Derek doesn’t kill him, but it takes three days for the bite to take. Jackson sweats and shivers and clutches at the sheets in a bedroom that definitely isn’t his and probably isn’t even Derek’s. It smells like mildew and charred wood. He stares up at the ruins of the ceiling, at the clouds passing over the barren tree branches, and wonders what excuse Derek has given his parents. If he’s even bothered. He wonders if Scott has been to see them, instead. He wonders if anyone would give a shit anyway.
He’s still weak when he makes it down the stairs, but he can smell Derek’s sweat, and the power, like ozone, that clings to him. He can hear Derek’s heartbeat, and the thud of individual droplets of sweat hitting the dusty floorboards. He sways a little, and then sets his mouth, trying not to rely on the banister for support.
“So sleeping beauty finally rejoins the living,” Derek says, with what is definitely a sneer. He was doing pull-ups off of the doorway molding, but now he’s just hanging there with his head cocked, watching Jackson shift his weight from one foot to the other. Jackson opens his mouth, but he can’t think of anything to say. “Go home,” Derek says. “And take a shower, you’re filthy.”
There’s a frisson of electricity down Jackson’s spine, and he finds himself nodding. His voice is still caught in his throat. Derek ignores him entirely, resuming his pull-ups, and Jackson edges toward the door. Derek is pretending not to notice, but Jackson isn’t that stupid.
He closes the door behind him, and starts the long walk home.
Despite the fact that Jackson has been missing for three days, it’s still the last week of winter break. His parents look relieved but not overjoyed to see him.
“Your friend Scott told us about your camping trip,” his mother says with a smile. “Next time tell us first, okay?”
Jackson nods, and mumbles something apologetic. It takes him a moment to define the pang in his chest as hurt. It occurs to him to wonder how delicate they think he is – he’s not even grounded. His mother is still smiling at him, almost tentative, and Jackson tries to give her a smile in return, but he knows it looks fake.
“Are you okay, honey? You look a little pale.” She’s reaching out for his forehead, and he dodges out of the way, heading for the stairs.
“I’m fine, Mom, I’m just – going to shower.”
He can hear her sigh from the second floor landing.
He showers, reveling in the new feel of the water on his skin, and doesn’t understand how Scott could really not want to be special. Every touch is heady, every smell and sound a marvel. He jerks off fast and hard, listening to the gasp of his own breath, the slick of skin on skin. He can hear the birds landing on the eaves of the house, fluttering their wings, and he can hear his mother pulling vegetables out of the fridge, and he can hear his father’s car half a mile away, driving home from work, the telltale putter from the muffler that needs to be replaced. And when he comes, the broken noise he makes sounds broadcasted via loudspeaker. He can smell the tang of his own semen washing down the drain.
He notices the claws after, the chalkboard noise they make scrabbling against the tiles, but he doesn’t care.
“Wow, so you made it through alive,” Stiles says, like he’s surprised. He’s nudging at a burnt floorboard with the toe of his left sneaker, looking back and forth between where Jackson is standing in the doorway and the motion of his own foot. If Jackson had known that Stiles was going to be hanging out at Derek’s place, he wouldn’t have come.
“Surprise, surprise,” Jackson says, more a drawl than anything, and Stiles half winces and half shakes his head.
“Fine, y’know, I come here thinking we’ve had a bonding experience and maybe you won’t be an asshole for eight and a half seconds, but it looks like I was wrong.”
Jackson growls, feeling his heart pick up speed and he curls his fingers into fists. The growl resonates in his chest like a bass drum.
“Okay, whoa, dude, none of that. Derek, seriously? Haven’t you told him anything?” Stiles is fidgeting, twisting his fingers up together as he talks, and something about it just makes Jackson even angrier.
“If you’re so smart, why don’t you tell him?” Derek is at the top of the stairs, and Jackson is pretty sure he wasn’t there before. Stiles jolts, and Jackson lets his fists unclench.
“Uh, wow, you are never going to enter a conversation like a normal person, are you? And how about because I’m not in your pack? I thought alphas were supposed to be pack leaders.” Stiles shrugs the unconcerned shrug of someone who has been in imminent danger too many times to be much worried about it anymore. Jackson can smell his sweat, and the residue of the chapstick he put on half an hour ago. He can smell Stiles’ exasperation.
“Stop talking about me like I’m not even here,” Jackson grinds out, holding the anger down.
“What, you have something to say?” Derek’s voice is mostly growl in the way that makes Jackson immediately want to back down, and then makes him angry with himself for it.
“None of that, either, Derek. Geez, never before have I felt like the most mature person in a room, but you two sort of take the emotionally-stunted cake.” Stiles looks between them with an expression that hovers between amusement and annoyance. Jackson recognizes it from the way he looks at Scott, most of the time.
Derek snorts, but it’s more like how a person might act toward their younger brother. Jackson isn’t sure what he did to make Derek so wary and hostile, but he’d like to undo it. Or at least find a way to wipe the slate clean.
“You have to take him out, Derek,” Stiles is saying, “but I guess I can assist, since you obviously need the helping hand of an even-tempered and capable human being.”
“Stilinski –” Jackson starts, hovering between uncertain and residually angry, but Stiles isn’t done talking apparently.
“Considering, who figured out how to keep Scott from going all wolfy and chowing down on the innocent townsfolk? That would be me. Derek did nothing but glare occasionally from too far away to be at all useful.”
“I don’t need your help,” Jackson says. He doesn’t need help, ever. He isn’t weak enough to need help, not like Scott, with his uncertainty and his vulnerability. Jackson knows how to handle himself.
“And that, my friend, is where you’re wrong.” Stiles talks with an assurance that Jackson can smell. Stiles smells good when he knows what he’s talking about – vaguely spicy, a little like sweat and heat. Jackson sniffs the air, once, and then realizes what he’s doing.
At the top of the stairs, Derek laughs. “Yeah, you’re completely in control.”
“If you hate me so much, why did you bother to turn me?” The words are out before Jackson can think about them, and there’s something like pity coming off of Derek in waves, and Jackson hates it. Stiles is calm, reacting to the question only with a slight shifting of weight and the smell of curiosity.
Derek doesn’t say anything at all to that, so Jackson turns and walks out the door. Stiles calls after him, but Derek remains silent.
He doesn’t know where he’s going. He walks right past his car and stomps through the dead leaves and broken branches into the woods. Everything smells like rot, and cold, and soft wood. He can hear a bird’s wings flapping like helicopter’s propellers, and the soft paws of a fox, a herd of deer crunching through the underbrush. He’s overwhelmed with it – the wind smells like animal and prey and living, breathing forest and it’s too much. Too focused, too loud.
He’s not sure how far he’s gotten when he finally just crouches on the ground and covers his ears. The soil is full of minerals and roots and rocks, and he can’t take it.
“Jackson?” Stiles’s voice, tentative in tone, crashes like thunder into Jackson’s ears. He shudders, and hears his own soft whimper projected loud. His heart is beating too quickly, and if he doesn’t stop, if he doesn’t stop himself, the change is going to come, soon, and he won’t be able to control it.
Stiles crouches beside him, smelling clean, like boy, faint sweat, unscented soap. He seems to hesitate, and then puts one hand on the back of Jackson’s shoulder, soft, soft pressure that feels too good, too warm. Jackson jolts.
“Jesus Christ on a cracker, dude, you have to calm down. Just – Jackson, seriously, take a few deep breaths.” Jackson can still hear the words, even through the cupped palms of his hands.
Jackson would like to snap back, say, I don’t need your fucking help, Stilinski, but he’s pretty sure he’d actually hurt Stiles if he tried. He pulls in one shaky, uncertain breath, focusing on the steady beat of Stiles’s heart, and then another, slower. After the third, he closes his eyes, and focuses on the warm pressure of Stiles’s hand, his clean, frighteningly wholesome smell. It helps. It’s stupid, but it helps.
He expects Stiles to say something sarcastic and snide when he opens his eyes again, pulling his hands away from the sides of his face, but Stiles just raises an arched eyebrow and asks, “Better?”
Jackson can still hear his heart, can still smell him, but the rest of the forest is back down to manageable levels. He nods and shrugs, and Stiles rolls his eyes.
“Okay, now that the wolfy panic attack thing is over, maybe we should teach you some breathing exercises, or something. You know, Zen meditation – breathe out, breathe in, I am in this moment and all that.” Stiles stands up, and his hand falls away from Jackson’s shoulder as he does. Jackson gets another frisson of energy down his spine, but he shakes it off. His knees are stiff when he straightens out of his crouch, and he winces, looking at the ground while he stretches them out. He can feel Stiles watching him but he doesn’t want to know what his expression looks like.
“Can we not talk about this ever again?” Jackson hates that it sounds more like a plea than an order, but when the disgust spikes inside him he swallows, and inhales slowly.
“Yeah, no, probably not, unless you really do just want to go on a rampage and become a cannibal. Seriously, dude, someone has to teach you to chill the fuck out, and Derek is evidently not that person. Though it might help if you weren’t so terrified of him.”
“I’m not –” Jackson starts and then cuts himself off. Stiles expression has slid back into put upon, and Jackson can feel himself tense, clenching his fists. He is, really, and maybe that’s a problem. He wouldn’t know. “I know you two are all buddy-buddy or whatever, but he’s not like that with me. It’s not just –” Jackson starts, meaning to say, it’s not just that he acts like I’m stupid, but he realizes halfway through that he’s talking to Stiles, not anybody he actually likes, or who likes him. He cuts himself off, and crosses his arms over his chest, self-conscious. Like he needs to give Stiles anything else on him. “Just drop it.”
Stiles holds his hands up, palms out. Placating. “Uh, dude, Derek is not buddy-buddy with anyone. And whatever, I’m not telling you what to do, except for how I’m really the only person capable and also willing to help you.”
“Fine,” Jackson says, voice clipped, because he’s stubborn, but he doesn’t actually want to kill anyone. Not accidentally, anyway. “Fine.”
School starts back up on Monday, and they start meeting afterward. Stiles doesn’t lob lacrosse balls at him like he did Scott, but he does have him practice drills.
“I found them on the internet, you know, like – training sites. You don’t really need to be in any better shape – I mean, hello – but the running will elevate your heart rate the same as anger or arousal or whatever. So. Best to start with the least emotionally inclined and work our way up.”
Jackson is sweating, and only half listening to Stiles’s actual words. He’s focusing pretty hard on the rhythm of Stiles’s speech patterns, and the tone of his voice, and some small part of him is still listening in on Stiles’s heart beating, even and calm and rhythmic. Jackson can smell the tinge of apprehension on him, but it isn’t showing in his demeanor at all. Maybe he doesn’t give Stiles enough credit.
“Besides, you have less of a reason not to kill me than Scott does. Trying to avoid that whole ‘getting maimed’ thing.”
Jackson still doesn’t say anything, though he’s thinking about the fact that Stiles makes a much better coach than a player. It’s not actually that surprising, really. Stiles is a much better thinker than a doer in general. Jackson isn’t, so much, not when it counts.
Jackson is breathing in pants, now, and his heart rate is definitely climbing. He can feel his own pulse quickening, and then there’s the fear, the one where he knows that if he loses control he’ll turn, and that then he won’t be able to control himself, and that makes his heart pick up further.
“Breathe, Jackson,” Stiles says, and he sounds bored, but he’s watching Jackson with hawk’s attention when Jackson glances over. Jackson can feel the heat crawl up his spine, different from the sweat gathered there, different from the flush on his cheeks. “Come on, Jackson, I thought you were more stubborn than this. Because, seriously, aren’t you supposed to be the best?”
Something in Jackson stills at Stiles’s words, and Stiles is right, he is the best, and Jackson won’t settle for anything less. Not anything.
He concentrates, speeding up the weaving drills even has he focuses on his body, the creak of his bones, the flex of his muscles. He can do whatever he wants to do. He has that power.
For a long, long moment he doesn’t think it’s working, and then a rhythm settles over him, soft and steady and calming. It’s only when he’s stopped running, leaning over with his hands on his thighs, catching his breath, that he realizes he can still hear the beat pulsing through him. And a moment later, that it’s Stiles’s heartbeat. Stiles’s heartbeat kept him from shifting.
Jackson feels the smile bleed off of his face, but he doesn’t say anything.
“Hey, good job,” Stiles says. He sounds surprised. Jackson doesn’t blame him.
Jackson doesn’t go back to Derek’s house for more than a week. He trains with Stiles after school, and every day he thinks about going back but he never does.
Then Derek shows up at his house the following Tuesday.
Jackson slams the front door, sweaty and sticky from the combination of lacrosse practice with coach and werewolf training with Stiles. He still doesn’t feel comfortable enough to chance the public showers, not without freaking out, but the extra practice is a good excuse. If he’s just going to get sweaty again, why bother the first time around? As a justification, it wouldn’t hold up well under direct questioning, but Jackson isn’t often directly questioned about anything. Not by anyone other than Stiles, and Derek, and Scott. Lydia, too, maybe, but she usually doesn’t have to bother asking – she knows him too well.
He’s in the kitchen, puttering around, making himself a sandwich, when Derek comes down the stairs from the top floor.
“Nice room,” he says, when Jackson looks at him, taking in his scent, the musky power of it. “Very sporty.”
Jackson can feel himself flush. The walls of his bedroom are covered in sports posters – lacrosse, for the most part, but some hockey – and trophies.
“Wh – why are you here? Why are you in my house, Derek?” Jackson hates the way his voice quavers, and his mind jumps to conclusions – something is wrong, Derek has hurt his mother, there’s been an accident, something.
“Shh.” Derek shushes him, holding his finger over his lips. He’s smiling, and Jackson flashes back to the way that Derek had sunk his claws deep into Jackson’s neck, and the way he’d yanked Jackson by the hair in the locker room, and the way he hadn’t smiled right before he said that Jackson was about to die. His heart kicks up a beat, two, and Jackson has to hold his breath, grope back to earlier in the afternoon, Stiles’s steady heartbeat and the calm cadence of his voice, and how Jackson had felt – steady, even-keeled.
“Hmm,” Derek says, lips pressing thin as he studies Jackson’s face.
“You’re checking up on me.” Jackson keeps his voice deadpan. He’s not entirely certain, but he’s tired of asking questions that Derek doesn’t bother to answer.
“You’re the only one of them actually scared of me, you know. Not even Stiles is, really. He used to be, maybe, but he’s not anymore. Just you.” Derek sounds thoughtful, and Jackson ruthlessly suppresses the surge of anger. Derek makes an amused sound, half-chuckle and half-exhale. No way that he missed it, no matter how quickly Jackson pushed it back.
“I’m the only one you ever actually hurt,” Jackson says. He’s the only one Derek actually came after. Not for help, not for anything. Just to taunt.
“And yet you’re the one who begged me to turn you.” Derek arches an eyebrow, and Jackson looks away.
“Yeah,” he says. “Well.” There’s a reason for that, too, but Jackson isn’t going to say it. Jackson can’t imagine that Derek doesn’t know, anyway. Jackson has always wanted to be the best, no matter the consequences.
“You’re learning,” Derek says, and there’s something pleased in his voice. Some part of Jackson curls up in pleasure at the thought, some wolf instinct, but he resists it. “Good boy.”
Derek leaves through the back door. Jackson watches him go for a long moment, and then turns back to his sandwich, as if nothing has happened at all.
“I think we can call this the end of phase one,” Stiles says. Jackson is breathing hard, hands on his knees. He wipes the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his arm as he straightens up. Stiles is watching him, something halfway between impassive and impressed. He’s fidgeting with the strings of his hoodie, stopwatch still clutched in one hand.
“There are phases?” Jackson asks, because he can’t help himself. His voice comes out less biting than it might have a week ago, but he’s not sure if that’s a positive or not. Stiles just shakes his head slowly back and forth, as if in disappointment.
“Well, uh, yeah. Duh. Jackson, what kind of training montage would this be if the plan didn’t have phases.”
Jackson can only roll his eyes. There’s sweat soaking into his t-shirt at the neck and the line of his spine and under his arms. “Are you seriously thinking about this in action movie terms?”
“Obviously. It’s not like I’m doing it for the extra credit that I’m not getting.” Stiles stuffs the stopwatch in his pocket, and Jackson doesn’t mean to listen in, but he hears the way that Stiles’s heart kicks up a notch, and realizes that Stiles is lying.
It’s a stupid thing to lie about, an obvious thing, because Jackson already knows that Stiles was joking, but he’s not sure what to make of Stiles’s apparent anxiety. And he wonders why Stiles is actually helping him out.
“Okay, asshole,” he says, pulling in a lungful of fresh, crisp winter air, “what’s phase two?”
Stiles smiles, and tugs at the strings of his hoodie again. “Oh, right, yeah,” he says. “Phase two is anger.”
“Okay, don’t, don’t.” Jackson waves Scott off, but Scott doesn’t go far.
“Dude, I’m not doing anything, I’m just –”
“McCall. I know the full moon is coming. I can feel it. You don’t have to educate me, or whatever it is you think you’re doing.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said the first time. It wasn’t actually that fun.” Scott is doing that thing with his eyebrows that means he’s worried, and Jackson has clearly been spending too much time with Stiles if he even knows that. “Look, Derek should really be the one to explain it to you,” Scott starts, clearly working himself up to a point.
“Than let him explain it and get the hell away from me, McCall,” Jackson tries, but there’s not enough venom in his voice to get the job done.
“I don’t really think,” Scott starts, and then his expression turns shifty. “Stiles may have mentioned how Derek isn’t really that good at the explaining how to be a werewolf thing, which I get, so I just thought –”
“Yeah,” Jackson says. Fucking Stiles. “Whatever.” He sighs, and thinks about how, seriously, being a werewolf just isn’t worth it. “I guess you can –”
“Awesome,” Scott says, and looks more relieved than Jackson had thought possible. “I’ll, uh. Cool.”
“People are going to make you angry, Jackson, and you can’t eat them. Okay?” Stiles has been annoying the shit out of Jackson all day. In preparation, evidently. Kicking at the back of his chair in class. Nudging him in the hallway. Talking with his mouth full at lunch. All things he knows – knows – annoy Jackson on a regular basis, and that isn’t even all of them at once. Danny had given him the eye all day, the one that said, what the fuck is up with Stilinski, and what did you do, Jackson? Jackson just shrugged at him and brushed it off, which is only really going to work for so long.
Now Stiles is leaning over him in the locker room while the rest of the team suits up for practice. Jackson is hyper aware of Stiles’s breath, hot and humid, on the shell of his ear. Miller and Johnston keep glancing over at them, and Jackson rolls his shoulders back, stretching his muscles.
“I know, Stilinski, shut the fuck up,” Jackson says, low and insistent. He’s been playing hard and fast since the weakness from the change wore off, but Stiles is still a head case, and everyone knows it.
“Yeah, yeah.” Stiles’s voice is dry, sarcastic. “You’re not angry at all.”
Jackson holds in a growl, and balls his hands into fists. Something about Stiles just gets under his skin.
He does wolf out a little after the game. It’s not really his fault, except in the ways that it is. Stiles pushes and pushes and pushes, and after Coach yelling at him to run faster, be better for two hours, Jackson is a little on edge. Stiles has been working up to this all day, and Jackson has always had a short fuse.
Jackson ends up pushing Stiles down onto the grass, and Stiles’s eyes go wide, completely round, but he doesn’t shrink away. Too used to it by now, probably.
There’s a growl rumbling in the back of Jackson’s throat, and if Stiles would just squirm a little bit more he’d bite down to keep him still. But Stiles isn’t moving.
“Come on, Jackson. You are so much better than this,” Stiles says, and Jackson wants to be, tries to be, but he’s not sure he actually is. “Come on, dude, pull it together.”
Jackson’s eyes zoom in on the pulse beating in Stiles’s throat, and the sound of his heart, liquid and steady, drums in Jackson’s ears. He digs his claws into the soft grass next to Stiles’s head, and squeezes his eyes closed, listening. Stiles isn’t afraid of him, even now.
It takes him a few minutes, but he manages to push it back – even on edge, with the full moon on its way, even given the day so far. He realizes that he’s still pressed up against Stiles from neck to knees, and he rolls off. He’s breathing hard, staring up into the sky.
“Hey,” Stiles says, from next to him. When Jackson looks, he’s smiling, shrugging as best he can from the grass. “Nicely done.”
The night of the full moon is that Saturday. Jackson isn’t prepared to stay home by himself and wait it out, so he reluctantly heads over to the Hale House.
“Derek?” He peers in around the door, sniffs at the air, but it’s hard to sort things out in the Hale House. Everything still smells overwhelmingly of burning.
“You showed, huh?” Derek saunters in from some room off to the left, living room or dining room, maybe. He smells like wolf, more than usual, which Jackson chalks up to the moon.
“Scott said I might accidentally try to eat my parents,” Jackson says, instead of I wasn’t sure what to expect, or I wasn’t sure what else to do.
Derek grunts, wraps his hand around the banister. Jackson watches it out of the corner of his eye, watches it tighten and loosen and tighten again. Derek sees him watching, and laughs. It’s not a very nice sound.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
Jackson just thinks of the shiny pink scars Derek left on the back of his neck. “Sure,” he says, which is mostly just agreement to agree. He looks from Derek’s hand up to his face, and then down at his own shoes. He’s on edge enough as it is.
Derek doesn’t say anything for a long time, though Jackson can feel Derek’s eyes on him, like static electricity. Jackson wonders if he even blinks. “C’mon,” he says, eventually. “The further away from civilization we get you, the better.”
It feels almost like a peace offering. Jackson stiffens for a moment, his shoulders tightening, his back straightening. He doesn’t need anyone’s pity.
“Now, Jackson,” Derek says, with an eye roll, and Jackson realizes that whether or not it’s a peace offering, the wolf in him will still obey anything that Derek says.
They run, and run, and run. Jackson doesn’t see any signs of human inhabitation, but he does kill a lot of rabbits. They taste like game – meat and blood and stringy sinew. Jackson can barely smell the air around the scent of death, and he gets gristle caught in his teeth, but Derek cuffs him on the back of the neck in approval, so he doesn’t care. When it starts to rain, his claws slip-sliding in the mud and decaying leaves, he can smell the night again. He slows just to take it all in – the thunder crash of raindrops hitting the tree branches, the beating wings as owls swoop down to scoop up prey. Everything smells wet, half-rotten and somehow alive.
Derek nudges his shoulder, urging him forward, and faster. Jackson goes, feet sinking into the mud and not caring.
Jackson spends most of Sunday morning vomiting, the memory of tiny hearts beating fast with fear sticking in the back of his throat. He stumbles out of Derek’s house just after dawn – tired and sore and dirty – and almost crashes his car twice on the drive home. He stands under the pounding hot water of the shower long enough to get most of the blood and dirt off of his skin, before he pushes aside the shower curtain and leans down close over the toilet bowl. The shower is still running, probably covering up most of the noise, and he’s grateful for it, even as the water sprays over his back and onto the floor, the curtain still mostly open. He reaches out to close it, flushes the toilet, and curls up on the cool tile, pressing his forehead against the bottom of the toilet bowl.
He’s not sure how long he stays there – retching up stomach acid at the thought of those little furry paws, twitching noses and wide, wide eyes – before he makes it back to bed. Every muscle in his body feels stretched out of shape, and he’s shaking from the strain of emptying his stomach so many times and not eating. It’s only 8:50. He pulls the covers up to his chin, and goes to sleep.
Sometime later, he wakes up to cool fingers touching his cheek, and he groans, fighting off awareness. He can already tell that his head is pounding like a nightmare hangover, and he still feels like his bones have been pulled out of joint.
“Wow, Whittemore, you look like death warmed over.” Stiles’s voice floats down from somewhere over Jackson’s head, and Jackson opens his eyes a little.
Stiles is sitting on the mattress next to Jackson’s hip, the way Jackson’s mother used to when he was young and she’d check his temperature. He’s smiling, a little, his hand twitching against Jackson’s cheek.
“Stiles?” Jackson’s voice is more mumble than speech, and he sounds like someone has pushed his throat through the garbage disposal. Talking hurts.
“The one and only,” Stiles says, cheeky, and Jackson squeezes his eyes closed. He wants to burrow underneath the covers and never come out. “Derek told me you might be feeling a little off.”
“The full moon sucks.” It’s almost a whine, hoarse and strained, and something about the way he says it makes Stiles laugh. It’s a pleasing sound, if too loud for the comfort of Jackson’s headache.
“Yeah, buddy, I know. I’ve done this part already, remember.”
“Not from my side, you haven’t.” Jackson lets Stiles pet his cheek, listening to the soft, even beating of Stiles’s heart. There’s something comforting about it.
Stiles says something else, then, but Jackson is half asleep, and doesn’t hear it.
Jackson stays in bed most of the day. Stiles is gone when he wakes back up. Jackson assumes he’d been doing his rounds, checking up on all of his werebuddies. Maybe Jackson counts in that, now. Or close enough.
He feels okay enough by dinnertime to eat with his parents. They conspicuously don’t ask him where he was – they figure he’d been out partying, and if they don’t ask, than they don’t have to discipline him for it. Jackson is grateful, for once, for their lax carefulness, happy just to listen to them talk about work while he takes his mashed potatoes one bite at a time.
He goes back to bed early, still exhausted and sore. He hopes that this is just what happens after the first full moon, and not after every one.
On Monday, all anyone will say to him was how he must have partied hard over the weekend. Except Danny, obviously, who knows he’d done no such thing, and Scott. Between the two of them, they have worried eyebrows completely covered.
“It was some crazy twenty-four hour bug,” Jackson tells Danny at lunch. Not exactly a lie. Danny raises an eyebrow that means, so you weren’t in your father’s scotch collection again? “I promised after last time,” Jackson says, because he had. “I’m serious.”
“Fine,” Danny says, but he smiles, and gives Jackson a hard thump on the back. Forgiven, then. “Let’s see if you can still compete, give you’re all consumptive and shit now.”
“You’re definitely getting better,” Stiles says, later, when Jackson hasn’t bitten him, or gouged him open, or even changed that much. Jackson still hasn’t said anything about the way he listens to Stiles’s heart beating to calm himself down. He’d feel stupid even mentioning it.
“Whatever.” He tries to keep his voice unaffected by the compliment, but he knows that he fails when Stiles breaks out in a grin.
“N’aww, are you blushing, Jackson? It really shows off those freckles.”
“Shut up, Stilinski,” Jackson says, but Stiles just laughs.
Jackson avoids Derek, even though he knows it’s only a temporary solution. The pack instincts will always be there, and Derek is the alpha. At the moment, however, Jackson isn’t sure he can look at Derek without vomiting all over again. Derek must know, because he doesn’t come looking for Jackson, even when it’s been a week and Jackson hasn’t stopped by the Hale house.
“I’m not sure he’s even noticed, really,” Jackson says to Scott after lacrosse practice on Friday. Jackson pulls up his shorts, and turns to look at Scott, with his skeptical eyebrows, and a thumbnail between his teeth. “I’m always just in his way.”
“Oh, he’s noticed, believe me.” Scott must see something surprised on Jackson’s face, because he smiles, and wipes his hand on his jeans. “He’s your alpha, he’ll always know where you are. And the closer you are, the stronger he is.”
“Hm,” Jackson says, but he’s not sure he really believes it. Maybe he’ll ask Stiles. Maybe not.
Stiles is running out of ways to make Jackson angry.
“It’s no use. Face it, Stilinski, I’ve gotten used to you,” Jackson says, neglecting to mention that mostly he’s good at ignoring all of Stiles’s shit because he’s using the rhythm of Stiles’s heart to keep calm. It means he’s not going to wolf out and kill Stiles, but Jackson isn’t sure what would happen if he got mad and Stiles wasn’t there. He doesn’t want to think about it really – it’s too much like having a crutch.
“And yet, you still hulk out on the field. What is it with you and Scott? Can’t take a little competition?”
Jackson doesn’t bother to reply to that, just sits heavily on the bleachers. He’s tired, it’s been a long couple of weeks, and his quads and biceps are sore.
Stiles trots over and sighs. He’s staring up at the sky, and squinting a little – Stiles Stilinski’s thinking face. “You’re going to have to ask Derek about the rest of the anger stuff – he probably pisses you off enough, right? Think we should move on to phase three?”
Jackson gets caught up, for a moment, thinking about Derek, and how complicated going to him for help is going to be, considering. He shakes his head, resolving to think about it later, when Stiles isn’t standing around looking concerned.
“What’s phase three?”
“Arousal,” Stiles says, and grins.
Jerking off is still weird. Jackson does it, because he’s still a teenage boy, even if he does turn into some kind of wolf hybrid on the full moon. If he’s thinking about it hard enough, he can manage not to wolf out completely before he comes – it’s not something that he wants to discuss, exactly, but it’s necessary, given that he eventually wants to have sex, and not just with his own left hand. He finds that if he leaves the shower on cool, it helps him keep control.
He doesn’t tell Stiles these things. He’s not sure that he would be able to. He doesn’t know what Stiles has planned for phase three, but he’s betting that it doesn’t have anything to do with touching Jackson himself, and Jackson – has been having a hard time forgetting the feeling of Stiles’s fingers on the side of his face, Stiles underneath him on the ground and unafraid. It’s fucked up, to want someone just because they’re nice to you, because they know what you are and aren’t scared of you. But Jackson doesn’t get to make these sorts of choices.
Sometimes, when he touches himself in the shower, all he can think about is Stiles’s mouth. And that’s exactly the sort of thing he’s not ever going to tell.
Derek is waiting for him at his car after school on Monday. He’s leaning against the driver’s side door with his arms crossed. Jackson doesn’t have any good memories of the other times when Derek has come looking for him, but he doesn’t turn around and walk away, no matter how much he wants to.
“What do you want?” he asks, with his hands in his pocket, clenched around his car keys hard enough that he can feel the metal digging into his skin.
“I think I owe you an explanation,” Derek says, and he actually appears somewhat remorseful, like he might even mean it. Jackson doesn’t unclench his hands, but he doesn’t do anything rash either.
“Explain,” he says, voice terse.
“Get in the car, okay? We shouldn’t do this in public.” There is very little that Jackson wants less than to be trapped in a car with Derek. He also knows that this is not the place to have the conversation he’s pretty sure they’re about to have.
“Fine,” he says. “But it’s my car, and I’m driving.” You don’t touch me, he doesn’t say. Derek probably knows, anyway. He nods, and slides into the passenger seat. When Jackson pulls out of the parking lot, he looks out of the window. It takes him a surprisingly long period of time to speak again.
“I shouldn’t have turned you,” he says, finally. Jackson’s not expecting that, exactly, and he digs his fingernails into the leather of the steering wheel hard enough to make the car swerve a little, before he gets himself under control.
“What do you mean,” Jackson asks, almost too deadpan for it to be a question. He doesn’t recognize the tone from himself. It’s startling.
“I’d only been an alpha for six hours. Less, maybe, I don’t know. It feels different, being alpha. I knew I needed a pack, and you were there. It was instinct more than rational thought.”
Jackson doesn’t say anything at all. He doesn’t even like Derek, and the words are a punch in the gut. He focuses on his breathing, holding onto his calm with sheer force of will. He’s used to not being wanted – he’s used to needing to prove himself, trying harder to show he belongs. That someone wants him, even if it’s not his birth parents.
“Pack is supposed to be family,” Derek says, and he sounds – almost frustrated. Derek has only acted like Jackson is a hindrance, so the emotion in Derek’s voice is startling. “Uncle – Peter stopped thinking about it that way, but he was wrong. I don’t know you at all, and you’re scared of me. That’s not how pack is supposed to be.”
“There are reasons that I am scared of you,” Jackson says. “And they don’t have anything to do with you being a werewolf.” He’s surprised by how quiet his voice sounds, even in the cramped space of his car. They are driving past a sea of pine trees, and Jackson doesn’t know what else to say, except, “You can’t take it back. You can’t undo what you did. So why bother even telling me this? It’s not like you can go back in time and make it never have happened.”
Derek snorts, but he’s still looking out the window. “I’m just trying to explain myself. I’m not used to being needed. I’m trying, but you have to cut me some slack, Jackson, Jesus. I’ve never been an alpha before.”
“Yeah, well I’ve never been a werewolf before. Maybe if you wanted me to stop being scared of you, you should stop fucking reinforcing it.” Jackson is staring straight ahead, watching the road. He’s thinking about the three days Derek left him alone while the bite took. He’s thinking about all of the sharp, sarcastic comments. The sneers. He’s thinking about how quickly Derek pawned him off on Stiles. “Maybe I’d cut you some slack if you weren’t such an asshole. Because you say you’re trying, but you’re not, really.”
Derek doesn’t say anything, and Jackson knows that he’s won. And it’s not that he thinks Derek is unredeemable, or evil, but if he wants forgiveness he has to actually act like it. Jackson grits his teeth, and pulls over.
“Out of the car. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Derek goes without protest. Jackson takes a moment to wonder if it’s because Jackson asked, or because they’re not really very far from the Hale house anyway.
On Tuesday, Jackson is in a mood. Everyone can tell, and most people are smart enough to stay away from him. Danny grips his shoulder and doesn’t stray far. Stiles keeps looking like he’s going to ask questions. Jackson doesn’t want to talk about it, but he doesn’t think he’s going to get much of a choice.
In the end, after school all it takes is for Stiles to give him a look and a couple of raised eyebrows for Jackson to say, “Fine, whatever,” and spill.
He’s not sure how he got to this place, where Stiles is someone whose opinions of him aren’t entirely negative, where Danny isn’t the only person he can trust, but it unsettles him. He doesn’t look at Stiles while he talks, and just that little bit of distance makes him feel less vulnerable.
Stiles listens carefully – or, at least, he doesn’t interrupt – and the whole telling of it doesn’t take Jackson very long.
“This might be a stupid question,” Stiles says, “but why are you so scared of him, anyway?”
Jackson’s hand automatically goes to the back of his neck, where the scars are still shiny and pink. Apparently the healing factor part of the werewolf curse doesn’t extend to scars from before the bite.
Stiles’s hand is on his shoulder, suddenly, pulling him down so that Stiles can see the back of his neck.
“Wow, dude. Derek did that?”
Jackson shrugs, and nods, staring at the grass. He’s still not entirely sure what he did to make Derek wolf out on him like that, but he’s not sure how to ask. “Yeah,” he says, “and the hallucinations I got afterward didn’t help. Neither did him stalking me in the locker room.”
“So, maybe you do have a few good reasons,” Stiles admits. His fingers are still curled around Jackson’s shoulder, fingertips just brushing over the scars. Jackson shivers. “And I’ll be the first to admit that Derek is kind of an asshole, but who knows, maybe he thinks that he’s actually trying to help.”
“He has a pretty terrible way of helping,” Jackson says. “I think he enjoyed that I was scared of him until he realized that I was actually going to be part of his pack. My guess is that he wishes the bite had killed me, and doesn’t know what to do with me now that we’re stuck together.”
“Man, you’re not a very cheerful guy, you know that?” Stiles pulls away like he’s just realized that he’s still touching Jackson, and ducks his head. “You might want to work on that.”
“Yeah,” Jackson says, “I’ll get right on it.”
It takes a couple of days for Jackson to start to wonder what Stiles’s actual plans for phase three are. He hasn’t said anything about it, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of ideas – Jackson isn’t sure that Stiles is ever out of ideas.
Jackson doesn’t even realize how right he is until Thursday, when Stiles pulls him out behind the bleachers and gives him his options.
“So I’ve been thinking,” Stiles says, rocking back on his heels and wiggling his fingers up near his left ear. “You have a couple of options. I’m only giving you options at all because you’re really not going to like any of them, and no matter how great I am you’re still way more muscular and likely to cause physical harm.”
Jackson mulls that over for a few moments. It’s not exactly a stellar opening – doesn’t exactly engender confidence. He is reasonably certain that he’s not going to enjoy phase three at all.
“Just tell me, Stilinski, geez,” he says, eventually, figuring that he’s tough enough to deal with whatever shit Stiles can throw at him.
“Okay, well. Way I see it, we can do one of two things – one, we tell Lydia about werewolf school, you let her laugh at you, and hopefully she’ll agree to make out with you even on her own time. The pluses being that she knows about the werewolf thing, and it’s been proven that you like making out with her. The minuses being that she’s Lydia, will never let you live it down, and will somehow use it to her advantage in the future.”
“Okay,” Jackson says, slowly. Totally not going there, ever again. Lydia is great, but vindictive, and Jackson broke up with her over text. Not his best moment.
“Your second option, unfortunately, is me. Pluses being that I have all the salient information already and if I were going to use it to blackmail you or whatever I’d definitely have done so. Minuses being that I’m not sure you even like boys, and you definitely don’t like me, so I’m not even sure it would work the right way.”
Jackson is about to point out that he’s seventeen and his libido just isn’t that picky, really, but Stiles continues to talk.
“Allison and Scott are both out, for obvious reasons involving monogamy and werewolf possessiveness and also that I don’t want to watch you make out with Scott, Derek is out because he’s an asshole and you’re scared of him, and Danny is out because he doesn’t even know about the werewolves, and he has a boyfriend, thus more monogamy issues.”
“Wow, you’ve really thought this through.”
“Oh yeah,” Stiles says, with a snort and an emphatically nodded head. “I went over it in PowerPoint. I made a mathematical equation. I do my homework, Whittemore.”
Jackson realizes, then, that Stiles had mentioned nothing about whether or not he likes boys, or would even be willing to make out with Jackson for no reward at all, but he decides not to push it.
“Let’s do it, then,” Jackson blurts out before he can psyche himself out. “No way I’m bringing Lydia into it.”
“Wha – really?” Stiles tilts his head to the side and squints.
Jackson tries not to feel evasive underneath that gaze. “Really.”
“Huh,” Stiles says. “Would not have predicted that.” He’s studying Jackson, now, like Stiles has just realized some major error in his calculations and has to reevaluate from Jackson the beginning.
“You underestimate how little I want to expose my problems to Lydia Martin,” Jackson says, like it’s no big thing at all. Stiles’s heart has sped up, and Jackson could probably smell out why if he wanted to, but he’s not sure he does. It’s too easy to imagine that he’s finally managed to hit Stiles’s fear, or his disgust.
“You know you want me, Jackson,” Stiles says, with a lascivious wink and a whistle. It’s a cover, Jackson can tell from the way Stiles’s face reads lie all over, but Jackson is grateful for it anyway.
“Drop dead, Stilinski,” he says, and leaves it at that.
That night, Jackson opens his window and climbs out onto the roof. He’s shirtless and sweaty and breathing too hard. The cool night air is enough to make him tense, and focus, but for a long moment he’s not sure it’s going to be enough. He’d been dreaming about kissing Stiles again.
It’s the third night in a row, and the dream is always the same – Stiles cornering him on the lacrosse field and wrapping his hands up in Jackson’s jersey. Stiles’s mouth is wet and hot and he bites. Jackson’s woken up hard and sweaty and pretty close to wolfing out and it isn’t getting any less disconcerting.
Some essential, primal part of him wants to raise his mouth to the sky and howl out his loss. It’s the same part of him that listens for Derek, the wolf part, the part he’s scared to let loose for fear of what it could do.
It’s worse than the dreams. No matter which dream it is – Stiles’s mouth, or the fire in the Hale house, or Derek rooting out the vines that have wrapped around his spine – once he wakes up, it’s over.
The wolf is always there, a part of him that reminds him what danger is, how careful he has to be, a part that he still doesn’t fully understand. He’d only wanted the power so that he could be better, be the best, but he still isn’t. And if being a werewolf doesn’t do it, he doesn’t think he really ever will be.
The thought makes his stomach clench, makes his chest seize up with fear, makes his breath come fast in his lungs, because if he isn’t the best, than what is he? What is he doing here, on the roof in the early hours of the morning, thinking about Stilinski’s mouth, and how dangerous he is? Is it even worth it? Was any of this worth it?
The thought is too frank for Jackson to take, and it hits something inside him that he tries not to show, something small and scared and fucking worthless. He digs his fingernails into the slate of the roof and ignores the way that they sharpen, cracking the roof tiles beneath his hands. He can hear his parents breathing in their bedroom inside the house, the sheets rustling as his mother turns over, and he can hear the faint strains of the radio they left on downstairs playing classical.
He bites into his lip with newly sharpened teeth, and they pierce the skin, pricking blood up to the surface, but the cuts heal just as quickly. He can hear his own blood pumping in his veins, and he shouldn’t be letting this happen. He should be pushing against it.
His skin is prickling all over, the way that it does just before the full moon takes over. He can feel it shuddering over him, the tensing and expanding of muscles, the curving of his fingers and toes and jaw. Jackson is so tired. He’s tired of resisting and tired of trying, and he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but this – this wasn’t what he wanted.
Then he thinks about Stiles and Danny and – and Lydia, even. Ripping out their throats, or clawing them open, and he can’t let that happen.
He squeezes his eyes shut and digs his fingers into his knees, the half-formed claws puncturing the denim of his jeans. This is what Derek is supposed to be doing – helping him figure out how to control himself and learn to live with the changes. Instead Derek had left all the work for Stiles. Stiles, who is human, and easily damaged, and so, so earnest. If Jackson lost control around Derek, Derek could handle it, but not Stiles. Stiles couldn’t do a thing.
And when the anger, the injustice of it all washes over Jackson, making his heart stutter in his chest, he knows that it’s not really an excuse. Derek is a dangerous asshole, but if Jackson hurts someone, it’s still going to be his fault. It makes some small part of him sag, exhausted, and the claws pricking his thighs through the holes in his jeans retract, just a little. He thinks about how brave Stiles is, and how generous, to be willing to put himself in danger for someone like Jackson.
And, somehow, for now, that’s enough.
Jackson gets a text from Stiles around 5 on Friday, just after practice. Jackson is about to climb into his car, hair still wet from the shower. It says, we should do this tonight. are your parents home?
yeah, he types back. your dad?
out late. come over around 6? Stiles’s response comes in less than two minutes.
okay, see you then.
Jackson could go home, but he doesn’t want to. He’s nervous, somehow, chest tight, stomach fluttering with it. He’s been dreaming about this, had been before Stiles even mentioned it was an option, and he hasn’t let himself think about it, but it means something. Jackson has always known that he wasn’t entirely straight, but it’s the fact that it’s Stiles that makes him tense up. Stiles is one of the two people Jackson can tentatively call himself friends with, and it’s new. This is just as likely to fuck things up as it is to help him.
Jackson drives aimlessly, hands clenched around the steering wheel tight enough that by the time he gets to Stiles house he has a hard time prying them off.
Stiles opens the door before he knocks. He’s a little out of breath and a little flushed, like he was watching out of the window for Jackson’s car and ran down the stairs to meet him. Jackson’s eyes track over Stiles’s face, the prick of sweat at his hairline, the too quick beat of his heart. Jackson feels both more at ease that he’s not the only one freaking out, and unsettled by Stiles actually freaking out about anything. Jackson spent several weeks alternating between furious and irritated at Stiles, and this is what gets him to crack.
“You should come in,” Stiles says. His voice, at least, is steady. “We have about two hours, a little more if we get lucky.”
Jackson resists the urge to ask how long they’re going to be at this for, and the urge to laugh, and the urge to leave.
“Okay,” he says, instead, and follows Stiles inside.
Jackson has to pull away, pushing his face into the mattress. Stiles is breathing in quick stutter-stops, and his heart is beating so fast. Jackson can’t stop listening to it, has carefully trained himself to, and now it means something entirely different.
“It’s okay,” Stiles says, his voice a little hoarse, and if Jackson looked, he knows he’d see Stiles’s mouth kissed red, his shirt stretched out at the collar and hiked up over his abdomen. Which is why he can’t look.
Jackson groans, getting himself under control. He has his hands curled up into fists, so that the claws don’t ruin Stiles’s bedding, or Stiles, or anything else in his room, and he knows when he uncurls his fists there is going to be a little blood and no actual wounds.
Stiles hand comes to press against his hair, lightly on the top of his head. His fingers card through, slowly, slowly. He presses his free hand high up on Jackson’s ribs on the other side, leaning over where Jackson is curled up on the mattress.
“You’re okay,” Stiles says, his breath whispering over Jackson’s neck. Stiles’s stomach is pressed up against Jackson’s side, warm and solid and uncomfortably right. Jackson can feel the pulse of blood in Stiles’s veins through the fabric of both of their shirts, and it makes him shudder. This isn’t really what he wanted.
As Stiles’s heart slows, his breath evening out, Jackson can feel himself doing the same. He should tell Stiles. He should tell him, but he doesn’t.
“Not bad, for a first go,” Stiles says. Jackson turns his head to the side. He can see the narrow spread of Stiles’s chest, the curve of one shoulder, the point of his chin. Mouth, one eye. A spot of color high up on one cheek.
Jackson doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t move, either.
They try it again on Saturday, during the day at Jackson’s house, when his parents are out at his father’s law firm picnic. Jackson bows out, citing homework, which is sort of true, and Stiles comes over just after lunch.
Part of Jackson, a surprisingly large part, wants to push Stiles back against the counter in the kitchen and kiss him. He’s not supposed to want it, though – this is just practice, Stiles doing him a favor – so he takes Stiles up to his bedroom instead.
Stiles doesn’t really look around, and Jackson remembers that he’s been here before – when he visited Jackson after the full moon. Jackson sits on the edge of his bed, bare feet digging into the carpet, hands twisting into each other, and Stiles closes the door quietly behind him. He locks it.
When he steps closer to Jackson, knees less than two inches from the edge of the bed, Jackson reaches up to tangle a hand in the fabric of Stiles’s t-shirt.
“Yeah?” Jackson says, for no reason that he can really decode, and then Stiles leans down and kisses him. It’s less hurried than last time, a little less uncertain. Stiles’s mouth is warm, and he moves onto the mattress next to Jackson, one sharp knee digging into Jackson’s thigh. Jackson hisses against Stiles’s mouth, but Stiles just pulls him down. Jackson realizes that he still has his hand in Stiles’s shirt, but he doesn’t pull it away, he just tugs Stiles’s shirt up, and pushes their mouths back together.
Stiles’s knee fits just between Jackson’s thighs, sliding until he’s half on top of Jackson. They’re touching chest to stomach to hips, and Jackson lets his breath out slowly, just so that Stiles might miss the way that it shakes. The kisses are sloppy, and Stiles has one hand on the side of Jackson’s face. It’s maybe more intimate, even, than with Lydia, who always knew what she was doing, who was always confident and certain, even the first time for either of them, and this isn’t. They still have a ways to go until they get there.
Stiles rolls his hips down, and Jackson squeezes his eyes closed. And he still has far to climb before he's got real control over himself. Stiles must be able to feel the way that he tenses, because he pulls away a little, enough to slide the touching back toward chaste, despite how closely pressed together they are.
“Sorry,” Jackson says, into the side of Stiles’s face, where he won’t have to see the expression there. Stiles’s heart is thundering in his chest, the sound of it beating as it speeds up. Wet thumps as it pushes blood through his veins, and Jackson can’t stop listening, hasn’t been able to for a long time, but the effect is different, now. Now he can hear ever hitch in Stiles’s breath, and he knows that he’s the one causing the spike in Stiles’s pulse, and the feeling is heady and terrifying and enough to make him start the fast slide down toward out of control.
“It’s not – you’re doing fine,” Stiles says, out of breath. His lips skim over Jackson’s cheek and jaw, wet slide of saliva and soft press of mouth. Jackson shudders.
“This is crazy,” he says “This is crazy, I’m never going to be able to do this.” He can feel the shivery-shuddery curl of power down his spine, and he tries to push it away, even as Stiles squirms on top of him, hand still pressed to the side of his face, holding him still as Stiles kisses him.
“You will,” Stiles says. “You can, just – concentrate. This isn’t any different from anything else we’ve done.”
Jackson doesn’t know how to tell him that it is. It’s completely different. He says, “I can hear your heart beating, and it’s so – fast, in your chest. I can’t stop listening to it.”
“Shh,” Stiles says. “Do it for as long as you can stand. We’ll be – I’ll be fine.”
Jackson doesn’t really think so, doesn’t know what he’s doing when he pulls Stiles back down, pushing their mouths together, but he only has so much time left before he loses control and he’s going to make the most of it.
The full moon comes a week later. Jackson hasn’t seen Derek since their terrible heart-to-heart, and he’s mostly glad, but he doesn’t want to be alone right now. Not on the full moon. He’s too proud and too angry to reach out first, though, so he wiles away the last of the evening in his room, thinking about Stiles’s mouth, the way they’d been pressed together. He can’t get it out of his head.
Stiles doesn’t seem particularly effected – he treats Jackson exactly the same in school, right down to the terrible jokes, and it’s driving Jackson crazy. Some part of him wonders if this is more of Stiles’s plan, but most of him doesn’t care. With the full moon coming, he’s more irritable than ever. He wants to pin Stiles to the table in the cafeteria and kiss him with sharp teeth bared. He knows he shouldn’t want it, but just the thought makes him shiver with lust and something else, something darker, closer to possession. He makes himself stop thinking about it, because the night of the full moon is not the time to give in to the darker of his fantasies, not when he doesn’t know what the wolf in him really wants.
It’s just when the change is starting to come over him that he hears the howl, loud and clear and near. So Derek is coming for him after all. And, like the asshole he is, he’s doing it in the one way where he won’t actually have to talk to Jackson at all. If the sound of Derek howling didn’t make the wolf in him stand at attention, he’d laugh. As it is, he shrugs out of his shirt and opens the window, jumping easily down to the ground. The change is already coming over him, Derek’s call has seen to it, but at least he won’t be alone.
Derek herds him back into the woods, and they run. Jackson can almost forget his anger, but not quite, not enough for Derek to ever leave his sight. It’s like he’s afraid that Jackson will bolt, back to civilization, but the urge to follow orders is stronger than Jackson’s resentment.
They don’t kill much of anything, just chase deer through the woods, following the scent of the hunt. Jackson wants to, he wants nothing else than to sink his teeth into the flank a terrified animal, feel the blood run hot over his throat and down inside until he has to swallow it. Derek won’t though, heads off all of his snapping lunges, letting him get close enough to smell their fear but not close enough to finish it.
Jackson growls his frustration, but Derek snarls, digging his teeth into the back of Jackson’s next. Not hard enough to break the skin – some part of Jackson, the human part, wants to recoil from the memory of Derek’s claws sinking in there – but enough to rest his case.
Jackson shakes him off, claws at the soft dirt, instead, and howls his displeasure into the night.
The second morning after is easier than the first. No rabbits, this time, no memory of tiny hearts bursting, so he only has to deal with the muscle aches and the weakness this time around. No nausea, no unbearable headache. He still stumbles home in the early hours, climbs into bed dirty, and sleeps for another five hours.
He’s still in bed when Stiles peeks his head in, but he’s thinking about waking up, so he’s not annoyed. He grunts and waves Stiles in with one flopping hand. Stiles chuckles, but closes the door behind him and sits gingerly on the edge of Jackson’s bed.
“How’re you feeling?” Stiles asks, one half of his mouth quirked in a small smile, hands fluttering at his knees. He can’t keep still, at usual, and so it’s just for Jackson’s own piece of mind that he grabs both of Stiles’s hands in one of his and holds them still. Stiles goes rigid all over, taut and breathless. Jackson could try to take it back, but he doesn’t want to.
“You make me tired just looking at you,” he says, and he can hear Stiles’s heartbeat, kicked up two notches too fast, and so Jackson pulls him down by his hands. Stiles sprawls on top of Jackson’s body, his knee glancing off of one of Jackson’s, his shoulder hitting Jackson right in the bicep, their chests almost pressed together. Their faces inches apart.
“What are you doing?” Stiles asks, and it’s not properly a question, a little too flat, too breathless for it, but Jackson swears he can see Stiles’s pulse speed up – and he can most certainly hear it. It’s heady, like the pot he smokes with Danny on the weekends he has left over from lacrosse.
“Phase three,” Jackson says, and kisses Stiles. He still has both of Stiles’s hands captured in his, and it takes several long moment of near stillness for Stiles to give in and relax, open his mouth to Jackson’s. He doesn’t struggle, or try to pull his hands free, but he bites into Jackson’s lips, taking control of the kiss with ease. He slides, slightly, until he’s laying half on top of Jackson, the comforter and their clothes separating them. It’s too warm, and Jackson is already sweating, but he doesn’t want to move for fear of disturbing the weird balance between them.
“This isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to work,” Stiles says, understandable even though his words are muffled against Jackson’s cheek. “You’re putting a serious crimp in my style, Whittemore.”
“Since when has that mattered to me?” Jackson asks, though the end turns into a stifled gasp as Stiles bites into the soft skin underneath his ear. Stiles’s weight is pleasant against his chest and hips, just enough to hamper his breathing the slightest bit, just enough to make it feel real, somehow. Jackson is good at not examining the things he should be examining, but he knows that this is going too far. He wants it too much.
He’s almost certain that it’s not going to stop him, however.
“Oh,” Stiles says, “never, but a guy’s got to have some hopes, right?” Stiles wrests his hands out of Jackson’s grip, which has gone lax. He winds one of them into Jackson’s hair and gives it a hard tug. The noise Jackson makes in the back of his throat is the closest he’s come to a growl, but his instincts aren’t telling him to fight back. They’re telling him to give in, and that’s not something Jackson is prepared for.
He arches his back, instinctively, and Stiles’s knees splay out, digging into the mattress on either side of Jackson’s hips. The insides of his thighs are pressed against Jackson’s torso, and when Stiles kisses him, this time, it’s more an attack than anything else. Sharp, nipping teeth and wet, sloppy pressure, tongue pushing inside his mouth. Jackson realizes that he has both hands fisted into the comforter on either side of him, just above the curve of Stiles’s knees. The noise he makes then is closer to a whimper, and Stiles holds all the cards. Stiles always holds all the cards.
The change is sluggish, this morning – due, in all likelihood, to the remaining fatigue from the full moon. Whatever the reason, it means that when Stiles rocks down into him, teasing pressure through Stiles’s jeans and the comforter and Jackson’s boxers, Jackson’s claws don’t stab into the bed. His human hands clutch and pull at the bedding, his mouth makes a low keening sound against Stiles’s, but even though Stiles’s heartbeat is careening out of control, Jackson isn’t, yet.
He’s shirtless, underneath the bedding, and Stiles uses his free hand to tug the comforter down as far as it will go while he’s still sitting on top of it. The air in Jackson’s room isn’t cold, exactly, but he can see Stiles look down at his exposed chest, the way his nipples tighten at the sudden change in temperature. Jackson’s mouth feels used, pleasantly tingling from Stiles’s teeth, and when Stiles leans down to gets his mouth on Jackson’s chest he can’t help but arch into it. Stiles bites down on his left nipple, a little too hard, and Jackson hisses, but doesn’t try to get away.
“Fuck, Stiles, that’s – hurts, but –” he tries, and doesn’t get far. Stiles laughs, the brush of the air chilling the saliva on Jackson’s skin, and when Stiles bites down again, Jackson’s hips push up of his own volition.
“I’d say I’m surprised that you’re a kinky asshole, Jackson, but I’m not,” Stiles says, pulling back enough to smile. His cheeks are flushed and there’s the sheen of sweat on his forehead, and his pulse is racing so fast that Jackson wants to put his mouth to it and feel it against his lips. He smells like arousal and boy and lavender scented soap. Clean. “I didn’t come here for this, you know. You’re throwing all my plans out of whack with your stupid mouth, and your freckles.”
He brushes his fingers over the bridge of Jackson’s nose, and somehow, that’s what gets Jackson. That’s what makes the instinct inside him uncurl and start to seep through his veins.
“Motherfuck,” he says, vicious. “We have to stop, now, sorry, I can’t –”
“Shush,” Stiles says, and pats Jackson on the cheek. Jackson can see that he’s hard in his jeans, can smell it on him, precome and damp denim and lust, and there’s a large part of him that wants to say fuck it, and just pull down the zipper of Stiles’s jeans and – something. Get his mouth on him, maybe. Touch him. He’s not sure, yet.
He lets Stiles roll off, though, even if it makes some part of him want to die. He’s hard in his boxers – Stiles could probably feel it – and he knows what he’s going to be doing the minute Stiles leaves.
“Unrelated,” Stiles says, “to our impromptu makeout session, you really should sort things out with Derek.”
“Isn’t that his job? He’s the alpha.” Jackson knows that he sounds like a whining douchebag, but Derek just brings it out in him. Jackson, apparently, is just a terrible mistake to Derek, and that’s all there really is to say about it.
“Yeah, probably, but Derek is better at lurking that he is at talking. He’s only, like, a couple years older than us.”
Jackson snorts. “Whatever, Stilinski,” he says. “I’m not promising anything.” It means, I’ll think about it, but Jackson isn’t sure if Stiles knows that or not. He nods, anyway, like he’s satisfied.
“Fine, fine, sure. Now, do I have makeout face? I want to get out of your house without your mother looking at me like I’m defiling you or whatever.”
Jackson takes a close look at Stiles’s face. His lips are still a little swollen, but Jackson didn’t give him any hickeys, and the flush is fading. “You’re good to go,” he says.
“Awesome,” Stiles says. “See you on Monday.”
Jackson waves halfheartedly, and waits until he hears the front door close to get his hands inside his boxers.
Jackson spends the weekend thinking about what Stiles had said about Derek. It’s not like he hasn’t thought about it before, it’s just that Derek exudes this don’t fuck with me vibe that negates all sympathetic feelings. Derek pretends that he knows everything, even if he’s done shit to actually get to know Jackson at all. It reminds Jackson of all the things that he thinks about when he’s too drunk to remember not to, or when he’s lost a match, and Jackson doesn’t like being reminded. Jackson doesn’t like feeling inadequate.
The problem is that Jackson knows that part of him will always be thinking about it, wondering what it is about him that Derek finds so incredibly useless, and if he doesn’t root out that thought, scoop it out like dead tissue, it’ll fester into something worse.
So on Sunday afternoon, he takes his car out to the Hale house. He doesn’t go in, instead parking on the gravel and dirt and taking a seat on the porch stairs. Derek will know he’s here, if he’s in the house, and Jackson doesn’t feel like looking for him. He might be here to talk, but that doesn’t mean that he wants to make things easier for the guy.
He waits for a while, but he doesn’t mind. It’s not cold out, and the smell of the woods – bark and dirt and green – is soothing. He can see the tell tale signs that Derek is starting to fix up the house. He ignores that part of him that reminds him how much Derek scares him, and why. All of the ways that Derek can still hurt him. Instead, he watches the wind rustle the leaves, and he waits.
“I thought you never wanted to talk to me again,” Derek says, and it takes all of Jackson’s newly honed instincts not to jump like a frightened rabbit.
“I’m going to say a couple of things, alright? And you’re not going to interrupt me. When I’m done, you can say whatever you want, but not before that.”
Derek is standing behind him, probably leaning in the front doorway, but Jackson doesn’t turn to look. Derek is silent for a few long moments, before he says, “Fine,” and shifts his weight, making the deck creak.
“Right,” Jackson says, and takes a deep breath. “You don’t actually know me at all, okay? You don’t learn very much about a teenage boy by assaulting and harassing him on school property. And that? That’s about all I know about you. My introduction to you was you gouging your claws into my neck. You laughed when I was scared of you, you nearly killed me without remorse, and you regretted turning me the moment after you did it. You left me in a room by myself for three days, and the minute I woke up you sneered at me, and then told Stiles to train me. Stiles who, you know, is doing a pretty good job, all told, but who I could kill by accident just because I’m having a bad day. And that doesn’t sound like you’re fucking trying, Derek. But you know what? We’re stuck together. You made a bad decision, but now you have to live with it. And maybe if you’d actually taken the time to get to know me, you’d realize that just because you think I’m useless doesn’t mean I actually am.”
“Jeez, kid, been bottling that one up for long?” Derek says, after a long moment of silence, and the anger that pulses underneath Jackson’s skin is almost enough to make him shift. It would have been, if Stiles and his steady heartbeat weren’t holding him together. Derek can probably still smell the anger on him, but Jackson doesn’t care.
“Fuck you,” Jackson says. This was such a waste of time. This is what he gets for listening to Stiles, the softhearted boy wonder. He still doesn’t look at Derek, but he does stand, and start down the front steps toward his car.
“Wait, wait, stop,” Derek says, placating, and Jackson is pretty sure that if he turned around, Derek would be holding a hand flat out, open-palmed. He doesn’t, though. “Hold on a second.”
“Why should I? I’m only here at all because Stiles told me to give you another shot, but it’s pretty clear that you’re going to continue to be an asshole.” Jackson whirls around, still walking backward but not as quickly. He takes in Derek’s flared nostrils and flushed cheeks, the predictable hand stretched out in front of him, the smell of anger and shame and frustration.
For a moment, Derek’s face gathers up like he’s going to spit out something else disparaging, and then it smoothes over, going blank. It’s like he’s never learned to back down from a little lip. He’d be a terrible lacrosse player. He’d be thrown off the team for fighting on day one.
“Fine,” he says. “You’re right. Is that what you want to hear? That you’re right?”
It doesn’t hurt, but Jackson isn’t going to say that. Instead, he says, “Not really. I just want to learn how to control myself, and Scott barely has a handle on his own shit, let alone taking on mine. Stiles is doing a great job, but what if he can’t help me enough and I hurt him? You’re the best option I have.”
Derek’s whole body goes still. Not tense, precisely, but surprised. Like he wasn’t expecting Jackson to ask for help. Like he wasn’t expecting Jackson to admit to needing it. Not a total shock, but it still makes Jackson take a step back.
“What, you thought I was on your case just to fuck with you? Jesus – Derek, I barely know how to handle myself, here.”
“Yeah,” Derek says. He runs a hand through his hair, and look away. Jackson just keeps still, waiting it out. He’s made his case. If Derek doesn’t want to give him the benefit of the doubt, than that’s it. He’ll go back to figuring shit out on his own. “Okay, yeah. We’ll work on it, okay?”
“Sure,” Jackson says. He doesn’t actually trust Derek farther than he can throw him, but he’ll wait and see. It’s in his best interest to.
He ends up in Stiles’s bedroom after practice on Tuesday. Stiles texts him to come over, but when he does, they don’t immediately start going at it or anything. They do homework, and Stiles shows Jackson the places online where he’s gotten most of the accurate werewolf intel from. It’s nice.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Jackson tugs at the zipper of his hoodie. It’s an uncharacteristically nervous gesture, and he sees Stiles’s eyes go to his hands. He stills them, sticks them in his pockets. He’s sitting on the edge of Stiles’s bed, watching Stiles spin idly in his desk chair.
“I don’t know, maybe because when you’re not being a dick I don’t want to staple gun your mouth closed,” Stiles says. He flushes across his cheeks, but he’s not lying. Maybe there’s just something he’s not saying, something he’s thought, instead.
“Yeah, I’d really rather you didn’t do that.” Jackson laughs, but Stiles’s face goes even redder, lip caught between his teeth. “What?”
“Nothing,” Stiles says in a hurry, and that’s a lie, but not the kind Jackson is going to point out. Stiles face stays red, but he’s watching Jackson intently, like he’s trying to solve some kind of puzzle. This can usually go one of two ways for Jackson. “Is the – arousal thing harder to deal with than the anger?”
“I – I mean, yeah, kind of,” Jackson says, without detailing the specifics. “Why?”
“It’s taking you longer to get the hang of,” Stiles says, and then flushes all over again. “Look, okay, yeah, I’ve been taking notes and graphing it out. What else do you expect from me?”
Jackson laughs. “The anger – I always wanted to stop, so it’s easier, I think.” Jackson only realizes how that sounds after it comes out of his mouth. “Don’t take that as a compliment, Stilinski, you know what I mean.”
Stiles rolls his eyes, “Yeah, of course, it’s not at all that I’m an awesome kisser and super talented in bed.” He says it like he’s not sure if he’s being serious or not, which – is kind of sad, really.
“Not at all,” Jackson says, because he can’t say anything mean, and he can’t agree, so he settles on vague sarcasm and hides. He does reach out and wrap his fingers around Stiles’s wrist, though, tugging, and say, “Speaking of, did you just invite me here to talk, or –”
Stiles snorts, but lets Jackson pull him down anyway, until Jackson is sprawled on his back on Stiles’s bed, and Stiles is on top of him. They seem to end up like this a lot, but Jackson can’t say he’d really prefer it the other way. He finds Stiles’s weight anchoring in a way that he can’t describe. He pushes their mouths together, and Stiles’s hands snake under his sweatshirt. He isn’t wearing a shirt underneath, so Stiles’s fingernails scrape over his stomach and chest and he shivers.
“Easy access, much?” Stiles asks, between kisses, nipping at Jackson’s lips until he opens his mouth. Jackson thinks about sniping in response, but he doesn’t in favor of letting Stiles deepen the kiss while he slides his hands up underneath the back of Stiles’s t-shirt. Stiles’s legs splay on either side of Jackson’s thigh, and he pushes up, wondering if he can get Stiles off before he has to stop. He has always been goal oriented.
Stiles grinds down against him with a gasp, pulling away from Jackson’s mouth so that he can breathe, wetly, against Jackson’s jaw. Jackson lets his hands wander down until he’s cupping Stiles’s ass through the fabric of his sweatpants, pulling Stiles against him. He has to keep from using his whole strength, but he doesn’t mind because Stiles is indecently responsive – whining and laughing and moaning as he moves his hips, his mouth never straying far from Jackson’s.
They kiss for a long time, until Jackson’s mouth starts to tingle, until Stiles jerks his head away to pant into Jackson’s ear, “Jesus, Whittemore, are you trying to get me to come in my pants,” sounding breathless and amused and a little hoarse.
“Yes,” Jackson says, and he’s been so focused on Stiles, so intent on getting Stiles off, that he hasn’t been paying any attention to his own body – how hard he is, and how close to the edge. “And you have about thirty seconds until I have to stop, so you’d better hurry up.”
“Jesus,” Stiles says, again, and bites, hard, into the side of Jackson’s neck, his hips jerking against Jackson’s thigh as he starts to lose the rhythm. Jackson presses his mouth to against the side of Stiles’s face, sucking in a quick breath as he feels Stiles tremble all over, coming in his sweatpants just from the pressure of Jackson’s thigh, and Jackson’s hands on his ass, and Jackson’s mouth. It’s almost, almost too much. Jackson breathes in and out, slowly, slowly, and listens to the quiet noises Stiles makes as the pulses slow, and he starts to come down.
“Sorry,” Jackson says, a little earlier than is probably polite, but almost later than he can stand. He extricates himself from Stiles and flees to the bathroom.
He turns on the shower, but he has his hands down his pants before it even starts to warm up. He thinks about Stiles’s mouth, and the jerky motions of his hips as he came, and it doesn’t take very long at all. He shifts a little, sharpened teeth slicing open his lips when he bites them, trying to keep silent, but at least it’s just him. No one in here to hurt.
Stiles is still on his bed when Jackson gets out – freshly showered and clothed and back in control. Stiles has changed his pants, and he’s staring at his ceiling when Jackson comes in.
“So why don’t you just say whatever it is you aren’t telling me?” He sounds resigned, like it’s not what he actually wants to be saying, but he can’t avoid it anymore. Jackson knows the feeling.
“I don’t –” Jackson starts, but Stiles lifts his head up enough to glare, half-hearted, in Jackson’s direction. “Okay, okay,” he says, and he’d always thought that telling the truth would feel like relief, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. “You asked me why I’m so much better with the anger than the – other stuff, and it’s just that – I listen to your heartbeat. You’re always so calm and steady, and I can count on it. Except when we’re, you know, making out, your heartbeat goes out of control, and I like that, it makes me feel good, but it’s harder to – focus, without it.”
Jackson doesn’t blush often, but he can feel the heat spreading across his face, and this is him, telling Stiles that he actually cares, and this is Stiles, staring at him, utterly flabbergasted, with his mouth hanging half open.
“I know you didn’t know,” he offers, like that’ll make everything okay. “I know you don’t think about it like that.”
“Jackson,” Stiles says, “I – you can’t – I didn’t –” Stiles can’t seem to decide what to say, and Jackson, despite being generally selfish and needy and competitive, knows that he can’t make this be anything it’s not.
“It’s fine,” he says, because he knew, right, that this was exactly what Stiles said it was, he’d just gotten used to having someone other than Danny be nice to him. Stiles probably even likes him, a little, the way that you like the people you’ve had to learn to tolerate. “I have to go, but, seriously, dude, thanks for all your help.”
“Jackson –” Stiles starts, and lurches up into a sitting position, but Jackson thinks he’s done a pretty good job of letting himself down gently. He doesn’t need Stiles to do it, too.
He hadn’t even really realized that he cared that much.
He waves, and pulls Stiles’s door closed when he leaves.
He doesn’t see Stiles at school after that, except at practice, and then he is understandably busy. He’s honestly not avoiding Stiles, but he’s not going out of his way at the moment, either. He’s apparently done something to Stiles, though he can’t say what, because Scott has been giving him really weird looks. Jackson considers what he would do if Stiles actually told Scott about phase three. He can’t imagine that it would be very easy to kill himself, but he might have to try if Scott says anything to him about it. He can imagine few things worse.
Derek, amazingly, saves him from having to worry about what he’s going to do with his weekend – he shows up in his truck after school and says, “Hop in. We’re going on a trip.”
“A – trip?” Jackson stops next to the passenger side door. Derek parked next to him. Jackson probably can’t escape easily. “Like, overnight?”
“Yeah,” Derek says, and for a moment it looks like that’s all he’s going to say. Jackson raises his eyebrows, and Derek rolls his eyes. “Stiles has been teaching you all about how to not use your powers, but there’s more to control than pushing it all down. You have to learn how to be in control after the shift.”
“Shit,” Jackson says, and then, “if this is overnight, I have to tell my parents –”
“Taken care of.”
Jackson isn’t going to ask what excuse Derek has given them. He’s not sure he wants to know. “What about my car?”
“We’ll be back Sunday. I’ll drop you off here.”
Jackson looks at Derek, who is sitting calm and mild behind his steering wheel, and then sighs, climbing up into the cabin of the truck. “Fine,” he says. “Let’s go.”
At first, it’s sort of like running with Derek for the full moon – as a wolf, he is strong and fast and confident, and so the boy in him can sit back and not wonder about all the of things he’s worrying about. Derek runs alongside him, tongue lolling, paws stamping into the ground.
When it starts to get dark, Derek halts, growling quietly when Jackson doesn’t immediately stop next to him. Where Jackson would normally roll his eyes, he takes two steps back, putting himself side by side with Derek.
Derek shifts back to his human form, but puts his hand up when Jackson starts to do that same.
“Not yet,” he says, and Jackson can feel the disquiet spreading through him. He doesn’t have any idea where they are, and his nose is pretty good at helping him find his way, but he’s not sure he wants to rely on it. He just hopes that Derek isn’t going to leave him out here.
“Quiet,” Derek says, “it’s fine. I just don’t want you to start yet, not until I tell you to.” He looks over his shoulder, though the dark trees, back in the direction they came from. “You’re getting better at staying calm, but I need you to know exactly how long the shift takes, and I need you to be able to do it without thought, whenever you have to. So we’re going to practice until you get it right. When I tell you to start, I want you to shift, and I don’t want you to stop until I tell you to. Back and forth, until you can do it without thought.”
Shit. Derek’s serious, his face blank and quiet, and Jackson knows that by the end of the weekend he’s either going to be dead, or much, much better at controlling himself. He steels that part of him that’s still thinking about the steady beat of Stiles’s heart.
“Okay,” Derek says. “Start.”
It’s almost dawn when Derek tells him to stop. Jackson isn’t sure all his bones are in the right place anymore, and he hungrier than he’s ever been in his life.
“You did good,” Derek says, and it doesn’t even sound like he’d rather pull his teeth out than say it. They aren’t so very far from the car, so they walk it, as humans, and Derek pulls out a cooler full of food and two sleeping bags. Jackson grabs two roast beef sandwiches and a bag of potato chips while Derek starts to put a campfire together. When Jackson starts on the second sandwich, Derek actually laughs at him. It makes Jackson look up.
“What?” he asks. There’s a defensive note in his voice that he didn’t mean to put there, but Derek shrugs it off instead of taking offense. It’s possible that he actually is trying, this time.
“Nothing, I just remember being that hungry after my father put me and my sister through drills.”
Jackson chews, thinking. He knows he shouldn’t pry – Derek is secretive enough as it is – but he can’t help being curious.
“Your dad trained you the way you’re training me?”
Derek looks up from where he’s piling tinder. “Someone had to. Even born werewolves don’t start out knowing how to control themselves completely. It’s easier for us to learn, maybe because the feelings are always there, but the finer aspects are taught to us.”
Jackson nods and takes another bite. Something about knowing that it’s not just him makes him feel better.
Jackson sleeps until the sun is too bright through the tops of the trees. Derek is already awake, making coffee on the coals. He smirks at Jackson’s half-closed eyes, and what is probably a pretty interesting head of bed hair. His phone is dead, so he’s not even sure what time it is.
“Ready for day two?”
Jackson groans, but it’s not like he has anywhere better to be.
Derek drills him again in shifting for a couple of hours, and then has him leave specific amounts of time between shifts. After lunch, more sandwiches, they spar. Derek is much faster and stronger, in full wolf form or not, but Jackson knows better than to let it get to him, by now. When Derek slams him into a tree a little too hard, or knocks the wind out of him, Jackson has to think about Stiles not to shift, but if that’s how it works for him, he’ll take it.
Derek will occasionally yell at him to change, either into wolf form or back to human, and by the time the sun is setting again, Jackson can tell that he’s already getting better.
This isn’t arousal, has nothing to do with sex, so when the time comes, Jackson is going to have to ask Derek those awkward questions, but until then, he thinks he’s finally starting to get the picture.
“I’m pretty impressed,” Derek says. He has dirt smudged across one cheekbone where Jackson managed to get a lucky shot in, and he wipes the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his hand. “I knew you were driven, but I have to admit I didn’t think you’d take direction well.”
Jackson snorts, but doesn’t mention anything about how well or little Derek knows him. The sun is going down, and Jackson is exhausted to the very core of his being, but he’s not going to stop until Derek tells him to. That’s how this works, isn’t it?
“Thanks,” he says, instead of an I-told-you-so or a snide comment. Derek probably knows that he’s thinking about it.
“Rather than camp the night, we’re going back to my place. I want to give you one more run through in the morning, and then I’ll take you back to your car.”
Jackson shrugs. He can’t imagine that he’ll manage to stay awake once he’s seated in the car, but if Derek cares, he’ll say something. “Let’s go, then.”
Jackson sleeps on the mattress on the top floor, the one he recognizes well from those three days he stared at the hole in the ceiling and waited to die. He feels like a different person, like something new, and he snorts, thinking about how, maybe, some part of him did die, here. He can’t decide if he cares.
Derek wakes him before dawn and takes him on a loping run through the woods. As the sun comes up through the trees, Jackson thinks that maybe if the full moon were more like this, he wouldn’t feel so awful the next day. He wonders if, now that Derek is actually helping him, things will be better. He supposes that he’ll know in a few weeks. It’s never that long until the next full moon.
They walk the last mile as humans, cooling down and letting the sweat dry. Derek is grinning, sharp, and Jackson feels something like genuine approval. It’s not that he’s never gotten it before – he has, from his parents, from the coach – but he’s not sure he’s ever wanted it so badly before. He can’t stop smiling.
Until, of course, they come within sight of the house, and Stiles is sitting on the front steps. He looks like he hasn’t slept very much in the past few days, and when he sees Jackson and Derek come out of the woods, he scrambles to his feet.
“Jesus Christ,” he says, and then stops. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, but nothing else comes out. Jackson stops in front of the stairs, but he isn’t sure what to say.
Derek laughs. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “Jackson, yell if you need anything. Otherwise, I’m going to go inside and try very hard not to hear anything.”
Jackson glances at Derek long enough to nod, but he has a hard time looking away from Stiles, who is biting into his lower lip.
“What?” he asks, finally, when it’s been minutes of silence, and the two of them staring at each other from opposite heights on the stairs.
Stiles chuckles, softly, like he doesn’t actually think anything is very funny. “You actually have no idea, do you?”
“What?” Jackson says again, dumbly. He climbs the stairs, but stays a couple of feet away from Stiles.
“I can’t believe I was worried about you – you! Of all people!” Stiles laughs again, and Jackson is no closer to understanding what the hell is going on.
“Stiles,” he says, and tries to keep his voice even. Stiles’s heart is fucking racing. Jackson can smell his sweat, and his worry, and how much coffee he’s had this morning. “What’s going on? Why would you be worried about me?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? But we’re friends – or I thought we were – and friends worry when someone whose existence they actually sort of appreciate completely disappears off the face of the earth without any word at all.”
“I –” Jackson starts, not sure what he’s going to say, but when he thinks about it, he’d only made sure his parents knew. And he just hadn’t assumed that Stiles would care that much.
“Yeah, hadn’t thought of that, had you. Where is your phone? It’s been off since Friday afternoon –”
“Battery died, I’m sorry –”
“Do you realize I went to your house last night? Your car is still in the school parking lot! You didn’t tell Scott, though, why would you, you didn’t tell Danny, but my dad said your parents hadn’t filed a report or anything so I shouldn’t worry, you were probably just with them –”
“Wait, what, seriously? You asked the Sherriff? You spoke to my parents?” Jackson isn’t sure if he’s angry or guilty or completely pole-axed, though the latter feeling is probably dulling most of the former two.
“They said a friend of yours they’d never met came by and said a bunch of us were going camping. They were surprised to see me, so I had to tell them that I’d missed your message about it.” Stiles’s voice is calmer, quieter, but not by much. He seems to be steadying himself.
“I’m sorry,” Jackson says, because he could say, Jesus, why do you care? or overreact, much? but he actually likes Stiles, and even if Stiles doesn’t want to – date, or whatever, Jackson isn’t going to completely undermine the relationship on purpose. “I didn’t think about it. Derek surprised me after school, and it wasn’t – I didn’t have plans, anyway, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. I wasn’t trying to completely freak you out, I promise.” His phone is still dead, actually, until he gets back to his parents house. He wonders how many missed messages he has.
Stiles takes a deep breath. “Okay, well, you totally, completely did. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
“But why?” Jackson asks, before he can think about how it sounds. “I mean, I don’t mean –”
Stiles wraps a hand around the back of Jackson’s neck, pulls him in, and kisses him. Jackson doesn’t know how they got here, except that maybe Stiles hasn’t told him everything yet, but he’s not going to say no to kissing Stiles. He hears the needy noise he makes against Stiles’s mouth, but he doesn’t care even a little. Stiles’s heart has slowed down, pumping at normal speeds, and Jackson lets himself bask in it, in the feel of Stiles kissing him, and closes his eyes.
When Stiles pulls away to speak, his voice is almost hoarse. “I don’t know why I didn’t say anything. I should have, only – I wasn’t sure, and you were so sure, and so positive that it was just you. But you listening to my heartbeat was so creepy and sweet and unexpectedly sexy, I just wasn’t –”
Stiles cuts himself off, and Jackson opens his eyes. Stiles is flushing across his cheekbones, and fiddling with the hem of his shirtsleeve. When he sees Jackson looking at him, he shrugs.
“What about now?” Jackson asks.
When Stiles laughs, it sounds more like Jackson is used to, this time. “If nothing else, this weekend showed me that I’m crazy about you and it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. I can deal with werewolves, this can’t be much scarier, right?”
“Sure,” Jackson says, letting himself hope, and even though he’s pretty sure he’s lying, it’s not the kind that matters.