Part 4 of: The Lies We Told Each Other
Fandom: Top Gun (Movies), Thunderheart (1992)
Tom "Iceman" Kazansky/Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Sarah Kazansky/Tom "Iceman Kazansy, Sarah Kazansky/Tom "Iceman" Kazansky/Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Rick "Hollywood" Neven/Leonard "Wolfman" Wolfe, Walter Crow Horse/Ray Levoi
Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, Sarah Kazansky, Original Characters, Ron "Slider" Kerner, Leonard "Wolfman" Wolfe, Rick "Hollywood" Neven, Brigham "Harvard" Lennox, Jake "Hangman" Seresin, Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, Javy "Coyote" Machado, Natasha "Phoenix" Trace, Ray Levoi, Walter Crow Horse
Polyamory, Incest, Past Child Abuse, Jake "Hangman" Seresin Needs a Hug, Jake "Hangman" Seresin is Iceman biological son, Trans Male Character, Trans Character, Military Homophobia, DADT Repeal, Transphobia, Jake "Hangman" Seresin is Maverick biological son, Family Drama, Sarah Kazansky is Tom "Iceman" Kazansky's Sibling, Secret Relationship, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky Lives
Jake Mitchell knows never to trust anyone because people lie. Even people who say they love you lie through their teeth when it comes to protecting their own position of power. Take Vice Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, for example, who trapped Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Jake's father, in a web of lies so dense that he can't even reveal the name of his son's mother.
Posting frequency: Saturdays.
Chapter 4: Love and Other Demons
Jake learns surprising things at Pine Ridge and Lakehurst
Sarah and Pete court Tom, with the unexpected help of two people
Tuesday, August 5, 2008, 4 pm. Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
Jake parks in the esplanade between Main and Dakota Avenue and sighs. He is tired but happy to have arrived before the offices closed. As he was told by phone yesterday at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Human Resources Department, he can obtain a copy of his birth certificate and, if his mother is -or was- a member of the nation, maybe track down his family.
These two days of travel were much better than his frantic escape from San Diego. He hit the road early yesterday with a plan, money, and a hug from Brig, whom he will see at USNA in two weeks. Messages from his older brother accompanied him. His sister's bullying stopped, thanks to Bradley. He doesn't know what they said to each other, but she stopped frying his cell phone with voice and text messages.
He gets out of the car and heads to the building nervously. Will it be difficult?
Not at all. After waiting fifteen minutes, Jake approaches a glass window behind which a bored-looking official sits in front of an old-fashioned computer. He answers several questions, shows his ID card, pays five dollars, and is told the document will be ready the next day.
He smiles enthusiastically.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" -concludes the woman while looking at her wristwatch.
It's almost five.
"Yes, please. I drove here, and I don't know the city. Can you recommend a hotel?"
She looks at him carefully for the first time. Then he checks something on the screen. She bites her lower lip and sighs.
"Sorry, there are no hotels in Pine Ridge. The closest lodging is the Prairie Wind casino, but I don't think they will let you go there if you are an unaccompanied minor."
Jake feels his heart drop a little. He nods and is about to say thank you with a forced smile when another voice intervenes.
"I'll take care of it, Jane," says someone behind him.
The employee's face changes again. Sorrow leaves room for wonder. She looks back and forth between Jake and the man behind him.
"Okay, Chief," she says finally, regaining her professional attitude to say goodbye. "Do not forget that to collect your document, you must present a form of official identification. Have a good day."
And closes the window.
Jake turns around slowly. There is only a janitor, a security guard, the "Chief" and him in the waiting room.
He is a wiry, broad-shouldered man. About his uncles' age or older, with copper skin and dark hair, barely visible under a black fedora hat. He wears a police uniform and aviator glasses hanging from his shirt. He's looking him up and down, her lips set in a grimace that could mean disappointment as well as surprise.
"Well, you have grown up," he finally says.
But the stranger does not answer him. He points his right thumb at the janitor.
"Mika has to clean, and we are getting in the way. Let's go outside."
He follows him because there is nothing else to do. The office has closed, and if he refuses to leave, the man will probably just use his police authority. They would call his father… it is a situation he cannot allow.
The stranger walks to the Honda quickly and waits for him there. Jake approaches slowly.
"Is something wrong, officer?" -he forces himself to say in his most respectful tone.
"My name is Walter Crow Horse, Chief of the Tribal Police of the Pine Ridge Reservation, Oglala Lakota Territory, of the Sioux Nation. Who are you?"
"Jacob Mitchell, from San Diego, California," he answers unsurely.
Crow Horse squints.
"You told Jane Black Deer that you were from here. Which is it, Mitchell?"
Jake starts to feel scared. Was this police officer watching him while he asked for the document? Is he here because Jake is a stranger or on Kazansky's orders?
"I was born on this reservation, at Allen. But I grew up in San Diego. I came to…"
"I know why you're here," the man interrupts. "When was the last time you ate?"
The abrupt change of topic throws the boy off.
"Well... I think it was five or six hours ago. It's hard on the road, you know?"
Crow Horse shakes his head, squeezes his eyes shut, and raises his hands to the sky in exasperation.
"They are identical, identical!" -he complains.
He's clearly talking to himself, but Jake can't contain his curiosity.
"I don't understand, sir."
The dark eyes return to Jake, seeming to want to pin him on the overheated asphalt of the parking lot.
"That you are identical to your father, Jacob. Do they call you Jacob?"
"They call me Jake, sir. Do you know my father?"
"Of course, I'm your Uncle Ray's husband. You were born my house's bathroom."
What to answer to that? Jake doesn't know how to react. He doesn't know what he should feel. He stands still under the cruel prairie sun, looking at Walter Crow Horse like a messenger from another world. So, he goes with the most superficial.
"Did you say you are my uncle's husband?
"But you are a police officer."
"Are you going to repeat everything I say?"
The shocked expression on his face becomes unbearable for Walter.
"Yes, the Sioux nation is that progressive," he explains sarcastically. "We have had equal marriage since 1935."
Jake goes quiet again. Walter growls.
"There's a restaurant on Main and Dakota. Follow me," he orders as he walks toward his patrol car.
Five minutes later, they are seated at a table in the back of what appears to be the only restaurant in Pine Ridge. Well, it is a city of three thousand two hundred inhabitants, where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line. So with just one place that offers food, rents pool tables has a dance floor, and even a mechanical bull, it's enough. Yes, "Rich Chick" has no competition.
A waitress approaches with a calm gesture.
"The usual, chief?" -she asks.
"And what about you...?" -When the woman looks at Jake, her eyes go from distracted to surprised in a second.
She turns to Crow Horse with wide eyes.
"Did you finally find Ray's lost son?"
Oh! Does he look that much like his uncle? The policeman makes a disgruntled face.
"Mary, look how old he is. If he were Ray's son, he would have grown up in our house."
"Ah!" -she gestures to downplay the matter- "Is a white boy. I can never tell the age of white people." -she fixes her eyes framed in blue eyeliner on Jake- "How old are you, honey?"
"Um! No, you can't be Ray's son." -she raises his eyebrows, and her eyes light up. "Oh! You're the pretty-eyed white's baby with Ray's sister, right? The one who fixed my cousin Leo's motorcycle. What was his name, chief?"
"Mitchell," the policeman answers in a long-suffering voice while massaging the bridge of his nose, "his name was Peter Mitchell."
"That one!" -She takes Jake's face between her index and thumb fingers, moves his head from side to side, and studies him with a critical eye- "You have the same eyes as your dad, but Ray's face. The best possible mix!" -She lets him go and smiles, revealing uneven teeth- "Are you coming to look for a girlfriend? My cousin Elia is pure Sioux blood and very smart. She will go to Oglala College in the fall."
Jake looks desperately at his... uncle?
"He's not here to look for a girlfriend, Mary," Walter interrupts in a firm voice. "He came to get a copy of his birth certificate because his stupid father lost the original. Now, can you bring him the special? He is a growing boy and needs to be fed."
Mary smacks her lips but leaves without another word. Jake sees her stop at the bar to talk to other people. They immediately look at them openly.
"It is always like this?" -he asks Walter, without hiding his fear.
"No, because new people rarely come here. You must excuse Mary. It is strange and exciting that someone who was taken away as a baby returns to the reservation. Our people..." -his mouth is deformed with a bitter grimace- "Our nation has suffered a lot. You are a Seresin, warrior blood, ancient. If you don't leave tomorrow, they will bury your car in invitations to meet nice girls."
"I'm not interested in girls," Jake replies automatically.
Walter raises an eyebrow.
"Sexual orientation is not important for reproduction since we have artificial insemination."
"Yes, I already told you we are a very progressive nation."
Jake nods, uncomfortable. He nervously drums his fingers on the table.
"You... How did you know I would be in the Tribe's Human Resources Department?"
Walter looks at him with mocking eyes.
"Do you want the plausible answer or the real one?"
Jake frowns and purses his lips. He realizes that it is a false option.
It earns him an admiring smile.
"Yes, you are a Seresin. Very good. The plausible answer: your father called us all desperate when you ran away from home. Then he called more calmly. You had told your brother that you would come here to look for the truth because" -his voice becomes plaintive- "Mitchell and Kazansky have lied to you all your life."
Jake clenches his jaw, offended by the mockery. He doesn't get to say anything because Mary returns with a tray loaded with food.
"The usual, chief," she announces as she hands Walter a bottle of cider and a bowl of nuts. For you, the "Rich Chick" special: fried chicken, scalloped potatoes, corn and apple salad, and currant juice. When you finish, let me know, and I'll bring you dessert. Yeah?" -she pinches his cheek before leaving.
Jake looks at the plates and realizes that he is, in fact, starving. But...
"And the real answer?"
Ray takes a sip of his cider and looks at him seriously.
"Your uncle Ray is an exceptional man. Sometimes, he sees the future; sometimes, he sees the past, sometimes, he sees the present, but in another place. I've been waiting for you for a long time. Although he was a little wrong. He told me you would come on a Kawasaki Nomad. It's your father's favorite motorcycle, right?
The boy feels a chill run down his spine. Walter's conviction could be a performance, but the detail of the Kawasaki... He went down to the basement planning to take it, just to annoy Mavdad, but then saw Iná's Honda outside the garage and thought it was better to leave quickly.
He decides to start eating without saying anything.
He feels Walter's gaze all the time. The dark eyes detail his gestures, the use of cutlery, and how he fumbles for a napkin.
"Am I as you imagined?" -he finally blurts out, annoyed.
The policeman purses his lips, thoughtful.
"Yes and no. Physically, you are an almost perfect mix. Which makes me think..." -he shakes his head in denial- "But you're tougher than I expected, honestly."
"As tough as Rachel?"
"What do you know about Rachel?"
Jake carefully takes the photo of the couple in the meadow and puts it on the table.
"I know my father loved her."
But the man does not hide his displeasure at the image.
"Those photos should never have existed."
It's precisely the exact phrase Kazansky used, and Jake can't help but look curious.
"It's a beautiful photo."
It's all the evidence he has that his parents loved each other, he thinks.
The policeman snorts contemptuously.
"People should not be photographed against their will."
The young man feels a chill run down his spine. He's thinking about how to ask for more details, but Walter just takes a sip of his cider and continues talking without needing incentive.
"Mitchell insisted, again and again. He wanted a memory of his love, he said. That if she loved him, she would be able to do it. That she shouldn't feel ashamed of her body. The idiot!"
Jake shrinks in his seat and shoves the food away. He knows those arguments. They warned him that these types of phrases are red flags. No is no, and your partner does not have the right to force you to do things that make you uncomfortable as a "proof of love."
"But my mom... why did she...?"
He stops short of saying "accepted" because he remembers that it doesn't work that way. When these arguments are used, and people give in, it is because they see no other way out. Rachel was cornered, and his father's love was... What? Demanding? Possessive? So, was it real love?
Walter gives him a crooked smile. With his age and profession, he doesn't need to hear the whole question.
"Despair, I guess. She had been waiting for Mitchell for six months and sincerely feared that Mitchell would arrive, see the situation, and turn around. Damm! We knew it was the most likely. Mitchell had never considered the idea. He already had Bradley, right? So she gave in to every whim, every nonsense he could think of, in exchange for the assurance that your father would take care of you. Most of it was cute stuff, I admit, but this…"
"But why would my father do that? I thought he loved her."
Walter looks away, his voice becoming evocative, slightly sad.
"We are perfectly capable of hurting what we love. Especially with our ignorance."
Jake purses his lips and shifts in his seat. He gets the impression that Walter isn't just talking about Pete Mitchell now.
"To be fair. Maverick only had two weeks to take on the fact that he would be a single father. It wasn't easy for him either. In retrospect, as they say now, all parties involved were in a bad place mentally. Then we said they were screwed in the head."
The young man nods and puts the photo away carefully. This visit to the reserve has not turned out to be as he expected. At all. He has so many questions he doesn't know which one to ask first, but the most important one is how he knows if Walter Crow Horse is telling the truth? How to trust him?
"I want to meet my uncle."
"You want a lot of things, Jake. In that, you definitely act like a white man."
"Did I offend you? Would you rather prefer I tell you that you act like a spoiled child?"
Walter silences him with an imperious wave of his hand.
"You left your family full of rage. You feel your dignity hurt because you were denied just one thing. Was the surname of the person who brought you into the world worth giving up all the love they have given you for seventeen years?"
"It's my right to know!"
"It is also Rachel's right to have her privacy respected, right?"
He opens his mouth to answer but realizes he can't. Are his wishes more important than Rachel's? The photo in his pocket is like a lump of burning coal. His father forced her. He ignored the fears of the woman he claimed to love in the name of his desires. If Jake also puts himself above Rachel, what does he become?
"I'm her son. If she loved me why...?" -He lowers his eyes and looks at his hands, spread out on the stained table, clenching his fists helplessly. "Why did she leave me behind?"
"This is what you've always been told, and although it's obvious that blaming someone for your loss is more important than the truth, I'll say to you too: Rachel knew she couldn't take care of you. She left you with the only person she trusted: Mitchell."
"It's one thing to leave me with my father and another to disappear completely!" -Jake claims heatedly.
"It was her decision," Walter says calmly. "What makes you think you can get to wherever she is now and get into her life? What gives you that right?"
Again, he is left speechless. He does not know. He only knows about his desires, his constant fear of not being enough, and the feeling of being incomplete that has always accompanied him and has rarely disappeared. In the last three days, he has also felt tremendous anger. Because the only one who satisfied those cravings at times was Kazansky. His childhood dream of being in a cocoon embraced by Mavdad and Icepop has turned out to be just that: a lie, an impossible, a chimera. Thomas Kazansky never loved him; he used him, just like he uses everyone around him.
Walter makes a face, takes a cell phone from his jacket, and reads something.
"You're in luck, Ray says you can talk."
Jake feels his hopes reborn.
"So, I can see him?"
"No. I said talk. Seeing Ray..." -the policeman shakes his head doubtfully- "It's a long and complicated story, but it wouldn't be good for you."
Jake furrows his brow and narrows his eyes.
"Is he on the FBI's most wanted list or something?" -he says mockingly.
Walter's bland smile makes his hair stand. Jake swallows dry. What kind of family is this he just discovered?
"You really are Mitchell's son, unable to shut up," he complains with a tired expression. "Tomorrow, after you pick up that useless paper, come to the Allen Community Cemetery and look for the grave of Samuel Reaches." He finishes his drink and grabs his hat to leave.
"How will I know where it is?"
Walter smacks his lips.
"It is a town of four hundred and fifty people. You can't miss it. Just follow Allen Road, past the school, and you'll see the cemetery."
He leaves. Jake is left alone at the table, with more food than he can swallow, and he suddenly realizes that he has nowhere to spend the night. He cringes when he sees Mary approaching again.
"Hey, little one, you didn't tell me your name."
"Cute, cute name. Well, Jake, when you're done eating, let me know, and I'll show you to your room. You must be tired, creature."
"Yes, of course. Your uncle Ray called. He told me you need a place to sleep. Have you really been on the road for three days? Of course, you can stay in my nephew Dennys' room. He's hiking, the poor thing."
"Yes, I know. Hiking is a very strange thing, but my nephew… Well, you're not interested in that! Unless you like boys? Dennys is a very sensitive boy, and he likes nature. No, you don't have to answer me now. We close at eight, so eat slowly. Whenever you want, go pick up your things in the car, tell me and I'll show you the room. There are pictures of Dennys and Elia there. You'll see which one you like best."
Quite overwhelmed by Mary, Jake decides it's best to keep quiet, nod to everything, and eat. He finishes his hearty dinner while exchanging texts with Bradley and Brig, who are eager to know how it went.
It turns out that the room has an attached bathroom, a good mattress, and many photos attached to the wall. Dennys and Elia are, in truth, young people of excellent bearing who seem to live in perennial communion with nature and another dozen Oglala teens. He notes that communions don't include many clothes, which is a little shocking. He mentions it to Bradley and Brig in his last bedtime text.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 10 am. Navy Central Command, NSA Bahrain, Kingdom of Bahrain.
The first thing is Slider's call.
It seems casual, following established patterns of acceptable male camaraderie, but Tom realizes what it is: comfort and advice.
"And how are you doing? Something new?" -asks carelessly.
"Meh, you know, it feels like I am no longer a naval base commander. Half the time, it is like I am in one of those house renovation shows. "Redecorating Norfolk" or something like that. My wife told me to start going for walks through natural places. Now, I can understand the honking of wild geese.
Wild Goose, that's how Slider nicknamed Maverick in Top Gun because he was Nick "Goose" Bradshaw's crazy and unpredictable partner. The opposite of his sweet, domestic RIO.
"Do you see many of those over there?"
"Enough. Between climate change and the noise of airplanes, not many come close. Only the truly brave."
Tom doesn't quite know how to respond to that. He lies back and massages the bridge of his nose. So Pete stopped in Norfolk on his way to Norway. What version of the story did he tell Ron? Clearly, a very mild one or his friend wouldn't be so calm. Mostly, he doesn't understand why Slider seems to want to remind him of Mav's values.
"It sounds like your job keeps you entertained," he finally answers.
Slider lets out a short, sarcastic laugh.
"I have enough watching sailors, ships, and construction equipment, thank you very much. Wild geese don't interest me. They are animals of habit and faithful. They choose a partner for life, you know?"
Yes, he's definitely dreaming: Slider singing Maverick's praises!
"Yes, I knew something about that."
"I saw in a documentary that, after they choose a place to nest, they always return there. They face bad weather, predators, and injuries, but they always return to the nest. The persistence of those animals is a beautiful thing, don't you think?"
Tom has a lump in his throat. Why does Slider remind him of everything they've been through together? Of course, he doesn't want them to end up like this, with a wall of bitterness and resentment between them. But it's Maverick who doesn't want him anymore. He called him a "coward" on the porch of the house. Then he spent the entire Sunday acting like he didn't know him. Yes, Mav and Sarah are to blame for the photos existing, but Ice is to blame for Jake's escape.
"I think you watch too much National Geographic, friend."
"Where else would I find films that hit you, Ice?" -his voice suddenly becomes serious- "You know I love you, right?"
"Come on, Ron, don't get sentimental. It's not that time of year."
"Any time of the year is good to remind my brother that I love him. Waiting for special dates to exchange chocolates or bracelets is a girl thing, Kazansky."
"Oh! Sorry, Mr. Rear Admiral Kerner, I didn't mean to question your manhood."
"You better. As I said, I love you. All this construction and my girls leaving home made me rethink marriage and friendships. Sometimes we say hurtful things in the heat of an argument. Susanne and I have learned to talk later, calmly. We won't get divorced over one wrong word, are we?"
"True," Tom forced himself to say, although it wasn't just any word in his case.
"I thought so. Do they have geese there in Bahrain?"
The vice admiral's gaze flies to the portrait of Mav - with his back naked and his face hidden by his hair - that adorns his work table.
"My wife explained to me that now you can get records with the sound of any animal. There are scientists and shit that explain that listening to them is relaxing. I know that whales are famous, but, trust me, you better listen to the honking of the geese."
"I don't know, Ron..."
"Don't tell me you have a lot of work, Kazansky."
"Okay," he smiles.
He is about to say something else, but his assistant appears at the office door.
"Captain Galloway is here, sir."
Tom nods, stands in his seat, and searches for his pen and notebook.
"Listen, I have to leave you. My ten-thirty appointment arrived."
"Okay. I am going to sleep."
Tom is left with the phone in his hand, trying to digest what has happened. Digesting doesn't mean understanding, but he doesn't have time for that second part. Jo Anne Galloway, Captain of the Navy Legal Corps, enters and walks to sit in her usual spot. Ice pretends to study his agenda to get on the same page as the bill they're working on. Yes, he must stay busy to keep despair at bay. The Military Code of Conduct will not spontaneously begin to recognize sexual harassment!
Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 2 pm. Allen Community Cemetery, South Dakota.
The cemetery is old, and many headstones are crooked or surrounded by overgrown grass. Jake finds Samuel Reaches without much difficulty. The tombstone is a polished black stone that shines in the prairie sun. A flowering bush grows nearby. Jake kneels and deposits the bouquet of flowers he bought, entering Allen, unsure what to do. The inscription says, "Grandfather of a town and guardian of its memory. We won't be able to forget you. 1908-2005".
"He did live long and well," says a hoarse voice behind him.
Jake tries to turn, but a firm hand on his shoulder stops him.
"Still." -orders- "Walter told you we would just talk, right?"
Behind him, he hears the noises of someone sitting on the grass.
"How do I know you are my uncle?"
He responds with a soft laugh.
"Seeing me won't give you any guarantee. Maybe you can ask me something."
"Were you there when I was born?"
"Yes, we installed a giant bathtub for your birth. The squeezes I endured during those hours of labor! I thought I wouldn't be able to write by hand again after that."
"When I was little, my father told me that he took me out of the birth canal."
"He was all pale, but he did it."
"But he hesitated and my mother said something to him…she threatened him."
"Did Pete tell you that?" -sounds amazed and amused- "We were not using language suitable for minors."
"Just tell me what the threat was."
Ray sighs but relents.
"Mitchell, if you don't get your spawn out of my pussy I'll rip your head off. What colorful language, right?"
Jake smiles. Around eleven, he understood that his father's version must be censored. After watching a couple of documentaries and films depicting childbirth, he realized that Rachel couldn't be that delicate at that moment. But Ray's quote is close enough to "Mitchell, if you fail me now, I will rip every hair out of your head" to be true.
"If you're not my uncle, at least you were there that day."
"Very good, Jake. Now that we have established that we are who we say we are. What will you do?"
The young man sighs, unsure. What will he do?
They gave him a notarized copy of his birth certificate at the office. He is Jacob Raymond Mitchell, son of Peter Mitchell and Rachel Seresin. He suspects his middle name is in honor of the man behind him.
"Is it true that you see things?" -he asks with some fear.
He hears Ray inhale before answering.
"Can you see my future?"
"Right now, your parents and I are equally ignorant about your future."
Jake involuntarily cringes because that's precisely what he was wondering if Ray would tell his father what he needs to do to get him home.
"There is..." -the man stops. It has been years since he has had to explain how his gift works- "We could say that there are too many factors at play to predict a route with certainty. So don't be afraid. Make your own decisions based on what you know. It's what everyone else does."
"But you do know how it will end."
"Of course. In death."
"What!?" -the hand on his shoulder is like an iron claw and holds him steady in front of the polished tombstone.
"Everything ends in death, Jake. Didn't you know?"
"I..." -he struggles to control himself and takes a few deep breaths. "Yes, of course, I know that everything ends in death. I am not a child!" -It doesn't matter what Kazansky believes or says- "It's just that I phrased my question wrong."
Ray gives his soft laugh again, which, Jake now realizes, has a bitter note.
"Very well, this is one of the few advantages of having a psychic in the family, Jake, you can ask again."
"Yes, really," he assures him, amused.
"Not…? Doesn't it hurt you or anything?"
Ray sighs. Ah! This is genuinely Tom's son, compassionate even when he questions you.
"I haven't been asked that in many years. Your father used to ask me all the time." -he refers to Tom when they were children, but Jake thinks it's Pete- "No, it doesn't hurt. I just close my eyes and see. So, go ahead and ask."
"Will I ever know Rachel Seresin's identity?"
Jake exhales, relieved. That means there is an end to this uncertainty. Although…
"Ah! That is a complex question. Time, my little one, is more than clocks and calendars. Do you really want to know? I promise you won't like my answer."
"Haven't you ever told someone something they didn't want to know?"
"You know the answer to that question, Jake. Now, I am giving you the opportunity to move forward like the vast majority of humanity, with the uncertainty of whether you will die tomorrow. Do you really want the weight of knowing how long you're going to live? You plan to become an aviator."
"Some people would say that is an advantage."
"Those people have no idea what it is like to live in a vegetative state."
Oops! No, he hadn't considered that possibility. What if something similar to what happened to Nick Bradshaw happens to him, but he is left paralyzed by a brain or spinal injury? His father, overcome with grief, goes over everything and brings Rachel to his sickbed.
He erases the vivid, terrifying, plausible scenario from his mind with a deep exhale.
"I'll make the best use of this information, Uncle Ray, but I can't walk away without learning everything I can."
"Yes, Walter is right. You two are identical."
"Rachel and me?"
"No," he says harshly.
Ray won't betray his brother by calling him by his dead name. He can be vague but won't lie.
Jake realizes he has struck a chord and decides to change tactics.
"You said there is no limit to the questions I can ask you."
"No. I said you could ask again."
"How many?" -he insists.
Ray looks up at the sky, exasperated. Where are the inopportune cell phone calls when you need them?
"Since you insist. Today, you can ask three more questions."
"Three questions that involve your power."
"Then I can ask you everything you know as my uncle. There is no limit to these questions."
This time, the man can't contain his smile. The boy is an excellent negotiator, like Tom.
"Well done, Jake. Agree."
The teenager takes his time, trying to put his priorities in order.
"I noticed that you don't use her name. Last night, Walter always had a little hesitation in his voice before he said it. Is it because she has died?"
"So is it because she doesn't use that name?"
"When did she stop using that name?"
"This question, I don't know if you need your powers to answer it. My father belongs to a group, they are called Squad 86. Do any of them know Rachel's identity?"
Ray lets out a thoughtful grunt and takes a while to respond.
"This counts as one of the three questions. The answer is: you already know the answer."
Aha! So his suspicions were true: Ron Kerner and Bill Cortell were part of whatever happened in early 1991. The rest got the public version. He can work with that.
"My second question for your powers. My father…" -he stops, swallows dryly, gathers strength- "My father is in a relationship with another man. Is it a relationship between equals, or is he, somehow, a prisoner of that man?"
Now, it's Ray who looks at his nephew in amazement. He knew Jake's love for Mitchell was fierce, but he didn't expect his tenacity to be tempered by caution.
"I don't need my powers to answer that. Pete Mitchell is in love with two people, one is named Seresin, the other is named Kazansky."
It's strange, Ray thinks, this situation of speaking sincerely and seeing the glaring incongruity between what you say and what the other person understands.
"Just because you don't understand the idea of sexual attraction doesn't mean it doesn't exist, Jake. You're just different. The same goes for your father. Come on, you have two questions left."
The boy remains silent again for a few moments. He finally asks, afraid but determined.
"When will I know Rachel Seresin's true identity?"
"Ah! So you decided to take the risk. Again, time is not a clear line, and there are many passions around this issue. I can tell you the maximum time from today: eleven years, three months, and three weeks. I'm not sure about the weeks."
"The maximum time?"
"There is also a condition: your blood will be responsible for five aerial deaths."
But that means...
"No, not like that, please."
"I told you you wouldn't like my answer."
"Yes, you told me." -he takes a deep breath and forces himself to think like a strategist- "If I give in. If I give up my search, will anything change?"
"The time you will spend away from your family, Jake has always been in your hands. You can call right now and say, "I'm coming home." You know it."
"But then Kazansky would be right. More importantly, the conditions would still have to be met. Right?"
"Very well," -if that is his destiny- "very well."
He may have left home in the middle of the night with rage like lava running through his veins, but they are his family. He loves them. He will do anything. Five aerial kills. How the hell is he going to do that? His father only has three written down. And it was in the middle of the Cold War!
Jake uses the tombstone as support to slowly get up.
"Do you know what I'm planning?"
"I don't need my powers for that" -the tone of the response is a mixture of mockery and resignation- "You are a self-sacrificing fool, you get that from both sides of the family."
"Then, I'll save the last question for an emergency."
He starts walking towards the exit of the cemetery. After a few steps, he gives in to temptation and turns to see Ray.
There is no one there.
Thursday, August 7, 2008. Navy Central Command, NSA Bahrain, Kingdom of Bahrain.
The second thing is Sarah's letter.
It arrives by fax. Tom's assistant brings it to him in a folder marked "confidential." Upon receiving it, Tom does not understand why Elsa's eyes shine with tenderness. He waits until he is alone to open the document, as always, and is left breathless. It is a handwritten letter of several pages, with drawings in the margins.
Even before reading the content, he understands the message: Sarah shouts to the Navy that he is hers.
As the wife of a career officer, she knows there is no promise of privacy in electronic communications within official Navy channels. They are subject to constant monitoring by intelligence agencies. Even if it weren't, Tom hasn't had a fax machine in his office for years. She knew it would reach NSA Bahrain's central communications hub. Where the letter would be printed and reviewed to determine its course.
Those who received the letter know that she knows. The gesture is like an implicit look over my shoulder: "Yes, I'm intense about my husband, so what?" She tells them that she doesn't care if they read, if they are amazed, if they envy them, or if they gossip about Vice Admiral Kazansky's wife. Wow! What a firecracker, they will say. After almost fifteen years, that woman still makes little drawings in the margins of her love letters.
He immerses himself in reading.
It's nothing too salacious, and that's precisely why it makes him blush. It is an everyday account of the last two days in San Diego, full of evocative moments. Sarah sees him on every corner: she misses his opinion when selecting the daily menu, she wonders what he would think of that person in the supermarket, she ponders his usefulness when she goes to the gas station, she wants to share the film she saw last night, she misses his snoring in the bed and the noises he makes when he gets up.
It is a fragment of the life they built together, with the latent fear of what their absence would cause. It's a warning about how much they have to lose if they don't work to repair last week's disaster.
This is the most opposite of a divorce request that could exist.
It's... Ice understands as he clasps the pages filled with his wife's elegant, tight handwriting in his hands, a renewal of vows, and a plea for forgiveness.
Sarah apologizes for not protecting the photos better. It also reminds him that their relationship is not just a civil contract, an arrangement to care for his offspring, advance socially, and receive tax breaks. She loves him. He wants to shout to the world about that love, at least about the legal 50% of his love.
Will he be able to forgive?
Does what they have lived, loved, and created outweigh the shared pain of losing Jake?
Frankly, he doesn't know.
Friday, August 8, Bradley Bradshaw's Apartment, New Jersey
Jake fiddles with his phone. Literally. He turns the object between his fingers while lying on the camp bed Bradley put in his room. Outside, he can hear his older brother pacing around the kitchen while speaking to Wilson - his roommate - in short, sharp sentences.
Bradley doesn't know how to explain his presence to Wilson without going into somewhat awkward details.
Luckily, there is only a week until the USNA dorms open. They will be swamped because Jake left almost everything in San Diego. Among other things, what he had bought during the summer for his move.
It is also true that he can ask for it to be sent here. Does he want to do that?
Brad told him to rest today - the plane ride was six hours - and that they could start thinking about logistics tomorrow. But between the violent time change and the excitement of his visit to the Pine Ridge Reservation, Jake can't sleep.
Asking to send his things to New Jersey or the USNA would be perfect to reconcile or finish cutting ties.
Jake can't decide which is the best option.
As he drove down the dusty roads of South Dakota toward Rapid City, he pondered Ray Seresin's words. He will do it. Of course, he will pay the tribute they ask of him. If he had been told to work peace in Africa in exchange for Rachel's identity, he would have started searching for international relations programs in the same airport waiting room. This is not the case.
Five aerial deaths.
Fuck his destiny!
Little by little, his future begins to take shape again, but he doesn't see how his family would fit in.
First, they are iná and the sensaku. Jake loves them. He has grown up as Sarah's son, Samantha's twin, and Sean's mentor. The problem is that they will always be a reminder of the years of lies Iceman wove around him. It doesn't matter that Ray told him that his father loves the vice admiral. Kazansky has lied to Jake his entire life. He made him believe that he didn't know anything about Rachel. He saw him cry, beg, try to negotiate for information - intuitively and simply as a child could - and he was not moved. He offered comfort when he could have given him answers.
He can't go home and pretend he doesn't know the extent of Iceman's coldness.
Then there is the weight of being a nepobaby in the little world of the Navy Air Force. The Mitchell name is still cursed. Kazansky's arm is long and powerful. If Jake goes to the USNA with those two legacies at his back, his chances of seeing actual combat go down to almost zero. They will not give him some missions to punish him for Duke Mitchell's alleged betrayal and Maverick's insubordination. Others will be carefully kept away from him so that he is not in danger and to prevent Iceman's terrible wrath. Yes, he knows that too: no matter if he calls Kazansky a monster and baby thief, the man will not do anything to tarnish the perfect image he has built for thirty years. Those who want to get on his good side will try to wrap Jake in cotton balls.
But that can't be.
Five aerial kills is the price, and he will pay it.
The only solution is, then, to leave his family behind and fly alone.
Life is shitty like that. Sometimes, you have to leave some things hanging along the way. Today, regretfully, he discovers that he will hang his last name and the noisy, joyful life in the San Diego mansion where he grew up.
He gets up and looks in his backpack for a pen and a notepad: he must do a list of tasks to become Jakob Seresin.
Saturday, August 9, 2008. Navy Central Command, NSA Bahrain, Kingdom of Bahrain.
The third thing is a text message from Sean.
It's unusual because it's private. His son has had a cell phone since he entered middle school, but he was never interested in exchanging intimacies with Tom that way. They have a family chat group, where they discuss everyday things, like dishwashing shifts, and share funny images - memes, Icepop, Sam repeats in a long-suffering voice, they are memes - but Sean and Tom had only written to each other in these years when Sean needed to be picked up by his father.
The fact that Sean is writing a direct message indicates that he does not want uncomfortable witnesses. The message at four in the morning reveals that his son did not think about the time difference.
SK: Mom super blue since Monday. ETA you?
Tom blinks several times before he can understand the message. He's still a bit sleepy, and the atrocious reduction in spelling doesn't help. He responds as casually as he can.
TK: I don't know.
Sean reacts with a string of emojis that seems to indicate surprise and anger. Finally, words he can decipher.
SK: Your W = happy mom. COME BACK!
Iceman opens his eyes at the demand. Surprised. His work? Does their child imagine he is a support animal or sex doll?
TK: My job is in the Navy.
Then, to soften the blow, he adds.
TK: Your mom is not a job.
SK: WTF Icepop?!
A photo of Sarah seen through the office window follows. If the half of the image occupied by the window frame was not enough of a clue to his surreptitious origin, his wife's defeated pose would make it evident. The details are not precise due to the camera's distance and the fact that Sean did it almost blindly, but the hunched shoulders, elbows resting on the bureau, and head hidden in his hands are enough.
SK: Since Monday. 1 hour a day there. What did you do?
TK: Why does it have to be my fault?
He regrets it as soon as he sends the message, but damn! He has also spent this week sleeping between jumps. Sean takes a while to write the next message. Tom's eyes are starting to feel heavy again when the response startles him like an electric shock.
SK: You want to get divorced.
Where does Sean get that from? When he left on Monday, he thought they were Sarah and Pete who wanted to end it. He just held on with what little dignity he had left. The rest of the family acted as if Jake's departure was his fault. It is a little, but their children don't know it. They simply imitated Sarah and Pete, leaving him alone in his sadness.
Now, he won't be able to sleep again. First things first.
TK: I don't want to get divorced.
TK: Your mom doesn't want to get divorced.
He adds it right away, lest the boy go on to blame Sarah. He's hesitant about how to continue this conversation. How much of the truth can he tell him?
TK: Mom and I are sad that Jake left home. We argued on Sunday because we had different ideas to get your brother back. We disagreed. We fought.
Sean sends a long series of emojis. Is it a happy reaction? He definitely needs to get a manual on those figurines.
SK: Is it prblm? Get Jake back. You are Iceman.
He smiles sadly at his teenage son's unreserved faith. How horrible to see the day come when you will no longer be perfect in his eyes.
TK: I can't, čhiŋkší. Jake is an adult now. He will return when he decides.
Yes, that's the crux of the matter, isn't it? Their son has flown from the nest more abruptly than they would have liked, but he is ready for life. He won't come back because he doesn't need to. They shape him well, and he will not give up.
Tom doesn't know how to respond to the shocked and tearful little face. But Sean doesn't wait for him. He sends a new message to the family chat.
SK: Sam, Shabbat begins. Let's make… KUGEL 🤤
Sam: Nice! Sometimes, you have good ideas, runt.
Mav: It's not fair! They make kugel when I'm not home
SK: Iná likes kugel, we will make kugel. It's not all about you, Maverick 🙄
Sam: 😝 look for kugel in Norway
Mav: 😭 I'm on a military base surrounded by Odin worshipers. No kugel
SK: Don't cry Mavdad. Will send pics 😘
Mav: 🤩 Pics of Iná eating kugel? She is the only one with good manners
Tom smiles. Yes, it is an excellent strategy to make Sarah happy with her favorite dish. He leaves the phone on the nightstand and tries to sleep for a few more hours.
Sunday, August 9, Bradley Bradshaw's Apartment, New Jersey
Wilson leaves his room with swaying steps and heads to the kitchen for coffee. From his seat at the table, Jake looks at him curiously. Bradley couldn't explain Jake's arrival to his roommate, but he also couldn't explain Wilson's presence to Jake.
Why does Bradley need a roommate?
Why does Wilson seem to live in a state of permanent hangover, even though he doesn't drink alcohol?
Is the "rent sharing" thing a cover for having sex?
This last possibility makes him very uncomfortable. The idea of intercourse, in general, seems dirty and uncomfortable. The idea of a Navy officer living with his male lover less than ten kilometers from a Naval Base seems the height of foolishness.
Wilson sits at the table with his second cup of coffee and a cheese, ham, jelly, and peanut butter sandwich on a plate.
"Good morning," Jake answers while holding back a gesture of disgust at seeing the bread abomination.
He can't imagine his brother being interested in a guy with such preferences.
Also, Wilson and Bradley don't have casual physical contact, something Jake knows is a marker of intimacy. Most of the time, they communicate with grunts or monosyllables, and he hasn't seen Brad enter the doctor's room. Sure, Brad could go and come while Jake is sleeping, but that's a bit of a stretch. Right?
Wilson doesn't say more, and Jake decides to continue at his job. Now that he's decided to become Jacob R. Seresin, the list of things to do before Friday is long. He has half the table covered with documents and lists of instructions on how to navigate the process. He remains undecided about legally changing his name or filing a petition to use his mother's last name.
The first option is problematic because he is still a minor and doesn't want to involve Maverick. It's kind of rude to call your father after such a fight only to say, "Yo! Dad, I need you to sign a power of attorney authorizing me to forsake your name." Furthermore, it is a process that takes time.
The second option can be done on his own and in phases. It would start by filling out the "Preferred Name" option in the USNA and getting a phone line in Seresin's name. He can then apply for a new driver's license in Maryland, with the USNA address as proof of residency and the birth certificate to support his surname choice. The problem is that his link to Pete Mitchell would still be visible to those with access to USNA personnel databases. How will his father's enemies read that?
He decides to make a list of the pros and cons of each option to discuss with Bradley and Brig. He's working on it when Wilson's raspy voice interrupts him.
"It's a beautiful photo."
"The photo," he repeats, pointing with his index finger to the portrait of Jake on Rachel's tattooed chest.
He has gotten used to putting it on his work table to be close to his mother. He knows he can't show the portrait of them in the meadow. There's no point giving up the last name to put a photo of the man beside his bed! But this one is different: he and his mother are anonymous in their beauty.
"Um, thanks," he responds, surprised that this attracted Wilson's attention. "It's me on my mother's chest," he explains without hiding the pride in his voice.
"Ah! So you're a miracle baby?"
"The what I am now?"
Wilson realizes the teenager doesn't understand what he means and curses inwardly. He's been trying to leave all that behind for weeks: House, the medical puzzles, even oncology. Everything that reminds him of Amber and her death. But he is who he is and cannot help but recognize such scars.
"Your mother was a breast cancer survivor," he explains in a soft voice.
Jake's expression of utter shock tells him he had no idea. Wilson barely holds a grimace. Bradley explained that his family hid many things from his adopted brother about his biological mother to protect him. What are they protecting him from? He's not quite sure, but considering it's a military family… He doesn't like the implications. However, this is different. People should be aware of their family history of cancer to be able to act responsibly.
"What…? How do you know that?" -Jake asks, his eyes shining with curiosity.
Wilson wipes his hands on the hem of his shirt —the dubious advantages of not giving a damn about your personal image— moves around the table to sit next to Jake and takes the photo.
"Here, see those irregular lines on the skin of the torso? These scars are characteristic of a type of surgery called a mastectomy. It is used to remove all breast tissue if you have breast cancer or... When was the photo made?"
"On April 2, 1991."
"No, definitely cancer. Since the beginning of the 21st century, it has been recommended for those who have a high risk of cancer due to their family history, but in the eighties these technologies were not available."
"And do you think the surgery was done in the eighties?"
"Well, in this image from 1991, the scars are very light, which means they are several years old."
"Can't you know how old?"
The question throws Wilson off. It sounds like, what would a detective ask? He shakes his head.
"Sorry, healing patterns are always specific. There are popular beliefs that link skin color with the production of scars, but this is nothing more than racist pseudoscience."
Jake's face falls, and he feels sorry for the boy. He's obviously desperate for even the slightest bit of information about his mother.
"What I can tell you is that that surgery was performed by someone with little experience and even fewer resources."
"Yeah." -he follows the almost invisible marks left by the procedure with his fingertip- "The cuts are inefficient. They did not attempt to reduce the incisions. This means an increased risk of bleeding, infections, and, as you can see, keloid production" - he sees Jake's questioning expression and clarifies - "scarring. It looks like cancer surgery performed on a chest trauma victim."
Jake turns the explanation over in his head.
"You mean, as if she had gone to the emergency room because something or someone broke her chest and they took the opportunity to do the matex... masto...?"
"Mastectomy," Wilson repeats. "Yes something like that."
"And why did you call me miracle baby?"
"Even today, chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer can damage the ovaries and brain. In the eighties, the doses were much more aggressive. The protocol was to tell women they should forget about the stork after the diagnosis. Additionally, many types of breast cancer are sensitive to estrogen. High hormone levels during pregnancy can increase the chance that the cancer will come back. Although seeing this carnage, I doubt it. They scratched it with gusto.
"They told me that I was not planned, that neither my father nor my mother thought that pregnancy was a possibility."
"Look, Jake, it's a dangerous surgery. It is only recommended after all medical options are exhausted. The physical and psychological effects accompany patients for years. The label "miracle baby" is not scientific, but it is real."
The boy purses his lips and drums his fingers on the table. His eyes seem far away for a moment, then he looks at Wilson seriously.
"Please don't talk about this to anyone."
The doctor agrees without reservation. He doesn't know why Jake wants his silence, but people tend to be weird about cancer. If we add to that that the identity of this person seems to be a matter of national security...
The boy looks at the photo again and sighs.
"I think I'm going now."
He picks up his papers and retreats to Bradley's bedroom.
Alone, Jake closes his eyes and presses them with the heel of his hands to hold back his tears. Cancer? Mastectomy? Miracle baby? How many things will he continue to discover?
One thing is clear. He cannot show the photo to anyone else. He had already thought about it because the killer bunny tattoo is very specific, but this decides it.
Jake Seresin will only have one photo of his teenage mother.
Monday, August 11, 2008. Navy Central Command, NSA Bahrain, Kingdom of Bahrain.
The fourth thing is a postcard from Pete.
It only has his signature and a neutral “Everything is fine here.” The important thing is the image. The postcard shows a touristy, almost kitschy image of traditional Nordic-style houses on what looks like a rural street. The blue sky contrasts strongly with the snow that covers the ground and the roofs of the buildings.
How much he hates DADT right now.
His husband cannot tell him that he loves him, that he misses him, that he dreams that they grow old in discreet communion in a little house like that. Instead, they must resort to the old standby of coded postcards.
They talked about this once. Pete sitting on the bed, Tom resting his head on his thighs, relaxing after a good bath.
"I want to retire to some quiet place, where snow falls."
"Oh yeah? What for?" -he asked sleepily.
Tom is from California, and snow has always seemed foreign and dangerous to him.
"To delight me watching you chop firewood, of course."
"Of course," he smiled and turned to face him. "Is that what you are looking for at my side? Will you only love me as long as I can keep you warm?"
Pete's eyes sparkled with passion.
"I'll be here until you and Sarah throw me out on the street."
Tom made a little noise of displeasure.
"Do you think I'm stupid, Maverick?"
"Then you have nothing to fear." -he put a hand on the back of his husband's neck to pull him closer- "Come and help me light another kind of fire now, okay?"
Now, Maverick sends him the postcard and, like Sarah, takes responsibility for last week's debacle. He also reminds him of the promises made.
"Coward," the word still makes him shake. However... As Ron said, he can't let one word spoken amid pain and fear destroy their twenty years of life together. Maybe, just maybe, he won't have to lose everything.
He opens the messages app with wet eyes and sends a single text to the family chat.
TK: I hope you also make something delicious for me on Thanksgiving.
Vice Admiral Kazansky takes a deep breath, blinks several times, and opens a folder on the progress of renovations at the base.
The Sioux Nation has NOT had equal marriage since 1935. On July 8, 2019, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed a same-sex marriage ordinance in a 12–3 vote with one abstention, which amended the marital and domestic law on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that hadn't been changed since 1935.
Reference "Same-sex marriage in tribal nations in the United States"
In the 21st century and with proper medical care, it is not miraculous to get pregnant after surviving breast cancer.
Reference "Pregnancy After Breast Cancer"