It’s Maverick who calls him, waking him from a dead sleep at 11:28 pm on a Tuesday night, to tell him that Jake has flipped his car on the freeway.
Or, more accurately, his car had been crushed and then rolled onto the shoulder after it was rammed by a drunk driver speeding in the opposite direction.
Bradley doesn’t remember going to the hospital. He kind of forgets how to think rationally at all.
Because it doesn’t make any sense. Things like this don’t happen to Jake Seresin. To Hangman. His unyielding arrogance, that insufferable god complex would have you believing he truly is immortal.
When Bradley sees him on the ventilator, covered in tubes and gauze and looking so frightfully pale, he finally knows better.
Jake is no less fragile than the rest of them. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
It doesn’t do much for Bradley’s rattled nerves when Jake’s parents appear. His mother is a diminutive weeping mess. The man he assumes to be Jake’s father is a looming, stern and stoic figure. He looks a lot like Jake, only far less approachable. Less warm.
(Because Jake, for all his ego and faults, somehow still glowed, pulled you into his gravity field as if he were the fucking sun).
They speak with Maverick, who had found himself in the position of pseudo-guardian pending their arrival. Jake had put him down as an emergency contact, and Bradley doesn’t know what to do with that information. He can’t think too hard about it, he doesn’t have the bandwidth.
He’s staring through the glass in the ICU, at Jake’s chest rising and falling in a mechanical rhythm, assisted by one of several appliances he’s tethered to. Just bits of metal and plastic and electricity keeping him here. It’s unfathomable.
Maverick pockets his phone then walks over to where Bradley stands. He places a comforting hand on his back.
“Phoenix and Bob are on their way. The others wish they could be here sooner, want us to keep them updated.”
Bradley nods. He’d already called Javy, who was inconsolable that he couldn’t be there. He’d been deployed to an overseas assignment only a couple weeks earlier. Bradley had never heard the man sound so fierce as when he made Bradley promise they’d all look after Jake in his absence.
“What did his parents say?” His voice is hoarse.
Maverick sighs. “Not a lot. I think they’re in shock, mostly. They’re talking to the doctors right now. Hoping they can get clearance to enter his room. To…be with him.” The older man runs a hand over his face. “We’ll probably know more about his condition soon.”
Bradley swallows. “Me and him…we were just starting to-” he begins telling Maverick, but he can’t get the rest of the words out. It’s like they get caught somewhere in the persistent tightness of his throat.
Maverick gives him a knowing look and squeezes his shoulder. “You should go home, get some rest. You’ve been here for hours.”
Bradley shakes his head. “I’ll go for some coffee in a bit,” he placates, crossing his arms.
It’s nearly a week later when Jake is moved from the ICU to a standard recovery room. He’d been taken off the ventilator, deemed to be breathing satisfactorily on his own. His vitals are stable, but he’s still a rolodex of slow-healing injuries.
In that week Bradley has spent more waking hours at the hospital than not. It’s-
He just can’t bring himself to not be there. The idea of leaving feels wrong in a way that’s kind of terrifying and affirming at the same time. He doesn’t know what to do other than stay.
So he stays. And he waits. And he waits.
When he is finally granted permission to visit Jake, he feels inexplicably nervous, despite it being all he’s wanted to do for days now; the reason he’s downed gallons of tar-like dark roast and showered off periodically at the 24 hour gym across the street. The nurses are sick of him.
He fidgets a bit outside the room, taking in a deep breath. He steels himself. Then he twists the handle and slowly presses the door open.
In an instant, all that irrational anxiety vanishes.
Because when he sees Jake, awake and reclined on the white bed, covered in white sheets, in a white gown (there is so much sterile white) all he can manage is relief.
Jake’s tousled blonde head turns at the faint sound of him entering.
“Hey,” Bradley says softly.
Jake is looking at him kind of distantly, like he’s not entirely there. His handsome face is mottled in cuts and bruises, with deep circles beneath his lower lashes. A particularly grisly laceration traverses his left temple and has been mended shut with stark black stitches. His bottom lip is split.
Bradley hates it. He can’t remember ever hating anything more than he hates seeing this.
“Please don’t tell me I look good,” Jake smiles bravely.
“You always look good. It’s kind of annoying,” he says.
Jake huffs and lifts a hand. Two of his fingers are in splints and Bradley wants to murder someone. He tugs idly at the fibers on the blanket draped over his lap. Beneath it one of his legs is effectively shattered, being held together by pins and screws, and Bradley thinks he might not make it out of the building without destroying something.
“You scared the shit out of me,” Bradley admits, trying to reign himself in for Jake’s benefit. “Out of all of us.”
Jake looks surprised at that, and then oddly apologetic. “Sorry,” he whispers.
Bradley shakes his head. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
He grabs a flimsy chair from the corner and moves it to the side of Jake’s bed. As he sits down a hazy ray of afternoon sunlight filters through the small window and forms a rectangular shadow on the opposite wall. They both track it in comfortable silence for a while.
“They’re saying I may not fly again.” Jake sniffs eventually, closes his eyes against the pain of saying the words out loud.
“I don’t know if it is. I might not come back from this, Bradshaw.”
Bradley has never heard Jake Seresin sound so defeated, has never actually known Jake Seresin to be defeated. He decides right then and there that he won’t tolerate it. Not for a second.
“Hey,” he says firmly, carefully takes Jake’s chin in his hand. The other man won’t meet him.
“Hey. Look at me,” Bradley repeats.
Jake inhales, choking back a sob. When he lifts his gaze, his green eyes are gleaming and desperate.
“This is nothing.”
“You’ll be back up there in no time, driving us all crazy,” he says confidently, running his thumb over a small section of Jake’s jaw that is miraculously unharmed.
“Yeah, you think so?”
He sounds doubtful. A tear slides silently down his cheek and Bradley braces when the moisture hits his hand.
“I know so.”
Jake nods, trembling fingers abandoning the unraveled blanket threads to wrap hesitantly over Bradley’s arm. The small metal splints are cold against his heated skin.
“Besides, we haven’t come this far for you to tap out on me now,” Bradley tells him. He releases Jake’s chin in favor of brushing a few strands of hair from his forehead.
“Are you saying we’re friends now, Roo?” Jake’s tone is curious and somewhat teasing, an agonizing contrast to the wet trails marking his face.
Bradley considers it. He hadn’t intended to have this conversation here, now. But if he’s learned anything recently, it’s that nothing is promised, especially not time.
“Is that what you want us to be?” he asks gently.
Jake regards him, strangely calm. He looks so tired but resolute when he shakes his head in an unmistakable no.
That distressed feeling Bradley’s had in his gut all week suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Slowly, so slowly, he leans in, giving Jake adequate time to protest, to push him away. The other pilot’s breath hitches, but he doesn’t budge.
So Bradley presses his mouth against Jake’s as delicately as he can manage. He smiles into it when he feels Jake respond almost immediately. It’s so simple, so easy. A brush of lips over lips and the barest hint of one tongue seeking another. With immense effort Bradley withdraws, tries to back off so it can temper between them.
Jake doesn’t let him. There’s a timid hand curling into his shirt, keeping him close. Jake’s eyes are shut and his breathing is labored, but he manages to gasp out: “Been wanting you to do that for years.”
Bradley is stunned. “Oh yeah?”
“Mm,” Jake hums, resting his cool forehead against Bradley’s raised brow. “Should have gotten into a near-fatal car accident sooner.”
“Don’t say shit like that,” Bradley scolds, holding Jake’s face lightly in his hands and leaning back just far enough to see him fully.
“Sorry, gallows humor.”
Incredible. “Are you really punning right now?”
“It’s the morphine,” Jake laughs weakly.
Bradley is so fond.
“No. It’s just you.”
“Careful, I might start thinking you’re in love with me, Bradshaw.”
The hand in Bradley’s shirt becomes a flat palm resting over his heart.
It turns out they’re both right.
Jake does fly again. And Bradley is, in fact, utterly and irrevocably in love with him.