[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Whatever, Whenever, However
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Monster High
Characters: Jackson Jekyll and Toralei Stripe (mentions of Operetta, Frankie Stein, Nefera and Cleo de Nile, Manny Taur, and assorted others)
Word Count: 3,526
Rating: G
Pairing(s): Jackson/Toralei
Warnings: Infidelity/cheating, but I defuse it quickly.

Author's Notes: The Monster High prom has kind of a lot of characterization and continuity issues, but it's got the least likely ship ever, and I hereby dub Creamo to be captain of that good ship. Be the voyage short or improbably long, I'm here for the ride (mostly because I can ship anything so long as I don't feel squicky about the age difference and somebody works at making me believe it).

Summary: Jackson and Toralei's evening following their last iCoffin chats and social media posts.

Come back and let’s dance, her text had said. (Well, the one before the confessions about unleashing the cats, but Jackson had strongly suspected that before he’d invited Toralei.) He went back, and, because Operetta was playing an updated-but-still-slow cover of Sleepwalk, he could. He did. Then he checked his phone to see if Holt was supposed to be onstage (not yet) and led Toralei to the punch bowl so they could talk, a little.

If she wanted to.

Or they could just get punch. You know, whatever.

“Wanna lay into me in person?” Toralei asked.

“Not… exactly. Mostly I’m confused. You wanted to be prom queen?”

“I didn’t want Cleo to be prom queen,” Toralei countered. “I get it, I know it’s all a popularity contest, and I know why any of the nominees would win-- but I thought… Monster High doesn’t do separate ballots for prom king and queen. It’s a couples thing.”

“… We’re not exactly a couple,” Jackson pointed out, only a little uncertain. “You’ve got a boyfriend.”

“I know. But he’s not here, and I’ve still got the best date. Not Cleo, not Lagoona. Me. I’ve got the guy who risked a fierce rejection at the very last minute even though he knew… exactly who he was asking. And so maybe I can’t have you for every dance. … Maybe I can’t have you at all if I can’t figure out how to clean up my act a little. But for as long as I’ve got you, I want you. You’ve got more guts than any other guy at this school.”

“Me? Come on. I’m just…” The no-powers little nerd who didn’t actually have the guts to try out for casketball (he liked casketball, he was good at casketball) because Manny was still on the team. The normie box that Holt Hyde came in. “I’m just a guy.”

“You never stop standing up for yourself,” she told him. “I mean-- you were about to leave this party DJ-less and Operetta dateless because you were mad at me--”

And oh crap. Oh crap he’d almost done that. His hand went to his mouth and he vaguely hoped nobody looked over and thought Toralei had slipped him something weird, because his face felt cold so he was probably paler than Spectra.

“… Oh my ghoul,” Toralei said, half smiling with that kind of ‘oh look easy prey and it’s wiggly’ look in her eyes. “Did you actually forget about that?”

“I forgot about Holt,” Jackson said, then moved his hand so he didn’t sound so muffled. “I haven’t forgotten about Holt since I found out about Holt!”

Apparently the only thing obvious in his tone was awe, because Toralei raised an eyebrow and asked, “Are you mad?”

And-- mad? Was he mad? “Can I hug you?” Toralei-- and she was great, really, she was funny, she was smart (which he understood was kind of an open secret from anybody who didn’t have AP Clawculus with her), but she was Toralei-- had managed, even accidentally, even through causing chaos, to make Jackson forget for a little while that he wasn’t a whole person, that he didn’t have total agency if Holt had something to do, if the music got too loud and too fast. That getting mad at Toralei and stranding her at prom-- well, he was her ride-- would’ve had consequences beyond him and her.

“… Seriously?”

“I don’t get to feel like I’m alone in my skin very often anymore.” Or, ever, really.

“… Yeah, you can hug me, but people are looking so you have to start.”

And that was an easy condition-- and no matter who was looking, Jackson reached out and stepped close and wrapped his arms around Toralei, careful not to crush her dress. “Thank you,” he murmured, not actually anywhere close to her ear. “Thank you for being here with me.” Even if she wanted to be at prom with her boyfriend. That was a reasonable thing to want-- if Jackson had a girlfriend, he’d want to be at prom with her.

“Let go,” and Toralei’s murmur actually was near Jackson’s ear, “before I put a great big lipstick print on your cheek.”

He felt the blush flare across his cheeks as he pulled away, and tried not to notice that Toralei was really pretty when her expression was soft (he generally tried not to notice how pretty girls who he knew had boyfriends could be).

Onstage, Operetta called out, “C’mon, Monster High, let’s hear it for Catty Noir!”

Jackson felt the world start to blur around the edges as the applause rose in decibel level-- “Sorry,” he offered Toralei, wry and disappointed.

She just shrugged. “Hey, free Catty Noir concert, right?”

Jackson had enough time to smile and realize that had probably played into why Toralei was so bitter about prom and Rocco and going versus not going before the beat started pounding and something in him caught fire and he slipped into that same irresistible sleep-that-wasn’t-sleep that used to happen every sunset.

DJ Holt Hyde rejoined the party.

--


Later, after the actual prom king and queen were crowned (and Toralei was satisfied that a) Cleo wasn’t prom queen, b) neither were any other fearleaders and c) prom king was Jackson’s cousin, so at least he was related to one-night-only fake royalty) and the party had started to wind down, more slow songs than fast ones, Jackson found his way back to Toralei’s side.

“I’m your ride home, right?” he asked, looking and sounding like he was trying to keep a lid on desperation. (Probably smelled that way, too, but the catacombs smelled like crowd and cat and burnt brandy, so Toralei wasn’t sniffing anything closely.)

And the thing was, he didn’t have to be her ride. “I scored an invite to Cleo’s big post-prom creepover,” she started.

“Can I drive you there?”

“… Why?”

“I overheard-- I think Holt has some post-prom plans of his own, and… and they’re not the kind I want to wake up in the middle of once the music stops. At least I’m pretty sure they’re not.”

For a minute, Toralei was chagrined-- there went her ride in a luxe hearse-- but all things considered, she owed Jackson one. (It made her wonder what Operetta’s plans with Holt were. The last Toralei had heard, this was their first date since summer, which was either a time to say ‘let’s start over’ or a time to show, not tell, how much they missed each other.) So she said, a little too loudly, “Of course I still need a ride. No matter how big that hearse is, it’s going to get way too crowded. I just need you to drop me off at Cleo’s instead of my place.”

Jackson nodded, like his head was on a string. “I just wanted to make sure,” he said, just loud enough for other people to hear. “I like clear plans.”

“Now you’ve got one.” Jackson’s shoulders dropped in relief, and Toralei caught Operetta’s eye over Jackson’s shoulder.

She couldn’t help smirking. She could’ve skipped reaching out to straighten Jackson’s lopsided tie, particularly since it looked delightfully disheveled the way it was, but it made Jackson smile and Operetta frown.

(Toralei wasn’t being inconsiderate of Operetta’s feelings. Operetta was being inconsiderate of Jackson having a life and a social calendar separate from Holt’s, that’s what was going on here. Nobody who couldn’t handle either the technical threesome or having a time-share boyfriend had any business dating Holt or Jackson.)

At a less attention-grabbing volume, Toralei told Jackson, “Just tell me when you’re ready to get out of here.”

“Whenever? I’m not really…” He stopped, while Toralei watched Operetta stalk back towards the stage.

“You know, I think we need to go before there’s one more bass-led song.” Operetta and Toralei had a lot in common, and underhandedness topped the list. Toralei wouldn’t put it past herself to change the music to get her date back, and Operetta was actually authorized personnel for the DJ setup.

So Toralei grabbed Jackson’s hand and pretty unceremoniously towed him toward the door.

He kept up and only stumbled once, which was pretty good (and kind of intriguing) for somebody who was physically a normie.

The door to the catacombs closed behind them just as a four-four beat started to shiver the walls, and Jackson exhaled in relief. “Not loud enough, from out here. … Thanks.”

Toralei turned a couple of ideas over in her head. (The first one was that Cleo hadn’t left the prom yet, and if she went straight to the giant fear-a-mid the de Niles lived in before Cleo was home, she’d get chucked out on her tail by the staff.) “Are you hungry?” she asked Jackson. “I’m hungry.”

“… I’m pretty sure Cleo will feed you,” Jackson assured her, smiling (and maybe teasing a little).

“Yeah, but she’s still in there, and I’m hungry now,” she told him, in her very best ‘I’m a cute kitten’ voice. It got a smile out of him, anyway. “I know an all-night die-ner.”

“… Hang on.” He pulled out his phone and started tapping-- then let her see the ready-to-send text message to Frankie Stein.

Taking Toralei out to eat to make up for only being about 30% of a prom date. I’ll drop her off at Cleo’s afterward. Enjoy the rest of the party!

“I’m confused,” but she sent a deliberately-mixed signal by smiling. “Are we being considerate of people’s feelings, or scheming?”

“… This might be both,” Jackson admitted, and sent the text. “But, I mean, now that I think about it, a burger sounds really good.”

--


The first conversation Jackson ever had with Toralei had been in AP Clawculus. He’d complimented her-- told her she was so good at Clawculus-- and she’d rolled her eyes. “Let me guess-- but not as good as you?”

“It’s not a competition,” Jackson had told her, “but that’s one of the things I like about math.”

“… Huh. Most of the rest of the class is pretty obsessed with getting the highest score.”

“The highest score out of the class, or the highest score available on the work?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Highest score out of the class is winning. Highest score available is perfection.”

Then she’d said “Huh,” again and introduced herself.

And it stood out in Jackson’s memory because while Toralei wasn’t exactly nice to him, she was one of three students who looked at Jackson, pre-Holt-revelation, and figured he had as much right to be there as any of them.

The ride to the die-ner was pretty quiet, mostly because Toralei spent it fiddling with her phone. Eventually, she tucked it back in her purse and thudded back against the headrest. “Well, you have to show up to school on Monday,” she told him. “I think Cleo thinks I’m going to eat you or something.”

Sometimes all you could do was laugh. “I thought you were invited to her place for a sleepover-- er, creepover?”

“I am. I just wanted to turn down the hearse ride so she didn’t end up waiting for me. Maybe she still thinks you’re Frankie’s, or something. Whatever, she obviously doesn’t trust me alone with you.” It was hard to tell, from her tone, whether or not Toralei was amused or legitimately upset by that.

“I trust you,” Jackson assured her. “If that’s not enough for Cleo, that’s her problem.” He didn’t know Cleo well-- mostly through Deuce-- but he hoped her tendency to play Ring-A-Defensive-Perimeter-Around-The-Boyfriend wasn’t starting to extend to her friends’ boyfriends.

And ex-boyfriends.

“Cleo likes to make her problems everybody’s problems. She always has. … Nefera’s the same way, but Nefera was…”

“Dare you to say whatever you’re gonna say without insulting Cleo,” Jackson tried. Toralei liked a challenge-- maybe a challenge to be nicer could help.

“… Even indirectly? Because Nefera’s best quality was that she always remembered to tip the waiter.”

“What’s that mean?” Cleo didn’t tip? Weird.

“It means if Nefera sees you as a social inferior, she’ll treat you that way-- oh my ghoul will she treat you that way-- but she never expects an ‘inferior,’” Toralei added clawed air quotes, “to work for nothing but the thrill of working for her.”

“… I guess that’s a good balance,” Jackson allowed. “Kinda.”

“It made her a lot easier to deal with as fearleading captain.”

“You were a fearleader?” That was news to him.

“Me and the twins, before you came to Monster High. Two years under Nefera, started a third with Cleo. … We quit the first day.”

“Wow. I’m-- is ‘I’m sorry’ the right thing to say?”

“It’s pretty close,” she said, shrugging. Then they were at the die-ner and Jackson had to focus on parking. For some reason, perception tended to overwhelm reality and he always thought he was going to scrape up against one car or another, or wedge himself in so tight the doors wouldn’t open, or roll up over the parking log or the curb. Even with the die-ner pretty quiet, given any girl who could swing it was trying to get invited to Cleo’s place, Jackson still felt like getting the car into the parking spot properly needed all his attention.

“Sorry. I’m still kinda new at this. All the driving simulator games I’ve got tend to reward you for doing things that’ll get you a ticket out in the real world.”

“Aww, afraid of a little parking ticket?” Toralei teased, playfully.

He shrugged and offered a smile. “Well, Mom Hydes out when she’s angry, and Dad’s a fire elemental, so…”

“So, reasonable fear,” Toralei concluded, and opened her door.

“I like to think so.” Jackson followed suit, locked the car, and hurried around so he could offer Toralei his arm.

He got a wide, genuine smile for his trouble.

They got a quiet booth and ordered food-- milkshakes for both of them, Jackson’s burger ended up being a bacon cheeseburger, and Toralei got fish and chips after a long few minutes of staring at the menu with a calculating look in her eye-- and once they were settled in, Jackson asked, “Do you miss fearleading?”

Toralei shrugged and carefully segmented her fish. “Yes and no. It was something to do, and we were good-- I liked being the best at something-- but there’s a reason we quit. Cleo’s not the kind of perfectionist I can get along with. … Are you seriously interested in this? It’s either girl drama or sports drama, and…” she gestured vaguely at Jackson.

“I like sports,” he countered. “I play-- um. Casketball. Just… not at school.”

She raised a brow. “Is it the normie thing? Half the casketball team has super-strength.”

“Manny hates me like a matador-- well. Like a red flag.” Jackson didn’t really get the dignity of being a matador, not from Manny. “I don’t want to have to deal with that at a regularly scheduled time every day, you know?”

“He’s that bad?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time in lockers since meeting Manny.” Jackson looked down at his burger, considering if taking a big bite with vengeance in his heart would gross him out. He concluded that it would, and switched to fries until the moment passed.

“One time,” Toralei said, “Abbey grabbed him by his nose ring and flipped him.” She took a nonchalant sip of her milkshake.

Jackson stared for a long moment, imagining it. “Really?” Toralei nodded, lips playing with the straw. “… All hail the prom queen,” he decided. “I bet that’s why Manny teases Heath about it every time Abbey catches him or lifts him up or… whatever.”

“Is he still doing that? He’s gonna get every girl in school mad at him.”

Jackson shrugged. “He doesn’t do it as much as he used to. It sort of tapered off once Heath got more serious about Abbey. As serious as Heath gets, anyway.”

“What’s the deal with them? Are they a thing, or not a thing, or… what? Heath’s still being Heath at every other girl he sees.”

“I’m not… a hundred percent sure. I know Heath likes Abbey a lot, but he’s never called her his girlfriend. Knowing Heath, if they were official, he’d never shut up about it.”

“And you don’t like it,” Toralei concluded.

Jackson wrinkled his nose. “Heath’s my cousin and I love him, but I think Abbey can do better. On the other hand,” he immediately countered, “if Abbey wants Heath, she doesn’t have to do better. If they’re both happy, it doesn’t really matter if I’m confused.”

“Is that what you want?”

“… Is what…?”

“To be happy with somebody even if one of you is out of the other’s league.”

“I’m not…” Jackson had accepted a lot since finding out about Holt, since Frankie put them on a ‘pause’ that seemed to have drained the batteries. “I’m not definitively planning on starting that kind of relationship in high school.”

“No?” Toralei’s tone was light and innocent, but Jackson decided not to worry about it.

“No. I only found out about Holt a little while ago-- now I’ve got to figure out how to get through high school and college, maybe grad school, depending on what I major in-- with a… musical flip-side, and the doctor says our trigger could change again, maybe multiple times, before it settles down in adulthood. And? Usually people who like me don’t really like Holt, and people who like Holt think I’m boring at best. So if I were going to have a long-term relationship with anybody, it’d have to be somebody who either likes both of us or--”

“Or,” Toralei stepped in, “was willing to share.”

He nodded, cheeks hot. “And depending on the trigger, that might not really be fair, you know? … To… Holt’s person.”

“That must take a lot of pressure off.”

“… What?” No it didn’t.

“Nothing’s permanent right now,” Toralei said. “Whatever you get into, whoever you go out with, it’s not for keeps. It’s not for the rest of your life. So you can date whoever, and not worry about whether this one’s the one if you don’t want to.”

“… And here I thought I was just procrastinating,” Jackson said-- but he started smiling about halfway through saying it.

Toralei shook her head. “You have time. Take it. Don’t let anybody tell you to hurry.”

“Thank you,” he said, sincerely. “You’re an incredible person.”

“I’m a terrible person,” she dismissed, lightly.

“You’re better than you think you are,” he assured her.

Toralei looked up at him and smiled, setting down her fork and beckoning him forward with a crooked finger. “C’mere.”

Jackson must’ve looked confused, so she repeated herself: “Come here.”

He leaned forward, trusting but confused. “Toralei?”

She moved fast, and while his mouth was still full of her name, she darted forward and kissed him, shockingly deep. Her teeth were sharp, her tongue was rough, her lips were hot and soft, and when she pulled away and saw the look on his face, her laugh was like shattering crystal.

Jackson tried to say something, about Rocco, about how sudden that was, about-- something, anything, but all that came out was, “Muh.”

“Cat got your tongue?” she teased. “Because she could.”

“Boyfriend?” Jackson managed. “Big, um. Big stone gargoyle athlete boyfriend?”

“In Scaris,” Toralei reminded, “and it’s kind of an open thing. We can see other people, we just usually don’t want to.”

“And you want to…” She’d kissed him. He asked her to the prom as a friend and they’d fought and made up and she’d kissed him, and now? Now he was really confused. “Me?”

“Well, I’m not going to push you into anything,” she said, leaning against the back of the booth, relaxed-- but her eyes fixed on Jackson. “Just tempt.”

It was stupid. It really was. She had a boyfriend-- even if it was open and he did go to another school-- and she was so far out of his league and honestly, as much as he liked Toralei, she could be pretty intensely mean…

But she was smart, too, and kind of an outsider, like him-- even if she was mostly an outsider by choice. And she’d had a couple of good points, especially about time and priorities and permanence. “I’m sixteen,” he started.

“… So am I?”

“I have the rest of my life to be responsible. I think… I think I’m entitled to…” no, he wouldn’t say ‘a few mistakes,’ he wouldn’t insult Toralei that way-- and maybe it wouldn’t turn out to be a mistake at all. Maybe. “… have something… impulsive and… mine, at least for a little while?”

Toralei’s smile was slow and warm. And sly. “Mm. Let’s get one thing straight, first.”

“What?”

“I’m not yours. You’re mine.” The smile slipped into a grin. “For however long.”

Jackson worried his answering smile was a little shaky, but he lifted his milkshake glass. “To however long?”

Toralei raised hers in answer to the offered toast, tapping the rim against his. “To however long,” she agreed.

If it turned out to be a disaster, Jackson promised himself he’d at least enjoy every minute of it while it lasted.

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