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hey pretty baby (with the flight suit on)

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Jake Seresin is very, very drunk.

Everyone is, to be fair. They’ve all decided to celebrate—which basically means getting drunk and making bad decisions—and, naturally, they go to the Hard Deck. It’s been about a week since The Mission, (capitals and all), a day since Maverick and Rooster had been discharged from the hospital with minimal injuries. Since then, everybody’s been whirring with the need to commemorate the win, so here they are.

The booze makes Jake’s skin sing, his judgment cloudy and intoxicated. It’s not enough that Jake will forget everything in the morning, but it helps him loosen up his shoulders. Even though his mind just happens to decide that a lot of his focus tonight is on the man across the bar lining up a shot at the pool table.

Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw has always been attractive. Jake knows that, knew it since he first met him at TOPGUN and has understood it every day since then.

Tonight, though, there’s something different about him. Here, Rooster looks transported in the bar light, gorgeous and cocky and unbelievable. The muscles in his back retract and move as he mimes hitting the cue ball, and Jake can’t take his damn eyes off him. He’s almost disappointed that Rooster isn’t facing away from him.

Very attractive Rooster and the hair at his upper lip that makes him look like some sort of 80’s pop artist, his stupid skin-tight tank top that hugs his form in a way that should frankly be illegal—his fucking lips, curled in contempt in the way it does when Jake makes a particularly distasteful joke—

“Hey.” Coyote appears at his side. Jake tears his eyes away from Rooster, meeting Coyote’s amused gaze. Fuck, he needs to get a grip. Not happening, never will be happening.

Coyote hip-checks him aside to choose a song on the jukebox. “You okay, man?”

Jake hums. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, Javy, I’m cool.”

Javy?” Coyote narrows his eyes. “Haven’t heard that one in a while.”

“What, can’t a man be appreciative of his best friend?” Jake says smoothly, a blush rising to the tips of his ears. He thinks Coyote says something after, but he can’t be bothered to hear what it is when his gaze wanders again and falls on the man of the fucking night.

Rooster misses his shot and tilts his head back to groan into the air, and oh, wow, isn’t that a sight. Bradley freakin’ Bradshaw, sweaty and flushed from alcohol, head back, looking utterly obscene as he mourns. His Adam's apple bobs with every noise he makes with that damn, biteable throat of his. Jake wants to ruin him.

“—Lost in thought?” He looks back just in time to see Coyote punch 67 into the machine, a vague Queen song that makes the bar cheer loudly. Jake’s stomach sinks as Coyote’s grin slowly slides into something sly. “Or maybe in Rooster’s eyes—”

Okay, asshole.” Jake swipes the bottle of Guinness from Coyote’s hands, taking a hefty swig as Coyote cackles beside him. His whole face burns. It travels down his chest and dusts the top of his collars, though he’s not sure if it’s the teasing or the booze that’s getting to him. “I told you that shit in confidence.”

“No one can hear us,” Coyote says. “Just fuckin’ with you.”

“With my feelings, Coyote. I’m hurt,” he jokes, and, yeah, he deserves that unimpressed look Coyote gives him. Alcohol is in his system, he’s had so many beers and since he can’t bring himself to fight back and deny his attraction like he usually would, he deflects. He gestures towards the pool table, where Rooster and Maverick are circling the table like sharks that smell blood. It really shouldn’t be attractive. “Who’s winning?”

“Last I checked, it was Mav.” Jake follows him back to the table. “The guy can fucking rack.”

They reach the group, finding their designated stools near the windows, where Rooster is looking forlornly at the 8-ball. The cockiness is wiped from his expression now. Jake takes a look at the game and sighs. Only two solids left, six striped. Which means that Maverick is winning. By a lot. “Is there anything we can beat him at?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” Bob chimes in.

“Come on, guys.” Maverick grins up at them from his place laid across the pool table, trying to line up the blue solid. “Don’t give up just yet.”

Rooster rests his head on his cue, looking thoroughly defeated. “It’s no use,” he groans.

Phoenix nudges Jake. “It’s their third game. Maverick hasn’t lost once.”

Jake tilts his head, watching Rooster shake his own. “Is that so?” They lock eyes. Something passes between them, a challenge. “I bet I could do it.”

Just as he says it, Maverick pockets his last solid and the 8-ball in one go. Everyone stares at him in shock while he starts resetting for a new game casually.

“Fuck,” Rooster chuckles. He hands Jake the stick without complaint. “Be my guest. Defend my honour while I go get something from the bar.”

“Oh, I will, princess,” Jake grins, aiming a wink at Rooster. Fuck, he’s so drunk.

Instead of doing what he should and looking away, he takes in the red brushing the tip of Rooster’s nose, the way Rooster’s eyes flicker down to his lips for the smallest of seconds. When Rooster opens his mouth next, Jake is thinking about biting it red.

“I’m counting on it, honey.” He pats Jake’s hip when he passes him, heading towards Penny at the bar, and Jake…

Jake is stuck to his spot, eyes locked to where Rooster’s hand (his big, warm hand) had just been, stalling and rebooting and mulling over the word honey over and over and over.

He didn’t expect Rooster to push back. To give as good as he got. But he didn’t mean it, right? Of course, he didn’t mean to call Jake honey. He didn’t mean to call Jake a treat, something sweet and savoury, even though he’s proven to be anything but. Except… the way honey had rolled off Rooster’s tongue… it made Jake think things that wouldn’t be appropriate anywhere except in his bedroom.

Rooster’s gonna fucking kill him.

Everyone starts snickering and prodding at him for the redness of his ears. Even Maverick raises his eyebrows, noticing Jake’s preoccupation with staring directly at Rooster. More specifically, the way his hips swing as he saunters towards the bar and leans across it to talk to Penny and Ice, which makes his jeans stretch in all the right places and oh my God.

“You think you’re still up for a game, honey?” Fanboy calls. Jake flips him off, blushing wildly. He takes the cue ball from Maverick and places it in front of the triangle.

“I’m always ready, Fanboy,” he tells him, leaning down. He doesn’t believe himself, but now is no time to think about Rooster. He pulls back his stick, his gaze challenging when it sweeps over to Maverick. He breaks the rack. “I hope you are too, Pops.”

Maverick laughs at him, and the game starts.

Jake, expectedly, gets demolished. Maverick is on the 8-ball now, while Jake stands at a measly four striped balls left to pocket.

“Damn.” He curses. He’s just about to lay his cue down and admit defeat when an ice-cold hand lays itself over his exposed nape and spooks him so bad he almost loses his grip on the stick.

Fuck—” he hisses, ducking to get away from a giggling Rooster, whose hand hovers in the air. In his other is a beer, dripping in condensation, probably the accomplice to the crime. Jake glares at him as the others start laughing too. They probably saw him coming. Bastards.

“How’s the game?” Rooster asks when he’s done laughing it up, moving to stand right beside Jake. The heat from his body travels when Rooster nudges his hip.

“He’s losing,” Payback says helpfully. Jake pulls a face at him.

“I’m five beers in, dipshit,” he shoots back. “Give me a break, okay?”

Maverick pockets the last ball. Jake rolls his eyes when Maverick offers him a triumphant grin, handing off the cue to Bob and sitting back down to lick his wounds. Rooster hands him another beer. He moves to stand next to the stool when he sees that both of the ones next to Jake are taken. Jake glances at him.

“You want something, Bradshaw?” He bumps their shoulders together.

“Nah.” Rooster shrugs, eyes dragging down Jake’s body. His voice is private, low, like he means something else when he says, “not much.”

Jake doesn’t know how this happened. How he and Rooster started to toe the line between antagonism and flirting (it’s a slippery slope, Fanboy tells him,) when touches between them became more than just friendly pats to the shoulder and hip checks. How it became lingering glances and too-hot looks.

Right now, Rooster is plastered to his side, even though he has plenty of room to move away. He’s touching him just for the sake of it. This is on purpose. There’s no explaining it.

Jake chances an arm around Rooster’s shoulder, liquid courage making him pull the other near, hot breath wafting across his face. “So, Bradshaw,” he drawls, “you figured out the song of the night yet?”

Rooster smirks, knocking his forehead into Jake’s. “You wanna find out, Bagman?”

“I would want nothing more, Brad-Brad.”

Rooster laughs as he pushes off the counter. Jake misses his warmth immediately, but he thinks it’s worth it when Rooster strolls to the jukebox and unplugs it with flair, revelling in the boos the crowd gives him for his troubles.

Phoenix sidles up to him. “The way you look at him kinda makes me sick,” she tells him with a knowing grin. Jake shakes his head. The others have already gravitated towards where Rooster is playing meaningless riffs on the piano to warm up, which leaves Phoenix and Jake alone by the pool table. Jake doesn’t know which is worse.

“Didn’t know you paid much attention to my looks, Trace.”

“It’s hard to miss when you look like a sad kitten whenever he leaves you alone.” She looks at him, considering. “You really like him, huh?”

“I don’t know where you got that from,” Jake says. “‘Cause it sure as hell wasn’t me.”

“You didn’t need to say it,” Phoenix says. “It’s just obvious.”

Jake brings the bottle up to his lips to save himself from answering. “Is it?” He says finally. He sees the realization dawn on her.

“Oh, Hangman.” She forcefully pulls him into a side hug. “Not to him. It’s obvious to everyone but him, funnily enough.”

The piano starts up, something energetic and fast and so Rooster that Jake can’t help the fond smile that stretches his lips. The whole bar is singing now, loud and drunk and lovely, but Jake can only hear Rooster. Jake wants to lose himself in Rooster’s voice.

Phoenix elbows him. “Come on,” she urges. “Your boy’s singing for you.”

“Not my boy,” he says, “and not for me.” Even with his refusal, he’s sliding off the stool anyways to follow Phoenix towards their squadron. He stops a ways back to lean against the closest pillar to the piano and watch his friends bop their heads and sing (scream, really) along with Rooster.

God, his friends. Family, almost. Who would’ve thought?

The bar feeds off the energy exuberating from the pilots at the piano, jumping around and dancing to Rooster’s smart hands moving across the keys; almost like he was born to play. Jake thinks that if Rooster weren’t such a damn good pilot, he’d do good up on a stage somewhere.

Rooster tips his head back and catches Jake’s eye upside down, grinning boyishly. Jake can’t help matching his grin wildly. He’s drunk, the piano is loud, and when Rooster looks at him like that he can do anything.

Jake feels like a rope pulling taut, a rubber band stretched to its breaking point. He thinks, maybe, just for tonight, he can be brave. The song reaches a solo and everyone is whooping and cheering and he thinks that combined with the way Rooster’s turned back to the piano to fully immerse himself in the music is what finally makes him break.

Fuck it.

“Rooster, you big stud!” He yells at him, pushing off the pillar and relishing in the loud cackle Rooster lets out. Jake knows his comment hasn’t gone unnoticed by the others, because Payback and Coyote start wolf whistling at them while Fanboy makes loud retching noises.

“That’s me, honey!” Rooster shouts back. At this point, Jake knows the solo has gone on longer than it should. Maybe it’s so they can keep this up, whatever this is, the flirting and the heated looks and the pet names. The others are yelling at them to get a room, but he really could not be bothered to entertain that when Rooster is right in front of him. He’s bright and sweaty and looks fucking gorgeous, and Jake wants to grab this chance by the balls and take everything he can.

He finds himself pressed up to Rooster’s back right side. Jake’s content with staying right here, as close to Rooster as he can get without being too transparent. It’s fine, it’s just dandy… up until he’s looking back just in time to see Phoenix land a sturdy hand on his shoulder and push him into Rooster’s lap.

Rooster sharply inhales, but his fingers never falter over the keyboard, and that absolutely should not make Jake hot all over. It does. Rooster adjusts his arms on either side of Jake’s torso, still playing.

Jake is. Well, Jake is just about dead.

His face feels like it’s about to fall off with how much blood rushes up, and his heart is pounding so hard in his chest he’s sure Rooster can hear it even over the ruckus of the bar. He glares at Phoenix, wide-eyed, even when she mouths “you’re welcome” at him.

He can’t. He can’t show Rooster and the others how much this affects him, how much he wants, no matter if they know already. So he can’t help but make a scene, kicking his legs up into the air and letting the bar infect a smile that reaches ear-to-ear. His arm loops around Rooster’s shoulder, a loud, elongated whoop leaving his lips.

Against all odds, Jake likes this person. Like, really.

He feels Rooster huff a laugh against his neck, leaving goosebumps all over Jake’s skin. Jake ducks his head to Rooster’s ear and lets himself linger there for a split second before…

“You take me to bed or lose me forever.” Jake grins into the shell of Rooster’s ear. He can feel his minute shiver under his ministrations, his cool veneer breaking for just a small, addictive second before he’s leaning into Hangman and laughing into his shoulder.

“You got it, honey,” Rooster mumbles. There’s a pressure on his neck, the tiniest press of something plush and soft on his skin before Rooster’s pulling back and going back to singing, and holy shit.

Rooster just kissed his neck. Bradley Bradshaw—ladies man, piano whiz and greatest pilot Jake’s ever known, the man he’s ass-over-heels in love with—just kissed him. It was deliberately, too, he knows it—it couldn’t have been a mistake when he looks back at Rooster and finds him singing with something earnest in his eyes. It’s as if he’s singing the song directly to Jake, and that—

That is officially too much to handle. Rooster is genuinely going to kill him, all warmth and earnest looks and kisses to the neck that Jake refuses to believe are things Rooster truly means. He knows it’s probably a game to him—some sort of fucked up gay chicken that’s going to end up in Jake losing because he can’t have Rooster do these things to him if he doesn’t actually mean them—but by God, he’ll take anything he can get at this point.

Rooster is so close, so warm, and Jake is watching him sing like he’s mesmerized. He uses his angle to inspect Rooster even closer, maps out the scars on his face and the way his lips stretch into a smile when he sings.

The song ends, and the bar is alive, now, chanting Rooster’s name and Rooster takes his arms away from Jake’s sides to throw them in the air, elated. It’s only a split second of relief before Rooster is patting both of his hips this time, urging him up.

“Come on, baby, up and at ‘em,” he murmurs, and Jake stands up immediately. Rooster follows him off the bench, making his way to the middle of the crowd to do a little victory dance that has Jake laughing at him unbelievably from where he’s frozen next to the piano. This man will be the death of him, he’s sure of it.

Rooster gravitates towards where he is leaning on the pillar after the jukebox has been plugged back in with limited apologies. Jake’s lost the beer he had before, probably stolen by someone in their crew, who’ve all moved back to the pool table. It’s just him and Rooster.

A Michael Jackson song has started playing on the jukebox, The Way You Make Me Feel, Jake notes.

“What song was that?” Jake asks as soon as Rooster comes up beside him, grinning when Rooster aims an offended look at him.

What song?” He asks incredulously. “Hangman, I know your taste in music is pretty shit—” Jake makes an affronted noise— “but come on, man. Jerry Lee Lewis? I’m On Fire?”

Jake stares at him blankly. Rooster gives him a lighthearted smack on the arm. “Dude! Are you serious? Even after I bought that beer for you? I’m wounded, Seresin. Wounded.”

“I’m not old, Rooster,” Jake elbows him to stop his dramatics. “And I’ll have you know that country is a very acceptable taste in music, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, maybe to you,” Rooster says, catching Jake’s elbow and squeezing it.

Jake shivers. “Jesus, it’s cold in here.” It's a half-truth. It is getting pretty cold inside the bar, but the shiver came from Rooster's hand on his elbow.

He'd never admit that though.

“You’re just always cold,” Rooster tells him, raising his arm to wrap around his shoulders, pulling him flush against his side. He rubs his hand up and down Jake’s exposed arm as if trying to warm him up. “Better?”

Better, Jake thinks, but for incredibly different reasons. He’s practically burning up, blood rushing to his face like he has no other body parts to be worrying about. He’s worried Rooster will catch the alarming shade of red his face is becoming, even with his tan.

He clears his throat unsubtly, swiping his hand over his face. He’s embarrassed to find it coming away with the slightest hint of sweat.

Jake shrugs Rooster’s arm off his shoulder. “Where are you going?” asks Rooster once he’s unstuck himself from the wall.

“Bathroom,” Jake supplies. “You wanna come?”

He doesn’t get to hear Rooster’s reply, because he’s already walking away as quickly as he can through the crowd. Holy shit, holy shit. He’s absolutely thinking rationally now, the proximity of Rooster’s body to his is a direct sobering tactic he shouldn’t indulge in.

Jake’s undoubtedly freaking out, panic settling in with every step he takes away from the crowd. Bursting into the bathroom, he sighs in relief when he finds it empty. One hand runs over his face roughly, then two, and then he’s depressingly groaning into them hoping it would somehow change his situation. It doesn’t. It just makes his face hurt with how hard he furrows his eyebrows.

Jesus fucking Christ. Jake makes his way over to the sink and turns it to the coldest setting. He splashes his face miserably, slowly getting rid of the last dregs of inebriation in his system. The buzz is still under his skin, but now it’s manageable, not enough for him to make another rash decision like try and sit in Rooster’s lap again.

Fuck. Rooster.

He can’t believe he just did that. Sat in Rooster’s lap like it was fucking nothing and then proceed to look the part of some weirdo that fell in love with his best friend after almost watching him die.

(Which he is, but that’s beside the point.)

The cold on his face grounds him, though, lets him think clearly. He slows his breathing as the navy-assigned therapist told him to. In, hold. Out, hold.

In, hold. Out, hold. In—



Rooster’s voice is comparable to a burn in cold weather. He lifts his head out of his hands, not willing to open his eyes to face the bright linoleum light or Rooster’s beautiful, maddening face yet. He hasn’t heard the door opening, though, so he thinks he’s in the clear for now. “Yeah?”

“You, uh, you okay in there?”

Jake nods. He knows Rooster can’t see him, except his throat feels sticky and he can’t bring himself to give more than a half-convincing grunt of affirmation. His head falls in between his arms now braced on the sink in front of him. He considers playing dead just to be left alone, but Rooster is not a bear and he would call the ambulance if he saw Jake laying on the floor.

The door opens, entirely against Jake trying to force it to stay closed with sheer willpower, and Rooster stumbles through it.

“How many beers did you have, Bradshaw?” Jake looks up and smiles shakily, trying to feel steadier than he actually does. Rooster stares at him for a second, like he’s seeing him for the first time.

“Uh—” he starts, walking wobbly until he stops right beside Jake. He drags out his vowels in a way only Drunk Rooster ever does. “Like… six?”

What?” Jake exclaims. He ignores himself in favour of facing Rooster, holding him by his arms and looking at him up and down. He’s leaning on one side more heavily than the other and his eyes are half-lidded as if he can’t keep them open any wider, and Jake is so confused about how this happened in the small time he was gone. He knew Rooster is a lightweight, always has been, and six beers is a lot for anyone, but Rooster looks well on his way to passing out. “How many have you had since I left?”

“None,” Rooster slurs, leaning into Jake like he wants to crumple onto him. “J’s… just did some shots, s’all.”

“Jesus, Rooster.” He places Rooster in front of the sink and props him up against the ceramic. “What the hell was in those shots?”

“Not… nothing much…” Rooster’s head falls on Jake’s shoulder, his hands catching Jake off guard when they snake around his waist. “Tequila, I think…”

Jake has no chance to fight back against the very strong, very warm arms before they suddenly tug him forward until he lands right on Rooster’s chest. Jake yelps, catching himself on the counter, and now there’s entirely no space between their bodies. Their chests are flush together, Jake’s uniform against Rooster’s civvies, Rooster’s nose shoved into the junction between Jake’s shoulder and neck, every part of their bodies touching. Leg to leg, stomach to stomach.

Holy shit.

“What the fuck, Bradshaw?” Jake’s breath picks up. The words crack in the middle embarrassingly, but Rooster just smiles against his neck. Jake shudders at the feel of lips curling brushing his skin, and it’s all Jake can do to stay upright and not trip them both into the ground because Rooster definitely can’t hold both of them up with how drunk he is.

Then, Rooster speaks, and Jake’s world comes crashing down around him.

“You’re so beautiful, you know that?” Rooster mumbles. Jake feels the curve of each word sitting on his collar.

Jake’s breath leaves his lungs. “What?”

“You,” Rooster says as if Jake didn’t fucking hear him the first time. “You’re… you’re gorgeous.”

“I…” Stuttering is not what Seresin men do, his father told him once. But fuck, it had to have been a lie, because Jake sputters like he’s a goddamn five-year-old trying to piece together their first sentence. “You— Bradley…”

He feels like exploding, his heart expanding in his chest like Rooster has taken a helium tank to him. People describe love as butterflies, but Jake has never felt anything like that.

Right now, he feels like he’s soaring, up in the air in his F-18 and fighting against enemy MiGs on his last fucking mission. He feels lightheaded, his palms are sweaty, and all he can focus on is the way Rooster shifts against him, every point of contact sending signals to his brain, triggers his fight or flight response like Rooster is something dangerous. He’s exhilarated.

“Makes me want you so bad,” Rooster whispers, ghosting his lips higher and higher and higher till it reaches a spot right below Jake’s ear. “Every single day, can’t stop thinking about you. Like you’re a fuckin’... fuckin’ disease or something. Fuck.”

Jake laughs in disbelief, tilting his head back when Rooster presses his lips down, kissing his neck the same way he did at the piano. This time, it’s slow, deliberate, done with the intention to tear Jake apart.

“Just… everything about you. Your face, your hips, it’s... I can’t take my eyes off you, Hangman. It drives me nuts.” He lifts his head and looks at Jake with something heady in his eyes. “You drive me nuts.”

It’s here that Jake realizes just how much height Rooster has on him. Just a couple of inches, enough to make Jake have to look up just the slightest bit when he’s talking to him, but it’s so much more apparent when Rooster has him propped up against his chest.

Jake looks at him. His stupid Hawaiian dad shirt is rumpled, collar sticking up on the left, his aviators tugging his tank down low enough that Jake can see the beginnings of his pecs emerge from the shirt. His dog tags are out, trapped between them, and his cheeks are red, redder than Jake would’ve thought they’d be.

He looks like the picture of debauchery, of drunken stupidity, and Jake suddenly feels a bucket of ice water tip over his head.

Rooster’s drunk.

“Shit,” he swears, wrenching himself away from Rooster and turning around. He can’t bear to look at him now, not when he basically took advantage of him in the dirty bar bathroom. Rooster is drunk, and Jake feels coherent enough to panic, which means he has entirely no right to be indulging in Rooster’s touches the way he did. “Fuck. Fuck.”

“Jake?” Rooster asks gently, and suddenly he’s behind Jake, hugging him again and pulling their bodies together and—no. He can’t.

“Let go of me, Bradshaw.” His voice is shaky and raw and he knows Rooster picks up on it because the other’s arms just squeeze him tighter.

“You called me Bradley, before,” Rooster says. “Do it again. Don’t want— don’t wanna be Rooster to you anymore.”

Jake exhales roughly. “What’s going on, baby?” Rooster—Bradley whispers, right in his ear, the air fanning over his neck. Jake takes a moment to just breathe.

“You’re not sober,” Jake says finally, begging him to understand, scrunching his eyes closed when Bradley moves down and starts peppering tiny, comforting kisses on his neck.

“You aren’t either,” Bradley tells him in between kisses. Jake doesn’t answer him, because he can’t deny the slight buzz under his skin. Ice water isn’t enough to fully sober him, but he’s definitely thinking with clarity and that just makes him doubt this even more.

“Will you kiss me?” Bradley slurs against his collar after a few seconds of silence, out of his mind. Jake feels like lava pours down his spine, and this time it hurts, burns and scars him on the way down because he knows Bradley doesn’t mean it. He’s just drunk. “Would you?”

“You’re drunk,” Jake swallows, knowing Bradley feels it with the tip of his nose.

“Would you kiss me?” Bradley repeats. Jake wants to throw himself out a window, wants to take the man leaning on him and promise to love him ‘til the day his heart stops fucking beating. He wants, in a way he’s never wanted anyone before, and God if that thought doesn’t scare him half to death. Bradley noses along his throat, his top lip catching on the bob of Jake’s Adam's apple.

Jake almost starts crying. He turns around, braces his hands on Bradley’s shoulders and pushes him away as gently as possible. He looks confused, adorable in the way an intoxicated, dishevelled 27-year-old man can when he’s had too many beers. It physically pains Jake, but he detaches Bradley from his front and holds him at arm's length, breathing heavily. “You’re—you’re not thinking straight.”

“I sure fucking hope not,” Bradley jokes, leaning into Jake’s hands as if it’ll bring him closer.

“I’m not—” Jake pauses to inhale a shaky breath. “I’m not kissing you right now. No.”


“Not on the lips,” he amends, because he can’t help himself, because Bradley will give him an inch and he will always take the goddamn mile— “But…”

Instead of continuing, Jake gives in to his desires and tucks his head into the crook of Bradley’s neck. He looks at the expanse of skin up close, counts the moles until he loses his place and gives up. He elects to tally them by kisses, this time.

Oh,” Bradley breathes, head tilting back the same way it had at the beginning of the night, which feels years away now. Jake is stuck in this moment, the way Bradley reacts under his ministrations as he kisses him with reverence on his lips, pouring every ounce of feeling he has in him into the way his lips connect with Bradley’s skin. It’s salty and sweet and utterly insane, and if Jake never gets to have this again, he has to make this memory count for something.

He moves up and down Bradley’s neck, making sure no stretch of skin has gone unkissed, thorough and reckless in the way he maps out the muscles and veins flexing beneath his mouth. He dares to go as far as kiss Bradley’s jaw, stubble gently scratching his lips. He’s addicted to the taste of him, especially when Bradley tries swooping down and catching his lips when he gets close enough. It doesn’t work.

“I'm sorry,” Jake whispers when he meets the boundary he set for himself, even though everything in his body screams at him to follow the line up to Bradley’s bottom lip and suck it into his mouth. “I won’t kiss you there. Not when you’re drunk.”

Bradley's head pitches back towards him. A challenging glint is in his eyes, and Jake has time to vaguely think oh no before Bradley has him by his waist.

“Why?” He asks, voice low and demanding. “Why not, Jake? I know you want to.”

“Rooster,” Jake sighs. He can’t expect him to get it—he always gets a hundred times more stubborn when he’s drunk, and tonight is not an exception. “No. I can’t, not—not here. You’re so drunk, you’re not even going to remember this in the morning—”

“I will,” insists Bradley, starting to grip at Jake’s hips like he’s begging with them too. “I could never forget someone as important as you.”

Bradley,” he pleads, and the way Bradley softens when those molten syllables fall from his lips makes him want to lean in and finally take what he wants. He traces the hard, crooked line of Bradley’s nose, the way it slopes down. His perfect mouth, the lips that Jake finds himself daydreaming about. “Don’t make me do this.”

“Don’t you want me, Jake?” Bradley bites his lip. Jake. Fucking hell. “I’ve seen the way you stare. It’s—I do it too. I want you too. I want you the same way you want me.”

No. No, you don’t, Jake thinks hysterically. Because he wants a life with Bradley. Not some fucked up last hurrah, nothing wild or fast or rough. He wants to love Bradley, wants to make him pancakes in the morning, wants to massage his shoulders and take him on dates and go fucking grocery shopping with him—hell, he’s even thought about kids. That is how low his depravity goes.

He searches for something genuine in Bradley’s imperfectly perfect face. Finds nothing but intoxicated lust and mistaken attraction.

“That’s enough for tonight,” he says tightly. “Let’s get you to bed, tiger.”

“God, will you stop being such a fucking gentleman?” Bradley growls, glaring down at Jake through his hooded lashes. He’s never taken well to being denied something he wanted. “I want you. You want me. Isn’t that enough?”

“You want me when you’re drunk,” Jake says, pursing his lips. He knows that Bradley takes this at face value right now, hopes that he really is drunk enough not to remember this later on and picks apart the obvious, sanctioned devotion in Jake’s voice. “Not when you’re sober.”

“How do you know that, huh?” Bradley gets right up in his face, holds onto his uniform lapel with vehemence, and Jake doesn’t know how to breathe or think or do anything because Bradley has taken all of his brain functions and threw them out the fucking window. He’s a drug in his own right. “Who told you that?”

Jake doesn’t answer, frustrated out of his mind. Bradley’s slurring his words enough that Jake can’t even bother to try and believe him because he’s drunk, and he doesn’t mean it, he’s had what he can and this is where it all ends.

“No one,” Bradley says for him, looking for all the world like he just figured Jake out. “It’s just your head fucking with you, am I right? Because under all that ego, Hangman, you’re soft. You can’t fucking help it.”

Jake feels his eyes tingle with the telltale sign of tears threatening to spill. He’s always been an angry crier, but this makes his chest ache and his nose stuff up and all he can do to save himself is puff out his chest and spit, “I’m not kissing you.”

Bradley reels back, stumbling over his feet and catching himself on the sinks behind him because he’s still fucking drunk. Jake doesn’t know how he can do it—how he can look at Bradley being so stupid, acting like he wants him—and still love him with all that he is. It’s debilitating, infuriating.

“Y’know,” Bradley says, laughing like this situation is funny to him, “with all that talk about how I’m a damn coward in the air, I think you’re the real coward.”

Jake shakes his head, refuses to let the words get to him. He’s. Just. Drunk. “Go home, Bradley.”

“You’re a fucking coward, Hangman.” The door slams closed behind him, and Jake is left alone.

Ouch is the first thing that Jake thinks when he wakes up the next morning.

His head doesn’t hurt, though. It’s his knuckles, his arms, and his mouth is dry and sticky at the same time. He smells terrible, morning breath and dried sweat making for a rancid combination.

Jake remembers last night. Fuck, he remembers every last detail. He remembers Bradley’s downturned eyes and the way he responded under Jake’s mouth, all the way down to the way his breath hitched and his hands felt squeezing the flesh of Jake’s waist.

He’d gone to the gym after Bradley left. He shrugged off every question of concern from Coyote and Phoenix, Bob’s insisting he stay and play a game of pool. Now, he wonders if the devastation on his face was obvious, if everyone saw him and Bradley leave the same bathroom minutes apart and put together the pieces.

Jake didn’t want to think about it. In fact, he tried so hard not to that he booked it to the 24-hour gym he’d impulsively bought a membership for but never actually used. He shrugged off his uniform top, and he stayed in that gym for hours listening to Luke Bryan, lifting until failure and throwing hits at the punching bag until his knuckles bled and his brain quieted with exhaustion.

Say what they will about Jake Seresin, but he sure does have healthy coping mechanisms.

He feels minutely better today, but in the quiet of the morning, nothing stops his mind from flashing back to that damn bathroom, to the sweaty taste of Bradley’s neck leaving a phantom taste on his tongue, the way Bradley’s body had felt crushed up against his—

Jake vehemently throws the covers off him and grabs his phone from where he, thankfully, remembered to charge it last night. He wrestles his wired headphones from a jeans pocket he forgot to put in his hamper, shoving them in his ears. Opening his music app aggressively, Jake shuffles the first playlist he sees, turns it up and lets the music overpower any thought he has about Bradley or last night or kisses on moles, eardrums be damned.

He knows it’s kind of a pathetic sight, his bed unmade and I Love It Loud by KISS the only thing keeping him moving as he goes through his morning routine like today is any normal day.

The playlist moves through various songs at different stages in his morning: Don’t You Want Me by The Human League as he brushes his teeth and pushes his hair back to rub his skincare products into his face (he’s heartbroken, not demented), Country Girl (Shake It For Me) by Luke Bryan up to Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon while he showers all the gunk off him steadfastly ignoring every thought of Bradley’s hands on him.

Once he’s finally considered clean, he decides that a drive might be the best course of action. So he gets dressed in the plainest outfit he can manage, just some jeans and a shirt that’s definitely getting a little tight on him. He’s out the door with his wallet, keys, and phone, and he is absolutely not thinking about Bradley Bradshaw.

Instead, Jake starts up his car and drives out of the parking lot, following the roads on muscle memory alone, and he doesn’t. Think. About. Bradley.

Bradley, who begged Jake to kiss him. Who let out a breathless oh when Jake went down on his neck, and whose pretty pink lips parted and almost caught Jake’s lips in a surprise kiss when he went to pull away.

Oh, God, he’s definitely still thinking about Bradley.

Jake shouldn’t be. He doesn’t reserve the right to, not when Bradley was drunk out of his mind yesterday and Jake could remember every last detail. He reaches a stop sign and bangs his head against the steering wheel for his troubles. The horn blares loudly, but it’s about eight AM and no one is awake enough to see or care about his anguish, so he thinks he’s okay.

He drives around. He doesn’t have a set destination in mind, stopping at Mcdonald's and getting two breakfast sandwiches that he basically inhales in the parking lot.

When he’s finished, he just sits in his car quietly. “Fuck,” he curses, miserable, because he can’t even think past last night and what he gave into. He doesn’t move to turn the hand brake off, no, just stews miserably. He’s on mission leave, they all are, waiting for their physical and psych evals to be reassigned. Realistically, he doesn’t have to be back at the base until he receives his assessment.

It offers him the tiniest amount of assurance, the fact that he doesn’t have to face the music for a few days. He could get away with moping for a few days before either Phoenix or Javy come to strong-arm him back to real life.

His phone buzzes in his pocket. His heart clenches as he slips it out and checks the message.

Javy Christ
Hey man. Are you, like, okay?

Jake sighs. He wasn’t that obvious, was he?

I’m always okay.

Javy Christ
Don’t bullshit me right now.

Javy Christ
You know I just wanna help.

Jake rubs a hand across his face dismally. Of course, Coyote would notice.

Javy Christ
Listen, I can bring you snacks and we can watch Limas Sweed highlights like we have any chance in hell with him

Javy Christ
And then we can talk

Javy Christ
But only if you want to.

Jake takes a second to grin because fuck he loves Coyote so fucking much. His ride-or-die since fucking middle school, the calm in the storm. He briefly wonders how someone like him ended up with someone as nice and supportive as Coyote for a best friend before his phone buzzes again.

Javy Christ
And stop that self-deprecating shit. I can tell you’re doing it.

Javy Christ
Not when Limas Sweed is on the line

Fuck off, Javy

Javy Christ
Me and Mr. Sweed will see you soon, Hangy-poo ;)

When will you change my contact name

Javy Christ

Jake is halfway back to his apartment (really, he didn’t think he drove that far) when Coyote texts him again.

Javy Christ
Get your ass here faster the ice cream will melt

Javy Christ
Mint chocolate of course because you’re a fucking menace

Javy Christ
Me personally

Javy Christ
I would never kiss your toothpaste ass lips

Javy Christ
But that’s just me

Javy Christ
Maybe Rooster is just as insane as you are

You mean a man of taste?

Javy Christ
I mean

Javy Christ
He likes *you*

Javy Christ
How much taste could he have?

You are the worst person I’ve ever met

And Bradshaw doesn't even like me

Javy Christ
Uh huh.

Javy Christ
Ice cream, dickhead.

I’m coming.

Javy Christ
Oh but what will the squadron think?

When Jake finally makes it to his building, the sight he’s greeted with is Coyote holding an incredibly heavy-looking duffle bag slung over one shoulder and two grocery bags on the other. He looks like a harried soccer mom on game day.

“You look like a harried soccer mom on game day,” Jake tells him. Coyote levels him with an unimpressed stare. “Why the duffle bag?”

“You’re not staying here alone,” Coyote says by way of explanation, shoving past him once he’s unlocked the door. He dumps his stuff in the kitchen and places the ice cream in the freezer with a small tut of disapproval when he sees it’s mostly empty. “Honestly, Jake, what do you even eat?”

“I eat,” he says defensively. “Stop snooping through my kitchen.”

“It doesn’t count if it’s takeout,” Coyote scolds him. “Tomorrow, we’re going out to this nice Korean place I found. Today, though…” He holds up the second grocery bag, which crinkles in his grip. “I’ll let the snacking slide.”

“What would I do without you?” Jake says semi-seriously, grabbing the first thing he sees out of the bag. He holds it up with an eyebrow raised. “Swedish Fish? Really?”

“Hey!” Coyote snatches the bag of the horrid candy out of Jake’s hand. He holds it to his chest protectively. “This was bought with my fucking money. I don’t want to hear it.”

“They’re so dry, though.” Jake’s upper lip curls. He throws his keys in the jar on the counter, letting Coyote follow him to the living room.

The remote is being swiped from the coffee table before Jake can even reach for it.

“Rude,” he comments. Coyote responds by putting on the 2006 Alamo Bowl, Texas Longhorns vs Iowa State Cyclones. Jesus, he knows him too well.

It takes about half of this game for all of the snacks to be spread between them, opened and scattered. Jake’s pretty sure he’s sitting on top of a Pocky packet, but right now he’s trying to catch the caramel popcorn Coyote’s been throwing at his mouth for the past few minutes, so he can’t really be bothered.

“Dude, it’s all over your couch now,” Coyote laughs. He still throws another one, which Jake catches and chews victoriously.

“We’ll clean it up tomorrow,” Jake decides, managing to snatch another one out of the air in the middle of his sentence.

They taper off into silence. It’s mostly still, the occasional appreciative recoil at a particularly good play an exception. The first game goes by fairly quickly—Coyote doesn’t push, just treats today like any other they’ve had since ninth grade and—

“I kissed Rooster,” he blurts out because he just has to tell him, and he refuses to use Rooster’s first name as if it would make the events of last night any more real, like saying his name would bring back the pleas of don’t wanna be Rooster to you anymore. If Coyote is here to comfort him, he deserves at least some context.

“You what?” Coyote’s eyes are bulging out of his head when Jake glances at him defensively.

“Not on the lips,” he says. “But.”

Coyote sputters. “How did you kiss him without your lips?”

“I used my lips, asshole, but it was… on the neck.” Jake drops his head into his hands, refusing to meet Coyote’s incredulous gaze. “It wasn’t- we didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah, 'cause then I wouldn’t be here,” Coyote sighs. He hears him turn off the TV and give Jake his undivided attention, which just serves to make him more nervous. “Let me get this straight… How far did you go?”

“Just his neck and jaw,” Jake says into his hands. “He was… drunk, Javy.”

It’s the root of the problem. The fact that Rooster was drunk, swaying on his feet drunk, too drunk to remember in the morning drunk.

He voices as much to Coyote, who still looks like he just clicked on a YouTube riddle video for middle schoolers.

“Okay, back up,” Coyote says. “How many beers did you have last night?”

“Not enough to be hungover,” Jake says.

“You’re never hungover, dumbass,” Coyote dismisses. “You had, like, seven. I remember because Penny cut you off after five and then Rooster got you a few.”

Okay, so maybe Jake was drunker than he thought he was. “I was thinking coherently,” he says instead. He and Coyote both know he’s a stubborn bastard that hates being wrong. “I can remember every single detail.”

“Just because you can remember it doesn’t mean you weren’t drunk, Jake,” Coyote sighs. “I’ve seen you drunk more than enough times to know that you’re practically intolerant when it comes to alcohol. You don’t get hangovers, nor do you forget shit. It’s stupid, but it happens every time.”

Coyote considers him for a moment. Jake can feel him tracing every line in his face, trying to put together the pieces as to why Jake doesn’t seem comforted in the slightest. He knows he’s got it when Coyote’s jaw drops in horror.

“Jake,” Coyote says slowly. “You know you didn’t take advantage of him, right? You haven’t been telling yourself that, right, man?”

Jake drops his head in his hands, equally as horrified.

“No,” Coyote says indignantly, scooting closer on the couch. “No, that won’t work with me. Start from the beginning, and we’ll work it out, okay?” He wraps his arms around Jake’s shoulder the way they always do whenever conversations get serious—the same way he’s been doing it since they were thirteen and Jake first told him he thought he liked men.

So, Jake does. He tells him everything from the piano to the bathroom to the neck kisses, going to the gym until he dropped and everything in between. The refusal to even think about Rooster, the moment he finally realized Rooster hadn’t really wanted him, and the crushing feeling of being in love with someone who let him kiss them drunk.

Coyote is quiet while Jake rambles. He offers nothing more than a squeeze to the shoulders or hum when appropriate. He knows this is something Jake needs to say out loud to think rationally, so he doesn’t coax, nor does he try and persuade Jake to tell him more. He just sits, an anchor that lets Jake just speak, in the calm way he does when Jake gets in his head about something.

“It sounds like,” Coyote says carefully, “you and Rooster need to talk.”

“What?” Jake pulls away, eyebrows furrowing. “I can’t do that. He probably hates me.”

Probably,” Coyote repeats. “You don’t know because you haven’t talked to him. Communication is key, or whatever.”

Jake scoffs. “I don’t want to hear that from you.”

“I think you do,” Coyote shoots back, wrapping his arm around Jake tighter. He takes a split second to realize it was a fucking trap, because Coyote shoves Jake’s head into his chest vindictively and keeps him in a headlock. “And I’m not letting you go until you say it.”

Jake smacks against his arm uselessly, trying his best to wrangle his way out from under Coyote’s arm. “Get— off— you fucking oaf—”

“What was that?” Coyote shouts over Jake, pinning him against the couch by leaning his weight on him. “You’ll talk to Rooster?”

“Your armpit fucking stinks,” Jake growls.

“That’s not a yes.”

He pinches Coyote’s side as a last-ditch attempt and relishes in the yelp he lets out when Jake manages to find that one spot right under his ribs that always works. Jake is out from under him and on the armchair beside the couch before Coyote can recover, putting a pointing finger out in warning. “Don’t start.”

“That was mean,” Coyote shoots back, laying himself over the couch and grabbing the remote to turn the TV back on. “To someone trying to help you as well.”

“Oh, fuck off.” Jake rolls his eyes. He refocuses on the game on the screen. “Just because you tried doesn’t mean it was actually helpful.”

Coyote throws him a spare blanket in retaliation before settling in to swoon about Limas Sweed.

It goes like this for the next few days.

Jake and Coyote do end up going to that Korean place. On day three, Coyote starts pulling Jake along for stupid trips out of the house, makes him go through chores and keeps him busy. It’s a waste of gas, and Jake’s ass is starting to hurt with how long he’s been sitting in his driver’s seat, but he barely thinks about Rooster all day. This, unfortunately, also brings up the fact that Jake has no idea what he’ll say to him when they finally face each other.

Coyote mooches off of Jake’s spare toothbrushes and clothes until they reach the four-day mark, which is where they both get an email from Cyclone about their next deployments while Jake is attempting to make them açaí bowls.

(“Heads up,” Coyote is saying from the kitchen counter. “New detachments.”

Jake glances back at him. “Does it tell us the details?”

“Nah.” Coyote flips the phone screen so Jake can see it. “We get them in two days.”)

Phoenix shows up at his door at four AM on day five with the intent to beat him into shape unless he stops moping and sulking like a bum in his apartment, in her words.

“Deployments tomorrow,” she says, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and manhandling him into a semi-standing position. It forces at least one of his brain functions to wake up and take control so he doesn’t end up falling on his face. It’s a very close thing, though.

She drags Coyote’s ass out of bed once she sees him as well, forcing them both into their uniforms with the threat of knives and missiles. It’s only when she’s already appropriated Jake’s car to drive them all to TOPGUN that he’s coherent enough to speak.

“As much as I’m loving this impromptu trip, Phoenix,” Jake says from where he’s been banished to the backseat. Coyote has already fallen asleep in the front, the lucky son of a bitch. “You could at least tell me why we’re going back to base.”

“Class,” she states simply. Jake oh’s like he knows exactly what she’s talking about.

“Like… TOPGUN class?” He asks elegantly. It’s four AM. He can’t be blamed for any stupid questions he may have to ask before he fully wakes up.

Phoenix exhales a long-suffering sigh. “Yes. Warlock’s called us back to do a demonstration for the younger students.”

Jake blinks. He processes the words slowly. “Why?”

Phoenix doesn’t dignify him with a response. She does, however, brake unnecessarily hard at a stop light and inadvertently slams Jake’s head into the back of the driver’s seat.

“Sorry,” she says, the corner of her mouth ticking upwards.

Coyote starts snoring. Traitorous bastard.

Jake manages a day back before Rooster finally catches up to him.

He’s luckily busy. He had nothing better to do anyways, even with Phoenix bodily yanking him out of his messy bed and whipping him into gear. The demonstration kept him away from Rooster for a solid three hours, but he still had to endure Phoenix sending him searching looks that made him squirm every five seconds. But then, the students had asked for some hops—no missiles, guns only—and Jake would’ve considered himself a bad person if he refused, honestly.

It was satisfying, smoking someone out when all they’d been doing before was getting their asses kicked by Maverick. Sure, the students are good; great, even, Jake is surprised to admit, but they’re cocky in the way only younger pilots who’d never seen action were. They made mistakes. Jake saw them, used them, and even if he’s as cocky as they are, he’s better.

God, did it feel rewarding.

He went home feeling incredible, sweaty and distracted. He was able to avoid Rooster, impressed some younger pilots, and got to fly for the first time without having to go through intense G-force training since the mission. All in all, a 10/10 day for him.

The second day didn't work out as well for him. He and the squadron members who hadn’t already been shipped out are called into the briefing room to be assigned to their next detachments. It feels bittersweet, like all suicidal-mission detachments are, because, against all odds, Jake really ended up liking this team. His read receipts in their group chat and the fact he hasn’t blocked any of them are proof enough.

When he and Coyote walk into the doors (they actually shove each other through them, because they’re children who cannot be in each other’s vicinity without supervision), they barely manage to catch themselves before they fall out of the sheer shock of seeing COMPACFLT Kazansky standing at the podium, fixing papers nonchalantly like Jake and Coyote didn’t almost just eat shit right in front of him. Maverick stifles a laugh from his place beside him.

Bastard, Jake thinks bitterly as he straightens his back, thanking the gods above that Admiral Kazansky wasn’t looking up.

“Gentlemen,” Maverick says when he’s schooled his expression into something neutral. Coyote coughs. Jake fights the urge to take out a toothpick. “Be seated.”

Jake is about to start walking to his seat when he sees Coyote split off from his side, moving to the other side of the room. He isn’t supposed to sit there, but he looks over to Coyote’s regular seat behind his own to see a familiar shock of blond hair. He whips around to glare at Coyote, who just plops into Rooster’s spot like it never changed, grinning encouragingly at him as if it helps in the slightest. Jake is the last one of their squad to sit.

Son of a bitch. He honestly contemplates just booking it out of the room and going MIA—moving to France or Sweden or fucking Canada—anywhere far, far away from this squadron and COMPACFLT Kazansky and fucking Rooster.

He makes his decision just as quickly as he opposes it. He carefully squares his shoulders, letting his usual cocky smirk curl his mouth in a way that feels unnatural but shouldn’t. Maybe he’ll go back to the ranch, he muses quietly, pulling a toothpick out of his pocket and popping it into his mouth.

God fucking damnit, he thinks vehemently before swaggering up to his seat and sitting in it like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He hopes it’s convincing enough—because if the others can see that he’s spent every waking moment since That Night agonizing over the man behind him and his stupid fucking 80’s pornstache and what he’d finally say to him when they eventually talk about it—he’s so screwed.

Nothing happens for a very good, very relieving two minutes where Rooster does nothing but glare into the back of Jake’s head, because Jake is devoted to staring straight ahead.

He feels the shift in the air behind him. Despite his refusal to acknowledge Rooster outwardly, he can’t help but focus on every little thing happening behind him. He knows Rooster has put his elbows on his knees in the way he does when he’s impatient about something and he can’t even see him. It’s fucking terrible.

“We need to talk.” Rooster’s voice is low like it was That Night when Jake was stationed on his lap. Like it’s just for them. Private.

Yeah, we do, Jake thinks. “Nothing to talk about, Bradshaw,” he says, like a fucking idiot.

He hears Rooster let out a frustrated huff at him right before Admiral Kazansky starts speaking.

“Good morning, aviators,” he rasps. He can see Maverick shoot him a worried look, his shoulder tensing imperceptibly like he’s rubbing circles into the back of Admiral Kazansky’s lower back and—oh.


Jake’s eyes flit back and forth between them—their shoulders pressed together, Maverick’s hand disappearing behind him. He puts together the dots.

Admiral Kazansky and Captain Mitchell. He should’ve seen the signs. No one would look at their wingmen like they just hung the moon and presented it on a silver platter, no matter how close they were.

That’s why Maverick always got out of shit. Because his husband is the fucking COMPACFLT.

“Oh my God,” Jake mumbles under his breath. Of course. The personal leave Maverick took days prior to the mission, right before he got dubbed mission leader. It was Admiral Kazansky.

Wingmen his ass.

“I’m sure you all were expecting Admiral Simpson,” Admiral Kazansky says, ice-cold eyes flicking around the room and catching on each one of them. It’s like he’s a shark and they’re his prey. Calculated, precise. The Iceman cuts an intimidating figure. An involuntary shiver threatens to run up Jake’s shoulders. “However, I decided, based on the success of this mission and the survival of all six pilots, that I should be here to congratulate and send you off personally.”

“There will be a permanent change in your deployments and squadrons come January 17th,” he continues. Jake furrows his eyebrows. Permanent change? “Your current detachments are temporary and are expected not to exceed beyond two weeks. You will be called back to TOPGUN for further instructions a week beforehand to prepare.”

Bob speaks up. “Uh, temporary, sir?” Jake almost recoils when Admiral Kazansky’s gaze slides over to him cooly, and he’s not even the one being regarded. To Bob’s credit, he doesn’t flinch.

“Yes, temporary, Lieutenant,” Admiral Kazansky says. “Further information is classified. I will not be giving out any more details as to what we are hoping to accomplish, but I’ve been told from an…” he glances at Maverick. “Inside source that you all will be pleased when you hear the news.”

“That’s ominous,” Jake hears Fanboy mutter to Payback behind him. He idly twists the toothpick in his mouth, considering the words. Temporary detachments, presumably to keep them busy and active until January. He’s basically vibrating out of his seat with curiosity at this point. Sue him, he’s an adrenaline junkie who can’t say no to something so vague.

“You will be shipped off in pairs or groups of three.” Admiral Kazansky flips a page onto its back. “Payback, Fanboy, Coyote. You three are headed to Tennessee. Omaha, Halo, Fritz…”

Jake crosses his legs. He would’ve liked to be deployed with Coyote this time around. It doesn’t matter who he gets paired with, he thinks, as long as it’s not—

“And finally, Hangman and Rooster, you two are headed to Oceana.”

Jesus Christ.

He almost protests, eyebrows furrowed and back straightened, but something about the way Admiral Kazansky stares at him with a stern, searching look in his eyes makes him falter. He can hear Rooster’s slight exhale, swears he can feel it on the back of his neck.

“You will be receiving an email copy of your detachment’s mission parameters,” Admiral Kazansky plows on, as if he didn’t just upend Jake’s entire world, “including your other squadron members and how long you will be at said detachment…”

They get dismissed a few minutes later, once everyone’s questions are mostly answered. Jake barely catches it, though, because he feels like he’s trapped in a permanent state of being underwater.

A deployment with Rooster for two weeks. Having to share the same airspace as the guy who’s currently burning a hole in the back of his head.

Fuck. So this is happening.

He can’t ignore Rooster now. They’ll have to talk, and Jake will have to clarify that That Night doesn’t have to change anything even though it changes everything, or maybe Rooster will say he’s a nice guy but he never saw him that way, or, the worst scenario, disgust and betrayal evident in Rooster’s eyes when he recounts that night at the Hard Deck and tells Jake to stay away from him.

Jake gets up and follows out of the room, trailing behind everyone and spitting his destroyed toothpick into one of the garbage cans. He itches to pull another one out of his pocket, but someone would notice, and he doesn’t need them to worry. He vaguely registers Coyote’s concerned touch to his shoulder, but he thinks he shrugs it off and laughs like he normally would. He’s fine, he’s cool. Nothing is wrong. Absolutely nothing.

Except something is wrong when a warm, broad hand clasps itself around his wrist and yanks him into an empty classroom right as he passes the door. He knows who it is and what’s about to happen, doesn’t even have the chance to think oh, fuck before the wind is getting knocked out of his chest as Rooster shoves him into the closed door and locks it behind them.

“What the fuck, Rooster?” He shakes Rooster’s hand off of his wrist harshly. It’s more out of instinct than anything, but it doesn’t stop Rooster from pushing him back onto the door by his chest and pinning him with a scowl.

“What’s wrong with you, Hangman?” Rooster hisses. Jake’s first thought is to struggle, because there is no way in hell he’s going to let Rooster pick him apart until all that’s left is his remains. He refuses.

“Me?” Jake says incredulously. He doesn’t push against the hold Rooster has on his chest, just stands stiffly. He’s aware of every move he makes, the way his breath jostles the hand pressed against him. He knows it’s useless to try and run. “You’re the one who pulled me in here.”

“Don’t be an asshole, Seresin,” Rooster spits. “You know exactly what this is about.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jake says. He does know. He and Rooster both know that. That doesn’t mean he’s going to say it out loud, though. Years of loving Rooster and holding what he wants to say back hardens his resolve when he steels himself and says, “enlighten me.”

Because what will happen when he does say it? When it finally bursts out from behind his lips in a boom of harsh words and sore confessions? What will Rooster do when he knows everything, sees Jake for everything that he is, everything he’s thought, vulnerable and in love and unforgivable?

What can he say? What would he say? That even looking at Rooster makes him want to hunch over and let nature take him—hearing him speak rips his chest apart and lays his innards out to bear—seeing him smile is like looking at a solar eclipse and welcoming the blind patches that spot his vision. He’s never spoken those words out loud before, but it comes right to the edge of his teeth when Rooster glares up at him vindictively, confusing and beautiful and everything Jake’s ever wanted.

“You want me to say it?” Rooster asks. Jake understands what he means. The words echo from that night in the bathroom. Coward, coward, coward. “Fine. I’ll say it.”

He fists Jake’s uniform in his hand, and only then can Jake see the torment in his eyes, the way his eyelashes flutter with every flash of hurt, intent and something Jake can’t parse.

“You kissed me.” Rooster says the words like they wound him. “You kissed me. Then you fucking avoided me for a week.” He shoves Jake against the door harder, digs his knuckles into his sternum. “Why?”

His first instinct is to deny it. “I didn’t—”

“Don’t fucking lie to me.” Rooster growls. “You were all over me that night. At the pool table, the piano, the bathroom. What happened?” Jake feels like his skin is on fire, his eyes welling up with frustrated tears. Rooster remembers.

Oh, God. Of course, he fucking remembers.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It’s a last-ditch attempt to offer Rooster an out, to hope they’d never talk about that night again and they can leave this room and still be friends on the other side.

Rooster doesn’t take it. But his grip loosens on Jake’s shirt, which gives him just enough room to twist out of it and put distance between them, stumbling a few feet away. Jake turns around so Rooster doesn’t have to see the wetness running down his cheeks.

“What’s your deal, man?” Rooster begs with him, and he’s absolutely ridiculous because Bradley Bradshaw is the only person to ever call Jake man during a fight. “I don’t understand you.”

“Rooster, you won’t—”

“Don’t call me Rooster,” he interrupts harshly, but Jake wasn’t finished—“I asked you to call me Bradley, didn’t I?”

You’re my deal, Bradley!” Jake yells finally, whipping around to face him. It’s irreversible—he can’t take it back now that the floodgates keeping his words locked have opened, nor can he turn around again, not when Bradley can see all of him now—it’s exactly what he was afraid of. “You are so fucking stupid. Fuck.”

Bradley shakes his head and takes a cautious step forward. “I just want to understand, Jake,” he says. “You… you confuse me.”

Jake finally spills over. “I feel like I ruined it, okay?” He says quietly. “I… I didn’t want it like that.”

He’s being vague on purpose, following a script that only makes sense in his own head, but Bradley tries and tries and tries to understand him and Jake wants to burn himself at the stake. “You…” He frowns. “You didn’t want… me?”

“No, I…” Jake says, broken. Bradley is silent. Jake clears his throat, wiping futilely at his cheeks in an attempt to look more put together than he is. “I didn’t want to kiss you like that. I didn’t want to be the only one to remember.”

“I do remember it,” Bradley says.

“You were drunk.”

“But I remember,” Bradley repeats, purposeful in every move he makes. Calculated in a way Jake has never been. “I remember everything.”

Might as well, right? If Jake’s going down today, he’s going down with a fucking bang. “I didn’t think you would,” he says. All of his cards are on the table. “I thought it would be like…” He trails off, unwilling to finish the sentence. He opts instead to turn his back to Bradley again, as if it would make this whole conversation easier to bear when he’s not looking at Bradley’s earnest expression.

“Like what, Jake?” Rooster implores.



“Oh, God.” Jake drops his head into his hands, rubbing at his eyes furiously. “You’re fucking killing me, Bradley.”

Bradley seems to come to a conclusion then, seems to have found the very last piece of the puzzle. Jake hears the smallest of steps before Bradley is saying, “Do you want me, Jake?”

Jake burns. “You know I can’t—”

“It’s a simple question.” Jake hears him take another step forward, feels him get exponentially closer, talks carefully and with purpose. “Do. You. Want. Me?”

“Not like this,” Jake whispers, destroyed. “Don’t make me… not when you’re angry with me. Please.”

“Don’t make you what, Jake?” Bradley says, and it’s right behind his ear, now. Jake feels like he knows what’s going to happen before it does again, a sick sense of deja-vu, and his suspicions are confirmed when Bradley snakes his arms around his waist and pulls them flush together.

It mirrors that night, the one in the stupid, dingy bar bathroom, where Bradley was plastered against his back and breathing him in. But now, it feels so much better, because Bradley is sober, absolutely stone-cold, which means that if Jake is reading this situation right… Bradleywants him. Rooster’s lips are resting against his pulse point, and it’s just him—not alcohol, not inebriation, just him.

Jake swallows roughly. “Please, don’t make me kiss you like this.”

Bradley rests his lips on Jake’s skin. It’s not a kiss, just a press of comfort. “Not when I’m angry with you?”

Jake shivers when Bradley’s nose trails its way up his throat in the same tantalizing way it had before. He nods. He knows that Bradley wants him, it’s not a question anymore—but he wouldn’t be able to handle it if their first kiss was made of fire and anger and frustration. He’d rather turn in his wings.

“I’m not mad,” Bradley says. “I never was, honey. I just… I needed to understand why you did it.”

Jake almost sobs. “Bradley—”

“You want me,” Bradley tells him, like it’s an indisputable fact of nature. It’s the nth time he’s interrupted Jake throughout this conversation, but he can’t bring himself to really care when Bradley holds him like he’s something precious. “I fucking know you do. But I need you to say it, baby, or else I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Jake lets himself finally, finally sag back into Bradley’s embrace. It’s a small gesture, infinitesimal compared to everything else, but it quiets a part of his brain he hadn’t even known was loud before this. He can feel the desperation coming off of Bradley in waves, begging Jake to just give in.

He does.

“I want you.” He relinquishes his hold on himself. He lets his words tumble out, finally, giving them to Bradley and trusting him wholeheartedly not to crumble them into pieces. “Bradley, I want you so bad it aches.”

“Me too,” Bradley tells him immediately, spinning Jake around and cupping his jaw in his hand. It fits like it was meant to be there, and Jake melts into it. “Me too, honey, I want you. So much.”

Jake’s eyes slip shut. It makes the tears stuck behind his eyelids finally droop down and cling to his eyelashes, and he fucking hates crying in front of people but it’s okay when Bradley is the one wiping them away with a quiet reverence that has Jake’s knees weak. He treats Jake like he’s something priceless, an artifact to be carried with the highest degree of carefulness, the rough pads of his fingers sweeping across Jake’s cheeks, his forehead, his eyelids, down his neck until they finally rest on his collar. Jake leans into him and touches their foreheads together like a lifeline.

“I meant what I said that night, y’know,” Bradley murmurs, urging Jake’s eyes open with his words. “You’re gorgeous.”

Jake breaks into a watery grin. “You trying to sweet talk me, Bradshaw?”

“That’s Bradley to you, lieutenant,” he says, pressing a kiss right on the tip of Jake’s nose. Jake feels like his chest is about to fucking burst. “You know I want you, Jake, but it’s not just your looks.”

“Are you saying I’m not attractive?” Jake sniffs. Bradley just chuckles fondly and kisses his eyelid like he’s the most precious stone in the world. It’s debilitating.

“Of course you are,” Bradley says. “Don’t get me wrong, Jake, your body is fucking amazing, but I want you. Just you. And everything that comes after.”

And Jake really, really can’t stand it anymore. He gives up one last time, lets his hold go on the very last tether, and grabs Bradley by the back of his neck to haul him into a searing kiss.

There’s no coming back from it. As soon as their lips collide, Jake is gone, melted down only to the slick heat of Bradley’s mouth on his and the grunt he lets out at the force of it. It feels as monumental as saving Bradley’s fucking life, makes his stomach swoop in a way it only does in the air—and when he’s kissing Bradley freakin’ Bradshaw in an empty TOPGUN classroom, apparently. He pushes closer, closer, closer, wrangles Bradley in with the grip he has on his nape, kisses him like there’s no tomorrow. Jake revels in the slight tilt of his head as Bradley’s mouth opens against his and offers him the delicious slide of his tongue, unreasonably hot about the few inches of height Bradley has on him.

Bradley gives as good as he gets, and the unabashed moans being swallowed up by Jake’s tongue are unreal, like this is doing it for him as much as it’s doing it for Jake. And maybe it is, maybe Bradley loves kissing in the same way Jake does.

Jake adores kissing. He loves it, he’s good at it, he would kiss anyone for hours on end. And this—the way Bradley doesn’t pull away, the way he indulges in Hangman like he’s his last meal on death row—sucking on his bottom lip, nibbling until Jake’s lips feel sore, breathing him in and still diving back in for more. Jake feels wanted like he’s never been wanted before; he feels loved.

“Oh, God,” he grunts against Bradley’s lips. He relishes in the protesting groan that’s ripped out of Bradley’s throat as soon as he pulls back the smallest of spaces to speak, and Bradley is interrupting him again to press their lips together again forcefully, lapping Jake up like he’s a fucking river in the driest dessert.

Jake barely registers being walked back until he’s shoved on top of one of the desks and Bradley is hiking his legs up around his waist. “Fuck—” he laughs, lips still touching Bradley’s because he’ll be damned if they ever part in the next five fucking days, and Bradley is giggling along with him until their kisses are more smiles than pressure.

Bradley presses a quick, hard kiss to the corner of Jake’s mouth. It pushes him down farther onto the desk and Bradley barely catches him before he goes toppling over the edge. It’s a very compromising situation they’ve found themselves in—Bradley situated right between Jake’s legs, covering his body head to toe with his own. Chest to chest, lips to lips, his hands migrating down to their rightful place on Jake’s hips.

Bradley moves to separate their lips. Jake doesn’t even think before he’s stealing one last lingering kiss that has him dizzy, letting Bradley finally pull away with a wolfish smirk on his face.

He finally takes in Bradley’s appearance and feels the possessive part of him glow with pride. Bradley looks ruined, eyes a little wild as he stares down at Jake with worship in his irises, his lips a bright red and definitely a bit swollen. Jake wants to do it all over again, wants to destroy him for anyone else. He wants to be the last person to ever see Bradley Bradshaw like this; an image of debauchery.

“I want to kiss you again,” he mutters, watching Bradley’s eyes flash. Bradley shakes his head and instead nudges his nose into Jake’s in a weird sort of apology.

“Give my lips a rest, honey.”

“Really laying it on thick with the honey there, Bradshaw.” Jake raises his eyebrows like he doesn’t fucking love the way the word honey rolls off of Bradley’s tongue like satin. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were running out of ideas.”

Bradley doesn’t pay his snark any mind, just snorts and knocks their foreheads together. It’s like he’s trying to pour infinite amounts of love into his touches to make sure Jake never forgets it. He grins that same, boyish grin Jake is growing increasingly familiar with. “Bradley.”

Bradley,” Jake amends with an eye-roll, pushing him back gently until he can get his feet onto the floor. He definitely feels them wobble a bit, but Bradley swipes a thumb over his spit-slicked lip and captures his bottom lip in another kiss with an air of finality and all thoughts are wiped from his head.

“Last one,” he tells Jake, leaning back just enough to finally let Jake stand properly. “Then, we go to mine.”

Jake snorts. He’s still pinned up against the desk. He can’t bring himself to care too much about that. Not when Bradley’s hands are warm on his waist and squeeze. “What, your base housing?”

“Where else?”

“No,” Jake huffs definitively. Bradley looks mortally offended at the prospect, as if he doesn’t complain about the lumpy beds and bad air conditioning on the regular. “We are going to mine.”

Bradley snaps his teeth at him playfully, which earns him a shove to the face for his troubles. He ducks his face into Jake’s neck, sending zings up his spine as he brushes his lips against Jake’s pulse.

“You show me the way home, honey.”

It's the fourth time Bradley’s interrupted their walk to the parking lot by pushing him up against walls and tugging him into kisses. Jake would stop it, really, he would, but Bradley insists that he will do it anyways and it seems counterproductive to argue.

“It’s a little early to go back home already,” Jake mutters, grinning when Bradley bites his neck.

“Hm,” Bradley hums. “Too early to get you into bed, you think?”

“What happened to chivalry?” Jake teases, arching into Bradley’s hands.

“Well,” Bradley muses, leaving his place in the crook of Jake’s neck to nose along his cheekbone. “I was just planning to get you alone, baby, but if you want chivalrous, I can give you chivalrous.”

“You give it up that easy?” Jake asks. He tilts his head just so and catches Bradley’s lips in another kiss, sighing when his sore lips protest. He’s never felt anything as good as this. “We haven’t even gone on a first date.”

“Chivalrous,” Bradley reiterates against his lips, eyes sparkling. “I’ll take you on that date.”

It takes him a second to process. Bradley’s already pulling him away from the wall and leading him along the hallway until they finally reach the lot. Jake blinks as he’s steered towards the Bronco. “What, now?”

Bradley shrugs. “You said it was too early to go home, right?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean right now,” Jake huffs when Bradley opens the car and hops into the front seat. Once Jake is basically manhandled into the front seat, he’s turning to Bradley. “We’re still in our uniforms.”

“No one will care,” Bradley dismisses, pulling out of the lot. “It’s like the Hard Deck. Navy everywhere.”

Jake is still skeptical. “Are you at least gonna tell me where we’re going, hotshot?”

Bradley glances at him, an excitement in his movements that makes Jake smile at him fondly. “You’ll see, honey.”

Jake rolls his eyes. He has to admit: he’s intrigued. Bradley’s always been an open book, but the way he’s hiding this makes Jake want to know more. He’s drawn in by this new facet of Bradley he’s never seen before; cheeky, grinning, something so Bradley but something entirely different as well. He wants to tell him, wants to shout from the rooftops everything he feels.

“It better be good,” is all he says, though.

It’ll be good anyways. Just as long as it’s with Bradley.

(He knows Bradley picks up on what he means to say because he lays one of his hands face up on the gearstick between them once they’re on the road. Jake tangles their fingers together.)

It’s only when Bradley pulls into a small plaza about ten minutes from base that Jake finally gets it.

“An 80’s themed diner,” he deadpans as Bradley locks the Bronco. He doesn’t know what he expected, honestly, because Bradley has always had an obsession with vintage. It’s kind of endearing, especially when Bradley leads him through the door and sits him down at one of the corner booths with a bright smile on his face. The leather is burgundy and garish, and the decor is a colour palette of pastels and neon retro lighting. The place is pretty empty, and there’s a jukebox in the corner that’s playing a Louis Armstrong song that Jake hums along to.

“Mav used to take me here while he was still teaching at TOPGUN,” Bradley explained, tucking in beside Jake and pressing their thighs together. “I used to get free desserts from the owner.”

Jake wraps their ankles together. “You take everyone here on the first date?”

“This is my place,” Bradley says simply. “Whenever I’m in Miramar, I go here. I was mostly here when I was young, before mom found a new place in D.C.”

“I should’ve known,” Jake sniffs. “You always did seem like a city boy.”

Bradley smacks his shoulder, looking disproportionately offended. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Jake shrugs mischievously. He leans in to kiss Bradley deeply, hoping it’ll earn him some consolation points. “Nothing.”

Bradley furrows his eyebrows. Jake sees him try and process those two bits of information separately, a poorly concealed laugh bubbling in his throat, and he just has to kiss Bradley again. The confused look on his face is gold in Jake’s eyes.

“So,” he prompts, pulling away to grab a menu and pretend to look it over while Bradley stews beside him. He’s greatly enjoying this new upper hand he has against him. “Have you ever actually gone on a first date before?”

Bradley snatches the menu out of his hands. “Of course I have.”

“Then you know you’re supposed to be on the opposite end of the table, right?” Jake gestures to the empty side of the booth across from them, smirking at Bradley’s unimpressed look. “So you can stare into my eyes while we share a milkshake or whatever.”

“What if I just wanted to touch you?” Bradley asks, low. He licks his lips, dropping a hand below the table to rest right above Jake’s knee. “Staring into your eyes is nice, but I think I want to be beside you more. Make sense?”

He’s saved from answering when the waitress comes up to their table—Miriam, her name tag says, a small blond woman who looks a little bit like Jake’s grandma. Jake silently thanks her, because his head is fucking spinning and it’s all he can do not to fall into Bradley’s arms like a Disney princess.

“My, my,” she says, resting a tray on her hip. Her southern accent surprises Jake. “Do my eyes deceive me?”

They must know each other, because Bradley looks up at her with a grin and greets her like an old friend. “Hi, Miriam.”

“Bradley Bradshaw,” Miriam says, placing their waters on the table. “Back again so soon?”

“Yeah,” he says, taking his hand off Jake’s knee to pull him closer to his side. The movement catches her attention. Miriam’s eyes glitter when her gaze rounds on Jake, sizing him up. He feels oddly like he’s meeting Bradley’s mother. “Jake, this is Miriam. The owner.”

That makes sense, he thinks. She looks sweet enough to give free desserts. “Jake Seresin, ma’am,” he greets with what he hopes is a polite smile.

“Ah.” She raises an eyebrow at Bradley. “Is this him?”

Jake furrows his eyebrows. “Him?”

Bradley sighs and drops his head onto the table. Jake’s smile slowly stretches farther once he clocks what it means.

“Do you talk about me, Bradshaw?” He asks, resting his head on the table so he can get a good look at Bradley’s face. Bradley shakes his head against the table like a child.

“No,” Bradley lies through his teeth. Jake reaches up to card a hand through Bradley’s hair teasingly.

“Aw, babe,” he coos. “You had a crush on me.”

Miriam laughs, patting Bradley’s shoulder. “You must be pretty special, sweetie,” she tells Jake with a wink. “I ain’t never seen my Bradley in here with someone else before.”

“Okay Miriam,” Bradley interjects, finally emerging from his table cocoon with his face red. “Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome,” she says automatically. Jake likes her more with every minute that passes. “What can I get you boys today?”

Bradley orders a chocolate milkshake, sparing a glance at Jake before saying, “Two straws, please.” Miriam barely hides a laugh.

“I was joking about sharing a milkshake,” Jake says once she’s left with their orders.

“I wasn’t.” Bradley grins at him. “First date rule: always share a milkshake.”

“That an actual rule of yours?” Jake doesn’t protest when Bradley takes his hand and rests it on the table, intertwining their fingers. There’s something in Bradley’s gaze that makes him want to start boiling from the inside out, a fondness he’s never seen directed towards him before.

“It could be.” Bradley shrugs. “I’d rather not, though.”

Jake narrows his eyes. “Are you gonna say something about only wanting to share a milkshake with me?”

Bradley purses his lips, very obviously caught. “No.”

“You so were.”


Jake starts laughing, because Bradley is fucking ridiculous and by the gods, he really fucking likes him. A head drops into the crook of his neck and Bradley’s shoulders start shaking with laughter against his, their hands bound tight on the table, and Jake has never felt lighter in his life.

Conversation flows smoothly from there. Their milkshake comes halfway through an argument about whether Apple or Android is better (Jake is firmly on Android’s side) and doesn’t get touched until they’ve cycled through country music versus old love songs or if chocolate ice cream is a basic ice cream flavour. Jake’s cheeks are flushed, and the few other patrons are looking at them weirdly because they keep ramping up in volume until they get shushed by the waiters.

It’s the best first date he’s ever been on. They haven’t even gotten their food yet.

Bradley’s in the middle of explaining to Jake why exactly this particular shade of blue is actually purple when their food interrupts him. Jake takes the chance to yank Bradley’s phone from his hands and close the tab to end the argument.

“You’re just mad I’m right,” Bradley grumbles, using his free hand to pull the plate closer to him. His other is still resolutely holding Jake’s.

They lapse into silence as they start eating their food, Bradley moaning indecently when he takes a bite of the burger.

“Is it really that good?” Jake asks amusedly. Bradley offers him a bite, which he takes, and oh, fuck. It really is that good. He lets out his own moan of appreciation.

“Right?” Bradley says.

“I hope you know we’re sharing that now,” Jake tells him, handing the burger back. Bradley narrows his eyes.

“You sneaky son of a bitch.”

The burger gets passed back and forth between them. Jake takes unnecessarily big bites just to piss Bradley off, and Bradley just kisses his cheek every time and lets him. The milkshake is slowly drained, and once their plates are empty, Bradley rests his head on Jake’s shoulder.

It’s quiet for a long while. It has Jake thinking.

He’s never had something like this before. Of course, Jake’s had relationships—plenty of them. Ones he broke, others he wanted to keep. This, though. Bradley.

Bradley is different. He’s different in so many ways.

They didn’t start fresh. There was a sense of rivalry with them from the very beginning, a twisted feeling of jealousy and envy lying just beneath their skin and taking form in sharp words. There was no meet-cute, but… it’s the best damn thing Jake’s had in years. It’s the most he’s ever felt for anyone, and it scares him.

He realizes, suddenly, that he wants this forever. That is the difference. The others were a pastime—Jake was never known to like things set in stone. Bradley Bradshaw is, undoubtedly, the love of his life. Concrete, sure, stable. He’ll never love like this again, he knows it, will crash and burn before it ever dies. There’s no going back for him, no rewind button to press when things go south. He’s in this, one hundred percent, but…

“Hey,” he breaks the silence. Bradley hums, squeezing his hand to let him know he’s listening. Jake knows this might just ruin the pleasant atmosphere of the night, but he has to know before he gets buried six feet under. “Is this… is this permanent?”

Bradley is quiet for a few moments. He lifts his head off Jake’s shoulder and turns to face him properly in the booth. He never lets go of Jake’s hand. His face is earnest, sincere, and Jake’s heart pinches in his chest. “Why do you ask?”

“Bradley, I’m…” he trails off. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know how he can word this so that it comes out right, so that Bradley doesn’t run away. It settles deep into his chest, roots itself in his insecurities and grief: the fact that he’s terrified of getting this wrong. “I—can’t do this halfway.”

All he gets is a nod; a sign that Bradley’s listening, that he’ll wait for however long Jake needs to sort himself out.

“This—” he starts. Stops. Takes a breath. Starts again. “We need to be permanent. I need you to be in this as much as I am, or else it won’t work.”

The wait for the answer is excruciating. Jake’s heart pounds in his ribcage and his eyes stray away from Bradley’s burning gaze to a spot right above his ear. He can’t look right now, he can’t. It’s out in the open, now, laid strewn across the table waiting for Bradley’s judgment. Spoken out loud, finally, the way that Jake would never be able to recover if Bradley didn’t need Jake as much as Jake needed Bradley.

Bradley smiles gently, raising Jake’s hand to his lips and brushing the softest of kisses on his knuckles. “I am,” he says, and Jake wants to cry. “Shit, baby, of course, I am. I’ll match your pace.” He pauses, grins. “Wingmen, remember?”

Jake laughs faintly, turning his hand to cup Bradley’s face. “Yeah.” He whispers. “Wingmen.”

Bradley leans forward to touch their foreheads together, holding Jake’s hand to his face like a lifeline. “Whatever happens, we do it together, okay? No more leaving people hanging. I need you to lean on me, too. Let me have some of your weight.”

Jake exhales slowly. “That’s a tall order,” he says, because it is. He doesn’t know how to unlearn everything he's been built on. He's absolutely lost on how to trust people. It’s not something he’s ever done before, but something gives way in his chest. Makes room for others, finally letting itself believe that people as good as Bradley really like him, ugly personality and all.

It makes up for the fear.

“Together,” Bradley repeats. Jake nods.

“Sure. Let’s do that.”

(They end up fighting over who pays the bill. Bradley makes the mistake of going to the bathroom, though, so Jake ends up getting it with a promise to a sulking Bradley that he can pay it next time.)

It’s past sunset when they finally end up falling into Jake’s bed together. It’s nothing like Jake imagined it, though—Bradley is soft with him, kisses him lazily with reverence in his touch that sends shivers up Jake’s spine. The slide is wet, slow, calculated, the same way Bradley flies. Jake thinks this is infinitely better.

“You drive me up the wall, Bradley,” he mumbles against his lips, pressing himself forcefully into Bradley’s body until he's straddling his waist and the only thing he can think to do is kiss. Their lips are sure to be swollen in the morning, but for now, Jake licks into Bradley’s mouth and sucks on his lips and thinks that this might just be heaven on earth.

Bradley indulges him, meets every kiss with the same eagerness as Jake. His mustache is definitely leaving an embarrassing mark on Jake’s upper lip, but, really, Jake couldn’t care less. He fucking loves the drag of it against his skin, the feeling that makes this experience feel fucking metaphysical.

There’s nothing to hear but their laboured breathing, the slick sounds of their lips meeting rhythmically, the occasional moan that tears through Jake's throat and is lost to the slide of Bradley's tongues.

They kiss for a long time that Jake doesn't even think to count until the clock at his bedside reads 2:52 AM, and his lips are aching deliciously with how many times he’s pressed them into Bradley’s over and over and over again.

“Jesus, baby,” Bradley teases, his voice rough and breathless and ruined, and Jake never wants to move from this spot. “You want our lips to fall off or something?

Jake grins against his lips, kisses him again and answers, “that’s the goal, Bradshaw.”

Bradley chuckles into his mouth, inhaling him in. “Well, it’s a damn good goal, if you ask me.”

“I only have good goals,” is the last thing Jake’s able to say before Bradley is kissing him quiet.

In between their kisses, Bradley begins telling him stories. It’s oddly endearing, the way he pulls away the smallest of distances. Their lips still touch, but Bradley talks through it, kissing him to punctuate his sentences. It’s otherworldly, the way Bradley knows him and sees him and indulges in his every need. Their lips never really separate, even as Bradley goes on about how he stole Maverick’s bike when he was 16 and subsequently crashed it after—how Mav didn’t care about the damn bike, he only wanted to know if Bradley was okay.

More stories are shared. The day he found out his mom had cancer. The years during where Bradley was nothing but angry at everyone. Jake's older sister moving away.

“There was this one time—” Jake kisses him. “When I was around sixteen, maybe.” Kiss. “It was before the motorcycle incident.” Kiss. “I had a—” Kiss. “Baseball game that Mav and Ice drove me to.” Kiss. “My mom was already in the hospital by then.” Kiss. “I think it was the last game I’d ever played.”

Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.

The story goes on: how Bradley ended up making the home run, how Mav and Ice cheered for him like he was their own son. The celebratory ice cream they went for afterwards.

Eventually, the stories wind down and they just kiss now, like before, but this time it's slower—less desperate. It’s soft. Their lips are really beginning to hurt now, but they don’t want to stop, because stopping would mean they have to wait till tomorrow to do it again and they really can't have that.

It devolves into them quietly laughing when Jake nibbles down on Bradley’s lower lip and tears a pained groan from his chest, soft apologies that he doesn't really mean falling into the air.

“Too sensitive?” He asks. Bradley chuckles.


Jake kisses him another time. It draws a low noise from his throat. “M’fucking obsessed with you,” he grunts. Bradley kisses him again. “—God, you drive me insane.” The rest of the words are swallowed by Bradley’s tongue.

They ultimately stop when a yawn rips through Bradley’s mouth and effectively cuts off their kisses. Jake laughs at him, turns around before Bradley can start up again and fits himself right where he belongs. His back to Bradley’s chest, their legs intertwined below the blanket, Bradley’s arms wrapped around his torso and pulling him flush.

“You just cut me off,” he mumbles against Jake’s neck.

“Tomorrow,” Jake promises, closing his eyes once he finally realizes just how tired he is.

“I’m holding you to that, Mr. Seresin.” Bradley yawns again, burying his face into Jake’s back.

He doesn’t mind this, he thinks, letting his muscles relax. Bradley’s hand blindly searches for Jake’s again in the darkness, intertwining them tightly.

Yeah. He wouldn’t mind staying like this forever, actually.

Jake is just about to succumb to sleep when Bradley speaks again.

“Do you remember,” Bradley mumbles, “when you asked me if I wanted something? At the bar?”

Jake gives a tired, affirmative hum. He doesn’t really. He just likes the rumble of Rooster’s chest behind him.

“It was you,” Bradley whispers, like it’s a secret. “I wanted you, Jake.”

Well. Isn’t that something?