He is turning down one corridor to the next.
The first time he sees him, he sees him in the corner of his eyes. He is not a shadow or a wisp of smoke. What he is though, he is standing in the shadows overthrown by the ‘dome’s concrete walls, and he is smiling like he never does when he’s alive.
Chuck Hansen is dead.
He’s been dead for months, and days, and hours when Hercules Hansen sees him again.
“Do you see…”
He doesn’t wonder how he must sound, an old man in charge of the whole of PPDC and one that can barely manage to get the words out to ask a question as simple as this.
“…What is it, Marshal Hansen?”
The way he reacts, half a second late to the way he’s being called the Marshal. He cannot imagine how he must be twisting the knife deeper into Mako. He turns to see how she stares at him, her eyes resting just over his shoulders where Chuck should be.
He lets the sound of his son’s name stick in his throat.
He shakes his head at her, and says.
“Nothing, Miss Mori.”
He sees that sheepskin jacket through the crowds first. He sees it even if he knows that same jacket with those ten kills stamped against the back is sitting draped across the only chair in his quarters still.
“Is there something there?”
He is neither ready nor equipped with an answer when he hears Raleigh Becket ask that question. He is in his dressed blues, attending an event he can only recite the cause of without any further depth. When he turns around, he is handed a champagne flute and nothing is strong enough for the way Raleigh looks at him with concern in his eyes.
Herc tosses his head back, tosses the taste of alcoholic bubbles to the back of his throat without any kind of finesse.
“It’s not something, Raleigh.”
He imagines that Raleigh can almost make out the sight of ginger hair in the crowds, not quite as red as his father’s, if only he just tried. He imagines the way Raleigh glances over his shoulders isn’t the kid catching the eyes of his co-pilot but Herc’s instead.
He doesn’t admit that he is seeing ghosts wherever he goes. He doesn't say it's someone instead.
He is passing by the empty Jaeger Bay, and he sees him in the scrap metal lying around.
He might be hearing Dad, he might also just be listening for the waves crashing against the shore and the wind that comes whistling through the empty Shatterdome.
“Can you explain it?”
He doesn’t feel like he’s got a fever or a low-grade headache. He feels fine, he feels, almost, good in a manner where he’s buried his wife in a mass grave called Sydney and his son in an empty coffin everywhere the world will have him.
And he can’t be sure what kind of confirmation he wants from the mathematician. Just that he thinks he might be going stir crazy when he knows he is not.
“No.” Dr. Gottlieb tells him with a deep-set frown.
It doesn’t feel like he’s got a ghost at his back, trailing his every step.
“I can see him, still.”
There is no urgency in those words, and he doesn't catch the way Dr. Gottlieb furrows his brows. It doesn't feel like he's got a ghost at his back because it finally feels like he’s got his son back.
He is at the edge of his vision blurred by the water falling over him.
He sees him in the mirrors of the Kwoon’s communal showers just as he steps out, towel around his waist, water still clinging to his lashes.
He sees him, and he finds him, and he wants him like he’s always wanted him.
This is what Hercules Hansen will never tell about the drift.
That being locked inside his son’s head for hours at a time gets them playing a pretty muted game of hide and seek, one where he always finds him in the same place he likes to run to since he is thirteen years old and can still win over Lucky’s techs with a couple of dimpled grins.
He hides in a crevice of the machine where no one else knows, where there is just the ghosting from a fifteen hours long drift that gets Herc dragging himself up to such a height outside of the Conn-Pod.
“You don’t think you’re getting too old for this?”
The opened panel is easy enough to find for anyone who has half the mind to come looking. He raps his knuckles against the metal hull until his son is tilting his head up to look at him.
Neither one of them are looking for any drift science as an excuse when he stretches out a hand for him. Because not even running him against a razor’s edge can get him out.
He is in his blood, at this point. (Like he isn't, before.)
“I still fit, don’t I, old man?”
If everything beforehand is a fabrication of his mind, this is not.
The first touch is real.
And he doesn’t need to see him to know who it could be. Breathing a soft shudder of a breath across his neck, he radiates warmth in the way a dead man can’t.
Hercules doesn’t let himself turn around when those fingers skate down his sides and fit into the curve of his bones. The first brush of his mouth over his shoulders has the colour of his hair falling into his peripheral vision.
He hardly needs the mirror to see his son standing behind him.
Here is an account of what Chuck Hansen will never tell about the drift.
This is what he is good at: drinking him in breathing each breath from his mouth.
This is what he is fuck all good at: thinking it would go away if he just continued.
He hides in a crevice of their machine where no one else knows, where there is just the ghosting from a fifteen hours long drift that keeps him from disappearing into the machinery altogether.
There is no happy ending where he is involved.
He doesn’t get his father in the way he wants, and shouldn't, and should have never entertained in the first place in those corners of his head that he hides too well from his father. Because fantasies do not help, and constraint is an ironically powerful thing.
He loves his father like a son, he wants his father unlike one.
And love is many things but it is not this, it is not his. He watches him, drinks him in, and wishes there is a part of himself that doesn’t want his father so wholeheartedly. When his father leans in to drag him out by the elbow, he doesn’t say a thing.
Just lets the fit of his fingertips dig into his skin.
He feels like a solid weight, over him.
And he’s never had his son pressing him into the mattress but he figures the feeling of it can’t be so far fetched that he can’t tell one from the other. He can have his eyes closed shut but he is never going to get the taste of Chuck’s mouth over his washed off.
He lets him loose on him.
What Herc is trying to say is that he doesn’t know how this happens but it is happening, and he isn’t quite sure whether he is willing of letting this go.
Because right here, it is not cold.
Right here, it doesn’t feel like he is half a step from putting himself in the grave to join the rest. And it only has a little bit to do with the opened bottle of scotch still sitting on the table, or the empty cans he has a habit of taking to bed with him.
He turns his head, he seeks for him in the dim lights and all the reflective surfaces he comes across.
Hercules Hansen hasn’t known how to deal with his son’s smile since the sprog was eight years old and still imagined his father as a hero that can save the world. He is only learning how when he is seeing him in the near dark, slotting that smile against his mouth.
Tasting that murmured Dad at the tip of his tongue.
The Chuck that comes to him after death is sweet, touches his mouth to his skin and it is the slide of honey.
The Chuck that comes to him after death reminds him of Ange and there is a comfort he doesn’t dare to share with anyone.
For all that there is, Max isn’t inclined to answer with anything that isn’t barks directed to a corner of the room. And for all that there is, he isn’t sure if the only other Hansen man still alive in this world has any will left in him to hear that the fact is this: his nephew is back from the grave. Where whatever left of him should be feeding the fishes, he is here instead.
Because Chuck is not a revelation.
He is not an image an old man makes for himself because he’s got nothing else.
Chuck Hansen is back and Herc isn’t entirely sure calling him Chuck is right.
“It’s not my place, Herc.”
“Then don’t say it, Tendo.”
He has both the files and the coffee but the man stays seated. Herc figures they have let him avoid this for long enough, not that he isn’t content with going longer without ever having this conversation at all.
Tendo is worried, genuinely so, and this too is not something Herc handles well.
“You know we’re all here for you.”
He takes a gulp of the coffee without pause, clings to the bitterness burning its way down rather than look Tendo in the eyes when he tells him this.
“You aren’t what I need.”
And the you encompasses all that that isn’t Chuck.
He takes to calling him Charlie and this Chuck after death doesn’t scowl and snap at him.
No, this Chuck that allows his father to call him Charlie, like his mum used to do, glances away to press a kiss to the inside of Herc’s thigh, gingerly sucks a bruise high and close to where his fingers will press next.
He always has him coming first, on his fingers alone, on the push of his tongue, on a cock that stays hard inside of him even as he finishes with his voice going hoarse in the empty room.
And if this is how it feels to mourn the dead, Herc figures it isn’t as bad as that first time.
With Ange in a mass grave and the whole of Sydney in disarray, the city with two bombs dropped overhead, it has nothing left of the woman he loves. Herc hasn’t known how to cry in a long time now but he thinks he can recognize the sting of what must be tears burning the corner of his eyes.
Charlie calls him Dad, he calls him Daddy, and he drags his mouth across Herc’s skin. He kisses his temple and rubs a thumb across his cheeks where the tears never leave tracks in their wake.
He is careful with him and Herc isn’t sure he deserves any of it.
He comes and he goes, and he leaves him with heat between the sheets. Ghosts exist in many forms, some more real than the next. Herc can’t be sure what Chuck is and it is everything to keep Herc from asking how, from thinking about the truth.
That Chuck Hansen is dead.
(He feels the press of his mouth across his brow in the dark. He wakes up with Max plastered against his side, he wakes up to find himself wet between his legs with what isn’t just slick.)
That when Chuck pulls back for a breath he doesn’t need to take, Hercules is already dragging him close once more.