"There's an automatic function," the instructor was telling them, "but if it doesn't activate then you'll have to yank this—"
"D'ya hear that, Boy Scout?" Jake asked Taylor, winking at him. "Ya gotta yank it."
Taylor tried to ignore him.
"Yank it," Clifford said, giving them a dodgy look, "and the parachute will open."
Jake put his hand on Taylor's shoulder. "You ready?" It was no secret that he was excited to be doing this. He hadn't been in the sky for ages. Doing it with Taylor made it even better.
"Run to get rid of the momentum when you land," Clifford continued, ignoring the looks the couple was giving each other. "It's harder than it sounds but that's why you have me."
"I feel safe already," Taylor said dryly. Clifford laughed.
"Skydiving will never be entirely safe," he said. "Nothing will. Don't let that stop you from enjoying it, though."
Jake squeezed Taylor's hand excitedly, kissing his cheek. "You ready, Taylor?"
No, never, but Taylor didn't say that. "More than ever."
There was a swarm of wasps inside his belly, shaking him from the inside out. He was nervous. Very nervous. Even the physical contact they shared wasn't doing anything to ease his fear, but Jake knew that once Taylor experienced the thrill (hadn't he already flown a glider already, after all? Why was he afraid?) of falling (ah, there it was) and freedom (even with that slim hulk Clifford strapped to his back) he'd understand.
They boarded the plane. It was a tense fifteen-minute ride up, during which Jake gave Taylor many kisses and Clifford snored gently.
"I wonder who's the pilot," Jake said, smiling as Taylor fiddled with his dog tags.
"A stranger," Taylor said.
When they'd reached, Clifford proceeded to do his job, strapping himself to Taylor's back.
"Hey, keep him safe, alright?" Jake said to Clifford, earning a stony expression. Or it was possible Clifford had given him an eye roll and his visor had hidden it. All Jake got back was his reflection. Clifford's visor was silver.
But he gave Jake a thumbs up, so Taylor felt a little better.
Jake whooped. "Let's go, Boy Scout!"
He leapt out of the plane.
Despite knowing it was safe, Taylor couldn't help but feel a flicker of worry, until the rush of air around him forced all that away and made him focus on the present. Clifford was warm on his back.
He'd never felt so free. He'd never felt so small, so inconsequential. Was this how birds felt all the time? He wished he was a bird.
Jake tumbled on below them.
The parachutes released, catching them suddenly. They slowed down enough for Taylor to take in the scenery.
Skydiving was therapeutic in a scary sort of way.
They landed, rolling over each other unceremoniously. Clifford detached himself and stood, brushing grass off his jumpsuit.
Taylor wobbled. Jake caught him.
"How was it?" he asked, his grin silly with happiness. "Good?"
Taylor nodded. "Awesome." He slumped in Jake's arms, a breathless little laugh escaping him. "Wow."
Jake kissed his forehead. "We can go again tomorrow, if you like. I think you need a break for now."
Taylor wouldn't mind, especially if it was Jake holding onto him.
He asked Clifford if that could be managed.
Clifford appraised the situation. "Perhaps."