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Scarlet Spun Memories

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A white and gray cat sleeps in a giant clam shell placed in a garden.

- Baron Pancake von Sparkle — MM, 19/7/2024, O'ahu -

Scott's a happy clam, sprawled in his favourite booth, beer in hand, with a great view of the prettiest girl at the bar.

Her eyes keep flicking his way in between dainty sips of her own brew.

Scott smiles.

Her lips twitch up in answer; she quickly hides them behind her glass.

Herc blocks his sight line—

Scott frowns.

—collapses beside him, groaning.

"The game or the booze?"

Herc lets his head fall back. "Both."

"How much you lose?"

"Fifty."

Scott sniffs, "Told you he was a hustler."

Herc drags a hand over his face.

"You need to stay away from pool, mate."

"Like you'd 've done better," grumbles Herc.

"I know better than to play for money, though."

Herc grunts.

Scott turns back to the bar.

Prettiest's watching two tables over.

An argument between an aircraftman and one of the bloody Americans visiting for some reason or another is heading for flashpoint.

"Uh oh." Scott takes a pull.

"Huh?"

"There's gonna be a kerfuffle in a minute."

Herc straightens, scopes the scene.

The Yank's gotten the airman by the arm and hauled him to his feet. He's also gone a really unhealthy red, his other fist cocked back.

The airman shoves at him to no avail.

Scott winces as the Yank's fist makes contact with an eye.

The Yank's buddies form up and cheer.

Herc leans forward.

Another punch lands.

"We can't just sit here!"

"What should we do?"

Herc pushes up his sleeves, shoves to his feet, grins. "Something really stupid."

A grin creeps across Scott's face as he stands. "Sounds like a good plan to me." He rolls his shoulders. "After you, little bro."

Herc steps forward, shouts, "Hey, you!"

The Yank twists, focuses on him. "What do you—"

Herc's fist collides with his face; Scott's breaks his nose a half-beat later.

The mug staggers, shakes his head, flinging blood, as the rest of the Americans close in.

Herc ducks, lands a shot on the first guy's ribs. "This still seem like a good plan?"

Scott winds up his own haymaker. "Nah, you were right. This's really stupid."

Chapter Text

Many, many black and yellow flowers on a Boronia megastigma plant (Jack Maguire's Red) .

- like hundreds of tiny bells (25/02/19, Sydney) -

The phone rings.

Herc asks the ceiling for patience, mutes the TV, braces himself, picks up the handset.

""Your ratbag of a brother checked in yet?""

"No ... sorry." Herc rubs the back of his head.

""How that asswipe got made an officer, I'll never understand.""

Herc sighs.

""Well, you can tell his rude fucking ass I'm walking—""

It's out before Herc finishes thinking: "I'll come get you."

A beat.

""You'll what?""

Herc wishes for a jet intake. Or a mortar. He'd settle for an IED. Or a really determined guy with a spoon.

""Earth to Hansen? Come in, Hansen.""

"Pick you up," croaks Herc. "I've got a car for ...."

""Great. I'm downtown, in front of Red Sun.""

"I know the place. See you in twenty, then."

""Don't be late.""

Dial tone.

Herc's heart thumps and he lets his head fall to the back of his comfy chair. He takes a deep breath, heaves himself to his feet, snags the keys and his jacket, heads out the door and into the car.

Red Sun's pretty much a straight shot from base housing and Herc's pulling up out front fifteen minutes after he sets out. He yanks the handbrake, unlocks and pushes open the passenger door.

Angela—eyes flashing—storms over, flings herself into the seat with a spectacular huff.

"Sorry—" Clears his throat. "Sorry about Scott."

Angela pushes her hair back from her forehead. "It's not your fault your brother's an asshat." She smiles, expression warming as the corners of her eyes fold into adorable crinkles.

Herc ducks his head, swallows.

Angela belts herself in.

"You eaten?"

"No, and I'm famished." She grins. "If you're offering, I could go for something greasy with a side of something with a decent alcohol content."

Herc snorts. "I know a good place for that."

"Fantastic."

"Cool, cool." He releases the brake, puts the car into gear. He pulls into traffic, aims them in the right direction.

They putter across town in silence.

Angela breaks it: "So ... Scott and 'Hercules'?"

Herc sighs, keeps his eyes on the road. "Granddad and a field medic."

"A long story you've told too many times, ay?"

"Yea."

"I can empathize a little. If I had a dollar for every time I've had to answer 'what's up with the 'j' in 'Martijn'?', I could've retired to a beach house already."

Herc chuckles. "What's up with the 'j' in—?"

Angela punches his arm.

"Hey! Driving!"

"You didn't even wiggle."

Herc concedes.

She huffs. "It's Dutch. They stick 'j's in everything."

"Ah." Chuckles. "Did Basic with a guy who had a Finnish granddad. No one could say his name, so everyone called him 'Nerks'."

Angela laughs and it sounds like music.

Herc shakes his head clear-ish. "Keep your eyes open for parking. Gets a little crowded down here on weekends."

"There's a spot a couple cars up, but it looks kinda small." She squints. "You'll have to parallel park."

"Lady, I can park a jet with a half-meter's clearance; I think I can manage a car."

"Of course, you can," she drawls, "but you don't have anyone out there with lights to guide you just now."

Herc sniffs, pulls off the maneuver flawlessly. "Well?"

"Nicely done."

Herc puffs—

"But I've seen better."

—deflates.

"Relax, tiger." She lets herself out, steps up onto the kerb.

Herc checks traffic, climbs out, locks up, and strolls over. "We're headed right over there."

Angela peers along the shopfronts. "Over where?"

"There's, uh, no sign. Lemme show—" Takes—freezes.

Angela offers her arm.

Herc exhales, takes her arm, leads her half a block, opens—

She squawks.

—lets go of her arm—"Sorry!"—opens the door, bows her inside. "Sit wherever."

"Cool, cool." Angela heads for the table nearest the back.

Herc follows—urks against a hold on his arm.

"'ey, Hansen," says Garrison.

"'ey."

"It's great to see you out and about, ye shut-in, but—" Leans in close. "—isn't that your brother's girl?"

Herc rubs his neck, mumbles, "He stood her up."

"Sounds like him." Garrison chuckles. "So, you're, heh, filling in?"

"Just giving her a ride home."

"Uh huh." His eyebrows waggle.

Herc blushes something violent and he slinks off for Angela's table at a brisk clip.

She smiles—

His heart flutters as he slides in.

—over her menu, asks, "What's good?"

"Uh ... anything but the kangaroo."

She arches an eyebrow. "Crocodile?"

"They say 's'okay as far as it goes." Shrugs. "Not a fan myself."

"Yea, I tend to avoid eating things that could kill and eat me." Scrunches her nose—

Herc lowers his eyes to his menu.

—says, "'sides, I've heard it tastes like sour frog."

"You've had frog?"

"A friend tried it when she visited America; she didn't recommend it."

Herc snorts.

A server saunters over, stops at Herc's elbow, asks, "You two know what you want?"

"I'll try the shrimp with the darkest thing you have on draft," replies Angela.

The server jots on her notepad. "Sir?"

"Same."

"You're easy," snickers the server and she skips off to the kitchen.

Angela chin-hands. "Is that true?"

"Is what true?"

"You're easy?"

Herc's face catches fire.

"Kidding, kidding," assures Angela. "I guess I shouldn't tease you like that. Might give you the wrong idea about me."

She smiles and Herc's heart nearly stops dead.

"You okay, there?"

"Fi—" Clears his throat. "I'm fine. Low blood sugar or something," he mumbles.

"Uh huh."

Beer appears.

Herc hides behind his as best he can.

Small talk, jokes, shrimp, more beer, teasing, flirting, laughter, and the bill (split down the middle) blur past and they're back at the car and Herc's having a hard time remembering how the key works because she's. right. there.

He manages the lock, dives inside, opens Angela's door. They belt up and he gets the car started and aims it into traffic.

"Where'm I dropping you off?"

"You know the Bernborough?"

"Yea. No problem."

And they're trundling along nearly empty streets—most of the folks out strolling are couples hanging on each other's arms.

Herc shakes his head clear-ish.

"You okay?"

"Yea. Just a little tired."

"You want me to take over?"

"Nah. I got it."

"Don't get us killed, ay?"

"I won't. Promise."

Soon enough, he's got them parked out front of Angela's building. He hops out, meets her as she climbs from her seat.

"Walking me to the door?"

"Yea?" Clears his throat. "I mean—if that's—"

"It's great. C'mon." Angela offers her arm.

Herc links his, strolls beside her to the landing, stops. He shifts his feet.

"This's the part where you kiss me goodnight."

"Oh. Uh. Right." He pecks her cheek, retreats, blushing fiercely.

"You can do better than that," she laughs.

Herc steels himself, wraps an arm around her waist, kisses her for real.

Angela purrs, stretches herself against him, breasts pressing tight against his chest.

Herc concentrates on maintaining blood flow to his brain.

She breaks off, growls, "You taste right."

"Wha?"

Angela brushes his earlobe—

Herc shivers.

—with her lips, murmurs, "Pheromones. Mine like yours." Nips. "A lot."

"But—"

"I'm not his."

"But—"

Angela steps away, quirks an eyebrow. "You're seriously going to argue? In that state?"

Herc checks—and some of his blood reroutes itself to his face.

Angela laughs, digs into her purse for keys.

She's working the lock when Herc gets his feet moving and she's got the door open just in time for him to stumble through.

He brackets her against the mailboxes, but she ducks his kiss.

"Inside. Two doors down."

Steps back, drops his arms. "Right."

The flat's lock gives way in a hurry and as soon as Angela's got the door bolted behind them, Herc crowds her against it, kisses her neck, while she works her hands up under his shirt.

A bit of that (not enough) and Angela ducks under his arm, spins him, starts tugging him farther into the flat.

Deeper, hungrier kisses as they work on each other's buttons; Angela walking backward, Herc chasing, both leaving a trail of clothes.

She's out of her slacks and panties without breaking stride; Herc nearly breaks his neck when it's time for the trousers to go.

Angela times it perfectly and she's gloriously naked and he's down to his shorties and socks when she tips back onto the bed, tugging him down after her with the hand she has cupping his nape. She lies back, her dark hair fanning out across the white pillow.

Herc braces himself over her, a hand on either side of her head.

Her look is pure lust and Herc can't get his boxers off fast enough.

Angela watches him, lips curling into a leer, hand sliding over her hip and between her legs.

"Jesus," he breathes.

She smirks, uses her free hand to tug him down into a needy, passionate kiss.

Something niggles at him, but—

Angela lines him up, cants her hips.

He breaks off. "Wait, I—"

"I'm on the pill—" Nips at his jaw. "—and I have ECP. Don't worry."

Herc eases—groans deep in his throat.

"God, that feels so good."

"Should I—"

"No questions. Just fuck me."

That's nearly enough to end him before it gets properly started.

She digs her nails into his back and he thrusts and it's all over with a whimper embarrassingly fast.

Angela shifts her hips, hisses, "Don't you leave me like this."

Herc pulls out, shuffles lower on the bed.

Angela drags her fingers across his scalp as she squirms against his tongue and teeth, nudges him where she wants him with her legs until her muscles tense and her back arches and she howls.

He relents, heaves himself up beside her, tucks her under his chin.

"Thanks," she pants.

Herc grunts, stifles a yawn.

Angela nestles into his chest, chuckles, "Take a nap, Tiger. You earned it."

He snorts, but lets his eyes drift shut.

Herc is awake, blinking muzzily at ... that's not his lamp.

Something jabs his ribs, grumbles, ""God, you lot sleep like the dead.""

He knows that voice.

Another jab.

Herc pushes to sitting, rubs his eyes.

"You need a shower," says Angela.

Croaks, "You should—"

"I've already done." She leans closer. "I let you get some extra beauty sleep." Pecks his cheek.

"Oh, uh, thanks." Digs himself from under the sheets, looks around. "Where's the ...?"

"Out the door, next door on the right."

"Thanks." Herc shuffles out.

In the washroom, Herc splashes cold water on his face, wakes himself the rest of the way up. Blinks at his reflection in the mirror over the sink.

His reflection in Angela's mirror.

Oh sh—

He throws himself in the shower, twists it on as cold as he can stand it, scrubs until he's clean and pretty blue. Wraps a towel around his waist, squares up, heads back to the bedroom.

Angela's waiting on the foot of the bed, wearing—

Herc swallows.

—nearly nothing. She glides to her feet, drapes her arms around his neck.

It's out before Herc finishes thinking: "You want to go again?"

A beat.

"I'm so—"

She kisses the breath out of him, yanks off his towel, then twists them around, pushes him down on the mattress, straddles his middle.

They take it slow this time, dragging it out until Angela collapses, spent, beside him.

"Thanks," wheezes Herc.

"You're welcome." Angela kisses the tip of his nose, slides from the bed.

Herc watches her go, sighs contently.

Water runs in the shower.

Herc sighs again, lets his eyes flutter shut—sneezes—

A startled noise beside him.

—bats at the long, silky hair tickling his nose.

""'ess 'u,"" mumbles the hair-and-pillow combo next to him.

"Sorry." He pushes himself to sitting. "Sor—" Smothers another sneeze in his elbow. "Sorry."

Angela rolls over, blinking sleepily. "You're 'llergic to me now?"

Herc flutters. "Just a tickle. Promise." Lies back down, nuzzles her cheek.

She pulls away.

"Sor—"

She taps his mouth closed. "Just need to watch the stubble." Smiles. "Sensitive skin."

"Oh, uh, right."

Angela's gazes sharpens.

Herc's heart stutters. "Wha? Wha—"

"Relax, Tiger. I want to remember this."

"Oh." Herc blushes. "Uh, why?"

Angela rolls her eyes. "Because that was a very pleasant night, don't you think?"

"Uh, yea," croaks Herc, "definitely."

"You're sweet—" Pushes his hair off his forehead. "—and pretty dang cute when you're all flustered."

He huffs, then leans into her touch, inhales deeply. "You smell really good."

"Any specific part?"

"Your hair. 's'spicy."

"Boronia absolute." Wrinkles her nose. "Expensive as hell, but totally worth it."

"Definitely." He kisses her hairline, takes another deep breath. "Definitely."

Angela hums, kisses along his jaw, then pulls away with a sigh.

"What?"

"I've gotta go. Stupid brunch meeting," she grumbles. "Which means you've gotta go, too. Much as I hate to interrupt this."

Herc gathers her in. "Could you call in sick?"

"Not if I want to have a job tomorrow."

"Guess we have to then."

"Yup." Angela wiggles out of his arms, pushes up to sitting, then slides out of bed.

Herc heaves a sigh and does the same, then retraces his steps to the front door, dressing in yesterday's clothes as he comes across them.

Angela, in a housecoat, assesses him from the hallway as he buttons his shirt, smugs, "You look like a man who had a good night."

"I feel like a guy who had a good night."

She strolls over, presses a kiss to his lips, pulling away way too quick. "Call me sometime," she says.

"Sure," rasps Herc. "I'll do that."

"Be sure you do." Angela smiles and Herc melts and more or less floats back to the car.

He manages the whole car thing and drives to his and Scott's place, stomach sinking the whole way.

Parks up.

Stares at the building.

Takes a deep breath.

Climbs out, locks up, trudges up to the door.

Unlocks it, eases it open, slips inside and out of his shoes.

Everything's quiet.

He exhales, tiptoes into the hallway, heading for—

"Where were you last night?" says Scott, materializing directly in his path.

Herc stumbles to a stop, rubs the back of his neck. "Umm ...."

Scott leers a bit. "You get lucky? Finally?"

Herc feels himself go crimson.

"Good for you!" Scott whacks him on the back. "Who is she?"

Herc sidles—

Scott blocks his escape. "C'mon, don't be shy."

"Just some chick I met downtown," mumbles Herc, pushing past.

Scott pursues. "This chick have a name?"

"I don't remember." Herc shuts—

Scott blocks the door with his foot, kicks it all the way open, spins Herc around by the shoulder. "Bullshit. What's her name?"

Herc shuts his mouth with a click.

Scott rolls his eyes. "Spit it out."

"An—" Swallows.

Scott blinks rapidly, lips thinning.

Herc cringes.

"Angela? My Angela?"

Herc straightens his spine. "She's not yours."

Scott sets his jaw. "You slept with my girlfriend?"

"You stood her up. Again!"

Scott looms closer. "That's not a free pass to fuck her!"

"It was her idea!"

Scott's eyes nearly bug out of his head and he clenches his fists.

Herc glares back, braces for the inevitable punch.

"I thought I could trust you," spits Scott. Then he snaps a turn on his heel, stomps down the hall.

The front door slams.

Herc sags against the wall and drags a hand down his face.

Chapter Text

Blurry close-up of a positive home pregnancy test.

- 。☆*✲゚*\(^O^)/*゚✲*☆。 (16/01/15, Koffiefontein) -

Herc pushes away his empty tray, leans back on the bench, and stretches his arms over his head.

Garrison, across the table, sets down his fork. "How're things going with the girlfriend?"

"Fine."

"Only 'fine'?"

Herc shrugs.

"You've been spending a lot of time with her, ay?"

Another shrug.

Garrison grabs his fork, stabs some vegetables. "Being in love sure hasn't made you more talkative."

Herc snorts.

""Hansen Junior!"" hollers Crossley. ""Phone!""

"'scuse me." Herc slides out of his place, jogs over to the front office.

Crossley offers the handset, hand muffling the mouthpiece. "A woman and it sounds serious."

"Thanks." Herc takes it and a deep breath, then greets, "Hansen here."

""Herc—"" Angela's voice is thick, urgent. ""—we need to talk. Now.""

He swallows. "Where?"

""I'm out front.""

"Be there in ten."

""Thanks.""

Dial tone.

Herc hands the thing back to Crossley.

"Everything okay?"

Herc leaves without answering.

The jog's a blur, but it's still tough enough in the summer sun for him to be wringing wet by the time he spots Angela, sitting on top a picnic table in a puddle of shade, gazing into middle space.

He mops his face with his shirt hem, alters course to approach her from the front.

She spots him, smiles weakly. "Hey, Tiger."

Herc climbs up next to her. "Hey, Angie."

She offers him a water bottle.

"Thanks." He swigs, passes it back.

Angela sips, sets the bottle aside.

A car rattles past.

"I'm pregnant," she rasps.

Herc's heart stutters, impales itself on a rib.

"I'm about a month along—" Deep breath. "—and I'm keeping it."

Herc struggles to breathe around the lump in his throat.

"You're the only one with the right timing, but I'll, um, take a test after it's born to make sure."

Herc ....

"This probably happened that first time and it's totally my fault, so I'll understand if you want nothing to do with us."

"Marry me," blurts Herc.

A beat.

"What?"

Herc fights with the chain around his neck as he steps down, kneels. He offers up the battered, too-big ring, croaks, "Marry me."

"Are you serious?"

Herc swallows. "Yea, I am." Swallows again. "I want to be a proper dad to my kid." Blinks rapidly. "And I—" Deep, shaky breath. "—I love you, Angela Margaret Martijn."

Angela ....

"Will you marry me?"

Angela takes the ring, slides it onto her thumb—the only finger it'll fit—croaks, "I'll marry you, Hercules Donovan Hansen."

Herc's shoulders drop and he hauls himself back up beside her.

She twists the ring.

Herc tries to will his heart to slow down and his head to stop spinning.

Angela presses against his side

A truck grumbles by.

The world stabilizes a little bit.

"What's this ring's story?"

"It—my dad's. Was kind of a miracle they found it after .... Scott didn't wa—" Hangs his head, rubs the back of his neck. "I'll get you a proper one soon as I can."

Angela hums absently.

A car putters past.

Dogs bark.

Another car.

And another.

""Hansen!""

Herc and Angela jump.

""You're late!""

"Sh—sorry—gotta go." Herc pushes off.

"'s'okay, Tiger."

"I'll call tonight, yea?"

"Yea. Please do."

Herc flutters a moment, then pecks her check and flees for the hangar.

He ducks through the door, steps to the side, scans the space, exhales. Strolls—

A hand on his shoulder.

—startles almost out of his boots.

"You've been avoiding me long enough," says Scott, towing Herc to a corner and trapping him against the wall.

"Uh, well, I ...."

"Listen, Herc. Shit happens sometimes. I understand and if you're cool, I'm cool, alright? You can stop creeping around."

Herc shifts his feet.

"Now, you look like you have something to say to me."

"I—we—I mean ...."

"Last I checked, you spoke English. Give it a try."

Herc ....

Scott sighs. "If I promise not to start a fight, will you just say it?"

Herc swallows, traces cracks in the concrete with his eyes. "Angela and I've been dating."

"I know that."

"She's pregnant."

"Oh." Scott's voice is flat.

"I asked her to marry me." Swallows. "She said 'yes'."

"Right. Congratulations," growls Scott.

Herc listens to boots strike pavement, quickly fading away, and counts aggregate stars in the concrete.

Chapter Text

An hours-old red-haired baby in its mother's arms.

- Charles Victor Hansen, 14 August 2003 -

Angie throws him out of the room, shouting that she hates him, never wants to see him again.

Herc, heart fluttering, stumbles out to the waiting area.

Nurse Draper pat-pats his arm. "This's normal. She'll forgive you soon as the 'welcome to the world' hormones start flowing."

Now he perches on an impossibly uncomfortable chair, hands between knees, twisting his wedding ring.

Venomous cursing from behind the not-quite-soundproof suite door.

He cringes.

Quiet.

Takes a deep breath, runs a hand through his hair.

Sighs.

Another burst of invective.

Cringes anew, checks his watch.

Nine hours.

No wonder she hates him.

He hates himself right now.

Scrubs his hands over his face.

An almighty yelp—

Herc drops his hands, sits straight.

—and an indignant squawk from a tiny set of lungs.

The world gets a bit swimmy and Herc's ears ring.

Ten deep, deep breaths.

High, thin screaming, on and on.

Herc's heart stutters.

Quiet.

Please please please please please— ‒

The door opens and Draper skips over.

Herc droops.

"You're wife and son are doing great, Mr Hansen," she chirps.

"Ca—" Clears his throat. "Can I?"

"Not just yet." Sheepish smile. "It'll be a couple more minutes: we're still waiting for those hormones to kick in."

Herc snorts a laugh.

"I'll come get you when they're ready."

"Thanks."

She ducks into the suite.

Herc sags into the chair, lets his head fall back.

He memorizes the holes in one tile, then a second.

"She's willing to see you again," announces Draper.

"Thanks," he croaks, hauling himself to his feet and plodding over.

Draper gets the door.

Herc creeps—

"I still hate you," greets Angie.

—folds into the chair at bedside.

"And it's your fault he's gonna be bullied at school."

His son.

"Wha?"

"He's a ginger."

Herc leans closer, catches a glimpse of of wisps of reddish hair plastered to bruised skin between Angie's protectively curled fingers.

Herc covers the tremble in his voice with a chuckle. "Blame the Irish genes."

"Oh, I do."

Baby—

His son!

—squirms deeper between Angie's breasts.

"We talking too much for you, Baby Bear?"

Baby grunts.

"'s'okay, Charlie," she coos. Without looking away, to Herc: "He's opinionated already."

"Oh?"

"All that yelling? He started when they put a hat on him and didn't stop 'til it was gone. Calmed right down then."

"Sounds like a Martijn. Complaining 'til they—"

"Don't. Start."

"Sorry." Herc rubs the back of his neck.

"I suppose you want to hold him," she huffs, but her eyes are laughing.

Herc swallows. Blinks rapidly. Swallows again.

Angie eases the tiny thing in his little blue blanket with his perfect little ears and red hair and squashed nose and puffy eyes and fat little cheeks into Herc's arms.

He tucks Charlie tight to his chest, wipes his eyes on his shoulder.

"Say 'hi' to Daddy, Charlie," encourages Angie.

Charlie yawns with perfect little pink lips.

"Hi, son," Herc chokes. "Welcome to the world."

Chapter Text

Two crows standing in the mist thrown off by a lawn sprinkler.

- art you can eat! (14/02/21, Hong Kong) -

Herc stands at the kitchen counter, spreads delicious brown goop on one slice of toast, then another.

Angie drags herself in, looking like she's been on a ten-kay march, collapses at the table, head rolled back, eyes closed.

"He finally surrender?"

She grunts, whines at the ceiling, "Why won't this heat wave break already?"

"Maybe that'll be Mother Nature's Christmas gift."

Angie scoffs.

Herc inhales a toast.

"Remember to chew."

"m' am fwewin."

Angie sighs.

Herc brushes crumbs off his front onto the plate, contemplates second toast.

The A/C kicks on, whining.

"Poor, overworked thing needs a new bearing."

"I put in the request yesterday." Herc rounds the counter. "Toast?"

"Not if you put that stuff on it."

"What stuff?"

"You know what I'm talking about."

Herc steps beside her chair, waves toast under her nose.

Angie sits up straight, swats—

Herc barely rescues toast from soaring to the floor.

—hisses, "Get it away!"

Herc sets toast back on the counter. "What's wrong with Vegemite?"

Angie grimaces. "It tastes like socks."

"You've tasted socks?"

"You haven't?"

"Well, yea, but I have an older brother. Why have you?"

"Girls fight mean."

"Oh." Rubs the back of his neck, then grins. "Anyone ever taste yours?"

Angie smirks. "Of course."

"That's my Angie." Leans in for a kiss.

"Get away from me!" She shoves at his chest.

Herc dodges, leans closer. "Just one li'l peck, love!"

"No! Not after you eat that stuff!"

"'s honest Aussie food!"

"It's awful!"

"How can you call yourself Australian and not like Vegemite?"

"I'm more Australian than you, ye fresh-off-the-boat Irishman," she huffs.

"Says a woman with a Dutch 'j' in her name," he teases back, "and who doesn't like Vegemite."

"Give me marmalade any day of the week."

Herc hangs his head. "How could I have married someone like you?"

"Pretty sure the reason's finally fallen asleep in the nursery," drawls Angie.

"Is that the only reason?"

"'course not." Angie smiles that way that makes Herc's heart flutter. "It's 'cause you love me."

"I love you." Herc kisses her crown.

"Ick! Did you just get crumbs on me?" Angie violently ruffles her hair.

"No. I don't—"

"I get enough of that from your son!"

Herc aims for 'charming'. "Acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, ay?"

"Yea, and you're both nuts."

"About you."

Angie rolls her eyes.

Chapter Text

Statue of the cartoon character Charlie Brown holding a huge coffee mug on display in a Charlie Brown Cafe in Hong Kong.

- I want the same size he has! (14/02/21, Hong Kong) -

Charlie shivers on a bed wearing nothing but a scratchy blanket.

"Are you feeling any better, love?" asks the nurse.

"No," he croaks and huddles deeper.

"This is such a nasty bug." She pat his head. "Your mum will be here soon with some clean clothes for you."

Charlie grunts—shivers with another cold sweat.

"Oh dear." She bustles over with the dish. "Just let it happen, sweetie."

Charlie does, gags again on the acid burn left in his mouth and nose, shudders.

Nurse reappears with an empty bowl and a plastic cup of something fizzy and gingery.

"Thank you."

"Take it slow, okay, sweetie?" She sets the bowl beside him.

Charlie nods, sips.

Far off, a door squeaks.

"That's probably your mum. We'll be right back." Nurse strokes his hair again, shuffles out.

Charlie's stomach gurgles, rolls hard left.

He loses what's left of his breakkie—

Fizzy splashes in.

—whimpers.

Hard-soled shoes click on lino, a half-beat behind the nurse's trainers.

Charlie looks between his cup and the bowl wibbling.

Mum clicks across the little room, crouches to Charlie-level. "Hi, Bear."

Charlie sniffles into his cup. "Hi, Mum."

The nurse smiles. "Had a bit of a spill, love?" Swaps a clean bowl for the old one.

"Ms Christine says you've been having a tough morning."

"Uh huh."

"I brought you a fresh shirt, so let's get you dressed." Mum offers Charlie's soft PJ shirt.

He snuffs, lets the blanket drop.

Mum tugs the shirt over his head, helps him thread noodly arms through the sleeves.

"Ugh. This must be soooome bug, making you all floppy."

Charlie grunts.

Mum squeezes his knee. "Good for trousers?"

Charlie nods.

"One foot, two feet—"

Charlie oozes to standing.

"There we go!" Mum smiles. "Alright, Bear, let's get you home so you can get better." She straightens.

Charlie nods, leans hard against her leg.

She steers him, slowly, with a gentle hand on his shoulder, from the infirmary down the halls to her car.

Charlie drags himself into his seat, fumbles—

Mum belts him in.

He sighs.

Mum comes around the car, straps in, starts the car, and aims them for home.

Charlie's stomach is suspiciously quiet.

He frowns at his middle.

"You feeling sick again?"

"Don't think so? Just—" Sighs.

"Well, we'll be home soon."

"Sorry," mumbles Charlie.

"What was that, Bear?"

"I'm sorry. For making you leave work. And trashing my shirt." Shudders.

"It's okay. Sometimes we just get sick. We can't help it."

Charlie shrugs.

"Besides, didn't you hate that shirt?"

He kinda smiles.

"So I don't have to feel bad about binning it, then?"

"Not really."

Mum makes her 'thinking' face, then says, "What else is bothering you?"

"Nothin'."

Mum hums, 'I don't quite believe you'.

Charlie sighs. "The other kids laughed at me and called me 'Chuckles'. It's gonna stick. I can tell."

His stomach flops.

"'Chuck's a perfectly normal nickname for a 'Charles', Bear."

"No, it's not."

Stomach flips the other way.

Charlie breaks out in a sweat, croaks, "I'm gonna—" Gags.

The car stops and the door opens and Charlie nearly chucks fizzy drink on Mum's good shoes.

"Sorry," he pants, cringing.

"'s'okay, just spit it out."

Charlie throws his best.

Mom pushes his damp bangs off his forehead. "I love my little Chuck, stomach bug and all." Kisses his hair.

Charlie smiles. "Thanks, Mum."

"Are you feeling well enough to roll again?"

"I think—"

Mum hops back. "That would be a 'no'."

Chapter Text

A kettle whistles.

Cups rattle.

Water sloshes.

Feet scuff across the kitchen lino.

Familiar pattern.

But not ....

A warm mug touches his arm.

Tea.

Herc pries his fingers away from his wedding ring to accept it.

"Anklebiter's finally out cold," says Scott.

Relieved grunt.

Chair scrapes back.

Scott droops into it. "Was startin' to wonder if he'd ever stop."

Herc sets his tea on the table, stares into it.

Scott slurps his.

"How long'd it take you?" mumbles Herc.

Scott leans back and stares at the ceiling. "Weeks." Sighs. "Just meant today, Herc."

Noncommittal noise.

"'course, I was three and didn't know him all that well. Prob'ly be different for Chuck."

"Charlie."

A huff. "Changing his name won't help."

"Never liked it. Was A—" Sharp intake of breath.

Scott cringes. "Doesn't matter. Kid's stuck with it now." Slurps more tea, tilts his head toward Herc's mug. "Future's not in there, you know."

Herc frowns, releases his ring, takes a reluctant sip. Makes a face.

"Hmm?"

"'s bitter."

"'cause you let it sit too long."

Herc pushes the cup away.

"Want another?"

Shakes his head.

"Well, I do."

Chair scrapes back.

Feet scuff across the kitchen lino.

A faucet whines.

A kettle rattles against the burner.

A distant whimper.

Herc lifts his head, pushes his chair back, drags himself to his feet, and down the hall toward the bedrooms.

Chapter Text

Scott perches on Lucky's shoulder, back braced against the Jaeger's gorget, staring at nothing in particular.

""Where's your harness?"" calls Chief Kelly from the catwalk.

Scott makes an obscene gesture.

Kelly shakes his head, clangs to the elevator.

Scott recrosses his legs, gazes into middle space.

The elevator dings.

Scott doesn't look up as Herc settles beside him. "You should be wearing a harness."

"Kelly, uh, asked—"

Scott gives him a Look.

"Yea."

They huff.

"Beck 'n call, ay?"

A work crew clattering by waves to them.

Herc waves back. "Was headed up anyway."

Scott doesn't. Snorts, 'yea, right.'

Another crew, shift ending, chatters by in the opposite direction.

Herc returns more greetings.

Scott clears his throat. "Triton," he says.

"Wha?"

"Triton, too."

Herc swallows. "How'd you know?"

Scott finally looks over, snarls, "How'd you think?"

Herc cringes.

Scott sighs, rubs his shoulder, switches his focus to the roof. "They're ... same's Tams and Stacks. Docs say a year. Best case."

"Christ."

Kelly tromps past, glowers at them.

Scott makes a different obscene gesture.

Herc shrugs apologetically.

"Stop it."

Herc startles.

"You're doing the ring thing again."

Herc forces his hands into his vest pockets. "Sorry."

Scott snorts.

A dog's bark carries up from the hangar floor.

"Sounds like your anklebiter's back. You best go take care of him."

"Yea," sighs Herc. "See you at dinner?"

Scott shrugs.

Herc pauses, considering a reply, but hunches his shoulders instead and heads off.

Chapter Text

Giggles carom off the walls of the private area.

Herc's lips twitch into a frown as he crosses the suite commons.

He pinpoints the sounds' source.

Scott's room.

A dog barks out in the main corridor.

Herc turns his eyes heavenward.

The giggles turn to moans.

His frown deepens into a scowl.

Marches to Scott's room, bangs on the door.

Whistling and another bark, closer now.

The door opens a crack; Scott sticks his head through the gap. Hair mussed, face flushed. "What."

"We had an agreement," Herc grinds out. "No. Girls. Here."

"Last I checked, this was my room."

"We. Had. An. Agreement."

Scott glares. "I'm not your kid, li'l brother. You can't order me around."

Max's claws click on concrete.

"Get her outta here—"

"You want me to parade her right past the kid."

A vein throbs in Herc's temple.

Scott smirks.

"I'll keep him busy for five minutes. Five. Minutes. And you—and her—better be gone quietly before that's up."

Scott flicks a mocking salute, closes the door with a bang.

Herc takes a deep breath, squares himself up, meets Chuck at the door. "Uh, your Aunt Debra sent you something. Think it's cookies."

Chuck lights up.

"They're in my room ...?"

Chuck restores his sulk, plods by.

Max follows, panting happily.