Tumpik
#goodbye
tim-lucy · 3 hours ago
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Timothy, do you have feelings for Lucy?
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gravityfallsrockz · a day ago
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Disney TVA + Saying Goodbye
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sasudou · a day ago
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love-letters-i-never-sent · 2 months ago
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vadergf · a year ago
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EVERYONE LOOK AT HIM
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2armsnaheartbeat · a month ago
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becherdireinen · a month ago
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Do you ever just miss a bond you had with someone? Like regardless of what happened between you two, you miss the conversations, the laughs you guys had over the stupidest things, or the way that they were there for you when you weren't at the best. The little things matter.
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almeidalea01 · a month ago
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seasonsbloom · 2 months ago
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bad habit part iii (hangman)
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part i, part ii
pairing ; hangman x female!reader
synopsis ; the moment you meet hangman, you know you hate him. and then suddenly, you’re not so sure anymore.
wc ; 23k; yes you read that right you can’t be more confused than me idk either and i wrote it in six days
warnings ; angst, explicit language, mentions of alcohol consumption, mentions of previous character death, explicit sexual activity (Explicit sexual content (oral f and m receiving, p in v, like one sentence about choking but not rlly, some dom/sub elements, a little bit of degradation and praise kink), age gap, inexperienced reader, more angst, sappiness, feelings so many feelings all the feelings
note ; i don’t know what to say, this is literally INSANE i’m feeling INSANE this was a fever dream i wrote 8k words today none of this makes sense but it’s OVER IT’S DONE IT’S FINISHED anyways this isn’t proofread but i love you all besties and girlies and babes pls don’t hate it
also this would never have been possible without sol aka desertsagecelestial the best lines in this whole thing are credit to her sol i love you hand in marriage NOW
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Hangman doesn’t lose.
And people call him cocky, arrogant, conceited… but the thing is, it’s the truth. He’s not exaggerating. He just really is that good.
When Hangman wants something, he gets it. Promotions, missions, girls, difficult to obtain first editions of Spiderman comic books… Hangman figures out a way.
Of course, it wasn’t always like that. Back when Jake was younger, when he was the invisible kid at the back of the class who nobody wanted to play with, he had to fight tooth and nail for everything. When his father said he’d never amount to anything, it took Jake years to push back, to say no, you’re wrong. But he did, eventually, joined the Navy, graduated top of his class at Top Gun, became someone people knew, someone people looked at, someone who wanted to be seen.
So Hangman doesn’t lose because Jake learned how to fight.
This situation, then, is a complete novelty.
Jake rips his helmet off, ears still ringing with the roaring of the engine, heart still hammering the way it always does after a landing. He’s half adrenaline, the highest of high, half jitters. Head still firmly stuck in the clouds. Only this time, there’s the unfamiliar, bitter taste of failure on his tongue. 
He doesn’t know whether to be embarrassed or surprised.
Captain Mitchell, having climbed out of his own plane, approaches with a frown. Just a few steps away, by the entrance to the hangar, where the Californian sun is flooding the asphalt with golden light, a throng of the other pilots has formed.
If Jake even sees Rooster, he might start throwing punches. He’s toeing a precarious line here - ascension or plummeting.
“What was that?” Maverick wants to know, fiddling with his helmet’s clasp. “You flew straight into my line of fire, Hangman.”
So, yeah, maybe Jake just got shot down in less than a minute. So, yeah, maybe he made a rookie mistake. So, yeah, maybe Jake is having a really bad day.
“I still maintain that he got dumped last night,” Coyote says. There’s no malice to the words, but Jake wouldn’t be surprised if he and Payback had some money running on this.
“I did not get dumped,” Jake growls for what feels like the fiftieth time. Seriously, his tongue is starting to go numb.
“Oh,” Phoenix says, “you totally got dumped.”
Now that might be actual malice. Phoenix decided last night that whatever had happened between you and Jake was clearly his fault, and she was therefore firmly and squarely on your side.
In Jake’s opinion, there are several things wrong with that assessment.
First of all, there shouldn’t even be any sides. It’s not like your circle of friends has to pick teams in a divorce. Secondly, even though she constantly complains about him, he’s known Phoenix for years. She met you less than a month ago. Shouldn’t she be in his corner? And then lastly and most importantly… Jake has no idea what the hell he did wrong.
It’s all pretty unfair.
“I told you that I didn’t get dumped,” Jake repeats, forming the words slowly and carefully in the hopes that they will sound more convincing than he knows them to be. “We weren’t dating.”
And he can’t explain it, that clenching in his stomach, that lump in his throat. He can’t explain any of it, except that it hurts in a way that’s unfamiliar, in a way that’s unwelcome.
Man. He really needs a drink.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
That’s Rooster, definitely. Jake tilts his head back towards the high, high ceilings of the hangar to avoid catching the other pilots’ eyes. 
Lord, give me strength, he thinks.
“Don’t quote Shakespeare at me.”
“Wow, you know Shakespeare?” Phoenix says immediately. “I didn’t know you could read, Bagman.”
Before Jake can retort something, Maverick steps between them.
“Hangman,” he says, and something about his voice is severe enough that Jake snaps to attention. “Is that true?”
“Is what true?”
He’s one hundred percent playing for time here. Sue him. He needs to come up with an excuse.
“Did you mess up because you were thinking about a girl?”
And the thing is, Jake wants to say no. He wants to say, No, Sir, I had a bad night. He wants to say No, Sir, the sun was in my eye. He wants to say, No, Sir, I was dodging a bird strike.
But every word turns to vapor on his tongue. He can’t get anything out.
And so he just stands there, blinking like an idiot at his instructor.
Because the truth is, Jake can’t for the life of him remember what he was thinking about as he went up on the plane. Considering you’ve been on his mind pretty much non-stop since you met, and it’s only gotten worse since you stormed up to him at the Hard Deck last night, it’s not unlikely that he really was knee-deep in a train of thought revolving around you.
You’ve been haunting him. A specter squeezing into the cockpit with him. A ghost sneaking into his bed. Riding shotgun in his car.
You’re everywhere, at the bottom of each glass, soaring in the skies, under his skin, in his bloodstream. He can’t shake you.
There’s real disappointment on Maverick’s face, and Jake’s stomach drops. The older man sighs, running a hand through his hair.
“You guys…” he says softly. “This isn’t a joke. Up there, you can’t be distracted, not by girls or boys or anything juvenile like that. You can’t be distracted by anything. This is life or death. Death, do you get that? I won’t have it. And this goes for all of you.”
He makes sure to let his pointing finger wander over all of them before he storms off, the door slamming behind him.
An awkward silence spreads among them, punctured only by the shuffling of feet and somebody clearing their throat.
“Well,” Rooster says finally, slapping Jake on the back with enough force it almost buckles his knees as he makes for the door. “Thanks for that, Hangman.”
Jake should probably say something, but his mind is wandering again. He’s thinking of you, standing in a sea of broken glass, Mojito staining the front of your shirt, eyes shuttered and forlorn in a way he hadn’t seen before… 
He gets the feeling now.
“Jesus,” Coyote says, stepping up beside Jake. “The way Captain Mitchell is talking, you’d think he isn’t hooking up with Penny on the down-low.”
Something about Coyote’s voice tells Jake he feels bad for him. He doesn’t like the idea of that, not one bit, but he also can’t really find it within himself to do something about it right now.
“Mitchell and Penny are hooking up?” Jake asks, genuinely surprised.
Bob, passing by them, frowns. “Hangman, you really aren’t very perceptive, are you?”
It’s so out of character that for a moment, Jake considers if he’s somehow managed to go through a black hole and ended up smack dab in a parallel universe where Bob, of all people, goes around insulting others. Where Jake, eternal bachelor, famed ladies’ man, messes up flight maneuvers because he’s too busy thinking about a girl.
“Did… did Bob just shade you?” Coyote asks.
For a moment, Jake seriously considers hitting his head against a wall.
So, yeah, maybe Jake is having a really, really, really horrible day. So much for never losing.
+
Something’s off.
First of all, Penny’s never invited you to dinner. Second of all, this is decidedly not the kind of establishment you were expecting.
Penny seems like a burger and fries in her car sort of girl. Maybe a few bottles of beer or a couple of milkshakes to wash it all down. The little restaurant twinkling golden on the beachfront is entirely out of character. 
Narrow round tables are covered in red and white checkered tablecloths, fairy lights are strung to the rafters, and behind the floor-to-ceiling windows, boats bob up and down on the waves. It’s a tiny place, cramped but charming. Upbeat Jazz plays from invisible speakers, and a smiling waitress leads you past what seems to be only couples on anniversary dates.
“Here you go,” she says as she seats you at your table, right at the glass front, and hands you each a menu. “I’ll come to take you guys’ order in a minute.”
You sit in the plush chair, frowning. Penny is perusing the menu like nothing’s wrong.
“Oooh, Lasagna al Forno… that sounds good, doesn’t it?”
“Penny,” you interrupt, not even opening your own menu. “What’s going on?”
Penny barely glances up at you. “You needed to get out of the house, sweetie.”
And she’s not wrong. You spent the last week since your… altercation with Hangman curled up in your bed, letting the anxiety eat away at you. The walls of your room closing in on you, the weight on your chest pushing you down until it practically molded you to the mattress.
Everywhere you looked, the world had grown teeth.
“I’m fine,” you say, but the words sound empty even to your ears.
Penny doesn’t indulge you.
“No, you’re not,” she says, voice firm. “You’re miserable.”
When you ended things with Hangman, you didn’t think much about whether you were making the right decision. You just wanted out. You wanted it to end, so scared of what would happen if it didn’t, if you let it continue, if you dipped even deeper into that pool. So scared that it might start meaning more than what it already did, that you would put your heart on something that was bound to end anyways.
Because guys like Hangman… handsome guys, confident guys, guys that hang around bars with toothpicks in their mouths… guys like that break you apart without a second thought.
And you’re already broken enough.
“I’m fine,” you reiterate and finally open your menu, staring at the entrées without seeing a thing. “I’m glad things are over between Hangman and me. It’s better this way.”
Penny is quiet for a moment, then she says, “Sweetie, you need to talk to him.”
“No, I do not,” you answer immediately. This is not the first time you’ve had this conversation. “What could I possibly have to talk to him about?”
“Oh, just… maybe you could explain to him just why you decided to break both your hearts, I don’t know.”
You purse your lips. “Penny. Hangman doesn’t care. He said so himself. This didn’t mean anything to him.”
And it’s so stupid. But his words replay in your mind like a broken record, like an endless loop, again and again. This was nothing. The cold upward turn of his mouth as he said it. Calm, collected. Unfazed.
You’re an idiot. You spent a few weeks flirting with a guy who wanted to get into your pants, and you made it into something it never was - made it big, made it important, made it matter, when really, to him, it had only ever been a game from the very beginning.
And now he’s off, somewhere, flying his planes, living bigger than you ever will, dreaming better, and you’re left on the ground, scrambling to pick up the pieces of yourself.
It’s pathetic.
But Penny looks at you from across the edge of her menu and says, “Pete says he’s been fucking up majorly during training. He’s distracted.”
It gives you pause for a moment and your heart - that stupid, incorrigible thing that never learns, never lets go, that latches onto everything - stutters in your chest.
“Huh?” you ask eloquently.
Penny jerks her head. “This wasn’t nothing to him.”
The smiling waitress returns with a notepad, and Penny orders lasagna and a bottle of wine. You settle for some kind of risotto, mainly because it’s the first thing your eyes land on.
After she’s left, you take a deep breath.
“It…” You hesitate. It’s so difficult to say it, to admit it, but you think if you don’t get the words out now, you never will. “It didn’t, Penny. I’m not… I’m not really someone people remember. I’m just… I don’t know. I’m just me. This didn’t matter to him. I didn’t matter to him.”
And Penny’s face softens. All her irritation of the past few weeks, the constant nagging when you came over for the tutoring session, the stream of texts asking you to come over for drinks, when she knocked on your door earlier, uninvited, and forced you into the shower, into a dress, into her car, it all just melts away. There’s nothing there now, not even pity, nothing there but genuine, real compassion, and you think you’re going to cry right here, in the middle of this restaurant…
“Oh, sweetie,” she says, reaching across the table to cup both your hands in hers. “You’re worth so much more than you think. When will you finally realize that?”
And it’s like this: since your mother’s death, you’ve just been so horribly, achingly lonely. The sort of loneliness that goes bone deep, that burrows into your bloodstream. You’ve drifted through the world unmoored, untethered, not belonging anywhere. Sure, you met people, but they disappeared from your life as quickly as they entered it. You let yourself become invisible, see-through like cellophane.
But with Penny, it’s like she sees you. Really sees you. In a way you don’t think anybody except your mother ever did, right down to your insecurities and flaws.
And somehow, with Hangman, it was the same. He saw something there with you, saw what you needed and what you wanted before you even really knew it yourself. And you don’t know if that’s just something about him, something he can do with any girl, or if it’s something special, if he understood you, all you know is that it terrified you half to death.
There’s something reassuring about remaining in the dark.
It’s a good thing the waitress comes back with a bottle of wine and a bread basket because you’re pretty sure you would have started sobbing otherwise.
You think you’re going to thank Penny, eat your food, try and enjoy the evening, and then maybe crawl into bed at the end of the night and cry a little more. Just… make the best of it.
But Penny glances over your shoulder, and something mischievous passes over her features. Suddenly, you feel a little sick.
She rises from her seat, and by the time you’ve glanced over your shoulder, they’re already at your table.
“Hi, Pete,” Penny says, grinning. “Hi, Hangman.”
You’re doing your very, very best not to look at him. Your stomach is turning. Perspiration builds up lightning-quick on the inside of your palms.
“Hi, Penny,” the older pilot you’ve never talked to but have seen hanging around the bar several times echoes, giving her a soft smile. He greets you by name, and you’re so stunned, so excruciatingly uncomfortable, that you can’t even react.
Pete manhandles Hangman into Penny’s vacated chair with two hands on his shoulders, and then you don’t really have a choice but to stare at him. He’s right there, in your line of sight.
Hangman looks as shocked as you feel, but there’s something else, too. He’s still handsome, of course, still tanned and blond and perfect, but something seems to have shifted. His hair is just a little less tidy, the bags beneath his eyes a little more pronounced. For the first time ever, you see him in civilian clothes - a t-shirt and jeans, something softer around the edges that makes your insides clench.
All initial instincts of flight bleed right out of you. It’s half hope, half fear, that keeps you rooted to your chair.
“You said this was a lesson,” Hangman says to his superior, looking, for lack of a better word, desolate.
“It is,” Pete answers, patting his shoulder before withdrawing.
And Penny says, “Listen, I know the owner. If you guys leave before finishing your dinner, there’ll be hell to pay.”
She points at Hangman. “I know your boss.”
Then she points at you. “I am your boss.”
And that’s final. Penny has a way of getting what she wants.
Before she leaves, she leans down to hug you and whispers softly, “Sweetie, you don’t need to go out of this evening dating him. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to. But I think he deserves an explanation, at the very least.”
She draws back, smiles at the two of you as if she’s just performed some great, benevolent act, and then disappears with Captain Mitchell.
You half expect Hangman to get up and leave the moment the two are out of earshot. You half expect yourself to do the same.
But you both stay where you are, at that table, actively avoiding the other’s eyes.
The waitress comes to drop off your food. Hangman pours both of you a glass of wine and then downs his in one go.
Finally, he sighs like he just lost some internal fight and says, “I can’t believe they totally just parent-trapped us.”
“Parent-trapped?” you repeat, a little dumbly.
“Yeah, like… tried to set us up. You know, like in the cinematic milestone with Lindsey Lohan?”
You nod.
For a moment, there’s nothing but silence. The gears in your head are turning on overdrive. You feel near frantic with nerves.
“Personally,” you say, your mouth moving before you’re really aware that you’re speaking, “my favorite bad matchmaker is Emma Woodhouse.”
Hangman frowns. “Who’s Emma Woodhouse?”
That has you gaping at him. 
“You don’t know Emma? By Jane Austen?”
“Jane Austen?” Hangman takes a sip of his water. “Is that the one with the Pride & Prepaid something? Where everybody goes to each other’s houses and just talks for hours?”
You’re going to have an aneurism. 
“Emma,” you say, now having trouble controlling your voice, “is one of the greatest pieces of literary fiction ever created. And you mean Pride & Prejudice.”
“Really?” He leans back and looks at you. “So what’s it about, then?”
“Well,” you launch into an explanation, jumping at the chance not just to fill this horrible silence but also to talk about one of your favorite books, and the words just seem to flow from you now, “Emma Woodhouse is this really pretty, really rich young Lady, yeah? And she decides that she’s not gonna get married, so instead, she tries to find a husband for her poor friend Harriet. So she wants to set her up with Mr. Elton, only it turns out Mr. Elton is actually into Emma, and at some point, they’re alone in a carriage, and he proposes marriage to her, and it’s super awkward, but then Emma thinks she’s in love with Frank Churchill who also turns out to not be for her and in the end, she realizes she’s really been in love with Mr. Knightley all along, who’s like a really close family friend, only now Harriet might be in love with Mr. Knightley, too, and they have a bit of a falling out and….”
Much too late, you stop yourself. The embarrassment comes belatedly, but it settles all the stronger.
Hangman is looking at you with a somewhat dazed expression. You can’t believe you just said all that.
You drag your fork through the mess on your plate, cheeks hot, and round it off by saying, “Anyway, it’s really about Emma realizing the errors of her ways and becoming more considerate of others, and it’s a commentary on class and privilege and all. It’s pretty good.”
“Okay,” Hangman says, and you have never wanted the powers of teleportation more than you do at this moment.
The embarrassment is going to eat you whole.
After another moment, Hangman says, “That just sounds like the plot of Clueless.”
You freeze, fork halfway to your mouth. 
“You… you know Clueless?”
One of Hangman’s eyebrows raises nearly to touch his hairline. “Do I know Clueless?” he repeats. “Is Cher Horowitz one of the best cinematic characters ever created? Of course, I know Clueless, I’m not a barbarian.”
You stare at him until a big blop of risotto rice lands on the tablecloth.
“Oh, I…” you stutter, moving to mop the spilled food up with your napkin. “Clueless is like, one of my favorite movies ever.”
“Yeah?” He grins, seemingly relaxing just a little bit. “Mine too. So, did Jane Austen steal the plot?”
You can’t help it - it punches a laugh out of you.
“No, it… Clueless was based on Emma. The novel came out like… 180 years earlier, I think.”
“Right.” Hangman nods. “Well, if it inspired Clueless, it must be a pretty good book then.”
You’re almost sure this is the longest conversation you’ve ever had without Hangman trying to get into your pants. It also might be the longest conversation you’ve ever had about your interests without someone shutting you down.
You’re developing a headache.
“Listen,” Hangman says suddenly, leaning forward in his chair. Something in his face has gone serious. “I understand what happened. I was pushing for something you didn’t want, and I pushed too hard, and you put a stop to it. That’s fine. It’s good, really. I respect it.”
And that’s not it at all. But you don’t know how to tell him that he’s got it all wrong, that it’s not that you didn’t want it. It’s that you wanted it too much. Wanted him so much it felt dangerously close to falling for him. Wanted him so much you knew you were giving him the power not just to see you, but to leave you.
He takes a deep breath.
“That doesn’t mean we have to avoid each other. Let’s just… let’s just be friends, okay?”
You feel like somebody punched you in the face.
“Friends?” you repeat softly.
“Friends,” Hangman confirms. He’s nodding his head.
Penny told you to explain it to him, made it seem like an imperative, but as you sit there, you realize she was wrong. You realize it doesn’t matter. Not to him, at least. Those words in the bar cross your mind again. It was nothing. His indifference to all that emotion you carry everywhere you go.
And you’re so angry with him, even if you know that you’re the one who brought this down on you, you’re the one who decided to end it. So angry you want to take him by the shoulders and shake him until that mask he carries finally slips off, until you get to see what lies beneath that.
Because the truth is, beneath the anger, beneath the frustration, you’ve spent the past week thinking of him. In bed, in the shower, at the gas station. And you missed him, even if that doesn’t make any sense.
And if you don’t tell him the truth, if you just let him believe his sexual advances were just a little too much for you instead of revealing the real depth of your feelings… well, then maybe you can at least preserve the last shreds of your dignity.
Besides… maybe, you think, it’s better to get any piece of him than nothing at all. Better to be friends than never to see him again. At least this way, you’d be safe.
“Yeah,” you say, and your voice sounds far away. “Yeah, friends. Okay.”
Hangman smiles, and it’s a real, genuine smile as opposed to his usual smirks. His eyes go all crinkly, and you clutch your fork tighter.
And after that, it’s… nice. You find out, to your own horror, that you actually do like Hangman. He’s funny and witty, and when he isn’t trying to fuck you, you realize you actually have things in common.
Together, you empty the bottle of wine and have another glass each, finish your meals, and share a plate of tiramisu that seems to melt on your tongue.
You squabble about the bill, but finally, Jake concedes and lets you pay, even though he looks like he’s about to start muttering in anger.
You like it. It kind of feels like finally being on even ground after weeks of fighting an uphill battle.
When you step out of the restaurant, leaving the Jazz and the smell of pasta behind, you pause. It’s a bit of an unsettling realization to come to, but you don’t want the night to end.
Hangman stops a pace or two behind you, tipping his head back into the breeze.
He looks younger like this, out of his uniform, with a blush painted on his cheeks by the wine, with the wind tousling his hair. All his edges blurred into something almost gentle. Boyish.
Calling him Hangman seems wrong.
Jake, you think, and something deep inside of you aches. Jake.
Smiling, he turns to you. “Do you need a ride home?”
You don’t trust your own voice, so you just nod.
“Alright.” He starts towards his car, then immediately stops. “Actually… do you mind taking a walk on the beach? I think I should sober up a little more.”
No, you don’t mind one bit, and that’s the danger of it all.
“Fine,” you agree. You mean for it to be clipped, but instead, it comes out like a squeak.
Jake, who doesn’t seem to notice your tone, smiles and leads the way down a trodden path that takes you by the restaurant’s trash cans and then onto the sand of the beach.
It’s colder here, enough that you wrap your arms around your torso to leech off your own body warmth.
Jake is already halfway out of his jacket before you begin protesting.
“Come on,” he says. “I know you don’t believe it, but my mother actually did raise me to be a gentleman. I keep telling you.”
So you let him drape the jacket over your shoulders, and suddenly you’re enveloped in his scent, and your mouth is dry, and your stomach clenches.
“Thank you,” you say quietly.
You walk along the beach for a while in perfect silence. The wind dances through your hair, the air smells crisp and fresh and salty, and the waves roll in from the sea, white foam that nearly licks at your feet.
It’s peaceful. Serene. It’s dangerous because it feels so much like a date, and you want to hold Jake’s hand so bad, and he’s almost devastatingly handsome in this light, but you ignore it. Look straight ahead and pretend you’re not feeling it.
Finally, Jake stops and sits down in the sand. Hesitantly, you follow his example, pulling your knees up to your chest.
“What did you want to be when you were a kid?” Jake asks, staring out at the waves.
You frown. “Seriously?”
“What? That’s a normal question people ask their friends.”
You don’t know about that, but you do answer, “I don’t know. I don’t really remember?”
“Not at all?”
You pause. It’s almost too easy to be truthful with him, and with a start, you realize that you trust him.
God, you must be an idiot.
“I used to…” You clear your throat. “Well, there was this house on my street back in Seattle. A house with a blue door. I used to dream about buying it one day and living there with my husband, and my kids, and our dog.”
You half expect him to laugh at you, call you childish or naive, or a romantic. But he doesn’t. He just listens, face utterly void of judgment, and your stomach swoops.
“Do you still want that?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” you answer truthfully. “But it was the first real dream of my life. I don’t know if you ever really grow out of those.”
Jake nods. “Yeah, you probably don’t, right?” He’s quiet for a moment, and then he continues, “Mine was becoming spiderman. Honestly, I’d still give my right arm for it.”
And it actually makes you laugh. An honest, genuine sound that echoes across the beach.
Jake’s smile is brilliant in the night. 
“I like that sound,” he says softly. “Do it again.”
To cover up the feeling rising up in you - something you’d describe as bashfulness, if that wasn’t so disgustingly ridiculous, something that warms you inside out - you feign nonchalance, say, “Well, tell me something funny, then.”
“Something funny, yeah?” He leans back in the sand with a sigh as you nod, balancing his weight on his elbows, and turns his head up at the night sky like he’ll find inspiration up there. “I thought Star Wars was real for like… an embarrassingly long time.”
“What?”
“Yeah, like, full on.” He nods, face almost solemn. “I looked Han Solo up in history books and shit, I got so confused when I couldn’t find him. I was just like, do people know about this, like, they have to know about this, like about little green Yoda guys and….”
You can’t help it. You start dissolving into laughter halfway through, and Jake looks up at you, grinning.
“Are you serious?” you ask through your laughter. The thought of little Jake thumbing through history books frantically as he searches for Han Solo - who you just know was his childhood idol - is almost too much.
He shrugs. “That’ll be my secret. Did make you laugh, though.”
“Yeah, you did,” you admit, and then you let yourself fall into the sand beside him. It’s cool, grains catching in your hair, and you’re pretty sure you’ll spend the rest of your week trying to get them out again, but it’s worth it for the view. 
The night sky stretches endless above you. You’re close enough to the sea and far enough from San Diego that the light pollution has bled out here, that you can see the stars twinkling up there. A million miles away, yet so close you think you could pluck one if you just stretched out your arm.
“Maybe I should be a teacher,” you say, and then freeze up. Because, what the fuck? Where did that come from?
You’ve never even thought about that, but it just burst out of you, like something you’ve been carrying in your chest your whole life.
Awash in the surprise, you can do nothing but blink for a while.
“A teacher?” Jake repeats. “What subject?”
“English,” you say immediately. Okay, well. Guess we’re having epiphanies about ourselves then. “It’s just that… well, I… I like tutoring Amelia. It’s my favorite time of the week, I think. And I… I love all those books other people are forced to read. I even like Catcher in the Rye, can you believe it?”
“Even Catcher in the Rye?” Jake says, mocking you by letting out a scandalized gasp and slapping a hand over his mouth. You laugh and shove at his shoulder. 
Grinning, he says, “I think you’d be a great teacher.”
And your heart beats faster. “Yeah?”
He nods. “I think you’d be great at anything you put your mind to, really. But I saw you talk about that book earlier… it’s like you were glowing. You love that. People are always best when they do what they love.”
It’s unexpectedly wise. It knocks the wind right out of you.
You need to take a moment to collect yourself, avoid the intent gaze of his eyes that makes it feel almost like he knows you.
“Have you always wanted to be a pilot, then?” you ask.
Jake shrugs, a movement you feel more than see, his arm moving up where he’s pressed against yours, shoulder digging a deeper furrow into the sand.
“Maybe. I guess.” You think he won’t say anything else, but after another moment, he goes on, “My father is a general, you know? It’s sort of a family tradition.”
You didn’t know that, but it sort of makes sense. Another shade to color Jake Seresin in with.
“He must be really proud of you,” you say, thinking of your own father, who hasn’t called in months.
Jake is quiet for so long that you glance over to check that he hasn’t fallen asleep. His eyes are open, though, and his throat bobs as he swallows.
“Not really,” he says, finally. “My father always thought I was a disappointment. I remember one time in middle school, there was this boy… He was a real bully. He liked to slam me into lockers, and one time he broke my nose. My dad just said it was my own fault for not fighting back.”
His jaw moves as he grinds his teeth.
“Nothing I do ever really… is enough for him.”
There’s something in his voice you never thought Jake capable of: defeat.
Your chest aches with it.
“Not even when you graduated Top Gun?” you ask carefully. “You were top of your class, right?”
Jake shrugs again. “He didn’t come to the ceremony. Mom said he was sick, but… I don’t think that’s true.” He exhales, and it’s a shaky, fragile sound. “Sometimes… sometimes I think he’d only ever be proud of me if I got shot down. If I died in combat or something.”
Your reaction is visceral. Heart plummeting, stopping, arm jerking against him.
“Don’t…” you begin, then shake your head vehemently. “Don’t say that, please.”
He glances at you, looking almost surprised at your outburst.
“It’s not…” You hesitate. “It’s not worth it. Not if he doesn’t recognize it already.”
“Recognize what?” 
And Jake won’t take his eyes away from you. You feel like you’re going to fall apart.
“That you’re… that you’re a good pilot.”
You swallow, immediately embarrassed by your own words. You can’t even look him in the eyes.
Jake raises an eyebrow. “You’ve never even seen me fly.”
“It doesn’t matter,” you say, and mean every word, “I know.”
It’s not enough. It’s way too much.
It doesn’t say half of the things you want to tell him, at the same time as it reveals much more than you want it to.
And you remember: It was nothing. Shrugging off everything he made you feel. Laughing as if nothing had happened. Telling you without as many words that you were just another conquest, just another girl in a line of girls, nothing special about you, nothing important, nothing relevant.
You want to hate him, yet something about Jake makes it impossible. Something about him keeps drawing you back. Even after everything that’s happened, wanting him is like a bad habit you can’t shake.
You can’t explain that.
But Jake reaches out to you and slots his fingers into the spaces between your own. Squeezes once.
Your fear got in your way. Even now, it chokes all words from you.
But that’s fine. You think, somehow, Jake understands anyway.
He’s quiet for a while and then says, “Why are you here, then? In Fightertown, I mean.”
It’s a good question, one you don’t know how to answer. 
Finally, you say, “My mother died.” 
And then you freeze. It’s the first time you’ve ever said it out loud, and suddenly it’s real in a way it wasn’t before. 
Haltingly, almost shell-shocked by it, you continue, “And it… it made me realize that I’d built my whole life around her. And when she was gone… well, that life was gone, too. Like that dream about the house with the blue door… It didn’t seem to matter anymore. So I just left. I just… drove until I got to Fightertown, and then I decided to stay because… I don’t know. There was nowhere else to go, anyway.”
Tears pool in your eyes, and you concentrate hard to blink them away.
“And do you like it here?”
You’re so grateful. You’re so grateful he doesn’t tell you that he’s sorry about your mother, that he doesn’t judge you for not having had a life apart from her. That he doesn’t ask about your father or your friends. So grateful that somehow, again, he seems to understand what you need: Not the past, but the present.
“Yeah,” you say and are surprised to find you’re telling the truth. “Yeah, it’s not so bad.”
Then you glance at him. “Unless the most obnoxious naval aviator in the history of the world almost knocks you over in a bar, of course.”
Jake laughs, a carefree, bellowing sound that has you feeling a little bit like you’re soaring.
“Only because you’re so pretty, sweetheart,” he says, winking at you.
And it’s toeing the line. Not really friendly, not really platonic, but so Hangman, so Jake, that you don’t even mind.
You smile back, and then you turn your eyes up to that sky, to those stars, and listen to the whisper of the waves, holding tight to Jake’s hand.
+
The thing about fear is that it’s not a one-time situation. Overcoming it once doesn’t get rid of it - it just goes stagnant for a while, lulls you into a false sense of security, and then it pounces again.
So walking into the Hard Deck is a little easier, but the rest of it is just as hard. Reassuring yourself that you’re wanted here, that you’re not intruding, that nobody will look at you weirdly.
Hangman and Phoenix invited you. Separately, you tell yourself. You know the owner. You’re gonna be okay.
You can’t spot any familiar faces when you finally get the courage to make it from the front porch into the actual bar. It’s all just strangers mingling.
Mostly looking for a little bit of liquid courage and something to occupy your time with until the others arrive, you make your way to the bar and flag down one of the unfamiliar bartenders to order a cocktail.
After, you turn to people watch. They’re everywhere, laughing and flirting, people lining up shots in neat rows on bar tops, people knocking back shots, people playing darts and pools and footsie, people laughing with their friends or at their friends. It’s almost shocking, all that display of life. It makes you think of yourself, alone in your room for days, weeks, years. How much did you miss?
“Can I buy you another?”
The guy is handsome. That’s the first thing you notice. Not Hangman-level handsome, but… that’s not the sort of thoughts you should be having anyway. Curls, kind eyes, a dimple on his cheek. Cute. The kind of guy you might have stared at in the supermarket a few months ago, would have lost your mind over if he had smiled at you in the frozen foods section.
“Oh,” you say as he slides up to you, folding and bracing his arms on the tabletop. “Uhm…”
“No strings attached,” he promises, holding up his hands like he wants you to check that he’s not carrying any weapons. “You just looked lonely.”
You laugh, feeling a little bit out of your depth. “Did I really?”
He nods, eyes twinkling, and says, “Yep. I could tell all the way from the other end of the bar.”
That’s probably not a good sign, you think. Gotta start working on my poker face.
“I’m Jason, by the way,” the guy introduces himself, offering you a hand.
This feels a lot like a precipice.
Part of you knows you should give in. Let this guy buy you a drink, let him flirt with you, let him take you home. Get an ego boost and have a nice time. This, you think, was what Penny meant all the time she talked about getting the sexual frustration out of your system. 
Not whatever the fuck that twisted thing you and Hangman had going on was. Definitely not that, because it didn’t get a single thing out of your system. In fact, it only ended up injecting more into your system. More worries, more insecurities, more pain.
And it’s over, you know it is. He listened when you asked him to stop, and he’s made it abundantly clear he’s not interested in you, that you were less than a fling, that you were just a possibility that never came true. That you were nothing. And yet… you’re not ready to let it go. To let go of whatever sliver of hope you’ve held onto.
But then you think of Jake at the restaurant, how easily he’d brushed it all off, how he’d said friends. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it, not really. He’d just wanted to get it out of the way. And he’s so confident, so sure of what he wants, and if he wanted you… then he would have gone after you by now.
You know he would have.
So you smile and say, “Are you a naval aviator?”
Jason seems surprised by that, but he nods his head. “Yes, Ma’am. Just graduated Top Gun a few weeks ago.”
“Oh no,” you say. “That’s not good.”
Jason laughs. “Not the reaction I usually get. Are you not a big fan of pilots, then?”
“Not particularly,” you say. “I don’t think they’re good for my mental health. Or the environment.” 
And then he laughs, and his dimple distracts you, and it’s light and not heavy, and it feels simple in a way you’ve been missing.
So you let him buy you a drink. And you let him flirt with you. And you try, try, try your best to forget about the anxiety gnawing at your bones, about the voice telling you it’s wrong, about everything that’s holding you back.
You just want to be normal. You just want to have fun. You just want to be free of the ghosts haunting you.
And in a way, it’s easy. Jason isn’t aggressive like Jake was, isn’t so handsome it seems like a miracle he’s even looking at you. He’s nice and funny and a little bit boring, and that’s good, boring is good because boring is normal, it’s trivial, it’s safe.
Hesitantly, you place a hand on Jason’s arm and bask in the way it feels when he smiles at you.
And then the intrusive thought comes, unbidden, unstoppable, bleak: If Jake were here…
You banish the idea as soon as it crops up.
It was nothing.
If Jake were here, he would not care.
+
Jake is having an aneurism.
That’s the only logical explanation for any of this. He feels like somebody is peeling his skin off like he’s an orange.
“Yo, Hangman!” 
A hand starts wiping up and down through the air right in front of him rapidly, and Jake blinks against the blur of colors it leaves on his vision.
“There you are, dude,” Payback says, laughing. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for like 5 minutes.”
“Yeah, well,” Jake mutters, turning back to his friends. “You’re just not that interesting, Payback.”
Way less interesting than that scene unfolding near the bar, at least. But also decidedly less prone to provoke Jake into committing arson, so probably the safer choice.
“What are you looking at anyway?” Payback inquires, getting on his tippy-toes to look across everybody else’s heads.
Jake just manages to catch him by a shoulder and force him in the opposite direction. The last thing he needs is to get shit for this, too. He’s already got enough to deal with by just trying to untangle the thicket of his own emotions.
“I’m looking for Bob. We shouldn’t leave minors unaccompanied,” he lies, forcing a nonchalance he doesn’t feel into his voice.
From where she is leaning against the vintage Pacman machine, Phoenix gives him a look like she isn’t buying anything that he’s putting down. But she doesn’t point it out, and Jake sort of feels like weeping in gratitude.
He takes a seat at the table next to Coyote and starts playing with the label on his beer bottle, mainly so he doesn’t feel the urge to start looking for you in the mess of the crowd again. The paper is soaked through by the condensation, crumbling into tiny balls that stick between his fingers when he rubs too hard.
“So, day after tomorrow, huh?” Fanboy says. “Gonna know our fate. You nervous, Hangman?”
The worst part is, Hangman - Hangman, of all people, whose life for the past ten years has revolved around little more than the Navy, than his plane, than his performance up in the air - has pretty much forgotten that the day after tomorrow they’d announce who was about to go on the mission that could potentially become the most important of his career. It’s just that there are much more imminent, pressing things happening right here, right now. Like some dude chatting you up with what are probably the sleaziest lines you’ve ever heard just a few steps away.
He clears his throat. “Why would I be nervous?” he asks, but it lacks his usual edge. “I’m going anyways, no question about it.”
“I don’t know,” Rooster interjects. “You’ve been flying sort of shitty the past week.”
Jake’s fingers clench around the neck of the bottle.
“No shittier than you, Bradshaw. You fly like you’re trying to let senior citizens pass through traffic.”
Payback frowns. “You okay, Hang? That barely made any sense.”
Truthfully, Jake is so distracted he can’t even concentrate enough to come up with something that’ll really piss Rooster off. Not when you’re right there, and he’s not the one making you laugh. Not when he asked you to be friends while really all he can think about is you underneath him with that glazed look in your eyes he’s put there once before, you moaning his name, you in his shirt, you with your mouth wrapped around his…
“Hangman!” That’s Phoenix, now sitting next to Rooster, looking like she’s about an inch from slapping him over the head with her beer bottle. “I asked you a question.”
“Huh?”
Everybody’s staring at him. He’s still trying not to look at the bar.
“I said,” Phoenix repeats, speaking deliberately slow like she’s scared he won’t understand otherwise, “that I don’t want to see any physical fights. So we’re all going to accept the decision tomorrow. Get it, Bagman?”
He shrugs. Right now, he’s so decidedly uninterested in who goes on that mission he can’t imagine even getting upset about it.
“Fine by me,” he mutters and moves to take a sip of his beer. Only, when he tips his head back, it brings the bar right into his line of sight.
And there you are, sitting almost in the exact same spot you were the very first night he approached you. Back in one of those dresses, the ones that drive him insane, the ones playing much more prominent roles in his late-night fantasies than he’d ever like to admit. Legs crossed primly and tucked to the side, all that smooth, soft skin, and Jake can’t stop himself, can’t not imagine getting to run his mouth down the line of that leg, can’t not imagine taking that dress off you, can’t not imagine making you whimper for him, again and again and…
A pale hand lands on the small of your back, just half an inch from where the dress drops low to expose that skin he was just thinking about, and Jake feels like somebody sucker-punched him.
“Okay, somebody switch seats with me right now,” he says, and his voice has climbed to unprecedented heights. It just bursts out of him.
It startles Bob so much he almost drops his beer. Liquid goes sloshing all over Coyote’s lap, who yelps, jumps up, and dumps half his whiskey over Payback in the process. In the ensuing mayhem, everybody seems to forget about the culprit.
Everybody. Everybody, except Phoenix.
She looks at him with the sort of knowing, accusatory eyes that make him think he should be on his knees begging for forgiveness or something.
Discomfort makes him shift his weight in his seat.
And then a hand ghosts over his shoulder, fingernails painted a delicate pink, and for a second, he hopes, thinks he’s going to turn around and find you there, smiling at him, eyes shining, but it’s a different face that greets him. His heart, soaring for a moment, plummets to the ground.
He’s seen the girl around the bar a few times before. She’s pretty. The type he’d go for usually, the kind of pretty thing he’d fuck and leave and never think about again.
“Hi,” she says, smiling in a way that makes the corners of her painted mouth curl up like the lower half of a heart. “I’ve seen you around. Can I buy you a drink?”
It’s the sort of straightforward behavior he prefers usually. Hangman has never been much for playing it coy, for insecurity. He likes someone who goes after what they want, who knows what they want. At least he’s always thought he did.
For a second, he can see it: a little bit of flirting, some coy touches, letting her take him home, getting his rocks off, then disappearing forever.
But his heart just isn’t in it. The whole thing feels empty. Useless. Wrong.
So he shrugs her hand off, gives her a polite smile, and says, “Maybe some other time.”
The girl is drunk enough that she doesn’t care much, just shrugs and saunters off to find someone more accepting of her advances.
When Jake turns to face his friends again, Coyote is gaping at him with his mouth hanging open.
“What?” Jake asks, for the first time in his life actually uncomfortable with the amount of attention he’s receiving.
“Are you like… sick?”
“Why?”
“Cause you just…” Payback looks seriously concerned. “You just turned down a pretty girl, man. Are you feeling okay?”
And that’s when Jake realizes what just happened. With a dawning sort of horror, he sets his bottle down on the table and stares at the condensation rings, the crumpled napkins, the half-eaten bowl of peanuts. His head is spinning.
So, like… what the fuck?
Since Jake finally got to move out of his parent’s house, since he got out from under the gaze of his father - always judging, always finding him lacking - since he joined the Navy and found out that he’s one of the most talented pilots they’ve ever had, he’s had a pretty good idea of who he is.
Arrogant, sure. Cocky, even. Abrasive, at times, calculated, cunning. But with enough skill to back all of it up a hundred times. He knows he’s handsome, knows he can get any girl he wants, and he enjoys that. Basks in it. Based half his personality on it.
So Hangman knows who he is. Knew it perfectly well, right up until the moment he met you.
And just like that, he’s going not just after an inexperienced girl but a girl who might not even like him, and he keeps telling himself it’s just about the chase, just because you’re the prettiest thing he’s ever seen, and there’s something exciting about getting someone who doesn’t make it easy, but it’s starting to sound like a bad excuse, because then why did he ask you to be friends just so he could stay close to you, why did he tell you things he’s never told a soul, why did he feel like the earth was shattering beneath him when you said he was a good pilot? Why can’t he stop thinking of you?
“Hangman, are you having a stroke?” 
Even Rooster sounds genuinely concerned, but Jake doesn’t hear him. Not really, at least.
Because up at the bar, the guy has leaned in even closer, leaned all the way into your space (and Jake just knows he stinks of beer and sweat, and his palms are probably damp where he’s groping your waist), and is whispering something into your ear and you’re giggling, and Jake sees full-on, deep, deep scarlet.
He’s out of his seat before he can register it, halfway through the bar before he remembers moving. Elbowing people out of the way and probably spilling more than one drink in his path. He doesn’t care. In fact, he doesn’t even notice.
All his attention is laser-focused on you and all the places that dirtbag is touching you.
“Alright,” he says much too forcefully when he finally reaches the bar and slaps his hands onto the countertop with a noise so loud it almost has you jumping out of your seat. “I think I told Penny all her drinks are on my tab. Like perpetually. Eternally. Whatever, pick one.”
The poor, unassuming bartender stares at him. “I… Who are you, Sir, like I…?”
Jake ignores him. He turns to face you and the douchebag, both of you staring at him with wide eyes. 
“Hi,” he says, aiming for casual and missing by a mile. Now he’s a little concerned his smile might look like a serial killer about to woo his newest victim.
“Uhm,” you say slowly, glancing at the guy behind you, “Hangman….”
“Sweetheart,” he interrupts before you can even get out a complete sentence, “I told you you can call me Jake.”
You pause. Then you start again, “Jake….”
“I don’t think we’ve met.” He leans around you, offering a hand. “I’m Hangman.”
The guy blinks. “Yeah, hi. Jason. Nice to meet you.”
Jake nods, shakes his hand, then turns to you. Bends down to press a kiss to your cheek, lingers for too long. Draws back and basks in the stunned look on your face, the wide eyes, just for a moment.
“You sleep well after last night?” he asks. “You must have been exhausted.”
And he’s laying it on thick, he knows he is. Leaves his hand resting on your shoulder for too long, lets his thumb stroke over your collarbone in a slow, drawn-out movement just for the hell of it.
He can’t explain it. It’s just… it’s just that he can’t forget the guy’s hands all over you. It’s just that he can’t forget your face last night, bathed in the moonlight, your laughter that made him think his chest was caving in. It’s just that he feels if somebody else makes you laugh like that, he may never be happy again.
“I don’t…” You blink up at him, face almost entirely blank. “What?”
One of his hands lands on your thigh, just above the knee, half on the fabric of your dress, half on the warm skin of your leg. And it’s pushing it, he knows that, but it’s not like he decided to touch you. It’s more of an instinct, a reassurance to himself. You’re there. You haven’t left.
Not yet, anyway.
He can see the way Jason looks at you. He knows that look, knows exactly what he wants to do, and it lights a fire inside of him, something pathetic and possessive and uncalled for.
And all he can think is: That guy won’t treat you right, I can do it better, I know what you like, I know it, I see it, I know you…
But apart from his own ego, apart from the cocky part of him that knows he’s got you pegged, knows he could set you off and have you coming on his tongue, his fingers, his cock quicker than you could make sense of, there’s something else there too. A strange, unfamiliar protectiveness. Something that makes him think: What if this guy hurts you?
Not because you’re fragile, not because you don’t know yourself, but because Jake knows you. Has seen you. 
Knows this runs deeper than anything else, even if he doesn’t know what that means. Even if it scares him shitless.
He can’t let some other guy take you home. He just can’t.
“Hangman,” Jason says, leaning across you and giving Jake a small, almost shy smile. “Man, you’re a legend.”
“I…” Jake was prepared to hit him with something else bordering on rude, but this throws him for a loop. “What?”
“At Top Gun. Everybody talks about you all the time. It’s an honor to meet you.” 
The guy’s eyes are positively glowing, his cheeks ruddy with alcohol and excitement. Jake, who was hellbent on hating him, suddenly doesn’t know what to do with his hands.
Between them, you’ve gone very still.
“Oh,” Jake says, “well…”
“I’m sorry, by the way.” The guy - boy, some spiteful part of Jake things - gestures in your general direction. For a second, Jake feels indignant on your behalf before he realizes he’s the one responsible for this. “I didn’t realize this was your girl. Backing up right away. Sorry.”
With raised hands, he disappears into the crowd, blending seamlessly into the sea of uniforms.
Jake’s triumph is short-lived.
You’ve slid half out of your seat, gathering your bag from where you’ve draped it over the back of the chair by the strap.
“Where are you going, sweetheart?” he asks, reaching out to help you but withdrawing his hands immediately when you whirl to face him.
There’s something on your face, something he’s never seen before, and with his stomach dropping down to his knees, he wonders suddenly and belatedly if he may have miscalculated severely.
That night at the bar, when you’d walked up to him and told him to leave you alone, it had been a little like somebody had pulled the ground right from beneath his feet. Like that magic trick with the tablecloth, only this one had been bad and botched and bungled, all the china and the glasses and the cutlery falling and smashing.
And yet the way you’d looked at him… He could have sworn you weren’t telling the truth. 
Jake isn’t dumb, fuck what Phoenix says, and he’s been with enough girls to recognize desire when he sees it. So he was almost entirely sure you were lying when you told him to leave you alone.
But then… what if that had just been his own hope? Building nothing into something. Wanting you to want him the same way he wants you.
In the end, what he thought you wanted didn’t matter. All he had to go off were your words, and those were clear enough. The choice needed to be yours, or it meant nothing.
And Jake was a lot - bastard, asshole, fuckboy - but he wasn’t going to push you into something you didn’t want. Never.
So he’d let up. He’d listened to you. He’d tried to pull back. Even as it had hurt him in a way he could not explain. Even as it had broken him apart.
And then Maverick and Penny had to meddle, and he’d gotten to know you in a way he hadn’t planned for at all. Had learned that he didn’t just want you, he liked you. Wanted to keep listening to you as you rambled on and on in intelligible loops about books you liked. Wanted to read them, wanted to talk to you about them. Wanted to make those dreams come true: buy you that house with the blue door, give you that dog.
He can’t understand it. He can’t explain it. All he knows is he wants to be close to you.
But with the way you’re looking at him right now, pure, unadulterated anger on your face, he realizes you might not feel the same way at all.
“What the fuck, Hangman?”
“What?” he asks, genuinely confused. “What did I do?”
This is not his day at all. Or his week. In fact, he’s not sure it has been his month.
You frown at him for a moment, completely silent, and it unsettles Jake in a way he can’t explain. 
He’s always known who he is, has been so sure of it, but now, with you… It’s like you make him question everything.
“I’m going home,” you say, pushing past him and heading for the door.
He’s too dazed to move for a moment, and then he’s chasing after you, trying to recapture his earlier speed but failing. It’s gotten even more crowded in here, every available inch of space occupied with sweaty bodies. He calls your name, but you don’t turn.
By the time he catches up to you, you’re out in the parking lot.
“Sweetheart!” he calls.
You whirl on him with a murderous expression on your face. He stops dead in his tracks.
“Don’t call me that,” you say. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Since you first met, the two of you have been exchanging sharp remarks. You have teased, you have taunted, you have circled around each other like wild cats around prey. Always toeing the line between flirting and fighting. Always toeing the line between foreplay and sparring. A tightrope act.
But this tips the scales decidedly. There’s nothing coquettish about it, nothing good-natured. The words have teeth, have fangs, have claws. They sink into his heart with perfect precision.
“I…” he begins, but you don’t let him finish.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I was…” He clears his throat and straightens his shoulders. Tries to grin but thinks it might end up as more of a grimace. “I was saying hello.”
You shake your head before he’s finished his sentence. “No, you weren’t. You were ruining my night. You always… you always have to ruin my nights.”
And wow. Okay. That one hurt.
“I just…” Jake realizes he might have to explain this to you. Or at least attempt to, since he doesn’t even know what his explanation would be. “That’s not a good guy.”
You glance back at the bar, and an incredulous expression spreads across your face. 
“That?” you repeat, voice rising. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah!”
“You don’t even know him.”
“You don’t either!”
“So? I wasn’t… I wasn’t about to marry him.”
Jake’s chest feels tight. He’s breathless when he asks, “What were you going to do with him, then?”
“I was…” You shake your head suddenly, breaking off halfway through the sentence, changing course. “That’s none of your business!”
“Yeah, it is!” he protests, but he knows he’s in the wrong. Still, he can’t stop himself. “He’s not a good guy.”
“Oh my god!” You throw your hands into the air, and he’s never seen you so upset. Everything that came before now seems only like a crude imitation. This, though… this is true, genuine anger. “Stop it. He’s… he’s just a cocky pilot, you’re not that different….”
Somehow, the comparison has Jake clenching his teeth. He amends, “He’s not good for you, then.”
For a moment, your face goes slack, and he knows he’s just said the wrong thing.
“That is notyour decision,” you say, voice suddenly quiet and all the more dangerous for it. “That’s no one’s decision but my own.”
And God, if Jake doesn’t know that. 
You’ll always make your own choices. He hasn’t had a shred of an illusion to the opposite even for a moment, hasn’t even wanted it any other way. You will always go your own way.
You’re so much stronger than you realize. Going on after losing your mother. Giving up a whole life. Starting over a million miles away without family, without friends, without anything but yourself.
It’s what he admires. It’s what drives him insane.
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” he says because it’s the truth. “You’re my friend.”
Something on your face shatters. 
“Friend,” you whisper dispassionately. “Sure.”
You rub your hand over your face, and suddenly you look so tired. All he wants is to wrap you in his arms, tug you closer, take you home. Make sure you’re okay.
“Hangman,” you say softly, almost gently. “I think this was a mistake. I don’t think I can be your friend.”
And it’s fear coursing through him. Naked, unmistakable fear.
If he can’t see you again, what will he do? This new Jake, the one who’s unsure about everything unless he’s right next to you, that new Jake… what will he do?
How can he go back to how he used to be when it’s like slipping into a costume that doesn’t fit anymore?
“My name is Jake,” he says because he doesn’t know what else to do. Because he needs to hear you say it. “I want you to call me Jake.”
“Stop it!” Your voice is louder again, an edge of desperation creeping into it. “Everybody else calls you Hangman, who cares if I….”
“You’re not everybody else!” It just… slips out. And then it’s out in the open, and he can’t believe he said it, doesn’t know where it came from, only knows that it’s the truth. “Not to me.”
You’re staring at him. Chest rising and falling rapidly, fingers tangled in the straps of your bag.
And you’re so beautiful, even in this empty parking lot, even in the unflattering light of the street lamps. Even with the sweat pooling at your hairline and the anger in your eyes.
“Hangman,” you say, “don’t.”
But he’s shaking his head. He let you go once, but now… now he has to… he has to…
“You’re special,” he says, even as you’re shaking your head. “You are to me, sweetheart, you are, you….”
“You said it meant nothing,” you blurt out, then shut your mouth with an audible click of your teeth as if you wish you could clamp the words back in somehow.
Jake blinks. “What?”
He can see your throat move as you swallow.
You take a moment, teeth sinking into your lower lip, and then you say, “That night when I told you to leave me alone. You told Coyote that this… thing between us. That it was nothing.”
Jake inhales. Exhales. His mind is blank.
“I… I did?” he asks, words slow, sluggish, like he’s thrusting them forward through the mud.
Your face falls. You say, voice almost a whisper, “You don’t even remember, do you?”
He wants to say no, I do, of course, I do. He wants to protest.
But if there’s one thing he can’t do, it’s lie to you.
Truth is, he doesn’t know at all what he said. The moments after your confrontation in the bar are shrouded in a fog of confusion for him. He was just trying to make sense of what you’d said, untangle the mess of his mind. He was just trying to save face.
It’s not nothing, he should tell you. It was never nothing.
But then, if it’s not nothing… what is it? This thing between us, you’d called it.
Jake doesn’t have an answer. He doesn’t even understand why he can’t just let you go the way he usually does. He could just turn around, go back inside, find some other pretty girl, but something keeps him rooted to the spot.
I think of you when I go to sleep and when I’m touching myself, and I can’t stop thinking about you. I carry you with me up into the plane, into the sky, into the clouds. I want to sit with you in bars and in restaurants and on beaches. I want to hold your hand. I want to kiss you. I want, I want, I want…
There’s pain on your face, something raw, something real.
Jake can’t breathe.
“I’m leaving,” you say, and then you just stand there for a moment, looking at him almost like you expect him to say something.
He seems to have lost all ability to speak. You purse your lips, your eyes waterlogged, and then you turn on your heel and walk to the car.
Jake stands in the gravel of the parking lot until the headlights of your car have faded into the dark of the night. Then he trots back into the bar blindly, finds their now mostly deserted table at the back, and slumps into a chair.
He feels empty.
Phoenix’s face appears in his vision after what could have been five minutes or five hours, almost comically large.
“I think I’m having a heart attack,” Jake says, but his voice sounds like a stranger’s.
Immediately, Phoenix squats down to look at him better. “What?”
He points at his chest, where it feels like a tiger is on a rampage. “It hurts.”
“What hurts?”
“My chest.” He’s quiet for a moment, and then he says, “Phoenix, I think I fucked up. Like… big time.”
Her face goes from mildly annoyed to honestly worried. She asks, a tinge of panic edging into her voice, “Did you drink too much? Hangman?”
He shakes his head. “I think I hurt her. I don’t know, I… I think I fucked it up.”
She searches his face for a moment, and then she’s straightening up, taking Hangman by the arm and pulling him out of his chair. Her grip is like a vice around his wrist, and he yelps.
“Alright,” she says, “you’re coming with me. Now.”
Jake would have protested, but the look Phoenix gives him shuts him right up. If there’s anybody he’s ever met capable of coldblooded homicide, it’s Natasha Trace.
So he lets himself be tugged into the last corner not yet wholly occupied by people past the halfway point to intoxication.
Phoenix lets go of his wrist in favor of stemming her hands into her hips. He’s pretty sure he’ll find bruises on his skin come morning.
“Don’t,” she says.
“Don’t what?” Jake asks, even though he has a pretty sure idea where this is going.
“Don’t… meddle, okay. You had your chance, you blew it. Let her move on.”
“It’s not…” He struggles. “It’s not like that. We’re friends.”
“Friends,” Phoenix repeats. God, she really is capable of violence, he knows it, and she’s not far from resorting to it. “Are you stupid, Hangman?”
He opens his mouth, but she’s already plowing on.
“Friends don’t look at each other like they’re about to rip their clothes off and go at it in crowded bars, Jacob.”
Jacob. The last time somebody called him that was when his mom caught him trying to sneak out of the window at sixteen to go see a band with his first girlfriend. He got grounded for three weeks.
Somehow, he thinks Phoenix won’t be that merciful.
“Like… obviously you have some kind of feelings for her, but….”
He doesn’t even hear the rest of what she says. Her mouth keeps moving, but none of her words reach his ears. All he can hear is a high, whistling noise cutting clean through his eardrums.
“Hold on,” he interrupts, “I don’t have feelings for her.”
Phoenix pauses for a moment, staring at him like he’s trying to convince her the earth is flat.
“Jake,” she says - not Hangman, not Bagman, not even Jacob, and hoooh boy, he’s in for it now - slowly, “don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying,” he says.
Phoenix blinks. Takes a moment. Another. Then she says, almost carefully, “Jake, you can’t be that stupid. Please tell me you’re not that stupid.”
It’s not the first time she’s called him stupid, but it might be the first time she actually means it.
And Jake would protest, only he feels pretty stupid right about now, too.
“Please…” She touches her forehead like she has a headache and exhales loudly, slowly. “Please tell me you’re not honestly stupid enough not to know.”
“Know what?” Jake asks, and he’s never felt less like himself.
He’s in control of things. He takes risks gladly, but they’re always calculated. Things don’t just… fly under his radar.
But right now, he feels like he missed something profound.
Phoenix looks at him with what could be either pity or actual hatred.
“Jake,” she says, enunciating each word with perfect precision, “you’re in love with her.”
“I don’t know her,” he says, almost automatically, and he’s so dizzy.
Phoenix waves his words away with a quick jerk of her hand. 
“There’s a difference between loving someone and being in love with someone, Jake,” she tells him. “When you’re with her, how do you feel?”
“I feel…” And he can’t believe he’s talking about this, but in a way, it makes sense. Maybe Phoenix is the only person he could ever tell this. Phoenix, who has always seen through him and all his bravado. “When I’m with her, it’s like… like I can just be myself, you know? And I want… I want to know her. Everything about her, even the bad things, but I want her to know me, too. Not just Hangman but… Jake. And I want to… I just want to be with her all the time. I want to tell her about, like, everything, even the little things that I’d never tell somebody else, and I…. When I’m with her, it doesn’t feel like I need to prove anything. It’s like I can just be. I’ve never… never felt that before.”
His voice trails off.
The irritation has bled out of Phoenix’s face, making way for something softer, smoother, something almost tender. She puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Bagman,” she says, voice halfway to affectionate, “you know what that means.”
For a few moments, he just breathes.
And yeah, he does. In a way, maybe he’s known for a while now, at least since the set-up, and he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. That it’s more than just wanting to fuck you. That it’s so much more than nothing. That it’s so much, it scares him.
It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t instantaneous. It crept up on him. You permeated his life in stages, and now you’re everywhere.
At first, he just thought you were pretty, thought he could get into your pants and out of your life in the span of a night. But you gave as good as you got, kept pushing back, and suddenly it was like a personal quest to get you to give in. You looked up at him on the beach behind the Hard Deck through eyes as scared as they were determined, and something shifted. Not profound yet, not significant, but the first domino to drop in a long, long, long line.
And somewhere, at some moment, he could no longer pinpoint, the game he’d played had ended, and he hadn’t even noticed. The last domino had toppled.
It was real now. Real and scary and over.
“I’m in love with her?” he says, almost a question with how his voice rises towards the tail-end of the sentence.
Phoenix nods, smiles gently at him. 
“Oh God,” he says. “Then I… then I really fucked up.”
“Yeah,” Phoenix agrees through a breathless laugh. “Yeah, I think you really did.”
+
It’s the hottest day of the year, and the aircon at the gas station breaks down.
The heat is unbearable. You stripped off your employee vest hours ago, but it barely helps. The single fan you found in the back oscillates stale air through the room.
You’re counting down the minutes until the end of your shift, until you can drive aimless circles through town just to bask in the cool of your car. Until you can drown in your own self-pity and another family-size serving of pasta and the dark thoughts swirling around you like storm clouds.
Your boss has disappeared into the back room, and it’s only five more minutes until you’re off, so you trek towards the cold drinks section and wonder if you should spend the few extra dollars on an iced tea. When the bell rings, announcing the arrival of a customer, you’re still standing undecided in front of the opened fridge, letting cool air caress your face.
Phoenix is in civilian clothes, her hair released from its tight bun for the first time. It falls in glossy waves down to her shoulder blades as she smiles at you warmly.
“Hi.”
“Oh.” The sight of her makes something in your stomach clench uncomfortably. Couldn’t she have come in five minutes later? You’d have been gone by then. “Hi…”
“Penny said you’d be here.”
You blink. “You… were you looking for me?”
Phoenix nods and steps up to the register to look at the cheap sunglasses on display.
“I wanted to talk to you,” she says casually.
The fear of it all creeps up on you, and then it envelopes you. You’ve been trying and failing to push it to the very back corners of your mind for the past day, keeping your hands busy in hopes it would keep your head idle. Pretending you weren’t constantly replaying last night in your head - the bar, the parking lot, the anger, and the ridiculousness of it all. Jake saying you’re special, and then not even remembering the moment he’d broken your heart. Looking helpless in a way you’d never seen before.
In the rearview mirror, growing rapidly smaller and further until he disappeared completely, Jake looked almost like a little child.
“You and Hangman had a fight,” Phoenix says, and it’s not even a question. Just a statement.
“Yeah,” you agree because it doesn’t feel like there’s much sense in arguing. And no reason to, either.
Phoenix nods and watches as you round the counter. For some reason, you feel it’s not a bad idea to get some distance between you and her for this conversation. The counter is like a barrier.
“Hangman is…” Phoenix hesitates. “Hangman is an idiot.”
“No, he isn’t.” The words are out before you can stop them, and then frustration almost makes you bite your tongue. “He… he’s actually a pretty smart guy.”
Phoenix raises an eyebrow. “I’ve been told you hate him.”
You swallow, look away. Shrug your shoulders. “No, I… I don’t know.”
None of this matters. After last night, you’re never going to see him again.
For a long, long while, Phoenix is silent. And then she says, “He’s in love with you.”
And it should be earth-shattering, world-stops-spinning, music-stars-playing. But they’re just words.
Your heart is racing.
“He…” You shake your head. It’s a cliff, the plummet beneath you, your fingers gripping the edge for dear life. You want to believe her so very, very badly, but your common sense tells you it can’t be true. “He barely knows me.”
“That’s what he said,” she says, chuckling, then shakes her head. “I know, but… you have to understand… This is something special. I mean, this is Hangman we’re talking about… he doesn’t open up to people.”
You think about sitting side by side out on the beach. Sharing secrets before you let the waves carry them out to sea. Spilling your heart into his hands and trusting him with it. Realizing, suddenly, that he had done the same.
“I think…” Phoenix’s voice has gone very gentle. “I think you’re very similar. You and him.”
A week ago, you would have laughed at her. Just five minutes ago, you wouldn’t have believed her. And now…
You fall.
When you think about it, it’s not so far-fetched. Jake, up in those clouds. You, down on the ground. In the end, you’re both lonely. In the end, you’re both afraid.
“Anyway.” She smiles at you and pushes off the register. “I just thought you might want to say goodbye.”
Something inside you stumbles. 
“Goodbye?” you repeat slowly.
“Yeah, we’re shipping out tomorrow morning.”
“Shipping…” Suddenly, it takes tremendous effort to breathe. “What?”
Phoenix pauses, furrows her eyebrows. “Didn’t Jake tell you? About the mission?”
“What mission?”
Phoenix groans, shaking her head. “See, I told you. He really is an idiot.”
+
Jake looks like he didn’t get a wink of sleep. The dark bags beneath his eyes have bloomed into purplish bruising overnight, and he blinks at you almost owlishly.
 “Why weren’t you going to say goodbye?”
That’s the first thing you say to him, and it’s not at all what you were planning in the car on the way here. It slips out the moment you see him, and your voice isn’t firm or strong at all, it’s a small, fragile thing. A teacup teetering on the edge of a moving tray, about to shatter.
He looks at you like you’re an apparition. “How did you get here?”
“It… Phoenix gave me your address.”
Jake has rented a place on the second floor of a modern apartment complex off base. It’s so much nicer than the house you’re living in, with stairs that don’t creak, no mildew in the hallway, and locks that look like they actually work.
“It doesn’t matter,” you say, and you sound out of breath. It’s not even because of the stairs you just took two steps at a time. “Why weren’t you?”
Jake exhales audibly, nods once, and opens the door wider. “You wanna come inside?”
Only now do you notice that he’s shirtless, wearing nothing but gray sweatpants slung almost as low as his swim trunks were that day on the beach. Hastily, you snap your eyes away, head already spinning.
You push past him and into the apartment, careful not to touch any of his skin. Who knows what other unhinged things that might drive you to do?
His apartment is neat, tidy, clean, but that doesn’t surprise you much. It’s also obviously a rental, lacking any personal touches except for a few shoes kicked off haphazardly by the door and his Top Gun diploma and plaque displayed on a dresser. Of course Jake travels with those, you think, almost grinning. He’d never miss out on a chance to show off.
There’s an aircon blasting somewhere, and you almost crumble to your feet with gratitude.
“Do you want something to drink?” he asks, heading towards what you suppose to be the kitchen. “I have… water? I’d offer to make you a Mojito, but I don’t think I have any limes. Or any rum. Or any mint, so…”
“Can you…” You falter and watch as he pauses in the doorway, one hand braced against the wood. “Can you just explain it to me?”
His shoulders lift and lower with his breaths. After a moment that feels endless, he turns to face you.
“Explain it to you?”
You nod. “Why you didn’t tell me. Why you weren’t going to say goodbye.”
He shrugs, unperturbed, but there’s something affective to the movement, something almost performative.
“After last night… I didn’t think you wanted to see me again.”
“That’s not what I mean.” You’re shaking your head, jaw clenching. “Why didn’t you tell me before then? That you’re about to go on some, some… stupid top-secret mission, that you might die, that….”
He interrupts you, “I didn’t tell you because it shouldn’t matter. I’m not…”
“Of course it matters!” Your voice is shaking. “It matters! It changes… everything.”
He squints at you. “How could it change anything?”
“It… it changes things because….” You stumble, try to find the words that elude you. “Because I thought we’d have more time.”
“More time?” Something about his voice is almost hopeful. “I thought you… I didn’t think you wanted to see me again.”
He’s right. You didn’t. At least you thought you didn’t. You thought the best thing you could possibly ever do for yourself, for him, was to stay as far away from Jake Seresin as possible. In a change-your-name-and-leave-the-country kind of way.
And then Phoenix walked into that gas station, and losing him had suddenly seemed so real, had gone from a distant fever dream to reality, and you didn’t have much choice anymore. All you wanted was to see him again. All you wanted was for him to call you sweetheart, smile and flirt and tease. Even if it drove you crazy. Even if it was the last time.
“Hangman…” You shake your head, correct yourself, “Jake, I… Do you like me?”
He looks at you, really looks at you, for the first time since you knocked at his door, and something in his expression changes. Without hesitation, without a slither of doubt in his words, he says, “Of course. Of course, I like you.”
You have to sink your fingernails into your palms to keep yourself grounded, to keep yourself from jumping several paces ahead. In your chest, your heart speeds up.
“And not just…” you pause, the word carnally already on your tongue. “It’s not that you just want to fuck me?”
He’s shaking his head before you’ve finished speaking. “No. Not at all. Yeah, sure, that’s what it was about in the beginning, but then… I just… It started changing, and I’d never felt that, and I… I think I got scared.”
“You got scared?” you ask, not unaware of the note of disbelief in your voice. It’s hard to imagine someone like Jake could ever be scared. Someone so confident, so brilliant.
He raises an eyebrow, and it’s a glimpse of the Jake you know, the one who drives you to the brink of insanity, “I’ll take that shock as a compliment.”
It’s a white-hot relief to find that he can still joke with you. That not all of the relationship you’ve built has washed away in the torrent of the last few weeks. 
“It’s just…” You look for a way to explain it. “I don’t know. You just always seemed like you had everything figured out.”
That makes him laugh, and you stare at his face scrunching up, his eyes shining. He says, “I’ve got nothing figured out. I haven’t even figured out what to eat for dinner tonight.”
You laugh. Even through all of it, he can still make you laugh. Even though nothing is resolved, even though you don’t understand any of it, he can always, always make you laugh. Even when you don’t want to. Even back when you still swore you hated him.
Jake settles down, and something darker crosses his expression. When he speaks next, his voice is almost hesitant.
“I’ve never… I’ve just never done something like this?”
“Like this?” you ask softly. 
Neither of you has ever defined this thing between you. You’re scared now, scared he has a different idea about it. Maybe you don’t want to hear his answer, want to live just a moment longer in this fantasy where Phoenix is right, where he likes you, where he wants you the same way you want him.
Carnally, romantically, wholly. Just… all of him. The good, the bad, the worst. The parts that drive you insane with anger and the ones that drive you insane with lust. The way he can break you apart and put you back together.
If he calls you his friend again now, if he says it was nothing… You don’t know if you can handle it. You don’t know that you won’t just break apart.
“Like this,” Jake repeats. “Something real.”
And your heart soars.
“Real?” you whisper, voice so quiet you think he can’t possibly have heard it.
Jake nods. “Real.”
“So it…” You trail off, shake your head, try again, “So it wasn’t nothing?”
He lets out a breathy, quiet laugh. And there’s none of his bravado, none of his cockiness. The armor is discarded, the mask is off, and there’s just Jake beneath it, not some hotshot pilot who’s got it all figured out, but a man, one who’s a dumbass at times and broken in so many ways and just as scared as you are.
You’ve never felt the way you feel about him before. Not once in your life.
“No,” he says, “it was never nothing to me. I’m sorry I said that. I know I hurt you, and it’s not an excuse, but I just… I just said it because I got scared. Because you dumped me, and honestly, I was hurt, and I liked you so much, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I had all of these doubts, and I didn’t understand it, but… It was never nothing, sweetheart. It was… everything.”
He shrugs, something on his face that tells you he’s embarrassed by his own earnestness, uncomfortable with it, but your ears are ringing with that word. You can’t stop the smile from spreading on your face - broad and genuine and a relief after all these days in that prison of your room. Like stepping into the light after all the darkness. Like setting foot into airconditioned climates after hours out in the Californian heat.
And Jake smiles back, like a reflex, like a magnet. If you move, I move.
He’s made a step, and now it’s your turn.
So gather all your courage, that slithery, dodgy thing that’s been eluding you for months, and you grab it by the neck and thrust it forward, say, “Jake, I think I’m in love with you.”
His face goes completely blank, and with a sudden, horrid lurch, you think that maybe you’ve miscalculated, maybe it’s too much, maybe…
You backpedal, “I know it’s way too early, and I don’t really know you, and maybe in a month I find out you don’t like peanut butter, and I can never speak to you again, but this has never happened to me before, Jake, and I’m terrified, I’m so scared, but I just know I wanna be with you, I wanna figure it out together, and I hope you feel the same way, because, because I… I think I…”
“I like peanut butter,” Jake interrupts you. When you blink at him through the haze your rambling has plunged you into, he’s grinning from ear to ear. The sort of grin you have never seen him give to anyone but you.
“You.. you do?”
“A lot,” he confirms.
“Well, that’s… good then.”
“In fact,” he says, moving closer to you, “I love peanut butter.”
“Yeah?” 
Your voice is a little breathless.
He nods, hands going to cup your face. 
“Sweetheart,” he says, as you tip your face up, as your heart pounds, as your vision blurs, “I think I might be in love with you, too.”
And you don’t want to start crying, but you can’t help it. They just well up, like all those emotions you’ve been swallowing down for months now, longer than you’ve known him really, have finally ballooned into something too big for your body to hold, looking for any way out.
Jake frowns, wiping at a teardrop from your cheek like he’s trying to get an annoying stain off his laptop screen. Only like… a little gentler.
“It’s not that horrible, is it?”
You laugh, a water, bubbling sound. “No, it’s… it’s not… it’s fine.”
“Fine?” he asks, looking down at you with his eyebrows raised way too high for it to be anything than exaggerated. “I confess my love, and you think it’s fine? Jesus, romance really is dead.”
“Oh, shut up and kiss me already, Bagman, or I’m gonna strangle you, I swear I will, I’m not….”
You don’t get to finish.
Kissing Jake isn’t at all like you imagined. He’s soft but firm, and yet you can tell, underneath it all, that he’s almost nervous. Unsure. Like he doesn’t know at all how to proceed now that it’s actually real. That it means something.
All that cockiness melted away.
It’s so strange, but suddenly you realize that maybe, just for a moment, you’re going to have to take over. So you wrap your arms around his waist, draw him closer, draw him in, open your mouth beneath his and sigh into it all.
Jake comes willingly, follows your pace easily, smoothly, casually. The way he does everything. Ready to take anything you throw his way.
Finally, something inside of you seems to whisper. There’s an ache, a yearning, something that swells inside of you, grows bigger and stronger by the minute. You’ve never wanted someone this bad. It’s finally happening.
All that waiting, all that wishing and hoping and dreaming… It was worth it, you think. All of it.
His hands are warm on your cheeks, and they feel large, in a way that makes you clench your thighs. His lips are a little chapped, but he tastes sweet as if he’s been eating chocolate. He angles your face back a little more, his tongue running along the seam of your mouth, his fingers clenching into your hair, and your heart seizes as you think, suddenly, how close you came to losing this, to never having it at all, to missing out on it, and it’s so… it’s so…
You pull back when the intrusive thought inserts itself into the moment, when the anxiety makes your bones itch, look at him and say in a voice that seems to come from miles, worlds, universes away, “You’re not going to die, are you?”
It’s all you can think about - your mother fading away, flowers raining on an open grave, and being alone, alone, alone…
But Jake just smiles, rubs his thumb once along the line of your cheekbone, and says, “And miss out on getting to kiss you, sweetheart? Not a chance.”
And you haven’t belonged anywhere in so long. Have been so lonely, so broken, for so long you thought you’d never feel any different again. But here, right now, with him solid before you, with the knowledge that it’s real, it’s true, it’s not a game, and it’s not in your head, it doesn’t feel so horrible.
Because Jake knows you. Not just the pretty parts, but the ugly ones too.
How you push people away. How your fear paralyzes you sometimes, makes you mean and closed-off, and makes you lie. To him, to yourself, to everyone.
Jake has seen it, and he’s wanted you regardless.
And maybe that’s just it… how he can calm that anxiety with a word. Not banish it, not erase it, but silence that nagging, gnawing, horrible voice you’ve carried with you for so long. Make it bearable.
You’re going to die if you don’t have him. And yeah, maybe that’s dramatic, but who cares? If the past few weeks have shown anything, it’s that you and Jake aren’t just good with the dramatics… you excel at them.
“I did it,” you blurt out, and then immediately regret the words, clamp your mouth shut and feel the blood rush up into your cheeks.
Jake draws back a little to get a better look at you. “Done what?”
And you could kiss him for taking it all in stride. For not pushing you, for letting you set the pace.
Actually, you could kiss him just for… well, existing. But his ego is big enough already; he really doesn’t need to know all that.
“Well, what… what you asked.”
Jake stares at you blankly. 
“Care to be a little more specific, sweetheart?” he says gently. “I think we’ve established I don’t have the best memory.”
“I…” You hesitate, fingers going to trace a constellation of freckles on his shoulder, and there’s just so much of him, so much golden skin and so much muscle and so much confidence, and you’re going to fall apart, you know you are, you’re not going to survive this. “I touched myself. The way you asked.”
Your voice is barely more than a whisper, an exhale, but you know he heard you. Because the reaction is visceral - fingers tightening where they have slid from your face to your waist, chest undulating with the sharp intake of breath, shoulders stiffening.
Nerves make it impossible to look at him. What if he doesn’t like it, what if…
But, as always, somehow, Jake seems to know what you need. Seems to understand without ever having to say it that now, you want this to be something else. 
“Sweetheart,” he says, fingers hooking beneath your chin and turning it upwards, “look at me.”
And you do. It’s not like you have a choice, your body reacting before your mind even registers the words.
Right now, you think, Jake could tell you to jump off a bridge, and you’d go find the nearest one for a dive.
Somehow, his eyes have gone darker, hodded, an intent shining in them that scares you as much as it excites you.
“You touched yourself?” he asks quietly.
You nod, too scared your voice might fail you to try and use it.
“So, are you ready to answer my question, then?”
You know what he means right away, which is just a testament to your memory being decidedly better than his.
Instantly, the words ghost through your mind again, wrap around you like vapor. Have you been a good girl?
“I don’t…” You clear your throat as Jake steps even closer, walks you backward until your back hits the wall, until his hips are inches from yours, until he’s crowding against you like he wants to climb into your skin. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He’s so close now, and it’s different, the whole air is different. Charged now, darker. Hot even with the aircon running.
Maybe you’re going to faint. You feel like you’re going to faint.
“I think,” Jake says, voice lowered into a mumble, “you know exactly what I mean.”
He braces both hands on the wall by your head and cages you in. It’s so reminiscent of the night out behind the shack that you would have laughed if you hadn’t been scared to move even a muscle.
Not trusting your voice, you just shake your head. And it’s an act because by now, even you have understood that that’s half the fun in this game of power Jake and you have been playing from the very moment. But you also just want to hear him say it again, have been dreaming of those words on his lips for weeks now.
Jake hums, and his breath washes over your face. There’s barely an inch between the two of you now - you can’t even think anymore.
“I know you’re smarter than that, sweetheart.”
“No,” you whisper, shaking your head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He smiles, just for a moment, and it’s sweet, a little dopey, and so decidedly out of place that you realize he knows just as well as you do that you’re pretending. That he appreciates it as much as you do.
“Alright,” he whispers finally, leans closer to run his mouth over the arch of your jaw, lips barely a whisper of a touch as you strain into it, breath catching in your throat. “Sweetheart… have you been a good girl for me?”
It’s the rasp in his voice and those words and the agonizing whisper of separation between your bodies. It’s the lack and the promise and that tight, hot coil of want that writhes in the pit of your stomach.
With a gasp, you clench your thighs together in search of relief.
“I don’t know,” you say because, truthfully, you don’t. You don’t even know your own name anymore.
Jake raises an eyebrow, and all your pretense shatters.
“Yes,” you say, immediately, voice almost a whine, head spinning, “yes, Jake, I’ve been a good girl for you.”
He acknowledges it with a nod, entirely unaffected, face blank as he moves to card a strand of hair behind your ear.
“What did you think about?”
He asks it almost casually like he’s asking about the weather or your shopping list and not just which sexual fantasies you got out of the spank bank the last time you got off.
“I…” And his hand begins tracing a long, long line from your cheekbone down to your mouth, dragging across your jaw and onto your jugular. And there, just once, he presses his thumb into your pulse point. It’s the barest hint of pressure, the illusion of the rest of his fingers wrapping around your throat, but your eyes almost roll into the back of your head. 
It draws the truth right out of you.
“You,” you gasp, “I thought about you.”
Jake acknowledges it with a nod, but there’s something to be said about his eyes flicking to your mouth, about the hand still braced against the wall by your head clenching.
“What part of me?”
You want to answer, but he leans forward to press his lips to the side of your throat where his hand had been just a moment ago, and for a second, you lose all ability to speak.
“I… Your mouth?”
“My mouth?” Jake repeats, words muffled against your skin.
Pressed flat against the wall, unable to move, with your heart pounding a patter against your ribcage, you can do nothing but nod. “Yeah.”
Jake hums, and the sound vibrates through your body. By now, you must be soaking through the front of your shorts, you think.
“And where did I put it?” he asks softly, drawing back to look at you.
And there’s such… hunger on his face, his pupils blown wide, his mouth slack, and it’s going to kill you, death on impact, you’re not going to make it.
But that’s fine. What a way to go, anyway.
“On… on me,” you whisper.
Jake laughs, and it’s so… mean. You like it.
“Come on, sweetheart,” he drawls. “Be specific.”
“I don’t know.” 
It’s all you can say. Who cares what you thought about that night? He’s here right now, so can’t you just do it for real instead of talking about your fantasy like this?
Jake clicks his tongue and shakes his head.
“You can do better than that,” he says. “You’re not that dumb.”
And it could be crossing a line - should cross a line, maybe. You never would have thought it possible that you could be into something like this, but you are. It sets you off in a way you wouldn’t have expected, makes you weak in the knees and dizzy, and you want him on you, want him everywhere, want him more than you’ve ever wanted him before.
Besides… you feel pretty dumb right about now.
When it came down to the wire, you know you’re the one with the finger on the lever anyway. The moment you say no, stop, he’ll listen. So you’ve always been the one with the final decision.
Maybe that’s why this whole thing works.
“I…” You have to close your eyes, swallow against the lump in your throat. “You put it between my legs.”
He squints.
“Here?” he asks, and his hand lands on the inside of your thigh, about two inches off from where you want him.
It startles you enough that you jump, a sound of surprise falling from your mouth. And then he applies pressure, squeezes the meat of your thigh once, and you’re moaning, eyes widening with the sensation of it all.
Jake grins.
Bastard, you think, but then that thought goes out the window too, disappears in the fog that has descended on you.
“You imagined my mouth here?”
You shake your head, whimper, tip your face back and open your mouth like you can compel him to kiss you just like that.
“Be a good girl and tell me, yeah?” he whispers, but there’s something strained to his voice, something glazed to his eyes.
“No, I…” But you can’t say it. Not like this. It’s still too much, and it frustrates you, makes your eyes burn, makes your breath hitch into a gasp like you can’t get enough oxygen into your lungs. You whimper, “Jake.”
“Shh,” he whispers, leaning forward to press a kiss to your cheek. “I got you, sweetheart. Don’t worry.”
And then finally, because in the end, he always does, Jake takes pity on you.
“Did I put it on your pussy?”
The sound that escapes you is pathetic, barely more than a whimper, and before you know it, you’re nodding as you slump against him.
“Tell me,” he says into your ear, hand still on your thigh, mouth still against your cheek, his breaths fast and loud, “I want her you say it.”
And if you weren’t sandwiched between him and the wall, if he weren’t holding you up, you know your legs would have given out.
“You…” You swallow and take a deep breath, stell yourself, say, “You put your mouth on my pussy.”
And he groans, a loud, sudden sound that seems to burst from him unbidden like he just couldn’t hold it back. 
You’re almost stunned by it, by the discovery that he’s just as affected by all this as you are, that he wants you, too, and it does your head in, makes the world spin, makes you clutch at him a little tighter.
“You like that?” he asks, something almost frantic to his words now. “Having your pussy eaten? Does that get you off, having a tongue in your tight little cunt?”
You can’t help it. You mewl, drop your head into the crook of his neck, and wish you could stay there. And you’re so wet, can feel it pooling in your panties, feel it soaking through the fabric. Every move has the seam of your denim shorts pressing against your cunt, sends shocks of lightning through you, but it’s not enough, not enough, never enough.
Your heart is beating in your throat, and the embarrassment takes a moment to set in amidst the chaos of your sensations, but it comes. Eventually, the way it always does.
“I…” You falter, squeeze your eyes shut, push your face further into his neck, so grateful he can’t see you, and then you whisper, as if speaking it out loud could somehow make it more real, “I’ve never… you know… no one’s ever….” 
Instantaneously, Jake’s fingers tighten against your thigh, and then they tangle in your hair, and he pulls your head back with enough force that you can feel it, that it travels in shock waves through your scalp, all the way down to your toes.
He’s looking at you like he wants to devour you.
“Honey,” he says, and there’s something serious to the word beneath all that desire.
And you have trouble concentrating because honey, he called me honey, and your chest is so full of that feeling you only get with him, the one that makes you feel that everything will be alright, that nothing will hurt you, that you’ll be just fine.
“Honey,” he repeats, “do you trust me?”
And you don’t pause. Don’t think about it. Not even for an instant.
“Yes,” you say, and mean it. Mean it like you’ve never meant anything.
And Jake smiles, smooths your hair back, rubs his nose against yours. And then he said, “Would you let me? Would you let me put my mouth on you, would you let me eat your pussy until your legs are shaking? Would you trust me with that, my gorgeous, gorgeous girl?”
You’re going to disintegrate. It can’t be possible for one person to want another so much. It just can’t be possible.
“Yes,” you exhale. “Okay. Jake.”
He makes a choked sound, and then he steps back suddenly, tugging you with him by your wrists, and you stumble against his chest, let him guide you through the apartment blindly. It’s a wonder your knees don’t give in as you stumble against him like a fawn, as he pulls you like a ragdoll.
“Where are we going?” you ask, head spinning in rapid circles. Like you just got off a merry-go-round.
“I’m not going to eat you out against a wall for the first time,” Jake says.
And it would be almost romantic if it weren’t so filthy, such a quick turn-around that it could give you whiplash.
“Oh.” You blink as he pulls you into his bedroom. “I thought the wall was sort of hot.”
He laughs. “Don’t I know it?”
But then he turns, lets go of your wrists, leans down to press a quick, soft kiss to your mouth that leaves you chasing after him.
Affectionately, he brushes his fingers over your cheek and says, “I’ll do it right, honey, I promise I’ll make it so good, you’ll wonder how you ever went without it. I’ll have you coming for days.”
The thing is… you don’t even doubt it.
Jake has always been able to back up all that talk. It’s one of the things you hate about him. It’s one of the things you love about him.
“Now,” he says, “take off your top.”
It’s so much harder when he makes you do things because that’s when the anxiety gets behind the wheel, when the doubt creeps in. But in the end, that strange instinct to listen to him, to trust him, always wins out.
You pull your shirt over your head, and you can’t look at him.
“Shorts, too,” he orders and then, almost like an afterthought, adds, “and your bra.”
Your hands are shaking so hard that you struggle with the clasp of the bra, the button on the shorts, but finally, you free yourself of both, and then you’re standing in the middle of his bedroom, naked except for a pair of panties so wet you think you’re probably gonna have to throw them out come morning, and you’re shaking even though you feel like you’re burning up, like a fever in your blood, like a yearning in your bones.
It’s exhilarating and terrifying, and you want to cover yourself, but you can’t move, can’t do anything but stand there as you feel his eyes on you like hot irons, as you stare at the cologne bottles on the dresser.
What if he doesn’t like me? you think, mouth dry. What if I’m ugly.
And then Jake says, “Sweetheart. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
You’re going to cry.
“Now get on the bed and spread your legs so I can get my mouth on that gorgeous cunt.”
You’re going to have a stroke, and then you’re going to cry.
You do as he says, scooting backward on the mattress until you’re far enough up the bed to put your head on one of the pillows. Jake’s sheets are a dark blue, soft cotton, and they smell like him, like his cologne. Cinnamon and spice. The scent wraps around you, envelopes you. You clench around nothing.
If this is what his smell alone does to you, how are you going to survive his mouth on you?
The mattress dips under his weight, but you can’t look at him, keep your head on the ceiling instead. It’s all too much. It’s not nearly enough.
And then his face appears above you, and his smile is almost goofy as he leans to kiss you once, twice, three times. They’re just soft pecks, but you open your mouth and pull him down to you until you’re chest to chest, until you can feel the weight of him.
He slides his tongue into your mouth with a groan, pulls you closer with a hand on your hip. And it’s skin to skin, his palm hot and heavy, and you want him all over you, want to cover yourself in him, every inch. It’s very wet, very warm, too much spit in both your mouths, but you don’t even care, not when his teeth nip at your lower lip, when he pants against you, when it makes you feel like you’re going to fall apart right here, right now.
Finally, you get your hands on him too, on all that skin, let them run across his chest because you’re so drunk on the feeling of it all you forget even to think if you’re allowed to do this. His heart is racing beneath your palm, just as quick as yours is, and that’s a reassuring thought, that he’s affected by it all too.
Jake does something with his tongue, something that has your insides twisting, clenching like a fist, and you moan into his mouth, wrap your legs around his waist and buck your hips up, desperate for some kind of friction, of relief, not above humping him if that’s what it takes.
You feel it immediately - Jake is rock hard against your center, against the quick but firm pressure of your cunt, and it makes you squeak the exact moment it makes him choke.
“Jesus,” he grunts, fingers wrapping around your wrists and pushing them back into the pillow, pulling you off him and forcing you down into the mattress with a force as gentle as it is firm. “Stop distracting me, sweetheart.”
He draws back until he kneels between your legs, looming above you. All the lamps are off, but the blinds aren’t drawn, and moonlight spills like liquid mercury across the bedroom floor, across his skin. Inevitably, you think of that night out on the beach behind the Hard Deck, the light tangled in his hair, a study in blue.
“I think I remember telling you to spread these,” he says casually, tapping a single finger against your kneecap.
You want to tease him, want to say something about how his memory seems to be working pretty well of a sudden, but your brain won’t cooperate.
Instead, you do as you’re told, even as you feel like it might kill you, and spread your legs further.
Immediately, Jake’s eyes go to what lies between them.
“Fuck,” he whispers, voice gone husky, “you’re so wet, honey.”
If you look at him, you think your heart is going to fail, so you just keep your eyes on the ceiling. Unlike your own, it’s completely free of water stains, and that’s just about the last coherent thought you have.
Jake leans forward, maneuvering around until his chest is pressed to the mattress, one hand on your thigh, the other spread on the sheets, and then his mouth is on you.
And okay. No more teasing then. Straight to business.
Over the fabric of your panties, his tongue moves against your center, and you can’t do anything but close your eyes, open your mouth even as no sound escapes. He just mouths at you for a moment, inhales deeply like he’s trying to smell you, and the thought sets you off, has you clenching your teeth, curling your toes. Then he presses a kiss to your clit through your cotton, and you’re seeing stars. 
“Oh,” you say, and he laughs, moves away to hook his fingers beneath the elastic of the panties, pulls them off unceremoniously, helps you lift your hips. They become another piece of fabric added to the pile of your clothes when he throws them over his shoulder without looking, eyes focused only on your center.
And then he leans forward, and you’re bracing yourself, steeling yourself, but nothing could ever have prepared you for the first stroke of his tongue through your folds. It has your hips rising, hed rearing back into the pillow, mouth shaping a word that never escapes it.
Jake’s fingers tighten on your thigh, and he moans once, and then he really goes for it. Burying his whole face in it, opening his mouth like he wants to devour you, tongue wet and wide and hot on your cunt, teeth just grazing your clit as he licks broad stripes from your hole up to the apex. He sets a leisured, moderate pace like he’s got all the time in the world, but you’re pretty sure yours is running out. Five more minutes of this, and you’re a goner, and it’s all too much but not enough, and you want to get away at the same time that you want him closer, and your head is spinning, your heart stuttering, your fingers tightening in the sheets.
He wraps his lips around your clit and sucks, and you all but keen, fingers flying to his hair, his shoulders, your stomach. You can’t settle, can’t stop jerking, have no control over your own body anymore. All over the place, all over him, mind a mess and heart a mess and body a mess, and you can’t believe nobody’s ever done this to you before, and how have you ever lived without the feeling of Jake’s mouth on your pussy and you’re going to rip your own heart out and…
And then he catches your wrists in one hand, forcing you to look at him where he’s barely lifted his head from between your thighs. And you freeze, all the world narrowing down to nothing but his face, his voice, just him, right there with you.
He says, “I got you. I’m taking care of you, pretty girl.”
Above the sheets, by your hips, he laces his fingers through yours.
When his mouth meets your cunt again, there’s no restraint left. He fucks his tongue inside of you shallowly, your eyes rolling back, your legs straining to spread even further, to the point of pain when your muscles protest, but you need him closer, deeper, harder, and you’re so empty, aching with it. The only thing grounding you are his hands, the only point of you that seems connected to reality as the rest goes floating into space, reduced to nothing but a conduit for pleasure, for want, for yearning.
His tongue goes from your hole to your clit, one hand untangling from your death grip so he can slide a finger into you. He’s gentle about it, careful almost, but there’s no point, you’re so wet he goes without resistance, not an ounce of tension in any of your muscles. You couldn’t tense up if you tried, everything gone liquid and loose and lax. 
And it’s good, so good, so…
Jake pulls off you for a moment, breath panting and hot against you, just to check, “Did you do this too? When you thought about me, did you fuck yourself on your fingers?”
And it takes you a moment because you can’t remember if you have a mouth, can’t remember how to use it, and when you finally do, anyways, your voice is like a foreign sound, something from a different planet.
“I… tried, but it… I can’t… angle’s all wrong, it doesn’t….” He crooks his finger, and you sob, moment of dubious coherency gone, and then there’s only one word left in you. “Jake.”
And he grins, always so cocky, always so sure, adds a second finger, and buries his face into your cunt again. You keen.
It’s so wet, all of it. Your pussy and his tongue and his fingers fucking through it, fucking in with squelching sounds that should be embarrassing but make you burn hotter instead, your bodies slick with sweat, and you’re pretty sure there’s saliva dripping from your mouth, but you can’t stop it, can’t help it, can’t do anything but hold on and take it. Everything he’s giving you.
And you remember your ex trying to finger you in that bedroom covered in Twilight posters, eons ago, nothing but discomfort and awkwardness, and god, if this is what it should have been like that you want a refund, you think you’re owed compensation from the universe because that’s not fair, people were feeling this while you were telling yourself five minutes of rutting against your own finger on your clit was enough to satisfy you?
“You taste so good,” Jake groans into your cunt, “could eat this pretty pussy all day. Could stay right here forever, with my tongue in my gorgeous girl.”
And it’s almost scary, the way it builds, how high it goes, how tight it winds you. The precipice gapes below you.
“Jake,” you whimper, gasp, thrash, “Jake, wait, I’m gonna….”
“It’s okay,” he whispers, pupils blown, cheeks flushed, voice vibrating down into the darkest parts of you. “I’m here, honey, you can let go now, come on, sweetheart, I wanna see, I wanna taste….”
And you’re crying, cheeks and chin and neck wet with the tears, and you feel pathetic, but you can’t help it, free hand going to tangle in his hair, holding where you want him as he moves his fingers just so, grazing something inside you, tongue circling around your clit with just enough speed, just enough pressure.
“Please,” you sob, terrified he’s going to change up, and it’s going to get away from you, terrified he’ll stop. “Please. Please.”
It becomes a mantra, a litany, and then he squeezes your hand and plunges his fingers deep, curls them, and you’re toppling over that edge, hurtling, spinning, falling.
It’s bone-deep. It curls around you, it breaks you apart. A rope snapping. A coil unraveling.
You feel it everywhere, in your core and your toes and your fingers. A tightening and then the breathless, heart-stopping release of it all racing through you. It has you arching off the mattress, fingers tightening in his hair, legs trembling with tremors you can’t control, howling his name.
It seems to go on forever, his fingers fucking you through it, his tongue stroking you through it, and there’s nothing in your head, nothing but that blinding, strung-out pleasure.
Jake just keeps going until you push his head away with force, overstimulated to the point that pain shoots up like tiny pinpricks. You try to close your legs, but he keeps them open.
“I don’t know who those guys who didn’t eat your pussy were, sweetheart,” he says from between your legs, mouth still slick with you, eyes still dark, voice still breathless, hands still on your thighs, “but they must have been the biggest idiots in the history of mankind to miss out on that.”
You can’t answer. You’re afraid you might never be able to speak ever again.
Jake crawls up the bed until he can stretch out beside you, and finally, you can close your legs, draw them up to almost to your stomach and angle them away. You’re still pulsing, clenching around nothing, more exhausted than you’ve ever been.
“You okay, honey?” he asks softly, leaning in to kiss you. You can’t even reciprocate, just stare at him.
“Uhm,” you say.
He laughs at you, and if you could move your arms, you’d hit him. As is, you just blink at him, dazed, confused, still caught up in the intensity of it.
“That good, huh?” He grins like the cat that got the cream and wraps an arm around you, pulls you against him. There’s something reassuring to the feel of him, the slight damp of his skin and the solid muscle against the mush of yourself.
And then, voice suddenly so much softer, he says, “You did so well, honey. My best girl.”
Maybe you shouldn’t like it so much, but you can’t help but beam, cling to him.
“Next time,” he says, voice back to the levity of his pride, “I think you should sit on my face.”
You can’t help it. You gape at him.
“Your… face?” you repeat, hesitantly, unsure if you’ve misheard.
Shameless, he nods. 
“Don’t worry about suffocating me or any of that shit, it’d be an honorable way to go down.” 
“Oh my god,” you say, and then you laugh, and he laughs with you, and it’s like somebody poured liquid sunlight into your chest.
But then you shift against him, trying to get comfortable, and suddenly you’re not just aware that you’re lying in a puddle of what is essentially your own slick and Jake’s spit, that you’re still completely naked, but even more pressingly that he’s still hard.
Almost immediately, something inside of you seizes up again.
“Oh,” you whisper.
Jake, who has stilled your movement with a hand on your hip, clears his throat. He has a look of pure concentration on his face.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll just… go to the bathroom.”
And he means it, is about to get out of bed when you hold onto him, wrap yourself around him like an octopus, shove your face into his chest, so you don’t have to look at him as you say, “No, I… I want it.”
Jake freezes.
“Sweetheart,” he says softly, “you don’t have to….”
“I want to,” you interrupt. And it’s clumsy rather than sexy, but you reach for his sweatpants, palm at him through the fabric, breath catching when you notice the dark stain of pre-cum on the front. “I want you inside of me.”
It’s so much more forward than you’ve ever been, so out of character, but it feels good to be honest, to tell the truth, to articulate what you’ve been dreaming of for months.
Jake groans loudly as you begin to rub at his length, drops back against the mattress without any protest.
“You want it?” he asks, searching your face as if he’s looking for any trace of a lie, of hesitancy.
Well, he won’t find any.
You smile and nod.
“I want it,” you confirm.
Jake clenches his eyes shut for a moment, exhales a shaky breath, and then he nods, leans over to open a drawer on his nightstand, and gets out a condom.
And he’s saying, you’re driving me crazy, sweetheart, but you barely hear him.
Because there it is, right on his nightstand. Front cover up, a gas station receipt shoved as a bookmark between the pages about a quarter into it.
Emma by Jane Austen.
“You… you’re reading it?” you say, interrupting whatever other filth was pouring from it, and Jake blinks, follows your gaze, pauses.
And then he has the audacity to blush. 
“Well,” he says, “you said it was your favorite, and I wanted to… I don’t usually read much, so it’s… a lot, but I think I get it, why you like it I mean, and….”
You pull him into a kiss, and you pour all of yourself into it. All the gratitude and the longing and the love. Everything you feel for him, right there, condensed into the slide of your mouth over his.
When you pull away, his eyes have gone dark again.
“I like you,” he says, and it should be bumbling, awkward, but it’s beautiful instead. “So much.”
You giggle. 
“I like you too,” you say.
From the first moment, Jake and you were planets circling each other. And now, finally, you’ve locked into orbit.
Jake rolls over you, kisses you again, only it’s even filthier this time, reminiscent of what he did between your legs, and within moments it’s gathering in your stomach again, growing once more, and you’re wet and wanting and pliant beneath him.
He pulls back to finally get rid of his sweatpants - how weird that he was still wearing them this whole time, you think - moves to roll on the condom, and you look down at his cock, open your mouth and… falter.
“Jake,” you say, “that’s not going to fit.”
And the moment you’ve said the words, you regret them. God, you sound like somebody hired you for an extremely low-budget porno, but you’re just honestly concerned.
Jake laughs, and you can’t believe you just fueled that ego even further.
“We’ll work with what he can. But sweetheart…” And he leans down, presses the tip of his cock first to your clit, then your entrance in a way that makes your vision blur, and his voice drops to a whisper, right in your ear, “Personally, I think you can take it.”
You can’t even answer, can’t do anything, because he starts pushing inside of you. And it’s excruciating, so slow it’s almost impossible, the stretch just the right side of unbearable. Jake braces a hand by your head, face scrunched up in pleasure, mouth hanging open, one hand guiding himself. And you just tip your head back and moan, a sound that rips free from the very core of you.
“I’d like to think I did a pretty damn good job at warming you up,” he grounds out, jaw clenched with concentration, “but- god, you feel so fucking good - we’ll take it slow, yeah? Just… tell me if you want to stop, honey.”
Stopping is the last thing on your mind. You just want him in you, want more, more, more, had it once, and already you’re so greedy.
The slide seems almost endless, stretching your walls further than you thought possible, and you can’t hear anything, not even Jake’s voice spilling endless praise in loops that make no sense, not your own heartbeat hammering away, only the rushing of your blood in your ears.
And then finally, when you think you can’t take it anymore, he bottoms out with a grunt and just stays there for a moment, pelvis pressed to yours, breathing in the same rhythm.
“How you feeling, sweetheart?” he asks gently, one hand moving to brush the hair matted to your face with sweat away from your forehead.
“I…” And you can’t think, doesn’t he know that you can’t think, why does he keep asking you questions when all of your brain is currently occupied with reminding you to keep breathing. “… Full.”
Jake’s face crumbles like he’s in pain, and then he drops his head against your chest, his breath hot where it hits your skin, and moans. Inside you, his cock twitches, and you gasp.
“Sweetheart,” he grits out, “can’t just go around saying shit like that. So I’m trying my best to hold on here, yeah?”
And it makes you crazy, thinking that you’ve made him like this, that he’s riding that edge because he buried his face in your pussy, and you can’t help it, hook an ankle over his thigh and tug him forward, force him to move.
“Fuck,” he groans. “You sure.”
And you nod, so far gone you don’t care anymore, can’t even remember to be embarrassed. 
“Yeah. I want it, Jake, please, please.”
It really doesn’t take all that much. He immediately complies, moving back, drawing almost all the way out before plunging back in. And it’s more than you can take, and not enough, it’s too slow, and too fast, it’s too hard, it’s not hard enough, it’s everything at once, and above all else, it’s good, so good you can’t put it into words, can’t believe it’s real, can do nothing but hold onto him and hope you make it out at the other side.
Jake keeps it even, keeps it slow even as you can see the muscles in his stomach rippling with the effort of keeping still, even as his face is tight.
“Okay,” you whisper, looking him right in the eyes only to find he’s already looking back, “give it to me, Jake.”
It sets him off. He goes from measured, collected to focused, thrusting harder, reaching deeper, and your eyes roll back into your head. He’s fucking you with enough force that it rattles the headboard against the wall, that you feel it reverberate all along your bones.
“Jake,” you whimper, and he groans, grasps one of your thighs, and bends you nearly in half, and it should be uncomfortable, but like this, he reaches even deeper, grazes that spot that paints stars in your vision. You can’t describe the sound you make as anything but a strangled scream, and it should be embarrassing, maybe, but you can’t bring yourself to feel anything but the pleasure of it all.
“Fuck,” he whispers against your neck, “fuck, sweetheart, you’re so… fucking… wet….”
The sounds are obscene. His cock plunging into your wetness, the headboard slamming against the walls, your own whimpers, and Jake’s moans, all of it mixing into what could possibly result in a noise complaint from several neighbors. And you don’t care. Not one bit.
He leans down to kiss you, barely more than your mouths slotting together, breath on breath, then his hand wanders down toward your pussy, and the other clasps yours, fingers slotting together. He’s thumbing at your swollen, sensitive clit, and it throbs, and things get even wetter, and you make a sound like you’re going to die right now, wrap yourself around him, arch into him, tongue stroking against his, his moan slammed against your teeth.
“Sweetheart,” he whispers, rubbing tight, concentrated, purposeful circles on your clit, “come for me, I wanna feel your pussy clench on me, you can give me that, yeah, honey, you can be a good girl for me, can’t you?”
It’s been pretty clear from the moment he slid inside that neither of you would last very long, but that undoes you.
You’re saying yeah yeah yeah please please please jake jake jake, and he sinks his teeth into the side of your neck, sends his tongue after to soothe, and then it barrels through you, more intense than the first because it’s closer to pain, fingernails digging into his back, his palm, mouth ripping open around a sound that would have been his name had you had the breath, that dies before it leaves your lips, world-shattering, ground falling out from under you, and if you didn’t know any better you’d swear you black our for a moment, everything fading away.
When you return to it, Jake is saying, “… fucking, I can’t, god, pussy so wet and tight, so pretty, my gorgeous girl, my best girl so good, and you’re so, you’re so….”
You never do find out what you are because he goes from focused to frantic, hips undulating wildly, fucking into you at a shallow, quick pace, and then suddenly he freezes, shudders, his cock jumps - and then he’s groaning, arching over you as he empties into the condom.
He tries to roll off you immediately, but you wrap both arms and legs around him and hold him to you, in you, stay like that with your hearts thundering against each other like they’re knocking up a storm against your ribcages in an effort to embrace. Even like this, you still wish you could get him closer.
If I could, you think, I’d live inside your chest.
That’s a stupid thought.
For a while, you just lie like that. You’ll have to get up and go pee in a minute, but you don’t want to think about it yet. For now, you just want to lie here.
After an eternity, Jake says, “When I leave tomorrow….”
There’s something like hesitancy in his voice. Worry.
Into your hair, Jake whispers, “Will you wait for me?”
And that’s the thing about Jake. He’s always, always given you a way out. The decision was always yours.
So you could still walk away. Turn your back on this and forget about it. Rebuilt those walls and go back to the routine of your life before him.
But his heartbeat is quick and uneven against your chest. His voice is familiar.
You think of that house with the blue door back in Seattle.
Maybe, you think, it was never so much about the house as what it stood for: Sitting with your mother on the couch and listening to the rain. Laughing in Penny’s kitchen with her and Amelia. Watching the waves roll in that night at the beach with Jake.
Home, you think and blink the tears away. I’ve finally come home.
“Yeah, I’ll wait for you,” you answer, tighten your arms around him, press your face into his chest. “In fact, I might never leave you again. You got air conditioning.”
+++
“Jake,” you say, “this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”
“Wrong.” He turns the car left, and you hold onto the door handle for dear life. “The dumbest thing I’ve ever done was the time I almost let you go.”
“Jesus,” you mutter, “you’re getting so sappy.”
But when you stretch your hand palm-up over the middle console, and he takes it immediately, you’re smiling from ear to ear.
“Will you let me take this stupid blindfold off now?” you ask, the fingers of your free hand reaching up to trace along the line of the old bandana Jake tied over your eyes earlier before getting you into the car.
“Nope,” he says, sounding cheerful. “Don’t ruin the surprise, sweetheart.”
In reality, Jake isn’t the best at surprises. You’ve been together for four years now, and in all that time, you don’t think he’s managed to pull a single planned thing off. You knew about every surprise birthday party, every surprise anniversary dinner, every surprise homecoming. 
It’s a testament to his love for you, though - you’re the first person he wants to share things with, even the ones he should be keeping from you.
(And you indulge him, every time. Pretend to be shocked. Pretend he pulled it off. 
You’ll do it even when he finally decides to get out that ring box you found in his sock drawer last week. You know he’ll ask. Soon. 
You’ll wait.)
Maybe this one will actually work, though, because really, you have no idea where the hell he’s taking you.
“We’re here,” Jake says, and you hear the rhythmic thumping of the turn signal.
Jake parks the car, and you wait in silence until he’s back to open your door and help you out, one hand holding yours and the other on the small of your back. Then, carefully, he maneuvers you around.
The feeling in your chest catches somewhere between excitement and trepidation. God, you hope he didn’t do anything stupid.
Then, his voice is low in your ear as he says, “Ready, sweetheart?”
You’re not exactly sure if you are, but you say, “Ready.”
When he takes the blindfold off, you blink into the bright sunlight.
There’s a house in front of you. A beautiful place, the kind you always point out to him when you’re taking strolls through your neighborhood. White wood paneling, a front porch that wraps around the whole ground floor. Balconies with wrought-iron railings for the second stories. Flowerboxes before every window.
From behind you, Jake says, “It’s ours.”
Your heart is in your throat. Your eyes burn.
“Ours?” you repeat, voice so soft it almost gets carried off by the breeze.
Jake nods, then swallows and scrambles to say, “I didn’t sign the contract yet, of course, I’m not crazy enough to do something that big without talking to you first, you know that. But if you want it, then… it’s ours.”
The tears are hot on your face. You feel like your ribcage is going to splinter apart. Behind it, your heart has grown to three times its previous size.
“Oh,” Jake says, spotting your tears, and the hands that were wringing the bandana suddenly fall along with his face, “you don’t like it. That’s okay, we’ll just….”
“Shut up, Bagman,” you say, laughing even through the tears, a bubbling sound, fragile as glass, fragile as you feel, “I love it. Of course, I love it.”
He grins, eyes all crinkly and luminous, and fuck, you’re so in love, so far gone, it feels like you could hug the whole world. 
“Yeah?”
“Yeah.”
“God, I’m so whipped,” he says, laughing like he’s trying to rival the sun, reaching for you. “My gorgeous, brilliant girl.”
He pulls you against his chest, and you wrap your arms around him and press your smile into his neck, and it’s 84 degrees in the shade, but you don’t mind because you love him, and he sees you, and you’re home, you’re home, you’re home.
The door to your new house is painted a tender baby blue. Kind of like the ocean. Kind of like the Californian sky. Kind of like your dream.
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alicent-criston · 4 months ago
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yeah, it’s all fun and games but what happens when obi-wan, all sad and shocked, tears in his eyes, asks: “what have they done to you?” and vader, who until this moment was overwhelmed to actually see obi-wan in person, hisses: “no. you. you did this to me” - what then
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starrrbakerrr · 12 days ago
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1x06 > 2x03 > 3x05 > 3x08
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gunsatthaphan · 10 days ago
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#7 times they wanted to kiss #and the 1 time they did.
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idkwhatimdoing1981 · 3 months ago
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Just thinking about Eddie's hands 😳
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luthienne · 4 months ago
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Franz Wright, from The Beforelife: Poems
[Text ID: But I have overcome you / in myself, / I won't behave // like you, so you // can't hurt me now; // so you are not / going // to hurt me again // and I, I can't / happen / to you.]
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love-letters-i-never-sent · 4 months ago
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seductivelydemonic · 17 days ago
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sucking on titties is so underrated. i’d let him cuddle me and suck on my nipples all day
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dangonrumps · 7 days ago
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