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a loaded weapon (ready and waiting)

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Stacker is one tough bastard.

 

Herc thinks that without much admiration or much surprise. But then he can't feel much emotion right now. That's been beaten out of him over the last ten hours of facing off against a creature that he'd been sure would kick the living shit out of him and Chuck. When they'd finally got back into the bay, disengaged from the Drift, Chuck had been in his face, loud and ferocious and too awake. Herc hadn't fucking needed that, not right there and then, and he knew from the tiny vicious gleam in his son's eye that he'd known exactly that, but like his uncle he was a low blow hitter, deep down in the gut, hard and fast and aimed at winning, and this hadn't been a fight Herc even wanted to win.

 

Then Stacker was there, tall and precise and ice cold as a breath of North Atlantic air straight in the face, quenching dissent in the way he looked down his nose at Chuck and demanded a report in writing, on his desk, in an hour, if he was still awake enough to be fighting. Chuck will gnaw away at his old man, piss everyone in the Shatterdome off, but his spine straightens and his jaw hardens when Stacker speaks to him, dislike and distrust and resentment bristling off him, but he still keeps his thoughts in his head where they belong. Chuck doesn't trust Stacker, and Herc would like to say he doesn't know what goes through his son's head but he does. Chuck wrote Stacker off as a suit long ago, a man who didn't know what it meant to go up against the new breed of monster, a little reminder, if Herc had ever needed one, that his son could be as thick as hell sometimes. But then of course Stacker had committed that unpardonable sin of sins- had supported Herc in the many and frequent disagreements Striker Eureka had had, in the hallways, in the kwoon, in the dining hall, and in one memorable instance in the Conn-Pod, and Chuck was never going to like him after that.

 

When he drifts with his son, Chuck feels like a pig scouting for truffles in Herc's head, as Herc had once crudely put it - dogged and determined and crude, no subtlety, no scudding in the wake, just fighting the tide. If his son hasn't seen what Stacker is, then he's as stupid as he sometimes pretends to be, or perhaps just obstinately blind.

 

Be that as it may, Chuck's working on his report, and Herc and Stacker have been left to their own devices in the cold night air, slumped down on abandoned concrete blocks as they look out over the vast swathe of sea before them, the lights behind them dancing off the waters, silence uncomplicated and heavy.

 

Herc idly tosses a coin from hand to hand and Stacker stares out over that wide bay. You think it'll work? Herc wants to ask. You think we'll leave this world in better shape? That we can do this crazy thing and beat them? Pointless questions with pointless answers, so they remain unsaid and Herc doesn't rake those coals over once more, doesn't try and rekindle the debate about what best to do. They’ve had this discussion more than once and Herc has made his thoughts known. Now it’s time to play his role, Stacker’s second, a weapon honed and ready for this finale.

 

"What was the fight about?" Stacker said abruptly, as though his own thoughts were too poor company for the moment.

 

Herc shrugged. What were any of their fights ever about really? "Who knows," he says, "we went right when he wanted left, he fell out of bed the wrong side, he wanted to take lead. Take your pick." He wants his mum to be alive, he adds in his own head, wants me to live every day thinking I made the wrong choice. Arrogant little prick, and Herc sometimes wants to hug him so hard he can't say a word, the breath squashed out of his lungs so they can have one moment without the mouthy bastard ruining it, and sometimes he wants to get back into that kwoon and drive the wind out of him, knock him out, jab his solar plexus until he doubles up coughing and has to listen to what Herc says, rather than what Chuck wants him to have said. All his fucking thoughts are circular tonight.

 

Stacker laughs, a quiet huff of air, sharply nipped off as though a sense of humour is up there with a dereliction of duty in the state of things at present. "He's not the worst kid ever," he says, and with a daughter like Mako Mori no wonder he can drop crumbs of consolation.

 

"Not the worst," Herc agrees a little drily and wishes he could defend his son a little better without sacrificing truth.

 

Stacker shivers and pops a little ornate pill box out of his pocket, shakes out a tablet and puts it on his tongue to dissolve. He's too straight-backed, too iron-hard to complain about the small shit but even Stacker Pentecost can't control his shivers and Herc moves closer to share the meagre amount of heat he has to spare. They could go inside, he thinks, but in there is light and noise and bustle, nothing like the dark cold simplicity of the night outside. He's crashing quite hard now, adrenaline draining from his limbs, leaving him empty and heavy.

 

Stacker glances at him and seems to know exactly what he's feeling.

 

"Into the shack," he says, meaning the lean-to that's been erected up here. It's a shack true enough, but it has power run up from the base and a kettle. Stacker makes himself a mug of tea, no milk of course, and hands Herc a mug of the shittest tasting fluid that ever called itself coffee, liberally sweetened.

 

"Cheers," he says, holding up his mug so Stacker can clink his own against it, a morbid salute. "You're off tomorrow aren't you?" Off to find Raleigh Becket, a wild goose chase in a wild goose war, part of an arsenal that Stacker wants to build to face the end.

 

Herc has his doubts - Raleigh Becket was a great kid, but he was wild when Herc knew him, half a whole, and Herc saw that footage of him before he took off, lost and empty, ripped out from the inside. If he's built himself back up in the last five years, then maybe, but Herc sure as hell wouldn't want to crawl inside a mind that ruined, and Herc wonders who Stacker thinks will take it on. Suspects that if all else fails Stacker will get right back inside that Conn-Pod and damn the consequences.

 

"Yes," Stacker says, playing his cards close to his chest like he always does, not a word wasted, not even between them. It has to be done. Cherno, Typhoon and Striker are taxed beyond their capacity, and if Raleigh Becket can turn the tide in this war Herc will welcome him with open arms. "It's our best hope, Herc. You know that." He's short with his words, like it costs him an effort to even say that, and Herc knows he should have hustled them both back down. They're too old to act like damn fool kids, and he slings the mug back down, takes the other from Stacker's loose fingers.

 

"Back down the stairs, mate," he says and knows Stacker's preoccupied when he doesn't even give him the cool slanted look that means he thinks Herc's stepped over the boundaries. Inside it's a sudden shock of warmth, and his fingers begin to tingle because damn they'd been out there too long. He walks to Stacker's door with him, and turns to leave, planning to get Chuck to stop badgering the technicians about the minor circuit failure in the Conn-Pod.

 

But Stacker holds the door open, an implicit invitation which even now Stacker will never voice, for reasons that aren't so much about their quasi-military structure and far more about where he came from and all the things he never talks about.

 

Inside it's peaceful, a little oasis of quiet in an ocean of war. Herc throws himself on a sofa and watches appreciatively as Stacker splashes whisky into two glasses in direct contravention of his own regulations about drinking on base. It's good stuff, part of some old stash, because Stacker is as strict on himself as he is on anyone else, and the salary he draws is the same as any tech on the level as Herc happens to know. The less money in his pockets, the more can go to keep a Jaeger operating fractionally longer, the fight going strong. Herc can admire that and admire the whisky at the same time. It’s deep and peaty, almost medicinal smelling and the last time he drank this, he'd been in some shit bar trying to reconcile the choices he'd made with the consequences. Not so much has changed.

 

They take their time to savour it, talk quietly on the inconsequential things, avoid the big ones, slipping easily back into a groove together as they always do, like they always have from the first time they met, the connection between them as present as a sniper and a spotter. It's Herc who makes the move, but then it's always like that. Stacker opens the door, starts it off, and Herc takes it from there. He stretches aging bones and takes off his jacket and tosses back the last of his drink, sets the glass on the side with a heavy clink, and leans down to take off his shoes. Stacker hmms at that and Herc supposes he should have done that on coming in, but he always forgets, so he directs a cocky grin at the other man - the sort that he’d cuff his son for, as he wrestles with his t-shirt with fingers that are still a little too cold.

 

Stacker is still fully clothed from bars to shoes when Herc stands before him bare-chested save for his dog-tags and curls a sure hand around his neck, bringing him down an inch for a kiss, bends that stiff neck and straight spine. Stacker is rigid for long long seconds, before he kisses back easily, slick and sure, and just a little bit desperate, like they all are these days, this close to the end, every minute on the edge. Herc undoes the tie and Stacker goes for the buttons, working well and swiftly and in-tune even after all these years, after Drifting only once in those early experiments when they still thought crushing together minds and shaking them up would yield results. Herc remembers the flow, easy and good between them, like it never went away. Then Stacker’s shirt is off and the time for thinking on the past is done.

 

The dog-tags are freezing between their bodies for a moment, an unexpected bit of cold that warms when crushed between them, and Herc likes it in an odd way. Doesn’t want to forget why they’re all here, what they’re doing, even right now, because Stacker sure as hell won’t. They’ve both got one ear out for the red alert, and the tension in their bodies ratchets this all the way up. Herc smoothes one hand down the muscle of Stacker’s back, follows the straightness of his spine to the small of his back where he knows he’s outright sensitive, and sure enough Stacker shudders, though not from cold now and Herc still isn’t used to being the one tilting himself even a little upwards, makes up for it with the fierceness of the kiss he indulges in, sets his hands on Stacker's waist and brings him in close and hard, rolls his hips against the other man, and grins, quick and fierce, at the sound he gets.

 

Stacker thrusts back against him and they're awkwardly grinding against each other, too old for this shit but not enough to stop and make it somewhere more comfortable. Herc likes it this way, rough and ready, like the first time, skin against skin, lip against lip, not even kissing now, just breathing in the air that they're sharing. He knows Stacker from head to toe on the outside at least and Stacker reciprocates that knowledge neatly, clasps a strong hand around the back of Herc's neck to keep him still, tightens his fingers just a little more than necessary, a threat of constriction or a promise, but doesn't indent in any tighter. Herc feels the jolt go down his spine, the sensitive nape of his neck and the promise of what's to come makes him even jerkier in his movements, until with a muttered fuck he steps away.

 

The adrenaline is wearing off and he's pretty damn tired now, but the coffee has given him a kick. Although the rest of him is flagging, his cock is interested and ready, instinct conquering weariness. He jerks his head and Stacker takes him on through to his quarters, the same pristine neatness of his office reflected in the stark lines of his made bed; they're not military but they might as well be. There isn't much else in the room and Herc takes his chance, collapses back onto the bed and with weary hands sheds his trousers, kicks them to the ground. Stacker strips as well, neat and brisk, folds up his trousers then tosses them next to where Herc sprawls. He's tall and fit and well-muscled still, never a man to let himself run to seed behind an office desk, and Herc appreciates the view, would even if Stacker didn't halt in front of him and tug his head up, not rough but demanding, insistent almost, and Herc goes with it for a second. It's been a bitch of a night, and shoving Chuck into line, and being shoved against the walls hasn't made it any easier on his body which right now is torn between wanting to rest and wanting what it’s been denied too long.

 

Stacker winds his fingers around Herc’s chin and looks at him consideringly and Herc grins back, slides a leg around and pulls Stacker onto the bed, flips him over with minimal effort since Stacker has too much dignity to scuffle (and isn't that a change). He's bone-dead tired from a ten hour neural handshake, and a class III that didn't know when to quit, but he's not an idiot. Stacker looks at him like he wants to gauge what Herc needs, wants to give it to him, like a tune-up to keep a car running, and fuck, Herc doesn't work like that. He's known Stacker too long to let him play that trick. He can save it for the day, save it for the repairs he scrimps for Striker Eureka but here right now tired as he might be, this is Herc's game, and Stacker can't run this one like a machine.

 

Herc leans down to press another kiss to his mouth, and one to his cheek and then one to his nose, waiting to see how many it'll take to get Stacker angry, pins him with his thighs and grins, supporting himself on arms that want to give up the ghost but if Stacker can't stop, then neither will Herc. Then Stacker is revolting, bucking up against him, half-angry, half-amused and that's exactly what Herc wants to see. He grinds down, slowly, deliberately, like they're sixteen and discovering humping, getting fully hard together, waits to see if Stacker will crack and order him off, call him Ranger in that biting tone of voice that works better than ice cold water to wake him up, and which gets Herc hotter than he cares to think about.

 

What Stacker does is better than that though - he goes lax for a moment and sinks back down, like he’s waiting for a better moment to take a move and Herc takes his time, all thoughts of quick and fast vanished. He smoothes his thumbs down along the strength of Stacker’s torso, follows them down with his mouth, not gentle, not harsh, just steady and firm and there, feeling every minute flutter in Stacker’s flesh beneath his lips, feels every bitten back sigh like it’s his own never-voiced vibrations that echo in his skin, itchy and restless. He rests his head against warm skin for a long moment, lets his fingers close around Stacker’s hips before he traces the skin at the top of his thigh, soft where most of Stacker is strong, an idle tease, and Stacker grunts, lets him know that he’s drawing it out too long.

 

He doesn’t do this often, and almost never when he’s as tired as this, slow and soft and long, no competition here, one hand on Stacker’s hip, less to hold him down than to remind him that Herc is running this show at this moment, blunt-cut nails square against his skin. He goes down as far as he can and closes his eyes, blocks out every bit of the world, doing what he does best, whether in Jaeger or in bed, concentrating to the best of his ability on the task he’s set himself. Stacker keeps his hands off Herc’s head, lessons learnt long ago, threads them through creased covers and instead breathes in deep. He makes minute movements beneath Herc’s tongue, self controlled and tight in his body, rigid and determined, but Herc can wait, concentrating on every one of the tricks he's picked up on and off over more years than he cares to think about.

 

They're not old, but they're not as young as they used to be either, and the white-hot urgency with which they'd seized the chance on the rare occasions when they could has tempered into this, affection and a slower burning lust, and even tired as he is, Herc is actually enjoying it. Stacker's losing control a little bit now, hips jerking up a little more, and Herc can feel his jaw begin to ache from how slow he's taking it. It fits the mood of the night, a counterpoint to the sharp ache in his ribs from earlier, a better ache and one he chooses. Stacker's breathing is shorter, harsher now, little inhales and then sharp puffs out, and Herc ramps it up just a little bit, sucks him in just a little bit further, and the ability to drain a pint in one is coming in handy right now. When he pulls back a little for air and for another go, Stacker is leaking steadily onto his tongue, sharp and bitter and alive, and Herc gets a hand around the rest of the shaft, working more steadily and strongly now, sharp twist of his hand coinciding with the way he swallows back down, and Stacker seems to enjoy it, and with barely any warning at all he comes just as Herc kicks it up one notch more, with no time to warning. Being a Jaeger pilot means being prepared for any eventuality after all, so he swallows it back, and sits up, massages the now sharp ache of his jaw, a sullen flash of pain when he grits his teeth.

 

Stacker notices the small wince as he notices everything, but says nothing, just slips his hand around Herc’s cock and grasps him how Herc likes, firmer than he’d jerk himself off, and Herc hardens fully from the semi-soft state he’d maintained through that blowjob, the familiar rhythm falling in time with his heart beat. Usually if he was more awake, he’d push himself between Stacker’s thighs, rub himself against him, slick and hot, close enough that there’s only a heartbeat between them, but that takes more effort than he can spare at the moment. There’s a slow rising heat in his gut from the measured quality of the way Stacker touches him, building inexorably, and he’s surprised when Stacker takes him in without ceremony. Stacker’s as willing to be fucked as to fuck, but this isn’t his usual MO, and Herc thinks it’s more the surprise than any skill that causes his stomach to contract, and the familiar flare of orgasm start to build. There’s something about the way he can’t see Stacker’s face, only the broad set of his shoulders, the silver spark of his dog-tags against Herc’s own thigh that overrides any faltering or hesitation - or perhaps the fact that he hasn’t had sex since the last time this happened. Whatever it is, it’s relentless and fierce, curling up inside him and yanking his orgasm out, short and sweet and surprisingly strong.

 

It drains most of the last of his strength as though the promise of coming had been all that had kept him awake this far, and the door is too fucking far for him to consider meandering out. That’s not the way they do this anyway, they’re discreet not paranoid, and a few hours here before Stacker leaves will harm no-one. He wonders if that was Stacker’s intention, and feels his mouth twitch in a half smile as he lies there, perilously close to the edge of the bed, the coolness of the room registering now that he’s no longer up against Stacker. It’s been too long if Stacker is using the same methods on Herc that he does on the World Council - sly misdirection that ends up with him getting just enough that he can make do, but never exactly what he needs. Still, that’s Stacker Pentecost for you, he keeps what he needs so tight to his chest that maybe even he’s forgotten what it is.

 

“Will it work, Herc?” Stacker asks, because the bastard can never just fall asleep after reasonable sex. His voice is a little hoarser than usual and he coughs as he speaks. Herc wonders if it was blowing Herc that made him sound like that, and the thought perversely stirs a little interest in him.

 

Herc’s drifting on the edge of sleep now, hazily shifts more fully onto the bed and pulls the top blanket over them both clumsily. He lies there within an inch of Stacker, not touching, but close enough that he can feel the warmth in the cooling room. He doesn’t answer because they both know the response.

 

Stacker is doing what he must, gathering every weapon for this final push. Herc knows he is part of that arsenal as well, honed and polished for this final task, knows as well as Stacker that the chances are good that he won’t come back, and Christ, he wrestles with that, not for himself but for Chuck, even though Chuck knows the chances as well as Herc does, signed the same oaths, proved himself to be the right man for the job. Finally, before he can drift off completely, he answers. “Has to, doesn’t it?” Or it’s all for nothing, everything they’ve sacrificed, everything they’ve undergone, bringing Raleigh Becket back for the final push, the lives of every one of the people who’ve fought for them and beside them, all of it a waste, a final futile gasp for freedom.

 

He sleeps like that, fingers curled around Stacker’s wrist, a weapon in this fight but not an unwilling one.