Hercules Hansen's morning consists of many things, from shoving Scott's leg off of his own so he can take a quick shower, to waking Chuck from where he is curled around Max. No matter how many times Herc tells him no dog on the bed, he will always find the sprog with his face buried in Max's fur, his ankles tangled in his favourite robot sheets every morning like clockwork.
"Wake up, Chuck."
There is something like a grumble of what might have been no and his son's mop of ginger hair burrowing itself deeper into the scruff of the dog's neck. Herc knows this routine by heart and still barely manages to pick his way through the hazardous sprawl of Lego pieces and doggy chew toys to get to the side of Chuck's bed.
"Come on, kiddo, time to get up."
"'M not a kid," comes another grumble when Herc sits down at the edge, the twin-sized mattress dipping beneath his weight. He nudges the bulldog to roll over so Chuck isn't inhaling fur; at least now he can see the kid's face when he finally opens a bleary eye. There's something like a hopeful gleam in the depths when Chuck asks, voice still thick with sleep, "…French toast?"
"Sorry, Chuck." He ruffles his hair and attempts to separate boy from dog with little success. "Your Uncle Scott's on leave starting today. How about you ask him when you come back from school and let him sleep in for a lil'bit?"
"I want French toast."
"You can have toast."
"I don't want toast."
"Well, there's only toast."
The staring contest doesn't last long, it never does. Chuck may be a persistent child but he takes it all from his dad, raised from the cradle with a stubborn attitude that rivals most, if not all, of the Hansens' men before them.
"Up, Chuck, or else you won't even have time for brekkie."
Herc stands up with one last ruffle to the boy's hair and clicks his tongue for Max to follow (because Chuck means petting, Herc means food, and Scott means a belly rub with the man's feet when he is lying sprawled on the couch of the living room, one leg dangling over the edge). Right now, food is of utmost importance to the dog.
Hercules Hansen's morning consists of many things, from filling Max's bowl with bulk dog food to throwing a lunch together for Chuck to bring to school. By the time Chuck is dropping his backpack by the door, Herc is sliding an egg on top of the slices of tomatoes layered on the toast. But there is still a good minute where Chuck just sits at the kitchen table staring at the toast like its existence personally offends him. Herc rolls his eyes and gives it another minute before his son begins to eat, only making the most minor of faces when he finds the tomato hidden beneath the eggs.
He watches as his son eats with slight amusement, wondering with half a mind what Scott puts in his French toast and why Chuck is just a little more than a bit obsessed with it.
"Leave the plate, I'll clean up when I get back, you're going to be late."
Herc ushers Chuck from the chair as soon as he is finished his breakfast, gets him into his pickup truck, double checks that the kid has his lunch in his backpack, and has him buckled in his seat all in record time.
Herc is backing out of his garage just as a moving truck turns into the driveway of the house next door to theirs.
"Did you know we have new neighbours?"
Scott is standing next to the opened patio doors without a shirt, trying to peer over the fence to the house next door with little success when Herc walks into the kitchen. There is a jar of Vegemite opened on the counter, and the man has a piece of toast in one hand while the other scratches at the skin just above the waistband of his sleeping pants.
Herc doesn't dignify the state of his brother with a second glance, just tosses the keys to the pickup truck in the dog-shaped paper-maché bowl Chuck made when he was in preschool. "Moved in just this morning."
"Huh." Scott takes a bite of his toast and chews, the silence almost pensive if Herc hasn't known him all his life and dealt with the amount of shit that comes out of his mouth all the same. It doesn't take long, it never does, but at least the man has swallowed his food before continuing. "Does that mean we need to be neighbourly and bring over a pie or something?"
"We don't bake."
"We hardly even cook." Scott supplies, opening a cupboard to eye the family-sized cereal box, and the alternating cans of tuna and pre-made tomato sauce lining the shelves.
"Oi, Chuck wants French toast."
"How'd you talk the kid out of it?"
"That he could have toast or nothing." Herc replies distractedly as he cleans up the breadcrumbs all over the countertop.
"I'd say you should never be a dad if you weren't already one, 'cause that's some grade A parenting, Herc."
"I'm the one who got the World's Best Dad cup for Father's Day."
Scott chuckles as he puts the Vegemite away in the cupboard. "I don't think Chuck has another dad to give it to."
Setting the dishes into the sink along side of the greasy pan, Herc begins to wash, deliberately ignoring the disgusting way Scott drinks milk straight from the carton. He doesn't hear the sound of the fridge closing over the sound of the water running but it has been years where it's just the two of them.
It's second nature for Herc to sink back against his brother when Scott wraps his arms around his waist from behind.
When the door swings open, the woman standing there has hair the colour of a wild fire, one pierced eyebrow raised at the sight of them. The Hansens can't imagine what they must look like, probably just that neither party is like what the other expects when their new neighbour is opening her door to two men standing on her front steps.
"Welcome to the Pan Pacific District," Herc starts with a tentative smile as he introduces himself, "I'm Herc, this is Scott. We live right next door."
"We can't bake so we brought booze." Scott offers, holding up a bottle that he is only noticing now to look just like the one he's stashed under the sink. Apparently Herc does know where Scott keeps the good booze.
"Nice." She takes the bottle from his offering hands and grins at the year. "I'm Tamsin, Tamsin Sevier. And that," she jerks a thumb behind her at the man that has finally found his way to the front door, "that's Stacker."
"Stacker Pentecost." He introduces himself just as Tamsin motions to them, "Herc, Scott."
"Hansen," Herc supplies with a smile and shakes the man's hand, he is tall and his grip is strong. He carries a presence Herc distinctly recognizes as military even though it's been years since he's served.
"It's been more than a week since we've moved in but we are still putting most of our things away. You are welcome to come in."
"Still cleaner than our place on a good day." Herc murmurs with an exasperated shake of his head, eliciting a small laugh from both of their new neighbours.
"So… where're you from?" Scott asks as the two of them lead them through the hall, cramped with unpacked boxes stacked up against the walls.
"Like that wasn't obvious from the way we sound." Tamsin answers with a roll of her eyes.
"My sister, Luna, is also living with us but she is still wrapping things up with the RAF back in London."
Scott laughs, "Small world, we're RAAF."
"Ex-RAAF." Herc corrects when he gestures to himself. "Haven't been on the force since Chuck was an ankle-biter."
Herc nods, mouth tilting at the corner into a faint smile.
Tamsin sighs dramatically as she pours all of them something to drink, "Just show them Mako's picture in your wallet already, Stacks."
Stacker doesn't even look embarrassed when he pulls his wallet out, looking like the proud father that he is and holds up a photo of a little girl with straight cut bangs smiling beneath the sun as she sits on top of the shoulders of a younger Stacker. The wallet itself is covered with little robot stickers arranged randomly all over the nice, worn leather.
Herc looks to Scott who is already shrugging, "Might as well show 'em Chuck's too."
Tamsin just rolls her eyes, mouths dads while Scott wonders how this family might just be as unconventional as their own.
It turns out to be more of a block party than the simple backyard barbeque Herc and Scott had initially planned when they first met their new neighbours a week before. Not that a lot of planning had been involved in the end. Well, not on their part at least; the most they did was offer up their backyard for the event and drag the grill out from the corner of the deck overlooking the yard.
They have the doors wide open, lawn chairs set up around the yard, and playing in the background is Aleksis' particular taste in music, if anyone other than him and his wife can even call it that. The older Becket has just shown up, bright eyed and sixteen with hair that his younger brother always calls Captain America, setting up the inflatable pool they brought along in a corner of the Hansens' backyard.
"Hey, Mr. Hansen!"
Raleigh has an armful of brightly coloured pool noodles as he walks through their kitchen, greeting Herc as he comes through, Chuck following behind in his swimming trunks and carrying several water guns. Just as Herc is about to remind them of where to get the hose to fill up the neon yellow inflatable pool, Chuck is already interrupting him like he can read his mind.
"I know where the hose is, Dad."
"Just wanted to remind you."
He waves them off and turns back to pulling out the discounted bag of sausages. Letting out a soft snort when he hears Raleigh calling Scott by his first name instead, and he hardly needs to wait before Scott is sticking his head through the patio doors and into the kitchen with a scowl on his face.
"Why don't they ever call me Mr. Hansen?"
"Do you really want me to answer that?" Herc asks as he hands the sausages and a stack of paper plates off to Scott, raising an eyebrow for good measure. The scowl deepens and Scott makes to protest.
It is only then that the doorbell rings. And if there weren't so many people around, Herc may have dragged him closer for a quick brush of his mouth to his. Herc settles for shoving Scott back out to the patio with the orders to set the barbie up already.
"Neighbours are showing."
The first to turn up are three identical faces grinning up at him. One of them is holding a plastic container, another has three party sized bags of potato chips in his arms, and the last has the basketball Herc has never seen the three of them without. Herc doesn't know how to tell them apart, just that the last one must be Cheung from the sunglasses that keep sliding down the bridge of his nose.
"Hi, Mr. Hansen!"
"Our parents can't come."
"But we brought our mom's marinated chicken wings!"
The plastic container is then thrust into his arms without pause.
"Swimming trunks?" He asks when he sees their bright red shorts.
All three of the Wei triplets are nodding at him, and it is either Hu or Jin that adds, "Rals told us they're bringing the pool!"
The other two makes whooping noises that have Herc grinning as he ushers them through the door. "Go on then, y'know where the backyard is."
He watches the three of them as they race through the house with their sandals slapping loudly against the floorboards of the hallway, and laughs when he hears them yelling Hey Scott in greeting when they see the other man.
The second to arrive is the other half of the Russian couple living just down the street. Sasha Kaidonovsky has her hair pulled back against the side of her head in thick braids that look white in the sunlight, and her lips are the same colour as the roses her husband plants in their garden.
"My Aleksis worries," she says, kissing him on both cheeks as a manner of a greeting. Her smile is a curl, rough around the edges and just shy of cutting when she brandishes another CD in her hand, "No good music for the party."
Herc just shakes his head in fond exasperation, deadpanned when he lets her in with his answer. "Tell Aleksis I said thanks."
Her laugh is a lovely sound when she gently pats him on his cheek, the elaborate rings on her fingers gleaming when she says, "You are kind with your words, Hercules."
She gives him an easy two-finger salute as she makes her way through his home, sundress trailing in her wake as she leaves him by the door just as a car pulls up into their driveway.
When the passenger door opens and out steps Alison Choi, there is a five-second delay before Tendo is right by her side, worried and fretting even as Alison brushes off his concerns.
The Chois live across the street, a friendly and lovely couple their own special brand of interesting with the way Tendo dresses, bright red suspenders with slicked back hair, and the way Alison indulges him.
"Herc, my man!" Tendo pulls him into a hug, claps him on his back before narrowing his eyes at his friend. "Stop staring at my wife."
"But she's so…"
"Don't say it."
Even with the warning in Tendo's voice, he can't help it. It's only been a few weeks since he's last seen her and already, she's so— "Pregnant."
Alison rolls her eyes and smacks him on the chest, content in nudging him aside with her swollen belly as she walks in, "That's what happens when women have babies."
Before he can pull the door open when the doorbell is ringing next, he can already hear their voices overlapping one another. Herc yanks it open and glares at Newton Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb, the two grad students that rent out the Kaidonovsky's basement.
"Good afternoon, Mr. H—"
"Herc!" Newt cuts in, his grin looking too proud, and maybe just a little bit strung out when he holds up a bowl of neon blue Jell-O. Herc looks to him and his slightly twitchy hands and takes the neon blue excuse for dessert before he can do something like drop it on Herc's front steps.
"I made sure Newton here has not mistaken his energy drinks for water when making these."
"Unnecessary, it was done for the benefit of everyone."
Herc nods and waves the two of them towards the backyard before he gets a headache. Herc doesn't know how anyone does it, what with the Kaidonovsky's penchant for music like Ukrainian hard house, the rate Newt can talk anyone's ear off, and Hermann's personality in general all under one roof.
The fact is, that house down the street is not just for anybody to live in.
Even with the Jell-O that might easily be radioactive in hand, Herc breathes a little better when the two of them disappear down the hall, still arguing about something or another.
The final time Herc opens the door is to the sight of Stacker, Tamsin, and a little girl he's only seen in a photograph tucked inside Stacker's wallet. Herc crouches down and extends a hand, smile tentative when the girl who is just on the side of too tiny for her age looks to him with surprise.
"Nice to meet you, Miss Mori."
She bows her head, and looks to her adoptive father first. It is only when Stacker nods, warm smile over his face that she takes his hand and tells him. "It's Mako."
Tamsin and Stacker share a look, a little like awe at how fast Mako is warming up to the ex-RAAF pilot when it has taken her months just to come out of her shell since Stacker first adopted her.
"Come on, you can meet m'boy Chuck and all the other neighbourhood brats." Herc motions to the back of the house, leading them into the kitchen, past the picture frames of the same woman with the long blonde hair with the three Hansen men that line the short hallway walls.
"You brought a bathing suit, right?"
Mako nods eagerly.
"It's fruit salad."
They are standing around the table next to the grill where all the food is laid out, each with their own paper plates in hand when Tamsin places a bowl among the rest.
"Looks very nice." Aleksis offers when she pulls off the Saran wrap.
"You didn't have to," Tendo tells her and Alison nods, adding. "It's supposed to be a party welcoming you to the neighbourhood anyway."
Tamsin snorts and waves off the compliment, gesturing to Stacker instead.
"I'm not allowed in the kitchen unless it's to grab a beer. The salad is all Stacks."
Stacker coughs, inclining his head to the little girl staring intently up at Tamsin from where she is standing in her swimsuit. Tamsin doesn't roll her eyes, just winks at the little girl with a grin and adds, "And Mako, of course."
"I did the mixing," she tells them with a shy smile, rocking back on the heels of her feet as she glances at the adults around the table until she rests her eyes on her adoptive father.
There is a wordless question that she asks with the way she looks to him. It's not so much as a need for permission as it is a display of respect. That, anyone can tell.
"Go ahead, Mako, have fun."
She gives everyone a nod and steps out on to the grass where she makes a beeline for the inflatable pool.
"Should we at least introduce her to the boys?"
Tamsin shakes her head and waves Herc's concerns off with a small grin, fully aware of just what the tiny little girl is capable of when she curls her fists tight enough. After all, it is Tamsin who has taught her everything she needs to know when faced with boys or girls not looking to make a friend.
"Mako will be fine."
The afternoon sun feels good against the skin, warmth without being hot. Their neighbours are lounging blissfully in the deck chairs, swapping stories over their third, fourth plates of food, watching as the kids splash around in the pool with water that barely goes past the knee.
Scott is grilling the last of the food when Chuck wanders over with a bright blue pool noodle dragging along the grass. He doesn't need to stand on his tiptoes to see the plate of uncooked prawns next to the grill but he does it regardless.
"Uncle Scott," Chuck starts, "Why are they blue?"
"The ocean is blue." He easily replies, flipping another chicken wing on the grill before pulling the plate of greyish-blue prawns from Chuck's prodding fingers.
"That's not an answer."
"That's where you're wrong, Chuck-o." He has an urge to bop the kid on the nose at the petulant expression he makes.
"Don't call me that."
Chuck makes a face, the kind that looks a whole lot like Herc in the right light. Putting down his beer, Scott reaches over to brush the dripping wet bangs from Chuck's forehead with a hand.
"Sure, whatever you want, Chuckles."
And Scott's grin only widens when Chuck furrows his brows the way Herc does when he is annoyed. The pool noodle smacks him in the shin with a wet noise before Chuck is running off again.
Scott laughs softly to himself when he sees Chuck making his way towards Stacker's kid, the little girl in the orange swimsuit, cute as a button even as she sprays both of the Becket boys with one of the water guns, soaking them from head to toe. Scott can hear Raleigh yelping in good nature, Yancy laughing half a second later at the sight of his brother with his hair limp and hanging over his eyes. And then Chuck joining Mako in her stance against the older kids.
Not that it matters when one of the Wei triplets jumps into the kiddy pool, splashing everyone in the vicinity.
The dust nearly has Herc coughing into a fit when he drags a box out from the corner of the attic. He heaves it to the trapdoor and hands it off to Scott standing on the ladder. It's a rinse-and-repeat kind of procedure until there are boxes lining the upstairs hallway and both Herc and Scott's hands are dirty and chalky with dust.
It is only then that they find Chuck sitting in a circle of her things in front of his bedroom door.
Chuck looks up, fingers still running gently over the spine of a photo album that reminds all of them of her, and admits, "I miss mum."
He is not crying, and maybe he should be.
Neither Scott nor he needs to flip open that album to remember the little baby boy that could be cradled in any one of their arms. What they remember is Angela with her hair tied back into a messy bun, stray locks of blonde falling to frame her face as she falls asleep in the chair next to Chuck's crib. What they remember is her waking both of them up in the middle of the night with the press of her cold feet against their shins when Chuck starts wailing in the next room and she can't remember who is next to check up on the kid.
"I miss her too, kiddo," Herc says as he sets the empty box aside and draws Chuck into a hug. In any other circumstances, the kid might have made a scene until Herc lets go. But grief is a powerful thing. It is only until Scott joins them on the floor that Chuck's grip on his dad loosens. Sitting cross-legged among memories of a woman they all loved, Scott leans over and presses a kiss to the crown of Chuck's head.
In any other circumstances, Chuck might have complained.
Instead, he just reaches out and snags a hand into the hem of Scott's shirt.
When everything is set up and they have all the junk they've dragged out of the attic lying spread out on the length of their driveway, and with a cold beer in hand, Herc settles into one of the lawn chairs he's dragged up front to where Chuck's handmade Garage Sale sign is prepared.
His writing is not the nicest but it is legible and really, that's all Herc asks for.
Scott tries to sneak in the huge map of Australia Herc has had since forever into the pile of posters that Yancy is leafing through, only to get caught red handed by Max, and then subsequently Chuck. Like father, like son, their odd obsession with the map is not a thing Scott wants to think too long or hard about. He just rolls his eyes when the kid takes it from him, careful as he runs back into the house with it for safekeeping.
"So, Mr. Hansen, what was your name before it was Mr. Hansen?"
It is Cheung who speaks up first, with his sunglasses perched on top of his head. He and his brothers and the younger of the Beckets are standing around one of the boxes filled with his and Scott's old books even Chuck's grown out of.
Herc can't help but wonder whether he's misheard something. "What?"
"Or what was Scott's name before he was Mr. Hansen too?" Another one of the Wei triplets adds, flipping through a pop-up book distractedly.
"You know," Raleigh says, "Like my mom's name used to be just Dominique Lapierre but now she goes by Lapierre-Becket."
Herc thinks he knows what the kids are asking but they can't seriously be asking him what his maiden name is because what would give them the impression that— he doesn't choke on the beer he's been sipping from.
"…It's Herc Hansen, and Scott's name used to be Scott Hansen too."
"Oh…" Raleigh looks contemplative before something seems to click in that head of his, "So, why isn't Chuck called Chuck Hansen-Hansen?"
Herc stares at the kid, doesn't know whether he should be dumbfound or not. But that seems to be the appropriate reaction when Yancy murmurs oh my god under his breath and drags his kid brother off with an apology and a shout of please ignore him, Mr. Hansen!
The Wei triplets shrug in tandem and it is in quick succession that the three lose interest in the ragtag collection of junk the Hansens have on display and run off to have a game of basketball in the court they've set up in the driveway of their house instead.
Herc almost forgets this incident until the Russians come along.
For a couple that he knows has never been in the military, the Kaidonovskys like their army green quite a bit. That and matching one another bleach blonde hair for bleach blond hair, brass rings for brass rings.
The two of them are holding hands when they walk up to him, smiles wide in a way that is almost unnerving. It is Aleksis that waves and Sasha that speaks first.
"The barbeque, last week, my husband wants to ask yours for the recipe."
This time, Herc does choke. He also coughs for a long while before he can get the words pass the initial shock and out of his mouth, "My what?"
"Oh, was it not Scott who made the sauce for the burgers the other day?" Aleksis asks, his eyebrows furrowed as he tries to recall last Wednesday.
"No." When Herc finally replies through a clenched jaw, he is not looking to the Kaidonovskys, he is glaring holes into the back of Scott's head where he is talking to Tendo over a toaster they have. "That was."
Before they call it a day, the Kaidonovskys who weld metal into art and make scraps into sculptures for a living gladly buy all the old spare parts from when Herc still had time to tinker with Striker, his motorcycle from before Chuck was born.
In the end they sell the old bagel-specific toaster to Tendo, a stack of band posters Scott used to collect to Newt and a few boxes of other trinkets that their neighbours deem worthy in exchange for a couple of bills.
"Why do people think we're married, Scott?"
"Uncle Scott doesn't correct them," Chuck says from where he is sitting at the kitchen table, swinging his legs as he takes out his homework from his bag. He smiles when Max patters over to sniff at his hand, and grins when his Uncle Scott mouths tattletale from where he is standing behind Dad.
Herc narrows his eyes at his brother from where he is packing Chuck's baby clothes into boxes for donation, "What have you been telling people?"
"It's not my fault if people make assumptions." Scott holds both hands up in mock surrender as he shrugs. "You know what they say when people assume, they make an ass out of—"
"Why bother?" Scott scowls, "I don't see what the problem is."
"I don't know, Scotty, maybe that we aren't married?"
"We've got the same last name."
"No sh—of course we do."
"We wear matching rings."
"Those are our class rings."
"Mako says it's nice that I have two dads." Chuck casually interrupts, like the two of them haven't been arguing for the past minute or two. He has his books opened on the table and a pencil in one hand, head ducked down as he considers the questions assigned before he continues. "She only has one but she says Mr. Pentecost is as good as two."
"What 'bout the lady who drives you and Mako to school?"
Herc sends a glare Scott's way with his question.
"You mean Tamsin? That's her aunt, she's cool."
"She has a wife." Chuck says, slightly distracted as he scribbles down another answer on the page.
"Mako's aunt aunt."
"You lost me, kiddo."
Just as Scott moves to sit down at the table and draw Chuck further into this horrible web of gossip, Herc pulls him away with a grimace. "Chuck, finish your homework. And you, you can take out the garbage then go walk the damn dog."
There is a look of betrayal on Scott's face because they all know how much he hates trailing after Max as the bulldog makes his rounds in the neighbourhood, sniffing out all his favourite spots (and there is a lot) like it's the first time every time.
Herc shoves Max's leash into Scott's hands, silencing any potential protest with a glare and shoving him out the door with a poop bag for when Max inevitably does his business.
But just before he goes, Scott turns back, drags Herc down for a quick brush of his lips to his.
And this, this is familiar. This is how his brother apologizes.
Friday night at the Hansen household has a longstanding tradition of being movie night. For a long time, it was just the three of them, Herc and Scott with Chuck sitting between them, Max lying comfortably, stretched out on all of their laps. It comes as a surprise when Chuck asks whether he can invite Mako, and by extension, Stacker and Tamsin to movie night. Chuck is not exactly a difficult child but neither is it all smooth sailing when it comes to the kid and making friends.
So when they see Mako and Chuck sitting on the carpet with Max in an array of cushions and blankets they've arranged to their satisfaction, both Herc and Scott are reassured that they haven't royally screwed up in raising the kid.
Stacker and Tamsin sit down on one end of the couch with a bowl of trail mix shared between them while Scott walks in with a bag of buttered popcorn.
"We decided what we're watching?" he asks, settling on the other end of the couch and offering the bag so the kids can grab a handful of popcorn each. At Chuck's silence and Mako's slight smile, Scott can almost put one and one together to get two.
But it's always nice to have a little confirmation when Herc holds up the DVD in one hand and tosses the remote control to Tamsin.
"Chuck lost rock-paper-scissors to Mako," Stacker offers as he flips the DVD case to the back to read the synopsis, barely containing the urge to roll his eyes at the big robots punching bigger monsters storyline.
"Scissors to rock, kiddo?" Scott pokes at Chuck's side with a foot until the kid pauses in stuffing his face with popcorn.
"I'm not going to make the same mistake again, Uncle Scott."
"You were going to choose the same movie anyway," Tamsin points out with a grin, and a raised eyebrow when Chuck turns to her, meaning to protest.
"Alright, movie's about to start. Everyone comfortable?" Herc asks, looking at their neighbours who've joined them and the kids nodding at him from where they are seated as he dims the lights in the living room.
Herc sits down in the middle of the couch, settles between Scott and Stacker and sinks into his brother's side as the opening credits begin to play.
The movie is robots (Jaegers, Mako corrects from where she is intently petting Max, eyes trained on the television screen) and sea monsters (they're called Kaiju, Uncle Scott, Chuck chimes in, looking over his shoulders to his uncle and making a face like he really ought to know better), saving the world with an impossible plan, and a whole lot of heart for a summer blockbuster that is only meant to kill two hours at most.
Mako likes that the girl doesn't have to kiss the boy.
Chuck likes that there is a dog.
And all the adults are just surprised that they've all enjoyed the movie more than they expected.
When Stacker follows Herc into the kitchen with the dirty bowls and unwashed cups, he sees him glancing at the photographs, and it is with a smile that Herc shares, pointing at one as they pass.
"That's Angela, Chuck's mum."
"Was," Herc corrects and it dawns on Stacker that this is one of those scars in life that don't heal right. When Herc continues, Stacker follows him because grief like this, everyone has them, some deeper than others. "People think that Scott and I are married but it was Angie and I that were married when we had Chuck."
"Tam and I get that a lot too," Stacker tells him with a soft smile, "Even though Luna's actually the married Pentecost in the family."
"Angela and I were married when we had Chuck but we," and Herc imagines that there has to be an easier way to get this out, "We also had a special arrangement with Scott."
There is something instinctual when it comes to trusting Stacker Pentecost but Herc isn't sure whether there's anyone else outside of the family he's got left that could understand what he had, what he still has.
"Does Chuck…?" and Stacker catches himself, unsure of whether he is overstepping a line somewhere, doesn't know whether there is a right way to ask this.
Herc runs a hand through his hair, not quite looking at the other man but not quite looking away either. "We never sat the kid down but he's always been smart, probably known that Uncle Scott was actually his Uncle Scott for a while now."
Stacker is a smart man, it's not hard to make sense of what Herc is trying to say. He can draw conclusions for himself.
"Stacker, we would understand if Tamsin and you didn't want to—"
"Herc, we," Stacker sighs, hand still placed on Herc's arm in support he isn't about to take away now. He starts again with a faint shake of his head. "We would never condemn your happiness."
And when Herc smiles this time around, Stacker does the same.
"Come on, it's late." Herc doesn't thank him, and Stacker doesn't want him to. They set down the dirty plates and unwashed cups into the sink, and Herc waves him away when he tries to help. "Leave them for me, you should probably get home."
The moment they are left alone, Scott turns to Tamsin with a grin and starts. "So…"
"If you ask whether Stacks and I are married, the answer is no and then I'm going to punch you in the face."
"That's not -" Tamsin raises an eyebrow at his denial and Scott rolls his eyes as he peels back the label on his beer bottle, "Fine, but I wasn't going to ask you outright. Just curious about the ring."
It's simple silver band that wraps around the ring finger of her left hand, and the smile that pulls at her lips when she glances down at it has Scott smiling too. He knows that look because if he catches himself in the mirror, it's the same one on his face when he is looking at Herc.
"It was before Stacks adopted Mako." The little girl looks up at the mention of her name but quickly gets distracted again by Max rolling over on Chuck's command. Tamsin laughs at the delight on the kids' faces when Max does the trick again, only this time on Mako's command instead. "We've been together for as long as we've been pilots. Met her during training, Luna's a menace in the sky, loves it more than me."
She drains the last gulp of her beer and turns back to Scott. "So, what's the deal with you and Herc? There's no ring but I'm sure as hell that the two of you are together unlike Stacks and me."
"There is," Scott tells her easily, and it's not lying if it is just something told by omission of details, playing on the technicality of her words. "Haven't you seen our matching rings?"
Tamsin waves him off with a smirk, catching it all and giving it right back to Scott Hansen in spades.
"You think that I don't know those are your class rings?"
Scott shakes his head with a laugh and clinks his empty bottle to hers.
When Stacker and Herc come back into the living room, the two of them are greeted with the sight of Scott lying sprawled out among the blankets and cushions on the ground. Chuck is draped over one half of his uncle, while Scott's other half is covered by a drooling bulldog snoring louder than anyone else in the room. On the couch, Tamsin is sitting with her head tipped back, eyes closed, with Mako's head in her lap and Tamsin's arm wrapped her tiny shoulders.
The four of them are content to sleep on.
Stacker and Herc look to each other with amusement in their eyes.
It's dry heat that has the sweat running down his back. Herc has long since abandoned his Henley and it is only over the noise of the lawnmower that he doesn't hear the screen door bang open and close.
It isn't until he turns around that he sees Scott taking a seat on the porch with a dripping beer in one hand and a bottle of sunscreen in the other, and it would almost be considerate of the man if it weren't for the unobstructed view he has of him, sitting there, waving him over with the sunscreen.
"I think you should turn on the sprinkler."
Scott declares when Herc is within earshot, grinning like a shark and sitting up in his reclining chair to make room for Herc to sit down.
And with Scott's legs bracing his hips, Herc settles down at the end of the chair and he doesn't even need to turn around to know the shit-eating grin widening in place. Herc doesn't even bother to roll his eyes when the cold lotion hits the skin of his back and the heat of Scott's palms smear it across his shoulder blades.
"I'm mowing the goddamn lawn, Scott."
Herc glances to the lawnmower abandoned in the middle of the front yard, breathes in the scent of fresh cut grass and steals Scott's beer from where it is sitting by his feet.
"So," and Scott leans in a little closer, hands trailing down the curve of his spine before he continues, "will you be getting down on your knees to do the weeding too?"
If Herc doesn't have all the practice in the world with handling Scott, he would go red all the way to the tips of his ears. But he just turns and socks his brother in the arm for it with snark quick on the tip of his tongue.
"We have herbicides for that, you arsehole."
Scott presses his mouth to the nape of Herc's neck in consolation, laughter in the brief kiss, lips cool against his heated skin.
"Oh yeah, Choi just called, Alison is having the baby shower next Sunday." He rests a cheek against Herc's shoulders, and continues. "Wants our gift there with or without us, I think that was a joke."
"Who can tell with Tendo?"
"Did we buy the gift yet?"
"Does it look like we did?"
There is the tell-tale noise of Scott typing into his phone, and then silence.
"…Let's get them a diaper cake."
"Diaper cake." Scott repeats, looking all too pleased with himself for the efforts with that grin, "A cake made of diapers."
"What the fuck did you google?"
"Baby shower, first result and it's Wikipedia," Scott replies as he holds up his phone. Herc just takes the phone with Scott's fingerprints smudged in sunscreen all across the screen, squinting to see the picture beneath the glare of the sun. He lets out a soft snort at picture of the multi-tiered cake made of diapers.
"They already named the kid, y'know."
"Shouldn't that be the big reveal?"
Scott shrugs. "Said he named it after his grandfather."
They sit there in silence, rare companionable silence, the warmth of Scott's palm running down the plane of his back, the smell of the sun tan lotion heavy between them.
"Look at us, Herc."
He wraps his arms around Herc's waist, settles his hands right above the belt of his brother's threadbare jeans, pulling him closer with only a second's glance at the rest of the community and who might see them like this.
(And for them, this is as close as they come to clinging on to each other.)
Scott rests his chin on Herc's shoulders and asks with a short pause.
"Do we need to put up a white picket fence?"
"Are you gonna help?"
Scott laughs, shakes his head and tightens his arms around Herc's waist as he leans back into the reclining chair. "Nah, I like it right where I am."
"Arsehole." But even the insult is soft when Herc drops his head back on Scott's shoulder, drains the last drop of the now lukewarm beer with a swipe of his tongue against the mouth of the long neck. "You just like the view."
"I do, I love it."
Herc smiles at Scott's unabashed confession, and closes his eyes. Feels the dry heat of the world around him, the weight of Scott's body pressed behind his. There is the steady thump of his heart in his chest, comfort settling easy in his gut, and he thinks that this might just be it.
He doesn't know how long the two of them are sitting out there on the porch, taking comfort in each other like they've been doing for all their lives.
"...Do you actually want a fence?"
"Is that some kind of proposal, Scotty?"
"Are you saying yes?"
Herc's reply catches on the tip of his tongue when he turns his head and Scott kisses him, presses their mouths together in full view of the world. It's not something they've dared to do for a long time now, without the safety of the curtains drawn in the bedroom they share or the closed doors of a home they've shared for just as long.
Herc pushes back and into the kiss, Scott's arms pulling him in closer.
The yes is silent.