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When Stiles gets a call at almost 2:00 in the morning from Jackson of all people, he wants to ignore it, but his curiosity gets the better of him.

“Hello?” he answers, sitting up in bed and running a hand through his hair.

“Danny, man, you’ve gotta come get me,” Jackson says, and he sounds completely wasted. Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Dude, Danny’s been in Hawaii for months now. Just get yourself an Uber or something—”

“Please.” Jackson says it so quietly Stiles almost doesn’t hear it. He sounds desperate, and lost, and so completely and utterly not Jackson.

“Okay,” Stiles sighs, getting out of bed and reaching for the closest hoodie. “I’m coming. Text me the address and don’t go anywhere, okay?”

Jackson makes a vague hum of agreement and Stiles hangs up, heads downstairs as quietly as he can, and grabs his keys on his way out the door.

He’s not really sure why he’s doing this, why he’s helping the guy who’s made his life a living hell for the past ten years, but he’s been there before, so he figures it’d be a pretty shitty move to leave him to fend for himself.

Jackson’s waiting for him outside when he pulls up, and he manages to climb into the Jeep, though it’s a bit of a struggle.

“You okay?” Stiles asks, which earns him a shrug in response.

The rest of the ride to Jackson’s house is spent in silence, which is fine by Stiles. When they get there, he asks if he needs help getting inside, but Jackson shakes his head.

It’s soft, but Stiles swears he hears him mumble a “thank you” before he gets out of the car.

 

The second time it happens, Stiles has to go inside and weave his way through crowds of people at the party with a barely-conscious Jackson slung around him.

“I know you’re shit-faced and everything, but you do know that I’m not actually Danny, right?” he asks once they finally make it outside the house. “I didn’t exactly sign up for any of this.”

Jackson shrugs and says “I knew you’d come. No one ever comes for me now that Danny’s gone,” and even though the words are slurred, it’s probably the most honest and genuine Stiles has ever heard him sound.

And honestly? He has absolutely no idea what to do with that. So he focuses on helping him into the car and tries to process the fact that Jackson Whittemore, the guy who has everything, may be just as flawed and lonely and broken as everyone else after all.

“Hey,” Stiles says, once he’s walked Jackson to his door and helped him unlock it. “You can call me whenever, okay? Don’t worry about it.”

Jackson smiles, and Stiles would be lying if he said he didn’t see the appeal of the Whittemore charm, because god, he’s pretty. He’s only ever been the butt of his jokes, but now, when he’s looking at him almost fondly, Stiles could melt.

He pats Jackson’s shoulder before he goes, and spends the rest of the night trying not to think about him.

 

It becomes a pretty regular thing.

Stiles will pick Jackson up from a party, or a bar, or the lacrosse field at school, and drive him back to his huge, empty house. His parents are never home, and Stiles is fairly certain the root of all this is a pretty big cry for attention from them, not that he can blame him.

He kind of thought, at first, that it would be satisfying. That he would take pleasure in seeing Jackson struggle, knocked off his pedestal, but it really just makes him feel sick. He worries when he hears from him, but he worries when he doesn’t. He sees himself in Jackson, which he never thought he would say, but he can see the same demons he’s constantly fighting in Jackson’s eyes.

It’s clear he has a problem, and Stiles wants to help him, but he doesn’t think it’s his place. They’re not friends, they barely even know each other, so what gives him the right to try to tell Jackson how to live his life?

So he helps out the best way he knows how. He always makes sure Jackson gets home safe, tries to show him that if nothing else, he can count on Stiles.

 

One night, when they get to Jackson’s house, there are actually cars in the driveway, and Jackson goes into full-on panic mode.

“They can’t see me like this, Stiles, please, I can’t go in there,” he says, voice shaking.

Stiles nods and keeps driving, glancing sideways at Jackson with concern. “Okay, man, we’ll go to my place. It’s fine, okay?”

Jackson lets out a sigh of relief and curls in on himself in the passenger seat. Stiles tentatively rests a hand on his knee in a way he hopes is comforting, and is pleasantly surprised when Jackson leans in to his touch.

 

They’re laying in Stiles’ bed, so close but not touching, and Stiles is willing himself to finally say something when Jackson speaks first.

“I don’t know how this happened,” he breathes.

“What do you mean?”

“It wasn’t always…like this. I used to drink to have fun, but then everything went to shit, and I would drink to make myself feel better, and now I can’t stop. Everyone else can have a few drinks and be fine and I’m turning into a fucking alcoholic at seventeen,” Jackson says, and Stiles’ heart breaks a little bit.

“D’you know why I don’t ever go to any parties?” he asks.

“Because you don’t get invited to them?” Jackson guesses, and Stiles snorts and kicks him gently.

“No, you asshole,” he says, chuckling and shaking his head. “Before we started high school, my dad sat me down and told me that I needed to be careful, because since he…you know, that there was a 50/50 shot I’d be the same way, so I couldn’t just drink like all the other kids. I thought he was being dramatic, so I ignored him for a while and did it anyway, and it wasn’t pretty. So yeah, man…it’s not just you. It sucks, but I’m with you, you know?”

He chances a glance over at Jackson, and he’s looking at him like someone finally understands.

“How’d you stop?” he asks quietly.

“One day at a time,” Stiles answers, turning on to his side so he can face Jackson. “I know I’m not Danny, but I’m…I care, okay? I’m here. I’ll help you, if you’ll let me.”

He’s expecting a refusal, an eye roll, maybe even a ‘fuck you,’ but Jackson just nods. He rests a hand on Stiles’ arm while he situates himself to go to sleep, and Stiles does his best to ignore the butterflies that flutter in his stomach at the contact.

 

They cut up Jackson’s fake ID, and get rid of all the alcohol in his house, and start going to meetings once a week. Jackson never speaks, but sometimes he’ll take Stiles’ hand and lace their fingers together while they listen.

He tells Stiles a lot. More than he ever thought he would, even. He tells him how much he misses Danny, how he was the only real friend he’s ever really had, how he feels lost without him.

He tells him about how badly he fucked up with Lydia, and how much it hurts that she doesn’t speak to him anymore, but he can’t blame her.

He tells him about how alone he feels, all the empty admiration that comes with being popular. How everyone loves him, wants to be him, but they don’t actually give a shit about him.

Stiles listens, reassures him when he can with stories of his own. He likes talking to Jackson, actually. Their conversations are real in a way he’s never really had with Scott. He can say whatever he feels without being judged for it, no matter how shitty it is.

The circumstances aren’t great, obviously, but Stiles is almost glad for it, because he’s happy to hang out with him. It’s good.

 

“I’m adopted,” Jackson tells him one day, and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense.

“How long have you known?”

“Not long. Maybe a year or so. It was kind of a relief to find out, though, honestly. At least I finally knew why nothing I do has ever been good enough for them,” Jackson says, feigning nonchalance with a shrug. “I’ve never told anyone that before.”

Stiles raises a brow in surprise, because that’s a hell of a thing to keep bottled up for so long.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but your parents are kind of douchebags,” he says, and that gets a laugh out of Jackson. “I much prefer their son.”

“Yeah?” Jackson asks, quietly, and Stiles nods.

“Yeah. It only makes sense that you’re not theirs, because they couldn’t make something as perfect as you if they tried. Never let them take credit for you. They don’t deserve it,” Stiles says, and he means every word.

Jackson looks up at him and smiles, and Stiles has no idea when his reluctant attraction to him turned into real feelings, but it’s full speed now and he is so, so fucked.

 

He figures it’ll be good for them to take a break from all the angsty conversations and just hang out. He wants Jackson to feel like a normal teenager again, to remind him that it’s possible to have fun without alcohol, so he does whenever he can.

They have a standing movie night every Friday. Sometimes they go out to see one, and they sit in the back of the theater and lean in close to each other to whisper stupid commentary until they laugh too loud and everyone tells them to shut up. Or sometimes they stay home and watch something from Netflix on Stiles’ couch, Jackson leaned in to Stiles’ side and Stiles playing with the hem of his shirt absentmindedly.

Most of the time, Jackson will spend the whole weekend at his house, and Stiles doesn’t mind. He knows that’s the only time his parents are usually home, and he doesn’t want Jackson to have to put up with them, ever. The sheriff is skeptical at first, but he takes to Jackson easily once they spend a little time together.

When Jackson’s parents do or say something shitty to him, they go to the mall and put thousands of dollars worth of stuff on their credit cards. Stiles felt bad about it the first time, but once he saw firsthand how awful they are to Jackson, he even gave Jackson a run for his money on who could spend more.

They go for drives together when one of them starts feeling like they just need to get out. They take the Porsche, and Jackson drives, but he lets Stiles pick the music. Sometimes Stiles will ramble on about nothing, or sometimes they’ll just sit together in comfortable silence while they drive around going nowhere in particular.

Honestly, Jackson grounds him. He pulls him back down when everything gets to be too much, makes him laugh when he wants to cry, always knows just the right combination of of sarcasm, humor, and sincerity that Stiles needs to hear at any given moment. And he knows he does the same for Jackson. And even though the depth of his feelings are unrequited, it doesn’t matter. Just having Jackson in his life is more than enough.

 

“So, who’s the better friend -- me or Danny?” Stiles jokes one day when they’re laying in his bed, Jackson’s head resting on his shoulder as they both scroll through their phones lazily. Jackson glances up at him with a confused look, like he doesn’t understand the question.

“I don’t like you like I liked Danny,” he answers, and fuck, that hurts.

“Oh,” Stiles says stupidly, trying not to sound as defeated as he feels. He tries to pull away, but Jackson stops him with a hand on his arm.

“No, dumbass,” he says, shaking his head. “I mean…I didn’t do this with Danny. I didn’t cry in front of him, or tell him my deepest, darkest thoughts, or stay up all night just so that I could talk to him. I didn’t wake up every morning and get excited because I knew I’d get to see him later. I didn’t…I didn’t spend all my time thinking about how much I wanted to kiss him.”

For a second, Stiles’ brain short-circuits and his heart stops beating and he’s certain that this is all just some cruel, horrible dream. But then he looks at Jackson and sees nothing but honesty, sincerity, and he has no idea how he got so damn lucky.

He rests a hand on Jackson’s cheek and leans in to press their lips together. It’s so gentle, nothing like Stiles used to fantasize about when he was fifteen and horny and wanted nothing more than to shove Jackson up against the nearest wall and wipe that smug, arrogant grin off his face with his lips.

But when they pull away, Jackson presses their foreheads together and smiles so hard it’s blinding, the faintest trace of a blush coloring his cheeks, and it’s so much better than anything Stiles ever imagined.

 

It’s a little bit surreal, dating the most popular guy in school. He could definitely do with a lot less of people talking about his boyfriend like he’s an object, but Stiles calls them on it every time. He knows it’s something that bothers Jackson, and honestly, he’s sick and tired of watching people hurt him.

He worries Jackson will take it the wrong way, be upset with him for feeling the need to defend his honor, but he never does. He just smiles at him, rolls his eyes fondly, and takes Stiles by the hand to pull him in for a kiss.

 

Jackson goes off the radar one night; he doesn’t show up for their date and then doesn’t answer his phone, and Stiles knows something is wrong.

He speeds the whole way to his house and finds Jackson alone in his room, crying and definitely drunk.

“Jacks, what happened?” he asks, rushing to his side.

“Please don’t give up on me,” Jackson begs, and Stiles could swear he physically feels his heart crack in two.

“Babe, no, I’m not going anywhere. Just talk to me, tell me what happened,” Stiles prompts, wrapping his arms around Jackson and pulling him close.

“They told me they wish they’d never adopted me. They said I don’t belong in this house.” Jackson says it like they’re right, like he believes them, and Stiles fucking loses it.

“You’re not staying here anymore, Jacks. They can’t keep doing this to you. Let’s go,” he says, letting go of him just long enough to grab a duffel bag and start tossing stuff into it.

“Stiles, I can’t just—” he starts, but Stiles shushes him and cups Jackson’s face with his hands.

“You can, baby. We’re gonna pack your stuff and you’re gonna come with me, okay? Dad will back me up, I promise. You deserve so much better than this, Jackson. Okay? Please?”

Jackson nods, and Stiles pecks him on the lips and helps him gather all of his most important stuff, and they leave. On their way out the door, Stiles stops to give the Whittemores a piece of his mind, tell them they’re a shitty excuse for human beings, let alone parents, that they’ll regret losing the only good thing that’s ever come from their otherwise pathetic lives.

Jackson lets him drive the Porsche that night, and Stiles doesn’t let go of his hand the whole way.

 

“You know you’re perfect, right?” Stiles asks him later that night when they’re curled up on the couch together, running his fingers through Jackson’s hair gently. “They’re full of shit. They didn’t deserve you, not the other way around.”

Jackson hums absently, nuzzles further into Stiles’ arms. “I just hate that I let them take months of sobriety away from me. I should have been stronger.”

“You’re so strong, dumbass. Stronger than I could ever dream of being. I’m so proud of you,” Stiles says, turning his head to press a kiss to Jackson’s temple. “You did it once, and you can do it again, okay? You’ve got this.”

“Thanks for believing in me,” Jackson mumbles.

Stiles just smiles so fondly at him, says “Always.”

 

At the next meeting they go to, Jackson finally stands up to speak and talks about his parents, how he finally feels free after years of them dragging him down. He thanks Stiles for having his back when no one else did, and when he comes back to his seat, Stiles grins and kisses him until people start teasing them with whistles and catcalls.

Stiles is there when Jackson gets his one month chip, and his two months, and every month after that.

At one year, he makes him a cake and throws a little party for the two of them in the dorm room they share.

At five years, once they’ve both graduated and they have their first real apartment, he asks Jackson to marry him.

(At five years and one day, they go to city hall with John and Jackson finally, officially gets a last name that makes him feel like himself.)