AUGUST 15, 1986
Somewhere, Maverick Mitchell’s life had taken a serious turn.
Five weeks ago, Stinger had sent Cougar and Merlin (their squadron leader and his RIO) to Miramar, California: to the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN. Maverick hadn’t thought that Cougar would accept the offer, considering how every time he went up against a MiG he’d start breathing into the comms like he was in the throes of a panic attack, but Cougar and Merlin went anyway. Goose had a theory that Stinger would’ve sent him and Maverick had Cougar refused, but Maverick wasn’t too mad about the missed opportunity. With Cougar gone, Maverick was squadron leader, and he put in more effort than he ever had in his life to make sure that Stinger wouldn’t regret giving him the job.
Three weeks later, they get the news that Merlin had been killed. Apparently Cougar lost control of the plane after he flew through another pilot’s jetwash. Maverick hadn’t known Merlin that well, but he joins Goose in sending his condolences to Merlin’s family. And then another week after that, they find out through the grapevine that Cougar had quit TOPGUN, and quit the Navy in general. The official story is that he wanted to spend more time with his wife and son, but Maverick figures that Cougar just hadn’t wanted to fly without Merlin. Maverick can understand that. He wouldn’t want to fly without Goose at his side either.
None of them have time to think about Merlin’s death or Cougar’s leaving for long, because there’s a crisis situation in the middle of the Indian Ocean that requires their immediate attention. Some of Cougar’s classmates fly in from TOPGUN to help, but Maverick is only told their names — Hollywood, Wolfman, Slider, Iceman — and who he and Goose are supposed to be backing up before they send him into the sky.
It’s one of the hardest dogfights he’s ever been in. Hollywood and Wolfman get shot down about twenty seconds in, which leaves just him and Goose and Iceman and Slider against the five fucking MiGs that come in out of nowhere. And somehow, miracle of miracles, it all works out. Three of the MiGs get shot down, the remaining two go back to where they came from, and by the time they land on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, the celebration is already in full swing.
Maverick turns around on the crowded flight deck, craning his neck and trying to spot Goose, who’d disappeared almost as soon as they’d left their F-14. Christ, sometimes he really hates the fact that he’d never broken five foot seven. He’s still walking backwards when someone knocks into him, and he trips over his own feet, falling back—
Strong hands catch him around the waist, steadying him; at the same time, Maverick reaches up to grab hold of whatever he can, which happens to be the front of his savior’s flight suit. Looking up, he opens his mouth to thank the man for catching him, but every word he knows leaves his mind the second their eyes meet.
The man who’d caught him has dark blond hair, damp with sweat and spiked up at the front, and striking blue eyes that are so pale they’re almost gray. The sunlight catches on the odd, arresting angles of his face, and the part of Maverick’s brain that isn’t short-circuiting thinks that this is the most beautiful person he’s ever seen in his life. “Hi,” he says.
Maverick swallows audibly. “Hi.”
The man helps him back to his feet; Maverick lets go of the front of his flight suit, and in turn, the man releases his waist. It’s entirely irrational and Maverick knows it, but he swears he can still feel the heat of the man’s hands on him. He can’t stop staring, nor does he want to. “So,” the man says. His voice is strangely familiar. “I, uh. I hope you’re more graceful in the air than you are on the ground.”
That brings him back to himself a little. “Hey, I’ll have you know I just helped save the day up there,” Maverick says, nodding up at the sky.
His eyes go wide, and Maverick doesn’t understand why until he says, “So did I.”
Maverick’s gaze flickers away from his face and down to his chest, where the patch on his flight suit reads ICEMAN. “Oh,” he says stupidly. He’d seen the back of Iceman’s head a couple of times at the briefing yesterday, and again today when he’d been climbing into his Tomcat, but he hadn’t expected seeing him face to face to be so overwhelming. “That was—”
“Yeah,” Iceman says. He’s staring at Maverick too, like he’s never seen anybody like him before. The distinct feeling of something clicking into place reverberates through his soul, and for a crazy moment, he wonders if Iceman feels it too. Finally, Iceman says, “Thanks for having my back up there.”
“Anytime,” Maverick manages, and he means it more than anything.
Iceman smiles at him, but before Maverick can say anything else, another man comes pushing through the crowd, throwing an arm around Iceman’s shoulders and saying something about a party, and leading him off. Iceman looks back at Maverick once over his shoulder as he’s being led away by the man who Maverick vaguely recognizes as his RIO, but soon he disappears into the crowd like he’d never been there at all.
Maverick has no idea how long he stands there on the flight deck, staring at the place where Iceman had been and being jostled by the other pilots, but then Goose appears before him. “Hey,” he says, panting. “There you are, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” His brow furrows. “Mav? You alright?”
Maverick’s voice comes out soft, like he’s caught halfway between reality and a dream. “Goose,” he says. “I think I’m in love.”
There’s a party in the mess that night — since even the command staff seems to have gotten swept up in the adrenaline and excitement of the dogfight earlier that day — and by the time Maverick and Goose get there, the room is crowded to the corners with people. Everyone’s sitting around at tables, laughing and drinking and smoking cigars, and Goose is talking to him about something or other, but Maverick’s not paying attention. He’s too busy scanning the crowd, searching for the man that he hasn’t stopped thinking about since that morning.
And then, suddenly, there he is. He’s sitting at one of the tables in the corner with Slider (his RIO) and Hollywood and Wolfman, nursing a Stoli on the rocks. Like everyone else, he’s in uniform, and there’s a smile tugging at his mouth as he listens to whatever Hollywood’s talking about. Maverick elbows Goose in the side. “Goose,” he says. “That’s him, that’s the one.”
Goose squints into the distance. “That guy? Iceman?”
“Yeah.” It takes all of Maverick’s willpower not to let out a dreamy sigh, like he’s the star of one of those soap operas that Goose likes. “Goose, I think he’s lost that loving feeling.”
“He’s lost — oh no he hasn’t.”
“Yes he has.”
“Mav, really?” Goose looks a little worried. “After the whole Penny Benjamin thing?”
Maverick winces. “I know, but he…he’s special.” God, it’s completely unlike him to say or even think something like that, but it’s true. “He deserves something special.”
“Jesus, Mav. You’ve got it bad.”
Iceman laughs at one of Slider’s jokes, and Maverick’s whole heart clenches. It feels like he can’t even breathe properly every second they’re apart from each other. “Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “I do.”
Goose glances over at him, and whatever he sees in Maverick’s expression must convince him, because he sighs and squares his shoulders. “Alright, fine. Let’s do this.”
It takes a couple of minutes to get all the necessary supplies together, namely a microphone that Goose gets from the other side of the room and Maverick’s confidence. He’s done this only once before, to limited success, and he’s suddenly so terrified of messing this up before it even begins (even if he has no idea what, exactly, this is) that he’s tempted to run out of the room and hide.
Goose leads him through the crowd, which parts for them like the Red Sea, and they come to a stop at Iceman’s table. Iceman’s back is to Maverick and he’s talking with Slider now; he hasn’t noticed them yet. Maverick clears his throat and reaches forward to tap Iceman on the shoulder. “Excuse me, Lieutenant?”
Iceman turns around, but Goose is there, saying, “Ignore him, I’ll handle this.”
Goose moves to Maverick’s left side, already snapping rhythmically, and Maverick lifts the microphone to his lips. “You never close your eyes, anymore,” he sings, and everyone in the mess turns around to look at him. “When I kiss your lips.”
“There’s no tenderness like before,” Goose sings, swaying to the rhythm, and Maverick starts swaying too. “In your fingertips.”
“You’re trying hard not to show it.” Iceman’s eyebrows have almost disappeared into his hairline, but he looks amused, and impressed, and — is it his imagination? — a little charmed. Maverick can’t hold back his grin. “But babyyyyy — believe me, I know it!”
Goose — and every pilot within a hundred feet — join him for the chorus: “You’ve lost — that lov in’ feelin’! Whoa, that lov in’ fee-lin’! You've lost that loooovin’ feelin’ — now it's gone, gone, gone.” He punctuates each word by tapping his left hand over his heart, which is pounding against his ribs loud enough to beat the band. “Whoa-oa-oh, ba-dum, ba-dum-dum-dum…”
He’s got the next three verses all planned out and ready to go, but Iceman laughs, and it’s like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. “Sit down,” he says, his eyes twinkling as he taps the chair next to him.
Maverick is happy to oblige. “Thank you,” he says to the now applauding (and definitely drunk) pilots, taking a tiny bow. “Thanks very much.”
Goose winks at Maverick before he leaves, Slider and the others joining him. Maverick takes a seat next to Iceman, who’s smiling now with every part of his face. “Well,” he says. “Can’t say I’ve ever seen a routine like that before.”
“Yeah, well.” Maverick finds himself smiling too, like their emotions are linked by puppet strings. “I’m one of a kind.”
“I can see that,” Iceman says; a little wry, but mostly fond. “Tom Kazansky.”
“Pete Mitchell. Maverick,” he corrects, because if he’s got a choice here, he’d much rather Iceman call him by his callsign and not his real name. “And you’re Iceman.”
“Ice,” Maverick repeats. He likes that. “It’s nice to meet you, Ice.”
“You too.” He takes a sip of his drink, the ice cubes clinking against his glass. He sets it down carefully, and leans in close enough that the hair on the back of Maverick’s neck stands straight up. “So, Maverick,” he says. His voice is low, velvety smooth, and it makes Maverick shiver. “Can I ask you a…personal question?”
Ice nods over at Goose, who’s standing about fifty feet away talking to Slider and the others. “Do you do that routine for everybody you’re interested in?”
Maverick reaches out, puts his hand on top of Ice’s, just so there can be no doubt about what he’s trying to do here. “Only for the special ones.”
The tension in Ice’s shoulders dissipates, and his smile, if possible, grows even wider. Maverick would take on all five MiGs from earlier singlehandedly if that was what it took to earn that smile again. “Good,” he says. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Maverick grins. “So,” he says. He takes Ice’s hand, laces their fingers together. “What do you say we go someplace more private?” Ice’s eyebrows go up, and Maverick hastens to say, “Not like that. I mean, not unless you want that. I just…it’s distracting in here.” He puts his other hand on Ice’s knee. “You’re all I want to focus on.”
Ice’s face pinkens. “Oh,” he says quietly. He puts his other hand on top of Maverick’s, squeezing it, and gives Maverick a soft smile. “Okay.”
They end up in Ice’s quarters, which are thankfully empty of all people, and they curl up on Ice’s bed together, laughing and talking about nothing and everything. Ice tells him about TOPGUN, about Annapolis, about his favorite songs — but he could have been quoting a computer manual and Maverick would have still been completely hooked. Jesus, they haven’t even done anything more than holding hands yet and Maverick is already so, so gone.
Around midway through one of Maverick’s stories — the points of which he’s trying to exaggerate as much as possible in the hopes it’ll get Ice to laugh — someone bangs on the door. “Ice,” says the voice. Slider’s voice. Plaintive, loud, and very drunk. “Ice, lemme in. Gotta go to bed.”
Maverick looks down at his watch, surprised to see that it’s already past three in the morning. “I, uh.” His voice is rough from overuse. “I should probably get going.”
“Yeah.” Ice looks just as reluctant as Maverick feels. “Probably.”
Even though Maverick wants nothing more than to stay right here and have Ice explain the world to him, he forces himself to move off the bed, to stand up. Ice follows him to the door. They’re an inch apart now. Maverick can make out every detail of his impossibly beautiful face.
And then Ice kisses him. Soft, gentle, cradling his face in his hands, and Maverick melts into it, his entire soul sighing, Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It feels so right, so perfect, Ice’s lips on his, Ice’s tongue sliding against his own—
“Ice, you better not still be fucking him in there; it’s been five fucking hours. Lemme in, come on!”
Ice snorts, pulling back from the kiss. “He’s got an overactive imagination,” he mutters, and that makes Maverick laugh.
They lean against each other, pressing their foreheads together, their arms around each other, neither of them wanting to let go. Maverick can’t even remember the last time — or any other time — he’d been so reluctant to leave somebody after a night together. (Not that their night together had been anything remotely like any of those nights.) How is he supposed to go back to his bunk now and sleep without Ice touching him?
“Can we do this again?” he asks, not caring if he sounds clingy. “Tomorrow night? My bunk, maybe. Goose won’t care.”
Ice smiles. “Yeah,” he whispers. “Sounds good.”
Maverick kisses Ice again, his hands retreating to cup Ice’s face, and then one more kiss, and — okay, one more, for real this time. Then, heeding Slider’s increasingly persistent knocking, Maverick leaves, and he doesn’t stop smiling the whole way back to his and Goose’s quarters.
Goose is still awake — if slightly less sober than he’d been when Maverick last saw him — and the grin he’s wearing could rival the Cheshire Cat. “So?” he says. “How’d it go? Give me the details!”
Maverick collapses on top of his bed. “It was…good,” he says. His lips are still tingling from that kiss. “It was really good.”
“Mav, come on, those are shitty details. What’d you do? Did you sleep with him?”
“No, we just…talked.” Maverick can feel a stupid smile spreading across his face. “And he kissed me before I left.”
Goose raises his eyebrows, looking incredulous (and somehow disappointed) at the lack of gossip. “You were just talking with him for the last five hours? That’s it?”
“It didn’t feel like five hours,” Maverick says softly. “Not with him.”
The next week passes in an almost dreamlike bliss. They spend every second they can together — sitting next to each other at briefings and meetings, holding hands under the table in the mess and ignoring the jokes from their RIOs — and at night, they go to either Maverick or Ice’s quarters and curl up in bed together, talking, kissing, and making love. Every moment he’s with Ice makes him feel like he’s walking on air, like his soul will fly out of his body and float away into the clouds. God help him, he’s never felt like this about anybody before.
Maybe that’s why it hurts like a physical blow when Goose tells him that Stinger will be coming around the next day to tell everyone where they’ll be getting stationed next. Sure, they can keep in touch through letters and the occasional phone call, but Maverick can’t even picture a world where he doesn’t get to see Iceman Kazansky every single day, doesn’t get to see his smile or hear his laugh, doesn’t get to kiss him.
They’re in Ice’s room that night. Maverick is tucked up against Ice’s side, Ice’s arm around his waist to pull him closer, drawing small circles over his hip with his thumb. He knows by now that Slider will be back within the next ten minutes to kick Maverick out, but he wants to take this moment, freeze it, and live in it forever. “I don't want you to leave,” he whispers.
He feels rather than hears the hitch of Ice’s breathing. “I know,” he says softly. “I don't want to leave you either.”
“I love you.” The words surprise him for a moment, but then again, not at all. He’s never felt so safe in somebody’s arms, never had somebody know him and understand him so innately. And no sooner does this realization pass through his mind than does another one, a stronger one: I never want to be apart from you. “Marry me.”
Ice’s hand stills. “What?”
“Marry me,” he says, and he means it even more than he had the first time. Ice sits up and Maverick moves with him, taking Ice’s hands in his. “Look, I — I know it’s sudden, I know we’ve only known each other for a week, but I…I love you, Ice. More than anything. And I want to be with you forever. For the rest of my life.” Maverick swallows hard. “Please, Ice. Say you’ll marry me.”
The room has gone so quiet that a pin dropping would have felt like a bomb going off. A terrified ache begins to form in his chest, twisting his lungs, his throat filling with cottony dread. Ice’s expression is inscrutable, and God, please don't let him have messed this up, he can’t bear the thought of accidentally ruining what has become the most important thing in the world to him—
Maverick’s entire world comes to a grinding halt. “What?”
Ice squeezes his hands back, and he’s smiling at Maverick the way he always does, open and genuine and full of a sort of fond exasperation. “Okay,” he repeats, and he gives a small, joyous laugh. “Yes. Yes, Mav. I’ll marry you.”
Relief hits Maverick so hard that his knees start shaking and the floodgates of his heart open wide, releasing a torrent of happy tears. He throws his arms around Ice’s neck and Ice catches him around the waist, pulling him close and kissing him so hard that every cell in his body feels electrified. He feels lighter than air, giddy and trembling and completely, utterly amazed. “You’re going to marry me,” he breathes.
“I’m going to marry you.”
“Jesus,” Maverick says, stunned. “Am I dreaming?”
Ice laughs, shakes his head. “You’re not dreaming, Mav.”
“That’s exactly what a dream would say.”
Ice pinches Maverick’s ass, which elicits a tiny yelp even though it barely hurt at all. “That proof enough for you?”
Maverick shrugs, trying not to smile. “I might need a little bit more.”
Ice rolls his eyes, but he leans in to kiss Maverick on the nose. “Maverick Mitchell,” he says seriously, though his tone is somewhat belied by the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “You’re not dreaming. I really want to marry you.”
Maverick’s heart is so full of love for the man before him that he could explode from the weight of it. “I love you,” he whispers. Tears spring to his eyes again, threatening to spill down his cheeks. “God, I love you. I love you so much.”
Ice’s smile now threatens to split his face. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, Mav. I love you too.”
News of their engagement has spread all over the Enterprise by breakfast, and by that afternoon, he and Ice have both officially requested to transfer to TOPGUN as instructors. Maverick had made sure to tell Goose about his plans first, feeling a twinge of guilt because it wasn’t fair to leave his RIO with no warning, but Goose just told him not to worry about it, that he’d figure it out. “Just be happy, Mav,” he’d said. “You deserve it.”
They’re married a week later, in Miramar, California. It’s a small ceremony with only Goose and Slider as witnesses, but it’s all worth it when the officiant pronounces them husbands for life and Ice takes him into his arms and kisses him in front of God and everyone. It still feels unreal that Ice actually wants to be with him, and if this is a dream, Maverick never wants to wake up.
Their afterparty takes place on the QE2, a dinner cruise that travels up and down San Diego Bay. The food is amazing — especially after months on end of eating on the Enterprise — and the view of the coast is like something out of a photograph, but nothing is better than the recurring realization that the man to his left is now his husband. Ice is his husband, and Ice loves him, and Maverick has never been happier.
Around halfway through their first course — and three quarters of the way through their second bottle of wine — a young woman with short dark hair comes up to them, hefting an old-fashioned camera and smiling. “Would you like a souvenir picture?”
Maverick glances in Ice’s direction for approval, and Ice shrugs. “Sure,” he says. His face is flushed, his eyes sparkling — maybe because of the wine, maybe because of his own happiness. Either way, he looks as impossibly beautiful as ever. “Let’s do it.”
They turn to face each other, wearing matching grins, and the camera flashes, and Maverick thinks:
This is the best day of my life.