[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Strange Cases
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Monster High (mostly diaries, some webisode influences)
Characters: Jackson and Holt's parents, Jackson Jekyll, Holt Hyde, background family
Word Count: 11,933
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Jackson and Holt's parents (technical OCs, Brand Burns, Jenny Jekyll, and Hedda Hyde)
Warnings: Occasionally misguided parenting decisions made with the best of intentions, periodic foul language (I tried to stick with MH style language, but Hedda Hyde wanted to be able to cuss), a bundle of control and self-esteem issues (thanks, Henry Jekyll), a couple of minor instances of non-graphic violence (one involving drunk college idiots and canon-typical fantastic racism), adult fears, and spoilers for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which came out in 1886 and is available to read for free on Project Gutenberg, so if you want to go read that first, I'll wait here for you.

Author's Notes: I can't blame anyone but myself for this one. Thanks, however, go to Celaeno for reading the thing and agreeing it hit her in the feels where it hit me, and if you want to picture Brand and Jenny the way I do, picture them as imagined by Creamo Dreamo. Names were chosen for canon-style puns, alliteration and meaning, or sheer nerdery (Jennifer Walters is She-Hulk). A line of dialogue was filched from Jackson Jekyll's signature diary, as was the situation in the last scene.


Summary: Knowing the inspiration, it's sometimes easy for fans of Monster High to look at a teenage character or a series of parenting decisions and wonder, "How in the hell did that happen?"

Jackson Jekyll and Holt Hyde, son of a fire elemental and a great-great-whatever-granddaughter of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, spent fifteen years believing they were each alone in their body, and just had a sleep disorder that kept Jackson from staying up past sunset and Holt awake all night long, right up until their trigger changed to the presence (or absence) of music in 4/4 time over 90 decibels.

This is the story of how in the hell that happened.




They met at college, sort of.

They didn’t actually have any classes together, but they were both students, at least. The town was one of those almost-but-not-quite-integrated places; technically there was only one college in town, but it had two campuses, one mixed-monster, one human, and while there wasn’t a lot of overlap in terms of neighborhoods and hangouts, there was just enough.

She was shy, bookish, and he thought she was beautiful as she became a coffee-shop regular, always sitting in a corner where she could see everything but also keep out of everything.

He was laid-back, charming in a silly way, and deliberately non-threatening in a way she definitely appreciated from anyone, let alone a fire-elemental barista.

One day, Jennifer Jekyll collected her usual coffee order and noticed a short note written on the cardboard sleeve.

A phone number and four words: No pressure. -Brand Burns.

--


It took her three days to wind up the courage to call him. (She didn’t bother asking herself about the worst that could happen. She was a Jekyll. She knew what the worst that could happen was.)

The first dates, even the first weeks, were blessedly problem-free. Jenny’s course load was mixed because the sciences, mad and mundane, fascinated her (“Like a moth to a flame,” she’d said, and Brand had grinned and managed, somehow, to flirtatiously ignite his hair) even though she didn’t think she wanted to work in the sciences. Brand had a passion for Medieval history, itching to find passed-over sources that cast the pre-Schism world in a different light. Jenny wasn’t nearly as interested in the subject matter as he was, but she liked Brand’s enthusiasm.

There were stares when they went out together, of course, but not as many as there could have been-- it was a college town, young adults of whatever age, free from watchful parents, guardians, or boarding school staff for the first time were experimenting in all kinds of things. Usually it was only underclassmen who stared at anything for long, a mixture of ‘what are you doing?’ and ‘wait wait is that allowed?’ because most students and locals who hadn’t started off fairly liberal-minded ended up liberal-by-exposure. After all, the so-called real world was mixed-species. Even if people didn’t agree with all the intermingling, it wasn’t considered polite to make a big deal about it in public.

But Brand didn’t pass for human in good lighting, and Jenny didn’t pass for monster at all. Get a couple of drinks into the right kind of idiot and some of the student bodies forgot their manners.

And one night, things got out of hand.

Jenny thought the school had lost a sporting event of some kind, which tended to put a lot of students into extra-sour moods. She was good at ignoring insults thrown at her-- she’d heard her share and then some, so she was used to how they made that hot darkness coil up in her chest and threaten to drown her-- and when Brand flared up at hearing them, she kept calm. “Let’s just go,” she told him, but he took a step closer to the half-dozen young men-- monsters-- who were sneering at them. “Brand. Let’s just go.

“Oh, I get it,” one of them sneered, “you’re not a traitor to monster-kind, you’re just the little normie’s pet.

“It’s not worth it,” Jenny hissed, but the words were directed inward. “It’s not worth it…”

“You’re right,” Brand said, putting an arm around Jenny and pulling her protectively close. (He always noticed when she was upset, and she liked that about him.) “These morons aren’t worth anything.” He started to lead her away, to the jeers of the small, angry crowd.

“Got you on a short leash!”

“You gonna run, flame-brain? Got no monster pride?”

Later, much later, Jenny found out someone had thrown an empty beer bottle, and it hit Brand in the back of the head. In the moment, all that really registered was a hollow sound, and Brand falling to his knees with a pained cry. He hadn’t been cut, but the skin of the scalp was thin, and even a little split tended to bleed so profusely-- all it took was seeing that violent splash of wet, glistening red and Jenny’s world narrowed to the roaring in her ears before everything went black.

--


In 1886, a scientist proved that it was entirely possible to be brilliant and foolish at the same time. He concocted, then tested on himself, a serum he believed would strip him of all his vices and baser urges. While it didn’t manage that, it did create a wild, temperamental alternate personality, one with his own face and name, who could quite readily go out and indulge in any vice Victorian society deemed inappropriate for a gentleman doctor without besmirching the doctor’s reputation.

Doctor Henry Jekyll was a calm, collected intellectual whose manners were impeccable, whose vices were only those that could be indulged in secret. His counterpart, Edward Hyde, was raucous, uncaring save for himself, and when remotely threatened, violent to the point of being murderous.

Mrs. Leticia Jekyll had her husband’s estate sold, his research burned, and left the country in the wake of the scandal surrounding Henry Jekyll’s experiments, Edward Hyde’s crimes, and the odd murder/suicide one or the other had managed to commit with a single stroke. When her son was born some months later, he became what the child-rearing authorities of the age would have considered a very spoiled baby, because he had a tendency to change whenever anything-- a dropped toy, hunger pangs, an accidental pricking with a diaper pin-- upset him enough. His own children, years later, were no different.

Triggers varied from Hyde to Hyde over the centuries that followed, but were mostly emotional.

For Jennifer Jekyll, it was anything that tipped her from ‘flight’ to ‘fight.’

Hedda Hyde was built like a minotaur and punched like a wrecking ball. While Jenny’s brand-new boyfriend sat on the ground dazed, Hedda scattered the drunk idiot monsters who upset Jenny with no more than three swings of her arms and a bone-rattling bellow.

She wasn’t sure what they’d done until she turned around and got a good look at Brand, who was rubbing the back of his head and staring at her.

“Wow,” he managed, then, “Hi.”

Hedda folded her arms, and Brand’s stare shifted to her chest. “Yeah, hi,” she agreed, looking down at him. Cute, sure, but he looked too harmless to be interesting.

“Hi,” Brand repeated, then frowned. “Jenny?”

“Hedda,” she corrected. “… Jenny’s safe.” He’d probably want to know that. Jenny was safe (that was practically Hedda’s job, so annoying) and Jenny would be back.

“Okay.” He pulled his hand away from his head-- and for a moment they both stared at it.

Bright red blood stood out surprisingly well against pale yellow skin. “You okay?” Jenny was uptight and kind of weak and hogged up all their time, but she’d be miserable if Hedda let her boy-thing bleed all over the place until he broke up with her by exsanguination. A miserable Jenny was a Jenny who moped around instead of ending up in trouble, and a Jenny who never ended up in trouble never let Hedda out.

“I think I might not be?” Brand offered, and yep, that was a concussion. Hedda had seen a few of those.

… Hedda had caused a few of those. “Okay, sparky, how do you feel about hospitals?”

“No oxygen tanks,” Brand said, his expression serious as Hedda hauled him to his feet.

“No shit.”

Emergency rooms were boring when you weren’t one of the ones hurt, but Brand was entertainingly loopy and since he was pretty bloody, he got seen pretty fast. Before Hedda finished cleaning up Jenny’s messes (she was free to do whatever she wanted after that, she figured), Brand grinned up at her. “Hey. Hey. You totally rescued me.”

“I just punched some guys.”

“And it was awesome.

“Shut up and let your painkillers kick in so I can get out of here and go do something fun.”

--


Things got a little complicated after that.

Jenny and Hedda shared a body, technically a life, but Jenny tried to ensure Hedda didn’t get out much. Hedda thought Jenny was spoiled and soft and boring; Jenny thought Hedda was terrifying and dangerous and unnecessarily coarse. Brand thought they were both ridiculously hot, which wasn’t technically a problem, but it also wasn’t a situation anyone in Jenny’s family had ever been in before.

“I want to get to know Hedda better,” he told Jenny.

“Why?”

“Because she’s part of your life. Because… it’s too soon to say we’re in this for the long haul, but I don’t think it’s too soon to say we could be in this for the long haul.” He’d never pictured himself with anyone as close to human as Jenny (so close it didn’t make any difference until Hedda showed up), but he could see them getting serious, even staying serious. “You already know I’m not gonna freak out.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about you being so accepting of all this,” Jenny admitted. “I know there was that tell-all book, but that was a hundred years ago and-- the Hydes have always been… the Jekyll family secret, so to speak.”

“The black sheep?” He’d heard stories of normie families building secret rooms in their houses for relatives who weren’t quite normie enough, to hide them. (He’d also heard vampires tended to do the same thing, only the relatives they locked up were the political dissenters instead of the ones with birth defects or mental illness or whatever. Not that that made it better.) Jenny hadn’t hidden that the Jekylls were an old family with old money, and he did wonder, a little.

“They’re violent,” she said. “Hedda isn’t an exception.”

“She took me to the hospital,” Brand pointed out.

Jenny closed her eyes for a long moment, obviously troubled. She only looked up when Brand put a hand on her shoulder (hoping for comforting). “Give me some time to think about it.”

“Okay.”

Jenny took a week, and then Brand went on his first date with Hedda Hyde.

From then on out, it was kind of like a three-legged race. Jenny loved quiet meals, books, thinky movies, long walks, stargazing, gentle silliness, while Hedda had the best times at noisy bars or clubs, rock concerts, sporting events (she was a devoted fan of Skulltimate Roller Maze even once she learned there were rules), thrill rides, and horseplay that developed a tendency to turn into Brand getting pinned against a wall (or tree or high enough fence) in the best possible ways. Brand loved all that stuff-- and of course they all three(-ish) had things they were into that were theirs alone.

(Someday, Brand promised himself, he’d have somebody in his life he could watch historical fiction with who’d yell ‘oh come on!’ about the same things he did. Jenny couldn’t complain, though, she yelled about bad science in movies all the time, and Hedda once watched an action-history movie about Queen Boodicca with him and went on a ten-minute tirade about the risks of individually-molded breasts in plate armor that had Brand covering his sternum in wide-eyed but fascinated horror.)

It worked. Well, it worked like a three-legged race-- sometimes awkwardly and there were plenty of stumbles as they worked it out, but the stumbles were the worst of it. Brand graduated, got an apartment in town, and asked his girls to move in with him.

He found out that Jenny and Hedda kept diaries intended for the other to read, and that Jenny was obsessive about written schedules, because if it was written down somewhere visible, Hedda had fewer excuses for making Jenny miss important appointments. Jenny was tidy (sometimes ridiculously so), while Hedda thought ‘lived-in’ and ‘trashed’ were close enough to the same thing. It was occasionally a challenge to fit himself into how Hedda and Jenny lived, but he wanted it to work, and he was willing to work at it-- and one day, Hedda nudged him and said, “Hey. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. What’d I do?”

“I get out a lot more often these days.” Brand must’ve looked as confused as he felt, because Hedda went on, “Jenny’s afraid of me, but she’s not afraid of me-with-you.”

“I know how lucky I am to have both of you…”

“Yeah, yeah, love you too, you little dipstick,” and Hedda ruffled his hair and went back to watching her MMA competition.

And Brand realized that because he was willing to work at what they had, Jenny was willing to work at it, too, in a way he didn’t think she’d ever been before-- in a way maybe nobody in her family had ever been before. Even if Jenny had started working with her Hyde side for Brand’s sake, it had gotten to be a habit, working herself up and letting go so Hedda could have an afternoon or an evening. (Hedda didn’t care about anything like equal time, entirely willing to leave the “boring stuff” like school, work, and usually sleep to Jenny.)

But as Jenny’s graduation day crept closer, Jenny seemed to gather a funk around her-- Brand thought, at first, that it was because she was dreading the end of school (Jenny loved academia), but reminding her she could do a graduate program if she was interested didn’t seem to help. She avoided the subject, and when Brand asked Hedda if she knew what was up, Hedda just shrugged. “She’s being stupid. That’s all.”

When she out-stubborned him on details, Brand changed the subject. “You been checking your email?”

“When I remember. The actual world is more fun. Why?”

“Good habit to get into, that’s all.”

It took weeks to get it right. Big, romantic gestures were tricky when you were trying to gesture equally at two people who literally couldn’t be in the same place at the same time. Emailing the video lacked a certain in-person touch, particularly as he’d headed out of town (to see his family; his sister Ashleigh was dating Some Guy and Brand wanted a brotherly chance to glower at him) and then sent the emails.

--


I’ve spent months trying to decide if this is tacky or fair, but let me promise it‘s not ominous-- just a surprise. Make sure both of you see the email. I’ll see you Sunday night. (If the attachment lovealltwoofyou.wmv doesn’t play then I screwed something up and I’m really sorry.)

The video played, showing Brand juggling--

(“Brand and his juggling,” Jenny murmured. She could understand the skill, but really only enjoyed it for Brand’s forearms.)

-- underneath a hand-lettered sign that read I Love All Two Of You.

(“… Oh, it’s ‘two of ,’” Hedda told absolutely nobody. “Weird how ‘woof’ is the part that sticks out.”)

“Once upon a time,” Brand started, dropping two of his three balls to the floor and switching to contact juggling with the third, twisting and twirling it around his fingers, “there was a chuckleheaded fire elemental who had two amazing girlfriends. The one he met first--” and Brand tossed the ball into the air, then kicked a second up, caught it, and kept both balls bouncing from hand to hand-- “was soft and sweet and smart and shy, and holy smokes was he ever in love with her. The one he met second--” another kick and the third ball shot back into the frame, and suddenly Brand was juggling traditionally again, three classic balls moving seemingly effortlessly through the air-- “was brawny and boisterous and bright and bold, and the fire elemental found out he loved her just as much as the first girl he’d met.

“In any other story, the whole thing would end up in a triangle that could only be resolved by leaving somebody alone and sad, but that chuckleheaded fire elemental was so lucky, because it turned out his girlfriends were flipsides of each other. They both loved him, and they let him love both of them, and they let him stay with both of them, and one day, the fire elemental realized he couldn’t be any happier.”

Brand settled all three balls into one hand, fingers working to rotate them as he reached off-screen for something. “Actually,” he said, “almost immediately, he realized there was one way he could be happier.” He settled a little square box on top of the balls, making a pyramid that spun swiftly in his hand. “And that one way was if both of his beautiful, beloved girlfriends would agree to be his wife.” He dropped the balls to the floor but caught the box, opened it, and moved it forward so all the camera could see was a modest diamond solitaire, set in gold. “However, he couldn’t figure out a way to ask both of them in person at the same time, which is of course the classy way to do it, so he got creative-- or cheated, one or the other-- and made a video.

“I love you. I love both of you more than I’ve got words for, I love living with you and being with you, and I want to marry you.”

(Jenny was crying by that point-- she’d been so afraid that her graduation would be the end of everything, of acceptance, of not needing to hide, of having a home that was happy instead of tense.)

“… Please, please, please everybody say yes?”

(Hedda scribbled a note for Jenny, because they both got asked, so it was only fair that they’d both get to answer when Brand got back home on Sunday.)

--


Sunday night, Brand Burns was engaged.

Monday morning, he was late for work.

--


The conflicts with Brand’s family weren’t entirely unexpected; Jenny passed for human until she got worked up enough to let Hedda out, and understandably a lot of monsters were highly mistrustful of humans. Aside from the torches-and-pitchforks thing, when human scientists started yelling “I’ll show them all!” monsters tended to suffer for it. (Or be created as a direct result, and then suffer for a while.) Brand wasn’t disowned or anything-- they didn’t hate Jenny, her humanity and heritage just made them a little nervous.

“Brand,” his mother asked him, well off to one side, “what are you going to do about children? Half normie…”

“We haven’t talked about kids yet,” he admitted.

“… You proposed before finding that out? Brand.

“It’s more like-- I’d be fine having kids, but I’m also fine not having kids. Jenny and Hedda are the ones with heritable split personalities, so they’re the ones who get to decide.”

“I want grandchildren,” she told him.

“Then it’s a good thing you’ve got Ashleigh and Cole, because I can’t make you any promises.”

He put off bringing up the idea of kids with Jenny or Hedda; Brand meeting the Jekylls went just as awkwardly (if more formally) than Jenny meeting the Burnses. Instead of being asked about grandchildren, Brand got asked about his employment prospects (and it turned out ‘depends on where we go after Jenny graduates’ was not the right answer) and what his family did. The Jekylls were old money, but Brand noticed there were kind of a lot of divorcees at the ‘meet the fire elemental’ dinner.

After nearly everyone had a couple of glasses of wine in them, Jenny had a talk with her father that ended with her frustrated shout and then Hedda bellowing wordlessly. People stood so suddenly chairs toppled over and Brand vaulted over the dining table to put himself between Papa Jekyll and Daughter Hyde. “Whoa, whoa, whoa-- hey. Hey. Hedda? Hey.”

“He said something!” she snarled.

“So he said something.”

“It must’ve been pretty bad, because here I am!”

“Okay. But nobody’s hurt, and it’d be nice to keep it that way, right?”

“Says you,” but it was muttered, and Hedda was already backing down.

“There’s wine and cheese,” Brand offered-- a distraction.

“Wine’s gross.”

He did know Hedda was not a fan of wine. Beer and Jaegermonster and mixed drinks that could strip paint, sure, but not so much wine, to the point where she’d drink carbonated apple juice instead of champagne. “Yeah, but you like cheese.”

“Cheese is all right,” she reluctantly agreed-- then swept him into a bear hug before heading over to poke at the very classy not-actually-desserts of fruit, cheese, and nuts. (It was all very Medieval, actually; Brand had surprised a couple of the Jekylls by happily announcing, “Oh! Closers!” and going off on an explaining jag about the Four Humours theory and how certain foods were believed, once upon a time, to either open or close the stomach.)

“That was… well-handled,” Jenny’s father admitted. “Hydes can be impossible to control.”

“Hedda just sometimes needs a minute to remember she doesn’t have to punch everything that upsets Jenny, that’s all.”

“You’ll need to be careful, young man. I’m not convinced you know what you’re getting into. Hedda Hyde is dangerous. All Hydes are.”

“And I can set myself on fire,” Brand pointed out. “By monster standards, Hedda’s just… rambunctious.”

There was a moment where Jenny’s father just looked at Brand. Then he told Brand he wanted him to sign a pre-nup, and Brand figured out what Jenny and her father had been arguing about. Still, he agreed (he’d read the thing first, of course), but he agreed because it was fair to Jenny and it baffled the Jekylls that Brand wasn’t some opportunist who just wanted to marry into a rich family.

--


Going over the pre-nuptial agreement to make sure the terms were actually fair to both of them spurred half a talk about kids, because the papers the Jekyll family lawyer wanted Brand to sign insisted that Jenny get full custody of any children in the event of a divorce.

“I know this is stuff we’re actually betting on not happening, but if we have kids and then break up, I’ll still want to see them.”

“If we have children and then divorce, I want you to raise them,” Jenny said. “Shared custody favoring the father-- I’ll get this changed.” Jekylls usually divorced once their surprised spouses realized they couldn’t quite handle the Hyde that came along-- or if they were accepting of the Hyde, they hadn’t been able to shake the hope that this would be the generation that spared the children, that their genetics would be strong enough to dilute Henry Jekyll’s DNA-altering serum. (Now and then, a marriage ended when someone’s Hyde side went out and ended up with extramarital children, but luckily Hedda seemed devoted to Brand.) Jenny wasn’t afraid her relationship with Brand would fall prey to the usual Jekyll (or Hyde) reasons, but she did know there were plenty of perfectly mundane reasons couples divorced, and neither she nor Brand nor even Hedda could see the future.

“Jen, you don’t have to--”

“I know. But…” Brand’s family had been nervous about Jenny, but warm, open. And nuclear-- no grown aunts or uncles who’d moved in after a short but disastrous marriage, no half-siblings who got called distant cousins to cover Hyde affairs. “It’s pretty obvious the Jekyll family isn’t good at raising well-adjusted Hydes. I think the Burns family might do better.”

“… Do you want kids?”

And that was a hard question. Jenny had always considered her Hyde side, any Hyde side, to be a curse, and passing that onto a child felt like it should be unthinkable. On the other hand, Brand loved Hedda, and being genuinely loved by someone, accepted for the monster she was, seemed to make Hedda much less dangerous-- or at least, less desperate to wring every drop out of whatever time she got. It hadn’t taken long with Brand dating both of them for Jenny to realize the Jekylls had been screwing things up for a century. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Can we give that decision some time?”

“All the time you need,” Brand assured her. “We might not be able to have kids, honestly.”

“Human-monster hybrids happen more often than you’d think,” Jenny reminded. It wasn’t always done to mention it because frequently, the human involved didn’t want to stay involved (or now and then, didn’t survive the birth), but it happened.

“Yeah, but you and Hedda are sort of human-plus, so who knows what could happen?” He shrugged-- open, but not invested. “I’m neutral on it, so you know. Having kids would be great. Not having kids would also be great. Plus, I’ve got siblings-- we can just give noisy toys to their kids and be the cool aunt and uncle.”

“I’m not cool,” Jenny reminded him.

“I think you’re cool.”

“You’re not cool either. You may look cool, but you’re a secret nerd.”

“I am a super-cool history nerd,” Brand declared, grinning.

“You are ridiculous.”

“You love me anyway.” She did-- she loved him partly because he was ridiculous. They managed to get back on track, editing the pre-nup until they found it equitable. The last name stipulation understandably confused Brand, but there was a stubborn sense of family pride among the Jekylls, and the trust funds for any children they had who were raised with her name were substantial enough to sway him. Brand was firmly middle class, and not so old-fashioned that passing along the Burns name (which his siblings could do) outweighed not having to worry about paying for college.

Children were a hypothetical, nebulous idea, but that was no reason to short-change their future-- and anyway, once they were twenty-one, the trust was theirs and they could change their name to anything they wanted to, from Burns to Zoetrope.

Jenny liked children. She just wasn’t sure if she was entirely willing to bring a half fire elemental, half Jekyll-and-Hyde into the world, for whatever disasters that might cause (especially for the child, but partly for the furniture. She first thought Brand was one of those bachelors who liked glass and chrome because it was easy to call masculine, but he actually liked it because it was harder to burn or melt). She certainly had no idea how Hedda would take the idea of being pregnant, or if she could be gentle or even remotely maternal with a child.

But it could wait. They had enough to do, a wedding to plan, introductions to make between families, her graduation was looming well before the wedding date-- children could wait a few years, at least.

--


The wedding was elegant, paid for by Jenny’s father, officiated by a liberal-minded vampire Justice of the Peace that Brand knew through a friend of a friend-- and if he wasn’t the Anglican or Episcopalian priest the Jekyll clan might’ve preferred, the noble title and the magnetic stage presence made him a more than acceptable compromise. Jenny wore white even if a few aunts clucked at her for it; Brand’s beaming smile when he saw her proved it was a perfect choice.

(Hedda was content to let Jenny have the ceremony and reception. Jenny was the one who legally existed and was willing to deal with all that white lace and formality, and Ashleigh had taken it on herself to be a clever future sister-in-law and arranged a bachelorette party for Hedda that included several of Ashleigh’s hardest-partying ghoulfriends, a string of bars, a cardboard tiara that read ‘Bride’ in hot pink glittery capslock (that quickly became one of Hedda’s prized possessions), at least one strip club, and a lost cleaning deposit on a rented hearse.)

The reception was classy, the honeymoon maybe a little briefer than would’ve been perfect (but the hotel was amazing and there was something to be said for only taking the honeymoon you could afford), and after that, it was just a matter of Jenny, Brand, and Hedda going forward the way they had been, building a life, saving up for a first house (somewhere they could put up bookshelves, lots of bookshelves, and somewhere without neighbors on the other side of the walls, floors, ceilings).

They made things work.

--


Jenny’s pregnancy was unplanned.

The marriage was steady, the little two-bedroom house chock full of books and a state-of-the-art sprinkler system, and the conversations about what Jenny-- and Hedda-- wanted to do were long. Objectively, they were in a good place in their lives to start a family. Hedda was for it; she had faith the three of them could get things right where the Jekylls had long bungled everything Hyde-related. Jenny was terrified. What she wanted more than anything was to not fail as a mother, and sometimes it felt like the best way to do that was to never try.

What settled her, finally, was talking to Brand’s mother.

“I was terrified with all three of my own pregnancies. And when they found their flames, started walking, started school… it’s all terrifying, because they’re innocent and they’re yours, and all you want to do is protect them.”

“Then how do you do it? How did you do it three times?”

“For a while, I reminded myself it was just like babysitting, only I didn’t give them back at the end of the night.”

“… I never really…” Babysat. Just in case. Because she spent her adolescence terrified of Hedda.

“And you’re an only child?” Jenny nodded. “Well, then you remember Brand isn’t. He knows how to change a diaper and heat a bottle-- and so do I, and so does my husband, and so does Cole, and Ashleigh needs to learn, honestly. Because that’s the other thing-- don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

“And you’ll give it?”

Brand’s mother frowned, but reached out for Jenny’s shoulder. “Your family history is going to scare the ashes out of me for the rest of my life,” she said. “But you are family now. And your babies will be, too. You don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be.”

It helped.

Herself and Brand and Hedda against the world, Jenny could handle. Add a baby, and the whole thing could come completely unbalanced. Any offer of help… of a family, a real, extended, unafraid (well, largely unafraid, unafraid of a Hyde side) family… it helped. There would be someone besides the Jekylls to take the baby if anything happened to both of them. Short of a complete catastrophe, Jenny could be absolutely certain that her child would grow up loved and without fear.

--


Jackson Jekyll was born at five forty-eight in the morning, on a Saturday, red-faced and screaming, delivered by a slightly-nervous, occasionally invisible OB to Hedda Hyde (who had taken over labor when Jenny just couldn’t anymore). He was tiny in Hedda’s big hands, slowly settling from the ordeal of being born. His eyes were blue (though the doctor cautioned they might not stay that way), he had a tiny wisp of black hair, and Hedda couldn’t quite get over the fact that he didn’t have any eyebrows. Brand grinned hard enough his face hurt, running on emotion and coffee and taking way too many pictures.

“He’s beautiful,” Brand said, when he could be persuaded to put the camera down. “He’s perfect.”

“Yeah, wait and see how you like him when he’s mad enough to turn Hyde,” but Hedda was smiling, not entirely sure what to do with a newborn besides keep his head from flopping around.

“He’s perfect,” Brand insisted. “We made a baby.”

“Team effort,” Hedda conceded.

“Go team!”

After that, Hedda made Brand get a nap. She wasn’t gonna drive a baby home, and Jenny probably wasn’t gonna be in any shape to drive a baby home, so Brand needed to not be completely sleep-deprived. A nurse rinsed the worst of the gunk off the kid and handed him back to Hedda, walking her through the basics of feeding and holding and whatever.

Jackson was tiny and fragile and family, and Hedda would turn anything that threatened him into paste or powder. “When your Hyde side wakes up,” she told him, as gently as she’d ever told anyone anything, “his name’s gonna be Holt. And your dad’s gonna love him. We’re gonna get this one right, kiddo.”

--


Getting it right turned out to be more challenging than planned.

Delivering a Jackson-sized baby hadn’t been too hard on Hedda’s broad frame, so when Jenny came back around she was mostly just a little wrung out. With everyone healthy and Brand fit to drive, Jenny and Jackson were released in the afternoon. (Hospitals, Brand knew, were like restaurants when it came to turnover; healthy people in the beds were like full diners in the booths. Jackson was healthy, Jenny was healthy, if they had anything to worry about they’d just come running back.)

Jackson spent most of his time sleeping-- well, newborns did that-- but when he was awake he was alert, quiet, and attentive, only really fussing when he was hungry or wet. Jenny held onto him, ignoring the oak crib her father had sent and the Moses basket his mother had given them (filled with diapers and burp-rags).

“He’s not gonna break if you put him down for a few minutes,” Brand assured her.

“I know. But I don’t want to put him down.”

There wasn’t really much he could say to that, so he kissed Jenny’s forehead and offered, “Dinner?”

“… Good plan.”

So he headed into the kitchen, sticking one of the many frozen casseroles they’d lined the freezer with in the weeks before the birth into the oven. In the living room, Jenny hummed at the baby-- Jackson, their baby, their son-- turning on lights as the sunlight faded, and Brand figured maybe he’d throw together a salad while there was no pressure.

He was washing cucumbers when Jenny screamed, and Jackson started wailing.

Brand never actually remembered leaving the kitchen-- the next thing he knew, he had hold of Jenny’s shoulders. “What happened?”

“He’s blue! He’s blue!” and Jackson was blue, and Brand felt himself light up in a panic-- but no, this wasn’t ‘pink baby not getting enough oxygen’ blue. Jackson was practically teal, and his hair had gone bright red.

“Okay-- okay, let’s just--”

“What did I do?” Jenny wailed. “I was just holding him-- I swear I was just holding him!”

“It’s okay-- Jenny, breathe, okay? He can’t tell us yet-- it could be anything, it could be gas…” Jackson had tipped over to his Hyde side, Brand had figured that out-- Jenny had figured that out, and Jenny was blaming herself.

And fading-- Brand reached to pull Jackson (Holt. Hedda had wanted Holt, for a Hyde boy) away, gently, and Jenny let him go, eyes wide with fear and gleaming with-- well. With the oncoming change.

Brand wasn’t surprised to see Hedda, although she was surprised-- and angry, and keeping a good lid on it-- to see Brand. “What the hell happened? … Shit, he’s blue--”

“He’s Holt,” Brand said, trying to comfort a squalling-- and very warm, but luckily not igniting, too young for that yet-- baby. “As for what happened? Your guess is as good as mine, I was in the kitchen and Jenny just… started screaming.”

“Bet that scared the crap out of him.” Hedda reached out to brush a finger over Holt’s hair. “… Heh. Guess it’s this side of him that takes after you.”

“Yeah, he’s a little warm, but that’s normal. Fire elementals don’t do fevers.”

“I meant the hair. … Got a set of lungs on him, too.”

“Want me to try to settle him down?” Hedda didn’t often do ‘quiet.’

“Yeah, I’ll go shut the water off in the kitchen.”

“… Oops. Thanks?”

“Yeah, yeah, you heard your wife and kid screaming, I’d’ve come running with the knife, so.” Hedda rubbed at Jackson’s-- Holt’s back, then ruffled Brand’s hair, then headed back into the kitchen.

“I sure did hear screaming, buddy,” he told Holt. “You and your mom scared the ashes out of me. Come on, come on, it’s all okay, there’s no more yelling…” Come to think of it, Holt hadn’t started crying until Jenny screamed. “We’ll get you all figured out, Holt, it’ll be okay. Mm-hm. Mm-hm. It’ll be okay…”

Gradually, Holt settled down, snuffling, then dropping off to sleep. Hedda finished putting the salad together, to Brand’s surprise (“… You don’t cook.” “Salad isn’t cooking. Wash, chop, bowl. A chimpanzee could do it.”) and when the casserole was done, they had dinner, watching Holt sleep in the Moses basket.

“He’ll probably turn back before he wakes up,” Hedda said. “You want Jenny back? Maybe you can figure out what happened.”

“She probably needs a hug,” Brand admitted. “She was almost too freaked out to let me take him-- I think she thinks she must’ve done something to trigger the change.”

“… Maybe they just decided to switch,” she offered. “Jenny and me can do it, but we practiced-- the rest of the Jekylls don’t try. Maybe we can all do it and just forgot how ’cause we spend so long fighting each other.”

“Jenny has to work herself up so she can let go for you,” Brand said, but… “It kind of makes sense-- not all Hydes are as strong as you, right?”

“Strong, yeah. Big and loomy, no. Ned Hyde, the first one? He was a little guy.”

“And Henry let him out to go have fun.” Hedda’s first instinct, if she didn’t see Brand smiling, was to start swinging. So maybe it didn’t have to be a defensive trigger that started the switch. “So maybe you’re right, maybe that’s all Jackson and Holt wanted-- to switch places.”

“If everybody screams the first time you do it, you probably learn not to do it real quick.”

“But now we know.” Or they had a guess, anyway, a place to start from.

“Yup. And I’m full and I’m bored and Holt’s sleeping and I bet five bucks Jenny’s gonna cry all over you.”

“No bet. You want out of here, huh?”

“He’s cute, but I know better than to wake him up, and babies are boring when they’re sleeping.” So Brand kissed Hedda goodnight and propped up Jenny and held her when she looked ready for a fresh wave of wailing.

“Meet Holt Hyde,” he told her, quietly. Holt was still sleeping peacefully in his basket, one little blue baby fist near his cheek. “He’s got my eyes.”

“What did I do?” She was teary, but calmer.

“What do you remember?”

“I was just holding him, and all of a sudden-- I thought I’d managed to suffocate him, but then he started crying… Is he okay?”

“Once he settled down, he went right to sleep. Hedda…” Jenny bit her lip, so Brand plunged forward. “Hedda thinks maybe he just wanted to switch. That maybe the fear and anger responses are learned.”

Jenny shook her head. “There’s always been a trigger. Originally it was chemical, but Henry Jekyll overdid it and lost control of the change. It’s been mostly emotional ever since-- sometimes it’s pain, once it’s been heat, but mostly it’s… the fight-or-flight emotions.”

“… Maybe he got too warm?” Brand offered.

“But he hasn’t changed back,” Jenny murmured, worried, thoughtful-- then she set her jaw. “Well, I’m not letting him get cold, that’s just irresponsible.”

“We’ll watch him. We’ll see how it goes, we’ll figure him out. He’s a brand new… um, people. It’s okay if it takes us some time to learn him.”

“What if I just hurt him?”

“When he wakes up and needs a change, we’ll check him for bruises. … Maybe it was the cord, that’s probably pretty tender.”

“It-- you’re right, that probably is pretty sore. His shoulders might be sore, too. He did sort of have… an active morning.”

“So, it could’ve been a bunch of things. We’ll figure it out.”

“I feel like such an idiot for panicking,” Jenny sighed.

“Hey.” Brand waited until Jenny looked up at him. “Your baby turned blue.”

“… All right, less of an idiot, now.”

Which had been what Brand was aiming for, so he kissed Jenny’s cheek and left her sitting with Holt while he washed dishes.

--


Holt woke up.

(Not Jackson, which was a little worrying.)

Jenny had expected Holt to be… fussier, more of a hair-puller, something markedly different. He was noisier than Jackson, with a tendency to grunt that had Brand checking his diaper and concluding “Gas, I guess, or he just likes to make noise,” and he kicked more when his legs were covered by a blanket or a sleeper, but on the whole he seemed to be just as sweet, just as alert, as Jackson.

Which made sense, she supposed-- he was a baby, a newborn, and as such his needs were few. If he had everything he needed, there wasn’t any reason for him to cause a fuss.

Holt stayed Holt through the night, which Jenny knew, because (true to expectations) he refused to sleep through the night.

Brand woke her late the next morning with a pink, black haired baby in his arms. “Look who came back sometime after stupid o’clock in the morning,” he murmured cheerfully.

It was a relief.

She felt kind of guilty that it was a relief, but it was still a relief.

Brand’s mother showed up half an hour before Brand had to head in for work, which took more kisses than usual-- for her, for Jackson, and finally a kiss to his mother’s cheek before he dashed out the door-- and knowing Jackson was in experienced hands was a relief. It meant Jenny could take a shower, and keep fresh eyes on Jackson in case he changed again. “His skin turns blue and his hair and eyes go red,” Jenny warned her mother-in-law, “but that and a tendency to kick out of blankets is the only real difference we’ve noticed yet. Just-- if he changes while I’m not in the room, try and remember what happened just before? We don’t know what the trigger is.”

But everything went smoothly; Jenny came back from a shower and a nap to find Jackson awake and alert and staring at his grandmother, who was saying “You’re not blue. No you’re not. You’re the pinkest baby, yes you are! Such a pink baby! You’re Nana’s little pink grandbaby, yes you are.”

Brand was home from work by the time Jackson changed again-- but this time, there was nothing to trigger the change. He’d been sleeping peacefully in his basket, Jenny dozing on the couch, and Brand came in and woke her-- both for supper and to see that Jackson was now Holt, and still fast asleep.

“… Well, that’s just weird.” If he was sleeping, barring dreams, there hadn’t been any stimulus, any trigger for the change-- probably not even Hedda’s ‘just wanted to’ guess. Jenny mulled the issue over while eating her mother-in-law’s excellent fried chicken. “It’s unprecedented.”

“Maybe adding fire elemental to the mix shook things up somehow?”

“We’re going to have to keep an eye on the changes. It doesn’t matter now, but if any part of the pattern holds, Jackson and Holt are likely to have vastly different interests. Imagine suddenly…” she tried to think of contrasting examples that weren’t insulting to one half or the other. “Suddenly waking up, on your feet, in metal shop, when you can’t stand the sound of power tools. If it turns out he can’t control the change, predicting it will be invaluable.”

It took three more days before Jenny realized the pattern-- right around dinner time, they’d have Holt, then somewhere in the wee small hours of the morning, between that last late-night feeding and Brand’s alarm going off, Jackson would be back.

The weather page of the newspaper had all sorts of information; high tide, low tide, moon phase, sunset, sunrise. Jenny dug out an old alarm clock, carefully set it to match the correct time according to the phone company, and set an alarm for sunset.

Jackson went blue.

The alarm went off.

Jenny went, “Hah! It’s circadian!

Holt started crying, because really, it was a pretty annoying alarm. And his mother had pulled an Archimedes.

--


Knowing took a weight off.

Jackson and Holt developed into very different babies; Jackson quieter and curious, reaching the ‘grab at hair, glasses, and earrings’ phase earlier, and Holt more easily amused, more interested in singing as a wide-awake pastime where Jackson seemed disinterested (easily settled by lullabies, but not nearly as fascinated by The Itsy Bitsy Spider). As they got old enough to develop a preference in toys, they diverged almost everywhere-- not only in favorite plush animals, but Jackson’s favorite developmental toys were puzzle-based (shaped blocks through the right slots, stacked rings) while Holt’s were noisier (he babbled the rhythm along with his animal-sounds toy, and frequently had to be bribed away from his toy xylophone with food). Holt got frustrated more easily, Jackson had a longer attention span.

By the time her son was a year old, Jenny loved them both equally and dearly.

“Brand… what if we didn’t tell them?”

“… Tell who what?”

“Jackson and Holt. What if we… we’ve been talking about moving somewhere with better job prospects,” which was true, “what if we got a three-bedroom house, so they could each have their own room? They both get half the time-- axial tilt makes that fair, year-round-- we could raise both of them so that they thought--”

“So that they didn’t think they had a different side? Jenny.” Brand shook his head. “What made that sound like a good idea?”

“I love them,” she said, simply enough, “And I don’t want them to grow up feeling like they’re half a person. Every Jekyll goes through it-- I don’t know about the Hydes. But it’s-- I hated it, Brand, I hated feeling like if I could only separate myself from Hedda, I’d be free, or if I could fully merge with her somehow, I’d be brave.”

“Jen, you and Hedda are both amazing people--”

“I know-- I know that because of you. But I spent most of my life thinking I was either too much or not enough. I don’t want Jackson or Holt to ever feel that way. I want them to feel whole.

“By lying to them? What would you tell them about the day-and-night thing? That they’ve got a sleep disorder?”

“It could work. It could. Separate bedrooms, their own things…” It would be a massive undertaking, but if it kept each half of her boy feeling like his own person…

“Jen. Even if we tried that for a few years? We couldn’t hide it forever. We shouldn’t, or one day, they’ll accidentally be trying to live in apartments-- or college dorms-- miles away from each other.”

“No, no, we’d tell them before that. But-- after they have a chance to mature a little. To grow into themselves. So if there’s that jealousy, they’re at least old enough to… to reason past it.”

“… I’ll talk to Hedda about it.”

“Brand--”

“Hey. Major parenting decision, so all parents need to be good with the idea. I need some convincing, and I’ll talk to Hedda about it, but-- Jen?” He looked at her seriously. “If we do this, if this is how we try to give both of them a solid base to build on? The second it seems to be doing more harm than good, we stop and we tell them the truth.”

“The last thing I want is to hurt them, Brand. They’re my son.”

--


Hedda agreed with Jenny-- and it was Hedda who swayed Brand.

“The thing is, no matter what, Jackson’ll be fine,” she told him. “He’s probably gonna be smart and logical and all buttoned-up, and Jekylls pass for human so well most of ’em think they are human. If Jenny felt incomplete or overloaded, that’s her side of the family’s fault. But when you’re a Hyde? You don’t feel like half a person. You just feel like a mistake, and you figure if you only get out when there’s trouble, then every second you’re out counts. You think I ever just sat and talked to somebody before you? Goofed around with video games? I was out getting into as much trouble as I could, because it was fun and because nobody could catch me.”

“Holt and Jackson have a really different trigger,” Brand pointed out. “Holt doesn’t have to worry about wringing everything he can out of all the time he’s got any more than Jackson does.”

“Yeah, but if-- if we do what Jenny says and we tell him he sleeps through the day, then… he won’t feel like he’s gotta compete with Jackson, because he won’t know about Jackson. … And Jackson won’t hate Holt for taking up half his life, because as far as Jackson knows, he’s just sleeping all night. They’re so little. If they’re gonna hate each other, they can wait until they’re old enough to hate each other for good reasons. It’s rough, being a kid and hating somebody you can’t even take a swing at.”

“You really think it’s a good idea?” Brand asked.

“You don’t, huh?”

“I don’t like the idea of lying to them about something that… fundamental. This is who and what they are, it’s where they come from. It’s seriously too big to lie about.”

“… C’mon, Brand, how long do you think we’re gonna be able to keep it up? I give it six years. Ten if we get really good at it. Kids aren’t stupid, they figure out Santa and the Easter Bunny and that there’s no monster under the bed--”

“Well, that depends--”

“Not like a regular monster, like a boogieman monster.”

“… Hedda… that can happen. They eat nightmares.”

“… Boogiemen.” Brand nodded. “Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.”

“Monster diversity aside,” Brand said, stifling a laugh, “if it’s really only until he’s school aged, I guess it can’t really hurt. It’s probably more confusing, when he starts asking questions, to hear that he turns into another little boy for half the day and that’s why we’ve got all these toys he never plays with…”

“Right-- it’s not forever ’cause it can’t be, it’s just until he can wrap his head around ‘mad scientist in the family tree.’”

“Easter bunny. Santa Claus.”

“Boogiemen,” Hedda agreed.

“… I need to show you pictures before you’ll believe boogiemen are a real thing, don’t I?”

“With citations and stuff,” Hedda agreed. “And it’s gotta be a book because I know you edit the online stuff.”

“You are occasionally no fun at all, Hedda Hyde.” Not that Brand was necessarily above a prank or two, but there were enough monster types in the world that he couldn’t imagine needing to just make one up.

--


Jackson Jekyll grew into a studious, thoughtful, logical young man. He did well in school unless you asked him to draw a picture of something, but he was absolutely stellar when it came to math and harder sciences. Brand soaked him in history at home, showing him how to look past what the highly-edited books said (“They like to say history is written by the winners, Jackie, but it’s written by the literate, and that wasn’t the majority until recently”) and to think critically about everything he was taught. Going to a normie school meant certain subjects were a little neglected-- but Jackson’s parents were great hoarders of books (he always sort of figured that’s what was in the spare bedroom, just boxes and boxes of books his parents never got around to unpacking after a move) and his Jekyll-side mom was a wonderful tutor. Jackson never felt like he was behind in the subjects his cousins complained about taking, on those summer day-trips they spent with the Burnses. He felt like he had a foot in two worlds, sometimes-- or just one foot in the door of the monster world-- but he always felt welcome and safe at home.

Holt Hyde grew into an artistic (above all, artistic), passionate, intuitive young man. His sleep disorder kept him home-schooled, but that never bothered him much because being home-schooled let him focus on music. His parents tried to get him into the boring subjects-- math, science and mad science, history-- but there was a point when his Jekyll-side mom just put her hands up and despaired of getting him interested in higher mathematics. His dad just switched from general history to art and music history, sneaking in stuff like politics, religion, and technology levels based on symbolism and what techniques and materials and influences were around at any given time and place. (His Hyde-side mom didn’t bother so much with teaching. She was always more about fun, at least if she wasn’t angry about something.) Music, for him, was always the best thing; he taught himself guitar and keyboard from books and online tutorials, but remixing and spinning was more his speed. Someday, Holt promised himself, he was going to be the world’s most in-demand DJ, even if he couldn’t show up before sunset and had to leave before dawn. He’d take the monster world by storm.

Both Jackson and Holt worried about their parents sometimes; they moved a lot, usually because Mom-as-Hedda was adamantly protective of her family and pretty willing to smash stuff up to keep them safe. Sometimes, though, it was because they’d landed in a normie or mostly-normie town, and Dad let something slip or set something on fire or didn’t quite fool everyone into believing he had a skin condition. Sometimes, it was just for work. (Sometimes, it happened after Jackson (or Holt) had stayed out too late and fallen asleep in public. He told himself that couldn’t be any kind of deciding factor, or even the sleepwalking; it wasn’t like he (they) ever got hurt, or like seeing a teenage boy fall asleep was particularly horrifying.)

Moving to the same town as Dad’s side of the family at fifteen was… hopeful. With luck, with family around, with plenty of monsters in town who wouldn’t freak out at a fire elemental or a mixed marriage or Mom flipping the Jekyll-to-Hyde switch, maybe they could stay in one place for more than a year or two. Maybe, for a while at least, the whole family could feel like they belonged somewhere. Plus, Monster High was a revolutionary school, totally integrated not only because the world was more integrated than people liked to believe, but because the school was founded on a philosophy of equality between monsters; the class schedule was wide open, early-early morning classes as well as night classes, so the sleep disorder wouldn’t be a problem, and Heath, a slightly younger cousin (who Jackson knew pretty well; who Holt had never met), went there, so it wasn’t like he didn’t have any contacts at all.

--


“Did you know?” Jackson asked. “About me and Holt being the same person?”

“Of course we knew you and Holt were the same person,” his mother said, “we’re your parents. Now finish your breakfast or you’ll be late for school.”

Jackson stared-- but his dad stared, too. “I’m very sure what Jenny means is that we’ll have more time to talk about this after school-- unless you want to stay home and…?”

“No,” Jackson said, “no, I’ve pretty much got to turn up today.” After the way everybody found out-- right along with him-- if Jackson didn’t pull it together and go to school, he wouldn’t be able to convince himself to go tomorrow or the next day or possibly ever again. So he finished his breakfast and went to school. He could only die of embarrassment once.

But that afternoon, it was Dad and Hyde-side Mom who were ready to talk.

“I want you to know, first thing, that we’re sorry,” Dad said.

“And I can’t believe we got away with it for this long.”

Hedda. Jeez. Jackson, we love you, very much--”

“So why did you lie? Did you think I couldn’t handle it?”

“Jackie,” Mom said, drawing his attention away from Dad. “You’re already handling it better than any other Jekyll ever has.”

You do okay.” He always felt so small next to Hyde-Mom. Protected, yeah, but small.

“We got your dad to thank for that. He spent a lot of time unscrewing what your Grandpa Jekyll screwed up.”

“We were going to tell you this year,” Dad said. “As soon as we got settled in here, we were going to sit down and tell you everything. I know we let it go on too long--”

“You should’ve told me from the start!” Letting him think he had a sleep disorder when all he had was a Hyde side, like Mom-- letting him think he was some kind of weird human throwback when he was just as much a monster as any Jekyll.

“Yes and no.” Jackson took in a breath, ready to yell, but Dad held up a hand. “Your mom-- Jenny and Hedda-- had a good idea. They wanted you and Holt to have your own childhoods; they never wanted you to feel less or other in your own skin-- or ever, but especially in your own skin.”

… In his own skin. Jackson looked at his mom-- “Is that--?”

“I didn’t feel less or other-- I felt like old Henry’s mistake. And no-- I didn’t want that for Holt. And I didn’t want you thinking you had to be Holt’s keeper, because you don’t. You’re Jackson, and Jackson’s enough. Holt’s enough, too.”

And that made sense, from a psychological point of view; if they could never be in the same place, it wasn’t fair to treat (either side of him, but that felt wrong, weird) him or Holt like the greater or lesser half, like more or less their son. But still-- “Why did you wait so long?” It might’ve been easier, when he was younger, not so caught up in the problems of being fifteen, almost sixteen. … When there wasn’t a potential girlfriend involved.

“Jenny.”

“Hedda! We talked about this ‘no blaming anyone’ thing,” Dad said, aghast.

“I’m not blaming, I’m just saying. Jenny figured the longer we could give you as your own people, the stronger you’d each be-- it’s not easy, being a Jekyll-and-Hyde, but it’s easier the more you know the… the awake part of you is wanted. Whichever part that is at the moment.”

“It was getting too much to hide-- not just from you and Holt, but from everybody around. Coming here… we thought this would be the best place…” Dad trailed off, looking as guilty and sad as Jackson had ever seen him. “We thought this would be the best place,” he repeated.

“You’re not the weirdest kid in town,” Mom said. “And around here, they can get used to pretty much everything. But you know Jenny, she’s stubborn and sometimes I think she’s more protective than me. We were working her up to the big confession when your trigger changed.”

“… Your trigger’s never changed,” Jackson realized.

“The last time a Jekyll-Hyde trigger changed, it was when Henry and Edward stopped needing the serum,” Mom agreed. “So, it’s been a while.”

“What do we do now?”

“Do our best to figure things out,” Dad said. “Probably ought to get you into the mad pediatrician. … Me and your mom need to hope you can forgive us.”

“It’s--” forgive them. Could he? … Did he need to? “I mean, I understand why you did it-- it makes logical sense, I never felt passed over or like I didn’t fit into the family, but this is like finding out I have a secret brother hidden in the attic-- the spare room has always been Holt’s bedroom, hasn’t it?” Sudden, dawning realization. He’d been so gently dissuaded from ever going in there…

And Dad looked uncomfortable, rubbing the back of his neck. “He sort of thinks your room is the spare room, so…”

“How can something so logical be so completely ridiculous at the same time?”

“Hey at least you only have to have this conversation once,” Mom said, wry.

Holt. The x-factor in all this; Jackson had effectively been living down the hall from a complete stranger his whole life. “What are you going to tell him?”

“Same stuff we’ve told you,” Dad said, “and hope he takes it as well.”

“… What’s he… what’s he like? Holt. I know from school he’s a DJ. Everybody says he’s really good at it. … Heath acts like he just met Catty Noir or something.”

Mom snorted, and Dad said, “Cole gets to have that conversation, I’m out.”

“Uncle Cole was in on this?”

“We let Cole and Ashleigh decide if they wanted to let their families in on things, and Cole decided Heath wasn’t quite good enough at keeping secrets.”

“… I could argue with that, but I don’t think I’d win,” Jackson admitted. “So-- so Holt. Is he like you?” he asked Mom. “Bigger than me?” It was a place to start.

“More like a photo negative of you,” Mom said. “He’s blue, he’s got red hair and eyes, but other than that, you two could be twins. He’s all about music and art, and… yeah, he’s kinda like me-- likes to have loud fun, got a short fuse, but he’s a good kid.”

“He won’t back down from a fight, but he also doesn’t usually start them. He’s…” Dad gave it a little thought, then said, “Part of the reason Jenny wanted to keep the secret going so long is because Holt’s the first Hyde she knew of who wasn’t violent.”

“I still say that’s because the trigger wasn’t fear or anger or something,” Hedda countered. “I haven’t punched anybody who didn’t scare the crap out of Jenny in years.

“This is so weird.” Jackson swallowed, then bit the bullet and asked, “When are you-- when do you want me to switch, so you can talk to Holt?”

Mom and Dad exchanged a look, and Mom settled a heavy hand on Jackson’s shoulder while Dad said, “We don’t know what your new trigger is. We don’t… actually know when we’ll see Holt again.”

Jackson had been on the receiving end of vicious ‘don’t you scare me like that!’ hugs from both-or-all of his parents, after getting lost somewhere like the park or the grocery store. It took him a while to understand that their fear of losing him for good was just as strong as his fear of losing them. Jackson couldn’t imagine they were any less protective of Holt. “So that’s why nobody was exactly thrilled the first time I stayed up past sunset.”

“… Yeah, you’ve been kinda scaring the crap out of us,” Mom admitted. “Thought we’d lost Holt, for a while there.”

“How am I supposed to handle this?” Jackson asked. “I don’t know whether to be angry or scared or guilty or sad.”

“Join the club?” Dad tried to say it lightly-- but his eyes were wet. If Dad cried, Jackson had no idea what he’d do.

Mom pulled Dad into a one-armed bear hug. “You listen to me, you little dipstick,” she told Dad, “we did the best we could. Maybe we screwed up, maybe we didn’t raise ’em together right, but we raised ’em separately better than anybody else in Jenny’s family ever raised any kid. If we made mistakes, they were all brand new ones. That’s all anybody can do, right?”

Dad couldn’t really look at her, so Mom looked at Jackson.

Mom-- Hyde-side Mom-- looked at Jackson, and there was fear in her eyes, uncertainty that really, only he could answer. “You didn’t let history repeat itself,” he said, voice thicker than he wanted it to be. “I can… I can’t say it’s okay, I can’t say if I’m okay, not yet-- but I know I’m better than I could be. I don’t know if you guys did the right thing, but I think you probably did okay.”

Jackson wished, as he got enveloped into a family hug, that he could give them more than that. It was never easy to know you’d tried your best and still messed up-- and Jackson’s context was only that of not quite understanding something in a classroom. On top of owning up to a life-long lie, his parents were facing a problem (the trigger-change) that could cost them a child, if they didn’t figure it out.

“I think it’s loud music,” he murmured into Dad’s shoulder. “The trigger. I think it might be loud music.”

--


Holt wasn’t sure where he was-- that was pretty normal for when he woke up these days-- but he knew the beat was solid and the music was loud, pounding through headphones. He had just enough time to recognize the soundproofing on the walls (was he in a recording studio?) when all of a sudden there were arms around him.

It was too sudden, so he pulled away-- only to see Mom, crying like her heart was broken and smiling through the tears. He reached up to take the headphones off so he could ask her what was wrong, but she just held them in place and shook her head, then hugged him again, rubbing his hair like she used to when he was little, when she’d pull him up in her lap and call him ‘my good boy,’ back before they started frustrating each other.

So now Holt knew three things; the music was good, his mom was scared, and there was obviously something wrong (probably with Holt). So he hugged her back, as tight as she needed.

“Where’s Dad?” and maybe it came out a little too loud, but he could blame the headphones for that. Mom pulled away just enough to point over Holt’s shoulder. He turned, and in a little glassed-in room (seriously, were they in a recording studio?) Dad was standing next to some heavyset gargoyle wearing a clip-on name badge-- and Dad was getting teary, too, but hadn’t run in with Mom. Holt swallowed. “Am I okay?”

Mom kissed his forehead, then moved so Holt could see her. He half heard, half lip-read her saying, “We’re working on it. Running some tests.”

“With music?”

A voice cut in over the song. “Holt? This is the technician, behind you. We can take a break for a little while, play the music over the loudspeakers, so you can talk to your parents.” Holt shot the dude a thumbs-up, and the music switched from loud in his ears to loud but muffled by the headphones.

So he took the headphones off. “Mom?”

But the technician led his dad in, too. “Mrs. Jekyll, Mr. Burns?” He was close enough now that Holt could read his nametag, Hudson Schist. “I’ll be in the break room whenever you’re ready. The song’s set to loop, so there shouldn’t be any interruptions.”

So. Awkward family thing.

As soon as the door closed behind Hudson (one of those names that could be cool or dorky depending on how you wore it, Holt thought), Mom wrapped around him again. “I’m so sorry,” she practically sobbed. “Oh, Holt, I’m so sorry, I missed you so much…”

“… How long have I been asleep?” Holt suddenly felt numb-- the last thing he really remembered was waking up at school-- during the day, which was weird, but with everybody staring at him like he’d grown a second head, which was even weirder. Sleepwalking was pretty much the only conclusion.

Then Dad started explaining and it turned out sleepwalking wasn’t anywhere near the neighborhood of the only conclusion.

He and some guy named Jackson shared a body like Mom’s two sides. Their trigger used to be day and night, and Mom had tried some wacky experimental parenting technique of not telling her son about his pretty freaking important condition, and just let him and the other guy grow up thinking they were it, only child, only person in the body.

And then the impossible happened, their trigger changed, and while Holt had been awake since then-- parties Jackson had tried to go to, movies he’d tried to go see, that moment somebody plopped headphones on Jackson’s head at school-- his parents hadn’t seen him in weeks. Their day shift son had picked up on a pattern and they were at the mad pediatrician’s office, trying to figure out the new trigger.

He got mad-- got hot-- but with Mom standing there in tears, looking afraid to reach out to him (not afraid of him, afraid of rejection) he couldn’t hold onto the anger or the fire. He just hugged her, let her cry, and finally asked, “Why’d you lie?

“Because--” but Mom was struggling for words, and Dad was-- Dad was hanging back, looking like he wanted in bad but had to let Mom have this. “I wanted you to feel-- both of you, I wanted you to feel real-- and you’re such a good boy, Holt. You’re not like-- you’re such a good boy…”

“We wanted…” Dad trailed off, then said, “God, I was so afraid I’d never see you again,” all in a rush, before taking a deep breath. “Okay. Okay. We wanted both of you to feel… complete, and wanted. We screwed up-- especially in letting it go on so long-- we know that, and Holt, I don’t know if there are words for how sorry we are.”

“You’re sorry I’m stuck living the flip side of some guy I don’t even know?

Mom shuddered, but something in Dad’s eyes went hard. “Have you ever once in your life felt like a mistake? Like you were only part of a person, like you needed something else in you to be complete, or needed to be cut away from something to be free? Did you ever feel like we were keeping you caged up, or like you had to escape to have any kind of life at all?”

“… Dad…” Where had all that come from? Holt shook his head, wide-eyed.

“Because that’s how your mom grew up. Both sides.”

If that was true… “Mom?”

She nodded against his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

Grandpa Jekyll had a lot to answer for-- both sides of his mom were pretty great.

“We screwed up,” Dad admitted. “And we’re sorry-- we’re so sorry. We didn’t get it right-- but I promise we didn’t do it to hurt you.”

And Holt… well, maybe he didn’t really get algebra or calculus or clawculus, but he wasn’t stupid (or cruel). His parents were hurting-- and mad as he was, scared as he was, they were pretty obviously wrecked, too. So he opened an arm to his dad, wrapped it tight around him when Dad stepped into the family hug.

Dad held tight like he was afraid to let go, now that he’d been invited in.

“I am so mad,” Holt told them, “I can’t even put a level on it or anything, I’m just so mad at you guys right now. But… I love you, and I’m also hella scared. I need you. … And I need you to not lie to me anymore, okay?”

“I promise,” Mom said. “I’m so sorry, Holt-- god, I’m so sorry.”

“… You’re only human,” Holt offered. It was about the best he could do, at the moment, as far as actually forgiving them went.

And if there was a hysterical edge to Mom’s laughter, well. It was still laughter, and that was what counted.

Laughter healed.
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