”

“Nope,” Stiles says. “Use your imagination.”

 

xiv.

The next day, Lydia kisses him in the hallway in front of her locker, and Stiles gets catcalls for the first time in his life. He has enough time to see Jackson’s face freeze, eyes wide, before he realizes that wow he really wants to be concentrating on Lydia’s mouth.

It’s the first time he’s kissed a girl since the third grade, and everyone knows that third grade kisses don’t actually count.

Her lips are warm and soft and they taste fruity from her lipgloss. She is shorter than him, and her mouth is smaller than Jackson’s, less sloppy and less forceful. She wraps one hand around the back of his neck, pricking his skin with her fingernails, and Stiles shudders.

After a long moment, she bites his lower lip, hard enough to sting, and pulls away. She drops down off of her tiptoes, and gives him a smirk.

“Think that’ll work?” she asks, and brushes her hair away from her face. Stiles is still a little dumbstruck.

“Work how?” He’s still staring at her mouth, and she blows him a kiss, laughing.

“You’re not a bad kisser,” she says, which isn’t an answer at all. “I still can’t believe Jackson got there first.”

“Shit,” Stiles says. “Jackson.”

Even leaving in a hurry, Stiles can hear Lydia laughing again. She probably meant for Jackson to see. She probably meant for Stiles to take off after him. She’s probably the most devious person Stiles knows, and he can’t hate her for it.

 

xv.

Jackson is, predictably, in the locker room. He snorts when he sees Stiles, derisive rather than amused, and slams his locker closed. He’s changed into his gym shorts and a t-shirt, and he’s holding his iPod in one hand. Not planning on going back to class, then.

“Thought you were busy,” he says, words so weighed down with sarcasm that it’s a wonder they make it out of his mouth.

“Yeah, well,” Stiles says, and for once has no idea how to continue. He could bullshit, probably, he’s very good at it, but he doesn’t actually want to. “Does it ever annoy you that she’s always right?”

“Lydia? She’s not. She just thinks that she is, and you’re too caught up on her to see otherwise.” Jackson sticks his earbuds in, effectively dismissing Stiles, and that’s not really what Stiles wants. At all.

“Jackson,” he says, but Jackson is already turning away, pressing play, about to leave. “Jesus.”

Stiles grabs Jackson by the collar and tugs him around, taking in Jackson’s defensive posture, his sullen expression, the flush spreading across his cheeks, and he knows he has about two and a half seconds to figure out what to do before Jackson pulls away and storms off.

So Stiles leans in and kisses him, awkward and messy and too forceful, mashing their lips together just in an effort to get Jackson not to be that asshole that leaves and then never talks to him again. Jackson inhales sharply against Stiles’s mouth, and Stiles takes the opportunity to bite into Jackson’s lower lip, and turn the kiss into something real – searingly hot, and desperate and not as practiced as Stiles wishes.

Jackson’s hands flail in the air, for a moment, and then he’s dropping his iPod onto the concrete floor, wrapping one hand around the back of Stiles’s head and the other in the back of his flannel. Jackson kisses back with too much force, and here they are, necking in the locker room instead of sitting in World History. This is Stiles’s life right now. His actual life.

Jackson pushes Stiles into the wall of lockers with a loud bang, pressing them together chest to belly to hips. Jackson is hard, and Stiles can feel it.

“Why is Lydia so wrong? Jackson, come on.” Stiles’s voice is a plea, and he doesn’t try to disguise it as anything else. Somehow, he wants this more than he’d expected – more than he’d thought possible, really. Jackson presses his face into the sharp bone of Stiles’s shoulder, and just breathes for a long moment. Then he pulls away, grabbing his iPod off of the floor.

“I can’t – just. Give me some time, okay? This is too fucking weird – you two are both so fucking weird.”

This time, when he leaves, Stiles lets him go. Jackson isn’t entirely wrong. Stiles just doesn’t think that he cares.

 

xvi.

Things stagnate for a few days, and Stiles is actually okay with this. Life was already weird enough with the werewolf thing, and this is a whole new level of batshit crazy. Stiles doesn’t think that Jackson is the only one who needs a few days to think.

Not that Stiles actually does that much thinking. Mostly he actively tries not to think – he hangs out with Scott in the woods and watches him run around and smell things. Sometimes he brings a book, but mostly he just heckles from the sidelines. He’s a pretty good heckler, all told.

“Everything okay?” Scott asks him, once, on Wednesday evening. Stiles startles back into focus, realizing that he’d been staring off into space.

“Yeah,” he says, shaking himself back into motion. “Fine.”

 

xvii.

Lydia pulls him aside on Friday. Stiles tries to protest, but once he sees the expression on her face, he shuts up and lets her drag him into the library.

“Look, I –” she starts, and then looks away. Her lips are twisted up with something like worry and something like remorse, two things Stiles didn’t think he’d ever see on her face. “I think I might owe you an apology. Jackson, too, but he’s – conspicuously not here at the moment.”

“Uh,” Stiles says, and tries not to mention how hot it is when she uses big words. “Why?”

“I know I’m single-minded, okay? And I do know Jackson better than anybody, and it just seemed – kind of perfect, and complicated. High school is boring when things aren’t complicated.” She tucks her hair behind her ear, and while Stiles spent the week trying not to think about how much he wants this stupid, crazy thing, Lydia was apparently having second thoughts.

“Okay,” Stiles says, slowly, “but I’m still not sure why you need to apologize.”

“I sort of forced you into this – don’t lie, I did, I know I did. I’m good at it. It’s what I do.”

“Sure,” Stiles says, with a shrug. “But you do realize that’s why I like you, right? I mean, you’re – smoking hot, but you’re also kind of smarter than I am, and you use your powers for evil.”

Lydia laughs, and it’s nice to hear. There’s something unnatural about seeing her doubt herself – like some vital law of universal physics has been undone.

“Also, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I sort of really want this. A lot. It’s not exactly a smart move, given the amount of unbalanced teenage hormones each of us has coursing through our nubile teenage bodies, but. You know. What can you do? Plus, I don’t know if you noticed, Jackson is really hot. Like, really. And, also, feel free to shut me up anytime. Please, seriously, stop me.”

Lydia laughs again, and throws her arms around Stiles’s neck, like he’s an action hero, and just saved her from invading aliens or swamp monsters or terrorists. Stiles can feel his heart swell in his chest, and he can’t stop himself from kissing her on the cheek. When she pulls away her face is flushed and her shirt has ridden up enough to expose a sliver of skin. Stiles has a moment to think about her immobile on that hospital bed, and thank every deity he can think of that she’s not dead.

“So, now what?” she asks, smiling at him.

“Uh, now we wait.”

 

xviii.

Even though things have been calm, recently, Stiles isn’t stupid enough to think that it’s going to last forever. When your best friend is a werewolf, things only stay sane for so long.

Scott and Derek are nearly indestructible, but the full moon still makes Scott half rabid, and so Stiles spends the weekend trying to keep him from eating every rabbit in California and also from sitting on his girlfriend’s roof for two days straight, howling at the moon. He’s apparently having a hard time choosing between the two. Derek, of course, isn’t any help – he’s busy being all wolfy on his lonesome, and besides, he’s not actually Scott’s alpha, so there isn’t much he can do. By Sunday night Stiles is exhausted, covered in bruises, and listening to Scott snore on Derek’s front porch like a lawnmower.

Eventually, Derek limps up from the woods, face covered in blood. He looks a little sheepish, and Stiles isn’t going to ask. Derek gives him a nod, which Stiles takes to mean he can go home.

He’s so tired that when he sees Jackson and Lydia sitting on the front stoop of his house, he thinks he’s hallucinating for a second. He blinks, squints, shakes his head, and then puts his car in park.

“Don’t either of you have curfews?” he asks, and then yawns.

“You look like shit, Stilinski,” Jackson says, but there’s no bite to it.

“Well, someone had to stay awake and keep Scott from marking his territory or whatever.” Stiles wipes a hand over his face, wincing as it comes back smeared with dirt. “So what’s going on?”

“Checking up on you,” Lydia says. “Jackson didn’t seem to feel like it could wait.”

Jackson immediately flushes and looks at his hands. His jaw tightens and loosens as he fights off his embarrassment. “I just – knew it was the full moon, so,” Jackson says, and then glances at Lydia. It takes Stiles a moment, but then he realizes that Jackson was worried about him, the way he’d been worried about Lydia in the hospital, and the way he’s been trying to protect her since.

“You made a decision, then,” Stiles says, as if it isn’t a question when it really, really is.

“Yeah,” Jackson says. He swallows. He looks at his hands, looks back at Stiles. “Yeah.”

 

xix.

They’re sitting on his bed and holding hands when Stiles gets out of the shower. Jackson has his head leaning into Lydia’s shoulder, and Lydia is running her foot up the side of Jackson’s calf. Stiles stands in the doorway in his towel and thinks about all the stupid jealousy that they’re in for, all the misunderstanding and unrealistic expectations. He still wants it.

“Stiles?” Jackson’s voice is gravelly, and Stiles is wiped. Lydia is smiling the way that she does when she knows that she’s won. His bed isn’t big enough for the three of them, but they’ll manage somehow.