July 20, 1998. Miramar, California.
They waited until they had actually dragged him down to the station to arrest Maverick, heaving him out of the car carelessly.
"If no one picks you up, you can spend tonight in here getting sober," said the mustached cop at the front desk. "Anyone you want us to call?"
Maverick rattled off Iceman's phone number and Adams threw him into one of the two cells in the back.
"Will I get time?" Maverick slurred at him, staggering backward onto a bench. He'd never actually spent time in jail before, and he was a little worried about his career, to be frank. He was already going to be facing down a suspension and a hearing (at the very least) when they found out about his DUI.
Adams shook his head. "First time offense is a slap on the wrist and a fine. Oh, and you'll have to go to First Offender's School to get your license back," he tossed out over his shoulder as he walked away.
Maverick slumped against the stone wall. Next to him was an elderly man in a suit and a young guy with a shiner.
"Hey," the owner of the shiner said, offering his hand. "I'm Hector."
Maverick shook it and blurted out his callsign before he could stop himself.
Did your mother not like you, or something? a phantom Charlie whispered in his ear. He bit his lip.
Hector didn't seem to find it strange, though, and just nodded. "So what are you in for?"
"I drank," Maverick said. "And drove," he added, in a sad, sing-songy tone.
"Oh, we all do that," said the old man.
Maverick dropped his head into his hands and pressed his palms against his eyelids, letting out a sigh. He couldn't help thinking of all the people he was fucking over - Jester, with his quietly ardent, bulldog-like loyalty, who had willingly accepted Maverick as Viper's replacement... And Iceman, whom he infuriated on a daily basis. Iceman, who looked at him like they were the only two people in the world, who forgave his shortcomings and his issues and his bullshit.
Maverick wondered how many times he could fuck up before it was one too many.
And then Nick, of course. The light of his life. His biggest, most painful regret.
He twisted in his seat so the other two in the cell couldn't see him tear up, propped his head up with his elbow and fell into a fitful, drunk, dreamless sleep.
Maverick began to stir hours later at the sound of footsteps. In the darkness there was a creak and a shuffling noise, and a soft band of light fell on his face. He glanced up to see the cop from the front desk shining a flashlight at him.
"Someone's here to fetch your sorry ass," he grunted, and stepped aside. Maverick staggered to his feet and out of the cell.
It was Iceman, standing in shadow, looking at Maverick with an expression he couldn't quite place.
"Get," said the cop, pushing him toward Iceman, who turned on his heel and headed out of the building. He waited until they were out on the pavement before turning to Maverick.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Maverick tried to hold himself together, but in that instant the little Dutch boy took his finger off the dam and all hell broke loose. He stood there, choking on his own sobs, tears streaming down his face.
Iceman stared at him.
Maverick bit down on his tongue and managed to slur, "I lost Nick."
Iceman stepped a little closer and hesitantly reached an arm out to him, and then both, and then grabbed him and held him tightly, sliding his hand through Maverick's hair and stroking the back of his neck while Maverick cried into Iceman's chest.
"I'm sorry," Iceman murmured quietly, lips brushing Maverick's forehead.
Maverick tried to get a hold of himself because fuck, this was embarrassing, but he was so very, very drunk...
They stayed like that for at least a few minutes until Iceman cleared his throat, jerked his thumb in the direction of the glass door and said, "They're going to think we're a couple of homos, Mitchell."
Maverick gave a hiccup-y laugh and backed off, listing to starboard. All of a sudden his stomach quaked and he turned and was violently ill onto the curb.
Coughing, he turned back to Iceman, who wrinkled his nose in disgust.
"Here," he said, tossing a handkerchief at him. Maverick wiped his mouth. "Keep it," he added, taking Maverick by the sleeve and dragging him toward his car. Somewhere between the crying and the vomiting Iceman had become all business again, and Maverick had the feeling he was about to get chewed out.
They pulled out of the parking lot and into the darkness. Maverick snuck a glance at his watch: it was two in the morning, and there was no one else on the road.
Iceman's head was tipped forward at a slight incline and his lips were pursed slightly; Maverick could tell he was forming sentences in his head that would not be said until they had been fully polished and arranged.
Before Iceman could speak, Maverick blurted out, "You think I took the easy way out, don't you? Staying at TOPGUN."
Iceman didn't look away from the road. His shoulders quirked.
"I didn't. I didn't... I don't think they would've broken my sp - my spirit... like teaching did..."
It was hard to form coherent sentences and even harder to express them. Maverick tried to gather himself. He fixed his gaze on the dashboard.
"I had to do every... everything their way," he murmured. "When I flinal - finally got where I am, I didn't... anymore... I don't think I'm the pilot I was ten years ago."
Iceman snorted. It wasn't particularly derisive, but it still stung.
"Things just slipped through my fingers." He clenched his jaw so as not to cry again, because he knew that Iceman was past holding him, past sympathy.
Iceman was quiet for a long time. They were almost out of San Diego before he spoke again.
"Anderson was arrested about six hours ago."
Maverick jerked to attention. "What?"
"The JAGs found evidence on his computer that, uh... suggested he had been the one embezzling funds from us. Someone made an anonymous tip because they suspected he had been taking cash from the government in exchange for getting funding cut for TOPGUN... While they were investigating, they found both."
Maverick was quiet. "Someone, huh?"
The ghost of a smirk crossed Iceman's face. "They're thinking he wasn't the only one involved. In comparison..."
"A DUI isn't that bad."
"Are you mad at me?" Maverick asked, his voice soft.
Iceman sighed slowly.
"I get a call at ten o' clock at night... This guy Pete Mitchell's down at the station, he gave us your number, do you want to come get him? I spent thirty minutes thinking maybe I should just leave you there to rot for the night. But I didn't."
He put his turn signal on.
"Am I mad at you? I think you're an idiot, sure. I think you're a reckless idiot. Fine, you're upset, you made a bad decision - I don't know what went down today and I don't want to know. I just want some stability from you for once. I'm tired of running after you."
The rest of the trip passed in silence.
They pulled up to Iceman's house in the dead silence of the early hour, inky night broken by the occasional streetlight.
Maverick got out gingerly, dimly aware of the fact that he was still in a suit. Iceman helped him inside and let him flop onto the couch like a ragdoll, then put a pot of coffee on and disappeared.
Maverick took a moment to glance around. Iceman's decor was as minimalist as ever; it didn't even feel like someone lived there.
He tipped his head back, letting his mind wander. Where would he live in Fallon? Was there even anything in Fallon?
There was thudding on the stairs and Iceman reappeared, tossing a pair of pajama pants and a shirt that said Fuck Me, I'm German on the front and Octoberfest 1994 on the back at him.
Maverick started to strip. He glanced around as he pulled his briefs off to find Iceman sneaking a peek at him. He would have laughed, had it not been for the current circumstances. Nothing ever changed with them, did it?
"Coffee's brewing," Iceman said, wandering into the living room area. "I'm going to bed."
Maverick got up.
"No. Couch." Iceman handed him a quilted blanket.
"Couch," Iceman said sternly, like Maverick was a badly behaved dog. "Sober up."
He pinched Maverick's bicep and headed back upstairs.
Maverick jerked awake for the second time that night to the sound of someone screaming.
"Wh -" he stumbled off of the couch, adrenaline pumping, heading immediately for Iceman's bedroom.
Iceman was tangled in his sheets, soaked with sweat, hollering "please no, God, no, please", his voice feverish and fearful in an awful and primal way. Maverick had heard him panicked before, had heard him scared as hell and pinned by five MiGs, but he had never heard this before, not even on that first night they'd spent together.
This was pure horror.
Iceman cracked his head on the headboard as he writhed, still half-buried in sleep, and Maverick made an attempt to grab him and hold him down. It was like trying to grab a salmon. He finally managed to pin Iceman's arms, and Iceman moaned in fear and made a gagging noise. Maverick put more pressure down on him, muscles burning with the effort.
Iceman began to quiet. The mask of sleep lifted from his eyes and he lay there, panting and shivering.
Maverick took a step back.
"W - wh -"
"It's just me," Maverick said quickly, "it's just me..."
Iceman rolled over and struggled with the sheets, peeling them off of himself. He was shaking like a leaf.
Iceman tilted his head like he wasn't quite sure where the sound was coming from.
"Are you okay?"
Iceman reached an arm out to Maverick and pulled him closer. Maverick climbed into the bed next to him. "Tom -"
He held his hand up and cleared his throat. Maverick tried to steady his own breathing.
Iceman sank back down onto his pillow. Maverick noticed for the first time how gray he had gotten around the temples, how deep the line between his eyes was.
He slid beneath the covers and reached for Iceman, grabbing his hand, murmuring hey tentatively. Iceman glanced at him. A muscle in his jaw twitched.
Maverick didn't know what else to say. He remembered nights of comforting his mother after those two somber soldiers had come to their door with that flag in their hands - we're so sorry for your loss, ma'am - and nights of soothing Nick's nightmares, but Iceman was so far away at that moment. He was on the other side of a gulf, hunkered down with his hands over his ears.
He tightened his grip on Iceman's hand.
"I'm here," he said firmly.
Iceman pulled Maverick closer to him and buried his face in Maverick's shoulder, grabbing a fistful of his shirt, still shaking like he would fall apart.
Maverick smoothed a hand over Iceman's hair.
"I'll stay," he murmured.
The following morning Maverick woke with a serious case of cottonmouth and a ringing in his ears that turned out to be the telephone. He sat bolt upright and, upon seeing that Iceman was missing, tried to leap out of the bed and went crashing to the floor, tangled in blankets.
A moment later Iceman appeared in the doorway, looking exhausted. "It's Jester," he said, handing the phone to him. Maverick fumbled his way out of the sheets and grabbed it. Iceman left the room.
"Nice to hear from you, Pete."
"Yeah, um, hey, did - did you hear about... last night?"
"Listen, with what's going down with Anderson, that's the least of our worries."
Maverick cleared his throat. "Okay. Good. That's what - um, how did you know where to find me?"
Jester chuckled. Maverick heard him light a cigarette. "I'm not as dumb as I look."
"Yeah, okay," Maverick muttered.
"Listen, I've given you a ration of shit about this, but as it stands, as long as you're not a criminal, I don't give a shit what the two of you do in the privacy of your bedroom. If we make it to Fallon in one piece, it'll be a miracle. Have a good one, kid."
"You too," Maverick muttered, getting to his feet and pulling his pants back up over his ass.
He walked into the kitchen where Iceman was bent over the sink, running water over his palms and staring out the window.
Iceman wiped his hands off on a dishrag and turned around.
Maverick set the phone down on the kitchen table.
Iceman jerked his head toward the door to the patio and departed through it. Maverick followed him, his feet chilled through his socks as they hit stone. Iceman settled into one of the peeling, white iron-wrought chairs and beckoned Maverick to him. Maverick, broad-shouldered and clumsily hungover, sat rather awkwardly on his lap. Iceman winced.
"I wish these chairs had cushions," he said. He drummed his fingers against Maverick's thigh.
"Did you think about me?" Maverick blurted out.
Iceman tipped his head to the left.
"During all that time. Before... before last May."
Iceman nodded. "I gave you some thought," he said. "There were some guys that reminded me of you - young guys, mostly. Nobody quite like you, but it was always in the back of my head."
"Why'd you come back?"
"I was done."
"Done with what?"
Iceman stared off into the distance for a minute or so before he spoke. "Dogfighting."
"Did you think about me? When you decided?"
"Is this twenty questions?" Iceman snapped. "I knew you were still working there, yes. Did it factor into my final decision? I can't say. I didn't expect we were going to fuck each other, no. Is that it?"
Maverick fell silent. Iceman let out a beleaguered sigh.
"Sorry," he said shortly.
Maverick's mouth twitched. "Fine. I know I push your buttons."
Iceman snorted and snaked his bad hand around Maverick's waist, flinching when his watch snagged on Maverick's shirt and twisted his wrist.
"Was I a good father?"
"I don't know."
"Did I deserve this?"
"How can I make that call? You know, I used to think in black and white the way you are now. But I don't know anymore. I don't know. I think Charlie hurt you and I think you're letting that hurt do the talking. It's not about your ego when there's a kid involved." Iceman pushed his hair back.
"You don't know a lot of things."
"Yeah, it's nice to admit that."
Maverick's gaze fixed on a tree a good twenty feet away.
Iceman's forehead brushed his jaw.
"You need a shave."
"And a shower. You smell like a brewery."
But Maverick lingered, missing Nick, and Iceman continued to hold him, licking the wounds he would never let anyone see, and together, they watched the sun come up over the distant ocean.
A/N: Epilogue should be up soon. Happy holidays, everyone! (insert obligatory squee about DADT being repealed, finally)