~~ Devil ~~
Shivers . Physical shivers ripped a path down Stiles’ arm as his eyes roamed across the opening ceremony crowd. The amphitheater was nearly full now, technicolor uniforms offering light to the dull tan tarp. Standing amidst thirty teams, all he could do was inhale the boisterous chatter, letting the ebb and flow boil his inhibitions.
This was the year. The actual year.
This time, he’d finally cheer the hell up and do it. Come three days from now, he’d turn Scott’s over-enthused “buddy” into a softer-but-still-ecstatic “baby.” All thanks to Year 5, Phase 3 of his five-year Operation to woo Scott McCall.
He tracked the room again for the Broncos’ orange and white uniforms. Still nothing. He slumped, kicking the nearest person to him accidentally. Where were they?
When he couldn’t spot them, he whipped around, tracking the clusters of colors with intense focus again. In the past, Scott and the other Broncos were never late, but how could they be when they were led by their tyrannical sweetheart of a captain? He shuddered at the very thought of Allison Argent with her perfect midnight hair and flawless skin. He wouldn’t even trust his goldfish in her steely presence, if he had one, that was. Of course, his mistrust had nothing to do with Scott’s blinding crush on her.
Behind him, someone kicked his heel and Stiles swiveled, the smile on his face widening all on its own. It reduced in size the second he saw the culprit, “Ew, go somewhere else.”
Jackson, with a Powerade in one hand and a plate of nachos in the other, lowered himself into what had to be the only empty spot next to him.
“Waiting for your boyfriend, barf brain?”
“Jealous,” Stiles winked, stealing a nacho before Jackson pulled them safely to his chest. He could have stolen more if he tried, but unfortunately, Stiles wasn’t blessed with the metabolism to eat trash all day and still look like his parents chiseled him from marble. Jackson sneered back at him, which Stiles ignored as a dust of orange crested the top steps.
Hello shivers. Stiles snapped his own mouth shut. Normally, Scott’s team seemed to float down, always with Allison in the front and the other raven haired girl next to her. This year though, they’d bumped Scott to the front, not like Stiles would complain one bit about that development. His bud--soon to be bae--bumbled along with the two girls, smiling while he cackled with the Tall One behind him. Stiles thought his name was Isaiah, or maybe Ezra--something biblical like that. None of it mattered with Scott standing right there, his hair no longer the shaggy mess it’d been last year. He absolutely fucked with the butch cut better, edges soft like they’d glide effortlessly through Stiles’ hands.
“How can you text at a time like this?” he asked, nudging Lydia who was kneeled beside him, hair and makeup untarnished even after the two and half day drive. “Lyds, we’re finally here.” He’s here , his thought corrected. He didn’t say it loud, but her knowing look meant she understood all the same.
She barely glanced away from her screen, just long enough to peek at Scott’s squad settling diagonally from them. “We’ve been here three times already, the only face that matters is mine, and her hair is too straight.”
Beside her, Danny graced them with a little scoff, his only acknowledgment since they congregated for opening ceremonies. Stiles agreed with him. Allison’s hair always looked immaculate, but their squad survived on one rule and one alone: Never disagree with Lydia, and that included her and Allison’s on-again-currently-off-again friendship.
“Cheer Goddess doesn’t like haters, Lyds,” he responded, making sure to scoot several paces as he did, “And this isn’t about you. It’s about me, my year--the year of Stiles. We’re splitting for different colleges and I’ll probably never see him again.”
“You don’t see him now.” Her side-squint barely scratched his face, but he could still sense the unwarranted scrutiny she always gifted to her inner circle. “Why didn’t you brush your hair like I told you to?” If he could count on one thing, it was her need to micromanage every aspect of his life.
“He doesn’t care about shit like that,” Stiles threw back, smoothing it down with his hand anyway.
“Everyone cares about ‘shit’ like that.”
“Still looks like crap,” Jackson muttered, as if Stiles didn’t have enough to worry about. He wished they could banish him to cheer hell already, or at least the back row with everyone else they could barely tolerate on the team.
“Can somebody shut him up?” Stiles whined, turning first to Danny, Jackson’s one and only friend bless his beautiful soul.
Stiles’ mouth opened, ready to fire all insults he saved for Jackson’s particular brand of douchenozzle. Unfortunately, Lydia beat him to it with a intensifying swat to the guy, sharp-edged rings and all.
“Both of you,” she hissed, “You’re attracting attention.” Her head flicked forcibly towards where Scott slumped next to Allison’s side across the lawn. Facing in what could only be their direction, he’d cocked his head, frowning pitifully. Definitely not how he fantasized about their grand reunion. Stiles hid the color in his cheeks with a cough, forcing himself not to duck.
Play it cool, his thoughts kept warning him. You can do this.
Go ahead and fuck it up like you always do, he knew Jackson was dying to add.
He settled for a simple one-handed wave, lips slipping open to an equally one-sided smile.
“Real smooth,” Jackson ruffled all progress he’d managed on his purposefully-tousled hair. Sometimes bullies were best defeated if you ignored them and Stiles had no qualms narrowing all his energy on Scott’s tattered muscle tank. The way his muscles made orange look delectable, bulging under what should’ve been loose cotton. Also, was that a tattoo around his biceps? Shit , he was popping a woody at the mere sight of it. He shifted on his plot of grass, drawing his knees up for cover before anyone noticed.
“Nice reaction, Casanova.” Too late. Jackson leaned into his personal bubble, Dorito breath at an unnerving level and showing dramatic signs of increasing from there. At Stiles’ shove, he rasped fiery breath over his cheek as he sussurated, “Wanna bet he can spot it from here?”
Stiles gritted, “Fuck off.” Then, using the same lips, calmer tone, he mouthed, “ Hang soon?” to salvage an ounce of his and Scott’s fated reunion.
Scott took no time nodding back, even despite the Tall One leaning over to say something. After one more swift cut to Jackson, Scott shifted back to his friend.
“Looks like boyfriend wants the real thing instead.” More cheesy-powerade breath. The fact they’d made it to this point in their partnership—mutual antagonism, zero physical boundaries—could only mean he needed to re-evaluate his life choices.
“I’ll believe it when you find it...But... that was weird, right? He hates you.” Just what he needed, another person trying to hop on Jackson’s dick, let alone Scott. His Scott. Who lived to torment the hell out of Jackson with him.
Of course, the moment he attempted to have a genuine conversation with Jackson, the dick faced the opposite direction entirely. “Whatever.”
Stiles didn’t need him, his constant negativity, and big mouth--he scooted closer to his number one. Of course, she gave him the look, forcing to scoot right back. Yeah, he really needed better friends.
~~ Just Us | Vanish ~~
Ever since Stiles could remember, there had been five constants in his life—his dad, Scott, Lydia, Danny, and Jackson—the latter two more by association and proximity than free will.
He and Lydia met at the Beacon Hills Tumbling Club when they were six. For nearly a year, he could only describe life as one Gigantic Ballpit, a fat dose of fun in every jump. But as they said, everything good must come to an end. For him, it was the summer of 7, when Lydia forced him to play Doctor one ill-fated afternoon with a love-stricken Jackson and a sharp-witted Danny. His life went all bitter, no sweet faster than their Gymnastics coach could say ‘Aerial Cartwheel.’
It wasn’t until the summer of 10, when they met Sunshine Scott McCall at sleepaway camp that Stiles finally found himself someone he could claim as a hundred percent his own.
During the school year, he made do ok. Being friends with Lydia (and friend-adjacent with Jackson/Danny) awarded him several privileges: sitting at their lunch table, going to their birthday parties, hanging with their other grossly popular friends even when they had nothing in common. He endured the teasing and side commentary, knowing he’d have Scott at his side for four weeks come summer. The best four weeks. Meeting Scott was like trying something new from your favorite restaurant and trading those chewy pancakes for bacon waffles forever.
The analogy was a little far fetched but it worked. He loved Scott; he just hadn’t realized how much until he was thirteen at Lydia’s annual team sleepover, glancing around at all the couples cuddled in the basement and wondering if Scott finished the recent episode of their new favorite show. Since then, he’d given himself only one mission: Operation Marry-Scott-McCall, though he detoured briefly with Heather, then Caitlyn, and technically, a couple of drunken nights with their school’s part time starting QB-part time base, Theo. (Nights both of them preferred not to mention.)
Ok, there might have been several detours, but this year he’d righted the course, headed straight for Year 5 of his penultimate plan: admit your truest heart’s desires (and finally get some worth calling some). It was all about finding the right time in between practice and semi-finals, then hopefully finals. Plus all the team-building exercises Lydia tacked on in preparation to those three milestones.
“Stiles. Stiles. Hello!!” A shrill voice materialized right at the edge of his consciousness.
“Barf Brain.” There went another one, this one deeper but eighty more times annoying. “F this. I’m out.”
“Jackson! Get back here. Somebody wake him up.”
Water sloshed and his skin crawled, alerting him to wake and roll just before his pool chair was doused with water. “I’m up,” he blurted to half the squad, nearly all of them chuckling and pointing above him. Danny helped him stand around the time Lydia returned, dragging Jackson by the ear.
“Anyone not ready to practice sleeps in the lobby.”
Since he appreciated cushy hotel beds, he yanked his booty into formation. Everyone else flitted over at their leisure, filing either around or behind him.
“Danny, warm ups,” she snapped. Danny ordered them to jog around the hotel four times, which never bothered Stiles much.
After the rest of the team drifted over, practice officially began, meaning Stiles had zero time to think about the plan and too much time to not-complain about Jackson’s hands on his body.
Another bright Lydia Martin idea. Male flyers. Featuring your dude truly and his partner, the most hateful, ogreish Greek God in the history of male cheerleaders.
“Stiles!” Normally, he lived for Lydia Martin screaming his name, but in the middle of practice, next to their resort’s very public and crowded pool, he’d rather not. The team split ranks for her, gawking traitorously as Lydia stalked for them.
Jackson pushed off him like he hadn’t been the one to screw up, but no amount of space saved them from her imminent wrath.
“I thought I told you two--”
“We did!” he exclaimed, looking to Jackson, who blatantly started talking to someone else. This wasn’t even the stunt they’d spent hours perfecting; he could do Toss Extensions in his sleep. Her lip poked out further, hands on her hips as she regarded them. A guy lurches forward once and suddenly he’s worse than the JVs they’re forced to bring as alternates. Flash embarrassment heated his core now that her disapproval thundered over them. How creative would her punishment for unpreparation get now? Last year, when Garrett showed up to semi-finals with a black eye, Lydia made him wash the entire bus for no reason at all.
Her mouth opened and Stiles held his breath, backhanding Jackson square in the chest until he heard his good-ole partner sigh dramatically.
“Ten. Now.” Did she mean...
Stiles groaned, “Lydsss...”
Her wry grimace dared him to continue that statement. Stiles was many things, a self preserver among them. Without a glance at each other, he and Jackson inched closer together, Stiles toeing in front of them as the team wrapped around them, ready for the show. A few of them looked too amused in Stiles’s opinion, as if all they needed was the free lobby popcorn to make this a true spectacle.
“Try not to fuck up this time,” he hissed now that he could feel the heat of Jackson behind him, his hands gripping the tank tugged over Stiles’s waist. By now, after two years of this, it was natural for Stiles to clutch his wrist back, ignoring the onslaught of everyone’s eyes on them.
“Bite me, bitch.” The insult slicked low enough that only Stiles could hear him, eliciting a slick rumble of disgust, but Jackson followed them with an audible countdown. By the time he reached one, they’d transformed all animosity for each other into their only commonality--making everyone else feel inferior.
The first one, effortless. One moment he was on the ground, both of them crouched for a quick pop, the next wind tunneled through his hair, the pool below him. Jackson’s arms locked below him as the night breeze whirled. Just to show off his strength, Jackson held him there, Stiles nearly counting to twenty before he’s lowered to the ground. They rattled off nine more in rapid succession, each as solid as the last. Bitches couldn’t touch him; Stiles pumped his hips in time with his fist, letting Jackson’s scoff inflate his ego even higher.
In Jackson’s speech, a scoff meant ‘we done did good.’
Lydia knew it too, even still she stopped pacing languidly in front of them, scrutinizing them for a long moment. The team waited on a collective breath for her consensus.
“Fine. Positions,” she snapped, her grin barely concealed. Hell yeah, they were awesome.
They gathered an audience, pockets of other teams half jealous-half mesmerized by the routine Danny and Lydia choreographed. He’d just finished a watered down version of his last tumbling combo, a Round Off whip full back-handspring kick arabian that led into another roundoff back handspring double full when someone stuck out at the crowd’s edge.
“Scott!” he ruined formation to launch himself across the grass. Scott opened his arms long before they made it less than a foot apart and when Stiles crashed into him, he sighed finally feeling one with the world. “Ahh, I missed you buddy.”
“Right back at cha. The ice queen’s forcing you to practice already?”
Lydia cleared her throat, “I can hear you, McCall.”
“Good. He’ll be back later,” Scott fired back, tugging Stiles away from the middle of practice. He could vaguely hear others breaking off too, complaining about special treatment and homoerotic friendships. They could all boil in a pot of stew for all he cared. Lydia actually let them go, not one attempt at protestation.
Like old times, they immediately fell into conversation, Scott told him about his new job and the motorcycle he bought last month. All the games he and Isaac finished. (Stiles knew the Tall One’s name started with an ‘I’.) He tampered down on the bloom of jealousy at the image of them lounging on Scott’s bed, pilfering through Miss McCall’s kitchen until only fruits and vegetables were left. They probably had epic snacks in Georgia, like quadruple stuffed oreos and caramel covered bacon.
“And Deaton said I could adopt the next stray. Isaac and Derek have a German Shepherd but I want something cuddlier.” Scott rattled off when they finally settled on his bed with an X-Large pepperoni pizza, three bags of chips, five candy bars, and a two Liter of Fanta Grape. Stiles fell back against the headboard, grinning at the awesomeness of the moment. No annoying captains, noisy friends, or cock-blocking rivals. Just him, his best friend/love of his life, and thousands of calories worth of perfect decisions. His foot bumped against Scott’s thigh and a tingle crawled through him, his heart palpitating when Scott beamed too, bumping him back. He wondered how it would feel to move closer, replace his foot with a hand, how Scott would react if he walked said hand upward, settled it right over his—the door burst open, “Ahh, isn’t this adorable.”
He flopped back with a groan, his eyes shifting as Jackson stormed in with Danny on his heels. Together, they both paused inside the threshold; Danny shot him a quick thumbs up before ducking into the door connected to his and Twin #1’s door.
Unfortunately, a certain someone didn’t get the memo because he lazed toward his own bed like Stiles wasn’t using the room as per earlier discussion. He and Scott peered at each other and Stiles tried to silently apologize for whatever rude filth Jackson was bound to say.
“They let you be roommates?” Scott inquired while Stiles glared pointedly at Jackson, “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“It’s ok, Stiles. I wanted to tell you something too,” Scott’s hands played with the pizza box. He sucked in a breath. Could this be the moment? Jackson halted the quick rummage through his suitcase, his full attention on the two of them. He would shoot him a ‘get-the-fuck-out’ leer, but he’d been too focused on Scott, watching as his best friend inhaled once, twice, then, “I’m with Allison.”
The announcement jumbled together, so it took several seconds to piece them together. When he did, he forced his pre-pasted smile not to wilt.
His best friend Scott and Allison. No matter how many times his brain declared it or in which order, the thought wouldn’t sink in.
“Finally! I know. Isaac convinced me to ask her out and she said yes! And it’s been sooo perfect. She’s just so...” His eyes grew twice their size.
“Perfect, I get it...that’s great, bud,” his ears got that rushing pressure like he’d jumped in the deep end of the pool and took forever to break surface. They thought Allison was a perfectionist and a bossy. Stupid freaking Isaac, he knew he hated that guy.
Stiles jerked toward Jackson, still sitting on his side of the room behind Scott. He banned himself from dropping any tea worthy expressions in front of Jackson, knowing the entire team could be reenacting his trauma by morning. Yet, Stiles couldn’t read Jackson’s face, pinched mouth, corrugating brow. “We’re hitting up the Springs. You in?”
Stiles actually thought about it, ultimately deciding to wave him away. He did catch his grimace as he slammed his suitcase and disappeared into Danny’s room, their front door closing too after a few seconds.
“You shouldn’t let him call you names like that. You deserve better.”
Because that had something to do with this conversation. Stiles shrugged, “That’s just Jackson.”
“I don’t like it,” his scowl soured further and Stiles squinted. Were they both having the same conversation? Scott never liked Jackson; that wasn’t new. Of course, Scott forgot all about it when he remembered they were talking about Allison. As he gobbled the rest of the pizza, Stiles wished he could do the same, but with this whole conversation.