"You know, if you ask nicely, I could probably look around and rustle up a shotgun."
Usually at the sound Herc's voice, Stacker would be turning around to greet the man it came from with a smile, a warm look, and maybe even a pat on the back or shoulder if he was feeling particularly demonstrative that day. Now, however, he keeps his gaze - and disapproval - focused on Raleigh Beckett and the way he's leaning into Mako while she finishes her lunch. Stacker honestly doesn't know what's worse about the scene: the fact that Mako is so obviously - to anyone who knows her, at least - pleased by the attention, or that there's not the slightest hint of insincerity in his demeanor. There's an innocence to Beckett's actions - his affection - that, were circumstances different, Stacker would appreciate being directed towards his daughter.
Of course, if circumstances were different, Stacker wouldn't be spending the majority of his days grindings his molars to their roots, either.
Herc sighs, and, in a testament to how much this new, developing relationship is bothering him, Stacker misses the warning in that frustrated exhalation of air. It's impossible to miss the vicious finger jab to his lower back, though.
Stacker's mouth pulls down into a particularly sour expression as he turns his head to focus on the six-foot-something of walking, breathing smirk behind him. Herc looks thoroughly pleased with himself. It's an expression Stacker finds uncomfortably familiar.
And uncomfortably comforting.
"You smell like wet dog," Stacker says. He feels muscles he didn't even realize were tense loosen up as Herc's face opens and he laughs loud enough to draw stares from some of the tables closest to them.
Herc gives Stacker a look that's so, just, fond, Stacker feels decades drop away, and it's an actual fight to not duck his head or - dear God - shuffle his feet. Stacker's scowl comes back, and Herc's fondness easily segues into exasperation. He opens his mouth, probably to say something awful and not meant for public consumption. Stacker silences him with a look - that he'll probably be paying for later - then jerks his head towards one of the exits. He strides purposefully out of the mess hall. He doesn't look back to see if Herc's following him. He doesn't have to.
A few feet into the corridor, Herc says, "You're being ridiculous."
Stacker doesn't acknowledge him; he just keeps on walking. Herc continues to follow him, but he doesn't try to speak again until Stacker's led them back to his office. After the door closes, though, that fondness comes back full force.
"You're adorable," Herc says. "Honestly."
"If you don't want the shotgun, can I find you a cardigan? Maybe a pipe."
"I mean it, Hansen."
"At least the Gipsy doesn't have a backseat, right?"
"One more word, and I'll have you spending all your spare time scraping up kaiju guts," Stacker says with his customary roar. Herc, damn him, just laughs again. Stacker rounds his desk and drops heavily into his chair. "Why... Why him?"
Herc raises one eyebrow and gives Stacker a look before taking his own seat in one of the chairs flanking Stacker's desk.
Stacker sighs. "Fine. I get it. He's... attractive."
Herc snorts. "You might be getting up in years, but you're not dead yet; the kid's fucking hot. You have seen those scars, right? Jesus." The amusement melts off Herc's face. "But, if you honestly think his looks are the only reason Mako's sniffing around him, then you're doing her a pretty big disservice."
Stacker bristles. He's not sure what he looks like, but it's bad enough that Herc raises his hands.
"Easy," Herc says. "I realize that you're going through a bit of a mental trauma right now what with the whole end-of-the-world kerfuffle and figuring out that your little girl has a thing for pretty boy pilots, and I'd rather you hurl your emotions at me than Raleigh or, God forbid, Mako, but the last time you got a look like that on your face the two of us ended up in a fist fight that landed us both in the brig, and I don't think that sort of behavior would be great for your image any more, Marshal."
Stacker finds himself chuckling as the rage that had been building easily slips out of him to make room for the memories that flood in. "God. I think I had forgotten about that. You didn't talk to me for almost four weeks."
"Yeah, well, you deserved it," Herc says. "You were a complete dick."
"I don't even remember what we were fighting about."
"Neither do I. Pretty sure it was your fault, though, since, like I said, you were a complete dick." Herc cocks his head to one side. "Still are, actually. Why are we friends again?"
"Not sure. You have crappy taste?"
"Fuck you. I have exquisite taste."
"You don't even know what exquisite means."
"'Course I know what it means. I just don't know how to spell it." Herc grins, bright and toothy, and Stacker's own lips curl up in response. "But you know what I can spell? M-E-D-D-L-I-N-"
"I don't meddle!"
Herc arches one eyebrow.
"I don't. I've never meddled."
"You're lying to somebody, but I can't tell if it's me or yourself."
Stacker shakes his head. "I have never meddled in Mako's personal life. Not ever. Her professional life, on the other hand, is a different thing altogether. You know that."
"Yeah. But, do you?"
"Stack, why don't you want her drifting with Raleigh?" Herc leans forward in his seat. "She could do worse."
"She could do better."
"Who?" Herc asks. "Name one person, just one, that you would rather see Mako pilot with."
"You," Stacker says without hesitation.
Herc's face hardens. "I'm willing to sacrifice my own child to stop these bastards; do you really think I won't sacrifice yours as well?"
"It's not about sacrifice, it's about..." Stacker rubs a hand down his face, then up and over his head. "You think I don't know the appeal of Raleigh Beckett? Beyond the young frame, and the thick hair, and the square jaw. He's a tragic hero, isn't he? Brave, and battered, but never broken. You want to pick him up, dust him off. Wrap him up in cotton wool, then unwrap him and trace his scars." Stacker leans forward, matching Herc's pose and meeting his gaze. "He's a victim, and a survivor, and stronger than you or I, but that doesn't mean that he's flaw-free. Loosing your only family to a giant monster leaves cracks. It leaves fucking fissures."
"We've all lost people we care about to the kaiju," Herc says softly.
"Not like him." Stacker sighs. "Not like her."
"That... The shared trauma might make them more compatible."
"Or it might make them into a nightmare." Stacker sits back again. He feels about as old as Herc looks at the moment. "She hides it well, but make no mistake, Mako is fueled by vengeance. I don't know if Raleigh is strong enough to deal with what she's holding inside."
"Now I think you're doing him a disservice."
Stacker smirks. "Maybe I am. Or maybe I'm just being cautious."
"I'm sorry, did you say cautious? Are you or are you not the man who wants to send Striker down to the breach with-"
"I am aware of the rather extreme nature of my plan, yes. I know the potential for failure. And for loss."
"But you're willing to take the risk anyway."
Stacker lets his eyes drop down and to the side.
"I understand where you're coming from," Herc says after a moment. "Believe me, I do. But, in the end, you know it's not your choice. Not really. Things have already been set in motion. Things that can't be undone."
"I should never have brought him here," Stacker says.
"No, I don't mean Mako and Raleigh, I mean..." Herc smirks, but it's got a lot less bite than it normally does. "I honestly don't know if this might make you feel better or worse, but I'm fairly certain that Mako had already fallen for Gipsy long before you even thought about bringing Raleigh to Hong Kong."
Stacker stares at Herc until his eyes go dry. "That... Fuck me."
"Maybe later," Herc says. "The whole slack-jawed look really isn't doing it for me right now."
"You..." Stacker presses his fingers into his brow bone. "That's not... Fucking hell."
Herc is kind enough to give Stacker a few minutes to process before he speaks again. "I think you know what you need to do."
"People like us don't retire, Stack. You know that."
Stacker smiles wanly. "No. I don't suppose we do. Fine then, If Mako wants the Gipsy, she can have it. But if I catch one hint of smugness from Beckett, I'll-"
Stacker narrows his eyes. "Exquisite taste, huh?"