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and indeed there will be time

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They get themselves a beach house, way out east, buy up a big old stretch of private beach, and they call it home.

They don't live there all the time to start with. Herc's too busy winding down operations at the PPDC and being the diplomatic envoy of the saviours of the earth. And Chuck, well, Chuck gets a little restless when he's alone, takes the car back up to Sydney and tries to enjoy the things he missed out because he was busy saving the world. He hits the club scene, rents out decadent penthouse suites in opalescent highrises, but always goes back to them alone. And he finds, in amongst all the hedonistic thrills available, the one feeling he really cherishes is the one that comes when he says "Sorry, sweetheart, I'm taken" because what he's saying then means so many things he can never put in words. He's saying it's forever now, me and Herc; he's saying we bought a place together, just us, and when he calls me up after a long day, it doesn't matter whether we say any of the things we feel because it's just enough that he always calls - he's always going to call. He's saying that there's a place in the universe for them, that they've found a place to be happy together, a place that isn't the drift.

And, god, he misses the drift. He misses the complete oneness, the absolute assurance that was feeling the love Herc had for him, the actual feeling, just as Herc felt it. He misses knowing someone else so completely that you become them, at least for a while. But now, now they have a creaking porch swing and a stretch of beach and a physical place that they can go back to, a place where they can kiss and it doesn't have to be desperate and no-one is afraid that anyone is watching. Chuck finds there an immovable safe haven, no tannoy ringing out in the night to tell him there's a monster and only he can stop it, only he and Herc, and he doesn't have to worry that that's the only reason Herc keeps him around - because it can only be them and because the guilt of letting people die would crush him and, really, having to deal with his kid is better than having to deal with that guilt all over again.

He hasn't had a home since primary school, and his memories of that place are made out of photographs and stories and the movie reel unreality of a ten-year-old's point of view. He didn't even have the physical accoutrements of that old home, none of the decades' old furniture or holiday mementos or porcelain oddities which make up a history of a life. Even the photographs remain stored in the lockbox of an old computer harddrive, always kept safe but never looked at anymore lest they cause more pain than they relieve. There are no pictures from the time Chuck went back to the rubble of the house before it was demolished in full and rebuilt as something else. That time when Chuck begged Herc to let him go, and Chuck ignored the pain on Herc's face, the way he couldn't bear it, and they stood on the scorched earth and walked across their old discoloured carpets and saw the warped glass and misshapen objects which remained of their past life. Chuck remembers being almost afraid of the objects which had survived intact, metal fixtures and the strangest little things which oughtn't to have made it after the nuclear blast. He hadn't taken anything with him out of that house, except a father who was more broken now than when he went in - not that Chuck had known that then.

Home after that was a boarding school or a military base or the residential quarters of a Shatterdome which went from construction site to pseudo-military base to luxurious centre of operations and then to end-of-the-world survivor's camp. It had felt like home, some days, when he and Herc had been talking, or when he met someone who didn't seem to dislike him as much as most people did. And it had felt like home when Max had looked up at him with big dark eyes and implored him without a sound to take him out for a walk. And really, thinking about it now, it still feels like home, in those little romanticised moments, feels like home the way that Striker had always felt like home, wrapped up in electric sensations of acceptance and love.

Because, home, well, even at the beach house, it isn't about the beach, or the way he can walk up into the nearest town and hear familiar voices, accents which match his. The thing that makes it feel like home is getting back from the nearby town and finding all the lights on and Herc's bags laid down at the foot of the bed and not seeing Herc right away but knowing that he's there and that he'll come back any minute from his midnight swim or that Chuck'll hear the shower water running and know he's nearby. It's the look in Herc's eyes which betray the smile he never seems to want to show and the way Chuck returns it without fear or trepidation because that feeling's back in his chest, the one which always made it worth just staying alive.

The lights are on and the front door's been left open so Max can come and go as he pleases. The only sound after Chuck cuts the engine is the steady heartbeat of the waves. And when he goes inside and waits for Herc it doesn't feel like waiting. Herc's hair is wet when he comes in, bleeding rivulets of sea water down his face and neck, and when Chuck kisses him, he can taste the salt. Chuck says "I missed you" but there's no desperation in it, no sadness or accusation, just truth and the acknowledgement of it.

"' always miss you," Herc says, so close to Chuck that the first signs of stubble catch Chuck's neck with the movement of his jaw. And that's a statement of fact, too, something Herc has learnt to say easily now. He crowds Chuck up against the table as they kiss slow but laden with intent, Chuck's hands anchoring him close.

They pause long enough to give the abbreviated versions of their days flight was hell and car's clutch is acting up again and god, I missed you. And somewhere in amongst it all, Herc says maybe Chuck ought to go with him next time, and they both laugh about how Chuck would hate Geneva, but be worth it for you and they half agree to it but Chuck knows nowhere he goes with Herc would feel half as good as here, half as good as stretched out over the bed with the windows open, with only the sounds of Herc's breath and the ocean to lull him to sleep.

"You really want to go?" Herc asks, voice quiet enough not to jar in the silence.

"I'd rather you stayed," Chuck says, barely restraining himself from reaching out a hand to Herc, showing too much how he feels.

"There'll be time for that," Herc says, "when it's all over." And there's a sadness in that, a sadness in Herc's voice and in the fact that he'll no longer be a soldier, life as he knows it coming to an end. But they have this, this place, this new version of themselves, and as he moves in close to Herc, taking his melancholy as an indication of mutual need, Chuck can't help but be glad that they've got a whole lot of time.