May 16, 1998. Miramar, California.

"I got a call today," said Charlie as she stepped into the kitchen.

Maverick was standing at the sink, staring out into the night as he ran a sponge over the same wine glass over and over again.

"Maverick?"

"I heard you," he muttered, shutting the water off.

"It was from the Pentagon," Charlie said, flicking her eyes over him warily.

"Another job offer?"

"Yes."

"Okay, fine," Maverick said, setting the glass down on the counter a little harder than he meant to, "fine, what do you want me to say?"

"I don't expect you to say anything."

"Then why'd you bring it up?" he demanded.

"Because I don't know what to do."

Maverick was silent as he dried his hands.

"Maverick, please."

"God damnit," Maverick snapped, "god damnit, Charlie! What do you expect me to say? You wanted to raise a family, you've been happy, I've made you happy! Now all of a sudden you're making it sound like Washington is breaking down our fucking door, you're in such high demand -"

"It's not all of a sudden, honey -"

"I sure as hell wasn't hearing about it before!"

"Please," she told him, blue eyes flashing, "please stop yelling. Nick's just in the other room."

Maverick began absent-mindedly twisting his wedding band up and down his finger, looking around the room, eyes lighting anywhere but Charlie's face. Finally he said, quietly, "I'm trying, here. I really am."

Charlie didn't answer, just shook her head as she slid a few dishes into the sink.

May 17, 1998. United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, Miramar, California.

"You seem distracted," Jester said, as Maverick shuffled a stack of papers into order.

"No, I'm okay," Maverick replied, running a hand through his dark hair.

"Well, good, because you're about to get some news and I don't know how you're gonna take it," Jester told him, as the latest group of pilots began filing into the room. They had arrived a few weeks ago, shavetail lieutenants with eager smiles, brimming with confidence. Maverick found it hard to believe he had ever been one of them.

"Huh?" Maverick replied, looking up, but Jester had already moved on, addressing the boys.

"Today, gentlemen, you will have the honor of meeting a highly decorated naval aviator, who attended this very school before taking a tour of duty around the world. He flew alongside Commander Mitchell," Jester said, gesturing toward Maverick, "and was the top of his class in nineteen eighty-six."

Maverick was still half-absorbed in thoughts of Charlie, thoughts of marriage counseling and far-away job offers and the son that he never seemed to be able to do right by, but that phrase - top of his class in nineteen eighty-six - jerked him out of his reverie.

"Please welcome Commander Tom Kazansky," Jester said, "or Iceman," and the aforementioned stepped through the door.

Maverick felt like he had been punched in the gut.

Iceman was as handsome as ever, face now lined with twelve years of sun and smiles and emotion, hair shorter, darker, uniform decorated like a store-front Christmas tree. His hazel eyes lit on Maverick for an instant, and then a smile graced his lips.

"He has most generously offered his teaching services, and we have accepted," Jester said, and stepped back, glancing at Maverick.

"Oh, have we?" Maverick muttered, but walked forward and touched his forehead in salute. "Iceman," he said.

"Maverick," Iceman replied, mirroring his salute, and smirking slightly. "Good to see you."

Maverick nodded. "You too," he said, and shook Iceman's hand. His spine tingled and he pulled away, addressing the class. "Okay, today we're going to discuss the effects the two conformal fuel tanks have on the drag ratio of the F-15E Strike Eagle," he said, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Iceman looking at him with that familiar steady gaze.