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World Victory Tour - Brisbane

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Brisbane, Australia, March 7th 2025

 

Stacker puts the last of his gear in his backpack and zips it up. Then he grabs it along with the second one he packed and sets them down next to the door. He knows Herc will see them as soon as he gets back to their hotel suite, and that they will pick his curiosity - especially because only one of the backpacks is Stacker's. The other one is Herc's.

It's late morning and Herc is out to participate in a commemorative ceremony at the cemetery that was established after the Kaiju attack last year. Stacker settles down on the couch in the living room of their suite and takes up his tablet. It's a blessing to be able to use both of his arms again since both he and Herc got rid of their casts about a week ago. The feeling is still oddly novel, but Stacker greatly appreciates the new freedom. He flicks on the tablet and navigates to the folder with the reports that he still has to read. There's a never-ending queue of them, replenished constantly with new reports trickling in daily, and he figures he can get some of them done while he's waiting for Herc to return. He doesn't have to wait more than half an hour before he hears the front door opening and then there's the sound of Herc's shoes on the floor.

When Stacker looks up, Herc is coming into the living room wearing his dress uniform. He looks delicious, and Stacker can't help a pleased smile at the sight. He knows Herc isn't too fond of the dress uniform, he's more for casual and practical clothes. But this morning's meeting demanded full attire, and Stacker always enjoys seeing him like that - especially because it's such a rare sight.

"Good morning, Stacks." Herc comes over to the couch and greets him with a kiss to the temple.

"Good morning." Stacker replies with a smile and moves his legs so that Herc can sit down on the couch. As soon as Herc is comfortable, he pulls Stacker's legs into his lap. "How did it go?"

"As well as can be expected." Herc sighs. "I still don't like cemeteries, though. I know that it was important that I, as the Australian Marshal out of the two of us, participated in the commemorative ceremony, but it still makes me uncomfortable. It always hits a bit too close to home."

"I know." Stacker reaches out to put his hand over Herc's where it rests on Stacker's knees. "I would have done it, but it wouldn't have been the same for them. You being there brought those affected more comfort. You're one of them, not just because of a shared nationality. It feels sincere coming from you, and it gives them comfort."

"That's why I did it. Angie would have wanted me to do whatever I can to give others a bit of comfort, especially because I know how they feel." Herc falls silent for a moment, obviously lost in memories, and then he chuckles. "She certainly wouldn't have appreciated me not doing it and then blaming it on her."

"She would have kicked your arse." Stacker agrees with a gently teasing smirk, and he's pleased when Herc laughs at the truth of those words.

Stacker may never have met Angela Hansen in person, but he feels like he knows her, like she's a friend, because he experienced so much of her through his drifts with Herc. He's never been jealous of her, not even for a second, and he assumes it's because all the memories of her that he's experienced are always tinged by Herc's love for her. He's also convinced that it's because she was a fantastic woman that he could have loved as well, either as a friend or more. Herc does have good taste, after all. Stacker is just glad that Herc had a companion like her, even if her loss caused so much pain. Angela was a huge part of Herc's life and their time together shaped Herc, made him the man Stacker fell in love with, and Stacker cherishes her for that alone.

"Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Angie hadn't died. You know, if we had gotten close while I was with her." Herc muses, never breaking eye contact. It's a question Stacker has asked himself once or twice as well.

"I guess we would have been really close friends, but not more." Stacker says after a moment of thinking about it again. "I don't think you'd have cheated on her, and I would not have done that to her, either."

Herc just shakes his head. "No, not cheated. But I don't think there's a world where I wouldn't have fallen in love with you. Maybe..."

"Maybe what?" Stacker asks with a raised eyebrow, his curiosity piqued by the slow, mischievous smile he can see tugging on Herc's lips.

Herc allows it to grow into a full-blown grin. "We probably would have ended up in a threesome, all in love with each other."

At that Stacker can't help laughing out loud. The strangest thing is that it's actually not that implausible. He already established that he could have loved Angela, and Herc knows her well enough to be able to guess how she would have reacted to such a situation.

"Now, that would definitely have been an interesting relationship." Stacker remarks once he has calmed down. He's still smiling, especially when Herc entwines their fingers.

"For me, it would have been a new kind of relationship." Herc says with a chuckle. "Though you weren't my first guy, I've never been in a threesome of any kind, neither emotional nor sexual."

Stacker just grins at him. "I have, at least in a sexual way. As you well know."

Herc laughs with a teasing edge. "Oh yes, that's not a memory I'm ever going to forget. I'm still pissed that you showed it to me while we were strapped into the Conn-Pod harnesses and I couldn't react appropriately to it."

"You made up for it later." Stacker points out and sends Herc an image of said encounter over the ghost drift.

"You're a tease, Stacks." Herc's voice is deliciously breathless, and Stacker enjoys feeling him squirm a little under Stacker's legs in his lap.

Stacker chuckles. "I know you don't actually mind."

"So, what's with our backpacks in the hallway?" Herc asks in an blatant attempt to change the topic, and Stacker graciously lets him, considering the plans he has for the next few days.

"That's our gear." He declares without preamble. "We are going camping."

"Camping?" Herc's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline in utter surprise. "But aren't we supposed to take part in the live show tonight?"

"No." Stacker smirks. "I had Amanda put us on the schedule so that you wouldn't smell the surprise, but apart from that commemorative ceremony, we were never actually planned into the events here in Brisbane."

For a moment Herc looks baffled, then he chuckles. "You really had this all planned out for quite a while now, didn't you?"

Stacker doesn't bother denying it. "I did. Knowing that we'd be just two hours by car from Noosa was too good an opportunity to miss out on."

"Noosa." Herc says quietly with a soft smile, and there's a wistfulness to the expression that Stacker feels inside himself as well. "It's been ten years."

"I know." Stacker agrees equally quiet.

"How much time do we have?"

"The remainder of today and the full day tomorrow." Stacker replies without having to think about it. He really has been planning this for quite a while. "The day after tomorrow we have to be back at noon so that we can catch the plane to Papua New Guinea with the rest of the tour."

"Wow, you actually managed to clear almost two days for us?" Herc seems impressed.

"I had help. Ms James was willing to shift things around after I convinced her."

"Convinced?" Herc raises an eyebrow. "Don't you mean 'pressured'?"

Stacker shrugs. "Maybe a little bit. She's not the only person in the PPDC who can be scary when necessary."

Herc chuckles. "I certainly appreciate the effort."

"I'm glad to hear that." Stacker smirks. "You know that I even rented a four-wheel drive camper? It's not the exact same model, but close enough."

Herc squeezes his hand, then he raises their intertwined fingers to his mouth and presses a gentle kiss to Stacker's knuckles. At the same time he opens their ghost drift a little more and pours his feelings into the connection. It's a pleasant, warm mixture of love, affection, anticipation and appreciation. "Thanks, Stacks. I'm really looking forward to it."

"You're more than welcome." Stacker smiles at him, not bothering to hide how much it means to him that he managed to surprise Herc in such a good way. "Now you better get changed into clothes more appropriate for a camping trip. The camper will be delivered to the hotel at 11 am, which means we've got fifteen minutes to get ready."

"I certainly don't mind getting out of the dress uniform." Herc frowns at the formal clothes he's wearing.

"I'll let you get to it, then." Stacker chuckles and lifts his legs out of Herc's lap. He gets up, pulls Herc up with him and then guides him towards the master bedroom. It takes them less than the fifteen minutes to get ready and make their way down to the lobby, each with one of the small backpacks that Stacker packed slung over the shoulder. Stacker thoroughly enjoys the pleasant excitement he can feel coming over the ghost drift and how it increases the closer they get to claiming the camper for the next two days. Stacker enquires after the car at the reception desk and is handed a set of keys and a number for the parking space where it's waiting for them.

"Here." Stacker says to Herc just before he throws him the keys. Herc effortlessly catches them out of the air and smirks at Stacker.

"This is going to be fun." Herc grins in a kind of genuinely carefree pleasure that Stacker hasn't seen on him in a long time. The events leading up to Operation Pitfall and the time of recovery afterwards didn't exactly lend to a carefree mindset, and since the beginning of the World Victory Tour, they've all been in the permanent spotlight and under the constant scrutiny of the media.

"I'm so glad to get away from all this." Herc continues as if he read Stacker's thoughts. "The tour was starting to wear me thin, actually."

"Not just you." Stacker agrees. He's well aware that his Rangers are not all as comfortable in the spotlight as the Wei Tang triplets, and that Newton Geiszler is the only one in the K-Science section who enjoys the attention. They've got two more weeks to go, then the promotional tour will finally be over, and Stacker dearly hopes that they'll keep themselves in check until then and get through it without any last minute catastrophes.

The beep of a car unlocking pulls Stacker out of his thoughts. He catches sight of a white four-wheel drive with a high roof and the rental agency's slogan printed on the side. Herc is walking around it, still with this pleased grin on his face that Stacker likes so much.

"Now, that's a beauty." Herc says when he opens the back doors to check out the interior. Stacker follows him and realises that Herc is appreciatively eyeing the fold-out bed.

"Not much has changed, has it?" Stacker chuckles when he puts his backpack down next to Herc's. "The sleeping arrangements are just as... cosy as I remember them."

Herc smirks, and there's no mistaking the teasing in his eyes. "Don't tell me that you mind."

"I certainly do not, no." Stacker admits with a chuckle when they close the doors again and get settled in the driver's cabin. Herc drives them out of the car park and then their first order of business is to find a supermarket to stock up the fridge with food and drink. Once they're satisfied that they have enough for the next two days, they head to Noosa. The traffic is light at this time of the day and it doesn't take long until they're on the highway heading north. Shortly after 1 pm they arrive in the small town and find the campsite. Once they're settled, with the camper parked and plugged in, they prepare a lunch picnic and go for a hike in the Noosa National Park.

"Now this is the perfect way to spend a day." Herc remarks when they've reached the first peak and look out over the sea. Stacker stops right next to him and watches Herc's relaxed stance, the smile on his face that he has turned into the wind and the deep, satisfying breath he takes as if he's trying to physically absorb the moment. It has been a long time since Stacker saw him this relaxed and content, and it feels like the best reward ever that he managed to achieve it with this little trip. It's only two days, but he can tell that they'll do both him and Herc a world of good.

They keep walking for a while before they find a spot where to sit down and have the lunch they packed. Herc chooses a site that Stacker remembers from their trip in 2016, it's the same spot where they had lunch back then with Tamsin. It's on the side of a cliff halfway to the top, a bit off the path to allow some privacy and a spectacular view of the ocean. They get sandwiches, some fruit and water bottles out of their backpacks and sit down to enjoy their picnic in the beauty of the National Park.

When they've finished eating, Herc grabs his backpack and rummages around, only to produce two bottles of beer from an isolation bag. He's grinning broadly while he hands one to Stacker, obviously proud of the fact that they're still cold, the glass wet with condensation.

"You're the best." Stacker says appreciatively while he opens the bottle. He's really looking forward to it - first hiking in the sun, then a relaxing and tasty lunch, rounded off with a cold beer out in the quiet beauty of nature, all with Herc by his side. Herc certainly knows what little things make Stacker happy.

"I even brought you a fake." Herc smirks and waves his hand at the bottle in Stacker's hand. Stacker can't help laughing at the name. It was Tamsin who came up with it and then established it for all alcohol-free beverages that - in her opinion - were supposed to have alcohol. Due to his cancer medication Stacker hasn't been able to drink alcohol since his diagnosis in 2016, and therefore the term 'fake' for alcohol-free drinks remained in use. It always reminds him of Tamsin.

"To Tamsin." Herc says with a smile that's a little wistful and raises his bottle. He's obviously thinking the same thing as Stacker, especially in this setting that is rife with memories.

"To Tamsin." Stacker replies and returns the the smile, then he clinks his bottle to Herc's and they both take a long sip. It tastes wonderful and Stacker closes his eyes to enjoy the sensation of the cold liquid running down his throat. It is joined by the feeling of the pleasantly cool breeze on his face and the sounds of seagulls nearby. He feels the soothing presence of Herc next to him where they're sitting close enough that their legs are touching, as well as the reassuring feeling of him in their ghost drift.

Stacker sits in comfortable silence and looks out over the ocean spread out in front of them, reaching as far as the horizon. It shines in a variety of hues of blue, beautiful and peaceful in a way that Stacker still has problems to trust and enjoy after years of the Kaiju threat. He remembers their last trip to Noosa, remembers how Tamsin loved the ocean and dragged them on a kayak trip around the cliffs. He remembers her smile, mischievous more often than not, and her naughty sense of humour. He has made a point of not thinking about her for so long, but this place is a reminder that makes the memories flood his mind whether he wants it or not. They're good memories, mostly, and Stacker allows them to wash over him in the peacefulness of the moment.

"I miss her." Stacker says quietly after a long time, looking down at the bottle in his hand, watching the droplets running down its neck.

"I do, too, Stacks." Herc's voice is equally quiet, and there's no mistaking the sadness. He knows exactly what Stacker is talking about, probably even without the added source of information that is the ghost drift.

"Tamsin was pretty much my sister, just like Luna. I miss her so much." Stacker sighs deeply, then he raises his head and looks out over the vastness of the ocean again. "I miss both of them. Even after all these years."

"So do I." Herc falls silent for a moment, but Stacker knows there's more, and he waits patiently for Herc to continue. "I may never have met Luna in reality, but I feel like I did after living in your drift-dream. It was so real, and having Tam and Luna as part of our family made me realise how much I miss Tam, how much I never allowed myself to admit that - even to myself. And now I miss Luna, too, because I got to know her as a close friend."

Stacker turns to watch Herc when he hears him take a deep but shaky breath. Herc has raised his head, is staring out at the ocean, and he's not bothering to hide the tears in his eyes. "Waking up from that drift-dream world felt like I really lost them. It felt like Tam had died all over again, like I'd lost Charlie, Mako, Luna and you - my family, our life here."

Herc lowers his head and passes the palm of his hand over his eyes to wipe away the tears. "I know it wasn't real, in my mind I know that, but that doesn't make it feel any less real."

Stacker reaches out and slowly entwines the fingers of his left hand with Herc's right. Herc turns his head to look at him, his gaze raw. "I want so much to share this world with you. I wish we could drift so that I could show it to you in all its beauty. I want you to remember it. I need you to remember it. Because it was beautiful and perfect and you deserve to know it."

Stacker is almost overwhelmed by the intense feelings he gets from Herc over the ghost drift and he swallows hard against the lump he feels in his throat. "I can't wait for it. As soon as we get the green light from Caitlin, I'll be in the drift with you."

"That will take weeks, maybe even months." Herc sighs. "I know why we have to be careful, and I certainly won't risk your health for this, but it feels like a punishment, like pure injustice that you can't remember. This world your mind came up with is too precious to be forgotten."

Stacker feels Herc's helpless frustration over their connection and can't help wishing that they could just engage in a drift, consequences be damned, because the desire to know about this world Herc told him about is overwhelming. They've talked about it several times, and Stacker knows from Herc's accounts what happened, but it's still very different from experiencing it in a shared memory. It's probably the curse of having drifted - once you know how effective and clear sharing memories is, words are just not enough anymore. It's probably especially true for perfect matches, Stacker muses.

"Maybe..." Herc frowns in concentration, but doesn't finish his sentence. He suddenly closes his eyes, consciously synchronises his breathing with Stacker's and Stacker feels him open the ghost drift a little more, as much as they can without being engaged in a pons.

And then Stacker is hit by it, the scene almost as clear as if it was his own memory. He gasps in surprise and instinctively closes his eyes to strengthen the connection, and his mind fills with a image of a café, and there's Luna with a little girl sitting on her legs. It's immediately obvious to him that the little girl is Mako, younger than he ever saw her, and she's smiling and clearly happy. Next to them is Tamsin, a cup in her hands that Stacker knows immediately contains a mochaccino, and she's watching Luna and Mako with a content smile. Stacker sees himself sitting in a chair next to a little boy who he effortlessly recognises as Chuck although he never met him at such a young age. Chuck is grinning up at him, his face radiating pride. Herc is in the chair on Stacker's other side, contently sipping a cappuccino.

The image disappears as suddenly as it popped up, and for a moment it leaves Stacker breathless. He wishes he knew more about the scene, about how it came to be, what they were talking about, what little Chuck was telling him that made him smile so proudly. Stacker opens his eyes and looks at Herc, who's watching him with a knowing little smile. Stacker wonders how much of his feelings show on his face in addition to transmitting over the ghost drift. He feels like he's thrown off kilter, but in a strangely good way.

"You saw it, didn't you?" It's more a statement than a question.

"Yes." Stacker gasps, still overwhelmed by the experience. Although he and Herc always share the ghost drift and use it to transfer information and sensation, it's never quite as intense as the image he saw just now.

"Images work best." Herc quotes the well-known truth that all perfect matches are familiar with. He's smiling, looking pleased. "It may not be as good as a drift, but it's the best we can do until we are allowed to drift again."

Stacker squeezes Herc's hand. "Would you do that again? With other moments of the drift-dream?"

"Yes." Herc smiles at him, gentle and sincere and obviously pleased that he found a way to share his memories of the drift-dream world at least to a certain degree.

"Tonight?" Stacker asks hopefully. While he can't wait to see more, he wants to be in a more private setting to do this. He expects that some of the pictures Herc will send him will make him rather emotional, and he doesn't want to do that in public in the middle of a National Park.

Herc nods immediately in quiet understanding. "When we're in bed."

"Sounds good." Stacker agrees and leans in to peck Herc on the lips before he gets up and pulls Herc up with him. "How about we hike a bit more before the sun goes down?"

He knows Herc can tell that Stacker needs to move to ease his churning emotions, and so they pack up their empty bottles and get going again. It's growing dark by the time they leave the National Park and head back to the campsite, and Stacker feels like he regained his centre again. He's still a bit nervous about the things Herc will show him tonight, but he's mostly looking forward to it. He decided during their hike to see it as a chance to gain beautiful memories, never mind whether they really happened or not, and to enjoy them.

They make dinner at the campsite's barbie and eat at the fold-out table of the camper. Stacker takes a profound pleasure in the easy banter between them, the atmosphere relaxed now that they're away from the press, form the cameras and questions, from their duties and their roles and their responsibilities. While it's similar to their trip in 2016, it also feels different, not just because Tamsin's teasing voice is missing from their conversation, but also because Herc and Stacker aren't the same men they were back then. A lot has happened since then, and especially the weeks immediately before and after Operation Pitfall have had a great impact - on them, on their families, on the PPDC, on the world. It shows, and Stacker thinks it's a mostly positive development, although it was hard on all of them.

They sit under the red sky of dusk and enjoy another beer after dinner, and Stacker feels himself relax more and more. He smiles contently at Herc who's sitting opposite of him, slouched in the camping chair with a loose-limbed ease that he rarely shows. It's good to see him like that, especially after the painful, stressful and demanding time of recovery, of waiting for Stacker to wake from coma, of keeping the PPDC afloat, of dealing with the post-breach-collapse world he woke up into and the intrusive attention of the media not just during the World Victory Tour, but already immediately after the closure of the Breach.

Herc turns to look at him with a smile as if he felt Stacker's gaze as well as his thoughts, which he probably did. "Want to go to bed?"

Stacker chuckles. "First we have to put up the bed."

"True. I knew there was something important I had forgotten." Herc replies with a teasing grin.

"Let's clean up first." Stacker suggests and gets up to take the dishes to their fold-out kitchen. Herc follows him after he packs up the table and the chairs, then he takes the dish towel and dries the dishes Stacker is already done with. It's an oddly calming task and Stacker finds himself enjoying the domesticity of it. It's the kind of thing he and Herc seldom share, simply because life in the PPDC doesn't resemble living in a household in any way.

When they're done, they take turns brushing their teeth before they pack up the kitchen. Stacker is last and when he gets to the back of the camper, Herc has already begun to convert the sitting area into the bed. Although the camper is a newer and slightly different model from the one they had ten years ago, the similarities outweigh the differences.

"It's definitely as cramped as I remember." Stacker says drily when Herc has finished folding out the bed. "I might be getting to old for this."

Herc chuckles while he's climbing out of the back of the camper. He comes to stand next to Stacker, eyeing the bed with a ambiguous smirk. "It's also as conductive to cuddling as I remember."

"Admittedly, it was always very cosy." Stacker agrees and doesn't bother to hide the naughty edge of his answering smirk.

"This is going to be fun." Herc grins at Stacker, then he steps up to him and lets his hands come to rest on Stacker's sides. Stacker doesn't hesitate to return the gesture, his hands wandering over Herc's back. He relishes again in the fact that they both finally got rid of the casts because he loves being able to pull Herc close and wrap his arms around him without feeling the uncomfortable barrier of the casts between them.

Stacker doesn't even care that they're in a semi-public setting here on the campsite, which is also due to the fact that it's not very busy at the moment. Stacker furthermore finds that he doesn't care if anybody sees them. Not only does the entire world know about their relationship since their public outing, but they're also off duty at the moment and well away from any public functions. This is their time, and Stacker has come to value it even higher now that both of them came so close to dying.

Herc holds him tight and buries his nose against Stacker's throat, content to just be close. He touches his lips to Stacker's skin right above his collarbone and Stacker can't help sighing contently at the caress. He can't say how long they remain standing like that, locked comfortably in their embrace, before they move apart to get ready for bed. They take turns heading to the facilities of the campsite to go to the toilet and change into their sleeping clothes. Herc goes first and when Stacker comes back, he locks up the camper and then climbs into the cramped space of the bed.

Herc is already lying under the two sleeping bags they opened up and spread out to use as blankets. Stacker lies down with his back to Herc and presses against him, still remembering the way they worked out how to sleep the most comfortable in 2016. Herc immediately wraps himself around Stacker, arms and legs and all, and Stacker doesn't bother suppressing the content sigh that escapes him at the sensation of Herc's warm skin against his own. He feels Herc smile against his neck, followed by a lingering kiss pressed to his shoulder.

"You're right, this is cosy." Herc murmurs against his skin, and Stacker chuckles.

"You were right too: It is conductive to cuddling." Stacker replies and pointedly wriggles against Herc as if trying to get even closer, although that's not possible given that they are pressed together from head to toe, the only barrier between their bodies the boxer shorts they sleep in.

"Ready?" Herc asks quietly when they're both comfortable, and Stacker knows immediately what he's referring to. The silence is only interrupted by the sounds of the insects chirping outside and the odd person walking past the camper. It's peaceful and relaxing, the semi-darkness like a protective veil hiding them away from the world.

Stacker takes a deep breath, then he nods. "Ready."

He's not sure what to expect, but he's curious. He closes his eyes and falls in sync with Herc's breathing, and then the images come. They're as clear as the first time Herc did this in the National Park, and there are so many impressions that Stacker feels overwhelmed. He sees little Mako and little Chuck at the beach, there's their house that Herc told him about, there's him, Herc, Mako and Chuck cuddled up on the couch and watching a movie, there's Tam and Luna and laughter and happiness and so much more. They're only images, no other sensation than visuals, but it's still so much better than words.

When the image stop, Stacker feels exhausted, emotionally more so than physically. He finds himself longing for that world he got glimpses of, he wants to know more about it, wants to experience it in all its sensual complexity. He suddenly craves to drift with Herc with such an intensity that he's unable to speak. It takes him a moment to regain his composure enough to form words, and Herc helps him by just being there and drawing slow, soothing patterns on Stacker's stomach.

"Thank you, Herc." Stacker murmurs into the dark, his voice rough as if he'd been shouting for hours, but he knows it's just emotions.

"Always, Stacks." Herc replies equally quiet and presses his lips to Stacker's neck in a gentle kiss. The soothing presence of Herc in his mind as well as against his body makes Stacker relax, and sleep claims him quickly. It is deep and dreamless and just what he needs.

Stacker wakes to the early morning sun caressing his face. He feels rested in a way he rarely does, and he allows the smile that comes to his lips to show. He stretches carefully in the tight quarters to avoid hitting his hands or feet on something. Stacker turns around to face Herc, his movements slow and calculated to not shake Herc awake. Stacker likes waking before Herc, it allows him to study his face in a state of profound relaxation that is practically impossible to see when Herc is awake. Stacker props himself up on his elbow and traces his fingertips through Herc's tousled hair, along his temple and his eyebrow, down his nose and over his lips, the caress so gentle that it's barely a whisper of a touch.

He'd love to sleep with Herc right now, a slow and deeply satisfying lovemaking that he somehow associates with relaxed mornings right after waking up. He'd do it, too, but he can see shapes moving around through the breath-clouded windows from time to time, a sure sign that other inhabitants of the campsite are awake. A camper is not the best place to have sex in during daytime, and Stacker decides that he'll make up for that tonight. It'll be their last night here, away from the watchful eye of the media, and he wants to make love to Herc before they get back into the confines of the real world. He wants Herc loose-limbed and relaxed and smiling openly, he wants him happy, and Stacker knows that rejoining the tour will change that quickly - for both of them. It has to, if they are to fulfil their duty.

Stacker bends down and touches his lips to Herc's, a caress more than a kiss. He shifts closer to Herc so that he can kiss his eyes, his forehead, his cheeks, then down his neck and his shoulder. Herc begins moving underneath his ministrations after a while, but he makes no attempt to get away. Instead he tries to get closer to Stacker, and a hand finds it's way to Stacker's side, only to slide lower until it's underneath his shorts, resting on Stacker's butt.

"Good morning." Stacker says quietly when he feels the hand caressing his skin.

"Morning, Stacks." Herc mumbles back when he looks up at Stacker with a lazy smile. He lets go of Stacker to stretch leisurely and promptly hits his foot on the back door of the camper. "Ouch."

Stacker chuckles. "Maybe it's cosy, but it's also cramped."

"Agreed." Herc grumbles while pressing his foot against the mattress to ease the pain. "Now I remember that I hit pretty much every body part on something in the camper in 2016."

"You weren't the only one." Stacker concedes. Somehow he managed to forget about that in the years since the trip.

"Breakfast?" Herc suggests after he's done stretching, although he's obviously more careful after the painful contact of his foot with the door. His stomach growls as if to underline his point.

"Breakfast." Stacker agrees and they carefully climb out of the camper. The air is pleasantly cool when they open the back doors wide to allow the stickiness of the interior to air our. Stacker makes his way to the facilities while Herc sets up the table and chairs and folds out the kitchen. Then Herc goes, and Stacker continues to prepare breakfast. They spend the morning walking through the small town, stopping here and there to have a look and to enjoy a smoothie. It's not that same vendor as in 2016, but the smoothies are just as good. When they pass a shop with postcards displayed on a rack to each side of the doorway, Herc stops to have a closer look.

"I'll write Chuck a postcard." Herc smirks while he's checking out the cards. "I don't think I've done that once in the past ten years."

Stacker chuckles. "It'll be interesting to see how he reacts."

"Well, he'll only get it once we're on Kodiak Island, so you'll have to be patient."

"I'm looking forward to it." Stacker smirks, knowing fully well that the fact that Herc and Chuck are slowly improving their relationship changes how a gesture like a postcard is perceived.

"I think I will write one to Mako, too." Stacker says after a moment, and it feels like the right thing to do even while he's saying the words.

"She'll love that." Herc remarks with a smile before he returns to slowly turning the rack to find a postcard he thinks Chuck will like. "It'll probably end up in her treasure box."

"You mean the little wooden box you made for her for her first Christmas with us?" Stacker asks while looking at the postcards.

Herc chuckles. "Yes, that one. I never expected that she would treasure it so much."

"She always keeps it by her bed." Stacker informs him with a little smile. "It has aged nicely. The wood is a beautiful honey colour now."

Herc's smile is pleased. "That's good."

Stacker picks a postcard showing a view of the coastline with the National Park and the town. He goes into the shop to pay and Herc follows him a moment later. His choice of motive is a close-up of the Devil's Kitchen, a prominent cliff formation in the National Park, and a huge wave is crushing against it in a wild spray of water. It looks quite impressive and Stacker is pretty sure Chuck will like it.

They're coming up to the promenade by the beach when Herc excitedly points at a little café. "Oh my god, look, it's still there!"

"We were here in the drift-dream." Stacker says with a quiet little smile and stops a short distance away from the café. Stacker remembers it from their trip in 2016, it's the one where Tamsin loved the mochaccino and where she ordered this weird sundae called spaghetti ice cream. Stacker remembers that it really looked like spaghetti with tomato sauce, and Tamsin had force-fed him a spoonful to convince him that it was indeed ice cream. The memory makes Stacker smile just as much as the scene from the drift-dream, when they met up in this little café for the impromptu family meeting with Luna and Tam.

"Want to get a coffee?" Herc asks after sharing a knowing smile with Stacker. They were thinking the same thing, remembering the same moments, although Herc's memories of the drift-dream are obviously more comprehensive than Stacker's.

"Yeah." Stacker nods and follows Herc towards the café. They sit at the same table as in the drift-dream, order the same things they had back then and then enjoy the rich flavour of coffee and ice cream.

"Do you want more images from our family meeting here?" Herc asks quietly over the rim of his cup.

Stacker nods and gives him a gentle smile. "Show me?"

And Herc does. He gives a detailed account of their time in the café, of little Mako and little Chuck, of Tamsin and Luna, of him and Stacker. He sends Stacker an image and then tells him what they'd been talking about in the drift-dream, and Stacker begins to feel like he was really there. He smiles at Herc with the pleasure of the experience and sees the same emotions returned. They're long finished with their coffee and ice cream when Herc is done with his account of images and words. Stacker decides right then and there that he wants more of this.

As soon as they have paid, Stacker stands up and holds his hand out to Herc. "Will you share more memories with me at the places where they happened?"

"I'd love to." Herc doesn't hesitate to agree. He looks at Stacker's hand for a moment before he takes it, slowly as if he can't quite believe it's happening.

"So, where to next?" Stacker asks and slowly traces his thumb over the back of Herc's hand. He knows how much Herc loves these little gestures of affection; Stacker feels it every single time he kisses his temple, touches him in passing or takes his hand. And while Stacker was never a man for PDAs, now it feels right.

Herc looks at their hands for a moment with a pleased little smile before he raises his head to catch Stacker's gaze. "The beach. You still need to see the beautiful sand sculpture Mako made of Gipsy."

Stacker returns the smile. "Lead the way."