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I heard from the heavens that clouds have been grey

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Bradley is twenty-two and finally, finally at the Naval Academy – ready to prove himself to the world and especially to Maverick. He’s going to make the old man eat his words, if nothing else.

Of course, that’s when Admiral Kazansky shows up, pulling him out of class in front of everyone. Whispers erupt behind him. ‘Family Emergency,’ the admiral says as an explanation. Bradley is sure everyone’s wondering what kind of family emergency their infamous orphan could have.

He hasn’t talked to the admiral since his fight with Mav. They weren’t particularly close before anyway. Sure ‘Uncle Ice’ was around a lot but even as a kid Bradley was a little wary of the man. Mostly because his mother’s contentious relationship with him. They’d always be fighting about Mav. Back then, Bradley had instinctively taken his mothers side, even if he hadn’t understood what their disagreements were even about.

Bradley always sort of knew that Ice was mostly there because of Mav, but he was still a part of Bradley’s life since he’d been a little kid. Sitting next to Mav during piano recitals and baseball games. Hanging back with the adults during birthday parties or sending a card with fifty dollars tucked inside when he couldn’t make it. (Four card with fifty dollars inside have found their way to Bradley since he stopped talking to Maverick, but Bradley never mentions them.)

So, he can tell that the admiral is shaken as he follows him to an office, tucked away from prying eyes. Kazansky turns to him, and he looks grim.

“It’s Maverick,” he says, and it’s enough for Bradley to finally understand. There’s only one reason Iceman would come all the way to the Naval Academy to talk to Bradley. Something’s wrong with Mav, and they’re the only family he has left.

“What happened?” he asks, trying to shake off the cold grip of fear that has settled around his insides. He isn’t supposed to care about Maverick anymore, but that doesn’t stop his hands from shaking as he runs them through his hair when Iceman explains.

Mav’s been shot down. Classified mission. Bradley isn’t allowed to know where he’d been or why he’d been there. He knows the entire spiel; he’s used to it by now. Mav has been disappearing to another mission or deployment as long as he can remember, but he’d always come back. He’d been banged up pretty badly a few times, but he’d always come back on his own two feet.

Sometimes he’d be waiting for Bradley in the kitchen in the morning. Sometimes his mom had taken him to pick Mav up from the airport.

Bradley had lost his father to a training exercise and his mother to cancer. For some reason, it had never occurred to him that Uncle Mav could be taken from him to. He had told Mav to stay away from him, but that had been his choice, he’d been the one in control. If he wanted to, he could have picked up his phone and called anytime.

But now a goddamn admiral is standing before him, telling him they weren’t sure whether Mav was going to make it. That he’d been MIA for hours before they’d found him, badly hurt. That he had been rushed in for surgery that was still ongoing. That Bradley had been marked down as his next-of-kin and has the power of attorney. That if it come to it he would be the one making decisions about Mav’s health that might change the rest for his life and affect whether he would ever be up in the air again.

“I thought you were…” he choked out and stared at Ice.

Ice’s brows pinch, and he shakes his head.

“Maverick updated his files when you turned eighteen.” The way he says it makes Bradley believe that he wasn’t too happy about that.

It was typical Ice. He thought he always knew what was best for Mav and for everyone else. Bradley couldn’t deny that he was also usually correct, and right now he really, really wished all of this wasn’t resting on him.

“We don’t know how the operations went, yet,” Ice says, more gently, “but you’ll be excused from classes if you want to fly out to be with him.”

Bradley nods numbly. Even if he’s still mad at Mav, his anger has evaporated for now, replaced  by worry and fear. He knows it’ll come back in time, because Bradley is many things, but he’s not particularly forgiving.

Natasha is loitering before his dorm room when he comes back, the plane ticket Ice gave him crushed in one of his hands. She looks worried when he approaches.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she tells him bluntly.

Natasha isn’t one to hold back – ever. Usually he likes that about her, but right now he wants to do anything but talk, and she’ll squeeze every last detail out of him if she wants to. She’s a year above him, so they don’t share classes, but word must have gotten back to her somehow.

“Seresin tell you?” he grits out.

She shrugs. Jake Seresin can never keep his mouth shut. He loves being a know-it-all, and probably texted Natasha proudly because he knew something about Bradley that she didn’t.

“Just that an admiral pulled you out of class,” she explains. “What’s going on, Bradley? You really don’t look so good.”

Bradley exhales. He isn’t sure what to tell Natasha. He doesn’t even know what to tell himself. Mav has a dangerous job; he’s always known that. But right now he feels so fucking afraid that he’ll lose someone else, and this time he’ll really have no one else left.

“My…” he stops. He doesn’t even know what to call Mav. His uncle? His godfather? His former guardian? “A family emergency,” he finally says weakly, parroting Ice’s words.

If possible, Natasha looks even more concerned. Probably because he told her he doesn’t have any family anymore. She’s the closest thing he has to a best friend; she’s even invited him to her parents house last Christmas, but he hasn’t even told her the full story. About his dad and Mav and what Mav did. He hasn’t talked about it to anyone. Keeping everyone at arm’s length has become a habit he can’t seem to break, and deep down doesn’t want to break. He doesn’t want people to see his vulnerable side.

“It’s complicated. It’s my godfather,” he finally settles on. “He had an accident.”

Hopefully she won’t ask too many questions. He should have known better than that, because Natasha frowns at him. “And that warrants an admiral bursting into a lecture hall?”

 When he doesn’t explain further she relents. “Okay, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But if you need anything, just text me, okay?”

Bradley nods, grateful she decided not to pursue an interrogation.

When he spots Seresin rounding the corner with one of his cronies, he flees into his dorm room to pack. Though the dorm room doors are thin enough that he hears the entire conversation between Natasha and Seresin outside.

“Trace!” Seresin calls, even his voice obnoxious. “So what’s up with your boyfriend? He’s looking a little pale there underneath that sunburn.”

“None of your business.” Natasha has never been particularly tolerant to Seresin’s antics, and Bradley can hear the exasperation in her voice. He doesn’t doubt she’s rolling her eyes right now.

“Come on, do you know who that was? Admiral fucking Kazansky. He’s a legend. Took out some MiGs a few years back, and he was one of the best pilots out there while he was still flying.” Seresin actually sounds excited.

“So what?” Natasha asks, though she will probably question Bradley again, once she has the chance.

“So what did he want with our little Bradley?” Seresin demands.

Bradley rolls his eyes. He’s older than Seresin, which the other man is somehow delighted by. He varies between calling Bradley a baby and an old man.

“I’m just wondering whether Bradshaw has been keeping some things from us,” Seresin continues chattering at an unimpressed Natasha.

Bradley continues haphazardly throwing his essentials into a duffel bag. He pauses for a second when he realizes it’s an old one of Mav’s.

“You know why they call him ‘Iceman’?” Seresin is explaining to Natasha outside. “Because he’s ice cold. Nothing can faze him.”

Bradley remembers the light tremor in Ice’s hands earlier. If only Seresin knew. If Kazansky is really ice cold, then Mav must be his one weak spot.

Bradley pushes open his dorm room and interrupts Seresin’s monologue about the greatness of Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. Natasha instantly turns to him.

“Do you want me to drive you to the airport?” she asks.

“I have a ride,” he tells her quietly.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Seresin leans forwards until they’re nose to nose. “What’s up, Bradley? You never told me you had friends in high places!”

“I don’t.” Bradley looks at Seresin with irritation.

Natasha and Seresin trail him to the parking lot, alternating between heckling each other and trying to get Bradley to talk. Natasha with affectionate worry, and Seresin by being a damn menace. Strangely, it makes him feel more steady by the time he reaches the parking lot. His companions finally fall silent when they spot the admiral waiting for him.

“Do you have everything you need?” Ice asks as he opens the trunk. Bradley shrugs and throws his duffel bag in. He spots the driver still sitting in the car and cringes slightly. Of course Admiral Kazansky would be driven around.

Ice puts a hand on his shoulder when he straightens. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m okay,” Bradley answers briskly.

“Well, say goodbye to your friends. We’ll miss our flight if we don’t leave now.”

Bradley knows he’s bright red when Ice leaves them so say their goodbyes. The asshole really is treating him like no time has passed at all. Like Bradley is still a high school student that has to be picked up from baseball practice. Only then, Bradley thinks bitterly, Ice was driving the car himself, and Mav was waiting at home in full health, cooking one of the three dishes he had mastered.

Natasha and Seresin are gaping at him.

“Is Admiral Kazansky secretly your father?” Seresin whispers.

Natasha clacks her tongue in exasperation and slaps Seresin over the head.

“Seriously though,” she mutters as she pulls him into a hug, “you have to tell me what’s up with that at some point.”

“Alright,” he acquiesces and squeezes her once.

They separate, and it’s actually a nice moment, until Seresin opens his big mouth. “What? No hug for me?” Though he quickly shuts up when Natasha threateningly holds up her hand.

Ice is on his phone when Bradley slides into the backseat next to him.

“The surgeries are done,” he says. “Now we just have to wait and see if he pulls through.”

Then, as if he isn’t doing a complete one-eighty, he adds: “It’s good that you found friends at the academy. It can get tough, and it’s always easier when you’re not going through it alone.”

Bradley gapes. Ice really is acting as if he isn’t twenty-two fucking years old and an adult that has taken care of himself for years now.

All the memories Bradley has of Maverick are of him being strong. Even when he came back from a mission with his arm in a sling or wincing because he was aching all over, he would always greet Bradley with a grin and a hug so tight it left Bradley gasping for breath. Then he’d hug mom just as tight until she swatted at him to let her go.

But now, Mav is lying in this hospital bed, black and blue all over, hooked up to all sorts of machines. Bradley knows that Mav has been in the hospital before, and that he’d always kept the worst of his injuries from Bradley, but it’s still a shock to see him so deadly still. His chest slightly rises and falls, the only assurance that Bradley has that he hasn’t lost him yet.

The nurse points him to the chair next to Mav’s bed, and he sits down and gently takes Mav’s hand, carefully to maneuver around his IV.

Ice has stepped outside to talk to the doctor, so Bradley has a moment alone with his uncle.

“Hey Uncle Mav,” he whispers. “I’m here now so you can finally wake up.”

Not even an eyelid twitches. Bradley mouth twists as he stares at Mav until Ice comes back inside and pulls up a chair next to Bradley.

“It’s up to Mav now,” Ice says quietly. “The doctors did what they could.”

Bradley nods.

“He…” he stops himself, unsure what he even wants to say. “He looks so small.”

“You’ve been taller than him since you turned sixteen,” Ice points out.

“Not like that,” Bradley protests.

“He sometimes seems larger than life,” Ice agrees slowly, “but he’s still a person, Bradley, and people make mistakes.”

Bradley can’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. Of course Ice was going to take the first opportunity to talk about it. About the elephant in the room.

“Don’t lecture me,” he mutters.

“Who else is going to?” Ice asks.

Bradley snaps around to face him.

“I didn’t exactly choose to be all on my own,” he hisses, furious that Ice would even mention that Bradley has no family left anymore.

“You did,” is all Ice says, “when you pushed Pete away.”

It’s a low blow, even if Ice isn’t exactly wrong.

“You didn’t give a shit these past few years,” Bradley answers with a low blow of his own. “You were probably too happy that you had Mav all to yourself, huh?”

Ice’s face turns expressionless. Like Bradley’s Uncle Ice had been exchanged with Admiral Kazansky in the span of a few seconds. He looks away to study Mav again.

“I was trying to give you space.” There is no kindness in Ice’s voice anymore. “And so was Pete. But this should be a wake-up call. For both of you. If…” Ice catches himself.  “When Maverick wakes up, you two should finally make up. This whole thing has been ridiculous.”

“Why do you even care?” Bradley snaps, still feeling defensive. “You have your own family. Our family is none of your business.”

Ice leans closer. “Newsflash, Bradley,” he says, “family doesn’t ignore each other for years because of some petty reason.”

Bradley stands abruptly and turns to face Ice, who rises to meet his gaze square on.

“Mav knew exactly that joining the Navy was my biggest dream. And he ruined it for me. I wasn’t ready? He didn’t even give me a chance to try. All I ever wanted, was to be like my dad and Uncle Mav and you. But Mav didn’t believe in me. He doesn’t believe I can do it. That I have what it takes!”

“He had his reasons,” Ice protests.

“Well, he didn’t share them with me.” Bradley snaps. “If he wants my forgiveness, maybe he should explain his oh-so-important reasons first, but it’s not like he ever trusts me with anything.”

He turns away and slumps into his seat again.

“He trusts you with his life,” Ice says quietly, reminding them both of the power of attorney.

The next few days are tense. Ostensibly, Bradley is the one with the authority to make any decisions about Mav’s health (he’s the one in Mav’s files who’s written under ‘Next of kin’) but the doctors tend to address Ice over him. He just sulks by Mav’s bedside while they talk over his head. Like he really is a teenager again.

Natasha gets Seresin to send him his assignments, so Bradley spends most of his time in the hospital doing schoolwork. Ice has to go back to work, but he checks in every morning and evening to sit with Mav as well. When Bradley leaves at night to stay at the hotel Ice arranged for him, the admiral stays back to keep Mav company overnight.

Sometimes, Ice talks to Mav. It’s almost embarrassing to overhear, like Bradley is witnessing something private and intimate. He’s always known that Uncle Mav and Uncle Ice were close. Ice was Mav’s wingman, his best friend after all, and while Bradley was living with Mav the dynamic had been downright domestic at times.

Ice might be married with two kids, but Bradley has sometimes wondered if there had been something more between the two of them at some point. Now, he just listens as Ice tells Mav about his day, about his kids and wife and about pilots they both know and that are apparently getting on Ice’s nerves.

“The doctors said talking to him might help,” Ice tells Bradley at some point, so he haltingly starts talking to Mav as well. Only when he’s alone in the room with Mav and only in a quiet tone. He starts with his homework, talking about his assignments, then continues by complaining about Seresin and his wisecrack messages every time he sends Bradley the work. Eventually, he ends up talking about Natasha and his roommates and friends at the academy.

One early morning, after the nurse has left them alone, Bradley even admits how much he’s missed Mav these past years.

He and Ice both pretend he hasn’t been crying afterwards, when Ice comes in for his morning visit.

“What did the doctors say?” Bradley asks tonelessly. He doesn’t care to pretend any longer that Ice isn’t the one getting all the updates.

Ice looks pained. “If he doesn’t wake up within the next few days, the chances that he ever will are low. Statistically speaking. Brain injuries are a wildcard. He might be comatose forever or wake up after three months, but it’s unlikely.”

Bradley lowers his head. He doesn’t want to lose Mav. From the moment Ice broke the news, he’s believed that Mav would be fine eventually. Of course, he’d been scared, but deep down he had still felt assured that Mav would be fine eventually. A part of him still believes that. But another part is also getting ready to deal with the grief – again.

“We still have a few days,” Ice says, not sounding convinced himself. “Maybe he’s just taking his time.”

“Mav never takes his time,” Bradley contradicts. “He rushes into every situation without considering any consequences.”

“Don’t I know it,” Ice mutters.

It doesn’t make Bradley feel any better.

Natasha calls him that day during lunch, apparently deciding she has given Bradley enough time to come to her himself.

“Hey, Bradley,” she greets him and doesn’t continue to waste any time on niceties. “How are you? How is you godfather?”

Bradley glances at Mav as he picks at the food he got at the hospital’s cafeteria.

“Alive,” he answers shortly.

“You or him?” Natasha asks carefully.

“Both of us, I guess,” he answers, “but it isn’t clear whether he’ll wake up.”

“What happened, Bradley?” she pushes.

“I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.” He huffs a laugh. “I don’t actually know. It’s classified.”

“Okay,” Natasha says neutrally, the way she always does when she’s bursting at the seams from curiosity but is trying to be supportive.

“There’s a lot of rumors flying around here,” she adds quietly.

“Let me guess? Half of them stem from Seresin’s ridiculous speculations,”

Natasha huffs a laugh.

“He’s actually been okay about this whole thing. I told him it was a serious matter, and he actually shut up. I think he’s trying to get on your good side so he can meet Admiral Kazansky again.”

“No chance,” Bradley says.

“And you’re holding up ok?” Natasha asks, more seriously.

“I’m alright,” Bradley tells her. “I’m just at the hospital all day. I want to be there when he wakes up. I don’t want him to be alone.”

It’s too honest, but Bradley is feeling raw from his conversation with Ice that morning.

“I get that,” Natasha murmurs.

Bradley sighs. “Ice is here a lot too. Hopefully Mav is thankful,” he mutters. “We’re both putting our life on hold to sit by his bedside.”

Natasha is silent for a while. Then, “Ice, huh?”

Bradley groans, realizing he’s said to much.

“I won’t ask!” she exclaims.

They chat a little longer before hanging up. Not even an hour later he receives a text from Seresin.

Jake Seresin: Trace tells me you’ve been languishing

Bradley rolls his eyes and sends Natasha a quick text.

Bradley Bradshaw: Stop talking to Seresin!

A cheeky XD is her only response. He can’t exactly be mad at her. She’s been looking out for him these past days. He adjusts himself on the uncomfortable hospital chair and starts reading his essay to Mav.

It’s the weekend, and Ice doesn’t have to work. This mostly means that they’re sitting in Mavs hospital room, not talking each other. Occasionally either of them will talk to Mav a little bit.

Bradley feels self-conscious about doing it in front of Ice, but the admiral doesn’t seem to care. He’s explaining some sort of disagreement he’s having with Admiral Cain over a matter that Bradley is probably not allowed to know about. He does his best not to listen, but Admiralty gossip is apparently pretty juicy.

He wishes he could see Seresin’s face when he tells him that Admiral Cain called a certain Commander Anthony Biggs a skank behind his back, but of course Ice would kill him if a word of this ever left this room. So Bradley just listens, a math worksheet forgotten on the desk in front of him, and revels in the knowledge that he will always know something Seresin couldn’t even dream of. The upper ranks of the Navy are surprisingly catty.

When Mav’s machines start making noise, they’re just sitting around peacefully, nursing some coffee. Ice is on his feet and by Mav’s side immediately, Bradley on his heels. Ice lets him be the one to take Mav’s unobstructed hand, and Bradley is ridiculously grateful.

A nurse is there immediately, checking over Mav’s vitals. Then doctors and nurses start bustling in and out, whispering to each other. They stay by Mav’s side, Bradley’s heart beating in his throat.

And then, finally, Mav blinks his eyes open. He looks around blearily, trying to sit up, but Ice presses him back into the bed.

“Don’t move yet,” he orders.

“Tom?” Mav slurs.

“Yeah, Yeah. I’m here, Pete. It’s all right. Just stay still for a while.”

Bradley lets himself be soothed by the words as well as he holds onto Mav.

Mav paws at his oxygen mask, only for Ice to gently swat his hand away.

“Don’t move yet, okay? We’re right here with you.”

Mav turns to them, and he looks so, so tired, so broken and hurt that Bradley wants to cry. The Mav he’s been holding vigil over these last few days had been like a puppet version of his Uncle Mav, but now he’s finally awake again. It makes Bradley realize again how close he was to losing him.

“Bradley?” Mav squeezes his hand. “Is that you?”

“It’s me, Uncle Mav,” Bradley whispers, his voice rough.

Then a nurse swoops in, starting to check Mav’s vitals and reaction time.

Bradley is still angry at Mav, and at Ice as well. Their issues haven’t magically been resolved. But right now, as he clutches Mav’s hand, he is just glad he still has someone to be angry with at all.

Bradley and Ice stay at the hospital that night. Neither of them wants to leave Mav alone in case he wakes up again. They’re both more charitable with each other now that the worst is over. The doctors assure them that Mav waking up was an excellent sign, and that they’re positive he’ll make a speedy recovery now.

They both take turns napping on the edge of Mav’s bed. When Bradley wakes up from his nap, he feels a hand in his hair, weakly running through his curls. He glances up to see Mav watching him. He’s obviously still exhausted and pumped to the gills with painkillers, but the affection is bright in his eyes.

It makes Bradley feel like a kid again. Mav used to sit by him and card his hands through Bradley’s hair until he fell asleep. First when he had nightmares as a little kid, and again when he cried himself to sleep for a week straight after his mom’s death.

“Uncle Mav?” he whispers.

Mav’s hand stalls for a moment before he resumes his movements. Bradley turns his face into the blanket, and even though Ice is right there and even though Mav has finally woken up, he starts crying all the tears he swallowed down these past few days.

Mav’s hand is soothing in his hair, and Ice kneels next to him to wrap an comforting arm around his shoulders. They hold him securely as he cries like he hasn’t since his mom’s death. And Bradley thinks that maybe Ice had a point when he told him that he had chosen to be alone.

Eventually, Mav falls back asleep, his hand slack on Bradley’s head, but Bradley doesn’t stop crying until Ice heaves him up and tells him to get his shit together. His sobs subside into sniffles.

“You never used to be this mean,” he says childishly.

Ice rolls his eyes.

“I was,” he says. “Just not to little kids like you.”

Bradley swallows down a petulant answer and accepts the tissues Ice hands him to dry his face and blow his nose.

“What are you going to do now?” Ice asks once Bradley has gathered himself again.

“What do you mean?”

“Mav is awake; he’s going to be fine. So what now?”

Bradley stares at him. Does Ice really think this is the right moment to ask hard questions? Apparently so, because the way Ice meets his eyes is relentless.

Bradley shrugs. “I’m going to stay with him until Mav is okay again, then I’ll go back to the Academy.”

“It’s going to take months. Mav will have to do extensive PT before he can go back to a normal life. Someone has to take care of him.”

“I’ll do it.”

Ice raises an eyebrow.

“That’d be as good as giving up your spot at the Academy, Bradley. If you leave now to take care of Pete, you might not get another chance to become a pilot.”

“Uncle Mav stayed grounded for three years when my mom got sick,” Bradley argues, “and he’s got no one else to take care of him.”

“You think he’d want you to give up your dream like that, for him?”

“He’s made decisions like that over my head before, hasn’t he?”

“Didn’t feel good, did it?”

“Well what am I supposed to do?” Bradley shouts. “I don’t know what to do, Uncle Ice. Is that what you want to hear? I have absolutely no clue. What if Mav can never fly again? He made me responsible in case something ever happened to him, but I don’t know what to do!”

He buries his face in his hands. He is so damn exhausted, and Ice just keeps pushing at him. Strong arms wrap around him as Ice pulls him into another hug. Bradley only resists for a moment before sagging against his shoulder.

“You’ve been keeping everything bottled up,” Ice murmurs. “Trust me, that’s only going to make everything harder. Bradley, you don’t have to suffer alone. You never did. It’s not a weakness to ask for help or to need help. I’m here too, okay? And I’m not bailing on either of you.”

Bradley nods against Ice’s shoulder, and the man releases him.

“The last time you called me uncle, you were fifteen,” Ice remarks.

Bradley shrugs but he remembers too. It was when Mav and Ice had come to visit after his mom’s diagnosis. Eventually Ice had to leave, but Mav had stayed. Throughout mom’s sickness and after her death, he had stayed up with Bradley until he cried himself to sleep, cooked him breakfast, lunch and dinner, taken him to school and fetched him afterwards.

Instead of being up in the air where he belonged, he’d done paperwork for the Navy for years, and if push came to shove, Bradley would do the same for him.

“What am I supposed to do now?” Bradley asks, and even though he didn’t really direct the question at Ice, the man answers him anyway.

“We wait what the doctors say in the morning. They haven’t been able to say when Maverick might be discharged. Once we know, we can start planning. You should go back to school as soon as possible, so you don’t miss too much material. It’s good that you’ve been doing assignments. Maverick can stay with me while he still needs support. Sarah will be happy to help.”

“But you live in San Diego!” Bradley shakes his head. “That’s on the other side of the country, Ice.”

“We can help him better than you can,” Ice says gently. “The two of you alone in your parents house? How is that going to work? And Maverick has been living in places supplied by the Navy since you decided to rent out  that house. You can visit, you can call, but you need to focus on school first.”

Ice voice isn’t mean, but it is firm. And, of course, he’s right again. Bradley can guess why his mom had sometimes cursed his voice of reason.

“And,” Ice looks at him sternly, “once the hospital lets Pete leave, you two have to talk. Really talk about what happened.”

Bradley doesn’t protest, but he knows he’s sulking again.

“If Carole had known how ridiculous you two would be about this, she wouldn’t have asked Pete to do it,” Ice mutters.

Bradley sits up abruptly.

“What?” he asks. “What did my mom ask him to do?”

Ice holds up his hands. “Forget I ever said anything. If you want to know, ask Pete yourself. I am not getting involved in that mess anymore.”

No matter how much Bradley pushes him, Ice keeps his mouth shut. Finally, he gives up; he will not get another word out of Ice today. But he frowns as he turns the words over and over in his head.

After that, everything happens in a blur. Mav improves every day, though it’s still too slow for the impatient pilot. Ice makes most of the arrangements for them, while Bradley stays by Mav’s side for a few more days until his flight is scheduled. Mav manages to stay awake longer every day.

They talk a little, but nothing consequential. Mav tells him more about the mission than he’s allowed to, judging by Ice’s exasperation, but he still has a hard time talking at all. Often, Mav will look at him as if he wants to say something before stopping himself. Bradley is also stalling, unsure what to say to his uncle. The emotions are jumbled up inside him so much that he doesn’t even know what to feel.

In one moment he wants to curl up next to Mav and be held, the next he would love nothing more than push his success at the naval academy into Mav’s face. When he opens his mouth, he doesn’t know whether to say ‘I love you, I missed you’ or ‘I did what you thought I couldn’t do. And I did it on my own.’

So, for now he stays by Mav’s side, holds his hand and haltingly talks to him about the weather and the food.

Then, because Ice just can’t let be, he is presented with his return ticket. His flight to Annapolis is leaving in two days. When he protests that he can fly on Sunday, Ice tells him he'll need the weekend to catch up with classes properly.

“Make sure to talk to Maverick before you leave,” Ice adds, and it’s clearly an order and not a request.

Bradley doesn’t even know how to start, so he’s still brooding over it the night before his flight leaves. Ice left them to themselves with a meaningful glance, but neither of them has yet to utter a word.

Mav finally broaches the topic that has been taboo between them until now: “Ice told me you were doing well at the academy. Said you made some friends he approves of.”

“He only met them once!” Bradley protests. “He doesn’t know them at all. Besides only of them is really my friend.”

“They must have made a good impression then,” Mav says. “Do you enjoy the academy?”

Bradley wants to snap at him. Mav has no right to asks about the academy.

“It’s hard but it’s good,” he finally settles on.

“That’s good.” It’s noncommittal, and they both know it, but Mav isn’t finished yet. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m proud of you. You did well.”

Bradley fidgets. Mav’s right: he doesn’t want to hear it. He’s still too angry to let Mav be proud of him. But it’s still nice to hear it somehow.

“Tell me the truth, Uncle Mav!” he explodes. “Why did you do that back then? Why did you pull my papers? Ice said… he said something about mom. So just tell me!”

Mav groans and closes his eyes.

“Ice is an idiot,” he mutters. “Bradley… it’s complicated. Yes, your mom asked me to take care of you. She didn’t want you to go to the Navy like Goose did, because she was afraid for you.” He pauses. “And she wasn’t the only one. I thought if I did this you would be safe. You’d find something else you’d love. But… that wasn’t my decision to make.”

Mav looks him straight in the eyes.

“I’m sorry, Bradley. I’m sorry I pulled your papers. I wanted to do the right thing, but I know I hurt you, and I did a number on your career.”

“You said I wasn’t ready. That I couldn’t do it.”

“Up there, you have to shut off your brain. You have to act without thinking, let your instincts take over. Or you end up like this or worse.” Mav gestures at himself. “Do you know how many pilots I’ve seen die over the years? How many comrades I’ve lost?” He shakes his head. “I can’t stand the thought I might lose you like that, Bradley. Like I lost your father.”

“My father believed in you! Why didn’t you believe in me?”

Mav looks away.

“I was too afraid,” he says, and his voice is low and rough.

“You remember this nightmare I used to have?” Bradley asks him. “That one where we were flying together and crashed, and you died? That’s why I want to be up there, Mav. I don’t want to sit by the sidelines and watch when something happens to you. I want to fly with you, so you don’t end up like this.”

Mav is shaking his head before he finishes speaking.

“You always wanted to be in control, Bradley. Even when you were a little kid. Losing your mom made it even worse. But you have to let go of that. You can’t control what happens up in the air. If you think, you’re dead, nd your wingman might be dead along with you.”

Bradley grits his teeth. Mav sighs when he sees his frustration.

“I think you can be an exceptional pilot. Baby Goose…” Bradley looks up at the old nickname. “It wasn’t that I didn’t believe you could do it. I saw you grow up; hell, I’d say I did a good chunk of raising you. I know most people say that you’re like your dad, but really, you’re just like your mom. If Carole wanted something, she sure as hell got it. Not a lot of people can steamroll Ice if they’re out to get something, but she could. And I know you can also do anything you set your mind to.”

“I want to be like my dad, I want to be like you Uncle Mav,” Bradley blurts out.

Mav sighs.

“I know, Bradley. But… You’re all I got. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I’m afraid of losing you too,” Bradley retorts, “but I never asked you to stay on the ground. I’m grateful you did it when mom got sick, and after she passed away, but afterwards I never said a word, even though I wanted you to stay with me.”

Mavs eyes are decidedly wet now.

“C’mere.” He holds out and arm for Bradley, who cuddles up to his uncle, just like he used to.

“I’m sorry. I was afraid, and I made a mistake,” Mav murmurs into his ear. “I promise I’ll never make a decision like that for you again. I’m not gonna interfere with your life again.”

“You can interfere a little bit,” Bradley mutters into Mav’s shoulder.

“Okay,” Mav whispers and tugs him closer, “only a little bit then.”

“And I’m still mad.” Bradley knows he sounds petulant, but the last week has brought out his inner child. “But I’ll forgive you soon,” he adds more softly.

“Okay,” Mav says again. “I’ll do my best to make it up to you.”

It’s easy and hard at the same time. He wants Mav in his life; he doesn’t want to be angry at each other if something happens to either of them, but he can’t help think of the years he’s lost. Mav got in his way, and like his mom, Bradley is not very tolerant of that.

He closes his eyes until Ice comes back, satisfied to see them reconciled.