Herc Hansen fidgeted in the cushy armchair, not used to either comfort or plush surroundings. Or waiting, for that matter. He had always been a man of action, and his recent retirement... wore on him.
But this wasn't about him. And it was important.
Back straight -- as if leaning back in the chair's cushioned embrace would be abandoning a fortification -- he forced himself to stillness tried to focus on the task at hand, rather than the need to get up and pace the room instead of sitting here like a...
...civilian. Which he was. As of three months ago.
Thankfully, before he could grit his teeth hard enough to grind them down, the door opened and his old friend, Stacker Pentecost, strode through. Stacker never just walked anywhere. The man contained an almost tangible sense of intensity and urgency in his large frame.
He didn't walk. He strode.
"Herc." The deep voice held a hint of a smile, but that stoic face didn't. "Long time, no see."
Herc stood, glad to have reason to do so, and managed a tight smile as he held out his hand for a good shake. "Stacker. Good to see you. You've not changed a bit."
Now, he smiled. "Indeed I have, or you wouldn't be here."
Some of the tension eased out of him, and he finally grinned a bit. "True enough. I'm really not sure about all this."
"I know. But I'm glad you're here." Stacker gestured toward the armchair. "Please, have a seat and we'll talk."
Herc did so, and his old friend went around to the other side of his sturdy, dignified desk to sit down, as well. He felt a bit less twitchy, but the softness of the chair under his ass still made him feel like he was in the wrong place.
Sighing, he tried not to sit so ramrod straight, though he couldn't quite lean back. "Chuck. He's never been... the easiest kid." Understatement. "I dunno. Maybe I should've left him with Angela's mum and dad. Maybe I should've done like she wanted and retired early. Hell if I know."
"Herc. What's done is done. All you can deal with is what's in front of you."
And what was in front of him was his angry, antagonistic son who had systematically pushed away anyone who might have wanted to get close to him. Including Herc.
Finally, he managed to slump enough to feel the cushion against his back. "I fucked up, Stacker. Angela's probably rolling in her grave to see how he is now. And I can't even blame him for blaming me. For all I know, he's right."
Stacker clasped his hands together and leaned his forearms on his desk, those dark eyes intense. "You staying in service did not shorten her life. It wasn't true then and it isn't true now."
He shrugged and stared at the desk's edge. "Might've seen the symptoms sooner."
"The doctors all said she didn't have symptoms. Not glaring ones, anyway. She was just as stunned by the diagnosis as you were. As Chuck was."
Stage Four cancer. By the time the doctor found it, it had spread so far he couldn't tell where it started. Two months later, she was gone.
And Chuck had never forgiven him. Not for her death, and not for refusing to retire from the RAAF, and not for dragging him from one base to the next to the next before the poor kid could figure out how to grieve. And continuing to sporadically uproot him for the next ten years.
Yeah. He fucked up. He'd thought keeping Chuck with him would provide some sort of stability, but he'd only managed to leave the kid rootless and friendless. And retiring now to live in the same neighborhood was too little, too late, as Chuck was fond of pointing out.
"Whatever." Because Stacker was right. He couldn't fix any of that. He could only move forward. "Just... he's never been close to anyone, and he needs that. And he sure as hell doesn't want it from me."
Sighing, he gave into decadence completely and sank fully against the chair's cushy back. He almost wished it would swallow him whole.
"So he's not formed any friendships, any relationships of his own?"
"No." Rubbing his forehead, he resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Says he doesn't need anyone. He's always done just fine on his own." He couldn't help a bitter snort. "Wink wink, thanks for all but abandoning me in damn near every military base around the globe, old man."
An awkward quiet fell between them. Eventually, Herc looked up and was surprised by the sympathy on Stacker's usually stoic face. Maybe the bloke really had changed.
"Anyway, I hoped maybe he'd get together with one of his one night stands, but he never even stays the night. Just gets his fuck and gets out." Tired, he again rubbed his forehead. "Never gets close to anyone. Never touches anyone outside a quick fuck, and even that's likely about as hands-off as possible. Never lets anyone touch back." His hand dropped into his lap. "Even me."
They were quiet for a moment. Then, Stacker sighed.
"You know this only works if the client wants it to, right? If Chuck doesn't want to be close to anyone, he won't let it happen, no matter what you do."
Herc shook his head. "I don't think he remembers how it feels. I think if he did, he would want it." Smiling bitterly, he met Stacker's intent gaze. "The hardest part will be getting him to agree to it."
For a moment, his old friend's eyes narrowed, and Herc braced for the rejection he knew he probably deserved. Then, Stacker's expression cleared.
"I think I have just the thing."
Herc blinked. "What's that, then?"
That smile was... slightly terrifying, actually. He wasn't sure if he was comforted or even less confident in his plan.
"An employee with a 4.9-out-of-5-star rating and the ability to piss Chuck off enough to agree to just about anything out of spite."
Feeling suddenly better, Herc snorted.