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i could be lonely with you

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“I’m tired, Jackson.”

“Shut up and scrub, Stilinski.”

Stiles might have laughed if he had the energy.

As it was, he did not—he and Jackson were standing waist-deep in a river that cut Beacon Hills Preserve nearly in half, scrubbing blood and rot and…various other things out of their clothes, skin, and (worst of all, in Stiles’ opinion) hair.

He still wasn’t entirely sure how a golem wound up in Beacon Hills—it was green, and huge, and smelled like a dead thing that had been dragged through a fucking sewer. The green swamp thing (golem, Stiles mentally corrected) wasn’t even their enemy, which made it all the more frustrating—it was targeting a group of witches, a coven that Derek had given permission to travel through Hale territory.

The golem had other ideas, apparently.

A few dead hikers later and Derek, in his infinite alpha wisdom and self-loathing, had immediately decided that because he let the witches onto Beacon Hills land, they must have been the ones killing people—ignoring everything that Stiles was trying to say, about how the deaths they had come across didn’t make sense, Derek, and there was absolutely zero magical residue at all, Derek, and I swear to god if you slash my tires to keep me from staking out again, Derek…

…And naturally, Derek was wrong, and wasted so much time and energy going after a powerful group of beings that would have been much better served as an ally, not an enemy. So Stiles had worked even harder. He did research, he looked up proof, he found a defense, and after almost three days awake—which, even then, was barely enough time—he had a solution.

A solution that relied a little too heavily on Danny pulling some text messages off of Derek’s phone, sure, but it was a solution nonetheless. He had managed to track down where the pack had split up in their futile (and literal) witch hunt, and with the research he had done, it was easy to know which oath to follow. Stiles only wished that path didn’t wind up with his hand almost elbow deep in the chest of a nasty ass monster made of mud and moss, wrapping his hand around a tiny piece of parchment, and pulling it free with a tug. And then pretending that he wasn’t on the brink of vomiting as the thing blew up, a moment before it was about to crush half of the pack in one of its giant, muddy fists.

Which led to the here and now, standing in a river, trying not to barf. Great way to spend a Tuesday night.

“I am tired, Jackson.”

Something in his voice gives Jackson pause, and Stiles can’t even muster up the energy to feel thankful at the lack of snarky report.

“I haven’t slept in days. Days. Just so I could make sure that I had this information right. I saved several pack members from…injury, at least, if not worse, I fucking stopped Derek from starting something with a coven of witches that he probably wouldn’t have walked way from. I did all of that and I did it alone, and I just…and after that…and then fucking Derek!”

Fucking Derek indeed, because after all that, did Stiles get a thank you? Did he get any appreciation? No. He got Derek yelling in his face about getting in the way, and then a barked order for him and Jackson to scrub up, get home, and stay out of the way. And now they’re standing waist-deep in a river, and Stiles is so furious with the entire situation he doesn’t even think to ogle Jackson like his life depends on it when the former Kanima decides that the best way to wash out his shirt is by stripping it off.

He starts scrubbing at a spot on his shirt with renewed vigor, fuming to himself, only pausing when the splash of Jackson’s steps signal movement behind him.

“Stilinski, I get it, but I think—“

“Ha! You get it? You get nothing, Whittemore.” Stiles snaps, whirling on his heel, almost slipping and falling beneath the water before steadying himself. “You absolutely do not get it. I work so hard to keep everyone safe. I’ve had to do everything, everything on my own, while you… I mean, you wanted the bite, and Derek gave it to you. You wanted Lydia, and you got her. You want a new car, a new lacrosse team, a better wardrobe, you got that too. People just hand these things to you—“ his scrubbing was reaching a furious level now— “and meanwhile, I do everything in my power to keep you and the rest of those fucks safe, and all I get is snapped at, and it’s just—not—fair!”

The fabric beneath his fingers tears suddenly and he just…freezes, staring through the new hole in his shirt with shocked eyes, and blurry vision. Is he crying? Probably, but he’s not sure—it’s a small consolation to know that even if he is, the stench of rot and mud is so thick, Jackson probably can’t smell it on him anyway.

Because more than being tired, Stiles was afraid. Is afraid. Has been and likely always will be afraid. Afraid that no matter what he did, his dad would get hurt, or he would fail, or his friends would still wind up dead—that Jackson would wind up dead, not that he would ever admit to it—and tonight was too close a call. The fight drains out of him as he looks down at his fingers through the hole, shoulders slumping, voice flat as he starts to make his way out of the river. All he wants right now is to go home, hug his dad, and pass out for at least a day.

“I appreciate the empathy or whatever, but you have no idea what it feels like to be in my position, Jackson. Fucking none. So just… take your Porsche back to your mansion, kiss your still living parents, and I’ll see you at school.”

Stiles could almost swear he sees something soft in Jackson’s eyes, something almost resembling sympathy, but he can’t find it in him to investigate further. The exhaustion is pulling at him relentlessly, and for once, he stops fighting it. Pulling into the driveway on full autopilot, he barely manages to throw his wet, smelly clothes off of his body before collapsing into bed, asleep as soon as his head meets the pillow.

 

As is his usual, he’s slow to rise the next morning, dreading what he’s sure will be a battered and bruised body, but when he grits his teeth and stretches…nothing. There’s no pain, no stiffness, not even a popping joint. His body feels…good. His bed feels good. Has his bed always been so comfortable? He’s reaching for his phone when his arm smacks a wall instead, and that’s the first indication that something is off.

He’s never been to Jackson’s house, but he knows immediately that’s where he is as soon as he opens his eyes — because no other teenager would have a fucking king size bed with silk sheets, a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, and a walk-in closet the size of Stiles’ entire bedroom.

His first thought is that he’s remembering last night wrong. That he had actually ended up being too tired to drive, so Jackson brought him here to crash. Which was really cool of him, especially after Stiles unleashed his raging inner monologue on him, and he should definitely apologize for that.

Once he drags himself out of Jackson’s absurdly comfortable bed, though, and seeks out the nearest mirror to assess whether he looks as bad as he thinks he should feel, he finds Jackson’s face staring back at him.

It’s probably a testament to their completely fucking ridiculous lives that Stiles doesn’t even flinch. Because after all the shit that’s happened to them, why not this too? In fact, having some sort of Freaky Friday situation with Jackson is pretty damn low on his list of things to be concerned about. Barely even on the radar, really. It’s more of a slight inconvenience than anything.

Assuming, of course, that they had actually switched places and Stiles’ body wasn’t like…dead in a ditch somewhere. That would be a huge bummer for everyone involved.

To be honest, all Stiles wants to do is lock himself up in this absolute paradise of a bedroom and catch up on his sleep. He feels more well-rested than he has in weeks after a night in Jackson’s bed (or is it because he’s in Jackson’s body, who probably sleeps this well every night [or, because supernatural healing and rejuvenation capabilities]?), but he could still use another solid day of rest and relaxation.

As it is, though, he checks Jackson’s phone and sees that he’s late for school. Stiles would ditch in a heartbeat if he was himself, but golden boy Jackson Whittemore has had perfect attendance since kindergarten. So he throws on some clothes and hauls ass out the door, all the while wondering why he knows that, and more importantly, why he cares.

 

Despite his best efforts (speeding like a mad man in the Porsche, for fun just as much as necessity), he’s too late to catch Jackson before class. He spends the entirety of the morning trying to get used to the fact that he can hear everyone’s heartbeats and smell the way they’re feeling. Stiles knows damn near everything there is to know about being a werewolf, but actually being one is different. It’s sensory overload, and it’s overwhelming as hell.

He holds it together well enough, though, because this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s been through this enough times to know how to control it. So he does, and he makes it to lunch without wolfing out, which he’s pretty proud of. Being a werewolf isn’t something Stiles has ever wanted, but he has to say, he’s kind of crushing it.

As soon as he sees Jackson (himself?) in the cafeteria, he rushes to Stiles and pulls him into the hallway so they can talk alone.

“What the fuck, Stilinski?”

Stiles has to laugh.

“I have no idea, dude,” he answers with a shrug. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“You look like shit,” Jackson observes, smirking in a way that usually makes Stiles want to punch him when he’s not looking at himself. “That’s not easy to do with my face.”

Stiles, for his part, just rolls his eyes. “Shut up. Have you told anyone what happened yet?”

“Yeah, I told McCall, and he told Derek. We’re all meeting at the loft after school to figure out what’s going on.”

“Great,” Stiles deadpans, barely holding back a dramatic sigh. Just thinking about dealing with the pack right now is exhausting, but as much as he would have loved to entertain the idea of fooling all of their friends, it was probably for the best to keep them in the loop.

Jackson laughs and makes a noise of agreement. “Hey, you’re good, right? You have the wolf under control?”

Stiles nods. “I think so, yeah. So far, so good.”

“Yeah, I figured you would, but I had to check.”

Jackson says it as easy as anything, like it’s no big deal, but Stiles is taken aback by it. Because while he has to fight everyone else tooth and nail just to prove his worth, here Jackson is trusting Stiles to handle himself, simple as that. Stiles is grateful that, for once, Jackson can’t hear his heart stutter in his chest.

“So I’ll see you after school?” Jackson asks, snapping Stiles out of his thoughts.

“Yeah, see you then,” he agrees.

 

The pack meeting turns out to be an hour-long session of bashing Stiles, treating him like a child and insisting they all take turns “looking after him” in case he fucks something up and they have to step in and fix it.

None of that surprises Stiles, if he’s being honest. What does surprise him, however, is the way Jackson stands up for him.

“For God’s sake, he doesn’t need a fucking babysitter,” he scoffs, looking pointedly at Derek. “He single-handedly raised Scott’s wolf when his alpha was nowhere to be found, and he helped every single one of us with our control when you couldn’t be bothered. If you think he can’t handle this on his own, you’re full of shit.”

That earns a stunned silence from everyone in the room, and Stiles chooses to ignore the flush high on his cheeks. Jackson typically wasn’t big on talking during these meetings—in fact, it was pretty likely that was the most he had ever said in a pack meeting, and all those words were just to defend Stiles?

That’s weirder than the body swap.

“Hey, uh, thanks for that,” Stiles tells him once the meeting is adjourned and they’re headed back out to their cars.

“It was true,” Jackson says with a shrug. “So are you gonna tell your dad about all of this?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Nah, I don’t wanna worry him for nothing. Just don’t let him eat garbage and be sarcastic, but not mean, and he’ll believe you’re me.”

“Got it.”

“What about me? You have any tips for your parents?” Stiles prompts.

Jackson laughs at that, though Stiles isn’t really sure why. “Trust me, you don’t need any tips,” he says.

Stiles can’t help but be a little annoyed at the cryptic advice, because what the hell is that supposed to mean?

He’s chewing the thought over as he pushes the button on the visor of Jackson’s Porsche (which he has named Persephone), and his brow furrows when he looks into an empty garage. He thought that maybe Jackson’s parents had been up and out before his school day started, but they weren’t home now, either?

A business trip, maybe? Jackson hadn’t seemed worried about it, so he probably didn’t have a reason to be either…but he had to admit, he isn’t sure how to feel about being alone from the moment he unlocked the front door to the moment he woke up—to a very amusing set of text messages, he might add.

11:37 PM: dude how do you get your human brain to shut off

11:44 PM: seriously what the fuck i am tired why cant i go to sleep?

12:17 AM: fuck it im going to count your moles to bore myself into a coma

12:43 AM: didnt work. you have fourteen beauty marks on your left ass cheek. just fyi

Stiles did not want to know that; in fact, any schadenfreude he may have been feeling at apparently ditching his overworked human brain was immediately muted by the thought that Jackson had technically (apparently) looked at his naked ass.

…Which leads to Stiles realizing as he shampoos his hair that technically, he’s seen all of Jackson naked too. Technically, hell, he’s currently feeling Jackson up as he scrubs. It’s a lot of technicalities that Stiles absolutely does not want to face.

He rinses quicker than he washed and almost jumps into some clothes, weirdly nervous about the potential to see something that he feels he really shouldn’t spend too much time getting up close and personal with—even if Jackson was apparently using a hand mirror to count beauty marks on his temporary ass cheek.

 

He opens the garage door and starts Persephone up, but before he can fully back out of the driveway, a sleek sports car is pulling in the drive beside him, and sure enough, Derek in all his brooding glory is soon rapping on the passenger side window.

“Open up. I’m going to make sure you get to school.”

Stiles sighs to himself before unlocking the door. He should have figured that Derek would take part in his “keep stupid Stiles from causing trouble” campaign, but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy having Derek anywhere near him—or the feelings that came with it.

Because the truth is, feeling Derek this close to him makes him fucking uncomfortable. He isn’t sure if it’s a wolf thing, or a Derek thing, but every breath he takes while they’re in the enclosed vehicle makes him more and more nervous. If he were in his own body, he’d be fidgeting like crazy—but now, he can just feel his brain going into overdrive, trying to access that little part of Jackson’s hindbrain that feels his instincts going crazy.

Everything gets catalogued as he drives—while he had always thought Derek would give off commanding, calming vibes, it’s more of the opposite. He can actually smell Derek’s annoyance (which is not surprising) but there’s something else there, something that’s bitter, acidic, deep rooted and laced in everything Derek does or says.

He’s halfway out of the car, engine off, keys in hand, when it clicks in his head. Derek is talking to him, low and monotone, and if you weren’t listening with supersonic hearing, you might have assumed he was bored. He’s in the middle of explaining something that sounds suspiciously like a curfew (just because Stiles can hear does not mean he was listening) when Stiles interrupts.

“Jesus, Derek. I hope you hid your emotions better around Jackson before we went all Freaky Friday. I can’t tell which you hate more right now, this body in general or the fact that I’m in it.”

Admittedly, Stiles isn’t sure what he’s hoping for after he speaks—an argument, maybe, or a denial, but when Derek just stares at him, eyes wide in surprise even as his brow furrows, it tells him all that he needs to know, and he can feel his heart sink. Being annoyed with the situation is one thing, and it would have been stupid to assume Derek was thrilled about the situation when he and Jackson were still sorting it out, but damn. It was a punch in the gut to know that Derek really did hate him.

Or maybe he hates Jackson—which, when that thought crosses his mind, makes Stiles heart fucking break. Because sure, Stiles was annoying on the best of days, but Jackson? He was a genuinely good person. A genuine asshole, sure, but a good person underneath it all. And with all the research he had done on pack bonds and family units, he couldn’t imagine how it would feel for Jackson, Derek’s first beta, to feel that loathing all the time.

Derek still wasn’t denying anything, and Stiles feels a burn at the back of his tongue, building up just to tear into Derek at a moment’s notice.

He’s about to open his mouth again when a familiar roar catches his ears—and in the three seconds it took for him to turn and identify where Jackson was piloting his much-missed blue behemoth of a car into the lot, Derek was gone.

Good, Stiles thought. Hateful fucker.

Stiles and Jackson may have still been shaky on the “friends” area, but a furious Stiles isn’t the most rational Stiles, and suddenly he’s overwhelmed with an inexplicable urge to protect Jackson. To shield him from everyone and everything trying to hurt him, because apparently that list includes his own alpha.

It’s illogical. The rational part of his brain realizes this, and yet the feeling is so primal and all-encompassing that he can’t resist it. He can feel himself popping fangs (which is a weird fucking sensation that he will have to address later) as Jackson walks up to him and Stiles immediately wraps him up in a hug. He holds him tight, buries his face in the crook of Jackson’s neck and just breathes.

Jackson seems surprised, but he doesn’t say anything. He hugs Stiles back with no complaints or snarky comments, apparently content to stand there with Stiles for as long as he needs. If Stiles had to guess, he’d say Jackson’s probably familiar with the feeling of needing to be close, which breaks his heart a little bit, considering he can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen Jackson seek out comfort from any of the pack.

Well, fuck that. That ends now, as far as he’s concerned.

“You good?” Jackson asks when Stiles finally lets go of him, an embarrassing amount of time later.

“Yeah,” he says, and it’s actually not a lie. He feels much more grounded and at ease, though Jackson is giving him a strange look. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, your eyes are just…they’re not blue.”

It takes Stiles a minute to figure out what Jackson’s talking about. Once he does, though, he recognizes the bitterness of guilt and sadness that’s seeped into Jackson’s scent. That breaks his heart even more.

Stiles takes a deep breath and blinks a few times, willing his eyes to go back to normal. He has no idea what to say to that, if he’s being honest.

“Come on, walk me to class,” he decides on, because anything else would be way too heavy for the school parking lot at 8:00 AM.

“So I’m gonna do some research tonight, since the rest of the pack isn’t doing shit to help us,” he continues. He lets his shoulder brush against Jackson’s as they walk. “Don’t worry, I got ahead on your homework last night. I’m keeping your perfect GPA intact.”

“Thanks,” Jackson says, chuckling. “I can help, if you want. Or keep you company, at least, since I know you’re a control freak and you like to do everything yourself.”

“Takes one to know one,” Stiles retorts, biting back a smile. “Yeah. Uh, I’ll call you?”

“Cool,” Jackson agrees, and that’s that.

 

He spends almost three hours on the phone with Jackson that night. True to his word, he lets Stiles do his thing, but he talks to him, and he listens while Stiles reads from the pages he finds online. It’s not that different from his usual research routine, but it’s a hell of a lot less lonely to have someone by his side, supporting him.

As far as Stiles can figure, what happened to them was brought on by a witch’s spell, which he can’t say is surprising, considering how royally Derek had pissed them off. The only way to undo it is to let it play out, until they reach whatever outcome the spell intended in order to switch them back. It’s not the best news, considering neither he nor Jackson have any idea what that outcome is.

He still hasn’t seen even a glimpse of Jackson’s parents, after almost three days of being here. He’d briefly considered texting, but when he opened Jackson’s message threads with them, he saw that he hadn’t texted either one of them in over six months. Stiles wants to ask Jackson about it, but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to know the answer.

“This is so weird,” he says instead, because they really haven’t given the appropriate amount of acknowledgement to that fact.

“What is? Being rich and popular and perfect?”

Stiles rolls his eyes so hard he’s sure Jackson can feel it through the phone. “Among other things. Namely the fact that you’re technically the first person I’ve ever seen naked.”

It comes out of his mouth before he realizes what he’s saying, and he wishes the ground would open up and swallow him right about now. Jackson doesn’t seem bothered by it at all, though.

“Have you jerked off yet?” he asks, sounding more curious than anything. At Stiles’ spluttering silence, he adds, “What? I have.”

Stiles lets out a scandalized gasp and then proceeds to choke on air, much to Jackson’s amusement. He’s definitely laughing at Stiles, the bastard.

“I mean, I didn’t really have much of a choice,” Jackson continues easily. “You were wound up so tight I thought you were going to explode. I had to take the edge off.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles mutters, flushing bright red. He doesn’t know how Jackson’s being so nonchalant about this, but his virgin ass is mortified.

“I’m just saying, it might make you feel better.”

“I’m not…I…don’t you think it’s, like, beyond weird?” Stiles manages to ask, though it takes a lot of effort to string together a full sentence.

“Kind of, but when have our lives ever not been weird?” Jackson asks, and Stiles has to admit, he has a point. “I’m hot, you’re hot, so what’s the difference, really?”

Jackson keeps talking, Stiles is pretty sure, but he doesn’t hear anything after you’re hot. His brain short-circuits.

“I’m hanging up now,” Stiles chokes out, because he can’t handle this conversation anymore.

“If it helps, I give you my blessing to feel me up to your heart’s content,” Jackson offers.

“Goodnight, Jackson.”

Jackson laughs, sounding almost fond. “Night, Stilinski.”

Stiles tosses the phone at the table, ignoring how his face was bright red, and his eyes were probably bright again, and his fangs weren’t the only thing that had… popped in that last ten minutes.

More than anything, though, he was acutely aware of the warmth in his chest.

Jackson thinks he’s hot.

10:51 PM: found another one. fifteen beauty marks.

10:52 PM: JACKSON I SWEAR TO GOD

He is so, so fucked.

 

11:29 AM: i want some shrimp scampi tonight.

11:31 AM: ehh, it’s healthy enough i guess, dad will like it. everything you need should be in the pantry.

11:32 AM: … stilinski are you fucking serious right now? i didn’t say your dad wanted shrimp scampi, i said i wanted shrimp scampi

Stiles almost snorts in the middle of his History class—which was better than falling asleep, but only barely—and can’t help but feel the smug sense of pride that bloomed in his chest.

11:35 AM: why jackson, are you asking me to dinner?

11:40 AM: no, dumbass, i’m telling you that i’m coming over to my own house and you’re making me shrimp scampi.

Stiles rolls his eyes and sends an affirmative-looking emoji, a smile on his face as the bell rings and he shoves everything into his bag. He taps at his phone as it buzzes again in his hand.

11:45 AM: trust me, when i ask you to dinner you’ll realize it.

Stiles hates his life a little bit.

But only a little bit.

 

“Come on, Jackson. I didn’t even make the pasta myself, it is not that hard to boil some water.”

“The fuck do you mean, you didn’t make the pasta this time? How the fuck do you know how to make pasta?!”

Stiles laughs as he pushes some shrimp around in a pan, watching as Jackson goes to sit on the counter. The kitchen is huge — probably bigger than Stiles’ own house — but he definitely isn’t going to complain about Jackson’s general proximity. “What did you tell my dad, anyway? I can’t imagine he was so keen to have you spend some time over here after you tried to sue us,” he says, draining the pasta, looking up after Jackson’s silence carries on a little too long.

Jackson is personifying the deer in the headlights look, a piece of dried pasta broken off in his mouth.

“Is…is he going to care if I’m not home?” Jackson asks, his voice shockingly small, and Stiles can literally smell the panic rising in Jackson’s voice, which he only needs one whiff of to determine he never wants to smell it on Jackson again.

Stiles can hear Jackson’s heart start to race, and he doesn’t even think before he goes into full damage control mode. He immediately starts talking (a distraction) and grabs his own cell phone from the table (taking the attention off of Jackson), narrating what he was texting to his dad (letting Jackson know what the right thing to do was, without bringing up what he had done wrong).

He leans up against the counter as he speaks, his shoulder pressed firmly along Jackson’s, giving him a point of contact to focus on. It was almost “panic attack 101” at this point — Scott had done the same thing to give him some time to calm down when he had an attack in public, back when Scott wasn’t a fuckhead, and even though they were alone in Jackson’s giant-ass house, he figures it would be a better way to help Jackson down than confronting him head on.

Do werewolves get panic attacks?

Stiles really doesn’t want the answer to that question.

A small scoff from Jackson is the only cue Stiles needs to stop his regular rambling, and he’s momentarily thankful for the grumpy look on Jackson’s face as he chews his dry pasta. It’s the same look that he got whenever Scott suggested a better lacrosse play—the “okay you’re right, shut up about it”, but Stiles takes it as the signal that it is, that Jackson’s okay.

Which is great, because no sooner than that crisis is averted does the next one come up. What started with the slam of a car door outside (down the street or down the block, Stiles still wasn’t sure how to gauge distance by sound yet) turns into muffled voices, talks of luggage and “the car blocking the drive.”

He has no doubt that his expression is probably hilarious when he turns to Jackson, but he’s on the brink of panic himself as a key turns in the lock — because dealing with the pack was one thing, but lying to “his parents” in an attempt to pass off as “their child”?

Jackson had a near panic attack just thinking about Stiles’ dad, and now here he was about to come face(s) to face(s) with his own parents, and Stiles… is officially out of ideas. Or creative lies. Both wells have about run dry.

Stiles freezes on sight when Jackson’s parents walk into the kitchen. He can’t help it — they’re intimidating as shit, okay? For one horrible, painfully awkward moment, they all just stare at each other in silence.

“Uh—”

“Jackson,” his mom finally greets him, and although she’s smiling, her tone sounds like she’s addressing a business partner instead of her son. “You’re here. With company. Making a mess of the kitchen.”

She says it with an astonishing amount of contempt, acting way more appalled than the situation calls for — like they’re doing lines of coke off her kitchen counter, not just making dinner — and Stiles is fucking thrown.

“Yeah, uh, sorry, I—” he tries, but it dies in his throat. He couldn’t finish the sentence if his life depended on it.

“I didn’t think you knew how to work the stove,” his dad chimes in, with that same “there is company here” type of smile on his face, so fucking condescending it makes Stiles’ skin crawl.

He can smell their disdain, can feel the irritation radiating off of them in waves — like this entire conversation is nothing but an inconvenience. It’s the first time they’ve seen Jackson in three days (that Stiles is aware of, but he’d guess it’s probably been longer) and yet it’s blatantly apparent they’d rather be anywhere else.

Stiles is nauseous. He has that feeling again, the same fierce protectiveness of Jackson he’d been hit with after he talked to Derek. He wants to yell, to unleash absolute hell on them for being such unbelievable fuckwads to their only goddamn son, but he doesn’t know enough about this fucked up relationship dynamic to feel comfortable doing it. The last thing he wants is to make things harder for Jackson, and he’s pretty sure telling them off would definitely push things into the territory of worse.

The problem is, though, Stiles is having trouble mustering up any other, less dangerous reaction. Because as far as he’s concerned, the only appropriate response here is pure, unbridled rage. He takes a deep breath, then another, trying to buy some time, and then Jackson comes in with the save.

“Actually, I just came to pick Jackson up. We have a project we’re working on for school, so he’s gonna stay at my house for the night.”

His parents just shrug like they literally couldn’t care less and walk away without another word.

Jackson’s silent as they wash the dishes, and for the entire car ride. Stiles can feel his eyes glowing gold again, but thankfully that’s the only external sign of his anger, so he doesn’t bring it up — he doesn’t know how to. In fact, neither of them speak again until they’re laying side by side in Stiles’ bed, staring up at the ceiling in unison.

“Jackson,” Stiles breathes, afraid he’ll scare him off if he speaks too loud or makes any sudden movements. “What the fuck?”

“I’m sorry,” Jackson answers, sounding resigned. “I should have warned you. I just…I’ve never told anyone.”

“Explain it to me,” Stiles says softly.

He feels Jackson shrug next to him. “We’re more like roommates than anything. I stay out of their way, and they stay out of mine. They drag me to work events sometimes to make themselves look good, but other than that, they’re happiest when I’m not around.”

Suddenly, so many things he knows about Jackson make more sense. His compulsive need to be the best at everything, his arrogance and his superiority complex — he doesn’t believe any of it. He’s just trying to protect himself.

“It’s more than that, though. Roommates are nice enough. They were cruel, Jackson. And with your senses…” Stiles trails off, because he can’t bear to say it out loud. No kid should have to literally physically feel their parents’ resentment.

“I don’t know,” Jackson says, sighing. His heartbeat stays steady, so it’s not a lie; he genuinely doesn’t understand why. “They don’t hit me or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking. They just…don’t like me.”

Stiles is relieved at that, but only marginally.

“You know that doesn’t mean they’re not abusive, right?” he asks, because he needs Jackson to know that. “They don’t get a pass just because they don’t put their hands on you. The way they treat you is bullshit, Jacks.”

He glances over at Jackson out of the corner of his eye, and he has his eyes squeezed shut, like he’s trying not to cry. He smells relieved, though, at the validation. Stiles reaches for his hand and firmly laces their fingers together.

“Why haven’t you come to the pack with this?” Stiles asks, stroking Jackson’s fingers gently with his thumb.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our pack kind of sucks.”

Stiles can’t help but snort at that. “Yeah, I can’t argue with that. There’s always me, though.”

Jackson lets out a short bark of a laugh, his face tight with some unreadable emotion as he finally looks over at Stiles. “Don’t say things like that, Stilinski. We can’t afford to make any promises right now. What if we never switch back? What if we can’t? What if that witch had decided to blast one of us into another dimension, instead of just this?”

“Jackson—”

“We could all wind up dead tomorrow with some new terrible monster because that’s apparently our lives now, so you can’t just…say things like that so fucking easily.”

His voice is getting more and more heated, but their hands are still linked together, and that’s all the confirmation Stiles needs. He pulls with a tug and ignores the gasp of surprise as he wraps his arms around Jackson like a squid, his voice heavy and slightly lisped through fangs when he speaks again.

“Jackson, I will always have your back. No questions. No negotiations. Fucking always. Understand?”

Jackson doesn’t respond beyond a small nod of his head. Stiles doesn’t push the issue, no matter how badly he wants to, so he lets it go for the time being.

He half expects Jackson to pull away. He doesn’t.

 

Stiles wakes up as the sun rises, feeling Jackson’s nose against his neck. He’s splayed out over Stiles in a way that makes him fucking preen, even as his heart races a mile a minute, but not before pulling Jackson a little closer, going back to sleep.

 

“You know, as much as it pains you all to admit it, I know that you know I’m right.”

“Stiles, enough.”

Stiles had tossed himself onto a couch once he and Jackson had made their way to Derek’s loft, only lifting his feet for a half second so Jackson could sit, firmly planting them in Jackson’s lap a moment after. The only person who even spared them a glance was Lydia, and even then, it was just the quirk of a perfect brow and what might have been the ghost of a smile if you squinted.

“Derek, we should just ask the witches. Apologize for mistaking them for the bad guys, ask if there was any latent magic hanging around, yadda yadda. They’re still on pack land, right?”

“Stiles, I said enough.”

Stiles is not above using cliches when they’re warranted, which is good, because up until that moment he had literally been having the perfect day. He woke up with Jackson in his arms, he got to see his dad for breakfast (who, thankfully, didn’t comment on their likely sleeping arrangements). His dad went to work, they watched movies, they ate shitty food, they played video games, and Stiles only broke one controller in a fit of Halo induced rage.

“They’re still on pack land, right? Who knows for how long. If we have a window of opportunity, it is closing fast.”

“I fucking swear, one more word—“

As much as he hates to admit it, it was like his best bud time with Scott, but on a whole new level — because while Scott was ditching him for whatever the cute girl of the day was (which, actually, was Isaac, he was pretty sure), Jackson was attentive, and funny, and laughed at Stiles’ dark jokes…and they hadn’t gone more than ten minutes without some form of physical contact.

But now here they are in Derek’s shitty, depressing loft, and…well, all good things have to come to an end.

“I’m just saying—”

“Stilinski. If you don’t shut up about all this, I’m going to rip your throat out with my teeth. The only reason you’re involved in all of this is because of the body you’re in right now, but just because you’re a wolf does not mean you understand what it is to be pack.”

The last few words are low, almost growled out, laced with that familiar Alpha tone that Derek loves to use to get the little underlings to train harder, or move faster, or whatever he thought the benefit of the moment was. His eyes are burning red where they stare into Stiles’, and when Stiles turns his head, he can see Erica and Boyd shrinking in on themselves, heads down and eyes lowered. Even Scott has his mouth clamped shut.

Which…huh. The display was interesting and all, but was that really all it took? A growled order to shut the fuck up?

“No.”

His mind is running a mile a minute, thinking ahead of himself, even as Derek’s expression crosses into a downright murderous category.

“What?!”

“No, I mean—well, I mean no. Because you’re right, I’m not part of the pack. You’ve made that very fucking clear that no matter how much I try to do, I’m not part of it. But if I’m not part of the pack, that means that you are not my fucking Alpha. Which means… I am so fucking out of here.”

He stands, slowly, as though wanting to be sure he can prove it to himself that Derek’s influence means nothing to him. He can practically feel the wolf radiating with excitement as he does, which is all the confirmation he needs.

Huh. Instincts. Weird.

He has to put a damper on his excitement when he turns away from Derek (who is beginning to switch from rage to hurt and confusion and honestly Stiles does not have the time right now) and faces Jackson instead. While he’s finally — finally — to blow this joint, he knows it’s probably going to be a little more difficult for Jackson to just up and leave a group that he had been craving approval from for so long. And if Jackson wants to stay, Stiles will too, in a heartbeat — but he owes it to himself to at least try.

“Jackson, I’m tired of bullshitting around. I’m going to go get some answers.”

He puts out his hand, a smile on his face, even as he feels confusion bounce around the room, like they had only just noticed that Jackson and Stiles were basically sharing a love seat before Derek tried to bite his head off.

Poor Scott even smells a little hurt. Stiles will try to make it up to him and explain, maybe, possibly, but it will be much later. Right now, he has one priority and one priority only, and it’s staring at him, wearing a shocked expression he’s seen in the mirror all too often.

“Come with me?”

He’s expecting Jackson to hesitate for at least a moment or two, but as soon as the words leave Stiles’ mouth, he’s taking his hand and following him out of the loft. He only pauses to flip Derek off with his free hand, leaning into Stiles’ side as they laugh together.

 

“You’re kind of a badass, you know that?”

They’re back at Stiles’ house (Jackson had asked him, open and vulnerable, to “please, just stay here with me, Stilinski, my parents won’t give a shit,” and Stiles was powerless to deny him) after agreeing to go find the witches first thing in the morning, since it was a little too late to go bothering them tonight. They’re on the couch, sitting so close together Jackson’s practically in his lap, as they watch reruns of Brooklyn 99.

In response to Jackson’s question, Stiles scoffs. “Me? How?”

“I’ve been wanting to say shit like that to Derek for months,” Jackson admits, nudging Stiles with his elbow. “You’ve been in my body for less than a week and you’re already more ballsy than I’ve ever been.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t just talking out of my ass. He’s not my alpha. He literally has no sway over me.” Stiles wants to ask him about this thing between him and Derek, exactly how long yet another of Jackson’s parental figures has been treating him like shit, but things are good right now. They’re bonding, and for once, Jackson’s scent is emanating nothing but complete contentment, so Stiles keeps his mouth shut and rolls his eyes instead.

“I’m serious,” Jackson continues easily. “Is it weird that I’m super attracted to you right now?”

Stiles’ entire line of thought comes crashing to a halt and his mouth goes dry.

“Probably,” he answers weakly, trying to will his heart to stop hammering in his chest. “But you’re also super full of yourself, so I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Jackson chuckles at that, eyes bright. “Come on, you’ve never thought about what it’d be like to kiss yourself?”

Stiles is suddenly hyper aware of everywhere they’re touching, his skin warming under Jackson’s touch.

“I can honestly say that I haven’t, no. But then again, you wouldn’t either if you looked like I did all the time,” he answers. He pauses for a beat, then adds, “I have thought about what it’d be like to kiss you, though.”

He’s impressed with himself for having the guts to say it so easily. Don’t get him wrong — Stiles is fucking terrified — but he’s also comfortable here with Jackson. He feels safer than he has…probably since the whole werewolf hellscape started. So he figures he owes it to both of them to be genuine.

Jackson’s answering grin is blinding, even if he cuffs Stiles in the side of the head first. “First of all, shut the fuck up. I’ve been in your body for a week and trust me, I am now intimately familiar with how hot it is. Second of all…you’ve thought about kissing me, huh? Since when?” he asks.

Stiles knows what kind of answer Jackson’s expecting. Stories about how hot he is, about the dirty fantasies he’s had about him. And Stiles has plenty of those, but the thing is…he’s been hit on by a lot of strangers in the past few days, and honestly? It’s not at all as amazing as Stiles always imagined it would be.

It turns out, a lot of aspects of Jackson’s life that Stiles always thought would be amazing are actually anything but.

It’s more annoying than anything, people acting like they have the right to objectify and touch Jackson just because he’s pretty — and he’s had to sprint away from more than one hushed conversation about what someone would do to him, or even worse, what someone already thought he did (for a grade, for a spot on a team, for whatever). It’s gross in ways that Stiles doesn’t even want to identify. And Stiles needs Jackson to know that this isn’t that.

So instead, he does the complete opposite.

“Last year, when Isaac was afraid to go to therapy after his dad died, so you went with him and refused to leave his side,” Stiles says, his voice slow and easy as he feels Jackson’s heart skip around in his chest, the confusion playing on his face.

“A few months ago, when you rented out an entire restaurant for a night so Allison and Lydia could have the perfect anniversary dinner.” Jackson is bright red now, ducking his head away — Stiles isn’t having any of that, though, and he gently redirects Jackson’s gaze to him, hand slipping from chin to cheek far too easily.

“Earlier this week, when I realized that you believe in me, even when the rest of the pack doesn’t. Last night, when you were honest with me even though I know you didn’t want to be. And every single time you smile at me, for real, not that annoying fucking smirk you love to throw around.”

Jackson isn’t even smiling any more. His face is just raw, open, eyes wide and so, so on the brink of disaster, like Stiles is the only thing holding him together, and Stiles feels a thrill at the power — real power — more than any wolf trick he’d experienced so far. “You are so good, Jackson.”

He tilts Jackson’s chin up and tilts his own head, making his intent obvious, but he stops before moving any closer, making it very clear that Jackson has the power here, in whatever they do or don’t do.

“Can I kiss you?”

Jackson can’t speak, he can only nod his head, but it’s enough for Stiles to close the distance between them.

Their first kiss is…a kiss. It’s not a clash of teeth and tongue, it’s slower, softer, it’s sipping champagne instead of tossing back a shot. There’s no fireworks in the background — at least, not in Stiles’ head — but instead a cool, low thrum that lights up every nerve from his scalp to his toes. It would be too easy, he thinks, to slip into something filthy — but that isn’t what Jackson needs right now, isn’t what he needs right now either, so he allows himself exactly three seconds to drag his tongue along Jackson’s lip (and god, it was really, really weird to think that he was technically tasting himself), before pulling back from the kiss.

Jackson’s pupils are blown wide, and Stiles knows his are glowing bright gold. He lets a low noise pull through his throat (the kind of cross between a growl and a purr that he would absolutely make fun of Jackson for making if the tables were turned) as he pulls Jackson closer, nose buried in the crook of his neck.

Jackson finally finds his voice around the same time he buries his fingers in Stiles’ hair, kissing his temple as Stiles takes in deep breaths of his scent. “Let’s go to bed, okay? Just to bed,” he clarifies, when Stiles stiffens in shock, another growl leaving his lips when Jackson starts to laugh at him. “Just to bed, you moron. We have a long day ahead of us, but I’m definitely ready to get my own body back so I can kiss you properly.”

Desperate to save face (even as his own face heated up), Stiles immediately stands up, hooking his hands under Jackson’s knees and effortlessly carrying him up the stairs as Jackson clings to his neck. He’s laughing, though — they both are — and by the time they make it upstairs, they’re both out of breath, looking pleased as punch, even as Stiles playfully chucks the shirt he was wearing at Jackson’s head.

Any awkwardness they may have felt had disappeared, and it’s amazing what one kiss can do, even as they both strip down to their boxers (“I will say, I am going to miss your fancy, rich boy, silk briefs.” “Stilinski, if you don’t shut up and cuddle me right the fuck now—”). They slot together easily, comfortably, and it’s almost impossible for Stiles to even think about a time when they weren’t like this with one another.

The emotional toll of the day is catching up with Stiles quickly, but he’s more than content to nuzzle into Jackson’s hair, taking in deep breaths of his scent as things start to settle between them.

He still can’t believe he gets to see Jackson like this. Jackson, who always has his walls up, who hides behind a carefully crafted “cool and confident” version of himself. He’s been mistreated for way too long, by way too many people who are supposed to love and support him, and he still came out of it sweet and caring and considerate despite having no good example set for him. He’s been surrounded by people and still felt lonely, because the attention he gets is hollow and meaningless and none of them actually care.

And he’s done all of this while everyone around him makes idiotic assumptions that his life is perfect and he couldn’t possibly have any real problems. Including Stiles.

Fuck, he really needs to apologize for that.

“I can feel you thinking too hard,” Jackson mumbles, pulling himself out of a half sleep. He turns his head just enough to press a kiss to the base of Stiles’ neck, and Stiles melts at how unbelievably soft it all is.

“I’m sorry for what I said that night at the river,” Stiles blurts, because he can’t go another second without saying it.

Jackson blinks a few times and then pulls back enough so he can look Stiles in the eye. He keeps his arm firmly wrapped around Stiles’ waist, though.

“You don’t have to apologize, Stilinski. We’ve both said a lot worse to each other.”

“I know, but just…shut up and let me say this, okay?” he asks, waiting for Jackson’s nod before he continues. “I acted like a dick because I assumed you couldn’t understand what I was going through, and that wasn’t fair. You probably understand better than anyone, and I’m sorry I didn’t see that.”

Jackson’s quiet for a moment, but then he smiles and leans in to give Stiles a gentle peck on the lips.

“You didn’t see it because I didn’t want you to see it. I didn’t want anyone to see it,” Jackson says, reaching up to run his fingers through Stiles’ hair. “And I was okay with nobody seeing it, because you’re right. Poor little rich boy, you know? No one got it, so it was easier to pretend, but…I don’t want to pretend anymore. Not with you.”

Stiles grins so hard it hurts and bumps their noses together, smile growing impossibly wider when he hears Jackson’s heart skip a beat. “Good,” he says.

Jackson resumes his semi-sentient-ragdoll pose on top of Stiles and lets out what can only be called an “affectionate grumble,” doing whatever it is he has to do to make Stiles a more comfortable living pillow. Not that Stiles is going to complain or suggest otherwise. He just waits it out, kissing the top of Jackson’s head when the other male is finally resettled.

“Night, Stiles.”

“Night, Jacks.”

“I still hate that nickname.”

“No you don’t. Not when it comes from me.”

“…fuck.”

 

Stiles blinks awake entirely too early in the morning, when the sun has barely started to rise, and reaches blindly to pull the blinds over his window, groaning in disappointment when he fails to do so. He hasn’t felt this groggy in ages, but for the moment, he’s content to blame any sleepy haze on the warmth spread around him; not even a full night’s sleep could make him forget — even for a moment — where he is and who’s here with him.

He sighs and lets his head flop down against Jackson’s chest as his eyes start to blearily open, his hand resting in front of his face, thumb rubbing a smooth circle across Jackson’s chest. He gets a low hum in return — of course Jackson’s already waking up, the idiot is infuriatingly perfect in every way and apparently his internal clock is no exception, even on the weekend.

He takes the opportunity to smile and look up, sleepily taking in Jackson’s form — his strong jaw and smooth skin, and he takes a moment to raise his hand from Jackson’s chest to cup his face. Jackson, eyes still closed, preens at the attention, and turns to kiss Stiles’ wrist. It’s a mental picture he wants to save forever — Jackson’s breath steady against his pulse point, his tanned lips pressed against Stiles’ pale skin —

His skin is pale.

His skin is pale again.

Stiles bolts upright, his legs straddling Jackson (who makes his feelings about the sudden movement known with a very loud groan). He has both hands cupping Jackson’s face as Jackson opens his eyes, looking cross in a way that used to convey anger and even fear — now it just looks like a child pouting. It’s adorable.

“Jackson, wake the fuck up.”

To his credit, Jackson is much quicker on the uptake than Stiles was.

“Oh, thank god,” Jackson says, reaching to stroke Stiles’ cheek fondly. “I was really starting to miss this pretty face.”

Stiles blushes from his cheeks all the way down his chest, and it only intensifies when he realizes Jackson’s staring at his flushed skin intently. “Shut the fuck up,” he answers, with absolutely no heat behind it.

“You gonna make me?”

“Maybe,” Stiles says with a shrug, sliding down until he’s fully straddling Jackson’s still lying body to capture his lips in a kiss.

It takes less than three minutes for Stiles to forget his own name. He gives impatient little whines, but Jackson pulls away each time they risk going into warmer territory. He would protest more, really, but when Jackson pulls away with a dopey grin on his face and tells Stiles how excited he is to finally do a relationship right, with someone he cares about, dating and wooing, Stiles actually melts. He melts into a puddle because Jackson is a secret sap, even if Jackson is less than amused when Stiles verbalizes his feelings.

“Whatever, Stilinski. I’ve been in your body for a week. We both know about the stash of romance novels you keep hidden behind your comics.”

Stiles squawks and throws a pillow at Jackson’s face, indignant for all of three minutes.

“Whatever. This just means my expectations are high, you better bring out all your big guns if you plan on wooing me or whatever.”

“I do, Stiles. I really do.”

“Oh my god Jackson shut up.”

 

They string the pack along for another few days. They would have gone longer, but on Wednesday, Derek is waiting outside Jackson’s garage again, except this time Jackson is Jackson and not Stiles.

But it’s probably for the best — Jackson has a better poker face, and if Stiles had to listen to a heartfelt [or as close to heartfelt as Derek got, which was ‘not very’] apology, he would probably have burst out laughing somewhere between “I’m sorry I haven’t been treating you as part of the pack my mother would be so ashamed of me for forgetting the humans role in a pack” and “of course I don’t hate Jackson, does he really think I hate him, I’m just worried about him all the time, god what do I do.”

Jackson does a much better job of taking it all in stride, it’s much easier when Derek has a kicked puppy look about him. He reaches up, claps a hand on Derek’s shoulder, flashes his blue eyes, and simply tells Derek “don’t be sorry, be better.”

And then, of course, any sincerity in the moment is immediately erased when Stiles comes out of the house, idly tapping away at his phone, half a poptart dangling from his lips, asking Jackson “hey babe, do you know why Scott left me three voicemails last night? It sounded like he was crying in the last one, did you hear…oh. Hey Derek. What’s up?”

Watching Derek’s face go from kicked puppy to confused puppy to bright red (when ‘babe’ finally processed in his brain) before finally settling on something Jackson would refer to as ‘gassy’ is probably the best thing that’s happened to him in a month, Jackson decides.

…Well, second best, he amends as Derek drives away, feeling Stiles kiss his cheek.