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When Life Gives You Lemons

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          After a successful day of hops, Ice declares that drinks are on him for the night at the O Club. Despite the ongoing rivalry between him and Mav, he made no protests to him and Goose following the group. Only an idiot turns down free drinks, after all.

          They sit together in a rounded booth, all sharing stories of their adventures before Top Gun and certain shenanigans their COs would be less than impressed by. Goose's honking laughter dots the cheery atmosphere along with Slider's deep chuckles, Hollywood's megawatt smile, Wolf's strangled cackles, and Ice's own breathy snickers. Mav, for his part, watches with a smug little grin, still a bit nervous around the other guys but getting used to them. Slider and Ice are a lot nicer than that first night when it seemed like Mav was a stumbling block and nothing more, someone they could easily surpass and walk on at their convenience. 

          It seems letting his flying do the talking did some good, proved his confidence has a place here. 

          "Excuse me, sir?" 

          The group pauses, and Maverick glances up at a waitress—Patricia, her nametag says—with a glass in her hand. "Yes?" 

          Patricia smiles charmingly and motions to a small group of women at the bar. "This is from those three. They were about to go home, but said that they like your smile and wanted you to have a nice night." She also hands him a napkin. "From the brunette." 

          Mav smirks as he sees the number scrawled on it with a cheerful, looping 'Call Me ;).' "Thanks. I'll be sure to enjoy it." 

          The waitress leaves the drink and wanders back to the bar for another order. Mav sets the glass on top of the napkin, only realizing the other aviators are all staring at him when Sundown offers an incredulous, "What the fuck, Maverick? All you had to do was sit there. What's your secret?" 

          Mav chuckles when Goose nudges his shoulder. "It's because I'm pretty." 

          Goose rolls his eyes playfully. "Uh huh. You're pretty, all right. Pretty obnoxious." 

          The other guys hoot, holler, and jeer at him until a flush of embarrassment creeps up the back of his neck. Of course, that gets the rest of them started on their adventures with women, and Chipper and Slider go all moony eyed over their current girlfriends. Chipper even shows off the ring he's planning to propose with, protesting loudly when Hollywood tries to put it on. 

          "It looks great on me, don't you think?" 

          Chipper smacks him. "It only goes down to your first knuckle, you meathead. Give that back." 

          Wolf titters. "You'd make a radiant bride, Wood." 

          Goose brushes his mustache with a thoughtful rub, laughing with a beaming grin as he snaps his fingers. "You'd look amazing in peach, I think. Brings out your eyes." 

          "Really? Peach? Should both of us wear suits? Or do you want me in a dress, Chip?" 

          "I want you to shut the fuck up and give that back is what I want." Chipper puts his hand out expectantly, cradling the ring to his chest protectively when Wood gives it back with a dramatic sigh. "The next time, I stab you with a fork, Wood. And if any of you wear peach to my wedding, I'll murder you." 

          Hollywood places a hand of mock offense on his chest. "I am positively horrified that you think violence is the answer. That's not a very husbandly trait." 

          A low chuckle escapes Ice. "Personally, I'm honored that we're even invited." 

          Mav laughs and takes a sip of his drink. "I'd pay real money to see you in a dress, Wood." 

          "How much?" 

          Sundown's grin is shark-like. "Enough to buy a roll of film for photographic evidence, I would think." 

          Hollywood raises his hands in surrender. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. No one here said anything about blackmail material. If there are pictures, I'm out. You guys can keep your money." 

          Mav snickers, then grimaces as he tugs at the collar of his shirt. It's a little itchy. Wolf, Hollywood and Goose continue arguing, this time over the merits of wearing only black suits to a wedding. Slider expresses his fondness of the idea of a beach wedding, waving a flippant hand when Ice warns him about the seagulls. 

          "As long as no one brings food, I don't think the gulls are a problem. It's not like we can't have an indoor reception after the fact." 

          "You gonna make your guests drive all the way out to a beach and then drive back into town to eat cake? I don't know if the offer of cake is worth the price of gas. That's impractical." Ice splays his hands on the table, making a quick arrangement with the salt and pepper shakers and napkins. "Here's what you do. Since, hypothetically, you've already rented out the beach for the wedding, you also set up a big enclosed tent. That way, people can stand inside, and if they feel brave, they can eat outside at their own risk." 

          Mav scoffs, scratching at his neck again and sprinkling salt on Ice's napkins. "And what about the weather? If you get rained out, there's nothing you can do about it. If we're talking practical, indoors is the way to go." 

          Ice glowers at him for making a mess with the salt. "Oh, yeah? And what would you do?" 

          "Me?" Mav winces at how rough his voice comes out and takes another sip of his drink. "Fuck weddings. Waste of money. If I ever get married, I'll propose while flying an old fighter plane, and then we'll elope." 

          Goose beams at him, although he does seem amused by the idea. "Really? Wouldn't renting a plane for the proposal be just as expensive if not more?" 

          "Not if I own it." 

          "That'd be fucking amazing," Wolf muses. "Imagine flying wherever you want whenever." 

          This, of course, sparks a lively debate over which planes would be the best to own. Mav goes first, because it was his idea. He waxes poetic about the P-51 just a teeny bit, but he has a hard time paying attention after that. He starts feeling hot, and the itchiness in his throat grows worse, and while sipping his drink soothes it a little, it only grows tighter. The dim overhead lights suddenly seem too bright.

          Mav grips Goose's sleeve when the coughing starts. 

          "Mav?! Buddy?" Goose turns, tugging Mav's hands away from his throat and finding violent splotches of red, irritated skin on his neck. He tips Mav's head back and opens his mouth. "Shit! His tongue's swelled up. Ice, here's my keys. I need you to run out to my truck right now." He cuts him off before he can ask any questions. "Right now! There's an EpiPen in the glovebox! Go!" 

          Ice darts off. 

          "Slider, go call an ambulance," Goose orders, motioning the other guys out the end of the booth and laying Maverick down on the bench. He undoes Mav's shirt, pulling it away to give him space to breathe and tilting his head back to open his airways a little better. "Wolf, taste that drink the girls sent him. Tell me if there's lemon in it." 

          "He's allergic to lemons?!" 

          "Just do it!" 

          Wolf does as he's told, frowning and wrinkling his nose while he deliberates. "It's there, but subtle. I'm not surprised he didn't notice just sipping it the way he was." 

          "Fuck." Goose turns to Mav. "You with me, buddy? Can you still breathe?" 

          Mav whimpers, tears streaming down his cheeks as he gives a shaky thumbs-up. He's sweating like crazy, his entire face pink from a mix of stress and girdled oxygen supply. The rest of the guys stand anxiously at the foot of the table, the picture of concern at the sound of Mav's wheezy, struggling breaths. 

          Goose waits for Ice's return anxiously, gently massaging Mav's throat and holding one of his hands in his lap. "It'll be okay, bud. Just hang in there." 

          "Here, Goose!" Ice hollers, dashing up to the side of the table and offering him the EpiPen. 

          The RIO snatches it immediately, removing the lock, exposing the needle, and leaning over to jab it into Mav's thigh. He encourages Mav to keep breathing while they wait for it to kick in. By now, the rest of the bar's occupants stare with owlish eyes at all the commotion. Slider forces his way through the still bodies to tell them the ambulance is coming. 

          "What the hell happened, Goose?" Ice asks, concern written clearly on his features. 

          "The drink from those girls had lemon juice in it. Mav's allergic. We got to talking about planes and I completely forgot that I was supposed to taste his drink before he did." 

          Mav squeezes Goose's hand and works his jaw. 

          Goose shakes his head and wipes at the tears on Mav's face. "Don't talk. I know you're gonna say it's not my fault, but you don't need to worry about me. Your only job is to keep breathing until the ambulance gets here." 

          Slider rests a hand on Ice's shoulder when he shifts anxiously. "Lemon, though? How the fuck does he trust a drink if he goes out by himself?" 

          "Well, he doesn't drink anything that usually gets lemon in it, for starters." Goose peers down at Maverick, smiling reassuringly at him despite his reddened eyes and sucking breaths. "And, not that I'm blaming you for forgetting, because I did, too, and it's been a long time since you've had an issue, but we certainly don't just accept drinks from strangers." 

          Mav squeezes his hand again in acknowledgement. 

          Goose and the rest of the group wait with him until the ambulance arrives. While the other guys were told they didn't have to come, they all end up in the waiting room. Goose finds them there an hour later when he steps out for another drink of water for Mav. He blinks. Wolf, he might've expected. The guy's almost as much of a mother goose as Goose. But all of them? 

          It warms him a little. "Hey, fellas." 

          Ice and Slider shoot up out of their seats. "How's he doing?" 

          "He's doing okay. Stayed awake the whole time. All things considered, this was a pretty mild one."

          "Mild?" Ice's brow shoots up. "This was mild?"

          Goose shrugs. "Well, the last time we got caught off-guard like this, they had to intubate him just so he could breathe. That he was still managing before the EpiPen was a good sign. He's only got a mask right now, and I'm sure if you guys want to come back and check on him, he'd be fine with it." 

          The rest of the group jumps up and they all follow Goose back to Maverick's hospital room. Mav lays in the bed, the head pushed up and a pillow behind his shoulders. His eyes rest half-closed, the mask on his face fogging up with each breath. In the big hospital bed, he's positively tiny. It doesn't surprise Goose, since they jumped up so quickly in the waiting room, that Ice and Slider are the first to approach the bed. 

          "Hey, bud," Slider says gently. 

          Mav looks up, a confused wrinkle forming between his brows. He rubs at his eyes a little, obviously still not at one-hundred percent, but definitely better. He works his jaw, grimacing as he talks with rough slowness. "...Hey." 

          Goose settles on the edge of the bed and takes Mav hand. "You had all the guys worried, buddy." 

          "Sorry." 

          "You don't have to apologize," Ice answers, sidling up next to Goose with the rest of the group crowding in behind him. "We just wanted to make sure you were okay." 

          Mav nods, blinking tiredly as he tugs the mask down. "Tired. Throat hurts. Made Goose waste fifty dollars." 

          Goose tilts his head with a scolding glare, helping Mav sip from the fresh cup of water he brought. "It's not a waste if it saves your life, Maverick. You know I'm just gonna go out and buy another one, buddy." 

          "Yeah," Mav croaks. "I know you are." 

          "Wait. Are you talking about the EpiPen?" Hollywood interjects, shock and confusion etched into both his face and those of their classmates. "Just one of those things costs fifty bucks? You're serious?" 

          An irritable frown flickers across Goose's face. "Yep. It's pretty shitty, but what can you do?" He turns his attention back to Maverick, gently lifting the oxygen mask back over his mouth and nose and ruffling his hair. "I don't care what it costs, so long as you're okay." 

          Mav flushes, his eyes flicking nervously to the other guys in the room. He blinks, surprised, prompting Goose to have a look at what they're doing behind his back. Goose's mouth falls open into a soft 'oh' when he sees them pooling their cash together. He didn't know what he was expecting, but it wasn't that. In the end, it's Slider who sorts and stacks a lot of crumpled ones and fives and tosses them on the bed. 

          "Safety first, buddy." 

          Goose beams at them. 

          "You guys don't gotta do that," Mav manages, his voice wobbly even while muffled by the mask. 

          Ice shrugs. "Who said anything about having to? We want to." 

          "But.... You don't even like me." 

          Goose squeezes Mav's hand when tears slip down his face, staying beside him while the rest of the guys crowd even closer than before, all light reassurance and gentle teasing as they take in the sight of their resident cocky asshole breaking down in tears over the idea of people doing thoughtful things for him. He can't help a couple tears of his own, because Mav deserves that. He deserves so much better than what he was given, and it makes Nick's heart swell to see him finally getting a taste of that outside their little family. 

          It's also a little hilarious to see all the rowdy tough guys reduced to their basic big brother instincts, because as an only child, Mav really has no idea what to do with that unless it's coming from Goose. 

          Still exhausted from the events of the day, Mav eventually falls asleep, tucked between Goose and Slider on the bed. Ice and Wolf sit on either side of his legs. Sundown and Chipper replace Mav's cup of water again and find him a spare blanket. Hollywood stands beside the door, a stalwart sentinel against any outside stressors. 

          Mav sleeps on, unaware. 

          If, when Mav is cleared to fly the following day, Goose spots an EpiPen sticking out of Iceman's bag and another in Wolf's locker, he doesn't say a single word about it.