They’ve been arguing again. They’re not even together at the moment, not even in the loosest possible sense of the word; haven’t so much as been in the same pub at the same time since Herc decided, a couple of months ago, that he was serious about his latest girlfriend after all. But then they ended up in the same hotel in Vancouver. One of them riled the other up – Herc can’t even remember the details anymore, but he can almost taste the bitterness whenever they’re in the same room. The other Captains are used to their strange, aggressive friendship and no longer think anything of it, but some of the newer First Officers are visibly anxious to be around them.
Naturally, then, when Douglas doesn’t turn up to work one day and Herc gets called in to fly instead, he presumes it’s some kind of half-hearted revenge plot. Disappointingly pedestrian, really. Though that actually annoys Herc even more - he knows Douglas can do better than this. He usually puts so much effort into ruining Herc’s life.
It’s a short flight, mind - Heathrow to Paris, and then the Paris to Heathrow back in the late afternoon, so it’s not the worst possible scenario. It does, though, mean that Herc will miss the dinner date with Joanna tonight. Irritating. He’d planned on proposing, and now he’s going to be flying back from fucking Paris, and – after the landing and the paperwork and such was all completed – he’s not going to be out of the airport until seven at the earliest, certainly not home and showered and ready to go out.
Douglas had known he was planning on proposing. It had come up in that argument of theirs, Herc remembers telling him. and Herc’s so frustrated at the idea of him ruining an engagement out of – of spite, or jealousy, or some misplaced possessive streak, or whatever inspired him to not bother flying today. He can’t stop thinking about it all the way to Paris, all the way back, the whole time he’s filling in his fucking logbook. Irritation and frustration turn slowly into a furious rage.
So when he gets out of work, head buzzing with it, he finds himself on a different train to usual: out towards Chertsey rather than in to Hounslow.
He doesn’t exactly know what he plans to do as he’s hammering on Douglas’s front door at eight o’clock at night – shouting at him won’t help matters, he’s not in the frame of mind for an elaborate scheme, and he’s certainly not going to hit him. But he feels he needs to do something.
He goes straight for yelling when Douglas opens the door, asking what the fuck he thinks he’s doing, and he’s just in the process of working out precisely what he wants to say when he notices that Douglas is only half-dressed, very pale, leaning rather heavily against the door.
“Have you quite finished?” Douglas asks, when Herc pauses mid-sentence to stare at him. He looks almost ghostly, really, especially with that sweaty shine across his forehead.
“Are you alright?”
Douglas runs a hand through limp, greasy hair. “Well, I must say I was feeling better before you came to shout at me.”
This was unexpected. So he actually was ill. Must’ve called sick rather than simply not turned up – Herc always did prefer to think the worst of Douglas. It made things simpler.
“Right. Yes. Sorry,” says Herc. “Is anybody taking care of you, Douglas? You look awful.”
“I’m fine,” says Douglas.
Herc isn’t generally inclined to believe Douglas on most subjects anyway, but the unsettlingly pasty tone to his skin is making him somehow even less believable than usual.
“No, you’re not. So I’ll ask again: is anybody looking after you?”
Douglas sighs heavily. “No, Herc. I’m still divorced, my last girlfriend is about to become your fiancée, and I’m hardly going to ask my nine-year-old daughter to come and feed me soup. But I’ll be fine, I promise you.”
“Get inside, you’re going to freeze,” says Herc, and takes hold of the door before Douglas can slam it in his face. He follows Douglas in. He can hardly go home and leave the poor man to fend for himself after travelling all this way to shout at him over a misapprehension, can he?
Douglas, leaning against the wall, eyes him suspiciously. “What are you up to?”
“Making sure you don’t die, Douglas. I don’t want to have to cover all your shifts.”
He starts by running Douglas a bath, ordering him into it. It’s almost satisfying, watching Douglas Richardson do as he’s told, but the underlying concern stops him enjoying it too much. The bathroom smells awful, vomit splashed around seemingly at random as though Douglas has made an attempt to clean up after himself.
He heads downstairs once he’s satisfied that Douglas isn’t going to drown. Examines the kitchen: useless. Nothing in except booze and ingredients for meals Douglas probably can’t stomach right now. So he grabs Douglas’s keys off the table, pops down to the Londis on the corner, and grabs some basics.
“I thought you’d abandoned me,” says Douglas as Herc comes back into the bathroom, clutching a mug of tea. He still looks dreadful, but at least he’s a less grimy dreadful.
“I went to pick up some food, Douglas, you had nothing in. What have you eaten today?”
Douglas pulls a face. “I vomited up all of yesterday’s food this morning, and then it took me about three hours to make my way through a piece of toast. I don’t think food is really a good idea.”
“Tea?” Herc asks, brandishing the mug. Douglas takes it, sniffs it suspiciously, and takes a sip.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think I can handle anything that has a flavour,” he says, somewhat regretfully, handing the mug back. “Can I get out of the bath now? I want to call Verity before she goes to bed.”
Herc busies himself in the kitchen while Douglas is on the phone, heating up the blandest tinned soup he’d been able to find, sticking bread in the toaster. Douglas probably ought to eat something before bed - and Herc thinks he probably ought to be in bed soon, from the look of him. His dark circles look more like two black eyes, and Herc hasn’t even punched him.
Douglas manages two mouthfuls of soup and three bites of toast in half an hour. Herc gives up, sends him up to bed. Ridiculous man.
Herc decides he probably ought to clean up before he goes anywhere, doesn’t want to leave it to a man who’s eaten nothing but a single slice of toast all day. So he gets Douglas’s washing up done, then heads to the bathroom to clean up the rest of the vomit, before popping into the bedroom to check on Douglas.
There’s a bowl carelessly dumped on the floor. Herc wrinkles his nose and takes that downstairs to wash, too; nobody needs to wake up to that. not even Douglas. Not even if they are in a fight.
(Are they, still? Will they return to it once Douglas has recovered, or is this another clean slate, another layer they’ll pretend isn’t there?)
He knows what Douglas will say, later, when everything’s settled. Smug smile, eyebrows raised, I told you you’d come back. Herc had insisted he wouldn’t, last time he’d ended things between them, said that this girl was the one, but – well, look at him. He’s sitting on Douglas’s sofa agonising over whether or not to stay over and look after him instead of going home, calling Joanna, getting engaged like he’d planned to.
He wakes up the next morning on Douglas’s sofa, still fully dressed in his uniform. Luckily he doesn’t have a flight today. He showers, changes into an old t-shirt of his that he’d left here once before, delivers Douglas a glass of water. He’ll stay here the day, he decides, just to make sure Douglas survives. But that’s it. He’s going to go home tonight, rearrange his dinner plans with Joanna for later in the week so he can propose, and then if Douglas wants to re-start that fucking fight again then so be it.