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Kings of the Air

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I.

They were kings of the room, that night.

After the dogfight – the impossible one, the one they should not have come out of, the one that lesser pilots would not have come out of – there was a celebratory feeling to the mess that night. Regs stated that the mess should be cleared forty-five minutes after serving began, but that night, even the command staff pushed back their trays and relaxed, and laughter and talk in the room grew, and by the time the cigars were broken out, it was definitely a party. And they sat at the center of it, Maverick and Iceman, warmed in its glow, knowing that every joke they made, however lame, was brilliant tonight, because tonight, in the middle of the Indian Ocean and for no reason anybody would ever read about in any papers, they were kings.

"Fuckin' A, it was insane, Mav is flat-out fucking insane," Merlin was saying with a grin, across the table from him, because Merlin and Slider, as their gunners, came in for some glow of their own.

"Sanity never saved anyone's ass," Ice said calmly, blowing a smoke ring, and Maverick laughed at that.

"Yeah, says Mr. Control," he retorted, with a smoke ring to match, but there was no edge to it, and Iceman caught his grin.

"Okay, so we're breaking hard left, right? And they've got a missile lock on us, we're dead, right? And then Maverick just hits the brakes, I mean he slams 'em while we're pulling, what, three g's, and I'm thinking what the fuck—"

"Crazy motherfucker," Ice muttered as Merlin's story gathered steam. Maverick laughed again, but quietly, because the remark was only for him. And in the middle of it, in the middle of the room where they sat enthroned like the heedless young gods they were, on what should have been one of the happiest nights of his life, sitting there listening to Merlin tell it all over again, the story they all knew three and four times over by now, but that was okay, this was what you did—in the middle of all of it, and just like that, a knife twenty inches long thrust right up his gut and into his chest, because Goose. Goose. And at first he didn't even know why it had happened here and now, but it kicked the wind right out of him. No one saw it, the sudden white of his face, the freeze of his grin, except for Ice, who was sitting right beside him.

Ice leaned forward and pulled another cigar from the box on the table and leaned back, pressing it into Maverick's hand. Under the table, so no one had to see. He got it, he knew what Ice meant – that this was Goose's cigar. Ice himself was taking over the story now, angling it all so he got the lion's share of glory, of course, making himself look as good as possible, but he was covering anyway. He was just talking to paper over the small silence where Maverick should have leaped in and said something, only couldn't quite because of the iron claw in his throat. Goose Goose Goose screamed the thing in his chest that ate him at nights, but he just curled his hand around that cigar and leaned forward to re-engage.

"Yeah, Merlin, I think you kicked your voice up there a couple of octaves when I said we were gonna bring him in closer—you're gonna do what??" He gave it a falsetto, and everyone laughed because he did in fact have a gift for mimicry, and he had the panic of Merlin's pitch spot-on. Merlin laughed loudest of all.

"Shit, that's the last time I spend a fucking dogfight in the water," Wolfman said. "I take a five-minute swim and you assholes bogart all the action." His hair got ruffled by someone behind him—"yeah, that's what you get for getting your ass shot out of the sky, nimrod"—and then more laughter, and the only thing missing was some scotch, but of course that wasn't going to happen until shore leave. They didn't need it anyway, high on testosterone and victory. Merlin was shouting out a limerick now, and the rhymes were not hard to predict.

"Go get some rest," Iceman said to him, quietly, as he leaned back. "I'll stay here."

"Yeah," he said back. "Okay."

Ice took another drag of the cigar and scooted aside as Maverick made his way past him, and the slap on the back became a smaller, and much less noticeable, squeeze of his arm, because Ice knew, of course Ice knew. Those fucking eyes like chips of glaciers, there was nothing they missed. Maverick let himself squeeze back, just a little—more of a brush, just to say yeah, I know you know and I'm okay with you knowing, because fuck but it felt good not to be alone with the thing in his chest.

So he made his way out of the mess, through the thicket of laughs and whoops, and out onto the stairway, and from there to the C level gangway, and he made it all the way to where he had been aiming, which was the fifth corridor C level switch room, the one with the lockable door where guys sometimes jerked off. He shut the door and let it take him, now and for the first time, the monster that had wanted out for all these months. When he was done and it had all crawled out of him, it felt like every fluid in him had been drained, pus and bile and piss and blood and come, because tears alone could not possibly feel like that. He sat in a heap by a boiler, wondering why the hell he couldn't just use the room to jerk off like a normal guy.


"Merlin's limericks only got worse," Ice said, sliding his breakfast tray beside him. "Honestly, I was embarrassed for him."

"You mean because he thinks every sex act rhymes with Nantucket?" Maverick speared a chunk of gelatinous egg.

"More because he thinks Nantucket is somewhere near Nanking."

"It's his geography that worries you, not his lack of imagination."

"Something like. He's a pilot, he doesn't need imagination to get laid."

Maverick barked a laugh at that, and as he lifted his orange juice he caught the edge of Slider's look at him, before he ducked his head back down to his plate. It wasn't a pleasant one. Who cared, fuck Slider. He had sat alone at his mess table every day for eight weeks now, misery his only mess-mate and the fuck off riding high in his eyes, and he had heard the nudges and the whispers. Isn't that the guy who—yeah, but don't ask him, he's—no, I heard that what happened was—and he was glad enough about yesterday if it meant an end to all that.

"So what did you think, about the MiGs?"

"You mean, what they were—"

"Yeah."

Maverick considered, unsurprised to find that he and Ice had been thinking about the same thing. He had been replaying it, too. "I don't know. There was something up with them. That hard break left?"

"Yeah, after the—"

"Flat dive, yeah. It shouldn't have been able to do that, was what I was thinking."

Ice nodded. "Probably why CO wants to debrief us some more this morning."

"Could be. More likely it's my promotion."

"Yeah, I hear you'll make Coast Guard any day now." Ice crunched his toast contemplatively.

"Won't matter. I can shoot down MiGs from a rescue chopper, easy. Just mount me a flamethrower on the side beams, and bring 'em on. Missiles are for pussies." He plucked the last piece of toast from Ice's plate with a patented Mitchell grin as he got up to head for more coffee.

"Hey, black, one sugar," Iceman called out behind him.

"Ah, suck my dick."


It was that easy, apparently. Without thinking about it, or realizing it was happening until it had happened, Ice was his wingman on and off the ground. He had gotten into the habit of getting to the mess early, mainly to avoid being around other people. It meant he could sit there and stare defiantly ahead and not be bothered, except every single morning, now—and afternoon, and evening—Ice slid his tray in next to him. And where Iceman went, everyone else followed: Merlin, and Hollywood, and Wolfman, and of course Slider, whose jaw seemed to clench up every time he glanced Maverick's direction. It was transparent, of course, but it was what it was: Iceman's declaration that Maverick's self-imposed isolation was over, that he was one of them, that he was all right.

Once at breakfast Renegade got there before Iceman, and made a line over to Maverick's table, and at the last minute he shied and sat on the opposite side of the table, which was when Maverick realized the spot beside him was Ice's spot. No one had had a spot beside him since Goose.

So he knew how to return a gesture; let no one say Pete Mitchell didn't know how to do the righteous thing. At mission briefing, he walked over and sat next to Ice, and the leg Ice had casually thrown over the seat was lifted, and now Maverick had a spot, too.

It wasn't a bad spot, at that. It turned out Ice made muttered comments during briefings, too—quiet ones, aimed only at the person next to him. Wry asides, mainly, drier than your average pilot humor, which was on the whole unsubtle. Maverick found himself muttering back, and was pleased the day he made Ice's lip twitch in suppressed laughter. It was his first disloyal thought: that as much as he had loved Goose, he had never had to reach much to make him smile. Bantering with Goose was fun, it was like breathing, but it had never been what you would call an intellectual work-out. He hated himself for thinking it, but the thought had flashed through and vanished before he could squelch it.

Slider had had about enough, though. That much was apparent, even before the briefing where he made it obvious. He sauntered in, assessed Maverick sitting next to Iceman, and sat on the row in front of them, with a snort. People were still arriving, milling about, so when Slider twisted around and spoke, no one heard. No one but the people who were meant to.

"He's never going to suck your dick, you know," Slider said earnestly, right at Ice, and the only tell was that Ice's pen stuttered in its walk across his fingers. But Maverick knew the look of a man who'd just been knifed in the ribs, and in public, at that.

"Hey, don't worry, Sli," he said with a hearty slap of the other man's shoulders. "I'm not taking your job."

Slider turned around, cold fury in his face. The briefing began, the usual mix of forty minutes of boring and twenty seconds of interesting, and Ice's pen had resumed its dance across his knuckles, maybe a little faster than usual. "Nice friends you got," Maverick muttered, as the lights went down and the maps came up.

"Yeah, I'm a lucky guy," Ice replied, and Maverick knocked his knee against Ice's to jolt him out of it, and Ice relaxed a fractional amount, and the pen was back to its lazy, elegant writhe, forward, back, across, forward, back, across.

"Stick with me, I'll make you popular," Maverick whispered at the next lull, and did get a smile at that.


"So what did you tell him?"

Ice was waiting for him in the hall, and Maverick fell into step beside him. "I requested Top Gun."

Ice stopped dead. "You didn't."

"I did."

"You're kidding me."

"I'm not."

Ice was swiping his hand across his forehead, and laughing at some joke that was apparent only to him. Maverick lifted his chin, defiant. "What? That so funny?"

Ice's laugh only got broader. "Jesus Christ," he said. "You're going to Top Gun."

Maverick gave him a shove. "Hell yeah I am. Why, what the fuck did you request?"

"What, me? Oh, I thought I'd get away from it all for a little bit, see if maybe I could do some good in the world by helping to form impressionable young men into actual pilots."

Maverick's eyebrows shot up. "Fuck you say."

"Oh yeah."

"Holy shit."

"Yep."

"Top Gun, for real?"

"For real."

"Jesus." Maverick shook his head, and fought down his own grin as they resumed walking. "You gotta stop following me around, Ice. I know this is hard now, but later on you'll thank me."

Ice slapped the side of his head. "Suck me, Mitchell. Jesus, those poor kids. You as their instructor. I can see I'm gonna have my work cut out for me, just correcting everything you get wrong."

"Oh yeah, you're a born teacher. You're a real people person, you are."

"Hey." Ice lowered his shades onto his face as they stepped onto the flight deck. "Kids love me."

 

II.

He didn't remember being as raw as these kids were, and even though it had been a joke between the two of them at first, calling them "kids," in his head now he couldn't get away from it, because they were. They were kids. Cocky as hell, with about one-quarter the experience they thought they had.

"Did you just call them cocky?" Ice asked, one night at the O Club over a beer. Ice rarely drank, the control freak, but when they went out he nursed something, just to have it in his hands.

"Why, you disagree?"

"Nope. Just find it amusing you would call anyone else cocky. Not much for irony, are you?"

"Hey, I'm not Annapolis. I can't even spell irony."

"That's right, I keep forgetting you were ROTC. Some state school not too far from here, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, little place called Stanford."

"That's it." Ice popped a peanut into his mouth and surveyed the bar. "I keep forgetting the name."

Maverick watched him watching the bar from behind his ubiquitous shades. Their kids, as he thought of them, were at the bar, laughing and drinking and acting like idiots, just like every Friday. Some of them were better in the air than others, obviously. Jaguar and Jamaica, they were who his money was on to win it, and they were the cockiest of all. Right now they were tag-teaming two girls, using a flanking maneuver to get them away from the crowd, and Maverick could see bleached blonde hair and hear high-pitched giggles.

Sometimes Jaguar reminded him of himself, in the way he flew. On the ground, too, though he would never say as much. Even physically, they weren't that far apart—slighter of build than most, dark hair, a way of walking that Maverick liked to think was dignity in him but came off as a strut when Jag did it. But it was in the daredevil shit he pulled in the air, the way he flew like there were no consequences, and like fear—or caution, Ice would say—was something other people felt.

The side door of the bar had opened, and a woman's slim figure slid into the wedge of light. The sort of bearing that drew eyes automatically, and both Maverick's and Iceman's eyes had flicked her direction before they recognized Charlie. Maverick was about to lift his beer so she could see where they were, at the booth in the corner, but she was headed to the bar, and Jag had already winged his cheap blonde and was going for the expensive shit, making a bee-line right to Charlie. Maverick snorted as he watched them, and he could write the dialogue: buy you a drink? No thanks, I don't drink with students. I'm not a student, I'm an officer. Bartender, the lady will have a—what are you drinking?

"You expected her to sit home on the weekends and lace her chastity belt?" Ice's voice was low, and his eyes had gone from watching the bar to watching Maverick, for who knew how long. Goddamn glasses were unnerving.

"Nah, I'm not that big an asshole."

"Big of you."

"Just didn't like to think I was one of a string, is all."

Ice grinned, teeth white below the eyeless shades, like some kind of shark. "That's right, I forgot, Maverick's one of a kind." He turned to assess the bar again. "She does seem to have a certain type. Wonder if I could interest her in branching out into blonds?"

"Now that would be an asshole maneuver."

"Unclench, Mav, she's not my type." He sipped his beer, and they fell into watching the bar. Jag and Charlie were moving to a table now, and Maverick thought that was a little too easy, you slut but he wasn't sure which one he meant.

"Come on, let's get out of here." Maverick shrugged on his jacket, not wanting to see any more. "I've got beer at my place, and Ultimate Fighting comes on at 10."

"Spoken like a true Stanford man." Ice rose and tossed a twenty down. "You're a cheap date, I'll give you that."


Exercises that week went well, and Jag and Jamaica remained in the lead, but by only one point. They were fighting for every advantage they could get, and as he flipped through the flight record print-out Wednesday afternoon, Maverick weighed whether this competition was actually such a good thing. Pilots like Jag got tempted into daredevil shit they might not otherwise have attempted. He arranged a speech he might give, a little talk just between him and Jag, but he couldn't find anything that wouldn't make him sound like a douchebag. Plus, there was Charlie—if he was perceived as coming down hard on Jag, it might be read as some sort of retaliation for his dating life.

So he tossed the print-outs on his desk and said nothing, flexing his fingers behind his head as he thought. Ice could say something to Jag, but Ice hadn't, and he would prod Ice into doing it if he could ever figure out how to prod the man into doing anything. There was no recognizable psychology that could apply to Ice, who would simply give you that level stare like he saw right to the other side of you.

"Commander Mitchell to the flight deck," came the voice over the comm, and he jumped, unaware he had been running behind.

"You're always late just so they'll say commander over the comm, aren't you?" Ice whispered behind him, as he sidled into the hangar.

"Hells yeah," Maverick whispered back. Promotion had not been on his mind when he had taken this gig, but his name sure had a nice ring to it now.

"I have a question for Commander Kazansky," Harlequin said, turning from the folding chairs up front to look at the two of them in the back.

"You paid him to say that, didn't you?" Maverick muttered sotto voce, and Ice trod on his foot as he stepped forward to answer. Jesus, the man was built like a brick shithouse.

On Thursdays, they got to do what he loved best.

"All right, listen up," he said as they filed into their chairs. "We're going to take you up and hang at 20,000, just four at a time. Commander Kazansky and I are going to dogfight up the Ricimero Canyon, which should keep us well within visual. I will attempt to get a missile lock on him. The odds are extremely excellent that I will fail. You are to keep a list, in your head, of the first three evasive maneuvers each of us employs. At least one of those will be unfamiliar to you, and you will write a brief technique summary of that maneuver tonight. In the air today, you will attempt to duplicate two of them, with either Commander Kazansky or myself. Any questions?"

Jag's hand was first up, and he clicked his pen as he grinned. "Yes sir, I have a question, sir. What should we do if none of your moves are unfamiliar to us?"

Maverick's smile thinned. "Well, Lieutenant, you're just going to have to trust that your instructors have a trick or two up their sleeves that you haven't seen yet."

"Yes sir, understood, sir. It's just that I'm not a very trusting sort, sir."

There were scattered and quickly muffled guffaws from the other chairs, and Maverick studied the man. "Then you should try trusting this," he said. "You should trust that on any given day, both Commander Kazansky and I can fly rings around your sorry borderline insubordinate ass, and shoot said ass out of the sky and into small flaming insubordinate chunks that your own mother would have difficulty identifying as human. We can out-fly you, out-shoot you, and out-smart you with one hand tied behind our backs, and hell, three fingers of the other hand just for shits and giggles. Do we understand each other?"

Any trace of laughter had died, and the eyes in Jag's pale face looked only straight ahead. "Yes sir," he said.

"Good. Now get in the air."

In the back of the room, Ice was chewing his ubiquitous gum. "Nicely done," he said as Maverick approached.

"Thank you. My first choice was to smack him with my clipboard, though. You ready to get your ass kicked?"

Ice flipped up his shades and squinted out the hangar. "Fifty bucks and my left nut says you can't take me."

"You're on. I'll take the fifty and you can keep your ball. I've got enough of my own."


Maverick ripped his glasses off and hurled them. They went skittering across the concrete.

"Lieutenant! You goddamn look at me when I'm speaking to you! Look into my eyes, sailor!"

Jag was at attention, staring at some point past Maverick's head, and his eyes when he brought them back were full of hatred.

"What kind of bullshit was that up there, you tell me that! What the hell did you think you were pulling? You tell me now and you tell me good, because I want to know what's in your head that makes you think you can do that!"

"Sir," Jag started, but his jaw was clenched so tight he could hardly get out words. Jamaica was at attention beside him, and a knot of people taking longer than usual to clear the flight deck. "I was taking evasive maneuvers, sir."

"That so? Well here's news, Han Solo: you're not evading your wingman. You're not breaking so hard left that you jetwash your own wingman, is that clear? Up there, your wingman's life is more important than your own, and you do not, am I clear, you do not under any circumstances behave in such a way that you jeopardize his life or that of anyone else up there except your enemy's, who by the way would have had plenty of time to escape after your little stunt."

"Sir. Hatch and I have flown together before, sir, and I knew he could handle the—"

"Bullshit! That is bullshit, Lieutenant. You wanted to take another shot at the target, and you didn't care if you had to jetwash your own wingman to get it, because you don't care about anyone and anything up there other than yourself, and that makes you a hazard to your unit. I'm stripping your points."

Jag's face in the glare off the concrete was even whiter than usual, and even Jamaica looked ready to say something. He opened and closed his mouth in mute protest. "Sir," Jag managed. "I got the shot, sir. If that had been an actual dogfight, with respect sir, I'd be a hero right now."

Maverick stepped close, until his mouth was at Jag's ear. "But it wasn't," he said. "And you're not. Right now, you're just a flyboy who doesn't know how to take orders and doesn't belong in the air. Now get somewhere I don't have to see you."

And he stalked off toward the hangar, through the silent crowd of pilots trying not to look at Jag's humiliation. "Commander—" Charlie said with a frown on her face, from the hangar, but he shrugged her off. His rage carried him back to the commanding officers' locker room, and goddamnit, it had been a hell of a gesture, but he had liked those glasses. One more thing to be pissed at Jaguar about. He slammed his locker and tried to breathe through his anger. Stupid-ass, idiotic—

"Hey." Ice's voice pulled him sharply around. "That was quite something out there."

"Yeah? You disagree?"

"I didn't say that." Ice went to his locker and began carefully arranging his things, pulling out his folded towel, as meticulously as he did everything else, the bloodless son of a bitch. "I just think you might have been a little hard on him, is all."

"Hard on him? Are you kidding me? It would take a two-by-four up the head to reach that arrogant little shit, and what I said was completely justified, you know that. So if this is you telling me to go easy on the Beaver, you can just fuck off, all right?" He was edging up to Ice's locker, because he was spoiling for it, and right now, he would love to hit something.

"You took him down in front of his unit, Mav," Ice said calmly. He was gathering his shaving kit. "I'm not disagreeing with what you said. But it belonged behind closed doors, not out on the flight deck. You ever had a CO take you down in public like that?"

"If I had ever deserved it like that, I sure as hell would have. And if a little public humiliation is what it takes to keep him from making—"

"What? The same mistakes you did?"

Maverick's hand clenched. "That's not fair."

"Since when did you give a shit about fair?" Ice had turned so he was head to head with Maverick now, so he could use his height, goddamn him. "You're all about winning at any cost, right? So let's not pretend your little fixation with Jag is anything other than your desire to undo your own past, okay?"

"That's bullshit!" His voice echoed in the locker and bounced off the tiles in the shower. "That kid is dangerous up there, and I'm here to make sure he stops being that way, because if he doesn't look out someone is going to get killed, which—"

"Someone getting killed, someone getting killed! Why don't you man up and say it, Maverick? Why don't you say I need to stop him before he kills someone like I killed Goose?"

Maverick's punch landed square and strong, powerful enough to push Ice back into the lockers behind him before he came back out with a lethal swing at Maverick. Maverick almost laughed when Ice's first punch landed—it felt so damn good, so clean and right and true, and this, this was what he had been aching for. The feel of his fist on flesh, over and over, and sweeter than that, the feel of someone else's fist on his, pounding him, beating him, pummeling him. They were on the ground, and he was rolling them over until Ice's head hit the steel leg of the bench, because hah—Ice may have been one for strategy in the air, but not so much at this.

"You crazy motherfucker," Ice groaned as he spat a little blood. "You're just looking for someone to kill you."

"You gonna be the one to—oof—do it, huh?" But then he couldn't talk, because Ice had rolled them back, using his longer legs for leverage.

"Shut up and fight, you crazy—"

"I didn't kill him!"

"Yes you—fucking did, and the sooner you can say it—"

Maverick took another wild swing, which went wide this time, and his fist collided with a locker, fucking ow ow shit fucking ow.

"Stop making—the rest of the world—pay for—ahh—"

Ice grabbed his waist, and Maverick writhed and elbowed him, catching him in the abdomen. He had a momentary advantage and he seized it, but then Ice hurled the entire weight of his frame on top of Maverick, and had him pinned, and shit, game over. Maverick's head hit the concrete beneath him with a dull thunk.

"No one ever gave you shit about anything," Iceman was panting, "your whole life. You act like you're the king of every room you walk into." His fingers were tight as cords on Maverick's wrists. "And you hate me because you can't beat me, or charm me, or intimidate me, or any of the other patented Pete Mitchell moves, because God forbid you might actually have an equal in this world—"

Maverick bucked underneath him to throw him off and almost had him for a second, but then Ice splayed himself out full length to quell him. "You're gonna have to let me up sometime," Maverick gasped. "And then I'm gonna kill you."

Ice shook on top of him, and for a minute Maverick thought maybe he was having a seizure, only when he lifted his face he was laughing. Not like he enjoyed it, but like he couldn't help it. "Goddamn," he said. "You are a goddamn piece of work."

They were silent and still for a second or two, just catching their breath. Maverick could feel the blood trickle down the side of his face, and he could taste it in his mouth and in a trickle at the back of his throat. His left knee throbbed like it had come apart. "Shit," he moaned. "Let me up."

"In a minute," Iceman said, and he had stopped laughing, but his voice still sounded odd. He shifted, to let him up, Maverick thought at first, but he was just re-settling in a better position for breathing. They were abdomen to abdomen now, thigh to thigh, and other things were in alignment now, too. Maverick turned his head quickly aside, ignoring the starburst of pain behind his eyes when he did, because no. No. He shut his eyes to clamp down on his body's response, and it was just that he hadn't been touched in so long, hadn't touched anyone for pain or pleasure. He swallowed.

"Maverick," said Ice. "Look at me."

"No," he whispered.

"Maverick."

He swallowed, so loud he knew they could both hear it.

"Maverick. Will you let me?"

"I—" He couldn't come up with the yes or the no, because he couldn't frame the question. He had never heard Ice's voice like that, but it made something low in him thrum.

"I'm gonna let go of your wrist now," Ice said. "Try not to beat the shit out of me, okay?"

Maverick said nothing. His wrist was released, and he had permission not to think about any of this, except for Ice's hand. Ice's hand had released his wrist, and it had gone somewhere else, as hands tended to do. It was at his groin. It was unbuttoning the fly on his flight suit. It was unzipping him.

"I don't—"

"Yes you do."

And just like that, his other wrist was released, he was free. Only he was pinned by Iceman's mouth. Iceman's mouth, which had closed on his cock. His cock, which had been hard already and was now aching with stiff. "Fuck," he moaned weakly.
Iceman didn't lift his head or break his concentration, and nothing had ever, ever felt as good as the whole wet warm world of Ice's mouth. His mouth was wide and deep and could take all of him, oh Christ he wanted to fuck it. Ice's tongue pushed and rubbed and suckled, and he wanted his come to spill over it, imagined his come spilling over it and down his throat. He didn't know what to do with his hands, where to put his hands—they had to land somewhere, but Ice's body seemed like an impossibility. Ice solved it for him by trapping a hand in his and rubbing at the wrist, sore from his fingers.

"Ice—shit, I can't—Ice," he moaned, like it was all vowel and only the hint of a hiss at the end, i-i-i-i-i-c-e. He couldn't even writhe, the pleasure was so intense, and when he came he whited out, behind his eyes. He pumped come into Ice's mouth like this was his first blow job, and Ice was sucking him down like it was all he had ever wanted to do. When the last quakes had left him and his skin was resettling on his bones, Ice sat up. Maverick could look MiGs in the eye and somewhere, somehow found the courage to keep looking at Ice, but he would have preferred the MiG.

Ice sat back on his haunches and wiped at his mouth. There was blood trickling out one side of his mouth, and come out the other, and he wiped them both away together with the back of his hand, and it was the sickest, hottest thing Maverick had ever seen. Then Ice was tucking him back in, rebuttoning, rezipping. Maverick glanced down at his groin, at the stiff tent there, and knew Ice was planning to walk away and pretend he didn't need it too. Maverick raised himself on one elbow, grabbed at Ice's crotch and squeezed, and Ice seized his wrist.

"Shit. Stop."

"Why, because the rules are different for you?" Rules. Why hadn't he thought about those before? No one ever did come into the command locker room but them, but someone could. It was possible. "Come on. This at least I know how to do."

Maverick unbuttoned the fly on Ice's suit and dove for what he could find, which was a dick thick and stiff and a little wet, but that was okay because Ice made a strangled noise deep in his throat.

"Scoot closer," Maverick said, and Ice did. If only he had known that was the secret—that as long as you had Ice's dick in your hand, he would pretty much do whatever the hell you wanted. Ice stretched out almost completely on top of him again, head buried in his neck, and Maverick worked his dick.

It was like the first time he had been in the cockpit of an F-5, after initial training and simulation. Everything was familiar, and you knew what all the parts were, but it was somehow alien, and different—your own world, turned on its side, and that either thrilled you in your gut or made you want to puke in terror, and some days a little of both. Ice's breath was hot on his neck, and Maverick wanted to grin at the sounds he was making, small hungry sounds. He didn't even have to do much, because Ice was thrusting into his hand—fucking it, basically, bare balls hitting the fabric of his trousers—and in four more thrusts he was coming with a quiet choke of sound. Got you, motherfucker, Maverick thought with exultation. Got you at last.

Ice took a second or two to come back, and braced himself on his arms to keep his weight off Maverick. "Your flight suit," he said wryly, looking down at the stain he had made.

"It's all good. I pissed myself when you came out of that side spur at three g's, so I was gonna have to wash it anyway."

Ice laughed, an open kind of laugh. "Crazy motherfucker," he said, and bent in, his head angling toward Maverick's. Maverick wasn't sure what the hell he was doing until he was centimeters away, and then he figured the squeal of the brakes in his head was probably audible as he flinched back, recoiling so hard he hit his head again on the concrete.

Ice was looking at the floor. "Right," he said. "Yeah." In one motion he had risen, and in the other, hastily tucked himself back in.

"So look," he said, and it was Ice's voice again, the one that put a thousand miles in between you before the third word. "You don't need to backpedal or anything on Jag, but I'll talk to him. If he thinks I'm good cop, that I'm on his side, he'll piss and moan to me a little, and then I can back you up. The last thing he needs is a persecution complex on top of everything else."

"Okay, good plan," Maverick said, like he wasn't still on the floor and Ice hadn't just sucked him off so hard his brain was still soft around the edges. He stayed there until the tread of Ice's boots on the floor had faded, and then he rose lightly. He stripped off his flight suit and stuffed it in the laundry without looking at it.


There was no Ice at his place for a beer that night, or the night after. He hadn't expected it, really. It would take them a few days to settle back into normalcy. They had had a fight, and after fights it took a bit to get back to where you were before. What had come after the fight he wasn't going to look at, but that wasn't the important part anyway.

"What's up with you and Iceman?" Charlie asked. She was scrawling trajectories and equations on the board, preparing for class in the hangar, and he considered telling her that no one could understand a goddamn thing she wrote up there.

"Nothing's up. Why?"

"Just wondering. I saw him in the Officer's Club last night without you. You two have been pretty much joined at the hip."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

She brushed her hair out of her face as she wiped the chalk off her fingers. "You know, joined at the hip. As in, constant companions? What's up, you two have a fight or something?" She settled in the chair, grabbing her papers to flip through, and Maverick shrugged.

"A bit, yeah."

"About Jag?"

"You could say that."

She put the clipboard down. "He thinks you were too hard on him."

"Something like that."

"Well, you're both right."

"That's the most ridiculous thing anyone's ever said."

She sighed. "Really, Maverick, you should stop trying to get back together with me. Your transparent attempts to flatter me—it's a little bit pathetic." He had a retort for that, only the first arrivals for class were shuffling in, and Ice was at the back of the hangar now, leaning against the wall, shades in place as always. Maverick stayed up at the front, with Charlie, and he didn't saunter to the back to stand with Ice like before. Cowardice tasted a little like cotton candy in the mouth—a rush of sweet, and then a flat sickliness. He'd never tasted it before.


Only at nights, and then only occasionally, did he let himself think about it.

He was very good at sex, and it wasn't arrogance to think it. He knew he was, like he knew he was good at flying. It was accurate self-assessment, and accurate self-assessment saved your life in the air.

He was good at sex, and he liked it a hell of a lot. Knew a lot about it, too. Which was why it was hard for him to think of what had happened in the locker room as sex, per se. Sex was gentle, and languid, and sometimes a little rough, but always in a playful way. It could be fast or slow, but you were never really—

He kicked back the sheets when he couldn't find the adjectives, and re-lived them with his fingers. When it was dark, and just him, he let his fingers tease his cock and imagined Ice's mouth. It was the best blow job he had ever received, and it wasn't like having sex; it was like sex had happened to him, like it had happened on top of him, and all he had done was lie there and gasp like a hooked fish.

Ice's mouth had been rough, and there had been blood in it. Blood he had put there. Ice's tongue had fucked him. Ice's tongue could do amazing things. Ice's tongue could fuck him in other places. Ice could fuck. Ice had probably fucked guys before, because he certainly knew what he was doing, and even as he fixed on that image and held it until the come blossomed over his fingers, Slider's remark struck home. He wiped his fingers and sat up.

Slider's looks of hatred. He's never going to suck your dick. He tossed the tissues in the trash can with a muttered oath.


He had made a mistake, was all.

He turned the events of that day over and over in his head, in the dark, between the desperate jacking off and the staring at the ceiling. It was a pretty nice apartment, subsidized but off-base, so he had privacy and freedom to come and go. It should have been pleasant, but as he had spent most of his adult life on a base or an aircraft carrier, it was in fact a little unsettling.

Somewhere in that day was the error, the fatal mistake. There were several candidates:

1) Chewing out Jag. This was the easiest and most obvious. If he had managed to restrain himself, Ice would not have had to talk to him about it, and the whole thing would not have happened.
2) Reacting in anger to everything Ice said. Ice had baited him, he saw that now. He had been hoping for an explosion that would prove his point, and he had gotten it.
3) Hitting Ice. Really a subset of number 2 above, but he could have shown anger without turning it into some 5th grade playground fight.
4) The simple syllable he should have said: no. He should have said no. Will you let me, Ice had said, and the answer was as simple as it was easy. No. No, I will not let you.
5) This was the one he could not look at. It was the one that, when he thought about it, gave him that flat-sweet-sour taste in the mouth again. But he knew what Ice had wanted, at the end, and he had handled it poorly. Should have made personal boundaries clearer, was the way he phrased it in his head.

He wrote out the list, and after a week of it—after a week of Ice standing at the back of the room, chewing his endless sticks of gum and staring out with his flat shaded eyes that saw nothing—after a week of Ice never looking his direction or aiming a remark at him or basically in any way acknowledging his existence, Maverick broke. He had thought surely he could at some point corner him in the CLR if nowhere else, and he had the speech all written.

Ice, he would say. Look. I screwed up. I let things get out of hand the other day. I apologize. Hey, let me buy you a beer. Will you let me? Will you? I—

No. A better one than that. He would think of it when the time came. But Ice never came to the CLR. He got right in his stupid car after exercises every day and went right back to his apartment, and took all his flight gear with him, but he never once went in the locker room.


So he broke, and a week later he went to Ice's apartment. He wanted to be sure Ice was there, so he waited until about 2:30 in the morning. And he wanted to be sure he was confident and eloquent enough, so he had a few drinks before he went. It was not that he was drunk and desperate and hammering on his friend's door in the middle of the night.

"What the fuck, Maverick," Iceman said, and he almost fell in the door when Ice yanked it open. Maybe he shouldn't have been leaning on it.

"Am I—I'm sorry, you were asleep."

"Jesus wept. How drunk are you?"

"Well." Maverick put his hands in his jacket and thought. "Not as drunk as I should probably pretend to be, considering what I just did. I—here, I have something for you to read." And he thrust the list into his hands. An amended and somewhat edited version, but even number 5 was there, if in somewhat altered form. Iceman squinted at it in the dark of his living room.

"Jesus," he said again. "Okay, come on, let's get you some coffee."

He shuffled back to the kitchen, and Maverick followed. He flicked on the kitchen light. He had on a bathrobe, loosely tied. That seemed like a very Iceman thing to own, a bathrobe. More of a dressing gown, really. Nice and dark, heavy fabric, a thin braided belt. Very classic.

"I'm sorry," Maverick slurred. "You were asleep."

"Not actually." He pulled out the coffeemaker and began dumping grounds into it, and then with a yawn he sat at the kitchen table and spread out the crumpled sheet of paper, with Maverick's list on it, and read it. He yawned again as he read, then got up and pulled open a drawer. He grabbed a pencil out of it and sat back down, and then he scrawled a few words at the bottom and handed it back to Maverick. It read:

Option Six: You didn't actually do anything wrong.

"Oh," Maverick said. "I see. Well, for someone who didn't actually do anything wrong, it's been a lonely week."

"Yeah. I'm sorry. I made a miscalculation, is all. Sorry that it got to you."

"No, that's okay, I didn't—"

"Tom?" The bleary voice in the doorway belonged to a woman wearing what looked like part of a bedsheet. Her hair was rumpled, but even so Maverick could recognize the bleach blonde highlights. It was one of the girls from the O Club. He stood up so fast his knees hit the table, and he had to grip the edge of the table against the pain.

"Right," he said. "Yeah. Okay. Sorry. Sorry, I didn't—you should have said you had company. Okay, I'm—good night." And he stumbled out the kitchen and toward the front door of the immaculately kept apartment, ignoring Ice's call of "Maverick, hey, come on, you don't need to—" and not stopping until he hit the curb.

He was way, way drunker than he should have been on his motorcycle. It shocked him, to think what he had done, that he had driven over here while that drunk. The whole thing had been a massive, embarrassing mistake. He drove as slowly and carefully as he could, practically nudging the bike along, and instead of heading back to his apartment he went to the spur of land on the jetty opposite the runway, the one where he had sat with Charlie and watched the planes take off and land. He sat there on his bike, until the chill of the night had settled into his bones, and he had tasted the full measure of his idiocy. When he judged he was sufficiently sobered, he drove back to his apartment and lay on the bed until dawn, welcoming the dark and the cold that felt like it had seeped into his bloodstream.


"Three weeks left," Viper said, looking down the list at the stats. "Hatch and Zorro are in the lead right now, but that could change this afternoon. What do you think, Maverick?" He handed the clipboard over, and Maverick skimmed the read-out of points – points gained, points lost, points re-distributed. Jag and Jamaica were only two points behind, but they had not yet been able to make up the deficit from the time he had stripped their points. He wondered if that was why Viper was showing it to him.

"Looks good to me," he said. "Ice?"

"Looks fine," Ice said, without glancing at it. "Cobra and Moby are gonna take it, though."

"How you figure?" Viper asked.

He shrugged. "Call it a hunch."

"Number of errors," Maverick supplied. "Yeah, I see what he means. It's bullshit, though." It was easy to see, looking down the list, that though they were well in third, Cobra and Moby were the first pair in terms of errors made. They were the only pair who hadn't lost any points on unforced errors. Technical proficiency, sure, so it figured Ice would go for them. But overall, a lack of ruthlessness when it came to making the kill.

"Bullshit, huh." Ice had his feet propped on Viper's desk, and he shoved his hands in his jacket as his glasses flashed up at Maverick. "Care to make it interesting?"

"You're on." He handed the clipboard back to Viper, who was studying him thoughtfully. "I'll let you try to win back your fifty, with interest. I've got one hundred that says it's anyone but Cobra and Moby."

Ice shook his head. "Nice try, Maverick. You have to pick. You want a hundred on Hatch and Zorro, or are you still thinking your boys Jag and Jamaica?"

"And if neither of them take it?"

"Then both your hundreds go to me," Viper said. "Obviously."

"Hey, wait a minute," Maverick said with a grin.

"Privilege of rank. Okay, let's thin this herd a little, shall we? Cobra and Moby, Jag and Jamaica, Hatch and Zorro. Hit the ceiling at 30,000 and kick out the brakes. Maverick, why don't you see if they can lock on you. Pull whatever crazy shit you need to."

"Why, because I'm the go-to guy for crazy shit?"

"Pretty much." He stuffed the clipboard in the top drawer of his desk. "Iceman, hide four clicks behind in the canyon, and when they get a lock on Maverick—" ("Hey!" Maverick interjected) "—if they get the lock on Maverick, you come in behind and see if they can go two-on-one. Any questions?"

"Yeah, I've got one. How come you let him put his feet on your desk but you yell at me if I borrow a paper clip?"

"I like him better."

Maverick's laugh would have been a little more hearty if he hadn't suspected that was actually true.


It was a great day in the air, a beautiful day. He let Cobra and Moby get a lock on him, though it almost wasn't a let—there was almost a moment there when they were going to do it, but the adrenaline rush kicked in and he slipped out from under. But he let them take it, a minute or so later, because he knew the minute they got the lock they would stop concentrating on anything but the kill, and with flawless timing Ice swooped in and had them dead. It was a gorgeous thing, and it was like Ice could read his thoughts in the air, like he knew the next move Maverick was going to make, and the one after that, and Maverick knew his too.

"Eyes and ears, boys," he said cheerfully over the comm. "Eyes and ears. Keep 'em open at all times."

He could almost hear Jag's undoubted response to that, the response he doubtless was making over the internal comm to Jamaica right now: we wouldn't be radar-blind in an actual dogfight. Something about the whole concept of simulation really seemed to get to that kid. Like nobody had ever taught him how to play a board game or something, like everything had to be for real or it didn't count.

But the exhilaration of the day's flying was too deep for Jag's sullenness to wash away, and he whistled happily as he strode into the command locker room and deposited his stuff. He stripped off his flight suit, tucking on a towel in preparation for a long hot shower. Ice was standing over by his locker, piling his kit together for a shower too. Exhilaration and adrenaline still thrummed hard enough in Maverick's veins that he didn't stop to think about what he wanted, but just did it.

"Nice flying," he said, walking over to Ice's locker, and when Ice half-turned, Maverick's right hook caught him clean upside the jaw.

"What the fuck—" Ice coughed and righted himself, and in the next motion his fist had slammed Maverick's face into the opposite bank of lockers. "You crazy motherfucker—"

Maverick laughed in glee. He came back swinging, just flailing away, but Ice was really pissed now, and his motions had none of the exuberance of Maverick's. He was swinging to hit and hit hard, and Maverick wanted to laugh with that, too, because it felt so good. It was exactly what he needed. He pounded back, letting Ice grapple him to the wall, and he got in a good one to Ice's ribcage.

"Come on, that the best you can do? Come on, you can—" he groaned on his laugh as Ice caught him in the abdomen, making breathing impossible for a few seconds. Ice had him on the ground now, and he was kicking to get back up, twisting and writhing.

"You need—some fucking therapy—you crazy—piece of—fuck," Ice spat as Maverick caught him in the groin this time.

"Yeah, but this is free," Maverick managed to get out past the blood in his mouth, but Ice's hand shoved his head back down to the concrete with another smack.

"No it fucking isn't," Ice said, in a tone he didn't entirely know. Ice wrestled him flat, and now Ice had him pinned, his hand twisted behind his back and his face pushed into the floor, and Ice's mouth was on his ear.

"This the only way you can take it, Mitchell? Is it? If someone makes you?"

He groaned in answer, feeling his dick fill. He tried to bring his knee up just to give himself more room, because he was done fighting. Ice's arm pushed him even harder into the floor.

"Ought to make you hump the floor. Ought to make you fuck it. You want it so bad I bet you would. Ever been fucked, Mitchell? No, you haven't, have you." He reached around and pulled on the towel that had slid down Maverick's hips, and he yanked it open. "Come on, let's fuck. Let's see what you can take."

He was smart enough to feel a little panic. This is what you wanted, beat in his head, but stronger than that was the no no no caught in his throat, the words that he wouldn't say, because anything Ice could dish out, he could take.

"I should fuck you raw, just like this," Ice's hot breath was gusting in his ear. "Teach you how a man takes it."

His towel was gone too, or Maverick thought it was, because he could feel it—him—he could feel Ice's dick pushing at the back of his ass, sick and hot and wrong. "I come first today," Ice said, and he was fucking himself—Maverick didn't know the words, it was hard to think past the pain in his arm—he was rubbing himself on the back of Maverick's ass, no, not on the back, in the crack. He had found the sweet groove there, and he was thrusting into it, sliding up along the curve, and through the sweat Maverick could feel a little bit of sticky off his dick as he slid upwards.

"Fucking sweet ass you've got, Mitchell," he heard, and it didn't escape him that he had stopped being Maverick. "Gonna fuck it." Ice rode him fast, Maverick's face scraping the concrete, until he shuddered and Maverick could feel the wet that coated his backside, sliding down his cheeks. And then another spurt of it, and Ice groaned again.

"Please," Maverick moaned. Ice was relaxed enough he could bend his knee a little now, try to get some room around his dick, which had had nothing but concrete and the scratch of towel. "Come on, please."

"Oh, now he's polite." Ice flipped him, his back slapping the floor, but kept his wrists down. Ice looked down at the dick that bobbed between them, purpled and thick and ready, so ready. "You're quite the little faggot, aren't you?"

"Fuck you," Maverick ground out, and Ice laughed.

"I'd like to see you try." The pressure on his wrists was approaching unbearable. "You want me to suck you again, don't you."

"God, please."

"Commander will do just fine." And Ice didn't let go of his wrists, but moved his mouth down so he was close, so close. Maverick's dick twitched at him, trying to reach the mouth. "Hungry for it," Ice remarked. "Only rule: you have to watch this time."

"Yes," he rasped.

"Just so we're clear."

And Ice lowered his lips and swallowed him, as hot and wet and tight as Maverick remembered. He struggled to watch, lifting his head to watch everything Ice did—his lips as they molded around the base of his cock, the way the hairs scratched and pushed at Ice's chin, the slide of Ice's mouth as it rose up an inch or two, and then down again, the small wet noises of it all, all the detail he had missed before. He couldn't see the tongue, but he could feel it, the things that it did. It was unspeakably hotter to watch it happening. His arm felt light, and he realized that Ice had lifted his hand. There were fingers at his balls; he watched Ice rub on his balls. The finger went down further and found his asshole.

Shit stop no Maverick opened his mouth to say but the words twisted in his throat. Ice's finger pushed at him, whether in his body or not he couldn't tell anymore, because he was too busy choking on his own come. He bucked into Ice's mouth and the finger pushed at him at the same time and for a crazy instant Maverick thought I grew another dick because there were two centers of pleasure firing at once, and he was helpless with it but kicked and moaned and shook. He could feel Ice swallowing his come, the tongue pushing at the base of him, and his come didn't feel like spurts, it felt like a hose, like his come was just hosing down Ice's throat and wouldn't stop.

"Fuck," he groaned, the word a cracked whisper of sound, as the last ounce of fluid in his body drained into Ice's mouth.

In one motion, Ice had risen to his feet and was looking down at him. He picked up a towel to wipe his mouth, evidently unconcerned about covering himself. He just let Maverick look, and when he was done with the towel he tossed it down to him.

"Jesus, Mitchell, take a shower or something, yeah?" And he turned on his heel and strode off to his locker, whistling a little to himself.


Fighting and fucking: two things he did extraordinarily well. How could he have known what the effect would be when you combined the two? It was like he was the first to fly at mach one, the first to dip chocolate into peanut butter.

Almost every afternoon, after exercises, they did their thing. He never got first swing in again, though—Ice was always ready for him. He would walk up to Ice's locker when Ice's back was turned, and he would try to swing at him, but Ice was always stronger and faster. Ice would grab his wrist even as it swung and twist him around, shove him into the lockers, and then the fight would be on, the fight that only ever had one end, though many subtle variations of plot.

There was the afternoon he was finally the one to get Ice pinned, and his uncertainty probably showed in his grip, because Ice raised up and said "Do it, just do it, you know you want to," and by then he knew enough to know what it was he wanted and roughly how to get it. So he twisted him some more and yanked his leg up and shoved inside him, hard, and he told himself that the towel on the floor was muffling a groan, not a scream as he pushed in.

"Mav—Ma—Maverick," Ice panted, scraping his face against the floor.

Maverick froze, shaken enough to realize he had gone too far, and what he had done. "Ice—I'm sorry, I didn't—let me—"

"Shut up and fuck me, you fucking pussy, can't you even take the shot when I hand it to you or are you too—" he cut off on a groan as Maverick pushed deeper inside him. He didn't say anything after that beyond a few panting grunts, and Maverick never knew whether Ice even came that time or not, and couldn't make himself feel bad for not caring.

They were fucking regularly after that, pinning each other and riding with no thought for anything but the coming. One afternoon, Maverick even got his mouth on him. It was not at all as disgusting as he thought it would be, and he was even getting into it a little when Ice came, hugely and revoltingly, all in his mouth, and though he tried to man up and take it he gagged a little, and Ice slapped his head.

"Get up, that was the worst blow job ever."

"Oh yeah? You came, didn't you? Couldn't have been that bad."

"I come in a stiff breeze. Jesus, pay attention to how this is done."


Once, Viper said something. They were in his office reviewing point spreads and talking about the next day's maneuvers, and the slant of the golden Miramar afternoon sun was hitting the side of Maverick's face and neck, and the rich purple bloom of bruise on the underside of his jaw was suddenly illuminated.

"Good God, Maverick, what happened to you?"

He blinked at Viper, not understanding until he saw where Viper was staring, right at the bottom of his jaw where Ice had clipped him, and he wanted to laugh, because the first thing that occurred to him to say was hell, that's not the worst of it, you oughta see the rest of me. He gave a slow smile.

"Yeah." He rubbed his jaw ruefully. "I don't guess I could pass that off as a little rough sex?"

Viper barked a laugh. "Not unless you're spending your evenings screwing a billy club. Watch yourself, Maverick. I don't have the cash to go bailing you out after a barfight."

"I'll keep it in mind, sir," he said. "If it's any consolation the other guy looks worse."

He fought down his grin and let himself cut his eyes at Ice, where he sat motionless in his usual chair. Ice's eyes met his, just a brush of a gaze, but the smirk in the corner of Maverick's mouth died at the flat line of Ice's.


His day went into a flat spin after that. It was a hard and long day in the air, and he had to do most of it by himself because Viper wanted Iceman with him in the tracking tower, and he was a little pissed off about that, since now it was likely to be another day before he got laid, since Ice probably wouldn't need to shower and probably wouldn't be heading to the CLR. To make a bad day worse, Hatch and Zorro decided it would be a good idea to start sucking spectacularly, which pissed him off, particularly as he happened to know Zorro had been at the O Club until late the previous night. But even Zorro's hangover could not explain away Hatch's lazy, unimaginative flying.

"Wake up over there, goddamnit," he said over the comm, but it had no effect, nor did any of his other reprimands. He could barely get them to engage at all.

"Zorro," he said, striding into their locker room when they got back on the ground. He enjoyed watching them all flinch a little, and straighten, the way he had when Viper or Jester used to come into the locker room. "Zorro. You decided it would be a super idea to take 16 million dollars worth of equipment into the air when you were too hungover to shoot straight? That what you decided?"

The ones who weren't in the shower were turning around to look while trying to hide that they were looking. There was a lot of nervous movement, and it pissed him off even more. Zorro had leaped up, and was standing practically at attention, his jaw clenching and unclenching. He had a nervous hand on the towel around his waist.

"You got an answer for me?"

"I'm sorry, sir," was all he managed, and he kept his eyes a shade above Maverick's head.

"You think you might feel like flying tomorrow, or did you have other plans? I mean, if you did, that's cool. You can just blow this off, come on in if you feel like it. Hell, I might even feel like joining you, we can, I don't know, we can go to the mall and maybe get a pedicure or something. Your feet," he said, glancing downward. "They look a little callused, and those nails are in terrible shape. That was the problem, huh? Just couldn't concentrate like that?"

There were a few muffled laughs from the other lockers, and Zorro's jaw clenched harder. "No, sir. That wasn't the problem, sir."

"Oh yeah? What was, then?"

"Me," said a voice at the end of the lockers, and Maverick saw Hatch, sitting alone, still in his flight suit. He was off at the far end of the lockers, just sitting there, and he didn't leap up or stand at attention or even look at Maverick. "I was the problem, sir."

The others stilled and looked away, and he saw they were trying not to look at Hatch. Maverick nodded, slowly. "Okay," he said. Everyone else was hastily slamming lockers, grabbing their stuff. They were trying to get out of the way.

"Go on, head on out," he said to Zorro, who nodded, clearly relieved. Zorro grabbed his clothes and began stepping into them as quickly as he could, and Maverick waited. He let the locker room clear, and when he heard the last slam of the locker room door Maverick walked over to where Hatch was sitting, still not moving, and sat down opposite him.

"Okay," he said. He hoped for Hatch's eyes, but they were steady on the gray metal of the locker across from him, as still as his face.

"Let's have it," Maverick tried, and when Hatch's eyes finally came down to meet his, they were nothing but courteous and remote, and Maverick knew then that nothing he said would do any good.

 

III.

 

Two hours later, he pushed back the unlocked door of Ice's apartment and sat on the worn sofa. He put his head in his hands and just sat there, and when Ice, who had been in the kitchen, walked back out to his front room and saw him sitting there, he didn't say anything. He just walked back into the kitchen for another beer and set it in front of Maverick.

"How was the tower," Maverick said.

"Boring as shit." Maverick heard the twist of the beercap, and Ice's feet on the coffee table. He'd never been here before, other than that one time he preferred not to think about, but Ice acted like this happened every day, that Maverick walked in his front door and sat on his sofa. "I take it you had a more interesting day."

"Yeah." He sat back then, tipping his head back onto the sofa. A futon. What a stupid-ass thing to own. "Hatch is leaving the program."

Ice took a swig off his beer and nodded. "Thought something like that. He was flying like shit today. Did Viper bag him?"

"No. He's quitting."

"After one bad day? His next assignment's going to be shit if he does that."

"Yeah," Maverick said. "Well, he doesn't much care about that. He's leaving."

Ice took longer with his beer this time. "Leaving the Navy," he said.

"Yep."

"Well, damn, Maverick. After just one day alone with you?"

Maverick's eyes slid shut. "Fuck you," he said. "I've been talking to him for the last hour and a half. Saying I don't know what the fuck. I couldn't come up with anything. I was shit. I didn't know what to say."

He could hear Ice's fingers tap the bottle. "Damn."

"Yeah."

"It's not like he can just quit."

Maverick laughed, but it was more of a grim snort. "Sure he can. He's going to go to Viper and ask for a dishonorable discharge. He'll get it, too."

"He wants to live with a DD the rest of his life?"

Maverick looked at Ice. "He's gay."

Ice didn't flinch, just took another swig off the beer. "Didn't do anything stupid, did he?"

"Well, define stupid."

"Sleeping with another officer."

It was Maverick who tried not to flinch at that. "No," he said. "That's not it. He's—" He got up and walked to the windows. They were nice windows. It was a ground floor apartment in an older building, one of those 1940s slightly down-at-the-heels apartment buildings that dotted southern California. It was a nice place, though. A little bigger than his. He wondered how Ice had managed that.

"I don't think anything happened," Maverick said. He watched a girl on her bike across the street. "He didn't do anything. No one—no one knows. No one gave him any shit. I don't even think Zorro knows. He said he was just—tired."

Behind him, he heard Ice get up and leave the room. When he came back, he tossed something on the coffee table. "Check it out," he said, and Maverick saw a cheap plastic little photo book, the flimsy kind you got at the drugstore to stick a couple of pictures in.

"What am I looking at?"

Ice smiled. "Just look."

Maverick picked it up and flipped through it. It was mostly of kids—two of them, maybe, though it was hard to tell. Young, dirty blonds, peanut-buttery faces. There was a woman with an out-of-focus face in some of them, and in one she was driving a bumper car and laughing, wide-eyed and unattractively. "Your wife and kids?"

Ice laughed. "Yeah, asshole, that's it. It's my sister and her kids."

"Oh." Maverick flipped through it again, looking for the resemblance, but couldn't see any. He stuck imaginary reflective sunglasses on the little boy but still couldn't see it. "Okay."

Ice took it from him and turned to a page with a little girl. She was scruffier by far than her brother, with skinny legs and a too-short sundress. "So my niece," Ice was saying. "When she was about four? Took me down. Not even shitting you. It was summer, and Terry told the kids to come inside, only she didn't want to, right? She's always the one who'll test you, always looking to see how far she can take it."

Maverick looked at him looking at the picture, weighing the strangeness of this Ice. "I had you pegged more as someone who ate children for breakfast, I have to say."

"What are you talking about, I'm good with kids. So this one time, right, Ally is just flat-out not listening, and Terry's exhausted and trying to give Matthew his bath, so I just go out in the yard and I'm like, kid, come on, your mom says come inside. And she says no. And I say excuse me? And she puts her hands on her hips, like one-hundred-percent a carbon copy of my sister, and she says no again. So then I think, fuck this, and I walk over and I pick her up. Just sort of pick her up and tuck her under my arm, right? And she's hollering the whole time, screaming her damn head off, Terry probably thinks I'm beating her with a tire iron. Ally's screaming I hate you I hate you you can't make me, and then she starts kicking and flailing as I'm walking toward the house with her, and one of her legs—shit, she kicks me in the balls as hard as I've ever been kicked, I mean harder than I've ever been kicked in my damn life. Completely knocks the wind out of me, knocks me to the goddamn ground. And I'm on my knees in the back yard, bellowing as loud as she is now, and Terry leans her head out the window and is like, what the fuck?" Ice laughed, and reached for his beer again.

"Anyway. So I brought the pictures out so you wouldn't think I was making the whole thing up. I actually do have nieces and nephews. Ally's like ten now, and I'm saving that story for her wedding."

Maverick licked his lips. "Huh. Ah. . . well, okay. That's a—very helpful story."

Ice laughed again, shorter than before. "My point is, sometimes you do things for people even when they don't want you to do them for you."

Maverick frowned. "Okay."

"No, see." Ice set his beer down. "How many of us are there?"

"How many. . ."

"Fighter pilots. Aces. The really good ones. The best of the best. The pilots this country depends on to keep it safe, the ones that no one can take up there, the really coldblooded motherfuckers who will blow you the fuck out of the sky if you twitch in the wrong direction. How many of us are there? Two hundred? A hundred? Fifty? Twenty? Who the fuck knows?"

Maverick frowned at his hands. "I don't. . ."

"The point is, you protect this country even when it kicks you in the balls. Even when it says it doesn't want you, even when it says it hates you. You stick with it, and you do your goddamn job, because there's no one else to do it, and that's just the way it is."

The silence in the room was long, and Maverick watched Ice drink his beer. Many things shifted inside him and quietly rearranged themselves. "You would have been better with Hatch than I was."

"Why, because I'm gay too?"

With an effort of will, Maverick kept his face blank at that. "You sleep with women."

"The US Navy is not much for nuance, Mav."

"Yeah. Good point." He rubbed at his forehead. "Maybe tomorrow you'll talk to him?"

Ice shrugged. "Maybe. Won't make any difference, probably."

"Probably." Maverick just sat there, and watched Ice finish the beer. His own was untouched. "Stay there a second, okay?"

Ice cocked a brow. "Okay."

"No, I mean, just—don't move for a sec." Maverick got up and sat on the coffee table in front of him, moving aside the little picture book and a coaster that poked him in the ass. "I need you to stay very still, all right?"

"Mav. Don't do this."

"Why not?"

"Because it's stupid. It's an unnecessary risk."

"Hey." He tried a grin. "I am dangerous."

If Ice got the joke, he didn't show it. "Stop."

"No." Maverick placed a hand on Ice's knee. His knee was bare, because he was wearing shorts and a ratty undershirt. He was wearing the kind of clothes you wear when you're alone in your apartment and think no one is going to see you, and it's a warm California early evening, and you're young and lean and impossibly—it occurred to Maverick—beautiful. He leaned forward and put a hand on the back of Ice's neck to draw him closer, and even though Ice gave him no help, none at all, he still got there. He kissed Ice's lovely mouth right on his lovely lips. He watched Ice's lids stutter a bit as he closed his eyes.

"Mav. We can't."

He would obviously have to do better. He leaned in again and tried it, this time angling his head and licking at Ice's lips with his tongue until finally, maybe unconsciously, they parted, except Ice never did anything unconsciously. Maybe it was conscious, the way his hand was coming now to Maverick's waist, the way his head was tilting a bit. The way his tongue, hotter in Maverick's mouth than it had ever felt on his cock, was pushing back now at him. Kissing him.

"Mav."

"Mm?"

"Not gonna hit me, are you?"

Maverick considered. "No," he said. He rested his face against the side of Ice's face. His courage was close to exhausted. The next thing he wanted, he wouldn't know the words for.

"Okay," Ice said, like he was giving in about what game to watch on TV. He rose lightly, and pulled Maverick up with him. God fucking damn, but he hated being shorter than him. Even those two inches pissed him the fuck off.

"Okay," Ice said again, and headed to the hallway. He still had Maverick's hand, pulling him behind him. "Come on." When they got to the bedroom Iceman stopped and turned around.

"Run now," he said.

"Not gonna," Maverick said, and tugged off his shirt.


If before had been fucking, he had no clue what this was. And he wasn't being dodgy, either, because he really didn't have a clue. It wasn't sex like he had ever had before; none of the categories fit. He had let go in sex before, he had had a good time in sex before. It wasn't like he'd been having bad repressed sex his whole life, but this was another order of thing, and it wasn't just in the orgasm department that it was different. In fact, that was the one place it was the same, because let's face it, an orgasm was, with minor variations, an orgasm, and in that moment of eyes-shut, back-arching pleasure, it didn't matter who or what you were fucking. So he came his brains out with Ice; that wasn't exactly a surprise.

What was a surprise was everything else. It was Ice's mouth, Ice's hands, the tilt of Ice's neck. Same language, different alphabet, and everything was new, and he didn't have to pretend to be in control of anything, and he didn't have to be anything he wasn't. Always, in sex, it was like striding onto a flight deck, for him: you had to know what you were doing, had to control the situation. He couldn't do that, with Ice—no chance of it. He had thought sex only worked if somebody ran the show, but Ice wasn't holding him down or pinning him or calibrating or synchronizing; Ice was just in it with him.

"Pete, tell me if that's good," Ice murmured into his neck, when he was buried deep inside him, because hell yes, he let Ice fuck him that night. And Ice's voice, asking him that—it wasn't about anything but wanting to know if the pleasure was good for him, and that broke him open as much as the whispered Pete.

"It's—oh yeah," he breathed. "I can't even—fuck, yeah, right there—" It seemed to go on forever, the things they did, and about halfway through he realized he couldn't get enough of tasting Ice, that he was twisting to kiss him every chance he could. And Ice was meeting him, Ice's mouth was hungry too. Maverick started shaking and couldn't stop, but Ice didn't seem to notice—Ice wrapped him tighter and brought their mouths closer.

Ice wanted him just as bad, too, that was the kicker. He hadn't known that before, but he felt it that night, could hear it in his breathing. He didn't suck Ice off because he wanted to hear him, wanted to be near his face, and that first time when Ice came, his mouth open, face pressed to Maverick's, it was so sweet, so good to hear that gasp and shudder, that struggle for breath. Ice's hands gripped his ass. "Fuck yeah Mav, oh fuck—" and Ice had been gone. A simple hand job, but up close like this, it was like being strapped to the nose of his plane and taken for a ride.

They slept on and off and woke for more. He got to fuck Ice again, and then when Ice padded into the kitchen for something to drink, Maverick went back to the living room and grabbed the photo album, sneaked back to bed with it. When Ice came back Maverick had switched on the light and was sitting up, flipping through it, and Ice flopped beside him, peering over his shoulder. He pored over it like maybe it would tell him things he needed to know. Ice nuzzled his shoulder while he looked, and Maverick curled a hand around his head, leaning into it. The woman in the pictures seriously looked nothing like Ice.

"She seriously looks nothing like you," he said, and Ice rested his chin on him.

"Half-sister," he said. Maverick tilted the picture and looked again. Wherever they were, it looked hot, and the plants were scraggly.

"Arizona," Ice said, as if in answer to his question.

"You see them a lot?"

"When I can. Every shore leave, yeah. In terms of family, that's pretty much it for me."

Maverick nodded, trying to imagine it. "Your mom and dad. . ." he began, but stopped.

Ice shrugged. "Not around. My mom wasn't, for a long time. Our grandparents raised us, on the res. She would drift in when she felt like it, we never knew where from, and then she'd be gone. She died of cancer a few years ago, but it wasn't like it was a big deal. Terry cried a lot, though. Made me so fucking mad. She'd been gone since we were kids, so what was the big fucking deal?"

Maverick put the pictures down and processed the new information. "Res," he said.

"Yeah, Navajo," he said. "Mom's family. More or less."

"So your dad never. . ."

"Nah, it wasn't that bad. He tried for a while. He didn't live anywhere nearby though, he was from New York. Only saw him like once a year. Mom had been taking classes at Arizona State—I think this may have been in one of her 'get clean' phases—and he was a T.A. there. I think they may have been together like six months, all told. He tried, when I was growing up. He came back in the summers, for a while. He was a nice guy. I was not such a nice kid."

"What was his name?"

Ice cocked a brow like it was a strange question. "Ari Kazansky. I haven't seen him since I was seventeen, though. He was—wow, he was so pissed I was going into the military. I haven't talked to him since Annapolis. I seriously think he had gotten it into his head that I would go to college somewhere in New York and we could be hippie communist beatniks together." Ice grinned. "Such a freak. Last I heard, he was down in Nicaragua working as a volunteer or something, planting beanpoles in some village and probably shooting contras by night." Ice shook his head, still grinning. "Crazy motherfucker."

"You have. . . an interesting family."

Ice's grin faded, and he propped his head on his hands. "No I don't. My family was me and Terry living with our grandparents in a mobile home and going to some high school that smelled like piss. That was my dad who had the interesting life, not me."

Maverick tossed the photo album aside, looking at the odd arresting angles of Ice's face. Navajo and Jew and who knew what else. It certainly explained a lot. Made him regret his own sternly uninteresting Connecticut forebears—Mitchells who had served their country and their Presbyterian God for generations. Pretty funny, come to think of it, that his call sign was Maverick, when he was just doing the same thing male Mitchells had done since 1775.

He switched off the light, crawling on top of Ice. Ice's arms came around him. He hoped Ice didn't have anything else in mind, because there was no way his body was up for round four. He went for mouths instead, kissing him lazily. Kissing after sex wasn't something he'd ever done much of. He'd never seen the point, but kissing Ice was like talking, somehow; things could get said. He could feel the scratch of stubble, and knew his own was probably getting bad too. But it was the early hours of Saturday, now—no need for an early morning shave. They could lie like this all day, if they wanted.

"Hey," he said, raising up. "I was thinking. About Hatch."

"What about him."

"How come. . ." he struggled for the words. Ice was unafraid of words. "Just wondering, I guess, why things are harder for him. If he could be more like you, it occurs to me his life might be a little easier, is all."

"Well, not everybody gets to be the Iceman," and he could hear the shark-like grin in the dark. He made a snorting noise of contempt.

"That arrogance is gonna get you smacked down someday, you know."

"Uh huh. In the first place, excuse me while I puke myself laughing, because Maverick just lectured me on arrogance. And in the second place, I notice how my arrogance is a real turn-off to you." Ice's hands were cupping his bare ass now, and their slow kissing and rubbing in the last few minutes had brought them both to a—most improbable, after the evening's activities—mild state of hardness. Not likely it was going to be anything more at this point, but goddamn Ice could do it to him. Goddamn. Arousal you couldn't control, that was a whole new thing. He took Ice's mouth in his again. There was something he wanted to say, but it only came out right in the slide of Ice's tongue against his. He was so tired.

"Go to sleep," Ice murmured into the corner of Mav's mouth. "Plenty of time when we wake up."

"'Kay," said Mav softly, half-asleep already. He should probably move off of Ice, but he felt so good to lie on, warm and firm at the same time, their bodies notched together like that. He'd never been able to do that to somebody in bed before, just lie on top and relax. Normally you had to worry about not crushing people. Ice was tugging the blanket higher around them.

"This okay?" Mav whispered, shifting a little. "Not hurting?"

Ice's hand was stroking his side, rhythmically. There was a long quiet, like maybe he had already fallen asleep, but the hand kept moving, back and forth, back and forth. "Probably," he said, but Mav was asleep before he could answer.


Jag and Jamaica took it, after all. It was close all the way to the end, and Cobra and Moby ended up within half a point of it. They took it hard, from what Maverick could see, but none of them really talked to him, not after that incident with Jag on the flight deck, so most of what he knew of them was surmise.

Graduation was as impressive as Maverick remembered it—the glare of the cameras at the new Top Guns, the gleaming dress whites, the grins that threatened to strain faces, the handshakes that wrenched your shoulder muscles. "Sir," Jag said, coming to attention as Maverick approached him.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant." Maverick offered his hand. "It's been a pleasure."

"Yes, sir." Jag lingered over his hand a little, hesitating. "I wanted to say thank you, sir."

"You did."

"Yes, sir. You made—I just wanted to say I appreciate everything, sir. I know you pushed me hard to be the best, sir."

Maverick clapped him on the shoulder. "Actually, I had a c-note on Hatch and Zorro."

Jag's face fell. "Oh. I—"

Maverick laughed. "Just kidding, Lieutenant, you won me the bet. I'm flush now, so tell you what—you head to the O Club after this, and I'll buy you and Jamaica a drink. Hell, I'll buy you four."

"Yes, sir." Jag's flush of pleasure was back. "I'll hold you to that, sir."

Maverick nodded. He looked at the plaque cradled as lovingly in Jag's arms as his firstborn. "Lt. Richard Silvio 'Jaguar' Morales," it read, bright and newly etched, right below the words: "Lt. Thomas Eugene 'Iceman' Kazansky."

Jag must have seen where he was looking. "Sir," he said, and his voice lowered. "I also wanted to say—a few of us—more than a few of us, we know why your name's not on this plaque, sir."

"My name's not on that plaque, Lieutenant, because Commander Kazansky was Top Gun."

Jag's eyes dropped. He looked like he wanted to say more, but he nodded, and Maverick clapped him on the shoulder again, and moved down the line to congratulate Jamaica, whose name was also on that plaque. It was a bit like a wedding, what with all the smiling and the cameras and the white. He headed to the table where Charlie was standing next to Ice. Charlie was saying something, and Ice was smiling and nodding. Still wearing those goddamn glasses. Maverick was arranging his line in his head, something that wouldn't sound like so what are my two favorite lays in all the world doing over here? He grabbed a club soda and made his careful way through the crowd, but a hand closed on his upper arm just as he was rounding the last bend, a particularly hairpin turn between an overweight older woman – clearly someone's grandmother—and a tall man with bony shoulders that kept angling for Maverick's face.

"Maverick," Viper said. "Got a minute?"

Maverick cast a nervous glance at where Charlie was turning her back, headed off with Ice to a quieter corner. "Of course, sir."

"I just wanted to make sure you were still thinking about staying on as instructor here. Most officers who come back through, they graduate one or two classes and then are eager to get back to their units. I understand that, but I was hoping you were maybe thinking about a more permanent arrangement."

"Sure," said Maverick, because why not?

"That would be great, Maverick. I'd sure appreciate that. Since Jester left, we've been a bit short-handed, and with operational cuts we can use every man we can lay our hands on. And with Iceman leaving, we'll be even more in need. So I'm glad to hear that you're—"

"Excuse me, sir, you're—you said Iceman. . ." he trailed off, because it would look odd not to know this, and Viper, who missed very little, really, was already looking at him in that way he had.

"Requested reassignment last week," he said. "Combat reassignment. Didn't say much about it, but then, he's not much of a talker, is he?"

Maverick's face felt stiff. "No, sir." He took a swallow off his club soda. His throat was suddenly dry.

"Good, then," Viper said, with a parting clap to Maverick's shoulder, and he was off to the next knot of people, smiling his grave weathered smile, shaking hands, taking pictures. It was the same shoulder-clap Maverick had given Jag.

It took him a while to work his way out of the crowd, and then there was the luncheon afterward, and he was marooned at a table far from Charlie or Ice or Viper, though he got the fat grandmother. He drank endless rounds of club soda, and he looked thoughtful and intent during Viper's speech about the trainees, though at this distance he had difficulty hearing anything. Or maybe it wasn't the distance, but the roaring in his ears. When he was finally free of the luncheon and fighting clear of the last grandmother and proud family member—somebody's joyful uncle got him full in the face with a flashbulb, and he stumbled into a flimsy garden arch—when he had shaken off the last of them, finally he went looking for Ice.

He looked everywhere, and he started in the parking lot to make sure. Ice's battered little Karmann Ghia was still there, which meant he was somewhere on base. He grabbed a piece of paper out of the glove box and wrote on it with a stub of a pencil dug from the floorboards—I need to talk to you!—but didn't bother signing it. He stuck it under the windshield wiper and went on his hunt. The hangar, the flight deck, the offices, command and control, even the officers' barracks. He was nowhere, nowhere on base, and then he went to the last place he had really thought Ice would be, because there was no reason, today of all days, for him to be there, but then as he pushed back the door he knew, even before he went in, that he was right, and that Ice would be here. And there he was, only not in the locker area. Maverick could hear the shower running, and he stood there for a minute, thinking.

He walked through to the shower area, and stood there.

Ice was in the last stall at the far end, just standing under the hot spray. The waist-high walls afforded some privacy; there was more privacy here in the command locker room than in the regular locker room, anyway. Maverick stood and watched him, and Ice didn't move. He had his hands braced on the low walls, and the water was hitting the back of his neck, but for all the time Maverick stood there, Ice didn't move. Ice didn't move for so long that Maverick found himself wondering how long Ice had been here, just like this. The water wouldn't be cold, though—that was one thing about the navy, there was always plenty of hot water.

He made plenty of noise walking down the stalls, but Ice probably couldn't hear. He waited until he was right behind him to speak, and he cleared his throat first.

"Ice," he said. "Hey."

His voice was loud enough off the tiles that he knew Ice heard, but still he didn't move. His head was bowed, a steady rush of water peaking his hair and flowing down his front, over the knotted shoulders.

"Ice," he said again, louder. Still nothing. "Goddamnit," he muttered.

He strode into the open bay of the shower, not caring about the water splashing onto his dress whites. He put a hand on Ice's shoulder, but it didn't respond. So he yanked him around so he could see his face, which was only wet and blinking at him. Maverick didn't hesitate. He let fly with his right hook, and Ice's head slammed into the concrete block wall.

Ice gasped, slipped, and almost fell as he struggled to right himself, hauling himself up by the metal shampoo rack. Maverick was tensed, braced for it. Watching for Ice's fist to curl, and then the beautiful white blaze of pain. It didn't come.

Ice was standing there looking at him, the water still sheering off his shoulders.

Enraged, Maverick swung again—the other side of his face, and this time Ice went down. He pulled himself back up, though, and stood there, staring at Maverick, his gaze a level flatness that Maverick couldn't fight.

"Fight, goddamnit," he yelled above the water.

"No," Ice said, and Maverick hit him again. Ice staggered but did not fall. Maverick hit once more, as hard and vicious as he could, and this time there was blood against his knuckles, a little slick that washed away in the water, and Ice's gasp was audible even above the water, and he had to hang on to stay upright.

"Fight!" Maverick screamed, but Ice said nothing, or maybe he couldn't. He managed to straighten, and look Maverick in the eyes, and the rage that pounded behind Maverick's eyelids and beat in his brain was uncontrollable, unimaginable. He roared in fury and charged, beating Ice back into the wall, felling him, but Ice only protected his head and took it. No matter what he did, he couldn't reach him, couldn't touch him, and the blood on his fists was only illusory, only a delusion, because there was nothing of Ice he could touch.

"Fight," Maverick sobbed, and Ice slowly, somehow, got himself standing again, only a little lopsided this time. With a dull ache of certainty Maverick knew that Ice would stand here, for the rest of the afternoon and on into the evening, and he would let Maverick beat him to death, but he would never, never give in. He would pass out before he would give in, and Maverick looked at the blood smeared across Ice's face and the swell already spreading across his ribs and he had never wanted to throw up so hard in his life.

"Fight," he whispered, gone hoarse now, but Ice said nothing—probably couldn't, even if he'd wanted to. "I don't—why don't you—" he sounded like a frightened, confused child, a spoiled one. He hated the sound of his own voice, and a fist twisted in his own gut, a punch harder than any he had thrown. "Jesus. Oh Jesus." He could hear the shake in his voice, and he stepped closer now, to where Ice stood wet and bloodied.

"I'm so—Ice, I'm—oh, Jesus." He reached a shaking hand to Ice's face, but Ice still did nothing. A long streak of blood and water skated off his thumb and down his dress whites, into his sleeve where all the water was running, but he didn't care, couldn't care. "I'm so sorry, I didn't—fuck, Jesus, say something, oh Christ, oh Christ fucking God."

He brought his other hand to Ice's face, both hands trying to wipe away the blood and bruises. Ice's eyes held still, without comment.

"I'm sorry," Maverick said, and his voice had stopped shaking. "I'm sorry that I'm such a fucking coward. If I had another chance I wouldn't be, but I know about second chances. I wish—" he let his fingers skim Ice's chest, wondering if it hurt to touch, where he had beat him. He didn't know what he wished, anyway. And because he couldn't think of anything to say, he stepped even closer and angled his head slightly up—ah, the exquisite humiliation of that—and brushed his lips against Ice's swollen ones. One kiss, and then another, not intruding but still slow, his fingers resting on Ice's chin, because it would be both his first and his last, and that was pretty much the Pete Mitchell story right there: always figuring it out when it was just four seconds too late. We're in a jetwash, this is not good—not good. Mayday, Mayday, Mav's in trouble, he's in a flat spin, he's heading out to sea.

He got himself together and walked out of the showers then, soaking wet from his socks to his sleeves. The water was still running, but he didn't look back.

 

IV.

 

And in two days, Ice was gone.

He did see him again, a brief handshake at the hangar, with Viper looking on. Ice was behind his mirrored glasses, if he was even there at all—Maverick couldn't tell. Maverick even managed a backslap, so it would look right for Viper. Viper was talking about Ice's new unit, about the potential hotspots. He was going to a carrier in the Gulf, and there had already been action there. Ice would need to watch himself, Viper was saying. And then Ice was gone, up the gangway to his transport plane, his duffel slung over his shoulder. Maverick's abdomen felt rigid.

"We've got a week or so before the next class comes in," Viper said beside him. "And you've got some shore leave coming. If you wanted to take it, now's the time. I'll sign off on it." He wondered if there was something in his face Viper could see, but no, he knew his face was flat and stiff behind his own flight glasses. Nothing to see there.

"No, I'm good," he said, and turned on his heel and walked away. He walked all the way back to his apartment, leaving his bike at the base. He sat on his sofa and stared at the wall. He alternated this with staring at his hands—the hands that had hit Ice until he bled. For maximum pain, he thought for a moment about Ice getting shot out of the sky over the Gulf, about Ice maybe surviving to break his neck on water impact. He would hear about it a day, maybe two days later. Ice's body would go back to his sister in Arizona. There would be a funeral, and Maverick might get leave time to go. He would sit at the funeral like he was sitting now, stony-faced and impassive, a brother mourning the loss of a comrade. And no one would know that inside he was clawing at the coffin screaming and sobbing you left me you fucking left me how could you.

"Well," Maverick said aloud, to the blank TV screen. "Aren't we just the hysterical teenager."

And in disgust at his own melodrama, he went to the kitchen for a beer. It turned out not to be enough, however, and after thinking about it for a few minutes, he grabbed the keys to go to the Officers' Club, before he remembered that of course, he had left his bike on base. Just as well, probably, considering how shit-faced he was planning on getting, so he called a cab from the town's lone and painfully slow taxi service and headed to the club.

His own living room was a little more exciting. All the graduates had long cleared base, and there were no new students until next week; it was just him and a handful of older guys sitting in booths. But it was soothing, and company was not exactly what he was looking for anyway, so he nursed his scotch and tried not to think about sitting here with someone else. Interesting to discover that there were actually reasons for some of those fraternization rules, beyond reflex bigotry and intolerance. He'd never given it much thought before. You couldn't fly combat feeling like this about your wingman. You couldn't keep your head in the game, feeling like this. At least it wasn't a problem Iceman had, since he didn't especially have feelings. It had been a crucial blunder on his part, to assume that call sign had been all about his flying technique. Not for nothing was he the Iceman.

Once—and this would have been a few weeks after the conversation at Ice's apartment about Hatch—he and Ice had been sitting right here, at this very booth. It was after a couple of drinks, and Maverick had stretched out on his side of the booth, an expansive stretch, and had slid his foot next to Ice's. Nothing anyone would notice, and if they did, what of it? A foot resting against another foot, in the dim of the O Club at night.

"Don't do that," Ice had said, sipping his beer and studying the bar behind his shades.

"Don't do what?" Maverick had said with a grin. "I'm just getting comfortable." He didn't know why he did it, really. Because he could. Because it was a rush, knowing he could nudge Ice like that, knowing he could push his buttons. Knowing Ice wanted him.

"You piss me off," Ice had said mildly, "and I'm likely to take it out of your ass later on. You up for that?"

"In every sense," Maverick had said, with another wicked grin. Ice's face behind the shades had been inscrutable. "Come on, unclench a little. Tell you what, you need to learn how to live a little dangerously, is what. A little fun now and again would not actually kill you."

"Fun, huh. Is that what we're having," Iceman had said, turning back to look at the bar. Of course, who the hell could tell where he was looking.

"Well, I sure as hell am," had been Maverick's reply.

He studied the solitary scotch cradled in his hands tonight. He wasn't having fun now. What a fucking moron he had been. He wanted to cringe looking back at it. To think Ice had been laughing his ass off at him, at what a stupid fucking girl he was.

"Drinking alone?" Charlie slid in next to him, and how the hell did she manage to do that? No one ever caught him from the blind side in the air. Speaking of stupid fucking girls.

"Yep," he said. "You're a little early, though. Next crop doesn't come in for another week."

"That's all right, I'll make do with you," she said with a smile, and he would have smiled back if he had thought she was joking. But she didn't push it, and she ordered her own drink—damned if he was going to pay for it—and sat drinking with him in a silence that approached companionable.

"So," she said lightly. "Iceman's been reassigned."

"Yep," he said again.

Her fingers rubbed the side of her glass. "Viper said he requested it."

"Did he."

"You probably know more about it than I do."

"Apparently not." He took another swig off his drink and watched the door.

"Viper was pretty disappointed, tried to talk him out of it. Said the two of you made a great teaching team, best he'd ever seen. Said he was hoping he might be able to retire in the next few years and leave Top Gun to the two of you, if you were interested."

"Oh well," he said.

"Pete." She hesitated. "I don't want to say the wrong thing here, and make you feel worse."

"No chance of that."

"Well, what do you know about Slider?" That brought his attention back from the door.

"Who?"

"Lieutenant Kerner, Iceman's ex-gunner, who—"

"Yeah yeah, I know who, I just meant—what are you talking about?"

She frowned at her drink. "Maverick. I need to talk to you, but I also need not to betray Iceman's confidence. I'm not wrong, am I, that you and Ice are close? That I could trust you?"

He lifted his drink and measured it out in his mouth. He wondered how she was defining close, and if it mattered. "You're not wrong," he said.

"Then I think Slider was blackmailing Iceman."

"You. . . do."

"I think Slider threatened him with conduct unbecoming. I think he threatened a complaint to Iceman's commanding officer, who would then be bound by regulations to investigate. Even if he dismissed it, he would be bound to investigate. He would be bound by regulations to ask questions that Iceman. . . that he might not have wanted to lie about. It's one thing to avoid the question, right? It's another thing to lie."

Maverick was fully engaged now. "You think this, or you know this?"

She tightened her lips, chewed on the edge of the bottom one while she thought. "A little of both. I know Ice didn't want to leave, and I know he felt like he didn't have a choice. I know he told me to watch out for Slider, if Slider tried to have any communication with Viper. If Viper talked about Slider, and if. . . if your name came up."

Conduct unbecoming. The fucking little shit. Fucking, fucking little shit. "This new unit Ice's been assigned to. Is he—"

"Slider's there. I checked. He was reassigned last month."

Maverick tried to control his breathing. Slider wasn't a fucking little shit—he was a dangerous little shit. And Maverick's mistake had been to underestimate him. Ice's life was in that little shit's hands, and how much work would it be, really, for a gunner to make one simple mistake, one day?

"Slider writes to Ice," he said slowly. "Threatens to file a complaint. Doesn't even have to be true, just enough to trigger an investigation. Ice tries to head him off, gets reassignment to Slider's unit so he can keep an eye on him. Slider's got Ice right where he wants him, now and for the rest of his career. Fucking hell."

"Yes." Charlie was steady-eyed. She was watching Maverick, but Maverick was still thinking. It wouldn't have worked before. If Slider had gotten pissed off before and threatened a complaint, Ice would have laughed in his face. He knew Ice well enough for that. So what was different this time? He knew the answer before he had the question. Him. He was what was different. Slider's complaint would have involved both of them, because Slider knew, thought he knew, suspected. He's never going to suck your dick, you know. And Ice had headed him off. To protect Maverick. Fucking, fucking hell.

"I have to go," he said. Grabbing his jacket, but she had grabbed his wrist first.

"Pete, listen to me." Her voice was low and hard. "This is a very delicate situation. You need to be careful. In every sense of that word. This is not a guns-blazing type of situation. You can't just—"

"Right," he said. "Thanks for the reminder. Hey, you know what would have been helpful, is if I'd had some training in tactical maneuvering and strategy. This might be the time that would really come in handy. Oh well, too late I guess."

"Hey." Her fingers on his wrist tightened. "This is what someone being your friend looks like, asshole."

He didn't have time to acknowledge the justice of that, so he just nodded. "I have to go," he said, and headed for the door.


Up in the air, what you tried to teach was vigilance. You tried to teach them to expect the unexpected, and for weeks, that was what he and Ice had done—hiding out in canyons, keeping them radar-blind, teaching them to look, look, look. And what always happened was this: you ended up nailing them, not with the sneak attack, but with the frontal. Because what happened was, they got to where all they could look for was the hidden, the unexpected, and if something was sitting right in their flight path, they just wouldn't see it. Just would not. It had been fascinating to watch.

Slider was like that: he lived only in shadows, feeding off of secrecy. He didn't guard against a frontal, because he never expected to see one. Well, reflected Maverick, there was a time for maneuvering in the shadows, and there was a time for hovering right at 12 o'clock with your missiles locked. There was a time for knocking on the door of your CO and father's old comrade and calling in every favor you had out there.

"Maverick, what the hell," Viper groaned, pulling back his door to find Maverick standing on his front stoop at eleven-thirty at night, sober and grim-faced. "This had better be good."

"Yes sir," he said. "I'm sorry to disturb you, sir."

Viper stared hard at him then. "Oh hell," he said. "This is going to be one of those, huh." And he stood back from the door so Maverick could come in. "You wake up Corinne, and I'll make sure you hurt good. I'll find something to do to you. I'll promote you."

"Understood, sir." He followed Viper down the hallway to the back of the house. It was a neatly tended two-story on the edge of base, tastefully decorated. There were one or two of the pictures that looked like they might be valuable, and he wondered if they were because of Corinne Metcalf. The two times he had met her, he had been struck by her elegance, as well as (if he were being honest) the tightness of her ass. Viper opened the door to the den and shut it behind them. He collapsed on the yellow floral sofa, his bathrobe gathered around him.

"I'm listening," he said, and Maverick took a deep breath and began. He had every word of it by heart, even the pauses where he might seem to be looking for words. He didn't stop until the end, and when he was done he stood there, hands behind his back, at a rough sketch of attention, jaw thrust forward. He had laid it all out for him, omitting only the parts he absolutely had to. He began with the dogfight that had begun it all, the one that had really started Slider's dislike, and even traced some of it before that, to his time at Top Gun. He stated what he knew, what he suspected, and what he had heard from Charlie, and through it all Viper said nothing. He sat there on his ridiculous sofa, in his bathrobe, and watched Maverick.

"Is that everything?" Viper said, when it was evident Maverick was done.

"Yes sir."

Viper heaved a sigh. "All right then." And he sat there in silence, staring at the lampshade. Maverick wondered if he was going to ask him to sit down, but he didn't.

"So," he said at last. "It is your contention that Slider, resentful at Iceman's return to Top Gun without him—and presumably, at the rise of Iceman's career—threatened a complaint against him, unless he left Top Gun?"

"Yes sir. That is my understanding of the matter."

"Mm. A complaint that Iceman engaged in sexual conduct unbecoming to an officer, under the U.S. Naval Code of Conduct. Is that correct?"

"Yes sir, I believe it is."

"And it is also your belief that Iceman chose to accede to Slider's demand by returning to a combat unit, when in fact he wished to remain at Top Gun?"

"Yes sir." Maverick licked his lips, a little less sure of that one—he didn't have any real idea, after all, that Ice had particularly wanted to stay at Top Gun. And if he was wrong about all of this—if Charlie was somehow wrong—then Ice's fury would be cataclysmic. He could practically hear it now. Stop trying to help me, asshole, Ice would hiss, while he had him pinned against the wall by his throat.

"But I'm Iceman's commanding officer."

"Yes sir."

"So. In your opinion, is it that Iceman had too little trust in my investigative acumen, or too much?"

Maverick kept his blinks steady. "I'm not sure what you mean, sir, but I do know that Iceman is very serious about his career, and would do his best to avoid any black mark, no matter how unjustified. You know that, sir."

"Yeah. Maverick." Viper wiped a hand over his face, stifling his yawn. "It's almost midnight. A little less with the 'sir,' all right?"

"Yes. . .yes, Commander Metcalf."

"I will say this: I think you're probably right about Slider."

Maverick tried not to let his surprise register. "You do."

"I do. Of course, I don't have any way of knowing if he's threatened his fellow officer. But you were wrong about one thing. You were wrong about that complaint."

"I was?"

"Yep. He filed it against you."

The plush carpet underneath him rocked slightly, beneath the balls of his feet. Sometimes hiding in the canyon worked, too; sometimes it really was the MiG you just didn't see. "I don't understand," he said, and swallowed. His swallow was audible. "What. . ."

Viper was standing, tying his bathrobe tighter. "Slider filed the complaint with his CO, who passed it on to me. As of yesterday, in fact. I was going to wait till tomorrow to open my investigation, which you realize of course I'm obligated to do. But you're here, and in a few minutes it will be tomorrow anyway, so tell you what, why don't we do this. Why don't we get this whole investigation out of the way right now?" He stuck his hands in the pocket of his bathrobe, awaiting Maverick's answer.

"All right," he said, through slightly numb lips.

"Excellent. Here's how it goes. Lieutenant Commander Peter J. Mitchell, have you ever engaged in or are you now engaged in conduct unbecoming to an officer, according to the statutes governing Naval Codes of Conduct in section 14, subsection 3, paragraph 11?"

Maverick found his voice, and met his CO's eyes. "No sir, I have not," he said slowly and with emphasis.

"And your relationship with Lieutenant Commander Kazansky, has that conformed at all times to the same statutes?"

"Absolutely," he said.

"So what would be your response to the accusations of Lieutenant Junior Grade Ron Kerner, call sign Slider, that you have in fact engaged in such activities, in violation of the relevant COC statutes?"

"My response would be," Maverick said with deliberation, "that these accusations are utterly without merit. At absolutely no time have I done so, and at no time do I intend to do so. What I intend is to serve my country to the best of my ability, and to abide by all Naval Codes of Conduct in a manner befitting an officer. Sir." He held Viper's eyes, and he didn't look away.

"Then investigation closed," Viper said. "Commander Mitchell, thank you for your compliance with this investigation according to the COC and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Would you like to consult with an advocate about your experience?"

"No sir, I think I'm good."

"And is there any other pressing problem of military justice you feel I can help you with tonight?"

"Ah, no. . . no sir."

"Then, Maverick, what are the odds I can kick you the hell out of my house and try to get back to sleep? I'll worry about getting my best teaching officer back tomorrow, but for tonight, I would really like to make whatever rendezvous I can with my pillow, my blankie, and my incredibly gorgeous wife whose ass, by the way, I did in fact notice you checking out. Out you go, Maverick, door's that way."

"Yes sir."

"And Maverick."

"Sir?"

Viper was tilting his head, studying him in that frowning way he had. "A little more faith in me next time, yes?"

Maverick nodded, slowly, and shut the den door behind him. He retraced his steps down the hall—quietly—and Viper closed the front door on him. Or, almost did, because on the front step Maverick turned and stopped him, with a hand on the door. "Sir—your best teaching officer? Because I feel obliged to point out—"

"Oh for the love of Jesus. Get out of my house. Sometimes, Maverick, you're almost more trouble than you're worth." The door paused a fraction on its way shut. "Almost."

Viper clicked the door shut, and slid the lock home for good measure. The light overhead switched off. Maverick stood there a moment more, still reeling. He wasn't entirely sure what that remark about having faith meant, any more than he was sure what Viper thought about anything. For that matter, he wasn't sure what he himself thought. But he felt. . . he took a deep breath, and let it out with a quiet laugh. Alive. He felt alive.

It was the lie that Ice had been trying to protect him from. It was the lie Ice had thought he wouldn't have the stomach for, or hadn't wanted him to have to find out. And in the end, it had been so easy, so goddamned easy, to look right in his CO's eyes and lie his fucking heart out. Because that was what you had to do, no matter if the US Navy was screaming like a spoiled irrational toddler and kicking you blue in the nuts while you were trying to defend your country. And if you were looking for a thank you, if you were looking to be some sort of hero, well then that was just too damned bad. You did your job, and you went on, and if your lie was the price for the rest of America sleeping safe in their beds, well then you just sucked it up and did what had to be done. You did your fucking job. Ice had known that. And now he knew it, too. He felt invincible. He felt. . . unafraid.

He palmed his keys, jogging to where he had stowed his bike around the corner, so as not to disturb the neighborhood.

 

V.

 

"I don't know, Charlie," Ice said. "I think that one there has his eye on you."

Charlie turned and assessed the cluster at the far end of the bar, but just with the edge of her eyes. They were turning their heads and nudging. Fresh young flyboys in their dress whites, their first night in the Officers' Club at Top Gun, looking to impress.
Maverick sipped his beer and smiled; their erections were practically visible.

"Please," Charlie sighed. "I don't know, I think I may sit this one out. I just don't see any this time around that really fit my specs."

Maverick grinned. "No really good-looking brunettes out there?"

She narrowed her eyes at the bar. "I don't know, I think I'm off brunettes for a while. I'm sensing a rut."

"That's not the sort of opening a man walks away from," Ice said, leaning in to her chair. He was wearing his shades, of course, which just made him look that much more predatory. "Ready to find out if blonds really are better?"

"I have my standards. I'm not really sure you're a natural blond, Iceman."

"Only one way to find out."

Maverick grinned wider and studied the bar, tuning out their banter. The lieutenants at the bar were trying not to look at their table, over in the corner, but it was obvious they all knew it was there – the two commanders and Dr. Blackwood, out for a beer. Probably a bit like going to the movies with your mom on the back row, and wasn't that funny. He was at most two years older than most of them, if that; a couple of them might even be older. But it was rank that made you who you were, in the Navy. Well. Rank and your reputation, and his and Ice's reputations were beginning to be the stuff of legend.

I hear they do national security consultation for the Pentagon, he had heard before rounding a corridor this morning. And he had turned the corner, and an instant hush had fallen, and the men had pulled back to give him a few more inches, and though his face had been unmoved behind his shades, his eyes had smiled. Ice would like that one, all right.

They had managed to scare them all shitless at the morning meeting, but they wouldn't get them up in the air until tomorrow, and that was when they would really know what was what. He swigged off his beer and set it down.

"Okay, I'm outta here," he said. "You two stop scaring the kiddies. Four-thirty a.m.'s gonna come awfully damn soon."

"'Night, Maverick," Charlie said with a smile, and he gave her one back, because they were finding their way, this friendship thing was working out all right.

"See ya, Mav," Ice said, and he smiled like it didn't at all bother him to hear Ice say Mav in that casual way. He picked up his jacket and headed to his bike outside, and he didn't blame himself too much if he took his time getting his bike cranked, thinking maybe, just maybe this was the night Ice would come out the door and say hey, wait up. Or how about you come on over to my place for a bit. Or something like that. But he didn't, and he hadn't, not in all the ten days he'd been back. Maverick was an idiot to expect it. He told himself it was enough. It was enough that Ice was back, and that Ice was speaking to him, and if it wasn't like before, well, he could learn to live with that. He would learn to find a way. He told himself the hollow in the center of him would get filled with other stuff, eventually. Not the same stuff, but enough so that if you looked at it, it wouldn't seem empty. You would touch it, though, and know. He would know; always he would know. But that, too, was the price.

He had a new regimen, too: early to bed, early to rise. Getting up at an ungodly hour meant you hit the bed dead exhausted the next night, and there was less staring at the ceiling going on. So he stripped to T shirt and shorts, turned out his lights and fell in bed almost as soon as he got back to his apartment, and he resolutely did not think about Ice's apartment, or if he was alone in it, or if he was with a woman tonight, or if it was a man, and which one. He wouldn't think about it, but forced himself into slumber the way you might hold someone's head underwater until they stopped struggling, which was why when the hammering on his apartment door started he bolted awake in a blue panic, not sure of time or day or place.

"What the hell," he said, wrenching it open to Ice.

"What the hell are you saying what the hell to me for? It's nine o'clock at night, and you're in your p.j.'s? Jesus, Mav," he smirked. "You gonna chase me off your lawn?" And he pushed past him, sauntering in like he owned the place, flicking on lights like it was his goddamn apartment. "Well, this is bleak," he said, looking around. "College sophomore, I like it."

Maverick scrubbed at his face, trying to wake himself up, because this was Ice, and he needed his A game. "You. . . want a beer?" he tried.

Ice collapsed on the makeshift sofa that creaked under him. "Nah," he said. "Sit down, though, you're making me nervous. I really just came by to tell you something. Listen, you have a thing with making everything all your fault. It's actually a form of narcissism, but it's one that's really hard for other people to nail you on."

"Super, I like this conversation already," Maverick sighed. He perched on the crate that he used as a footstool.

"Yeah, see, like with Goose. It wasn't just you that killed him, it was actually a lot of factors contributing to that, but in your head, it was all about Pete Mitchell," he said, and Maverick tried to sit still for that one, even though it was like someone flicking a knife handle stuck in his chest. Better than it used to be. Anyone but Ice, he would have come across the room at them.

"And with me," Ice continued. "You never did get that one. That was never about something you did wrong, and you kept thinking you were doing all this shit wrong. So I thought, okay, it would be the decent thing to tell you what was actually going on, whether you have any interest in knowing it or not. It was always my problem, Mav, not yours."

Maverick squinted at him. "Your problem?"

"Yeah, my problem, genius. I tried to fix it, though. A couple of times, I tried to fix it, and it just ended up making it worse every time. I mean, look, Mav, I'm not an idiot, I realize you're not gay. I screw around with a lot of guys who're not gay, it's no big deal. My problem was, I was too. . . invested in you. I got a little overly interested, all right? Back the first time you walked in, I knew I had a problem. I just convinced myself I could handle it. And then when I knew I couldn't, after we graduated, I tried to fix it. I got myself assigned to Top Gun, where I wouldn't have to see you, and I could forget about my little. . . problem."

"Problem," Maverick repeated. He remembered telling Iceman he had requested Top Gun too, and Iceman's sudden savage laugh, the rueful shake of his head.

"Yeah, so that didn't work too well, because what do you know, here you were with me. It was like the universe was conspiring to torture me, or something. And I really, really should have kept my hands off you, but obviously that is a skill I am still working on, the whole self-restraint thing. And then—" Iceman broke off, chewing a bit on his bottom lip, and Maverick just watched him, because none of it made any sense, it was like all the same events but from upside down. He had done a 180 and was staring at the ground, kicking at sky.

"Then we were just in different places, about the whole thing, and I wanted shit you—well, let's just say shit you were not exactly equipped to give. And then, yeah, Slider decided to make some trouble, but it was nothing I couldn't handle. You think I bugged out because I was shitting myself about Slider? Come on." Ice stretched and laced his hands behind his head. "I mean, yeah, that was part of it. But I knew I needed to get out anyway. I let myself think things—come on, Mav, you had to have known what I felt."

Not a fucking clue, he tried to say, and it struck him that Ice was not wrong about the narcissism, so he kept his mouth shut, just stared. "So. It was self-preservation on any number of fronts. And yeah, I'm grateful for the chance to be back here without worrying about Slider anymore—having Viper pull rank to get me back here was a thing of sweetness, and I'm pretty sure I have you to thank for that, and though I'm not sure how you managed it, I have some ideas. So I'm here tonight because I just needed to lay the ground rules here, for us, so you know where I am on this. And where I am is, I need us to be. . . this." He gestured between them. "Like this. Buddies. Because otherwise, my head just gets in the wrong place, and—not to feed that narcissism at all, but I'm not very good at getting you out of my head, Pete Mitchell."

Maverick crossed his arms. "That's where you are on this."

"That's where I am." A shadow of something flicked across Ice's face, and only Maverick knew him well enough to catch the hesitation. It was all the opening he needed. Missile lock imminent. He got up and kicked his crate aside.

"Okay," he said. "Okay. I can respect that."

"Good."

"Yeah, I see—I see your point there. But, just like I respect where you are, you also have to respect where I am."

The hesitation was back. "Mav—I know you think—"

"You know I think? Right, because you can have actual feelings, but I just think I have feelings, huh. Well, that's okay, we'll just blow right past that. Like I said, I will respect where you are, but you are going to have to do the same for me. And there are some things you are going to have to put up with."

"Oh, really."

"Really, Kazansky. Like, for instance—" and he crossed to where Ice sat on the sofa, flopping beside him. "I might decide that I need to sit right next to you, at briefings and meetings. Like, right next to you." And he adjusted his bare thigh so it was pressing against Ice's jeans.

"Mav. Don't do this."

"No no, this is all about me just respecting where you are, and you respecting where I am. Like for another example, where I am on any given day might be here—" and he slid to his knees in front of Ice, palms planted on Ice's thighs. "I might just decide that right here is where I need to be." He ran his hands up Ice's leg. "Or maybe even closer, see? What if I decided that on any given day—"

Ice had pushed him off before his hands could get any higher, pushed him onto his back. "Fuck you, Maverick," he said, his voice not steady any longer. "You fucking tease, you think that's fucking funny, to do that to me? You think that's—"

Maverick drove off the floor and right into Iceman, right into the wall. He clearly had not been expecting it, because he made it to the wall with him, all the way, and had him pinned there, flat against the wall. "You think I'm teasing you, is that what you think?"

"What the fuck else, Mav, what is this little cockshow all about, huh?"

Maverick dropped his hands. He wouldn't have his hands on Ice like that anymore, not after last time. "This is about," he said quietly. "This is about, please, give me a chance here."

Ice's mouth had a sad little smile in its corner. "A chance for what, Mav? You don't even know the name of what you—"

"The hell I don't," he said. "The hell I fucking don't."

"Bullshit," Ice whispered, his voice taut. "You couldn't possibly—you don't have the balls—" but Maverick knew better than to let him finish. He didn't slam his mouth against Ice's, didn't insist. He put his mouth there, kissed up one side of his jaw, slid to the other with a gentle scrape of chin, brushed lips only when he thought Ice might want him to, not before, this was about Ice, only about Ice. And it might not have been permission—to the end of his life, he would never know if it really had been—but Ice's lips had parted slightly, to protest or take a breath maybe, and Maverick moved to them, put his lips on Ice's. And even then—even then—he didn't do anything but kiss his lips, and he counted in his head, one, two, three, four, five. . . he was at seventeen before Ice grabbed him and crushed him, and bam, locked and blown out of the sky, Ice was shaking and crumbling and spinning out to sea, a flat spin. Maverick was being pushed back onto the floor, and it was probably a good thing this place was carpeted, unlike Ice's, because Ice had apparently not gotten the "we are being tender and gentle now" memo.

And because no one had ever insulted his balls and gotten away with it, Maverick seized his head and pushed his mouth to Ice's ear and with the wet thrust of tongue, shoved the name of it into Ice's ear. He never knew if Ice heard it, or if the small shudder of muscle that ran down Ice's back was just because their dicks were hard and thick and starting to rub. Maverick choked back a groan at it. Ice was grinding on top of him, was the only word for it. Ice was getting a clumsy hand on his own jeans, tugging them down. Ice was peeling off his shirt, and didn't even bother peeling off Maverick's—just ran his hands up it, pushing it up until they had enough skin to skin. Ice liked to grind, he knew he did.

"I'm tired of fucking my hand," Ice groaned into his neck.

"Fuck mine instead," Maverick offered, trying to get a hand in between them, but Ice was riding him pretty hard now.

"No, I just want—wanna ride your dick, can I do that? I need to—shit, Mav, I need to come fast here."

"Do it then," Maverick groaned. It wasn't quite enough friction for him in this position, but he didn't care, it was enough to feel Ice all around him, to feel the blunt of Ice's cock pushing against him. Ice was moving fast now.

"Fuck my mouth if you want," Maverick whispered. "Or my ass. I want your dick in my ass, I want to feel it fucking me—fucking me like that, like—"

Ice's hand clutched at his throat, Ice's mouth bit at his neck, and there was a warm surge of wet between them. Ice was coughing, gasping his way through it. "Shit," he moaned, going boneless on top of him. "Didn't mean to do that, Mav. Come on, get up, I can do better." Ice was scooting off him, but then saw the heavy purpled swell of his dick and evidently thought better of hauling him up and getting him to the bedroom. Ice's mouth closed around him at once, and Maverick didn't even try not to push up from the floor and into his mouth, didn't even try not to fuck it.

"Can you—please, I—" He couldn't quite get there with his words, but Ice knew anyway.

"Hang on, I gotcha," Ice said, and he ran a finger through the cooling sticky patch of wet on his stomach and circled his hole with it, dipping it inside. Maverick came off the floor then, anything to get closer to Ice. Ice's mouth clamped, was the only word for it, and Ice's finger started fucking him.

"Ah—Jesus shit," Maverick said weakly. He stared at the ceiling fan while Ice rearranged his insides, and even his orgasm was beyond his control. It was this astonishing thing that Ice was slowly pulling out of him. The flat of Ice's finger rubbed his gland so hard he felt tears at the back of his eyes. Ice's cock, it was Ice's cock—this was exactly what Ice's cock would feel like—in messy warm heaves he was spilling into Ice's mouth. He was like some hideous convulsing spider, there on the floor, twitching and spasming with the last of it. Ice licked the last dribble of come off his dick, in a lazy and entirely lewd way. Maverick wanted to smear it on his face, rub it gently into his jaw so he smelled like Maverick's come all day tomorrow.

The fingers came out more slowly—there was a surprise, that it had been more than one. More like Ice's whole hand. He wiped his fingers on his own shirt, tossed it aside, and lay back down beside Maverick. "So," he said. "You got a bed here? Though if the décor of the rest of this place is anything to go by, my money's on a bare mattress on the floor, with maybe a dirty sheet."

"Hey. I've been washing my sheets. I've had to, what with all the babes I've had in and out of this place in the last week. It's been a revolving door."

"Uh huh. That's because they take one whiff of your carpet and are out the other side." Ice didn't seem to object to it at the moment, though; he was stretched out full length beside Maverick, examining the ceiling fan with him. "So speaking of that kind of thing," he said.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum."

"Speaking of sex, idiot."

"You have my attention."

Ice turned his head so he was looking at Maverick. "Slider and I—"

"I don't need to know."

Ice nudged him with his knee. "Yeah, I know, retard. I'm not saying it like that. What I'm saying is, I think you should know, Slider and I were never like that. I never, I mean. With him."

"Okay."

"Yeah. He—well, we went on leave together, year before last, and I wasn't as—careful as I should have been, and he saw me with—with somebody. Not a lot, right, but enough to know. And ever since, he was always—it was always there, you know?"

"Okay," Maverick said again, and he pushed out of his head the image of Ice with a supple Asian rentboy in some alley, and Ice's gasps of pleasure.

"I think in some part of him he actually expected me to make some move on him, and was somehow pissed off that I didn't. Who knows what his deal is. Anyway. So that's what all that was about."

Maverick weighed it, pondered various responses, and went with: "Okay."

"Kind of eloquent after coming, aren't you? You're a mouthy little motherfucker before, though. During, too."

Maverick laughed, rolling into Ice, and Ice laughed. "I could use some leave time," Maverick said, thinking about Ice and that beautiful rentboy again, which was stupid, it probably wasn't even in someplace exotic like Bangkok, although in his head, it probably always would be.

"Yeah," Ice said speculatively. "After this group graduates. We should have some good time saved up then, huh. Maybe we should do that. Go somewhere."

"Yeah," Maverick agreed, folding his arms behind his head. "Somewhere away from here."

"Somewhere away from the Navy."

"They have those places?"

"Hell if I know. You're asking the wrong person."

"I bet they do," Maverick mused. "I bet they've got them, all right." And in silence he spun it in his head: a high white room, a wide bed, open sky in the windows. The sky would be blue, tufts of cloud floating in it, and Ice would stand at the window, yearning at the sky. Wanting to be up there. They both would, because up there they were kings, they were the avenging finger of the hand of God, and nothing felt like it, and nothing ever would. Somewhere, there was no Navy, and no planes, and people looked at the sky and saw only clouds, but he knew neither of them wanted to be in those places.

"We should go to my place," Ice said on a yawn, and "Okay," Maverick said again, but neither of them moved. For a long time—until the moonlight lengthened through the blinds, and the evening settled into deeper silence around them—they lay like that, not finding anything to say, really: yeah and okay and what do you think, small comments punctuated with smaller laughs. A bit like being stoned, before the Navy had eradicated all memory of that.

"We should really get up now," Maverick sighed, and Ice agreed, and they lay still.

 

VI: Epilogue

"Hurry it up, will ya, Mav!" Ice shouted from the car, but Maverick ignored him and continued to slurp his slushy. Ice was still pumping gas. This was proving to be a whole new world of wonderful: road-tripping with Thomas Kazansky. The Navy had left an indelible mark there, because boy, did that asshole ever believe in timetables. Idly Maverick flicked through the rack of postcards, watching Ice pump the gas.

He had never really been serious about taking the motorcycle on the trip, of course, but he had let Ice think he was, so that he had some leverage. No one over eighteen had the kidneys to withstand two days on the road riding a motorcycle. He strayed from the postcards to the souvenir shelf, twiddling the bobble heads. The girl behind the counter was eyeing him. The flight jacket tended to do that.

He peered out the window at Ice, who was even now squeezing out the amount of gas to the exact cent he had calculated paying at this stop. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, went Ice's hand on the gas nozzle. Man, he hated it when people did that. He watched him with a rueful smile, then stuck his head out the front door and shouted at him.

"Hey! Coke or cherry?" he waved his own slushy at him, but Ice waved him off. He would get him an ice cream sandwich, then. Maybe one of those ones made out of the really rubbery cookies. He grabbed a couple of them from the case and plopped then on the counter, then grabbed a paper too—the Arizona Daily Sun.

"You from California?" the girl said as she rang him up.

"Sorta. We're on leave from there, yeah."

She nodded, sneaking another glance at the jacket. "You a pilot?"

"Yes ma'am." He gave her the patented Maverick grin, and the ma'am too, even though she was maybe sixteen. She smiled shyly back.

"My brother wants to join. Wants to do reserves in college and stuff. They don't have ROTC at the community college though."

"Mav," Ice barked from the door. "Let's get moving. We're on a schedule here."

"I'm coming, Jesus, stay clothed. Hey, I was thinking, maybe I should pick up something here for your sister's kids."

A blond eyebrow rose above the sunglasses. "Like what, a pack of smokes and some rubbers?"

"Come on, they have some fun stuff. Like this, maybe." He picked up a cactus bobblehead from the shelf behind him, and flicked its little head. It wore a little cowboy hat that spelled out A-r-i-z-o-n-a. Ice's stare was level.

"They live in Arizona, you retard. Come on, get in the car. I told Terry we'd be there before seven. Are you through here or what?"

"I'm done, relax. Be right there."

Ice shook his head and pushed back the door, setting the little bells jangling. Maverick sipped his slushy and picked up his sack, stuffing the paper in his back pocket. He could see that Ice was already back at the car, pacing around. On his way out the door, Maverick had a thought and went back to the postcards. There was one with a picture of the Arizona desert on it—a cactus, a sunset, an inset of the Grand Canyon. He plucked it out, put 25 cents on the counter.

"You don't happen to have a pen I could use, do you?" He smiled disarmingly.

"Sure thing." She watched him scrawl on the back of the postcard, but discreetly. "You writing your girlfriend?"

He grinned again. "Nah, just an old buddy. Do you have any stamps around here?"

"Over in the little blue and red box. But they're free for service members."

"Really?"

She blushed a little. "Sure. I mean, you're writing to your buddy somewhere, it seems only fair the taxpayers would help you out with that." She reached into the drawer behind the counter and handed him a stamp. He was pretty sure this was a policy she had just thought up. "So, you don't got a girlfriend?"

"Nope. 'Fraid not."

"That's a shame."

He read her nametag. "Thanks for the stamp, Mindy."

"Oh, sure thing. Listen, the mail hadn't come yet. You want me to leave this in our stack for the mailman to take when he comes?"

"I'd appreciate it. Thanks, that's nice of you."

"Mav!" Ice's bellow was audible through the thick plate glass of the doors. Idly Maverick glanced around for something heavy he could buy to chuck at his head; a tire iron, maybe, or a gallon of motor oil. Next time, it might be better just to fly somewhere, but the only time he'd tried to fly commercial in the last ten years, he'd been driven so insane by the clumsy ineptitude of the pilot's flying that he had had to literally grip the arms of the seat to keep from rushing the cabin and wresting control of the plane away from him. Flying was probably not such a good idea, for either of them.

"Have a good afternoon, Mindy," Maverick called as he headed out the door and into the blazing scorch of Arizona summer sun. He whistled a bit and waved his bag at Ice.

"You too," she said, a bit wistfully. She looked down at the postcard he had left on the counter. She told herself she was really just looking for a return address, but unfortunately there was none. She felt only a momentary pang about reading it. To: Lieutenant JG R. Kerner, she read, and then USS Farragut. She glanced over at the writing side of it.

Dear Slider,

So it turns out I was wrong, about taking your job. Turns out, I took the job you only wished you could have. It's a great job, though. You really missed out. Not that you ever had a chance at it, really. I'm just saying.

All the best,
Maverick

She looked up at the two of them getting into the car, the tall blond one and the shorter dark-haired one with the unbelievable smile. The battered red Karmann Ghia screeched out of the parking lot with the top down. She wondered what the postcard meant, and what kind of job he was talking about. Probably it was pilot slang, or something. What funny nicknames they all had too. She thought about the two handsome officers for a minute more, then went back to her People and her diet Coke. Mark Harmon was the Sexiest Man Alive, and she wanted to finish her article.