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The Single Dads' Society - REVAMPING

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Fifteen years in the business and Jackson still abhorred open castings. Luckily, his manager discovered him while walking out of Selfridges. If this’d been him years ago, he’d have quit this business long before Ford signed him. It’s torture, even from this side of the table. The waiting. The watching. The rating. The critiquing. He'd live a perfectly unaffected life if they never signed a new model again.

Those four hours might have set them apart from other agencies, but staring at different variations of the same face destroyed his brain cells faster than the trash Dallas watched on the daily. Today, the calling must have specified for 'reasonably tall, high cheekbones and bad attitudes' because every wannabe model fit the bill. Most of them were lucky they escaped sans foot in the ass, a few of them, just barely. The door creaked, drawing his team's attention to their newest intern ushering in America's thirtieth-fourth “Next Top Model.” He perused the guy's sagging cargo shorts and waddle for a walk, a steaming hot mess. Yet, he pasted a smile as one of his junior agents sent him away with a firm nod. Ahh, did he know how to train them.

Then, the intern poked her head in, “How does a break sound, Mr. Whittemore? The hall's still filling up.”

Of course it was. He waved his hand, hoping her bachelor's degree understood that as an affirmative. The second the door clicked shut, someone groaned over the sound of heads clonking on the desk.

“Tell me? Why we do this again? Every. Single. Week.” Evan, the youngest of his team of four, whined while the others shook their heads. Honestly, he started questioning these four hours too, as another disgruntled employee of course. However, as the New Talent Director for Select’s first US expansion, he reigned in the attitude and doled out the employee-crafted response, “Finding needles are always worth it.”

“Of course it is, we’ll simply waste company time, money, and resources to do it.”

His thoughts exactly. He faced Hannah, his oldest and a fellow veteran too, shushing her with a smirk. No telling how many bugs their boss had in this room. Job security these days meant zilch. Just last week, he'd seen them force one of the accountants into early retirement because she arrived forty minutes late from lunch.

Unfolding his hands, he half-listened as they rambled about some clubbing venture he didn't need to know about. He remembered those days—out until the sun came up, hangover the next morning, faking productivity. Life (and the exhilaration of VIP at a Drake concert) might have cut his filthy twenties short, but he wouldn't trade his current life for that shit show, ever.

Knocking, Rita entered slowly allowing them time to rearrange themselves. His peripherals caught the thirty-fifth today, but his attention drifted to the window wall and the panoramic view of his new city. Too high to spot actual people, but he could imagine them, freely strolling from block to block with lukewarm, sugary coffee. Technically, some headed to nightmare jobs, so they were no better than him. No—he’d much rather live out his fantasy as some doubled-layered tourist, waddling towards the land of lights and commercialism. No need to venture there himself when his office overlooked several streets from it.

A throat cleared, making his eyes hardened as he snapped to face the girl's audacious brow lift. She stood, no more than 5'7 with her disproportionate eyes and protruding collarbone. “Good morning, my name is Gupita Madan,” she declared without dittling her hair or adjusting her skater dress. Who wore skater dresses to open castings? Somehow...it worked for her.

After glancing at his team to assess their reactions, he shifted back to the girl, who took it upon herself to pass out her headshots. Normally, he would dismiss her immediately, but there was a fine line between attitude and confidence. She managed to stand on the right side of it. Before his team could address her, his assistant crept in with a small note. Probably another so-called-emergency at the Davidson shoot today. He couldn’t wait until that girl’s contract expired. Nodding thanks, he unfolded the message, only reading the words Dallas, School, Detention, and Immediate before he slapped his portfolio closed, the chair screeching under him. The last time he’d gotten a notice from the boys’ school, not five months ago, he hadn’t made it in time. This time, he didn’t waste a second.


 

You’ve reached the office of Jackson Whittemore. Please leave your name and number with a brief message and I will return your call at my earliest convenience.

“Mr. Whittemore. I am Gabriel McClendon, the Upper School Dean of Students here at Kent Academy. Our office is calling to inform you of a situation involving your eldest son, Dallas. Campus security found him, along with five other students, with flasks of alcohol and narcotics during his free period. This behavior is simply inexcusable at our institution and as such, he has been placed in detention for the remainder of the day. We understand navigating a new environment is often challenging, but please encourage him to reconsider his actions in the future. As for disciplinary measures, I will be holding a meeting in my office today at 2:30. If you have any questions, feel free to reach me at this number.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Stiles hustled down 76th with his ‘I’m-late-but-I’m-trying-not-to-push-you-out-of-my-way’ power walk. It wasn’t his fault Reverend Taylor, from the church across the street, lured him into small talk, yet again inviting them to Sunday service. Stiles considered himself an infectious person; people enjoyed talking to him.

Going two hours over his morning writing session? Now that...that might have been his fault. They always say you couldn’t control genius, just as you couldn’t control an irritated (and very hungry) Lydia.

Politely scooting around an older couple, he wished them a happy vacation whilst suppressing his inner New Yorker. Back when he first moved here for undergrad, he used to make a game of it, spotting fellow newbies. It’s easy when you live twenty minutes from main campus. Life whirled too fast to treat the city as if it’s Valentine’s Day in Central Park. They breathed in everything at once, too stunned for the simplest task of placing one foot in front of the other. Passing a family of four, he welcomed a brief pang of nostalgia as the couple’s two little ones lapped on sugar cones. If only they knew, Stiles mourned the restless future of those poor parents. Little angels swiftly sprouted into uncontrollable devils. He wanted to yell, “Give it five more years. You’ll be struggling just like the rest of us,” but he kept it moving because places to be, a hungry Lydia to see.

Stiles skirted around another leaking vat of steam, breathing in the humid fall air. Today, Lydia decided on predictability and chose the French Cafe equal distance between his place and the research center where she worked. Nothing like a menu in French to mourn every bit of his BA in English.

Finally, he made it, sweat and all, nine minutes later. Unfortunately, instead of one strawberry blonde head, he spotted two, both bent together as they probably gossiped about the restaurant's impeccable food but sub-par service. Descending the ivy-covered steps, he snorted, tugging the mini one’s ponytail, “Do you ever go to school?”

Chelsea flung her head back, so the same ponytail he assaulted, bludgeoned him right back. Because of his stinging cheek, he forced her into a side hug.

“Take your daughter to work day, Uncle S. Gotta enriched those brain cells,” she sassed, blinding him with her practiced beam. Turning to Lydia proved a fail when his best friend shrugged, her child’s education clearly worth less than that.

 “No comment,” he grabbed a ten from his wallet. “Go order me the biggest Americano they have. Adult time.”

He saw the twinkle in her eyes and knew, as she snatched it, that he wouldn’t feel the rush of caffeine unless a server walked by. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she danced away on happy, careful feet, a much older boy catching her eye almost immediately. Thank goodness, he hadn’t dealt with any of those yet. Or girls, for that matter. “Is it me or is she getting fresher? You and twin #2 should really do something about that.”

Lydia swirled her coffee, “Please. I was the same way. You were too clouded by your own fairytale to see it.”

Stiles scoffed, she had a point though. She expected him to believe the facade, but her nonchalant mama bear act didn’t convince him. She examined the kid’s pivot towards her sixteen-year old and didn’t refocus on Stiles until the boy’s friends teased him back into their conversation. Only then did she offer up cheek kisses and a concerned once-over, “So, I have news and it’s guaranteed the best thing you’ll hear all week. Are you ready for this?”

“I wasn’t ready for your last big news. ‘Stiles, Aiden and I are pregnant and relocating to the city so you two better take us out when we get there.’ After that one, I think I’ll be ok.”

She slapped him, his squawk gathering judgmental looks from the actual adults around them. “Well, clearly nothing’s more exciting than that. So, last week, I was having lunch with Aiden, Ethan, and Danny,” He assumed they’d discuss why they hadn’t invited him at another time, “Guess who we ran into?”

“I don’t know, Taylor Swift?”

She tossed him that look to remind him of his age again. Once they passed thirty-five, he’d rather mourn their lost youth than be reminded of it.

Sighing, he shifted forward, “Tell me, Lyds. Who’d you see?”

Her smile twisted, like this piece of information was his Christmas and birthday all wrapped into one. Now, he almost didn’t want to know. He waited several seconds for her to unearth the big surprise. Maybe, Scott decided to move out here finally. Of course, Stiles was certain Scott would tell him first, the second they entertained the idea. Their server came and left before Lydia graced him with an answer. Fiddling with her wedding ring, she blurted, “Jackson!”

“Nooo,” he gasped, resting his entire body on the table. “This happened last week?! How am I just hearing about it and what’s he doing in the city? Isn’t he some big hotshot model now?” Not that he’d ever admit to following Jackson’s career over the years. He might have ripened a few decades, but his curiosity and penchant for knowledge never abated. If anything, it evolved, especially when they first came across billboard ads and magazine centerfolds, Jackson’s smugness plastered on them. Besides that, the only one who talked to him was Danny. “Where’d you see him?”

“You know that Turkish Place on 3rd? He was having lunch with some of his models.”

“His models? I thought he was the model.”

She stirred more creamer into her coffee. “Said he’s on the corporate side of things now. God, Stiles you should have seen him and Danny didn’t even tell us he was moving. Apparently, he’s been here for weeks.” 

Huh. Jackson was in town, but why? Before he could ask another question, Chelsea slid a coffee in front of him, two sizes too small, as she picked apart a Banana Nut muffin. They both peered over her shoulder, calculating her interest in their conversation, which seemed null judging by the tight grip on her phone. One glimpse at his own daughter’s name convinced him never to peek at a teenager’s phone again.

Too intrigued by their conversation anyway, Stiles steamrolled over her existence. “What moved him back?”

“Job transfer. They’re settling in.”

 “They? Wife?” Stiles asked, too quickly.

“I didn’t see a ring or tan line, but he has kids so, who knows.” Her eyes glinted mischief at the big reveal.

“WHAT!?!” His sandwich caught in his throat on the way down, forcing him into a choking spree. Having gotten used to apologizing for his behavior, Lydia grinned politely at the surrounding tables once more while Chelsea snickered behind the muffin he paid for. Neither she nor Lydia seemed disturbed by the fact Jackson Whittemore brought children into this world. Actual kids. With hands and feet and mouths and personalities. He shivered, “You can’t drop that on me and expect me not to freak out. How is Jackson Whittemore allowed around a child? And multiple at that.”

“Hmph. The same could be said of you.”

“Ooooh, got ‘em!” Chelsea cackled, wiggling her manicured finger in Stiles’ face. Stiles, scandalized, gasped at their hurtful truths. Technically, his dad and Melissa still couldn’t believe he was an actual functioning parent most days.

“Excuse you. I have five mugs, two t-shirts, and a shit ton of pictures that prove otherwise.” He also had a pile of disciplinary reports, less than stellar report cards, and a million memories that supported such claims.

“--Only people with limited vocabularies swear, Uncle S.”

He laughed, “Tell that to my nine bestsellers, kid.”

“Anyway, if you children are done, he has two boys. The oldest, Dallas, is 17 and his little one is seven. Stiles, Ben is so cute, cute as a button.”

“-I never understood that phrase-”

She blaze right over that, “-And Dallas is such a looker. I bet he gets all the girls. The best part, he had actual photos in his wallet. You can’t possibly get more dad than that and he had the most adorable face when he talked about them. And he didn’t yell at the waiter once, even when the kid got his order wrong three times. Rich too. I mean he was already rich but it’s his money now. He looks good.”

If she weren’t happily married with a daughter she adored, Stiles would question her overly impressed smile. The last time they’d seen her so exhilarated, she conned them into an eight-day cruise, despite his seasickness. Together, he and Chels quirked matching brows her way. 

“You need another minute?” Stiles nudged her in the side, smiling as Chelsea giggled at her mom’s huff. “How does Aiden feel about your opinions on Jackson 2.0?”

“Who cares? It’s not as if I’m going to-” she paused, remembering her daughter’s presence, soothing down Chelsea's fly aways with her free hand. “I’m stating facts, nothing more and why would I want his money when I have my own?”

“Believe me, I’m jealous. Who knew the best way to unlimited cash flow was to be a mad scientist married to a Hockey player?”

“I did.” She smirked, but that lasted only a few seconds since it soured into a grimace. “Why? You’re not struggling, are you? Cause I thought with the movie deal that you’d be secure, but if you need money-”

“Lydia, Lydia.” Why did he say anything? Stiles dropped his head, “I don’t need money. Would it be nice to have something after rent, bills, loans, taxes, groceries, paying for Sammy’s dalliances, and fancy private school tuition? Hell yeah. But, we’re doing fine.” She gave him that ‘don’t lie to me’ furrow, hand already reaching for her phone. Really, in another universe, he felt grateful for the pack’s unnecessary need to micro-manage his life. “I’m serious. Can we go back to Jackson?”

Finally, when his face burned from her squint, she let the conversation lie. “He asked about you.”

Now that was conversation worthy. Stiles pushed his sandwich to the side, gesturing for her to continue. She relayed the conversation, how Jackson asked about everyone else first, even Greenberg, before asking about him. Greenberg? Before him? BS. Stiles saved him that one time, though he also punched him, kidnapped him, and hit him with his Jeep. Yeah...he took that back. He told Lydia as such, impervious to Chelsea’s delighted interest.

“Maybe, but he didn’t ask follow ups for anyone else. Also Danny gave him your number.”

“What? No Danny! WHY!?”

“Why not? You’re both single dads with demanding jobs. I’m sure you can find some commonality and we all agree it’s about time you spent time with someone other than the kids and me. You’re too stressed.” He's glad they agreed on what he should do with his life.

Stiles wondered if the deadline passed for new, better friends. 

“I am not...but I...you don’t talk to...I have Danny and Scott.”

“You pay Danny to do your dirty work and Scott’s who knows where by now. Relax, he seemed curious about what you’d been up to. I'd take it as a good sign and knowing him, he probably won't call you anyway.” She affirmed it like Stiles wasn't a worthy conversationalist, which made him want Jackson to call him now, if only to prove her wrong. His rebuttal died as his phone pinged again, making it the fourth time in the last two hours. His agent couldn’t want him that bad, which only left one possible solution; Sammy finally decided to dust off Stiles’s checkbook this year. One month of radio silence was a commendable record. Sighing, Stiles slapped a twenty on the table, leaving five for tip.

It was a testament to his struggle when Lydia didn’t have to ask, patting his arm and standing. “Hurry, we’ll split a cab.” He stole one last bite of his sandwich and led them away from the cafe. If Jackson ever did call him, he’d didn’t have to worry about them fighting. He already did enough of that with his own flesh and blood.

###

Stilinski here. Sorry, I missed your call. Leave a message.

“Mr. Stilinski. This is McClendon over at Kent. I didn’t get a chance to thank you for your generous donation to the school’s newest recreation building. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this isn’t a social call. I’m calling about a situation involving both Aspen and Samuel. Security caught them on property with alcohol and narcotics. Though Aspen claims she was only trying to pull Samuel from his friends, security found her drinking from one of the five flask. Until we locate the camera footage, we have held them in detention. Please join me in my office at 2:30 to discuss further disciplinary actions.”

 

Chapter Text

Detention. How could she get detention?! Aspen Stilinski slumped over the plastic desk, ignoring the sting of metal at her back. Dad was going to murder them, slowly and probably with something dull--like a spoon or the remote. She felt her brother Sammy kick the desk's useless basket, trying all that he could to irritate her. With each vibrate of the rusty desk, it worked. She’d retaliate but Mr. Burch lurked behind his desk, ready to award his next suspension.

“Aww Pen, you mad?” Sammy uttered with his smarmy cackle, making all his buddies giggle too. She didn’t know why they laughed. In a year, she’d graduate and their butts would still be rotting in this room, hanging out with Burch and the three-week-old ham sandwich in his left drawer. She darted her eyes Burch’s way, which spurned them harder, “Poor poor Penny. Everyone knows Mr. Burch is more gone than Harry’s Nan.”

“My nana kicks ass!” Harrison, her brother’s friend blurted from the other half of the room, setting off another wave of snickers. She blinked at the ceiling, counting to twenty and then starting over again. Shouldn't they consider Sammy and his gaggle of ants punishment enough? Their cliche beanies and combined IQ of fifty. Maybe, if she led with that, her dad would go lightly on her, especially since she'd done squat in the first place. The second their proctor rolled into the hall, she pivoted, striking Sammy in the shin.

“Stilinski’s got moves,” another goon whistled, reaching over to fluff her ponytail. She ducked last second and he should kiss her ass for it. If they knew the pain she could bring, they'd keep their nasty appendages to themselves. When he murmured about the stick wedged up her ass, she winked at him, for once meaning the smile slithering on her face.

Still cradling his shin, Sammy gritted, “Pen, for once in your life, relax. Dad'll shove a check down their throats and poof--” his fist exploded, spit flying into it, “Gone. Money can buy you anything, sis.” Their dad's money. Not theirs. Exhibit A of why he should be awarded a permanent ass whopping. “Hell, if we're really lucky, we'll get a free suspension out of it.”

With their family's mantra in her head, she forced control, inhaling deeper, steadier. How the entire school liked him, much less tolerated his immaturity...she'd never understand. Aggravation slicked through her fingers, aching to connect with a hard surface, preferably a face. Their dad always said she favored their mom most, from her nose and complexion right down to her short fuse.

“I seriously hate you right now.”

“I said no talking!” Burch stuck his head into the classroom, pointing straight at them. To avoid his gaze, she hid behind the textbook left by whoever banished it to this land before. “Next person gets suspended,” he glanced around the room once more, locking eyes with all of them then slowly titling back into the other room.

“I said gone. Not deaf.”

Before he could speak, the door croaked. Like a wave, they shifted as the newcomer glided over the threshold—the new guy. She'd wondered what happened to him after security dragged them from the courtyard. He swaggered in, facial expression as blank as she'd seen it earlier. He was the kind of dude her best friend Chelsea would pursue—stocky shoulders, aesthetically symmetrical features, murky green eyes equal parts sinister and polite. She'd seen him on the field a few times, but his arguably impressive scoring record hadn’t drawn her attention. It’s the way he tracked her too, breaking contact only to drop his slip on the desk. Then, it returned, a blazing curiosity to mirror her own until he disappeared from her peripheral. What was his name?

Jeremiah? Daren? Will?

She felt her jaw clench. For two months, the girls have been gossiping about him and now she could only remember the incessant fawning over his DILF of a dad? Disappointment.

“Drool much?” Sammy sang while his guys ‘ooed’ and ‘awed,’ throwing her kissy lips as if they never left fourth grade. With whats-his-face here, she ignored them.

“Mr. Stilinski, Mr. Alvarez. That's one day for you. Anyone else?”

Everyone with brains stilled, including the kid in the corner carving something into his desk. This time when Burch commenced his death glare of disappointment, he focused on one person, “You. Where's your slip?”

Penny allowed herself one glimpse.

“On the desk, sir,” he said with that British mouth all her teammates’ mooned over. He’d kicked his feet up on the basket ahead of him, his posture otherwise poised, unlike his gleam.

“Whittemore,” Burch spat, “It's been a displeasure meeting you. Let's hope it doesn't happen again. Sit. Don't talk. Barely breathe. You may however, do work.”

“Aww, he's a newbie too, Pen.”

Several rows behind them, Whittemore snorted, solidifying her theories about him. She didn't turn around though, knowing Sammy would give her shit about it.

“I hope dad sends you to Pops.”

“And one for you too, Miss Stilinski,” Burch hissed, “I'd reconsider your choice in family bonding.”

“Ooooohhhhhh,” A round of snickers floated through the room as she sunk until her feet scraped the desk in front of hers. After this, their dad would ship them both off to Pops, or worse, to Uncle Derek.

Shit.

Chapter Text

Less than half an hour later, the cab dropped Stiles in front of the kids’ school. He almost didn’t get out, thinking only of leaving Sammy to stew in his shit for a little while longer. Everyone already decided his son’s tomfoolery was karma for all those years he ran with and from supernatural creatures, bringing his dad along for the ride. Times like these, he didn’t disagree.

“Fourteen fifty-five. Fourteen fifty-five.” The cab driver pestered him until Stiles accepted his fate, sliding his card through the machine and piling out. Staring at the wide concrete steps, he could already feel money draining from his account. Maybe, this time the funds would go to power-washing the green rust off the first headmaster’s statue. Seriously, the thing couldn’t be good for potential families. He kept to the far right of the steps as he pressed the intercom; they buzzed him in seconds later. Routine led him to the security window and just behind it sat Mitch, the head security guard and at one point in time, fellow disappointed parent. 

Mitch grinned apologetically as Stiles signed in. “Wondered when they’d summon you. Five weeks. That’s some kind of record, right?”

Despite the situation, he chuckled, “How bad is it? I don’t even listen to the messages these days.”

“At first we thought it was possession.” The burly man reached under his desk, pulling out a couple metal flasks and a plastic bag of greenery. Two by one, he held them up for Stiles to see. “Italian Seasoning and some herbs. Seltzer Water.” Stiles peered at the bag incredulously. These people dragged him over here for something these boys bought at Whole Foods on the way to school.

He raised his hands to the ceiling, mouthing exclamations to high powers and exhaling a long breath. There went his afternoon, “He learned from the best, unfortunately. Yours wasn’t involved, was he?”

Mitch’s rumble of a laugh ricocheted off the crystal chandelier. “You kidding me?! Ever since I took this job, Omari doesn’t crap without me knowing.”

“Maybe I should bust out my teaching bowties, again.”

“It is about time this school gave you money for a change.”

They shared a subdued snort, “Man, we gotta get the group together one weekend.” What originally began as a bitching session about their juvenile kids transformed into a few much-needed hours of beer, poker, and absolutely no children. He never realized how much he missed their friendship until he ran into one of them at school. They made tentative plans to form plans and then he was off, tossing a friendly wave behind him.

Kids he’d known since they were in middle school called out to him in the halls. “Hey, Mr. Stilinski.” “Yo, Mr. Stilinski.” “Hi, Mr. S.” Back then, the first few times it happened, he looked over his shoulders, expecting to see his dad in all his graying glory. Now, he’d gotten used to it. Even spoke to everyone who didn’t blush in his presence. Last thing he needed was a lawsuit because he tried to be polite. Aspen’s old seventh grade teacher chatted with him amiably on his elevator journey. He made it a mission to dodge Sammy’s old teachers; they still weren’t over torturing him for his son’s tomfoolery.

Inside the Dean’s office, mothers from PTA lined the walls: flipping through their planning books, meshing calendar dates on their brand new cellular devices. He exhaled once and plastered on his ‘I-care-about-your-existence’ smile. After signing in, he took the only empty seat, the one smack in between Head Bitch and Vice Bitch.

“Stiles! You’re here for the Homecoming planning meeting, as well? How exciting,” Head Bitch Kimberly exclaimed, patting his knee with her dragon pink fingernails. Her voice murdered fifty of his brain cells but she never took a hint, plowed over his squinted grimace. “You know, I’m always telling Valeria that we need a man’s thought process on these things. I’m so glad to see that we’ve finally broken y-”

“Mr. Stilinski, we were waiting for you,” Dean McClendon interrupted her false enthusiasm.

Stiles popped up, never so excited to have heard that gruff, militaristic bark in his life. “Kimberly. Ladies,” he held his smile, even when it killed his cheekbones. He used it as practice for his book signing later this week. McClendon stepped aside for him and he slid through the space to find three other heads waiting for them inside: one female and two male.

Stiles wriggled his body into the chair everyone avoided, right in front of McClendon. As his dad liked to say, you never grew up even when you’re growing. He surveyed the room, placing all the faces, all three of them unsurprisingly familiar. Abi and Mauricio, more members of the delinquents club. They flicked tight jaws his way, the staid environment not allowing for anything more. More than once, Harrison’s mom glowered their way; her chilled judgment could rival politicians, he swore. However perfect she liked to pretend her son was, that kid of hers smuggled more cheap beer into his house than his own. He knew because they used the confiscated stash to fuel Poker Night. Ignoring her negativity, he relaxed his back since McClendon favored long speeches and subtle lectures. This part he knew well, the patronizing tone, his reluctant acceptance of a generous donation. Stiles combed through this month’s finances; he already devoted half of this month’s budget on utilities, rent, and the mortgage for his dad’s place. He guessed he could part with what he placed in their vacation fund. Aspen’s long-promised Disney World trip would have to wait another year.

Behind him, McClendon’s chuckle boomed from the waiting area, signaling his cordial end to a forced conversation. They all knew what happened next; he commenced the countdown of doom.

Three, two, one

“Ahh, Mr. Whittemore. You made it. Please come in.”

Dnk! His knee rammed into the desk. That's not what happened next. Stiles cracked his neck, jerking around for a better look, any look. If the name hadn’t revealed him, Whittemore's final step into the Dean’s natural lighting did, illuminating a careful deep blue suit with an Oxford so pastel pink, simple people would deem it white. Jackson—correction: Jackson 2.0—swept his bored gaze over them, then transfixed back on his phone.

Workaholic. Stiles filed that in his very-much reopened Jackson folder. He also swapped ‘sorta kinda hot, like hell I’d ever admit it,’ with ‘hot damn...I’m still not admitting it.” Now, he wished he ordered a coffee to-go, then he’d have something to do with his mouth, besides drop it low.

Age treated him well, the opposite of what it’d done for him. He couldn’t spot the slightest trace of a wrinkle. Maybe, it was Botox. People in his world swore by that stuff, right? He berated himself for staring, but couldn’t glance away. The craziest thing of all? He showed zero interest in the heated pheromones trailing him into this room—no smirks, winks, inappropriate flexing. If you weren’t that phone, you didn’t exist.

Man, if Sammy wasn’t the ringleader of these guppy children, he’d blast multiple pictures to Lyds on his. Unfortunately, for him, his average looks never worked to his advantage. Stiles ordered his limbs to call as little attention as possible. He sat up straight, knees forward, thighs squeezed together, strain be damned. Then, Jackson lowered into the final chair, a breath away from his. He could feel the tension crackling off him, even as he cupped his ankle, resting it casually over his other leg.

“I’m sure you all have busy schedules, so why don’t we begin.”

Stiles though that was a brilliant idea. Just brilliant.


 

How could someone look so unbelievably different and yet the same? Jackson trained his eyes forward, purposefully making eye contact with Dallas’s Dean. If he didn’t, they’d stray to the left. He knew it was Stiles. It had to be. For one, his smell came at him like an old stench burning his nose from the intensity of absence. If that didn’t count, then his side profile would have given him away. Instead of moles highlighting smooth skin, they attacked cuts that only came from decades of stress and sleep deprivation. His boy next-door look? Gone. Were those strands of gray hiding under his barely-styled black hair? He’d seen him in a few pictures, but heaven’s sake. Jackson grimaced.

“Is there a problem, Mr. Whittemore?”

Suddenly, he remembered their current situation. What were they discussing again? Their children. Instead of speaking, he gave a succinct nod, letting the man continue with his power trip. Something about suspension and written essays of apologies. Before he could pull out his wallet, Stiles beat him to it, sliding out his checkbook with an ease that suggested he’d mastered this maneuver already.

“Oh no, that won’t be needed, Mr. Stilinski. Our headmaster has decided to enforce old policies. Starting this year, parent involvement is required when students are disciplined. The kids will have one week of detention, which won’t go on their record. In addition to that, each of you will join a parent committee.”

The room exploded into hysterics. Jackson forgot Stiles’s existence now that the Dean unveiled his big move. He, however, stewed in silence, shaking his head as Stiles and the other parents rambled about the unfair punishment. Volunteering at the school? He’d meant to, eventually, but right now just wouldn’t do. This was THE season for their industry--fashion weeks, magazine rotations, new contracts, reviewing old ones. That was on top of Dallas’s soccer games, Ben’s new acting sessions, and the weekend trips they were still making to furnish the apartment. He barely forced time for this meeting, having had to push back his conference call with the woman in his position, overseas.

He cleared his throat; effectively silencing the room in one go. Silence. Much better. Leaning closer to the man’s desk, he tilted his head, “Mister McClendon, is it?”

The man nodded his head, his eyes an entranced brown.

“Right, these parents--” he individually met the pissed expressions of the others, Stiles’s included, a flicker of bewildered amusement seeping through before he masked it. “--as well as myself have demanding careers. Careers that provide us the means to send our children to such a prestigious academy. I’m certain the headmaster would agree it’d be in your best interest to work with us. If not with a donation then with options that don’t involve such a long-term commitment.”

 He felt the other parents’ gazes--of wonderment, indignation--but all of them pale to the roving Stiles gave him, starting from the side of his face all the way down his body. The intrigue curled his toes, forcing him to readjust. All these years and the man still couldn’t keep his emotions from spilling throughout his entire body.

He knew that if he broke eye contact with the Dean, this would have all been for nothing, so he didn’t drag his eyes even the slightest bit to the left. He gave the Dean credit—the man held out longer than Jackson expected, peacocking his title behind the desk. But, no one went against him and won, except his mother-in-law.

Well, ex-mother-in-law now. Of course, if divorce didn’t determine pack status, she was still his Alpha, which he didn’t count. Seconds passed of them listening to children stomp the floor above them. He ignored the blitz of another email and enjoyed McClendon’s turmoil, the way he dropped his pen on the desk, sighing.

“There are a few options,” he grumbled with the jerk of his drawer. They waited for him to flip through sections of a thick binder. “You may host one of the yearly parties for your child’s grade or chaperone a school trip. That is it. One of the three.”

Party or Chaperone. “That’s an improvement,” he clapped his hand, standing to his feet, “At least on my end. I’ll call with my decision early next week.” Since he stuck out his hand, he forced the Dean to shake it, ultimately ending the meeting. The other parents followed his lead, despite the Dean’s scowl. By the time he yelled that their children were waiting outside the office, he talked to their backs.

Stiles shot passed him, but he expected that had more to do with the two kids Jackson caught him dragging by the elbows, both of them expressing varying groans and pouts as the three of their black heads disappeared down the hall.

It’s exactly how he imagined Stilinski as a parent, every bit of the spastic fireball. Not that he thought him ever. He couldn’t help but watch them even as his own slowly rose from the bench.

“Not now,” he shook his head, halting whatever explanation Dallas’s calculating brain created during his lengthy time in detention. In silence, they drifted downstairs to the basement level where the first grade classrooms were located. Thankfully, Ben didn’t question why his teacher asked him to pack up early. The second he saw them lurking near the door, he all but threw his cotton balls in the air.

See, parenting should be this easy. Well, if he was honest, Dallas never much gave him trouble either, not until recently at least.

“Are we going home already?” His whirlwind of bizarre facts and fedoras asked as Jackson closed them into the hall; his son, not yet understanding the concept of taking care of his belongings dragged his backpack behind him down the hall. As he hoisted the straps on his shoulders, Jackson swooped his bangs behind his ear with a reminder to find a trustworthy barber around here.

“Home?” he leaned his ear closer to the floor, even though he could hear him perfectly without doing so.

“Dallas said so. That we'd go home soon.” he declared like the sixteen year old he claimed to be. Jackson had to remind him of his age often.

“We are home, at least for now, bud.” What else could he say; he gave Dallas the look, maintaining it even as his eldest stared at the cracks of tiles, his hands buried in his Letterman. His old Westminster one Jackson asked him not to wear over his uniform. The risk of Ben overhearing kept him from revisiting the conversation. Instead, he ruffled Ben’s hair, “Mrs. Georgina thought you’d be happy with more time today BUT if you don’t want to...” he tapered off and that was all that needed to be said when it came to Ben’s new acting coach. Which reminded him, he should check in with her, make sure its ok to move up his session by an hour. Ben drug him by the arm, exclaiming all the things they might learn today.

“And we’ll finish Othello.” Good God, the kid couldn’t even pronounce Othello. Jackson chortled obligatorily, but shot Dallas a pointed glance when he decided to chuckle, as well. He wasn’t even ready to address that situation yet. They broke through the front doors, leaving the dim lighting behind them as it’s replace with blinding sun...and another view of Stiles.

Obviously, they hadn’t made it far before Stiles started in on his lecture. Meaning, right next to the rusty statue. A part of him knew this would be the last time they’d bump into one another, at least until their mutual friends decided to host some party. Maybe, it was why he hesitated to head to their car. Maybe, it was pure intrigue.

Whatever the reason, he heard himself call, “Stilinski.”

The three of them pivoted his way, each one turning in perfect time with the other. A true Twilight Zone moment is how he classified it. Their sinewy frames and disproportionate limbs didn’t help either. People said his kids looked like him, and they did—speckled cheeks, light brunette hair, facial symmetry that would propel them far in life—but Stiles and his children could face swap and very little would change. The girl lost interest after a while and refocused on the dangling strap on her book bag. Her brother, however, rocked on his heels, raising a single eyebrow. He wore the same Stilinski grimace he’d seen Stiles pull countless times before, equal parts entertained and bored. Probably the same one Stiles would wear, if he weren’t outright frowning at him.

Again, Twilight Zone.

Holding tighter to his phone and Ben’s hand, he took another step and another until eventually; they stood at the base of the steps and only a few feet from the Stilinskis.

“Ahhh, I knew there was more to that disappearing act. You two know each other?” Stilinski, Wonder-Boy edition spoke before he could.

Stiles sighed, “Sammy, stop talking.”

“That’s not, not a ‘no’,” the kid harped, his grin increasing ten-fold, “What are we talking? College Rivals? Blind date gone wrong? ONS? Same fraternity? Naw, dad couldn’t pull off the frat brat look.”

“The hell I couldn’t,” Stiles smacked him on the head, like that’s the part to address. Not the part where he, say, referenced sex in front of small ears.

“Sure, you could papafrito,” he breezed right past his father’s interjection, slinging an arm around his sister, but ultimately snickering when she bucked it off. “I know. I bet you’re long lost cousins who only spoke at every other family reunion. Did they make you take baths together? Are you permanently scarred? Is that why you can’t bear to look at on--”

“Sam!”

Good grief. He even talked like Stiles with the exception of his slight lisp. His blatant disregard for his father’s direction was not lost on Jackson. Danny warned him, bad influences definitely. Still, he grinned at the fond prickling of annoyance coursing through his veins; it’s been so long, his old friend. He couldn’t remember the last time he wanted to gouge someone’s eyes out with plastic straws.

“My car’s over here. I’ll give you a ride,” he flicked his wrist towards their SUV. He didn’t know what possessed him to offer considering he scored a place less than four blocks from here. 

“We’re good with walking...thanks though,” Stiles eyed the vehicle as if it contained two of every supernatural monster in the book, including him, his sons, and Stiles’s daughter, from the looks of it.

“It’s a ride, not a marr...” he tapered off, remembering his surroundings. The last thing they needed was to spurn on that boy’s chopper again.

He gave him zero time to argue, turning his back to pull Ben along with him. Dallas followed exactly two steps behind him. Stiles and his son quipped back and forth while he waded through trash on the second back row.

“That our new daddy?”  the kid said in a childish tone. Dallas coughed a cluster of laughs and Jackson let him have it, mostly because he couldn’t reveal the flush, he felt warming his face.

From the spike of Stiles’s heart, he was as effected too, if not more, “Sammy, I swear if you don’t...no studio for weeks.”

“Not not a no,” the boy’s murmur tapered off with the wind. Jackson marveled at his audacity, affronted when he winked at Jackson before hopping in the car behind his sister. He took his time securing Ben’s seatbelt if only to prolong the few seconds of privacy with Stiles.

One could only fasten a seatbelt with so much diligence before they started getting complaints from an embarrassed not-seven year old.

“Fine, fine,” he withdrew his hands, snapping the door shut. When he turned, Stiles was standing on the curb and blocking him from walking around without brushing against him. Even taller than him now with the advantage, Stiles amplified his scrutiny as he bit the inside of his lip. A better person would move on, ignore the way he’d licked them, probably to stave off the fall breeze. From this angle, he could see the wearing in his skin even closer, his crow’s feet more defined now that they were absolutely judging him. If anyone, he thought Stiles would’ve looked the youngest out of them all.

“What are you--” Stiles flinched from his hand, which was hovering midair, closest to the largest cluster of frown lines. He snatched his hand back, especially since he couldn’t explain how it got there in the first place. “Let’s just get this over with,” Stiles muttered, stalking around to the passenger side, leaving him alone.

He glanced up in time to catch bodies shifting away from the window; three of them with the decency to look elsewhere while Sam peered right at him, his ears wiggling furiously like that meant something to him.

Shucking off his jacket, he snorted, hoping to heavens he didn’t just offer their services for a ride longer than a few minutes. 

 

Chapter Text

Dallas Whittemore eyed the lift’s numbers as they ascended, seconds from forcing him and his dad into close quarters. He used to consider himself lucky, never having to worry about overbearing, strict parents. His dad and mum (when she was around) were super chill--showed him his first R-Rated movie at the age of eight, some Zombie film with blood and guts and sideboob, didn’t punish him when he fought some kid and got released for three days in Year 5. His dad slapped him on the back for winning and scolded him against fighting as a problem solver. His mom? Well, she tossed him a five on the way out of the house.

Either way, this whole ‘disappointed’ father thing was new to him. His arm twitched against his joggers as they descended from their place. Ever since they left the school, he felt his dad’s eyes burn into his neck and now side-glance him the entire forty-five seconds to the lobby. With that expression, he expected the lecture of all lectures to crack down on him the moment the car emptied save for them two. It never came.

They drove to the apartment. Nothing. He sprawled out on the couch, munching on carrots and forcing himself to read these people’s literature. Nothing. The silence grated at him, even now, walking amidst all the noise and commotion surrounding them.

They made it three blocks to the park before he finally cracked.

“Dad, I-” he started, only to be immediately cut off.

“You made me look incompetent in front of Stile—Mr. Stilinski.”

“That’s what this’s about? Mr. Stilinski? He could barely get the twins to stop bickering,” he blurted as they both broke into a light jog. “I thought you were...disappointed in me.” Now, it’s strange hearing himself say it. His dad could never--

“You haven’t been at the school three months, junior. I am disappointed in you.” Or not. “That’s what you want on your recommendations?”

“I’ll get some from my teachers back home,” he shrugged. It really wasn’t that hard. Mrs. Hanifrank still emailed him internship opportunities for next summer. He realized it’s the wrong thing to say when his dad expounded a harsh exhale, his eyes bleeding the tiniest of blue. It’s that word; he knew it. The word he’d been dropping ever since they left his friends, his school, his home.

“We are home. You need to shape up,” his dad snapped, halting just past the trail’s starting point. It forced him to stop and other disgruntled runners to jog around them. Dallas watched everything but his dad, afraid of what he’d find there. The bikers as they ruffled fallen leaves with the speed of their wheels and couples swaying their conjoined hands to nature’s pulse. 

The two of them—his shifting eyes and his dad’s ticking jaw—probably looked so ordinary in the picturesque scene of New York’s landscape. They played the game well, father, son, two loving family members without the cracks of a broken person between them. He bet that’s why his dad didn’t raise his voice when he continued.

“I know you had things going there...but right now,” he inhaled, “We’re needed here.”

“No. You’re needed here. I could have stayed home with mom.”

“She can’t keep herself out of trouble and you think she would have what?” He erased the space between them in one-step, his voice dropping several octaves. “Took care of you in the center? Junior, don’t be naive. This is for the best,” The words lashed at him like his dad knew they would, the same effect of his insistence. He didn’t know why they bothered sugarcoating it. Trouble. Rehab. They all meant the same thing in his dad’s eyes and he and Ben were the ones suffering from it.

“You left her there!”

He felt people staring, but it’s all background noise.

“I got her help. And when she’s ready...if she’s ready, she can join us. Until then, you live be my rules. No more detention, no more calls, and stay away from the Stilinski kid. Is that going to be a problem?”

Dallas glared down at the moss-covered pavement, his chest thrumming to the rap of his breathing. “No. Sir,” he bit last minute, begging his pulse to abate.

“Try that again,” his dad’s voice spiked, the vibration of it rumbled through his blood. The change, like always, hit him fast and hard. Balling his fists, he slammed his eyes shut, the pain already prickling his skin, a slow tricking following soon after. No one noticed him thrust them in his pockets. He was glad he wore black.

The mantra his Babka taught him slowly settled over him, dulling his sight to the boring colors. “I apologize,” he managed finally with the slightest hitch.

“Ok, come on. We’re fine. You did well,” his dad dropped a hand on his shoulder, always knowing when the change threatened him. Leaning into his side, he accepted the tight grip as the conversation drifted away, though the air still reeked of lingering frustration.

Without a word spoken, they both continued their nightly jog, passing screeching children at the playground, tourists (he had the right to call them that now, right?) and more couples. Despite the masses, he welcomed the wind’s cut over his body, freeing him of today’s mess. Running always did that to him, especially with his dad.

Clearing his mind allowed his senses to take control. And, moving to a place like New York, where everything was heightened by the sheer mass of people, both calmed and suffocated him in a way London never had.

The park breezed by in a blur, shadows of swaying branches, rustic benches, and chatting people. He loved when they ran the lesser-known trails best, the ones that settled deepest into the towering trees. So deep, they masked the blasting honks and sirens of his “lovely” new home.

Today, with Benji’s acting lesson being shorter than usual, his dad led them around the wider loop. When his heart hammered against his chest, he pushed his legs even further and miraculously, the old man kept up with him. At their pace, the miles ticked away until he peered around and realized they’d made it to the complete opposite end of the park, the one with all the bronze statues and giant fountain. The limestone residences over here always made him think of home.

Slowing to a fast stop, he huffed and collapsed onto the nearest bench, his dad taking up the space beside him. “You’re getting faster,” his dad slapped him on the shoulder. He grinned back at him.

“You’re not getting slower. Congratulations.”

The smart comment won him a smack in the gut. “I could smoke you in my sixties, kid cause-”

Dallas interrupted him before he could utter the rest of that declaration. “--You’re the best, blah blablah blablah. You won’t be fast forever and then, I’ll be the best.” Providing his own raucous cheering, he saluted to his invisible crowd. He watched something genuine pass over his dad’s face, not quite a smile but enough of an upturn to raise the balls of his cheekbones. A sentimental Jackson Whittemore Sr. was rarer than a street without a McDonald’s. “If you’re gonna tell me you’re proud of me, you can save it for when I’m the one smoking you.”

“Fine, you get nothing and Benji gets everything. Speaking of,” they both glanced down at his watch. He popped up, desperate for a scorching shower and a glass of cold chocolate milk. He helped his dad up and they started the cooling stretch towards their exit. They were strolling passed the pond, when his father broke the silence, “I shouldn’t have said those things about your mom. She’s trying.”

Dallas rolled his eyes, “No she isn’t. Don’t lie.”

“Still, you’re not supposed to hear that kind of stuff.”

He knew his dad would never physically apologize, but Dallas tossed him a brief smile as if he did. They reached the playground once more when curly hair caught his attention. He might have passed her by if she wasn’t wearing the same red jeans and baggy shirt from earlier. Aspen.

With her head resting on another girl’s shoulder, she laughed while the two watched a stumpy kid climb up a slippery slide. Every two steps, she’d slide back down to the ground.

In this moment, her personality didn’t sync with the anger ball from earlier. His dad noticed the diversion and followed his line of sight, growling when he pinpointed her too.

 “We could just walk by,” Up until this point, he couldn’t confess to witnessing a middle-aged man pout. If that lip poked out anymore, they have to drag it behind them. 

“Cheer up,” he nudged him, “She doesn’t want to talk to you either.” Smirking, he sprinted away in time to dodge his dad’s hand. They must have felt him coming because they both snapped up when he was a few feet away. She really did look like a different person away from her brother, more delicate. Her glasses slid down her face, brown eyes wishing them to move on.  

He watched the stages of her laugh diminish, but he didn’t let it get to him. Especially, when her friend, all feisty red hair and pursed lips, ran her eyes over where his shirt clung to the outline of his abs.

“Do we know him? He’s hot,” she uttered to Aspen. A normal person shouldn’t have been able to hear her, but Dallas smirked, running a quick hand through his soaked hair. If he flexed the slightest bit, then it was only to feel the involuntary pike of interest from both of them, of course hers could be from the embarrassment of knowing that he knew what her friend said. Being a product of two bull-headed models at least gave him something.

Their heads had to tilt to see him fully when he came to a stop. “So, on a scale from one to you’re-never-leaving-this-house, how much trouble did you get in?”

He could have sworn he saw a lip quiver, as she huffed, “Zero, I didn’t do anything.”

“She’s lying. I heard the whole thing. He was all, ‘You know better, Pen! I need you to set an example, Pen! Think about your future!’” The redhead did an impressive Mr.Stilinski; Dallas chuckled, kicking the woodchucks under his feet. Much to Aspen’s grumbling dismay, the redhead batted her eyes at him. “So, you’re the newbie, huh? I’m Chelsea.” She extended her manicured hand, wiggling neon green fingernails.

“Dallas,” he accepted her hand then held his out for Aspen, who blinked at the specks of dried blood under his nails. It was too late to play it off, so he held it firm. “I’ve seen you on the field. You’re good.”

“You too and thanks...I guess,” she cautiously accepted his handshake then, respectfully, shifting to throw a hand up at his dad, “Hi, Mr.Whittemore.”

That seemed to startle Chelsea, who went from mildly interested to positively glowing. Her sharp eyes flicked over his dad’s person slowly until she seemed to come to some realization. “I approve,” she declared, giving them a definitive nod. “...for you to date Uncle S.” Her tone suggested she was the only one here born with a brain. Aspen coughed into her hand, the peaks of a smile shining behind her fist. “My mom spent all afternoon on his blubbering questions. That means he’s either a) super interested or b) low-key interested and you don’t look a day over thirty-four, so you have my approval. That man needs all the youth he can get.”

“Chels!” Aspen smacked her friend’s chest, though he couldn’t really see much over his own tears.

A ring sounded around them. Saved by the text message, “Ms.Stilinski. Ms.Martin, if you’ll excuse us.”

His dad drug him away until they were at a safe distance, didn’t stop him from winking back at the girls just to keep an ear on their conversation.

“Wouldn’t it be so cool if your dad shacked up with big hottie? Then, you could shag little hottie behind their backs.” Chelsea’s higher-pitched voice was saying when she released a flighty gasp, “Maybe, he’s the guy we’ve been waiting for?”

“Are you deranged?”

“Only a little. He could totally be the one to light a fire in your ‘who-ha’. I can help, you know. I’m really good at matchmaking.”

“Why does everybody think I’m into him? He barely looked at me, I don’t like him, and you are most definitely not good at matchmaking.”

“Oh, he did and you will. Just wait.”

Their conversation morphed into the background as they headed back to their building, but he’d heard the most important parts already. And judging by his dad’s pained grimace, he’d bet his dinner that his dad heard the same. Grinning wide, Dallas basked in his growing delight (and ego).

The old man heaved a sigh, “This is gonna be a hell of a long year.” He was nudged in the side hard enough to tilt off balance.

Laughing as he narrowly avoided a baby stroller, he tossed back, “Why? Cause everyone caught onto your past affair with Mr. Stilinski?”

“No because you’re gonna mess around and make me a grandparent before I’m forty-one and then I’ll have to dispose of way too many bodies.”

“That’s creepy. Let’s stick to the day job.” He jogged backward into their building, feeling eighty times lighter than when he exited.

-------

Stiles dropped his keys on the kitchen island and sighed. Resting his head on the sink spout, he glanced at the red numbers flickering in his peripheral, 6:56. Most of his day--gone. After lunch with Lydia, he needed to swing by his agent’s office, dispute this month’s cable bill, send off the stack of other bills still unopened, go grocery shopping, and finish another three chapters on top of all that. He’d only did one of those and it took him over three hours to pick up the first ARC of his upcoming release. Christ.

For once, why couldn’t he live like those reality show dads? He’d come home from work around eight to a fully cooked meal and well-behaved children. Hell, he would trade anything to time-jump six years ago. Yeah, they were crammed into a one-bedroom in Brooklyn and he barely made it home before nine, what with his teaching job and full time writing career on the side. His life was far from perfect, but she was here. And Sammy, sure as hell, never pulled shit like this when she was here. The stainless steel cooled his forehead and when he closed his eyes, he imagined the chill spreading to his brain, pushing the anger and frustration back into the box it spilled from. He could still turn this day around. Dinner...dinner, first.

Before he lifted his shoulders, he heard a muffled, “Dad-”

“Yeah?”

“Derek’s on the phone.”

“Uncle Derek,” Stiles corrected him for the millionth time. Without picking up his head, he stretched his arm out. Seconds later, the cordless weight dropped into his hand. He waited for Sammy to rummage through the pantry and shuffle out before pressing it to his ear.

“Yes, almighty sourwolf? How can the Stilinski household help you today?” he said in one breath. Normally, Derek would force out a grunt of a laugh. Today, only silence answered back and he knew what that meant. “Penny called you, didn’t she?” Dammit. His children, sometimes. “I got it under control, Derek.”

“Do you, Stiles? I’m moving back. He needs guidance from one of us.”

“Except he’s not one of you, so my measly human guidance is more than enough.”

“I told you, it’s not black and white. Sometimes, human children of werewolves can display tendencies. Just because he can’t turn doesn’t mean he isn’t displaying characteristics.”

“That’s exactly what it means!” his voice rose before he could tighten a grip on it. Behind the kitchen wall, he heard a floorboard creak under the carpet. “And, even if it didn’t, half the pack’s here. I’ll go to the twins. Hell, I’ll ask Jackson before I make you live here again.”

He knew Derek wasn’t expecting him to say that. The physical stewing between them evident enough. Anyone harboring a brain sensed Derek’s hatred for the city. In fact, Stiles suspected he waited for every other passenger to exit the plane, even though he flew first class. How and when he came to care about Derek’s mental health, especially over his own, he’d never know.

 “You need help, Stiles and they might be pack, but I’m blood.”

“Aren’t you the one always saying pack is blood?”

“...Fine, but your asses better be here next month. It’s--”

“I know what it is. Our flight’s the nineteenth at five.” Why would he forget next month? No, how could he?

“I’ll be there then.” Derek paused, “Did you say Jackson?”

Stiles laughed for the first time since lunch. “Didn’t you hear? He’s back to ruining our lives. And with demon spawn this time.”

Derek snorted, “Maybe I am safer two thousand miles away.”

“Told ya,” he teased, but both of them knew his joke landed miles from untruthful territory. “I gotta start dinner. Talk later?”

“Sure and give Scott a call. He asked about you.”

Stiles promised to within the week and ended the call. If Sammy was anything, he was predictable, because not even a short breath later, the kid leaned against the threshold, crinkling the edges of his raisins’ package. Stiles turned to him, leaning his hip against the counter, his arms across his chest. Thankfully, Sammy had the decency to appear a little remorseful, even if his eyes crackled with mirth. Judging by the smudges of paint on the crease of his hands, he snuck studio time after Stiles left for his appointment.

The kitchen air lit with expectancy, waiting for one of them to either speak or walk away. This time, he decided neither. Derek was right about one thing; Sammy needed something other than whatever shitty parenting skills Stiles possessed. What they really needed was a miracle, or at least a guardian angel.

“What’s for dinner?” Sammy pushed away from the wall, but he circled around Stiles, never coming within reaching distance. Smart boy.  

“Fajitas.”

“Need help?”

With only a puff of air, Stiles deflated, nodding toward the fridge. Stiles watched him stretch his entire body across the kitchen to open the fridge door with his toes. “Not with your feet,” he warned, before they actually made contact with the fresh peppers Stiles bought yesterday. Thirty years ago, he would have pulled a similar lazy ass move. That’s what killed him most.

Once the peppers safely--and cleanly--land on the cutting board, they set to work, side by side. The sizzle pop of oil and squishing of pepper juice mingled together until the silence wasn’t so deafening.

“Is Derek moving back?” Sammy asked to the dramatic chop of his last pepper. Stiles’s hand stilled midair, waiting for him to correct his question. “Is Uncle Derek moving back?” There it was.

Stiles’s lip twitched, “No.”

“Am I moving in with Uncle Derek?” God, wouldn’t that be the greatest vacation ever? At least for a week or two. Then, he’d grow extremely bored because let’s face it, his only interactions are with these two, Chelsea who was practically his at this point, and maybe Lydia, when she felt like gracing him with her presence.

“No.”

“If you throw me out, I want to live with Grandpa.”

He scoffed, “It’s a punishment, not an all-expense paid vacation to do what you want.”

“Nah, Grandpa’s house is more like all expense paid vacation to do what you want but don’t let me hear or catch you doing it. It’s great.”

“You’re not going to Grandpa’s. You’ll be lucky if I let you out of that room.”

“I think that’s child neglect.”

 “Fake drugs?!” Stiles slammed his fist against the counter and they both jumped from the spray of hot oil. Whipping around, he fought to dim the heat on his cheeks. That parent book Lydia gave him said never show your frustration. Well, he felt his perfectly compartmentalized boxes tipping again; ready to spew years of repressed disappointment all over the situation. “What the hell, Sammy? Did you even think?!”

“Yeah, that it’d be fun,” his son shrugged his shoulders.

“Fun is, oh I don’t know, hanging with your friends like a normal kid. Fun is NOT getting kicked out of the school I pay twenty-five thousand plus to keep you in.”

 “I wasn’t kicked out.”

“Yet, what about the next time you decide to piss everyone off or the time after that.”

“You’ll just keep paying them off. It’ll be fine, dad.”

His chest heaved up and down, and for a second, he only saw a blurry version of his son. Focusing on his breathing, he closed his eyes. If Cora could see them now, a terror of a son and a thirty-nine year old man staving off a panic attack. “Upstairs. Keys on the table.”

“What about my art show-”

“Go!” The keys clanked on the marble as they fell. He always hated that sound, the finality of stripping away the one thing his son gave a damn about. Nevertheless, it needed to be done. Straightening his back, he pocketed the keys and finished dinner. The front door opened just as he was placing the heated tortillas on the table.

“Hey, go get your brother for dinner and no more calling Derek for help,” he yelled before she had the chance to wander in the kitchen. They sat, eating around the silence and when all the food disappeared, Stiles retreated to his office. He pounded on the keyboard, filling the next twenty-five pages with every shred of frustration within him. When he sat back, four hours later, he knew his editor would deem every word, every sentence, and every unnecessary character death useless. He saved the file, replied to several fan tweets, and shuffled off to bed.

---

Text Messages between Stiles and Jackson

Jackson (00:03)- We ran into something that belongs to you and Lydia.

Stiles (00:10)- Who is this?

Jackson (00:11)- Who do you think?

Jackson (00:13)- You really like talking about me huh

Stiles (00:17)- I’m curious. Don’t take it personal

Jackson (00:19)- uh huh. What does the missus think about your curiosity?

Stiles (00:40)- There is no missus. Night.

 

Chapter Text

Unbelievably, the rest of the week finished smoothly. The kids walked to and from school without the Dean calling him, Sammy actually stuck to his punishment, and Stiles caught up on his pages. Best of all, there was no mention or sightings of any Whittemores. The promise of a three-day weekend filled him with enough elation, he allowed Aspen to spend the weekend at Lydia’s and Sammy over his dad’s and Melissa’s in Jersey.

An empty nest for a whole seventy-two hours, which was starting right after his only obligation today--a signing for his newest release.  

Stretching the crimp in his neck, Stiles perched on one of the three lopsided stools the store laid out for these events. Strand was rumored to be the best bookstore in the City, but their hospitality left much to desire.

His shoulders slumped towards his lap, a true testament to the amount of z'sss he'd scored last night.

“Mr. Stilinski?” he perked up, the phantom scent of coffee on his brain. He spun around, almost toppling off his seat, a struggle he realized no coffee-doting employee witnessed but instead the living personifications of his main characters, Grigori and Petia. Or as Hollywood referred to them as Opal Francis and Asa Riviera, two of the most talented young actors in their industry. 

He might be a smidge bias. 

“Oh my god!" The stool found its way underneath him, "What are you doing here?” 

Opal looked to her co-star, grinning. “General press release. They didn’t tell you?”

His stomach clenched at her warm embrace as it had when their Executive Producer introduced them all those years ago. When he decided to infused Allison into his female protagonist, he never expected casting to interpret his descriptions as such. Their looks reigned night and day, but her spirit paralleled Allison's—strong, kind, unafraid to call him, the creator, out on his bullshit.

With Opal around, he always missed Allison both more and less.

“They tell me to show up ready to shine and I do,” Which he should probably change considering he's already racked up thirteen books, five of them now movies, and a fleeting (but badass) TV adaptation. "How’s filming? I keep telling myself we’re coming out there one of these weekends.”

Their heads swayed back and forth, Asa’s frown tugging sideways an answer in itself.

“Say no more,” he chuckled. “At least that explains the circus over there.”

All three of them turned to the two rows of critics, journalists and photographers-- nodding grins at the few who snuck photos. Admittedly, Stiles assumed they'd been enthusiastic fans as press rarely came to these things, too informal. For awhile, Opal and Asa bribed him for spoilers on the last book in their series. Then, they asked about Aspen and Sam to which he offered the standard, "They're great." It was a conversation straight out the 'Small-Talk' handbook until it progress without him, leaving him behind in the lull before the storm. 

He used the distraction to snap a discrete selfie with Opal in the background for Penny, shooting it off despite her being in school.

If he waited three days to mention seeing her “Girl Crush,” he’d endure the silent treatment for at least a week. She replied no later than a few seconds with eight shock-face emoji and he cackled, pocketing his phone as his publicist's intern signaled from the back.

Showtime!

"Shall we Big Reveal?" he offered them. 

His Grigori and Petia eyeballed each other and with matching gleams, drug their chairs to hide behind the wall-sized movie poster for the third movie, Forgotten Abandon.

Right on time, his publicist queued the soundtrack from the second Forgotten movie, capitalizing on the theme for the day. The woman knew how to play the game, he'd give her that. As usual, his nerves began to bleed into his disposition, tightening his shoulders as his ears rushed. 

People trickled in, most carrying a book or two, a few bold enough to carry whole stacks. Those, those were the ones marching up to him, inviting their exuberance into his space. To some it was problematic, but he reveled in the overwhelming high, it being the sole reason he crafted ridiculous stories for a living. A group of undergraduates swept him in a tornado of theories and cliffhangers and when they resurfaced, he startled at a filled room, the chatter swirling in deafening waves. 

His publicist gave the final nod, forcing Stiles to toss his worries, instead donning what Danny coined his squirmy-charismatic side. Many of his writer friends loved the superiority of having introductions that boast about their best qualities for minutes on end, but Stiles always preferred the more intimate setting. 

“Wow,” he started, blinking at their anticipation. “You are in the correct room, right?”

Snickers flowed, including a few in the press rows but not nearly enough for him to be satisfied.

“Thank you so much for coming out. If you’re present, you may know that my name is Stiles Stilinski. If not, there’s still time to escape.”

Now, the sporadic amusement rose in pockets, all of it shifting towards him. His publicist—usually a firm believer in 'say your lines, get off stage'—threw him subtle thumbs up, giving him unnecessary permission to let the words flow. 

Drumming his hands on his jeans, he smiled, “So a few weeks ago, I burrowed myself in my office, scavenging for a piece magical and awe-inspiring enough to share with you today and I committed the ultimate crime...” He let that hang in the air, amplifying the sizzle of tension. “Missing Supernatural Night.”

Half the room smacked their teeth while the other half shook their heads and yet, even the most stoic of people relaxed enough to crack-up. 

“Here me out," he laughed with them, "In my house, you don’t skip out on Supernatural without losing at least eighty cool points, if not more. And to top it off...” he had to pause, unable to control his own laughter, “it was Season 5 finale." The few individuals old enough to remember the show's existence gasped, "Yeah, exactly, they stole eighty cool points from each of us, but I bet we could earn them back today.

"With that, I’ll be reading a chapter from the third book of my series, Forgotten Voyager, called Forgotten Abandon and introduce a sneak peak of my next release, coming out later this year. Then...someone will win said new release, so I hope you signed in and got yourself a ticket. But, no stealing your neighbors' if you haven’t. I think we have a whole roll of them floating around here.”

He scanned the room, landing on his publicist’s intern, who held up a clipboard and aforementioned roll. “Ahhh see, look at her, Big City Hero,” he set off a silly clap for her as she circumvented the room. “So Forgotten Abandon, Sneak Peak, Raffle. We’ll have the Q+A, you shall get your books signed and I shall get early onset arthritis. Is that it? I feel like I’m forgetting something.”

His readers peered at him, some of their thought bubbles trying to gauge whether he’s currently on drug. Playing into his role, he snapped his fingers, “Oh yeah. One more thing—if you’d join me in giving the biggest welcome to the baddest bitches in the building, the fact to my fiction, the...” he paused, loving buzz in the room, “Petia to his Grigori, Opal Francis and Asa Riviera!”

Applause rocked the room; he wouldn’t be surprised if pedestrians heard it from the street. As they walked out, waving and beaming with smiles that could rival Danny’s, he stood with the crowd, accepting Opal’s hug and Asa’s handshake. Behind them, their obligatory security guard stood at the edge of the stage.

“We’re excited to be here! Hi!” Opal greeted them, the more vocal of the two. She curtsied and Asa copied her, shyly snickering at the hollering response. It took several minutes for the room to shift into a functioning silence, especially after Stiles encouraged them to interact with the room a little.Then, when the time felt right, he plucked the first novel from his small stack.

Two nights ago, he’d practiced reading this in the mirror, and truth be told, he could probably recite it in a coma, but something about reading in front of a few dozen people triggered his cotton mouth. 

Stiles waited for the go-ahead and then began.

Whenever he read any of the ‘Forgotten’ series, he always wondered what form of ecstasy found its way into his drink during his writing sessions. Although he was most known for this series, a four-book abomination on the things that transform us into savages, he much rather read his other, less-notable works. The books that didn’t conform to what critics disdainfully categorized as “good literature.” He liked to experiment, not follow the trend of what sold, even if he helped set that trend. Still, his corporeal existence drifted as he breathed life into characters he crafted in the azure hours of the night while the living representation of them sat by his side. Sammy would get a kick out of this, he thought as he flipped the page.

His imagination grabbed hold and clung until the final sentence floated above the room. A cacophony of claps dropped him back to earth, to this space he loved sharing with his readers. Lowering the book, he grinned after breathing in the warmth of their praise. 

“Thank you. Thank you,” the chair creaked under his bow, “That was a chapter from Forgotten Abandon, which wraps production soon, you’ll be happy to know.”

He halted for the few claps in the room, sipping from his water. “The next selection you’ll hear is my ish. Translation for the young ins back there--my favorite." 

He knew exactly who to wink at and one of the undergraduates from earlier lifted her fist to him in response, her circle of friends egging him on.

"I'm just telling it like it is," he directed at them specifically. "One of the greatest gifts you all have given me as a writer is the opportunity to experiment with genres. Down Under, in many ways, is more grounded in reality. You could almost call it a comedy if you have a sick sense of humor, which I do. It’s about an empty nester, a single dad whose friends decide he needs to get back out there, dust off the old baby making blanket,” he wiggled his brows to a blushing reporter. “Told through both his Point of View and of his many, many conquests, you’ll get to experience his outrageous, absurd, embarrassing, and wildly inappropriate attempts at a regained social life.

"In all honestly, it’s about life after parenthood, who you are when everything you lived for have lives of their own. I amused myself too much while writing it, so I’ll let you decide if that’s a good or bad thing. Without further to do and for the first time ever, I present you Down Under. Don’t try this at home.”

Displaying the bright orange cover, he turned his newest baby in his hands, inhaled, and shared it with the world for the first time. His fingers quivered slightly as he held the first page, taking on his best voice while his main character experienced his first bar hop after years of diapers, bus rides, and temperamental teenagers. He considered it a good omen that they laughed before he even turned the first page. They continued in that fashion, their shoulders quaking as Victor Valentina struggled in every way possible and through the eyes of a barely fresh out of college, wannabe ‘Brian Kinney’ and the kid's girlfriend. 

Stiles even stopped himself from chuckling a bit, but then he sobered during the serious moment, hoping these people wouldn’t pick up how this particular mention of the man’s deceased wife affected him.

Not that he, himself, was ever married. Finally, he reached the end of the chapter, and on a positive cliffhanger, he snapped it shut, standing to bow around an almost standing ovation.

“Aww you guys!” he curtsied.

When he popped up, his eyes snagged on a particular leather jacket attached to a familiar head of careful gelled hair. Two books cradled under his arm, Jackson nodded to him in a salute, his clap at least three decibels slower than everyone else.

Muscle by muscle, his body seized in place, stripping away his hat of charisma before he'd could break more hearts.Stiles felt the high waver. His appeal only worked one way and Jackson was destroying it, all with one quirk of his smug lip. Looking at literally anyone else proved difficult, but his publicist didn't command the room, instead letting the applause linger as he finally stretched his smile impossibly wide, knowing it registered more manic than alluring.

Of course, the stool wobbled when he tried sitting down again. Of course, it did. He huffed, clutching the heavy weight of Down Under's spine. “We have-" he coughed, "a few minutes for questions, so please, hit us up.”

Hands shot up. Stiles signaled one of the women he spoke to earlier, the one conveniently sitting four rows in front of Jackson.

“What was your inspiration for Victor? He’s so-” The woman waved her hand, grappling for the correct word choice.

“Bumbling? Awkward? Embarrassing in every way possible?”

She smiled at his intrusion.

“A close buddy of mine was like that when we first stumbled into night clubs, not at all illegally might I add.” Chuckling, he stumbled through his next few words, not really conscious of the answer, only that it came from his mouth. “He’s honestly the greatest, most genuine person I’ve ever met, but put him in front of an attractive face and you’re bound for a nightmare. Hell, I wasn't much better, not then, not now. 

"I wanted to show that that's ok, you know? And, I think there’s this twisted misconception that arrogance breeds attraction, but we're not all Casanovas. I would bet at least half of us in this room can't whisper people into bed with us. That shit is hard."

A few people clapped, loud and proud to be a loser like him. 

"Mini rant aside, that’s the kind of character worth writing to me, someone with all the potential, but has a terrible time of finding his way. Plus, I think it makes for a more rewarding ending, don’t you think? As for the parental aspect, well look no further,” he motioned up and down his body, “Victor’ll probably be me in three years’ time, I'm call it.”

She blinked, finally dipping her head and murmuring “thank you” then morphed back into her seat. Heat glinted from her eyes brighter than the diamond on her finger, but Stiles barely registered her existence, not when she created a natural line of sight. 

This time when they exchanged glances, Jackson had dropped the smug; instead, squinting as if he either didn't trust his answer or know what to make of it. He despised the intrusion, felt it prickle his skin leaving him exposed in a place he'd always remained selectively guarded. After labored seconds, he tore away first to signal the next hand. 

Taking turns, the three of them answered question after question. 

How much of Down Under was based on his life experiences. When it'd be ready for pre-order. If he’d sold the movie rights. How filming progressed for Forgotten Abandon. Whether Asa and Opal liked playing Grigori and Petia. Who played the most pranks on set.

Time evaded them and Stiles relaxed on his stool, reveling in one of the best literary atmosphere he'd ever experienced—small enough to chat intimately, but still creating enough buzz to satisfy the Big Boss.

At the end, they answered several press-specific inquiries, and then his publicist glided on stage with money signs for pupils. After the three of them staged their final bow, Stiles accepted the bowl of tickets and swished his hand around until he latched onto one nearest the right bottom. Handing it to his publicist, he anticipated, much like everyone else for her to read the name on the back of the ticket.

“Thmhmm,” she cleared her throat, “And the winner of the first official copy of Down Under is...Jackson Whittemore.”

Stiles groaned.

Seriously!?!

He couldn’t escape.

To these people, Jackson was just another fan, graciously swaggering his way to the front, flyers and books in his hand. Stiles bet he collected those at random on his way in, except they were all thin and flat in a style only picture books would allow. 

Stiles stretched his cheeks, meeting him at the bottom, the book gripped in his hand. Maybe, they wouldn’t judge him if he teared a little. Nope, they called him a professional for a reason. He extended his life treasure, saying goodbye to the missed opportunity. As they met in the middle, Jackson's hand grazed over his, shooting a quiver through him.

“I’ll take good care of it,” Jackson had the audacity to murmur while the photographer bunched them together for a photo.

“It should have gone to an actual fan."

He snorted, “How do you know I’m not a fan?”

“Thank you, sir!” Stiles exclaimed loud enough for those in the surrounding four rows to hear in. Pumping his hand once, then twice, Stiles released after squeezing with all his ‘I-workout-maybe-twice-a-month’ strength.

After that, things progressed as usual, giving him a chance to forget about Jackson and meet people who’d actually read his work and weren’t here to mock him.

His mood rose--laughing, joking, lightly flirting with his readers; all while actually conversing about literature, if you could even call his books that. Next to him Opal and Asa engaged in the same, except with film as their topic of choice. The line ebbed right around the time his fingers cramped from writing the names Ashley and David so much. Not one of those names was Jackson, which meant he finally disappeared to do whatever former-model; present-executives did when they weren’t working Friday, mid-afternoons.

The second the door shut, he collapsed on the table. “Oh my godddd! My wrist.”

His publicist clacked over to him in her six inched heels, “Go get a massage. You deserve it! F’ng amazing, Stiles. You were magnetic, brilliant! No one could have done it better. And you two, radiant darlings,” she yanked the kids into a tight hug. On a normal day, she was pestering him for more pages and grumbling at his dwindling attention span. Today, when they could both feel money in the air, she decided he was worthy of her praise. Stiles grunted, accepting her exuberant pat on the head. Where was his comforting hug, huh? “The sales from this event alone, magnificent. You’re going places, kid.”

“I’m not a kid anymore.”

“Ehh, you’ll always be that puny nineteen year old with a twitchy handshake to me.”

He sputtered, “My handshake was not--you’re so rude.”

“I know. So, what’s with that hunk earlier? Seemed like you knew him.” She leaned forward as if knowing Stiles would dish out the gossip. Unfortunately, he neither cared nor want her all in his business. 

“I have no idea who you’re talking about because he doesn’t exist. Are we good for today?”

She scrutinized him with black irises of death before swaying her hand towards the door as if releasing him. “Don’t forget about deadline tomorrow.”

“I know! Until tomorrow,” he smacked a dry kiss on her cheek, promised Opal and Asa he'd visit set before wrap, and stumbled towards the door, snatching his satchel on the way out. His official forty-eight hours of kid-free central started right now and he planned to make the best of it. A few people stopped him on the way out, including the woman from earlier, who interestingly enough tried to slip him her number. Since he wasn’t a big fan of adultery, he patted the number back into her palm and slipped out the front door, the brisk wind cooling his forehead.

“Impressive show,” someone voiced to his left. He spun around, eyes shrinking to slits when he noticed Jackson leaning against the wall, one foot propped behind him, his tote bag of books dangling by his side. “Truly.”

Stiles tightened the grip on his bag. His body itched between two decisions, leaving him behind or drifting closer into his oxygen-sucking orbit. On one hand, the guy willingly browsed through children’s books for his son and hello leather jacket; on the other hand, his name is Jackson Whittemore. He rushed forward, “Are you stalking me?”

As indifferent as ever, Jackson shrugged, “I wanted to talk to you.”

“There’s this thing called a phone.”

“I’m more of a face-to-face kind of guy.”

Someone knocked him aside, bringing him far too close to Jackson than he liked; his forearm propelling into soft leather masking nothing but hardness underneath.

Stiles jerked but not fast enough, “Somehow, I find that hard to believe. What do you want?” It didn’t escape his notice that a few of his readers peeked through the display window for a glance at them. He swiveled away from their predatory gleams at the same time Jackson pushed away from the wall, snatching books from Stiles’s grip.

“We can talk on the way home.” 

Like a middle-schooler with a crush, he skittered after him, further and further away from the 14th street station. Still winded from his reading, he didn’t bother begrudging Jackson for his transportation choices, instead choosing to moan under the silky cushion. 

Clearly, he’d done something earlier today and life was punishing him when Jackson slid a pair of aviators on his nose. Subtly, well subtle for him, Stiles shifted so that his back faced Jackson and his unfair, completely ridiculous attractiveness. 

“Danny didn’t tell me you were...”

“-Successful? Actually popular? Wildly handsome? I can keep going,” he mused, hearing Jackson’s smirk, even as Stiles glanced at the cars passing them.

“I was gonna say talented, but I’ll give you those too. I guess.”

No, he wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. He wasn’t. Stiles felt the bloom in his cheeks stretch to his toes. “You guess? Considering Danny manages my website for nothing, I wouldn’t expect him to tell you squat. What’d you wanna talk about?”

 Jackson ignored his insistence completely as he inched toward another red light. Seriously, why was he driving? “And movies too? Someone’s clearly moved up in life,”

“What were you expecting? Penny-pinching author? There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Maybe,” he grunted, “If they have an actual income.”

His mouth gaped, open and close, deciding how to respond to such foolishness. “We can’t all be you.”

“And what am I?”

“Nosy...and judgy at the moment,” he huffed, folding his arms across his chest then unfolding them when he saw how ridiculous he looked in the side mirror. A scoffed chuckle blossomed from Jackson and its every bit of smug as Stiles remembered.

“Is that anyway to treat someone kind enough to drive you home?”

“You kidnapped my stuff,” he shot back, finally giving him an exasperated look. It bloomed into a lopsided grin when Jackson smirked at him, shrugging his shoulders as if he didn’t regret a thing. A cab’s honk blasted them out of the moment, the both of them situating back against their seat. By now, they were riding parallel to his street, still at least four dozen blocks from his place. “Seriously, who chooses driving? How do you get anywhere on time?” Yeah, he couldn’t help himself. They hit another harsh stop, a taxi zipping in front of them.

Someone decided to ignore him so he played Mad Libs on his phone until Stiles couldn't take the silence, a dozen blocks later, “Did you know we were at Kent?” he asked the question he’d been pondering since their run-in at the school. 

Jackson shook his head, “Pure coincidence. One I’ve been dreading since your son almost got mine arrested.”

“Excuse me,” he swung around, “You ever think it’s your kid’s fault for making poor decisions!”

“Crossed my mind.”

“And?”

“I decided blaming yours was easier.”

Stiles paused at the masked twinkle behind his aviators, seconds from reaming him out with every ounce of parental defense he had, “You’re joking.”

“Obviously, Stilinski,” Jackson rolled his eyes, he could tell by the curl of his lip, “I’m not blaming your child for mine. How juvenile do you think I am?”

“Very.” His hands flew up, forgetting about the books he held down. They slid to the floorboard and he let them, “Our last conversation was you threatening my life after I saved yours.”

“True,” Jackson pursed his lips as if he was thinking back to all those years ago. Stiles forgot not a single detail about those four years. No one talked about them much these days, but he invoked them often. They didn’t talk again until Jackson pulled onto his side street, easing into the empty space in front of their brownstone. Well, in their case, gray-and-green-stone that still had an overflowing trash bin out front. “I was thinking about the kids’ school last night. And, with work on my ass-”

He’d never been jealous of anyone’s occupation before,

“-I don’t have time or the patience, so I figured we could host one of those parties.”

Stiles nodded, his hand curled around the door. Jackson physically shifted to face him, waiting for him to what...give his approval? He could host a grade party if he wanted. He kept looking at him until the implication of his statement finally hit him.

“We?” Stiles closed the door, “As in tandemly-we? Do you know how exclusive those are? Most of New York’s elite families in one place, judging the shit out of your decor and requesting Voss in a glass, room temperature, light shaken. And, they’ll talk; start rumors about...things that are 100% not true.” Things like a nonexistent relationship between them since only couples host grade parties together. He didn’t think he could utter the word ‘relationship’ in front of Jackson and leave with his pride still intact.

“So, let them talk. We’ll hire a planner, rent out a place, and split the cost.”

Stiles actually thought about it, them throwing a party together. It’d certainly get the bitches and the school off his back; maybe even win him some points for the next time Sammy decided to act out. “Yeah ok, I can handle that. I’ll email McClendon tonight. When did you want--”

He could barely get the question out. “Tomorrow? Next week is no good. I’ve got half my roster flying to Paris on Sunday and negotiations all next week; I won’t have the time to-”

“It’s fine, man. We can do lunch tomorrow. I have a deadline in the morning, but I should be finished in time.” As he reached to grab his things from the backseat, he felt Jackson staring at him, more intently than normal. “What?” Stiles repressed the urge to touch his face.

“Do you feel like,” he glanced at his reflection in the mirror, “All that stuff never happened, but also like we’re still seventeen. I had a restraining order on you.”

Stiles knew exactly how he felt. “Yeah, and then I saved your life again.”

Jackson shot him a dry grimace. “By hitting me with your shit Jeep. Whatever happened to that deathtrap?”

“It’s sitting in Derek’s garage unless he trashed it behind my back, which is entirely plausible knowing him.

At the mention of Derek, Jackson’s face scrounged up, like a bad smell permeating through his vents. Once upon a time, before they became pseudo-family, Stiles knew the expression well. He opened the door. “You’d be surprised what’s changed. Where are you? We can meet somewhere in the middle.”

Jackson shifted his attention to their intersection, first behind them at the weathered orange tarps of the Italian place on 3rd and then to their front, Reverend Taylor conveniently outside chatting with some pedestrians. He really despised living so close to a church sometimes. 

“Some ways that direction,” Jackson flicked his hand toward Stiles’ chipping green door. Some ways could mean four blocks or fifty and he didn’t have the energy to do more than groan.

“That’s all you’re going to give me? Some ways that direction?” Stiles scowled as a stoically arched eyebrow poked out from behind Jackson’s right frame. “Fine. Ryan’s Daughter is some ways that direction. I could use a beer or three.”

The sound of Jackson’s genuine laugh stunned him for a moment. He’d heard it a few times back when, but that was because Stiles’s just happened to be near Danny and Jackson. Having it directed at him made him feel like he’d won a prize at the fair. Flabbergasted, he shook his head, “I’ll see you tomorrow and don’t dress like you’re in a fashion show. It’s a bar. Act like it.”

Jackson snorted, shooting up their little street and stealing the right turn. He stood there, shaking his head long enough that Rev Taylor started heading his way. Jump starting, he waved hello then broke for the gate, sealing himself into their dark entryway. Since the couple renting the downstairs apartment moved away two years ago, he didn’t fear getting caught leaning against the door. Lunch with Jackson. Tomorrow. He huffed, feeling like his character more than ever. In other news, he checked his phone, let the thirty-eight hours of teenager-free laziness begin.


If someone told Jackson that, twenty years down the line, he would voluntarily forge plans to spend time with Stilinski, well, he’d punch that person, but not because they were lying. They shouldn’t have stuck their nose in his business anyway. He couldn’t justify taking an extra two hours for lunch without explanation, so he holed in his office the moment he dropped Stiles off, stopping first for a salad at the place next door.

His team barely glimpsed him as he passed their offices on the way to his. Why would they? He didn’t commit a crime; plenty of people had lunch engagements. Those people probably don’t go following high school frenemies across Manhattan, however. His jaw locked as he stabbed more lettuce, nearly puncturing the container.

Who did that? Yet as he’d leaned against that store’s dirty brick, he couldn’t convince himself to leave. Clearly, he’d lost a range of brain cells on the plane here.

Stilinski was supposed to be beneath him. He was supposed to remain a dork but people liked him now and enough to buy stacks of his expensive stories too. His mind drifted to the one now hidden under a mound of folders in his desk. First peeking at the door, he slid the smooth hardback out, turning it in his hands as he’d done the entire elevator ride. The first official copy.

A cruel twist of fate if you asked him, especially since he felt those fans’ hearts quibble in the unveiling moment. He cracked open the novel, the spine giving easily since Stiles read from it less than two hours ago.

Hoping these pages bring you much entertainment.
 If not, it’s pretty enough for a coffee table.

Much Love, SS

The sharpie-scrawled signature read. He skipped all the essentials, flipping cautiously to reach the first chapter. If he re-experienced those words hearing Stiles’s voice, he couldn’t be accountable for it. He did listen, not repulsed, while Stiles weaved words like they were nothing more than lingering air particles, bending with the simple swish of his hand. He hated that the story was still impressive, funny, cracking with energy and innuendos. Just like Stiles. After observing him on Tuesday, he assumed that Stiles deteriorated with whatever, or whoever, was responsible.

“Mr. Whittemore--” he snapped the book shut, disappointed in his work ethic today, especially when he spied the three-digit page number. He looked up to three things—a wilted salad, a mauve skyline, and his assistant standing at his door, two towering men trying to shove past her. 

“It’s ok. Let them in,” he stood, successfully hiding the book as they jostled their fingers at him. High school kids, they still were, positively juvenile.

His assistant, no doubt the runner of a previously tight and orderly ship, mean-mugged them before his friends physically uprooted her from the doorway. Well, friends is a loose term to describe them--brothers, fellow models, pack, and at least once a year, sworn enemies.

“I think we passed a kitsune on the way in,” his brother-in-law, Faust exclaimed, his face paler than when they last saw each other. He turned to make sure his assistant shut the door since they hadn't managed to teach Faust subtlety yet.

 “You did,” he rolled his eyes, “And no way in cold, eerie hell.”

“Damn," The man snapped his fingers, "You know I like ‘em foxy.”

“You like them breathing. You also look dead.” Fifteen-years ago, when they met on the same shoot, the photographers called him Frost. Therefore, Jackson had observed first-hand the amount of blush it took to add color to his skin.

“I told him that!” Pierre exclaimed with every bit of skewered consonants in his voice. Not many people knew this, but Pierre introduced him to many of the friends he’d made pre-modeling, since he lived on the street Jackson moved to after leaving Beacon Hills. Signed at different times, by different agencies, they were surprisingly still friends today. “Look at you. Mr. Whittemore now?!” Pierre beamed, stretching his arms wide, so they covered at least the length of his desk. Jackson could see far more chest hair necessary, which meant his employees did too.

“Put those things away,” Jackson shielded his eyes before he flashed them all.

“Let him ride it out. Wrinkles threw him 20 on the plane,” Faust miffed, swiveling around Pierre to marvel at his window view too. “Fuck.”

“Jealous?” he joined them, together peering out over hundreds of buildings. 

“Fuck yah,” Faust nudged him, “but then I bury in fanny while you're dealing with the brats and I'm all cured." They also haven't taught him decorum; he hoped like hell his assistant wasn't listening in.

“Don’t listen to him,” Pierre yanked Jackson into a gripping hug and he had no choice but to go with it, only pretending to tug away twice. He should have known it was coming when Faust wrapped his arms around both of them. Like two middle schoolers, they jumped up and down squealing. Virtual proximity required his body to jostle side to side until they decided enough.

“What are you aholes doing here?” Jackson asked once he wasn’t consumed by cologne and whiskey breath. He slid back into his swivel chair as Pierre perched on his glass desk and Faust leaned against the curve of glass.

“Off weekend, we’ve come to see my favorite nephews. And you too...I guess." 

His friends, ladies and gentleman. Jackson wondered how much it'd cost to ship them back where they came from. 

“Where are they?” Pierre checked under his desk as if he’d hide human beings under there, let alone at all. 

Jackson squinted, “Home, doing schoolwork like normal children their age.”

“American school?” They both shivered at the mere thought. “Well, we’re kidnapping you this weekend, but you’re buying everything cause dolla dolla bills ya.” Faust gestured to his corner office, like they both didn’t make a combined ten million dollars last year. He knew these things; it was his job to know these things.

“You’re international male models.”

“Yeah--and you used to be one too with a fancy corporate job and a clothing line.”

“It is great being me,” he sighed. “Fine but I have a thing tomorrow.” He wrestled with his things since work was proving useless anyway. Neither of them caught the book he stashed between two work folders.

“Thing?”

“What thing?”

“-You’re boring. You don’t have things.”

“And it can’t be an Irina thing cause she’s in Prague.”

“Fuck off, I have-” he froze, Faust’s words finally resonating in his mind, “Why is she in Prague? Who signed her out?”

She always had the uncanny ability to fuck with him, even with miles of separation. He knew from looking at his one twitchy eye that Faust wouldn’t tell him, even if he knew. As her brother, he and Jackson had a delicate relationship--ask no questions, there will be no comments.

He scoffed, falling back into his seat. Prague. Shit. No, he didn’t have time for this or her, snatching his bag up, he push forward, “Text me your hotel. I gotta take care of some things first.”

Their silence said it all. “Cheap asses. They’ll buzz you up and don’t distract my kids. Homework before anything else.” When they didn’t answer again, he looked at them pointedly, knowing if he didn't they'd have them hyped on processed sugar, wrapping fresh bruises and speaking new a whole language by the time he got home.

“Ugh, no wonder you’re a bore. You care about school,” Pierre joked, shoving him away from the desk. Jackson didn't bother refuting it. Pushing them both out the door, he reminded himself to think positive thoughts only. Positive thoughts only. In the elevator, Stiles shot him the address for that bizarre bar he suggested. Positive thoughts only. Yeah, that might not be so hard.  

Chapter Text

“Please. I’m emailing it to you right now,” Stiles miffed into his Bluetooth the next day, completely ignoring his editor’s whining. This was her seventh call this morning. How she expected him to add final changes when her nagging exploded his eardrum every few minutes flew above his comprehension. He stared at the flickering cursor, her words having retched his entire thought process. What had he been trying to say? Witty Quotes. Right. He whirled in his chair, reaching for the scratch page of the man’s pretentious quotes.

“Stiles, you said that the last time I called you,” her dramatic sigh rang over the printer’s hum, “Johnson is waiting.”

Eight months. Eight whole months, he’d been writing this goon’s novel instead of his own. The man could stand to wait three more minutes. Huffing, his fingers paused from hovering over the keyboard. “Don’t I always pull through?”

“You can pull a mule's ass and it wouldn’t matter.” What did that even mean? His nose shriveled at the image, “This is G.W. Johnson we’re talking about. He’s not a man who waits.”

Stiles really wanted to say, he’s just a man who pays other people to write his bestsellers for him. Unfortunately, he liked his job and the food/shelter it provided him and his kids, so he withheld that particular comment. As he mentally punched the guy, Stiles composed a super professional email, one that didn’t involve a shred of honesty.

“How many years have I been with you?” he grinned as she grumbled the answer. “That’s right, nineteen years and in those nineteen years, have I ever missed a deadline?” Another grumble. “Exactly so, let me concentrate. He might be G.W Johnson but I’m Stiles Stilinski. His people called me for a reason.” His phone chirped. “I have another call...it might be one of the kids. Five minutes. Give me five minutes.” Before she had the chance to protest, he jammed the button, too forcefully. “Stilinski here.”

“Where are you? I’ve been waiting fifteen minutes.”

Jackson.

“Shit. I totally spaced. My editor pushed up my deadline a few hours and I had to run out, so that put me back a bit, and then...” he paused, inhaling once, “...you know what. We can still do this. You’re at the place now?” Instead of typing ‘I’d be delighted if you’d consider working with me again,’ he’d typed half of the words he’d just spoken. Slamming on the backspace, he started the whole block of sentences again.

“Spaz much?” Jackson’s scoff eased the edge off his frazzled state, mocking him or not. “We can reschedule.”

“Nope, you're coming here. Still remember the place right? I’m only a few blocks west of you now and I can whip something up for lunch.” There was a joke somewhere in there about Jackson bringing the dessert, but again, withheld.  

“I’m driving,” he said, matter-of-fact as if Stiles could possibly think he’d ever walk anywhere or no, stop driving that gas-guzzler in the first place.

“Why?!? It’s a huge waste of money that you could spend on literally anything else-”

“—Stiles.”

“Right, you coming here.” Stilling, he had to inhale again for two seconds and exhale for two seconds until his brain rerouted itself back to the task. This deadline. Having learned his lesson, he gripped the desk to keep from touching the keyboard. “There’s a parking garage two houses down. Type in 81927# and park in S7. That’s where my car would be if we had one. Walk around back, you’ll see a bright green door and a keypad. Buzz 3 and I’ll let you up.”

“81927#. S7. Fine, see you in ten.” Jackson hung up on him, which would normally irritate him. Today, it was a godsend because his attention span focused on five things at once when it should only focus on one—this email.

Somehow, he managed to draft an email that was equal parts exciting, professional, and not manic. After BCC’ing his agent, attaching the necessary files, and rereading the email four more times, he pressed send. He wanted to land Johnson, become the man’s permanent ghostwriter, but he’d have to reconsider if every process resembled this one. Then again, the money, i.e. three hundred thousand a book plus royalties, was enough to continue his constant spiral into madness. If you added him selling Down Under’s movie rights, it equaled to 'hello college trust funds.'  

Collapsing in his chair, he cradled his head with the neck pillow Penny fastened to the seat. A massage sounded perfect right about now, but one look at the hallway reminded him of the shoes, bags, soccer balls, and clothes strewn across the foyer and almost every other room.

He scrambled around the apartment tossing clothes into nearby bins and kicking shoes to the side. Clutter, he couldn’t do much about. The one time he tossed their stuff in their rooms, all hell broke loose.

Dad! You messed everything up!!

I can’t find my cleatsssss

How could you ruin the natural order of our humble abode? Things are so for a reason, pop. A reason!

He’d rather the place look like a pigsty than experience their whining again. The October wind soothed his neck crimp, so he dusted leaves off the patio furniture and fired up the grill. They might as well finish those steaks, since Penny's captain insist the team went vegan again. Something about team spirit and unnecessary hormones.

He'd been buzzing around, snatching up notebooks and pens when the buzzer signaled Jackson’s arrival. That moment, he felt the stickiness of his coffee-spilled sweats and the pit stains leaking through layers to his cardigan. He spent twenty minutes prepping the house, he forgot the main package—himself. Stiles flicked croissant flecks off his shirt as he trudged to the door. 

This was only Jackson, high school asshole turned sexy ass father. Nothing to stress about here, he thought. Yet, a rock felt lodged in his throat as he stood inside the door, barely stopping himself from creeping through the peephole. They thundered on aging wood, Jackson's feet. He almost convinced himself the guy was angry, possibly for Stiles standing him up, but he blamed the creaky nature of his house.

He swiped sweaty hands on his shirt, attempting to breathe once more when a knock vibrated the door frame.

One-two-three, "Hey," he threw the door open, prepared to sidestep to let him enter. That all died when he got a look at him, remembering his final words to him yesterday. Spitting laughter slipped from him, only spurning harder when Jackson crossed corded arms over his chest. "Did you even try?" he gestured to his cranberry pants, the color of fermented wine as they encircled his thighs, holding in an impossibly white button down that he'd left one-third open. If that wasn't enough, Stiles didn't think he could fasten his gray sports jacket, the fabric soft-looking enough he wanted to feel it.  

The pants alone made Stiles worry about his circulation flow even as he couldn't help but appreciate them. When his eyes finally drug upwards, Jackson was tracking him, his eyebrows weighing his face down. 

"My career requires a certain level of...decorum," Jackson said, pointedly flicking his gaze over Stiles's ensemble, "Don't hurt your brain understanding things you can't, Stilinski."

Stiles couldn't...he groaned, throwing the door open farther, "Get in here before I change my mind." He backed away from the foyer, noting the way Jackson surveyed his carpet with a critical gaze. "We don't have pet roaches." A certain joy swept through him as he called him out on it, especially when Jackson glared his way. 

“I wasn’t-”

“Sure, you weren’t. We're outside.” He led him through the house, only stopping to grab a bag of pretzels from the kitchen. At the first touch of wind to his cheek, Stiles moaned, though it probably sounded like more of a muffled whimper. Regardless, he could still feel Jackson’s gaze lighting a path on his back. “Make yourself comfortable. I’m gonna check on the grill.”

Compared to yesterday, something seemed...off. Yesterday, Jackson's face grew dangerously close to exhibiting a smile, it laughed, dare he say, even flirted. Today, Stiles eyed him as he swiped a thumb over his phone screen. The corners of his mouth fell prey to gravity, just like the lines on his forehead crinkled. Whatever happened, it made something in Stiles grimace.

Grabbing two beers, he nudged the sliding door again. “Sorry for keeping you out there. Different city; same Stiles,” he shrugged with a what-can-you-do loom, hoping that'd do the trick. Back in high school, exploiting his weaknesses always put a smile on Jackson’s face.

“Clearly,” Jackson snorted, pushing away his phone long enough to grab the bottle. “Nice place.”

“An actual complement. What has this world come to?” he slid into the chair opposite him, hiding his grin when Jackson took the comment back. “Thanks. Not like I can take the credit, though. It’s Derek’s doing.”

“Derek I-live-in-an-abandoned-shell-of-my-family-home Derek?”

“The one and only. He knew some people in the area and decked the place out himself with Aspen’s help, of course.”

“You and him close now?”

Stiles paused, not really knowing how to answer that. In the end, he tilted his bottle to the air, “-As family. What about you?”

“What about me?” Now, it was Jackson’s time to squirm. Stiles took immense pleasure in the way his fingers scraped the wooden planks, how his eyes conveniently needed to check for a text.

“Do you have a pack?” The steaks sizzled behind him, a cloud of smoke bellowing in the wind toward them. He flipped them as he waited for Jackson to answer the question.

“Yeah,” his tone succinct. 

“Are they here?”

“The whole pack? No.” That would make sense, considering it’s illogical to uproot the entire pack. They would know. With Derek still kicking it in Cali, Scott/Isaac hopping planes with Veterinarians Without Borders, Malia and Kira god knows where, doing God Knows What, Liam over in Boston, and everyone else here, they only came together once a year for Thanksgiving, some of them for entirely different reasons, all of them to recreate the comfort of pack.

He cleared his throat, “Some of the pack then?”

“Sure. My boys.”

Stiles rolled his eyes, “Shut up, you know what I mean.”

“We’re the only ones to make the move.”

“Huh,” he pondered on that for a second, feeling Jackson’s unimpressed gaze on his face. “What about their mother?”

“Look who’s being nosy now.”

He shrugged, “I’m curious, kill me.”

Jackson shuffled in his chair, his gaze focused on a point just beyond his head. The wind passed between them, the sizzle of steaks as he waited to see if he’d actually get an answer. Nothing like awkward silence to emphasize how private this exchange felt. Facing a wall of much taller and glamorous townhouses, surrounded by plants and flowers he’d let die a long time ago. Jackson could slash his throat out here and no one would find him until Sunday night. He planned his entire funeral playlist when words finally ricocheted off the glass.

“What about her?” 

“Was she, you know-” Curling his palms into claws, he growled.

Jackson sighed, “Yes, Stiles she is.”

Is. Present tense. He filed that in his folder too.

“I never pictured you as an...inbreeder.” He caught Jackson’s shoulders tensing and Stiles quickly corrected himself before his meat ended on the grill too. “Noooo, not like that. I just remember you hating everything and anything supernatural, besides yourself.”

“People change.”

“-Clearly,” he echoed the same word spoken of him earlier. A stale moment of silence twisted between them, the honks and midday bustle audible from his side street. Instead of recommencing the small talk, they allowed the quiet to linger. Stiles pulled long gulps from his beer as he waited for their food to finish. Surprisingly, the silence wasn’t the slightest bit uncomfortable. If he closed his eyes, he could easily swap Jackson with any member of the pack, the twins and their latent homicidal tendencies included.

Jackson slowly reverted into his thoughts, but Stiles didn’t call attention to it. As Lydia so graciously (and smugly) pointed out, if anyone could understand Jackson, Stiles could in more ways than he cared to explore.

A timer beeped from somewhere inside the house and Stiles hopped up, fetching them plates and the leftover mash potatoes and broccoli from Thursday’s dinner. Balancing all that and cutlery in his pockets, he served lunch. “It’s not the best steak ever, but it’ll do. Bona petit,” he said, offering Jackson the first steak, then fixing his. “Work and eat?”

“Works for me.” 

He waited for Jackson to eat the first bite before diving into his own first meal of the day. “I think we should plan a party specifically for the kids. Most families plan galas and clam bakes, shit that’s really to impress the parents, but we’ll gain McClendon’s respect if we organize a party his students will never stop talking about.”

“Ok, I can get behind that.”

I could get behind you, Stiles high-fived his brain.

“You know any good party planners?” Jackson asked.

“As a matter of fact...I do. She just planned a sweet sixteen.”

“Who?” All Stiles did was smile. “Didn’t Lydia’s girl have a party this summer? Please tell me you don’t mean...no, she has a smart mouth.” 

Stiles shook his head, mouth full of broccoli, “What sixteen year old doesn’t, especially one with Lydia’s DNA. I’m telling you, the girl’s gotta a gift. Almost makes me proud to admit she’s my god-daughter.”

He expected the convincing process to take longer: some groveling, some smooging, a mess ton of flattering. He hadn't expected Jackson to mean-mug him, shrug, then return his expression to a blank canvas. "Fine, but her failure is on you."

 "Technically," he could hear his voice raising, "it's on you. This was  your idea." 

“I’m regretting that too.”

Stiles snorted, “You have a lot of regrets.”

“They didn’t start until I ran into you,” Jackson pointed his potato-mashed fork at him, his smile reminding him of one those fairy tale photos of the Big Bag Wolf. 

The table creaked under his elbows as he leaned forward, “I must be special then.”

“As a snowflake,” Jackson clicked his teeth. This was definitely flirting, right? Definitely. Or maybe not. He couldn’t remember the last time he flirted with someone purposefully, let alone with the intent to get in their pants. With one hand spooning food, Jackson’s other hand steadily swept over his phone as he continued listening to his ideas about this party. It vibrated and vibrated, but he didn’t stop listening.

High school Jackson would have raised a finger to his face, mid-sentence, walking off without a second acknowledgment to tend to whoever desperately wanted his attention. The fact that he didn’t made Stiles want him to.

“Check it,” he said, nodding at the expensive metal. “Not like this is some kind of date,” he wiggled his brows, “Then, I’d be pissed.”

There it was again, that slow amused smirk from yesterday as if he couldn’t admit he enjoyed Stiles's company. The thing hit Stiles right in the chest, then slicked down, curling his toes. Good god, he was more than attracted to Jackson Whittemore.

Jumping up, he grabbed their plates and disappeared into the house for a breath. He grabbed another beer, then with hesitation, grabbed another one. Anything to convince his body to settle the mess down. Jackson had leaned back in his absence, his arm thrown lazily over the chair back, his jacket lightly tossed over the chair next to him. The edges of a scar near his pecks peeked from his shirt. Stiles couldn’t take it; he shook his head, flicking off the cap of both beers on a random wooden ledge just outside the door. He guzzled one third of it before he made it to the table, sliding over Jackson’s when he did.

“You must go around dropping panties left and right, huh?”

“I’m no Victor Valentina if that’s what you’re asking,” Jackson lifted the bottle to his lips.

He spurted. Did. Jackson. Just. Reference...

His. Book.

“I need a moment to process that,” he took another pull, groaning, much to the obvious amusement of his lunch guest. “You so read it. Did you like it? Wait, don’t tell me. I don’t wanna know.” But, he did. He really really did. More questions fired from him in a stringing blur, knowing that with each stretch of his mouth, Jackson tilted his head further, squinting at him. 

Suddenly, an image of him sprang forth—relaxing at his high-powered desk, probably wood or crystal glass, cradling Stiles's baby in his clean hands. Did he laugh when Stiles meant for him to laugh? Spiral into thought? More importantly, what did he think of Victor—the one character Stiles identified with most of all the ones in which he'd breathed life. "Nope," a thrill ripped through him, "We're changing the subject." 

"You sure?" During his mini breakdown, Jackson had sat up, clearly past bemusement as he chuckled. "You don't sound sure." 

Stiles tampered on his breaking smile. “There, done. What's so important anyway?”

“Junior pesters me with constant updates when I make him do something he hates doing,” Jackson peered at his phone again as if he couldn't help but check for another update. Lydia might have been right about the adorable kid-talking thing.

“Junior?” he asked, the name not sounding familiar. 

“Dallas Jackson Whittemore.”

“Ahh, Junior.” The front door slammed behind them, making them both snap heads in its direction.

“Dad! Derek snitched to Grandpa and now he won’t let me go skeet shooting with the deputies.”

“Uncle Derek,” he shouted back, without warning to Jackson, who winced at the high volume. “Apologies,” Stiles muttered as he downed the rest of his beer. Forty-something hours revoked, “and for whatever’s about to happen next, too.”

“Hate him, opening his trap like that. You have to talk to him—who left the outside door—oh.” Sammy breathed them both in, his pants and shirt already strewn across Stiles’s floor somewhere.

As his son caught Jackson and him, sitting in front of one another, four beers between them, he knew then the situation would circulate to their small circle. He also knew Sammy, by virtue of his personality, would escalate that to infinity. “Heyy, Jackson. Visiting my lonely old dad, huh?” Sammy swaggered outside as if they paid to witness his pasty thighs.

Stiles sighed, scooting over in his seat before Sammy could knock him into the next one. “I can’t be lonely if you never leave. Put on some pants and it’s Mr.Whittemore to you.”

“It’s ok. He can call me Jackson. Sam,” Jackson nodded, stretching out his hand. “Giving your Dad trouble?”

“Always,” he and Sammy said at the same time. Sammy wiggled his brows incessantly between them, then the true cause for his abrupt visit sprang back into his subconscious. “Pops, you got to call Grandpa. He tripping.”

“It’s called Karma. You’re still grounded.” 

“What happened to, yesterday’s a new day. Seize the opportunity for happiness. Fun weekends for all?'

“I never said any of that but I’ll call. If he says no though, you’re not going." He stopped halfway to a standing position, plopping back down as a thought occurred to him. "Where’d you stay last night?” His son's shifty eyes told him everything. “Samuel Stilinski, I swear on all things sacred if you try to lie to me one more-.”

“Harrison’s, ok! Ask his mom.” He absolutely did not believe that woman allowed his son into her house. “Can I, at least, get my keys back then?”

“No. Grounded. Look it up," he faced Jackson again, embarrassment already burning his neck, "I’ll be right back. You,” he pointed to his son, “Don’t be rude.”

As his dad’s office line rang, he patrolled Sammy’s actions through the glass wall. In his boxers and blue V-neck, the kid threw his arms over the chair, mirroring Jackson’s position...until, Jackson leaned in that was.

The firm smirk on his face ebbed with each word from Jackson’s mouth. Stiles wished he were supernaturally inclined right about now, whatever Jackson said siphoned height into Sammy’s shoulders. Stiles toed closer to the glass for a better viewpoint. The motion must have caught Jackson's attention cause his eyes bored into Stiles's as Sammy shifted in his chair. From here, they pierced blacker than blue.

Then, as if he dreamt it, their stance evaporated. Grinning politely, Jackson returned to his resting positing, his focus on his phone. 

He didn't bother leaving a message. “He didn’t answer," he said, slipping outside again. "I’ll try again later.”

“Whatever, I have yearbook stuff anyway. Later.” Sammy slid from the chair on jerky legs, saluted them, and turned for the door. No smartass remark or borderline inappropriate gesture. Stiles casted an inquisitive glance at Jackson, who tipped his shoulders innocently. Innocent, my ass.

Jackson stopped his motion with an interjection, “Alternatively, some...friends of mine are in town for the weekend.” Stiles’s brain insinuated ‘pack’ into that sentence and Jackson knew it, as he addressed Sammy directly. “They like to pretend they’re not man-children and take the boys out. You’re welcome to join us for the night, if it’s okay with Sti-your dad.”

He could feel his hours moon-walking into his waiting embrace. He could also feel Sammy’s bugged eyes, desperately pleading with him to smack down the idea or ply him with a weekend’s worth of chores.

“It’s harmless fun," Jackson continued, "Video games, junk food, yelling, go karting, though I don’t suppose we’ll be able to do that here.”

Don’t suppose, Stiles snickered. “Pole Position. It’s just across the way,” he supplied, suddenly thinking of Jackson squeezing his entire body into a seat made for children. “Sounds fun,” he grinned at his pouting son. “Need money, monkey?”

“We’re not six anymore. Stop calling us that and no...not unless it’s 69.95 plus shipping and handling.”

“Yeah no-I just bought you new brushes two months ago. Go pack a few things and don’t forget your jacket. It’s getting colder out. And pants!” The fact that he had to shout that in the first place, should probably bother him. At least, he wasn’t reminding him to bring deodorant. Stiles followed his slumping back until it detoured into the kitchen, finally disappearing around the living room wall.

It wasn’t until they were alone that he felt Jackson eyeing him. Again. It warmed his cheek in the low breeze. “My dad says its karma,” he scratched through his growing shadow, looking distinctly at the next apartment over, close enough that he glimpsed Jackson in his peripheral.

He gave it a minute or two, thinking Jackson would be Jackson, grow bored and focus on something he deemed more worthy. That minute or two never ended, the sting of embarrassment growing with it. 

“What?” he snapped. Boldness charged his inhibitions enough for him to meet Jackson head on. He was so fucking tired of people judging his parenting skills, the way he ran his house in general. Everyone, and he meant everyone, always had some advice to dole out—even Mrs. Geraldine next door, who was in her seventies and never changed a diaper in her life. Stiles tried to give him a hard look, though he felt his eyes droop instead of slit. Through it all, Jackson maintained his half-cocked smirk, unaffected. “Something to say?”

“He seems like a good kid,” Jackson gave him, still looking as if he held back a belly burst. “Brushes?”

Stiles bristled at his joking tone, but pushed his defenses to the side, “Painter. The best there is.”

Sammy’s rumble rained on them from the second floor and Stiles sighed, dropping his head to the picnic table. “Aww, dad. The entire world would disagree, but touching!” 

“I take it back,” Stiles shouted back, tilting his head to the sun. If he squinted, he could see his silhouette sticking out the window. “Hurry up, he doesn’t have all day. You sure, you want to subject yourself to this for an entire evening? There’s still time to back out,” he directed the last question to Jackson.

“I’m a delight!!”

Jackson spoke right over Sammy’s shout, that he was totally getting billed for next month, “-You look like you need that break. I’m graciously giving it to you.”

Stiles clutched his heart, “My savior. How did I possibly get by without your selfless generosity?”

“Now you don’t have to,” Jackson chuckled down at his vibrating phone. “That’s my cue. We’ll swing back around if he’s not-” The end of that sentence never reached air because Sammy knocked on the sliding door and gestured to his nonexistent watch. Stiles apologized for his behavior once again as he walked them to the door. They made more plans to meet sometime in two weeks with their brand new party planner and Stiles happily prepared to close the door, Jackson and Sammy on the other side. He sighed at the click, suddenly disappointed at the hollow walls separating them. 

Nothing a nap couldn't fix. 

 


 

In normal situations, Sam could fake it. You know, the whole pretending to care about strangers’ existence when really, they were worth nothing more than new facial features in his repertoire.

It was how he felt, lofting onto a picnic table as Mr. Whittemore, his weird friends, and Ben broke for the karts. The place closed fifteen minutes ago, other families and couples retreating to their cars, but he suspected Mr. Whittemore paid the owner off. Why else would they be bounding through the mini vehicles as if they owned them? 

The freaky looking one, with the pale elf ears, dodged in and out of rows until he landed on a black kart with silver stripes while the French one tested brakes and seat cushions. The kind of energy you expected from the actual child among them, but even Little Dude stood at his father’s side as Mr. Whittemore hoisted him into one of the two-seaters.

“Just wait 'til they start the betting,” Dallas jumped up next to him, downing the slushie his brother begged for. “It’s a long night ahead.”

He expected nothing less. Adjusting his beanie, Sam burrowed hands in his jacket then collapsed back. Around school, they called him the drifter; it's what he did—drift from group to group, stealing laughs and collecting numbers he rarely used. Now, though, he thought about using one to help him escape whatever Tim Allen TV series he’d stumbled into.

He sniffed his jacket, hoping to mask the corn dog smell in this place. He couldn’t ever remember it smelling like this as a kid. Then again, he'd been far too much like that over there and not...well, this.

Dallas, as stilted as ever, slumped next to him, his only evidence of life the occasional slurp of blue sugar. Did the guy ever show emotion other than joking with his dad and talking about soccer? 

Then, with a gleam, he remembered that Dallas did with one person in particular. 

“So, my sister huh?" Sammy stretched up, his insides snickering when the dude flinched. "Watch out. She sleeps with knives, you know,” he told him. He'd mastered lying to moonlight creatures a long time ago, his steady heartbeat invoking a wide-eyed terror in the kid. Then, with sense, the guy side-eyed him still catching his lie. By then, he'd already divulged in his fun. People really made it too easy these days. 

“It’s not like that.”

Of course it’s not, he almost said. At least on her end. Everyone knew she’d die a boring, over-stressed spinster and without the comfort of cats since they scoured from her. Because his dad would appreciate him playing perfect son, he didn't call out the kid's obviously lie. “Good.”

“Why? Threatening to off me if I harm her?”

 “Her job, not mine,” he snorted, dropping his head the final inches to the plastic table. “Shit,” he droned when he spied the wall clock. “This is weird right? It’s not just me?”

Dallas shrugged, “It’s weird. Hard to stay away from bad influences when they're stretched out on your couch.”

“Your pops said I’m a bad influence?” That actually brought a grin to his face. It meant this was purely a favor for his dad and at that age, everyone knows what favors led to. “You think they’re already getting it in?”

“Oh god," Dallas clutched his stomach as he faked a gag, "The shitty pizza’s not settled yet. Stoppp. Besides, my dad’s married.”

“Is he?” What he walked in on today didn’t look like marriage to him. He bookmarked that until the release of said tidbit benefited him. “Interesting.”

“You two losers gonna sit there all night?” Mr. Whittemore yelled at them as he and Ben blasted around the corner. 

“I’ll show you loser!” Dallas retaliated, throwing him a nod as he pounced from the table. For awhile, he watched Little Dude trash talk his brother, cackling at the string of oddly creative smack, but eventually he grew tired of even that. With no one worthy answering his texts, he returned to staring at the ceiling, a cacophony of shouts and playful threats in his ear.

He couldn’t remember the last time they did something like this, just for the fun of it. If his dad wasn’t holed up in his office, he was out with Aunt Lydia or at Aspen’s games. And if she wasn’t with her teammates, then she was with Chels. Besides, he hadn’t missed those times, not between the three of them anyway.

“With a stunt like Monday, I know you know the meaning of fun,” A thick voice declared above him, forcing him to raise up on his elbows.

“You knew my dad in high school right?”

The abrupt question caught Mr. W off guard, which he knew it would, hoping that’d send him packing. Unfortunately, Mr. Whittemore lowered next to him; his alligator-skinned shoes a hard contrast against the cheap table.

“I thought we were long lost cousins taking baths together?”

“You don’t know his college buddies and Chels said Lydia and Dad were blabbing about you the other day. They didn’t move out here until after I was born, meaning after dad graduated from college, it’s not a hard reach. Anyway, you knew my dad in high school, right?”

“I suppose so. Continue.”

“What was he like?”

“A lot like you.” Somehow, it didn't surprise him that Mr. Whittemore didn't have to think about it. Sam sat straighter, this time so his back automatically slumped over. 

“Awesome and devilishly handsome?”

“Try intrusive and devilishly a pain in everyone’s side.”

“Chip off the old block, ay? So..." he pause, collecting whether he really wanted to venture down this path. "If you knew my dad, you knew my mom. No one likes to talk about her besides Derek, but no one wants to talk to him so the sentiment still stands.”

Mr. Whittemore gave him that side-eyed squint again, as if he either couldn’t understand the words spewing from his mouth or didn’t understand why they were in the first place. “And your mom is?”

“Cora Hale, my mom?” Was this man just playing coy? He wished, probably for the first time in his life, that he could hear heartbeats like his sister. “Uncle Derek’s sister?”

“Hale had a sister? I thought they all-” he stopped himself from speaking whatever came after those few words; Sammy bet three-hundred dollar it was about the fire. If they wanted things concealed from them, they should consult Google. “I moved away our junior year. She must have come after that.”

Extra interesting. Another possible affair. Rushing, he asked, “Why?”

“Is that any of your business?”

“Making conversation,” he motioned for him to go on as another round of motors zoomed by them. 

“I assume you know about the-” Mr. Whittemore curled manicured nails into thick claws then retracted them fast enough other eyes couldn't spot them. 

“Supernatural infestation in our completely unnatural lives?”

“Sure, we’ll go with that. Some stuff happened and my parents sent me to stay with my uncle in London.”

“And, you stayed? Poor thing,” he patted Mr. Whittemore’s shoulder, whilst saying a prayer to whatever Gods wronged him in this life. “Why come back? After all these years?”

“If you can keep a secret-”

“-which I can’t.” he interjected.

“I’ll tell you anyway. To ruin your life.”

“You didn’t know I existed until last week.”

He waved the notion away, barreling on, “I might at one point in time actively despised your dad, but his, and by extension, your general well-being for some reason means something to me. So, if you have to spend twenty-four hours pouting about all the fun you’re not taking advantage of while he takes a personal day, then yes, I came back to ruin your life. And, fast food. No one does grease like us Americans.”

He blinked at him, long seconds after Mr. Whittemore finally inhaled. “You’re kind of an asshole.”

Instead of scolding him for language like he expected, Mr. Whittemore laughed, his shoulders and head shaking. “So I’ve been told once or twice. What’s it going to be? Think you're good enough to beat me in these rackety contraptions?”

Pst. Am I good enough?” he stood, shrugging off his jacket, “I invented good enough.” If the man wanted to see fun, he would provide. Within minutes, they were readying their engines for a young vs old relay race. He didn’t need to say they smoked their sagging bottoms—even with one less driver and a cautious kid in the seat beside him.

He, Dallas, and little dude had already created a victory handshake when Mr. Whittemore screeched to a halt beside the other two losers.

“Best two out of three?” Mr. Whittemore yelled out to them. Sammy looked to his fellow winners and together, they smirked smugly back at the elderly.

“If you insist,” Dallas called back for them, throwing his arms out at all their reigning glory. “Old man.”

Sam laughed as Ben yelled, “Winner picks the movie!”

True to her word, the disgruntled employee he flirted into helping them raised the checkerboard flag.

“On your marks,” she droned.

He revved the miniature engine, snorting as Ben filled the in between his his shit talk again.

“Get set.”

The elf-eared one, Faust they called him, mimed cutthroat revenge. he and Ben ignored him, only glancing over to give him slick winks. 

“Go.”

He'd been laughing so hard, he forgot to drift allowing Santa's Helper to speed right past him. But like he mentioned, he proved 'Good Enough,' as they let the senior citizens feel secure in their position--when he lost to Faust, when Dallas coincidentally trailed the French one, and finally when he lazed toward the finish line, rocketing past Mr. Whittemore only when the man started to smile. 

Who was ruining who's life again? He applauded Mr.W's failure once again as the man demanded a rematch.

Exactly. 

 


 

Around seven on the twins’ Teachers Work day, Stiles heard the front door close followed by a flutter of plastic bags and knew to prepare himself. Sitting up from his position, stretched across the couch, he waited for the usual screech and resigned huff. After a weekend with Lydia, the aftermath was always the same.

He muted the TV as her feet carried her through the house. “Hey dad,” Penny said, slinking past him to the kitchen. Thankfully, he remembered to stock the Dasani during his shopping excursion this morning.

“Hey, monkey. Have a good time at Lydia’s?”

“We went to three spas today,” she flopped, burrowing her face into the couch for a scream. Stiles smoothed a hand over her newly straightened hair, noting the singular red streak in the back. He expected nothing less, long stopped trying to convince Lydia that his daughter enjoyed simpler pleasures. Drop her off at the park with a ball and lunch money, she’d entertain herself for hours. Literal hours.

“You know she wants you to have those experiences,” he didn’t have to say mother-daughter since they both knew her hidden agenda.

“Mom wouldn’t pay someone to scrub dead skin off her feet either. Where’s Sammy? It’s quiet,” she tilted her head on the pillow, and he didn’t have to be werewolf-inclined to understand that gesture. Turning with a bright gleam, she scrutinized him, “Too quiet. Did you ship him off already?”

“No one’s being shipped off. Seriously." Why were they so fixed on that idea? He never once mentioned it as a possibility. “He’s still out with Jackson.”

“As in Mr. Whittemore? Dallas’s dad?”

“That would be the one. Did you eat dinner?”

“No, why is he with Mr. Whittemore? Is it like a punishment thing?”

Stiles didn’t have the strength to get up, let alone cook an entire meal, so he rummaged around for his phone, pulling up Seamless. “How would that be a punishment thing? Mexican or Sushi?”

“He seems kind of like a-” she paused, lifting her face of the pillow to whisper. “Tight-ass.”

“Aspen Stilinski! Rude,” he gasped at her profanity, wishing yet again that he instituted a swear jar when they were old enough to understand them. Now, they’d laugh at it and use the jar for leftovers. “But, I know. Isn’t it great? Back when I was wild and unruly, seeing Jackson’s face was always punishment enough.” It wasn’t appropriate to note that seeing his face was still punishing, but in a completely different way.

“Who’s being rude now? And neither, the team’s still vegan, ‘member? Can we get that place from last month?”

Ugh, how did he know that was coming? The things they did for their children. Stiles, reluctantly, clicked on their recent orders. Since they ate out about eight times a month, he found the same disgusting order teasing him in one scroll. He paid for the food, getting enough for three as she lugged her stuff upstairs. A part of him almost vetted the clothes inside those bags to avoid a repeat of last year, when Lydia brought his little girl a skirt so short, the fabric brushed against the top of her palm.

Eventually, she settled in the armchair with her homework, as he channel-surfed. Without glancing from her textbook, she spoke his exact thoughts. “No Sammy makes a difference.”

Stiles snorted, “Maybe for a little while, then we’d grow dull without him.”

“Speak for yourself,” she muttered, but Stiles knew she didn’t mean it. If anyone cared about Sammy more than him, she’d steal the title. “So, I talked to Ethan yesterday.”

“Uh huh?”

“And he said I could spend the next moon with them,” she said in a rush of conjoined words and syllables. Stiles turned off the TV fully. “Them being-”

“I know who they are,” Stiles said over her explanation. Ever since Ethan opened his non-profit eight years ago, there’s been an unspoken consensus that yes—they were proud of his constant care and support for the city’s supernatural community and no—they didn’t want their children near those savage beasts. He recognized the hypocrisy of it all. “Do you feel like you need to? I thought you were doing well.”

She’d master control for at least a year now, maybe two since time was starting to blend together. He stopped sending her to Derek's every month years ago. Now, she preferred to camp out on the terrace, not for the sake of killing them, but because her mouth on those nights usually landed her in Stiles's unhappy place. 

“I am, but he said some of the kids could learn from me. That Uncle Derek and Uncle Scott taught me well.”

“They did...” Not that he had anything to do with her badass progress or anything. (He did.) He already knew his answer, but made a mistake and caught her pouting frown, the brownish-green plea in her eyes. Stiles held strong for exactly two point eight seconds before sighing.

Damn Ethan. Giving his daughter a stupid sense of philanthropy.

He could hear Derek now, nagging him about her lacking interaction with more supernatural children. Those kids would eat her alive before the moon even rose to its peak. “Only if Sammy goes with you.”

“What?! No. He’ll piss everyone off and loose a finger or ten.”

“Great, it’ll be a learning experience.”

“What if you ask Mr. Whittemore about Dallas? He’s one too.”

Stiles gave her a look, mostly cause Jackson hadn't mentioned it, but also because like hell. 

“Sammy can spend multiple nights at their house and I can’t ask for one little favor? Come on, I don’t ask for anything. Ever.” The pout deepened.

Stiles sighed. There really was no way around saying no. “I’ll talk to him, but Danny'll be there, keeping a watchful eye. A very watchful eye,” he pointed two fingers from his eyes to hers, while she rolled her own. They hadn’t dealt with crushes yet, but he felt the inevitability of the conversation, looming over them like the biggest storm known to humankind. Behind them, the front door opened yet again, this time banging against the wall.

“I come baring Naan and my radiant disposition!”

“It had to end-” she gritted. Stiles watched her grip into the cover of her textbooks, making sure those fingernails remained blunt. “Night. I’m eating upstairs.” Her knees cracked as she stood to meet Sammy and the food at the stairs. Some things persisted with or without his defined hopes and dreams; he inhaled the normalcy, grinning to himself. They scrapped in the hallway, throwing weightless insults at each other until feet thundered on the steps.

“Ouch, she’s crabby. Yo, how’s my favorite pops?” Sammy rounded into the room and threw himself on the couch, his feet kicking into Stiles’s lap.

“I’m your only pops. Have fun?” he knocked his dirty socks off.

“Ehh, it was alright-” Suree, that’s exactly why he asked to spend another night because it was just alright. “But, Jackson’s friends are chill. Faust taught me how to talk to older women.”

“Faust did, did he? And how did you do?”

“She laughed in my face, but I could tell she wanted some of my hot bod,” He pointed to his sagging skinny jeans.

“Yes, cause older women really want chicken legs and scrawny torsos,” Stiles snorted, reminding himself to question after this Faust person. Who names their child that anyway?

“Of course they do...are we gonna eat this mush or can we get Chipotle?”

He looked to the ceiling, waiting for the shout that would remind them of their promised solidarity. In these moments, it usually happened right about...now. They squinted at the silence then peered at each other. Noise-canceling headphones for sure.

“I’ll grab my keys,” Stiles patted the cushion next to him and together, they pounced up, quiet enough to continue escaping Aspen’s radar. “Put that in the fridge. She can take it tomorrow, impress all her soccer buddies.”

“What’s the use? They’re all forever dorks.” 

Choose your battles Stiles, he muttered to himself as they crept past the staircase, stepping over the few creaking floor panels. Sammy actually managed to shut the door silently behind them and they stood in the hallway, grinning at their accomplishment. He lead the way, just dreaming of the fat burrito he was about to inhale. As he thundered down the stairwell, Sammy spoke up behind him. 

“The drugs thing was a shitty thing to do.”

Stiles stilled on the second landing, swiveling to face him. “Yeah, it was,” he agreed, expecting to see the usual playfulness in his eyes. Instead, Sammy fussed with his hoodie strings, eyes flickering between the door and his stern gaze.

“It won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Stiles nodded his head; he slid away from his hug before he could make contact. Even still, he caught his smile in the door’s reflection and didn’t bother dimming it. That was the closest he’d come to an apology in years, six to be exact, and no one was stealing it away from him.

 


 

 

Stiles (10:34)         Thanks.

Jackson (11:09)      ...for?

Stiles (11:15)          Not sure myself

Stiles (11:16)          Whatever you did or said or both

Jackson (11:22)       I didn’t do or say anything

Jackson (11:23)       But you’re welcome. Talk later. Malfunctioning volcano situation over here

Stiles (11:27)           Lol ok. Warm water, detergent, baking soda, then the vinegar. trust me.

Stiles (11:29)           I owe you one good night

Jackson (11:35)       Night Stilinski


Chapter Text

Models Arrest Cause Major Trouble for Select

 

International Models Alexandra Axens, Tamara Heldern, Hudson Saplfire, and Gorgio Kalvic brought the party to Metropolitan last night and it led to Jail Time.

The group was arrested in Lower East Side after Kalvic attacked the club's bouncer, the same bouncer who reportedly harassed Kalvic's girlfriend Axens. Witnesses also state Saplfire joined the fight.

Kalvic, known for his temper, proceeded to assault a NYPD officer when he arrived on the scene to escort the men out. In their attempt to protest Kalvic and Saplfire's treatment, the girls smashed the club's entrance wall. All four models were booked at 12:44 AM at the 7th Precinct, for a collective $35,000 bail. Around 4 AM, Jackson Whittemore, Talent Director for Select Model Management, arrived to release them. It won't be that easy, Mr. Whittemore. A report, obtained by TMZ, reveals that Metropolitan will pursue assault and vandalism charges against both the company and the models.  

We reached out to Whittemore and Ombre, the Executive Director for the company, so far no word back. 

 


 

Stiles broke from his editor's office, burnt coffee in hand when his phone blitz. After last week's Burrito-Bonding with Sammy, his chest didn't twinge an inch at the familiar sound. He'd seen the number enough times to wonder why Jackson would be calling in the middle of the day, on a Wednesday. 

"Stiles's house of Awesome. How can we service you today?" he cackled to himself, finding humor in something Jackson clearly did not. He heard the grunt over every siren, footstep, and loud conversation in his immediate area and stopped short, interrupting the flow of traffic.

The woman directly behind him smacked her lips, her eyes rolling when Stiles tossed back an apologetic grin. That made two people impervious to his stunning personality today.

“Hey, you there? Earth to-” 

“One second, Stilinski.”

Stiles didn't notice who he managed to say even that with the arguing in the background. He comprehended every fifth word—lunch, superiors, incompetent, job, else, now. Thoroughly interested now, he broke for the nearest cafe, ordered the first pastry in his line of sight and snagged an armchair. 

"The incompetence in this room is not from my team--"

He heard Jackson declare, his voice polite yet oddly venomous. He'd smashed the phone so tight to his ear, the bent edges set off a dull ache. Jackson and Antagonizing Asshole, as Stiles took to calling him in his head, argued like a live telenovela or a WWE Smackdown fight, one in which he scored front row seating. He could only imagine the awkwardness radiating from bystanders in the room. 

Stiles's muffin sat crumbling paper before Jackson acknowledged him again, after the punctuating click of a door. 

“Stiles? You here?”

He righted himself, nestling the phone between his right ear and shoulder, “Yep. Uh huh—Rough day?”

“Like you wouldn’t fucking believe. Would you mind if Ben and Junior came to your place afterschool. The school won’t allow them to stay past six and Junior forgot his keys at home." Jackson stopped to exhale dramatically, "With the way things are looking, we’re gonna be here all night.” He nodded along, forgetting gestures didn't translate over the phone. “But Danny said he can swing by around seven to get them.”

“Stop talking, of course they can camp out here. I’ll give Penny uber money, so you’re not worried about the little one walking.”

“He can walk, that’s fine,” but Stiles heard the hesitancy in his voice.

“They’ll be perfectly safe in my hands.” That awarded him an amused humph. “Having second thoughts, are we? Seriously though, they’ll be fine with us. We do have dinner at dad’s tonight, but there’s always plenty food. That ok?”

“Yeah, yeah sure. Text me the address and I’ll come by when we’re finished here.” Jackson paused a fraction before saying, “Thanks.”

Stiles tried not to roll his eyes, "Everything ok?” He couldn't stop himself from asking.

“Some of our models got arrested last night.”

“Damn, that sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Mr. Whittemore, Director Ombre’s ready to continue should we tell her you’ll be a few minutes?” A pitchy voice called in the background, loud enough for Stiles to hear.

Jackson rushed his words and if he didn’t know any better, he’d think the man was panicking. “I’ll call the boys when I get the chance. You’ll have to check Ben’s homework. He won’t do it and say he did. Juni...Dallas’s built some ridiculous resistance to peanuts, but he can usually smell them before he eats it. And I’ll text you my work number in case anything serious happens or I don’t answer this one.”

“Ok. Noted. And will do. Go inhale some sugar before you collapse.”

“Fuck off...I don’t sound that bad.”

He found himself grinning before his face really registered the movement. “Uh yeah, you do. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Yeah ok. Thanks Stiles.” The line clicked and he stood at the intersection, staring at his phone. He just agreed to watch Jackson’s kids, for an ambiguous amount of time. Jackson’s kids were meeting his dad, tonight. Wait--his dad. Before the screen timed out, he initiated another call, hoping this was one of those times the sheriff was too busy policing to answer his favorite son.

“Stiles-” Of course, he wasn’t. “Calling to cancel again?”

“What?!” Stiles gasped. “How could you think such a thing? I would never.”

“The past three weeks prove otherwise.”

“Ok, I would never without great reasoning. I was wondering if we could bring...a couple extra mouths.”

“How many mouths?”

“Two, but one has a peanut allergy?” Not that he knew how a werewolf developed a peanut allergy. His dad, just as much of a workaholic as ever, stopped their conversation to direct orders to someone, most likely a deputy with all the codes being recited. When he told Stiles about the possible transfer, Stiles assumed the new department would offer the old man a desk job. He spent as much time worrying about his dad’s health as he did his kids’.

“Sorry ‘bout that son. I guess we can manage that. Do I know these mouths?”

“Nope.” Technically, it wasn’t a lie. He promised they’d arrive around six, even though they both expected not a minute before seven, and allowed him to return to work.


 

“Kalvic’s not worth it. We’re wasting more money than he’s making.”

“He’s one of the biggest names today. We lose him; the others will go fast too.”

“This isn’t high school. These are professionals with full-blown careers. They won’t leave because we tossed their precious ringleader to the curb. If they want to make money, they’ll stick to their jobs.”

“You’re not getting it. Ford’s already poached half of our roster. Now’s not the time to make any drastic changes. We pay the charges; we move on.”

“Why can’t those children pay their own fees? They made their beds.”

Why was any of this a discussion? Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Over and over...the same argument in the same room around the same table. The other directors sat on each side of Jackson, together heading dangerously close to full-blown argument territory while their superior, headmistress CEO, watched down on them from the boardroom in the London office, another bickering crew of directors with her. Jackson shifted in his chair, dying to scratch the skin underneath his cuff-links.

 If they were in the conference room on the east side of the building, he’d have a window view, something to keep himself busy while they bitch. Unfortunately, Reynolds, the Promotions and Publicity Director, and his stubby assistant arrived to the office first this morning.

Looking at the guy’s pasty lump of skin, Jackson could only assume the man hated all things sunny and natural. Regardless, their decision left him sitting under artificial lighting at the end of the table with only four hours of sleep. Feeling his head droop again, he tried to play it off by checking the time on his phone. He noticed an unread message from Stiles; the unprofessional-ism of texting in a directors meeting tore at him. Then again, chances of an emergency ranged between everything’s all good to it’s Stiles we’re talking about, so he justified sliding the message open.

 

Stopped for donuts (peanut free) on way to dad’s. Someone got a gold star today!

 

He enlarged the attached photo, Ben’s snaggle tooth smile covered in pink icing as he hoisted his paper star to the camera. Thanks to the shitty photo quality, he had to squint to read the insignia. To Benjamin Whittemore for Stellar Line Leader!

Ahh his little pupil, telling all the kids how to stand in line. He grinned, setting the picture to his lockscreen background.

“We’ve heard your opinion on the matter, Reynolds,” their CEO’s voice crackled through the speakers in every corner of the room. “Whittemore.”

He directed his attention to the screen. The women, in all her hair extensions and Botox injections, beamed cosmetically white teeth in his direction. “As someone who’s not only been in the industry but interacted with Kalvic and the other three, what’s your opinion? You’ve been quiet in the discussion today.”

“That’s cause his brain’s the size of theirs,” Reynolds muttered at the other end, soft enough for only the people nearest him to hear. Certainly not loud enough for him to have heard it. It made him curl his lip, but he held his tongue, something he’d gotten good at over the years, especially working for and with such assholes. Adjusting his suit jacket, he actually thought about the “problem” at hand. Everyone in the room, physically and virtually, shifted their bodies to stare at him.

“Seems to me,” he intersected his fingers, crossing them over his legal pad. “-it’s down to whether we find them worthy of the house name. All our models sign a contract. In that contract, the first line states all their actions are a representation of the Select name. Right now, the public, our competitors, and any potential model who walks through our door associates that name with drunken bar brawls and police assaults. To me, there shouldn’t be a discussion.”

“All this coming from the man who let these kids sleep in his spare bedroom?” she challenged him, lifting her eyebrow a single centimeter. He wondered how many muscles it worked to do just that.

“I’ve been in most of their shoes--angry at the world, using money and power and looks to get whatever I want, but my generosity, my empathy is not indicative to how we should conduct business. We talk about money, but we won’t make any if companies refuse to book our models. Period.”

He could hear water tricking through the pipes, the room was so silent, every face some version of shocked, ranging from tilted squint to disgruntled hater. He might not have finished Uni, but he damned sure knew how to use his brain (and work a crowd). Before anyone could speak, a knock resonated through the room, gauging everyone’s attention.

His assistant stuck her head in, “Sorry to interrupt, but there are refreshments outside whenever you’re ready for a break.”

“A break. How lovely does that sound? Let’s take twenty and when we reconvene, we’ll vote--who stays and who goes.” With the flick of her wrists, she dismissed both boardrooms, his coworkers wasting zero time grabbing their cellphones and shooting towards the door. He’d rather take his time; the last thing he wanted was all their nasty funks ruining his suit. It didn’t take long for the room to clear, a few minutes at most before chairs were still spinning on their axis.

“Jackson, if I could have a moment,” the speaker blitzed, startling him. His engraved ballpoint pen shot out of his hands and rolled to the ground.

Their CEO, Francesca Ombre, released a tight chuckle as he bent to retrieve it. Say what you will about her--tight-ass, slave driver, the b* word-- but the woman knew all of her employees by first name, models, executives, and janitorial staff alike. Compared to his old CEO, he liked that about her, admired it even. Jackson couldn’t even remember the names of interns from other departments when they delivered him papers. He perched on the table, nodding respectfully at her.

“I wanted to check in. See how the new position is going.”

“Good, you hired a great set of junior agents here.” For the first time today, he said a statement and actually meant it.  

“Ahh, yes, I’ve heard of their accomplishments. And the city? How are your boys fairing with the sudden change?” She smiled as he tossed his head about. “Give it some time. If I didn’t feel as if I was cheating on our city, I’d admit New York’s the coolest place there is for adolescent minds.”

“I have old friends here, so it’s been nice reconnecting.”

Her cheeks barely drew back in a smile, “I’m glad to hear it. I’m sure you’re in dire need of a breather, so I’ll be quick. Thank you for your thoughts back there. I’ve said it before but you bring a unique perspective to our company, so please don’t hesitate to share it. And, for what you did for those kids, as well. You didn’t have to open your home, or go gallivanting in the middle of the night when they called-”

“I’m sure anybody would have-”

“-no they wouldn’t. I’ve known Kalvic for quite some time, and even if we release him, he could use a mentor like you.”

“Thank you, Director.”

“Thank yourself; the board’s praising the work you’re doing over there, so you continue the greatness. Thank heavens we could steal you away.”

He fake blushed to hide the beginnings of a real one. Batting the screen, he said, “Well, you almost made it too easy.”

“That’s what we do,” she nodded by way of dismissing him. He grabbed his phone on the way out, following the trail of sugary yeast leeching the air. He heard and smelled the commotion before he saw it, standing right in front of the elevators. They’re all crowded around a white clothed table, even a few of his junior agents, who should’ve gone home to their actual lives by now. The crowd loosened enough for him to see the donuts stretched across the table, in tiers of colorful diabetes.

“Isn’t it crazy? Doughnut Plant just dropped them off sans name,” one of his agents materialized at his side, her mouth peppered with powdered sugar, one hand cupping a cup of coffee, the other a half-eaten doughnut.

A snort slipped from him at her ridiculous gooey beam. Even grown adults turn into children with enough sugar. “Go home,” he shooed her in the direction of her office as he approached the table slowly, not sure what or how to feel right now.

The display, he assumed, started as something more elegant than the bare few boring favors left. The whole thing, the outrageous colors, the added two boxes of coffee, had Stiles written all over it.

They’d just fell into each other’s lives again and he could tell that simply looking at the display. Reynolds, the pasty asshole, nudged him over to grab the last strawberry glazed doughnut, leaving him with artificial fillings, wheat, or French Crullers.

Grabbing a wheat, he noticed the card thrown in front of the donut hole basket. He added his finger smudges to the card with hesitancy as he held the sticky paper between his thumb and pointer finger.

Sammy says models and rich executive types hate carbs, sugar and basically everything good in this world, but I figure today calls for a mega cheat day. -S

Below that sat a familiar splattering of the most carefully written distorted letters.

 FeEl BeTTEr CEO WHitteMORe!

They still had the problem of alternating small and lower case letters to work through, but otherwise impressive. His grin tilted downward for the fear the wrong person would see. He did have a reputation after all, but this at minimum allowed him five seconds of gloating. Shaking his head at Stilinski’s profound ability to insult two groups of people in one sentence, he let one of Reynolds’ people catch him holding Stiles’s note.

“I think it’s cool. At least one of us is getting some on a regular basis,” the man buzzed in his left ear. If only that were true, he cleared his throat, side eying the man until he poured his coffee and eventually shuffled off.

Using the privacy to his advantage, he stashed the note in a napkin, poured himself some water, and left the table behind him. If he was hiding a grin behind his water cup, that was his business.


 

Stiles hated not having a car in these moments. He forced himself not to pull Penny closer as a man squeezed into the seat beside her. She didn’t budge, but Stiles caught the slight twitch of her nose. He always wondered what the subway smelled like to them. Obviously, not too great. She and Dallas, who stood in front of them, holding onto the pole and his little brother, shared similar looks of suppressed disgust.

Because he was a generous parent in support of her pursuit to find wolf buddies, he allowed their mini-moments since he’d come home to find them alone at the kitchen table. He shifted farther off the seat, watching the numbers as they descended closer and closer to their transfer onto the Jersey line.

Under the hypnotic sound of the train car’s wheels, his mind drifted back to New York, specifically to a certain modeling agency. He hoped he’d gotten the address right, mostly though he fretted that maybe they’d overstepped their boundary. Who didn’t like doughnuts and free doughnuts at that? If anything, the manager practically squealed at the oversized order, especially for his burly stature.

One transfer turned into two, bringing them almost two and half-hours later with no message or call from him. He thought Jackson would at least call to hear all the ways Stiles was winning at the conundrum that was Whittemore offspring--well, not so much with Dallas. He hadn’t yet pulled more than three sentences out of the guy, but little Ben and he were fast friends. Mostly because, Stiles suspected Ben never met a person he didn’t like.

The kid oozed friendliness. Stiles liked friendly people; they made a fun match.

“Dad?” Penny questioned.

Right, children and safety, not Jackson.

He caught up to his band of children who were walking in the middle of the street as if cars couldn’t knock them like pin balls.

“Yep?” he swung his arm around Penny’s neck as she pointed to the house on their right.

“If we ever move out the city, I want a house like that,” she nodded to the house on their right; the three story red brick, black shutters stood massive and elegant as it always had since his dad and Melissa lived on this street. Just as she always singled this particular house out.

“How about this one?” Ben exclaimed, bringing up her left side and pointing to the next house on the left. This one, with its whitewashed brick, even bigger and grander than the first.

“If we ever move out the city and that’s a big if, I’ll get you the biggest house to ever exist.” He could see her imagining it now, the twinkle of winding staircases and glamorous chandeliers in her eyes. She’d acquired a fancy taste for one thing. In her eyes, the bigger real estate, the better the person. “It’ll be even bigger than Lydia’s house,” he gasped with her, grinning back at Dallas when he heard the boy snort.

“That’s too big!” Ben dramatically cupped his mouth, his eyes wide and shifty. Stiles’s shoulders quivered from the laughter; he could see why the kid aspired to be an actor. They’d already been out to Lydia and Aiden’s fancy seven million dollar Connecticut estate? He filed that away for further speculation.

The larger homes gave way to his dad’s rustic community. Listening to the kids actually engage in a civilized conversation, he waved to a few of the neighbors, doling out answers to the casual questions they threw at him.

The people out here, made this place not so jersey-y. He liked it for his dad--the nice, quaint, and completely trouble-free atmosphere his dad needed to remain in good health. All the brightly colored homes sat on tiny plots, their garden gnomes and benches even tinier. As they turned on his dad’s street, Sammy raised the red flags on every identical mailbox. Penny followed close after him, slamming them back into place.

Finally, as a Stilinski Twins fight broke out, Stiles paused in front of the Robin’s Egg blue bungalow. Its white shingles and red door weren’t his childhood home, but the wave of comfort enveloped him just the same.

The door opened, leading him to believe his dad stood at the door scanning the streets before they appeared.

“Grandpa!” Sammy conquered the steep hill in one fluid motion as his dad stepped a foot outside. His kid nearly knocked the old man back, flinging himself into his dad’s open arm. You’d think with their bear hug they hadn’t seen each other in years. A thunderous whack jolted them all; his eyes focused to his son cupping his shoulder. “Ow, hardcore, Gramps. Hardcore.”

“That’s for last week. Get in there and let me hug my good grand-kid,” he pushed Sammy into the dark depths of the house without taking his wrinkled beam off Penny. “You’re supposed to keep him in check.”

“I would, but I don’t want to,” she smacked her teeth, stepping into his grip. His heart warmed at the silent moment; lately, it felt as if they hadn’t had enough of these. He waited on the front lawn with Dallas and Ben for the two of them to decide enough was enough. Eventually, she pulled away first, sidestepping into the house.

“Bout time you got here. My chicken’s getting cold,” his dad joked, venturing further out the house. Stiles met him halfway for a slap of a hug. “Who are our two mouths?”

“Dallas and Ben,” he pointed to each boy respectively.

Dallas shook his father’s hand with a firm, “Nice to meet you sir,” and his brother mimicked him, shoulders pressed, pecs out, arm extended and all, the only difference being his higher pitch. Dallas’s glimpse of a side-snarl reminded him so much of Jackson in that moment, he had to double take, but the expression disappeared, as if it never existed.

Stiles ushered them in the house, kicking off his shoes as he stepped over the threshold. While his dad showed Ben the bathroom, Stiles led Dallas to all the commotion. Even from the living room, the place smelled delicious. He could devour the air if science permitted that kind of thing.

Inside the kitchen, his twosome perched on the kitchen counters, shifting their bodies to accommodate Melissa’s last minute maneuvers. She poked her cheek out by the stove and Stiles happily obliged.

“Butts off the counters,” he clapped a hand on Dallas’s shoulder as he scolded them, “I bet this is why your dad isn’t graying, huh?” 

“And why you’re counting yours under a telescope every day?” Aspen snuck behind him, tugging on the one of the eight he knew were back there. When her arm brushed Dallas’s, the corner of the kid’s mouth lifted, stretching even farther as she smacked her teeth, unimpressed. 

“Go be useful. Set the table,” Melissa shooed all but Dallas away, “Guests relax but next time, these dishes are yours.”

“I’m good at that,” he said, stealing the wash rug from her anyway. He knew Melissa was too much of a sucker for polite teenagers, i.e Isaac, not him, so she caved, despite the cock of her hips. With nothing in her hands and the kids jetting back and forth, grabbing dishes and plates, Melissa gestured to the living room. He stole his dad’s favorite seat.

“You talk to Scotty this week? He missed our call.”

An instant beam blossomed from her cheeks. “He’ll probably want to tell you the good news, himself. You didn’t magically acquire two new babies in the last three weeks did you? Like that time with the de-aging spell.”

“First, that was not my fault. Second, how dare you assume the worst in me. I would not de-age two adults and then directly take them to my parents’ house.”

“Well, not if you had a brain.”

“Exactly and that’s the one thing we’ve concretely proven that I do have. No, that’s Dallas and Ben’s around here somewhere.” Hopefully, he hadn’t fell in the toilet. Stiles looked towards the ceiling; maybe one of them should go check.

“And they belong to?”

“Dad’s boyfriend!” Sammy’s bellow literally shook the ceiling fan, but he’d been too busy burying his face in a throw pillow to see it fully. Laughter ricocheted between the two rooms on either side of them and he knew Aspen and Dallas were muttering quips, only low enough for them to hear it. They really needed to regulate that budding friendship.

“Boyfriend?” Melissa tilted her head, mouthing ‘do tell.’

“There is no boyfriend and they’ll be no dessert either, if certain SOMEONES don’t stop gossiping about me behind my back. What did you tell me we were having Melissa? Lava Cake? Can Whip Cream?”

He didn’t know what she’d made for dessert, but the chatter and cackles abated instantly, which he counted as a win.

“Don’t be salty, dad. We’ll keep you and Mr. Whittemore a secret. I would neverrr tell them you two had a lunch date the other---oops, silly me.” Is it bad to double your son’s punishment for opening his mouth? If so, Stiles almost did it. He grunted at his new and only confidant as the laughter recommenced, even Melissa joining in this time with her airy snicker.

Which, of course, meant his father would enter at this moment, clutching a beer in his fist and smacking his own son’s cranium until said son rose from the chair. “Did I hear the name Whittemore?”

“Yep, dad’s boytoy!”

“Samuel Reese Stilinski, I will ship your lifeless body to Derek and let him use you as compost in his man garden.”

“Whittemore, huh?” his dad pursed his mouth and that meant nothing good, “As in Jackson Whittemore?” Avoiding both of their gazes, he neither confirmed nor denied that statement. “I guess that restraining order is null and void by now.”

“Restraining order!?!?!” Four unique screams rattled his bones, each one varying in pitch from garden chipmunk (Ben) to thunderous baboon (Dallas). Sam and Penny slid through the darkened hallway in their socks, metal crashed into metal in the kitchen, and hollow thumps tumbled on the steps.

“Did they not know?”

Stiles sneered, “Give me that,” he yanked his father’s beer away, “Thanks family, we’ve injured one already.” Hopping up, he jogged over to the stairs, making sure Ben hadn’t brained himself within fifteen minutes of their arrival. The little one lied at the bottom of the stairs, his limbs starfished above and below him. “You ok, big guy?” His eyes, bright and focus, flickered over Stiles’s person, just as his heaving snicker confirmed he was perfectly fine. “Come on, no telling how long since that floor’s been vacuumed.”

Stiles tugged him up right as Melissa herded everyone else in the dining room. Normally, they’d camp out in the kitchen, or sometimes in the living room, but extras mouths caused for extra seats. He expected silence to suffocate them, but the second Melissa spooned the first plate, mouths began doing a whole lot more than talking.

“Mel, you remember to make it vegan right?”

“I’ve been thinking, pops-on-high, I’m going to boarding school.”

“Whittemore boys, huh? I certainly see the resemblance.”

Stiles’s mind flipped every direction, so many conversations, so few ears. Since he hoped to heavens’ this deliciously cheesy concoction wasn’t vegan and Sammy wouldn’t ever leave his studio for structured bed times and forced study halls, he focused on the Whittemore brigade.

“You two just moved here?” his dad asked.

“Yes sir. From London,” Dallas answered him. Apparently, everyone who wasn’t of the Stiles persuasion could get his mouth moving. His dad fired a round of questions at them. How’s your father? What’s it like over there? Any hobbies? Dallas, thinking about college here or back home?

Dallas answered them all, grinning it up over his half-eaten mound of food. The whole charades ushered Stiles’s body into a fire-breathing coma until his dad nodded his head, “And, your mother? Did she make the move too?”

Stiles snapped at that, ramming his knee straight into the table. All the side conversations halted to hear the answer.

“No...but she might,” was all he said with palpable tension erasing the most unguarded expressions Stiles had seen on him all afternoon.

The room stilled seconds too long, wanting desperately to talk but unsure what about.

...she might. What did that mean? Was it a child’s hopeful wish type situation or a parents’ late-night planning thing? The two were different. Stiles hoped they’d finish the everlasting construction on his block, but that didn’t mean the middle-aged lowlifes would stop leering at his daughter anytime soon, what with the literal hole in the ground. Whatever meaning it held; the whole question sullied Dallas’ mood. As his little brother told Stiles’s father about his acting coach and her snagging him an episode of “Gossie’s Farmhouse,” Dallas blinked at his unmoving fork, the corner of his only revealing eye shining a golden yellow.

His dad, Melissa and Penny beamed brightly at the little one, too busy fawning over his carefully styled swoop, checkered oxford, and red bowtie to notice the worked-up werewolf in the corner, like Scott all over again.

“Grandpa, tell me you have embarrassing stories ‘bout dad and Jackson?” Sammy blurted from his seat, in between Dallas and Penny. 

“Jackson?” His dad flipped a disappointed grimace on him, as if the informality of Sammy referring to Jackson by first name settled like soiled cheese in his mouth.

“It’s a thing,” he shrugged. “I tried to stop it.”

“Uh huh...well, there was this one time with the transporter van--” And then commenced the embarrassing portion of the evening. Dallas’s head rose steadily with each tale, raucous laughter, and snicker shared at Stiles’s expense. Eventually, casserole transformed into muffins for Penny and fudge brownies and vanilla pecan ice cream for everyone else.

He slipped out with another one of his dad’s beer, inhaling the night air as he lowered onto the first porch step. Hidden behind a row of bungalows, the moon illuminated only a portion of the street, shadows cloaking the other. They still weren’t far enough from the city to see stars, but he imagined he could. 

It made him think of back then, when he’d argue with Cora and Derek about the invisible constellations in the sky. Well, Derek usually called them “idiots,” stole whatever drink Stiles was lucky enough to steal himself, and grumbled his way back into the house with the kids. Even if she hated everything Jersey, her perpetual Haleness showed less so out here, away from the honking, sirens, and constant light show.

More than once, he almost suggested they move out here, closer to his dad, but he valued his life very much. Plus, buying a house signified commitment and how much more commitment could a failed one-night-stand handle. A gust of wind swirled past, drawing attention to the moisture around his eyes. Coughing, he wiped the evidence on his sleeve.

In good timing too, the door creaked, revealing a not so stealthy Melissa. “I snuck you a--” she chuckled, spotting the bottle already clutched between his legs. “Of course, you already stole one. You wouldn’t be Stiles if you didn’t.”

“Got that right.” He scooted closer to her warm bulky mom cardigan as she lowered down. “Things good here?”

“Yeah, of course. He’s no close to retiring but the doc says, his blood work’s in good range.”

“Miracles do happen," he shifted, "And you?”

“Eh, I’ll be better when my son and his fiance stop hopping from country to country and settle down, but otherwise good.”

“Well until then, you’re stuck with us. Wait--fiance?! They got engaged!” he squealed internally. For years, he’d been telling both Scotty and Isaac to man up, in hopes that one of them, one day would grow some balls and seal the deal. Even though he promised to act surprised, they understood the unlikelihood of the situation. He was hitting them up tonight, maybe even before they left here.

“John told me about last week. Penny too?”

Thanks a lot Melissa. His smile dropped, “Yeah, the school said something about detention but they didn’t enforce it, so it’s mostly over.”

“How does the Whittemore boy fit into all of this? He’s the reason you’ve been MIA?”

“We only ran into him last Monday and you can blame work for that. We sold ‘Down Under’ rights few weeks ago so there’s been a crap ton of meetings and contract signings and I had two deadlines, plus a reading. It’s just been...busy,” he grinned apologetically at Melissa, who stroked his arm. “You worked four doubles a week to stay afloat and I’m bitching about a few meetings, sorry.”

She slugged him in the shoulder, “Just cause you’re not wheeling in patients doesn’t mean your not busting your back any less than I did mine but Congratulations on the movie deal! We’ll have to celebrate. The fourth one right?”

Technically, fifth since Forgotten was a  four movie deal, but he didn’t want to boast.

Heat and something akin to comfort settled into his chest, “Yeah, but it’s only a Sundance film.”

“A movie is a movie, boy. Don’t complain.”

He preened, dropping his head on her shoulders. After that, they sat there, listening to the muffled laughter behind the door and allowing his head to move with the flow of Melissa’s shoulder.

“So, about those children, how did they get here exactly?”

“Public transportation for one then by foot. You’d be surprised how long-”

“Stiles.”

He grumbled, “You’re about worse as Lydia. Jackson’s meeting ran late and Dallas left his keys. It’s only a favor.”

“Why did he call you?”

“Hey,” he lifted his head. No more adorable stepson-mother bonding moments for her. “I’m very trustworthy. My parental success rating is almost perfect. Last year, Penny’s science instructor told me I was doing a spectacular job raising a brilliant young mind and Sammy’s...Sammy’s....Sammy’s art teacher said he was the best artist in the school. Who brought him his first paint-by-the-numbers pad? Me.”

“Stiles,” she looked on at him with pity, as if to say, ‘that’s cute and all, but answer the question.’

“I might have said I owed him after he talked to Sammy.”

“Explain.”

Why was she doing this to him? He’d already thought of this too much by his lonesome. Now, she expected him to spill out his gushing adoration. Stiles turned his bottle completely right-side up, forcing even the tiniest drop into his mouth.

“I don’t know either, Melissa. Friday, one minute Sammy’s being well Sammy and the next he’s willingly volunteering to do homework. Then, Jackson’s offering to take him up for the night and I was a little nervous, but Sam called the next night wanting to stay again. And, when he came home, Melissa, he...” he paused, training his ear on the house, as if he could actually vet for eavesdroppers. Still, he lowered his voice to a mere whisper as he said, “Apologized. Sorta apologized for the whole fake drugs bullshit, it was basically an apology.”

“That is unusual.”

“Yeah, I know. The only person who made him feel an ounce of remorse was-” he stopped short at speaking her name, but Melissa patted his hand.

“So, is he still cute?”

“Melissa,” he pulled her closer, scandalized. “You’re almost twice his age!”

“But not blind and if I remember correctly, he was really cute. You talked about him quite a bit back then too.”

“Yeah because I wanted to rip off his eyebrows. Constantly, but if you must know, he’s alright.” If all right had a huge freaking pecks, walnut-cracking thighs, and abs so defined you could line straws in the creases. He might have googled the mess out of him this weekend. “He thinks he’s the bomb diggity cause he used to be a model.” She didn’t need to know that Jackson hadn’t mention his time as a model once to Stiles. Not once.

Melissa still fell for it, already reaching for her phone. Stiles inconspicuously peeked over her shoulder, if only to relieve the tension in his tight jeans. As her old iPhone mustered the signal to Google search ‘Jackson Whittemore,’ a familiar BMW idled to the curb.

Stiles nudged her, "No need." She snapped in place, her phone long forgotten. Excitement wafted from her at the click of door, enough anticipation for the both of them. He slouched his legs forward, letting them dangle over the bottom step in a way that oozed unaffected.

Yet, his hand wrung sweat rings on the bottle, with each second Jackson took to reveal himself. When his fancy-toed shoes echoed, clapping against the cement. When they heard him laze around the back instead of walking around the front like a normal human being. The shadows hid him until he was illuminated by streetlight. 

He'd seen the guy three times now and still he lacked the explanation for how he was still struggling with the basics of eye contact. Stiles chased the thin line of today's look--no burning colors or unbuttoned shirts, only the clean gray of a professional suit. A drab scowl to match.

"Can those things get any tighter?" Melissa muttered, nodding to the only non-eighty year old senator portion of his outfit, the pants. He tried for actual words, but they lost to a succinct hum. 

Jackson didn't notice them until that moment, his glazed eyes sharpening in time with the false shift of his lips. Melissa, already mesmerized with Jackson's polished illusion, didn't notice the tension in his jaw. Stiles did even as he tossed Melissa a languid smirk. 

It took him several counted 'mississippis' for Jackson to trek up their steep driveway; not once during that time did Stiles tear his gaze away. He tried and failed every time. 

"I'm late," Jackson declared, finally stopping on the stretch of cracked concrete before the stairs. His tone suggested the words served as an apology, not that they required one. Jackson frowned at him, his eyes flickering toward Melissa every few seconds. 

Leaning back, he didn't respond right away, instead resting his elbows on the landing above, "It's barely nine."

At this time, their apartment would still be rattled with footsteps and music. Then again, he didn’t have a seven-year-old anymore. No one spoke after that, the silence closing in on them. He wracked for a conversation starter, except Jackson's squared shoulders eliminated any question he might ask. “You remember, Scotty’s mom, Melissa? Melissa, behold the infamous Jackson Whittemore. Always rumored, never in the flesh. Until now, of course,” he winked, tipping his beer in salute to him.

Jackson dropped his leg on the first step, “And they say some people never change. Nice to see you again, Mrs. McCall.”

“Those people obviously met me," he blurted the same time Melissa corrected him on her last name change. 

Jackson shook his head at the ground. If Stiles squinted, titled his head thirty degrees east, and jutted his jaw forehead, he’d might have deemed that expression an actual genuine smile. Not one of those cocky half-smirks, but an open, jaw contorting, I’m trying not to be amused grin. Score two for the Stilinski.

“I’m gonna pack up some leftovers,” Melissa interjected and he forgot she was here altogether. After giving a quick hug to a surprised Jackson, she kissed Stiles’s forehead, somehow managing to smack him all at the same time. “Good luck with that,” she whispered into his hair then disappeared as quietly as she came, the unopened beer purposefully left by his foot. 

“I’m guessing this now belongs to you,” Stiles held out the bottle.

Jackson shocked him, accepting it only after his butt replaced Melissa’s, on the top step, right next to Stiles’s. Their thighs brushed as Jackson peeled off his jacket, laying it on the railing beside his head.

He situated his hands near the bottom of the bottle to avoid physical contact. Still, Jackson found a way to embrace his hand as he grabbed it. Stiles stared at their fingers when the overlap. With the already cloying scent of Jackson’s cologne, he shuffled until his other side grazed the wooden rail. Jackson had the audacity to chuckle at him. “Did you have any problems?”

Your son nearly wolfed out on half-eaten casserole.

He tugged his hand back, dealing with the clamminess. “With your two? Nope. Angels. What’s your secret?”

“It’s called a secret for a reason,” Jackson snorted, his voice barely above a murmur.

“Can’t say I didn’t try,” Stiles suppressed the wrecked laugh trying to escape. He could be cool about this. He could. Tearing a leaf apart, he busied his hands as he relayed the day’s happenings, “Ben needs to go over his spelling words in the morning. Is he really going to be on ‘Gossie’s Farmhouse’ next month? I heard the main actor was on probation.”

Jackson dropped his head, “Don’t remind me. He listened to the message before I could delete it, but he’s only an extra.”

“A child actor and a superstar athlete,” Stiles expelled a breath, craning his head for a better look at him. “What the hell is your DNA?”

“Perfection. You should know that by now,” Jackson teased, tipping the bottle to his mouth. Stiles watched the motion, the way some of the fizz dribbles over his bottom lip. Desire swarmed him and he was too close to push it away, to think about something other than how it’s been more than a decade since someone other than himself touched his dick, or that he really still, in fact, hated Jackson Whittemore, or the old Jackson flashing through this new, meta version.

“And you should know that...” he tried to get the words out, but Jackson inched closer and closer to him until their thighs melded together. At first, he thought they’d initiated some bizarre game of Chicken. He’d only played it once, but he was certain your opponent didn’t actually look like they wanted to kiss you. “...that Dallas left his history book at school, so he couldn’t do...do...”

“His homework. Got it,” Jackson muttered, his lips a breath away. “Anything else?”

Stiles shook his head, his slowly closing. They were so close, he could feel them brush soft skin, but his stomach hollowed at the thought of pushing the final inch, of feeling Jackson’s lips pressing against his. The thought alone curled deep inside him. Suddenly, the blinds ruffled to his immediate left—collective gasps loud enough for him to hear it.

He groaned, whole body tipping forward to hide from their predatory gawks. Beside him, Jackson rested on his elbows, releasing soft snickers into the night. “I wouldn’t be able to look your dad in the eye anyway.”

Stiles couldn’t resist gaping at him, his arm swinging involuntarily, “I do it every week!”

“Hardly. Every third week, maybe,” A different voice, deep and resonating, rang from the dining room window. Stiles whipped around, glaring at them as they boldly cracked the blind even further. He hoped the frail plastic split, forcing them to buy a completely new set.

“Go away! Five minutes. Geez,” he yelled. Who was the parent here? He felt like an adventurous teenager, gravitating to the shadows for the slightest of privacy.

“You get three,” his dad hollered back. Stiles increased the intensity of his glare until the blind slapped into place.

Stiles almost didn’t turn around, knowing that Jackson was observing him with an amused glint. He did eventually, meeting his gaze for no more than five seconds. “So...that happened. Get ready, the entire pack will know by morning. Pen will tell Chels, Chels will tell Lyds and Aiden, Aiden’ll blab to his equally annoying twin, annoying twin to Danny, Danny Isaac, Isaac Scott, and on and on until every single one of them will be flooding my phone with suggestive emojis. At least I’ll be safe from Derek.” To Jackson’s bewildered gaze, he added, “He’s still got a flip phone.”

“Silver lining then.”

“Sixteen to one, yeah,” he snorted, “strong lining. They’ll start the countdown soon.” Together, they peered at the blinds, Stiles shaking his head at the maddening scramble to hide themselves.

Moment thoroughly crushed, he led Jackson inside, increasing his steps so that he couldn’t feel Jackson’s warmth behind him. Inside, he nodded to the couch, where someone wrapped a sleeping Ben in his mom’s old cheetah blanket. The small holes dotting the blanket’s lining contrasted with Ben’s designer clothes. Eyes lingering on the old thing, he forced his legs towards the kitchen as Jackson knelt in front of his son.

“Earth to Mr. Button.”

Stiles heard him mutter, Jackson’s hand sweeping over the boy’s forehead. He couldn’t hear the soft exchange, other than a mumbled exclamation of donuts, brownies, ice cream.

At that, Jackson rose two still eyebrows his directions, “Ice cream and brownies too?” he mouthed. Stiles flung his hands up, having nothing to do with tonight’s meal. Jackson seemed to let the issue drop, turning around so that Ben could wrap his legs around. In one fluid motion, he hoisted him up and stood as if having a child suctioned to his back was an average occurrence.

“Please tell me you weren’t that sickening back then,” Penny said, having materialized by his side. Stiles nudged her in the side, flicking his head at the kitchen.

“With Sammy maybe, you bit fingers. A lot of them.” Those first years, Cora lived in a constant state of pride and annoyance with her penchant for inflicting pain.

A woot sounded behind them, “Hell yeah, I was cute!”

“I’m capable of using my own two feet.”

“Well there’s your answer. Go find Ben’s bag for Mr. Whittemore,” he shooed her, ignoring the foreignness of the formality. It stuck like peanut butter in his mouth. His dad and Jackson reacquainted themselves while Melissa handed Dallas her tightly concealed bag of leftovers, enough to last them at least a week.

“You and these two are welcome back anytime, Jackson,” his father ruffled Ben’s hair at the same time he shot finger guns at Dallas, lingering in the corner. They shared one meal together and his dad was acting like he’d birth them himself. Stiles rolled his eyes.

“Thank you, sheriff. Ms. M-Stilinski,” Jackson accepted another one of her bone-crushing hugs. “Stiles, you ready to head out?”

“Oh, we’re cool with the train.”  

His dad clapped him hard on the back, propelling him towards the door, “Stiles, accept the man’s offer. It’s a school night.” With the twins slouching against the wall, shouting nonverbal pleading his way and his dad giving him the eye, Stiles grumbled something resembling a thank you. The usual round of hugs kept them from leaving until ten-fifteen.

He cleaned out his email on the darkened journey back, his screen’s low glow and the entertainment console illuminating the car’s interior. Every so often, he peeked at Jackson, observing as he worried at the traffic around them. That furrowed look was back now, confirming Stiles’s suspicions. Still a shitty day, despite he and the kids’ stunt earlier. He ached to ask about it, the donuts, the scandal, his mental health at this current moment in general and that’s what terrified Stiles the most, so he faced the window and marveled at the city drawing closer and closer.

Eventually, Jackson was veering from late-night traffic to ease in front of their place. They’d been in this moment twice already, and still, it’s just as awkward as the first.

Jackson opened his mouth, syllables almost reaching the air when the slam of doors interrupted him. “Thanks for today.”

“Yeah, no, of course,” he waved his hand, “I said I had you.” He desperately wanted to say more, to ask about the donuts, or his day at work, or if he wanted to grab a beer one day because of reasons. None of those things came out when he finally opened his mouth. “Right, well goodnight,” he said, hating they couldn’t have even one taxi blaring from them to move, or at least a few drunk college students stumbling to the next station.

Jackson shook his head, grinning into the rear view mirror, “I’ll call you tomorrow about the party.”

“Great. Cool. Awesome.” He stuffed his hands deep into his pockets, groaning at his stupid, idiotic response. “Night, Dallas.” He stepped back, raising a hand at the illuminated figure in the back. Something told him the brisk ‘Night’ was more for Jackson’s sake than his. He’d wear the kid down soon enough.

Great. Cool. Awesome? What was that?” Penny mimicked him, stopping at his left side. 

Her brother snorted, slinging a hand around his neck, “A disgrace is the correct answer. You’re supposed to ask him out before we all suffocate on the tension.” Stiles peered left and right at his children, sighed, then headed for the front door. He’d suffocate on their teasing before another opportunity arose.

Chapter Text

Jackson didn’t call Stiles the next day. Or the day after. Or the day after that. Really, he blamed life with its long work hours and general parental duties. They’d finally settled into something of a routine, one that started with a run, well before the sun rose, and ended with a long steamy shower and whatever was on TV. He also came across another one of Stiles's books--bought it at the store--and started on that one. 

So, it wasn't that he didn't want to call; there were simply not enough hours in the day. He thought about it constantly, especially during the most boring nights, when he’d usually be relaxing with Faust, Pierre, and their other pack mates, when his mother-in-law would berate the kids until they stopped kicking shoes and socks all over her foyer, or when he’d been surrounded by a different kind of noise. Not just sirens and honking, but also laughter and playful banter. Stiles, with his obnoxious twins and crazy ideas, were the closest he’d come to that around here...which, if he was honest held the problem. It had absolutely nothing to do with the kiss--almost kiss.

Before he knew it a week had past. He was swiveling into the first free parking space in miles and jumping out against the stream of traffic. Late. Late. Late. If Dallas didn’t kill him this time, he’d do it himself.

Fussing with his tie, he ripped the knot loose as he followed the mass of parents, kids, and raucous teenagers through the interwoven fields. A normal school would have its own athletic fields, but since Kent barely managed a courtyard playground, they forced families to lug across town in the middle of Friday rush hour. He felt the music's loudspeaker under his fingertips, pulling him slowly from frazzled-work mode. Soon, he felt his jaw loosen and his breath even long enough to half-grin at the woman behind the ticket table. That gleam in her eyes had him tossing her ten dollars before she attempted a conversation.

Teenagers bumped into him from every angle, some of them even apologizing as they carried armfuls of expensive junk to equally loud friends. He wanted to avoid the descent into metal hell as much as possible, glaring down at long path of steps with disdain. Unfortunately, Ben sat somewhere behind the team's bench alone with a distracted junior as his only guardian.   

Back when that was him--with his jersey starched firm and Lydia smirking at him from the side--he breathed for this thrill, the lightheaded rush of knowing no one, not even McCall could touch him. Now, his ears bled from the screeching computer music, his work shoes pinched his toes, and damn, he could go for an overpriced hot dog right now. He contemplated breaking down and sneaking one as he searched for Benji. Up and down the steps, he scanned the crowd when he didn't see him perched behind the team's bench like they discussed. He swiveled around, inhaling deeply and wishing all these fucking people didn’t smell like Marlboros and endorphins.

“Mr. Whittemore.”

He snapped to the right, swearing he heard his name.

“Mr. Whittemore!”

He tried to find the source, which meant the lights in that direction had to shine the brightest, casting a black glow around everyone under its rays. 

“My dad said to stop looking so--what, noo I’m not saying that."

He snorted, heart slowing decibels at the familiar tone. Latching onto her voice, he followed until it led him several rows from the top, right in front of the concession stand. When he finally spotted them, Stiles first, then girl Stilinski in a dirt-stained uniform, he finally found him on Stiles’s other side, a jittering Ben--clutching a water in one hand and a gigantic pickle in the other. Shaking his head, he jogged the steps two at a time while dampening the elation in his cheeks. Something like ease soothed over his panic until it left him sliding over the chilled bench, grinning at the pickle Penny apparently bought Ben. Juices secreted from the thing as a result of all the wiggling around. 

"That's great, bud. How about texting me next time, yeah?" he fluffed the kid's hair, pretending not to feel Stiles's eyes on him. 

He glanced at Stiles when he squawked, “I gave him my phone, swear. He had it for like fifteen minutes.”

“You have Temple Run?” he threw at Stiles without actually looking his way. He saw the shrug to his shoulders anyway, “There’s your answer. He thinks the man’s Indiana Jones.” Jackson snorted, pressing down on Ben’s head when he exclaimed the truth to such statement. “Score?”

“2:4--Them. Figured he had a dinner to not spoil,” Stiles pointed to the pickle, still wiggling in the air, one of the beads catapuling into the lady’s hair in front of them.  

Jackson nodded thanks since the word seemed to stick in his mouth. “Where’s boy Stilinski?”

“Down there with the other airheads,” Penny muttered on Stiles’s other side. 

“Pen, pipe down,” Stiles chided, “He’s doing some yearbook stuff tonight.” They all looked down at the bottom, where Sammy gallivanted on the other side of the fence, snapping what seemed like an extraneous amount of photos, most of them directed at the cheerleaders. The boy winked whenever one of the cheerleaders whispered something in his ear.

“Let’s hope he’s the photographer.”

Stiles faced him, grinning with his eyes, “He is and it’s still weird.”

“You’d think they’d find his stench unbearable. Most people do.”

“Aspen Stilinski!” Stiles gasped and she shrugged, too busy keeping her eyes on the field to notice Stiles’s sneak attack. Her shrieking giggle caught the attention of at least eight people, all of them turning to glare at the Stilinskis, as Aspen struggled to remove Stiles’s fingers from her armpit. Ben laughed and pointed at them, his heartbeat pulpitating just as it did when Jackson let him watch Cartoon Network on Saturdays. All of it, infectious, he felt his lips quirk up as their side roared. 

“No! You made me miss it!” Aspen pounced to her feet, then on to the metal bench when another wave blocked her sight. Something told him she wasn’t this enthusiastic about anything else. “They’re putting him in,” It took her blatantly looking over her father, for him to realize she’d actually spoken to him. Physical words. He didn’t think he’d heard more than a quick hello directed his way in all the time he’d known of their existence.

“Yeah?” he stood to his feet, catching Junior right as he tore down the field, kicking the ball back and forth between he and the other midfielder.

Aspen didn’t look his way again, but her mouth released more words, “Coach’s stupid for not starting him sooner.”

He agreed with her there. Coaches and their flipping blind loyalty. Even though his toes shot jolts to the rest of his feet, he continued standing. Usually after the first twenty minutes of attentively watching the game, he’d usually drift his attention to unanswered emails while Ben played on his iPod. Standing with the Stilinskis drew a competitive side of him he'd let go.

“Nooo! What a load of bullcrap?!” Aspen yelled when the ref made his call, her wavy ponytail bobbing on top her head, arms stretching to the field as if she could personally bitch-slap the ref from here. Through it all, her heart hammered but her breath remained as steady as the wolf insider her. Impressive control for someone so young and active, he noted while laughing until it felt like bells ringing in his head.

Dallas peered up at them from his position halfway between the center line and the other team’s goal. Half smirking, half confused head tilt, his son waved up at them and they waved back. Sometime after the third quarter, all that water and pickle juice finally got the best of Ben, who poked him above the belt line.

“I gotta go,” Ben protested, looking seconds away from shoving down his pants right then and there. He didn’t teach him that, for sure. It was all that time spent they’d spent at his mother’s family. 

“Go where?” Jackson crossed his arms, waiting for him to correct his language.

“I have to use the toilet,” he mumbled, frowning down at his shoes. Jackson shook his head, but before he could shuffle out the aisle, Aspen offered to take him.

“You sure?” he asked her, knowing the hassle of keeping Ben focused on one destination.

“Yeah, I can’t watch this anymore. Pathetic,” she shuffled past her dad, then Jackson, and ushered Benji out with a light patting to his shoulders. He watched them ascend the few stairs and disappear with the moving crowd. There had to be a point where his prolonged look meant he didn’t trust Stiles’s daughter, so he forced himself to relax. With his other son on the sidelines, he had nothing to busy himself until they returned.

“So,” Stiles started, kicking his feet up on the now empty row in front of them, “How’s work?” His tone was heistant, every bit of awkward  as the cringe on his face. He’s glad he wasn’t the only one suffering from it; Jackson crossed and uncrossed his feet again, finally looking at him fully for the first time.

“Settled,” he kept his eyes above the neck, nowhere near his mouth, currrently biting the ball of his lip if his peripheral told him anything. “They picked over the doughnuts like vultures, by the way.”

“Man, I totally forgot about those!” Stiles laughed, throwing his head back. “I convinced myself some other office snagged them. Did they help? You know, with hardcore negotiations and what not.”

“Reynolds on sugar’s forty times more annoying than his regular shitty personality, but I got through it without losing my job or being escorted off the premise,” he shrugged. 

“Go You,” Stiles threw out a little woop. He knows he should say thank you. It’s on the tip of his tongue, but the more he pushed, the harder the syllables formed. Instead of leeching onto the topic, riding it to another subject, they let the conversation die between them. Stiles shifted back to the field, which left him no choice but turn as well. The crowd cheered around them as the buzzer ushered in halftime with Aspen and Ben still not back. Jackson glanced behind him, just in case people were blocking their path, which they weren’t simply because they weren’t there.

“She’s the responsible one,” Stiles’s voice sounded like mutterings under all the noise. He didn’t know how to respond to that so he didn’t. “Speaking of, I’ve been meaning to talk to you bout something.”

He shifted in to face him, his navy pants and Stiles’s jeans rubbing together as he did.

“You probably already know about Ethan’s community center for supernaturally-inclined kids.” He nodded. When someone scored another goal, Stiles had to scoot closer for him to hear. His breath ghosted around his ear and Jackson suppressed a shiver at the warmth battling with the chill. “He invited Pen to spend the next moon with them, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with letting her go alone. She wanted to ask you if...” he paused, “Dallas could come with her.”

That he hadn’t expected; he leaned back, gauging Stiles’s expression. He peered at him a hesitant openness, as if he didn’t like the idea but asked out of solidarity to his daughter. Truth be told, with their adjustment so slow-coming, he didn’t know if Junior could be of much use.

“Danny’ll be there if that helps your decision. I’m not too happy about the whole thing, but she needs more interaction of the wolfy persuasion. She’s the only young one, you know.”

He didn’t, but he could imagine. His in-law’s pack were of the oldest in Russia, when half of them relocated in UK, they’d already had generations of werewolves from babies to grandparents. It’s how he met Dallas and Ben’s mom. Aspen wouldn’t know how to act around their family. For a second, he entertained the thought of introducing her, but those implication, he wasn’t ready to face.

He hadn’t realized how much time passed until Stiles shifted back to the game. “Think about it, no pressure,” he said and Jackson pretended he would, offering what he hoped was an expressionless nod. Together, they watched more of the game, now that they’d thrown Dallas back into it. He managed a few shouts, but mostly, he sat there itching to reach for his phone. As the last ten minutes ticked down, with Ben and Aspen still not back, he started feeling antsy, having been pushed farther and farther toward Stiles the more people joined their row for the final minutes.

Yanking on his collar for more breathing room, he side-eyed Stiles when the man started snickering. “You find something entertaining?” he bit, helpless against his scowl. Blame the bitch loudly chomping on Doritos next to him.

Stiles ignored his tone, still smirking widely. “Who wears a suit to a high school sporting event?”

“People with careers.” He knew exactly the way it sounded, the hidden implication. Apparently so did Stiles because his ugly frown lines returned, deepening his squint.

“Huh. Who knew dressing Barbies was a career?” Stiles sneered back, drawing the attention of too many people, their covert eyes feasted on his response. But, Jackson barely noticed them, all of his pointed heat on Stiles and the way his eyes crinkled with mischief.

“It’s better than reading to a bunch of losers.”

“At least they like me for more than my ass.”

He snorted, “Look how well that’s working out. Google has the number for an exterminator, you know.” 

“We do not have roaches!” Stiles gasped, like that’s most insulting thing he’s said to him...ever. “God, you’re so snobby.” He was getting rowled up now, his hands starting to thrash in true Stilinski fashion. Coming from a near forty year old man, with a patchy beard, made him even more ridiculous than it did back then. “I bet you can’t go one day without flashing your stupid Rolex"

Jackson rolled his eyes, as Stiles continued naming all the ways he was  snob. After the first four, they’d gotten so ridiculous he’d been impressed. Granted, he didn’t think half the mess from his existed but Stiles, too settled into his own anger, didn’t notice the odd glances. Even as the final buzzer ripped over the small stadium and the other team roared their victory, Stiles kept on with his insults. After all, they weren’t even about him, more about this corrupt system in general, how writers got a bad rap when “people like him” showed a little skin and got money thrown at them.

The crowd dissipated around them, families barely giving them a glance now that they were no longer two men on the brink of blows. (Not that they ever were.) Minutes past. The field cleared. Blue chairs inched back and forth, still creeping from the phantom weight of spectators. Through it all, he actually listened to Stiles’s rant, if only to let him release whatever pent up frustration he seemed to be repressing. (Ok, two-thirds listened.)


“You think they’re ever going to notice?” Ben asked Penny as he watched her scratch at the railing's paint. She turned to him, then looked at their dads again but this time with a face so blank, his Babkha would call her floating space, except in a really mean voice.

"Maybe, eventually," she shrugged. He didn't think so. He convinced her to check out that unlocked door at halftime and now, the game was over. Not once, had his dad searched the crowd for them, except for those few minutes right after they left. How could he when he was too busy arguing with Mr. Stilinski. The creepy stairwell led them so high in the sky, he couldn't hear a word, only the steady hum of lights, chanting, and Penny's breathing. He could see the thrash of their heads though and they didn't look happy. 

She wanted to head back long ago, but he convinced her, as easy as winning money out of his uncles. The game ended. People left and he was still blinking at the whole stadium from behind big lights. Dallas was wrong; America could be the coolest place to ever exist and he never, ever wanted to leave. 

“What are you two doing up here?” a deep voice jolted his bones as the door slammed against the wall. With his game face ready, he swiveled to the man, then dropped it the instant he saw his brother and Sammy walking toward them.

“Don’t be lame,” he rolled his eyes at Dallas’s stinky face. “Look.”

“Oh this shit is cool,” Sammy peered over the railing, half of his body over the bars, floating into nothingness.

“Sammy!” Penny yanked him down from her new spot, next to his brother. Ben couldn't help making kissy faces at him behind her back, rolling his eyes at dallas's dramatic sneer. 

“I know what a swear word is,” he insisted. 

“Hell yeah, he does.” Sammy stretched his hand high, taunting him to jump. He was born with a brain; it’s the only reason he doesn’t try to reach for it. Cause he could have. Oh, could he have. Eventually, Sammy lowered it and after he turned it to a fist, Ben hit and swooshed, like they had at the go-kart place. Gripping the rail and blinking away the brightness, they all eyed Mr. Stilinski as he laughs at his dad-his head rolling against the seat. By now, half the stadium cleared and they were still sitting there completely undisturbed. He hated Game Day Fridays, but this one wasn’t the worse, especially when Sammy started snapping pictures with his camera, for blackmail material, of course. 


 

“Feel better?”

“No. You’re still an asshole.”

They stopped talking about him a long time ago, but he accepted the comment. Not as if it wasn’t factual. What was it that Stiles said about himself some weeks ago? He shraightened up, pushing up the cuffs of his shirt even further. “Different city. Same Jackson.”

By the tightening of his jaw, he was assuming this was Stiles attempt at forcing a frown. “I’m serious about that bet.”

“Time and place, Stilinski. Time and place,” he patted his knee, using the momento to stand. “We should probably do something about our missing pupils.”

“They’ve been staring at us for ages.”

Jackson followed the flick of his wrist, straight behind them. It wasn’t until he looked up, way up, that he saw four shadows, two of which were trying to hide behind open railing, one with folded arms, and the other blatantly staring with no fucks given. Even if they weren’t four different shapes and sizes, he’d have identify each of them based on that.

“Shake Shack if you’re down here in three!” Stiles yelled, his voice eching around the now empty stadium. He didn’t know how he hadn’t spotted them before, now hearing the rumble of two pairs of feet rattle the platform.

“Shake Shack?” he lilted, all the images greasy signs and crowded lines assulting his mind.

“Even vegans cheat for Shake Shack.” It’s proven when Double Trouble slide to a halt in front of their row in less than two.

“More like,” Aspen plucked her duffle from the floor, “if River can get away with eating filet mignon at her uncle’s restaurant, I can get protein from an actual chicken. I want a milkshake too.”

“We’ll see,” Stiles nudged himself passed him, this time purposefully bumping into him. They’re too fast for him to offer a ride, what with Shake Shack on the brain, so he’s soon looking at their ascending backs as his boys stop two steps from him--Ben tsking with a light shake of his head and Dallas glaring to his right, where Stiles once stood.

He didn’t know how to address that, so he didin’t, simply walking up the stairs. “Ready?”

“You know we can’t have leftovers now, right?” Dallas finally graced them with his voice, however judgmental it resonated. To humor him, Jackson turned on him, giving him time to speak. “He’ll think he’s cooler than you.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Jackson squinted, pitting he and Stiles against each other so they could grow old with feeble bones and high blood pressure. “It’s not working.” He pressed on, walking passed them despite their obeying silence. That lasted all of four rows, then he sighed. “What do you want?”

Together, and for what felt as the first time in the seven years since Ben’s existence, they agreed on the same thing, “Burritos!”

Hiding his grin, he kept four steps ahead of them, forcing himself not to blow his cover when Dallas slapped a hand on Ben’s shoulder, muttering, “And that’s how its done.”

“I’d have gotten us Burritos and Ice Cream.”

“Keep dreaming, mini me.” Well, it was good while it lasted. He waited for them to pass him once they broke away from the brightened stadium. Just as they reached the parking lot, he caught Stiles hop on the bus after Aspen and Samuel, the two already snagging the only empty spaces in the back. For a second, he wondered what that felt like--to so freely place his children’s safety in the hands of this city. He’d done that once already and look where that led them, to a separate continent.

 

Chapter Text

Jackson considered Stiles’s request so long, the actual moon snuck up on him with zero preparation. The past two he’d rented a place over in Long Island, packed up half their fridge, and called in sick for two days. Like they had back home, at Faust’s countryside place, letting the kids run rampant until someone started a brawl.

This time, no amount of Western movies could settle the rustle in Ben. With all the blood slicking from Ben’s erratic scratches, Jackson could donate blood for an entire transfusion. And, Dallas? The moon only heightened the teenage angst in him, pumping him with enough adrenaline to stalk around the perimeter of their place, face half protruded, claws ripping shreds of old shirts. Even fighting control, Dallas knew what’d happen to him if he’d tried for the door, so Jackson gave him cautious space.

By the time light scattered over their living room, he held one slumbering mess in his lap with one grumbling teenager curled on the big couch. School started in thirty minutes and Jackson could barely stand himself. Together, they all drifted upstairs, silent as he shoved them off to a real bed.

He, himself, didn’t open his eyes again until a fatty hand smacked him in the face.

“What,” he flipped over, the burn jolting him from his pillow. 

“I bought dinner. Wake the hell up.”

Danny. A mix between a sneeze and a grumble retched through the room as he scrounged his eyes together, enduring smack after smack. Until he couldn’t any longer.

He snatched his hand midair before it connected again. “Why are you here?” Growning, he perched on his elbows to see him, dressed way too casually in a pink v-neck. Who wears a v-neck to work?

“Because you’ve been ignoring my calls and hanging with Stiles instead. Also, you asked us to babysit two weeks ago.” Right, the Charity Gala tomorrow. Was it acceptable for a grown man to play hooky?

He pushed up even farther, “I do not hang with Stilinski.”

“Cause that’s the most important part in that statement,” Danny snorted, smacking him one more time before standing. “Let’s go. They’ll be back soon.” Now that he listened, the place was unnaturally quiet and cloaked in a purple glow. He jolted up, his panic swelling, but Danny clasped his wrist. “Relax, E took them to the park to burn off the night.”

He exhaled.

“They’re not pets.”

“The marks on your door suggest otherwise.”

“Fuck off,” but he allowed a laugh out anyway, if only because Danny was still an idiot. His best friend shoved him out the bed, only stopping in the bathroom to rid of the ‘dead racoon smell.’ The silence followed them to the kitchen until there’s a water in both their hands, Danny facing him behind the stove.

“You look pitiful.” For a moment, he believed him, then he glimpsed his reflectionn in the hanging skillets.

“Lies.” Sexless sex hair and day’s stubble, he still looked better than 99.9% of the people on this planet. You know, that 0.1% for margin of error. Despite the obvious crack, Danny stared at him, his mouth twisting down. Much has happened since they last seen each other, but he still retraced his recent past actions. When he drew a blank, he smirked, “What did I do to deserve a lecture?”

“Who says there’s a lecture?”

Jackson looked at him, his bottle dangling over the counter. He couldn’t remember a time when Danny didn’t have many thoughts about his often questionable life choices. And, that phrase came straight from the source. Never one to back from a challenge, Danny broke eye contact only long enough to pull takeout containers from their bags.

“Maybe, I’m here to bask in your racoon presence.”

“Uh huh. And it has nothing to do with that?” He flicked his gaze towards the brightened phone screen, to the open message between Danny and Lydia. “How’s the ex by the way?” If he actually cared about their opinion of him, he’d sneak more than a backwards glance. But, he didn’t.

“Commanding her way through life, as usual. She’s not too happy with you.”

“Do I want to know?” Chances were, he didn’t.

Danny flipped his phone around. It’s all clipped sentences and colorful ways she’d harmed him if he didn’t stop doing whatever he was currently doing. He dismissed it with a flick, grinning lowly.

“I’m supposed to tell you to stop stealing Stiles from their weekly brunches.”

“They have weekly brunches?”

“A lot has changed, my naive little friend,” Danny reached for his cheek but he ducked, ignoring his lighthearted snicker.

“And that’s another thing--” Jackson straightened in his chair, no stopping the rant now, he talked over Danny’s exasperated sigh. “Your ridiculous middle school crush aside-”

“--We said we’d never-.”

Jackson snorted, “How do you go from...” How did he begin to describe their collective feeling towards Stiles? The right word wasn’t coming to him, so he left it lingering. “To Brunches and Uncle Danny.” After he caught the gleam in Danny’s eyes, the way his fingers whipped over his keyboard, he tacked on, “Not that I care.”

“It’ll hit you too.” Wasn’t the answered he’d been looking for. “Suddenly realizing he’s not as horrible as we thought.” Danny’s gaze crawled over what he thought was a bland expression, but the manifesting smirk told him his face was giving away anything but, “Or maybe it already has.”

“You wish.”

“Hell yeah I do. With you here, the daily ‘Danny-let-me-bitch-to-you-about-all-my-problems’ texts have decreased by 100%.”

“How difficult it must be for you to act like a friend to your friend.” Jackson offered him a pouty face and this time, he was the one reaching out, patting his cheek. Laughing, Danny finally let the conversation drift to other topics--work, Danny’s disappointing loyalty to American sports, the fact that his mom still hounded him about marriage and grandkids. All harmless stuff that left the kitchen with enough oxygen to breathe. The sensation didn’t last long.

“How’s home?” Danny fondled with his phone as he asked, pretending they both weren't hyper-aware of this specific conversation change. 

He winced, hesistating on how to answer that. How does one share that their ex-wife was last seen boarding a flight from California, that his investigator left a copy of her reciept, the bolded destination declaring New York, NY. That he was taking corners slower these days, fearing her practiced smile and bleached hair would assault him again. Danny would know what to do; he always did when it came to the serious stuff. And yet, Jackson never told him, about her or double-checking locks or the gut-wrenching thought that things had been stable for too long. He didn’t start today.

“Fine,” he shrugged.

Toward the front of the apartment, the elevator dinged. Literally saved by the bell. Not giving Danny the chance to fight him on it, Jackson yelled over the three idiots yelling over each other, “You Stink. Shower then food!” You’d think three orally-sensitive creatures, one being an adult would understand the concept of inside voices.

“Real nice, dad!” Dallas shouted back, followed by the thudding of feet on carpet. He nodded at Ethan when he strutted in, smelling the same if not worse than the boys.

“What did you do? Run them to Jersey?” he plugged his nose as the man skirted around him. Ethan winked, going so far as drawing his best friend into a loud, sloppy kiss. Right there in the kitchen. His kitchen. “You disgust me.”

“Bring it,” Ethan popped his mouth, stealing one of the grilled drumsticks from the container. “So,” he wrapped an arm around Danny and Danny didn’t cringe, must be true love. “I hear you’re snogging our resident worrywart on patio steps.”

Not this again.“Danny, tighten his leash,” he hopped down from the stool, “And don’t ruin the furniture.”

“The correct response is Thank You!” Ethan griped back, his cackle following all the way up the stairs. Honestly, it’s a shame they only met when Danny came to visit him some years ago. Sure, he’d heard all the stories, not a detail spared, but together, he and that asshole could’ve done so much damage torturing Scott’s sad little pack.

Once they were all seated around the table, food started circulating, and conversations started flying. No one offered to be his plus one tomorrow, which had him trudging to sleep alone after he let them eat ice cream while they watch a few episodes of some show. The crap Hollywood produced these days. They were right where he left them when he struggled out the door the next morning.

When he returned eight hours later, struggling not to drop into a coma and peeling apart his casual clothes, it was to a living room full of boys. He heard them from two floors down--music pumping, TV blaring, yelling like the only home training came from the Zoo. Danny snuck past him, grinning apologetically as the elevator door sealed him in. Unfortunately, with Jackson out.

Dallas scrambled to a stand at his presence, “They showed up and Danny said ok.”

Of course, Danny did. Danny didn’t have to deal with the ramifications of parents and the messes. Danny would sick an entire soccer team on him to teach him a lesson. Next to them, a body catapulted down the stairs.

“Jack Attack!”

He groaned--make that a whole soccer team and Sam. Silence rippled through the apartment as all eyes snapped to him, waiting for his reaction. He barely noted the one kid lowering a bottle at his side, the label looking suspiciously like his bottle. At the very front of the roublerousers stood Dallas and Sam, shoulder to shoulder but similar only in the pasty color of their skin but grimacing like they’ve been planning shit like this for decades.

He grumbled his way across the room, snatched back his beer then headed for the kitchen. The moment he disappeared, chaos ensued. He should be happy Dallas was making friends. Correction: he IS happy.

Burying his head in the freezer, he counted to thirty and up again. A few more hours and he’d send them home, simple. Then, he’d sleep and do nothing else until he absolutely had to.

“I don’t think you know how kitchen appliances work.”

Jackson sighed, snapping the door shut and turning. “But I do know you have a home. Go to it.”

“I could,” Stiles’s spawn leaned his full weight over the counter, seconds from dangling off the floor. He looked even more ridiculous than the last time Jackson saw him, consorting with the cheerleaders. Today, he was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt under a blue cardigan, only the turtles look like Rastafarians. And there’s sharpie mottling his hands, not in designs but from producing them. “Except I was personally invited.”

“By who?” he folded his arms, not a damn clue why he was enabling this kid.

“Four foot nothing, desperate need of a haircut,” Jackson really did need to get on that, “the only fan of silent films still living. Also if my dad calls, you’re paying me to babysit.”

“That’s--You--” he inhaled, shuddering away the negative thoughts, “Leave my kitchen.”

“Sir yes sir.” Chortling, Sammy saluted him, snagged two apple juice boxes from his pantry and bobbed right out, only stopping to say something that made all the other guys laugh. As he ordered pizza, he admitted that maybe the apple fell further from the tree than he originally persumed. Back then, people laughed at Stiles, not with him.

His visit with Benji went about the same, his son miming for him to shut his piehole. It “ruins” the atmosphere, he’d explained the last time Jackson made that mistake. Pinching his mouth shut, Jackson glared at Sammy’s silent laughter. But then, he followed him out, letting the door click behind him before he spoke. Sammy’s odd respect to his son’s strict movie-watching rules being the only reason Jackson acknowledge him.

“My dad’s having Poker Night.”

Jackson shifted, picking up the forgotten clothes between Dallas’s and Ben’s room. “And?” he finally said, the clothes as his shield. Like he cared that Stiles hadn’t invited him to his precious Poker Night.

“And...my dad’s having Poker Night. In case you feel like having a social life.”

“I don’t show up anywhere uninvited.”

Sammy’s eyes gleamed, so dark brown, they almost twinkled black, “Problem solved, you’ve been cordially invited.” The boy ended the conversation for him, zipping his mouth shut and pushing to tumble into the room. If Stiles wanted him there, he’d have invited him. He slid into bed. They weren’t friends, more like acquaintances who helped each other out from time to time. You scratch my back; I scratch yours kind of deal...without the, you know, physical touching.

He laid there maybe thirty minutes, body drained, music vibrating his walls. He stayed for maybe five minutes before bounding from bed, showered and threw on the first sweater and jeans he saw. He didn’t put product in his hair, instead leaving it frail and untamed. After brushing his teeth, he slid out the bathroom.

“Ben, I’m headed out,” he called, “Listen to Sam.” He spoke the one sentence he thought he’d never speak into this universe. Downstairs, Dallas promised to have everyone out by nine and he felt better about leaving. In the hour since he’d been home, the temperature dropped to a brisk chill, one that soothed his skin.

For the first time, he walked to Stiles’s place, everything more tangible than from behind the wheel. People talking on phones, strollers nearly running over his feet, teenagers without parental guidence pouring out of H&M. Back home, they lived in a house, but he always liked the city bustle. The more blocks he conquered, the more he second-guessed this decision.

Should he stop for cash? No, that’d be presumptious.

What if Stiles didn’t want to introduce him? He snorted, who wouldn’t want to introduce him.

In the end, he stopped for a six-pack at CVS, then withdrew cash from the ATM after all. It’d be embarrassing to show empty-handed. Besides, if middle-aged adults liked anything, they liked their alcohol.

Shoulders compressed, back straightened, he turned onto Stiles’s street, noting how quiet the row of townhouses were, at least for a city street at night. All the cars seemed congregated on the right side of the street, a stretch of them right in front of Stiles’s place. He pulled open the black gate, stepping down into Stiles’s makeshift porch as he inhaled one final time.

He pressed for Stiles’s place.

A hyper brain like his counted the miliseconds of waiting time, his fingers curling tighter around the cardboard beer holder. He couldn’t hear a thing on the other side, only the labor of his breathing and the wrestle of wind on Stiles’s dead plants.

Why did he let Sammy talk him into this? The cardboard dug deeper into his palm. He could be relaxing in bed, better yet entertaining the inane personalities of children who weren’t his. Christ, he left them at home... for this.

The door jerked open as Jackson closed the fence, his feet teetering the sidewalk.

Stiles, clutching the door, peered at him with an alarmed frown, “Jackson.”

What did you do when someone caught you fleeing? He tried to hide the six-pack behind his back, but without a coat, the manuever was useless.

“Everything good? Sammy didn’t do-”

“He’s fine,” he grunted too fast for the words to have come from him, him of all people. Stiles dropped the concern, but replaced it with another expression--distrust all wrapped in a squint of casual perusal. He’d have taken advantage of his blatant appreciation, but a clench on his chest, that monsoon of embarrasment swallowed all his inhibitations.

Cocking his head, Stiles focused on the beer, then once again drug his eyes up his body, stopping when they reached his gaze. The smirk that overtook his face slicked through his veins, the tention in his cheek infectious to it. “Get in here, dork,” Stiles opened the door wider, but barely wide enough for his body. Suddenly, the comforting silver glow seemed safer than the abyss of Stiles’s darkened home. For the second time, he took the steps anyway.

The commotion grew louder and louder as they ascended the two flights of steps. At first, white noise, then the clear mutterings of laughter and shit talking.

“I'll warn you, might as well lose your filter now. They certainly have.”

Listening to the snippets of rouble-rousing from Stiles’s friends, he rotated his watch, feigning apathy. From what Danny told him, Stiles’s didn’t have friends--only children, high school friends, or work partners. Curiosity overswept him as light doused them, an outdated Guns and Roses album along with it.

“You better not have peeked at my hand,” Stiles yelled the second he slammed the door. A mixture of cackles, all different pitches, assulted his ears.

A living room that was once riddled with stray clothes, seperated shoe halves, and bags, was spotless sans the evidence of too much junk food and Seamless deliveries. An official Poker Table materialized in the corner of the room, where he swore a couch once stood. They couldn’t see him yet, but he saw glimpses of them in the window’s reflection--three guys and a woman.

“Commoners, attention--” They rounded passed the half wall that was keeping them hidden. Stiles started to introduce him; he could see his mouth forming a J, but the muscular guy interrupted him, saluting him with a half-empty bottle.

“Two Point!!” The man’s voiced boomed with all the fervor of an inebriated man. “Pull up a seat, man”

Stiles cracked up. “That’s Two Point?!” He could barely stand, would be doubled over if Jackson hadn’t kept him up by his elbow. The heat pouring from his body was much easier to ignore with everyone laughing at him to his face. “Oh my god, so perfect,” Stiles finally sighed, righting himself. Jackson noticed he didn’t break from his hold, even then. Finally, Stiles clued him in, leaning farther into his personal space. “They think its entertaining to give us nicknames.”

“Passes the time,” the man shrugged.

That’s when it clicked. Sloshed muscular man was the kids’ security guard at school, the one always perched behind the desk, looking seconds from falling off his tiny stool. Now, he didn’t want to know what his nicknamed insinuated. Though, he wouldn’t mind hearing about Stiles’s.

“What's his?” Jackson asked, slugging Stiles’s chair. Everyone kicked up their laughter besides their grumbling host. He glanced at all of them, bemused. But, their laughter was infectious. It ripped a grin from him, even though he missed the punchline.

“Can we play the damn game?”

“Now I want to know,” Jackson prodded, leaning in closer to the table.

Stiles mumbled something, two breaths away from being dispherable.

“What? What was that?” he cupped his ear, loving the lobster-red tint blotching his expression.

“Screw all of you,” Stiles paused, death glaring at all five of them. Finally, Stiles faced him head on and Jackson beamed at him, tilting his head innocently. In that moment, he swore Stiles could actually smite him with his eyes. It’s the most relaxed he’d seen him since returning. “Frequent Flier, okay!”

An eerie moment of silence settled them, the only thing audible being the album playing in the background. Then, like clockwork, they all bursted, Stiles included. He simply shook his head, jaw skewed in a lopsided grin. Staring at him, Stiles bit his lip as all his friends reigned themselves in.

It took them awhile, but actual introductions were made. Turned out, the lot of them created the Bad Parents Clubs. Mitch--the security guard’s name apparently-- leaned over the table to shake his hand, demanding to know if the kid matched the parent. Stiles threatened him with bodily harm when he tried to answer.

“Are we gonna do this or what? I have egos to break,” The woman said, slamming her fist on the table. More of her tattoo sleeve revealed itself as she flexed her toned arm.

“Well, damn, ok then.”

He probably should have read the rules of the game on his walk over. They slaughtered him, taking more and more of his money each round.

“This is torturous,” Stiles groaned before he could speak the word ‘fold.’ Leaning into his space, Stiles’s hand covered his, turning it so they both eyed his lousy hand. “Are you insane?” he uttered again, pressing even closer into his side. With him so close, he could barely focus on the pointing and shuffling of cards, only at the way Stiles’s arm brushed his chest.

That was before something pinged him in the jaw.

“Cheaters!”

There it was again. Jackson snapped up at the right moment to see Mitch lob cashews their way. Soon the other three were at it too, cashews coming at them so hard he couldn’t dodge them. One hit Stiles’s shoulder and exploded between them.

Stiles broke down, the hand keeping him from catapulting into Jackson’s lap collapsing. Despite the nuts now lodged in his shirt, he felt his mouth stretching, first in muffled amusement then into a choked cackle when Stiles elbowed his pelvis.

The whistles and catcalls that commenced didn’t help at all. On reflex, he liberated his cramped arm, struggling between setting it on Stiles or on the crown of Stiles’s chair. The gleam in Mitch’s gaze chose the chair, expecially considering he’s ignoring the sensation of Stiles’s palms pressed against his thighs.

“Cheating, now this,” the woman rasped. She nudged her husband, “They call it favoritism.”

“Yeah, where’s my lap, Two Point?”

“Right there,” he said, flicking a hand toward the man’s wife. The guy tracked him a fine second, his facial expression unreadable, but then like a light switch, he threw himself over her lap, arms dangling over as she forced down his Brazil jersey.

“See what you caused. Get up, you big baby,” she chastised but nothing in her gravelly tone implied anything but fondness. Together, as if sharing the same thought, they faced Mitch and the quiet guy, that Jackson already forgot the name of. Realizing their audience, the two men shifted to face one another in horror.

“I’m not getting down there.” The quiet guy roughed. He tried to push Mitch off his seat, failing when the wall of muscle proved unmoveable. One nudge from Mitch, however, bumped him halfway across the room. Hands down, it’s the weirdest encounter he’d witnessed since the move, yet he felt light.

Eventually, they started a new game, each strewn person pulling themselves up. Stiles, however, laid unmoved in his lap and up until this point, he’d forgotten about him, the pressure light enough to feel like something that should simply exists.

The others didn’t seem to find it odd, which probably said more about Stiles’s alcohol tolerance than anything else. The closer it grew to his turn, the antsier he felt as if they’d know something about them, that in reality may or may not be true.

He wanted to pull him closer until Stiles fit firmly against him. Even as he cradled the back of Stiles’s chair, forcing Stiles to shift over his lap, the pressure landing right on his groin. “Stilinski,” his knee jerked involuntarily, “I’m closed for business.”

That made his friends cackle enough his thumb soothing over Stiles’s pulse point escaped them.

As if the pressure wasn’t enough, Stiles’ grunt vibrated through him, shooting down his legs and rushing back again. He didn’t meet Jackson’s eyes this time, instead shuffling off with an excuse about calling the kids. The scent of vanilla fizzling with burning embers trailed after him, leaving only charred rubber where he sat--for Stiles, the potent stench of embarrassment.

Jackson folded without another glimpse at his one good hand. The security guard, high on his second win, drew him into a conversation, his voice thundering over the muffled one in the bathroom. Without the ability to overhear, he lost interest, the night continuing without him. He texted Junior exactly twice, once to ensure the place was still standing and once to make sure they put Ben to bed.

Eventually, Stiles fell into his chair again, coincidentally scooting closer to him after he knocked into the table. Chips rattled in the center, falling from their tiny stacks. For the first time ever, he actually cared. He clutched tighter to his hand, shifting his tight-lipped smirk on Stiles before resettling on his only opponent, Maurico’s wife.

“Stilinski, just in time to watch your man get slaughtered. Again.” She punctuated the word with the click of her teeth.

Stiles snorted, then leaned over his arm for a peek, “He’s looking pretty good over here.”

He didn’t let the ease of Stiles’s exclamation trip him up, understanding her game. Instead, Jackson raised his last ten dollars, raising the pot to eighty. The peanut gallery gasped, pumping the air with more tension as she matched him.

For a moment, he tricked his mind into seeing things as they appeared, couple vs. couple. Neither of them moved to show first, or at all. Then, Stiles sighed dramatically, cupping his hand to lay it down himself. His hand, warm and dewy from condensation, fell with his almost made him startle from the gentleness of it.

“Okay, Okay. Two points for you, Two Point,” The woman actually spared his hand an impressed gleam as she threw her measly ‘Straight’ to be slaughtered by his ‘Royal Flush.’ He didn’t have time to ask the meaning of that stupid nickname because an uproar started next to him.

“Oooo, take that suckerz,” Stiles popped from his seat and dragged the pile toward Jackson, “He’ll be taking that.” Jackson high-fived him, his antics loud enough to rouse a laugh out of him. He stopped at doing the wave, when Stiles tried to pass it to him, arms still flopping in the air.

“As adorable as that is,” She started, her eyes rolling as she stood, “Some of us have a sitter to relieve.” Her husband gladly helped her cash in her overflowing pile, even stretching so far as carrying the cash from her. Until she smacked him. “Bitch please,” she walked away with a lofty cackle.

Jackson accepted their goodbyes, all of them calling him by that ridiculous nickname as they headed out. Within minutes, he and Stiles were the only ones sitting at the table, the ceiling fan oscillating filler noise. He turned at the same time Stiles flopped back, exhaling.

“I just lost so much money,” Stiles exclaimed, blinking at the ceiling for long seconds then tilting to face him. “Not worse than you though.”

He stared at his pile of four twenties, considerably less than the fifteen he came with. “Shut up.”

As if remembering his shitty poker playing all over again, Stiles cracked up, rolling his head in the crook of his elbow. “Terrible. Just terrible.”

“Ok pretty terrible,” he felt himself grinning at his own expense. There’s a silence he couldn’t shake, not uncomfortable but one that ushered in the doubt of this situation. He couldn’t remember why he hadn’t left with the others, more importantly what he expected to happen in the silence of Stiles’s home.

He stretched his legs further out in front of him, now that he wasn’t worried about his leg assaulting someone. Stiles breathed, his chest rising and falling and he tracked the movement of it. This time, he didn’t push the tension away, instead, leaning into it. There were no eavesdroppers to stop him, or remind him why this wasn’t a good idea.

Just when he thought Stiles would push the final inches, he jerked back. “Music!”

He stumbled from his chair to reach the speaker system on either end of their ridiculous TV. Jackson shook his head, eyeing as he pressed button after button on a device that obviously wasn’t his.

Those things have gotten so complicated now, he couldn’t make fun of him. Soon, slow beats fill around them, bass rattling the table and digging into his skin. He’d been certain Stiles forgot he existed since he started nodding along to the sincopating bass. It’s a song that had no business on whosever Ipod it did belong to. He slouched farther, allowing it to lull him into an odd chill.

A perfect view for the trance Stiles fell into, his hips rolling to the beat. Then, came the singing. One of those music competition shows wouldn’t be banging down his door anytime soon, but he could hold the tune, a low tremor differing from the singer’s raspy voice. He might have miscalculated the owner of this thing, which made the situation worse.

When he noticed Jackson unabashedly enjoying the show, he blushed, smirking at him. “I write to this.”

From what he’d read, doubtful. Jackson shifted, challenging him with the cock of his head. “Write what?”

Stiles shrugged, “Erotica.”

He choked, spewing water all over the table’s felt, “You’re shitting me.”

“Am I?” He leaned against a pillar, as far away from Jackson as he could get without leaving the room and yet, the heat of his presence loomed over him. “S.T. Hale. Look it up.”

Jackson didn’t reach for his phone. He didn’t do anything besides cling to the chair, working through the onslaught of images-- Stiles hot and bothered at his computer, biting his lip whenever he wrote something particularly dirty, grinding against his computer chair. That last one didn’t make much sense, but his mind ran with it anyway. None of it should turn him on; it really shouldn’t.

“Prove it.”

He said the wrong thing, his eyes widdening as Stiles observed him. He already knew what he led himself into, but nothing prepared him for the moment it happened.

“Jackson tried,” He started, pushing away from the wall and slinking toward him, “Everything in him wanting to close himself off, fight the way Stiles filled him with want. Not for the first time, he wondered how it’d feel to stop hiding behind smirks and shallow advances.” He trailed a hand over his shoulder as he circled him, lightly feathering along his collarbone until the tension fell from him, instead his lids growing heavier. He heard Stiles release a light snicker, even that so velvet smooth it curled around him. Stiles’s breath gusted over his ar, his next words mere whispers, “In the obsidian hours of the night, he couldn’t help but touch himself with thoughts of him, imagining the hand gripping his cock as Stiles’s wet mouth, pushing him closer and closer to the brink. Even now, as Stiles teased him, that image ripped through him, tightening his--” Stiles’s teeth grazed his earlobe and he jolted from the chair.

“Whatever! I believe you.”

“That easy? Ruining my fun.” With a shrug, he dropped the facade, filling Jackson’s abandoned chair before him. He was left standing, blinking at the careless set to his shoulders, his whole demeanor shifting. If he hadn’t still felt the tingle of Stiles’s mouth, he could have convinced himself it hadn’t happened. “Anyway, Scotty dared me. Turns out,” he leaned toward him again as if sharing a secret, “I’m great at writing all the ways I’m not getting some.”

“Next weekend.”

Stiles’s own front crumbled before he could mask it, “What about it?” He dropped the chips in his hands.

Jackson hadn’t been too sure himself, whether he was asking for the more of...that or for his time in general. Was there an option for all the above? With Junior away for his soccer retreat, he didn’t even have a babsitter next weekend and yet, he heard spring from him, “Go out with me.”

“Hmmm...I think I’m busy.”

“Stiles.”

“Only if I get to decide where we go and you don’t dress like a Wallstreet Asshole.”

“There’s the elegance people pay for.”

“It is, isn't it." He beamed, “Do we have a deal?”

“Whatever you want, Stilinski.” He’d promise him anything, almost anything as long as he proved him wrong. If he didn’t leave now, he didn’t think he would, especially with Stiles giving him that wrecked look again. “Text me with the details.” He threw over his shoulder, but stop himself from smirking as he let himself out.

Jackson failed to understand one thing. Stiles thinks about it too.

You can stop now, his fingers quivering as they moved against the screen. 

I don’t think I will actually.

Snorting, he turned off his phone for the walk home, first, checking on the boys--Junior still playing Madden with a few guys and Benji nestled under his covers. True to his word, Sammy actually stayed, lightly snoring in a sleeping bag that he'd crumpled on the floor. Jackson switched off the TV's gleaming blue scream, drenching them in darkness for the night. 

Physically exhausted, Jackson followed their lead, dropping his clothes in a trail to his own bed. His brain, though, couldn’t catch up as he gripped his phone, reading message after message of all the ways Stiles would ruin him if given a chance. His final thought before flatline was if Sober Stiles would still be game come morning. Better yet, would he? 

 

Chapter Text

 

What she said above ;P