Harlequin's Slash Fic

Last Night on Earth

Title: Last Night on Earth
Author: Julien
Universe: Armageddon
Characters featured: Harry/Truman
Category, Word count: Short story; 3063 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Truman and Harry find some comfort together on the night before the space shuttle mission.
First published: 14 February 1999 in Homosapien 6

 

 

Last Night on Earth

 

A meteor the size of a small house hit Shanghai and killed fifty thousand people. A similar rock had already taken out the heart of Paris; meteor showers had bedevilled New York; smaller rocks had been raining down on land and sea all round the globe. And there was an asteroid the size of Texas heading directly for Earth, ETA five days. Humanity was facing the same dumb–luck fate as the dinosaurs…

Dan Truman, Executive Director of NASA, sought solitude in the Space Centre’s conference room. He leant back in one of the expensive leather chairs, and watched the organised chaos in the control room below. There had been nothing they could do for the people of Shanghai, God rest their souls, but there were plans afoot to deal with the major threat. NASA was sending a team of deep core oil drillers to the asteroid; the men would drill to the rock’s fractured gut, drop a nuclear warhead down the hole, and blow the motherfucker apart. That was the plan, at least. That was humanity’s one and only hope.

The man on whom that hope rested joined Truman in the conference room. Harry Stamper. A serious man, honest and brave, a good leader for his team, an adoring father for his daughter Grace, possessed of a dry humour. Handsome, too, for a self–proclaimed roughneck. But Harry had never even thought of going into space before now, and he’d had as many failures in his life as successes. Surely few people would have selected Harry Stamper to go save the world. Truman considered him as he stood there near the doorway casually leaning a shoulder against the wall. ‘Tell me you’ve never let anyone down before,’ Truman bleakly demanded.

‘I’ve never quit yet,’ Harry said. And it was evident that he spoke the truth. They agreed that would have to do. Truman didn’t bother mentioning the fact that his bad leg was aching, or his superstition that it only ached when disaster loomed.

In as few words as possible, Truman told of his boyhood dreams of being an astronaut, of earning mission patches, of seeing the Earth from something nearer to God’s perspective. His blighted dreams.

‘You don’t want to be up there on that shuttle any more than I do,’ Harry flatly replied.

Truman considered this in silence. So Harry’s instinct for self–preservation was weighing heavily against his professionalism and his bravery, that was no surprise. Harry knew he was the best person for the task, and he knew that the task needed doing. But that didn’t mean he had to like it. Truman wondered whether his own dreams would stand the test of such a reality. He was never going to have the chance to find out, of course. Unlike this team of ordinary if unusual men and their leader.

It was the drill–team’s last night before the mission. They had all gone their separate ways, visiting their families or partying as the need took them. Reminding themselves of why they were doing this and what they were trying to save. Harry, though, had obviously chosen to stay behind at the Space Centre. Alone.

‘Where’s your shadow?’ Truman eventually asked.

Harry shrugged, and shifted his weight. ‘Chick took off. I don’t know. Either he’s gambling, or…’

‘Or…?’ Truman prompted as the pause lengthened.

‘There’s family, he hasn’t seen them for a long time.’ Another shrug, and a glance from Harry’s bright eyes. ‘Gets complicated.’

‘Yeah.’ Truman sighed.

‘Grace went off with AJ. She sure inherited my stubborn streak – they want to get married. For all I know, they’re eloping right now.’

Truman gravely said, ‘I heard about the engagement,’ knowing that Harry had his doubts about the match. He observed, ‘Seems you’re at a loose end, then, hoss.’

Harry nodded once; the most minimal of gestures.

‘Have a drink with me,’ Truman suggested. ‘My place.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Harry quietly, politely replied.

Truman pushed himself up from the chair – he’d learned to do that so smoothly that few people even noticed anything wrong, let alone thought to look for the brace on his left leg – and he led the way to the staff living quarters with nary a limp.

 

Truman had had an idea about Harry’s relationship with Charles ‘Chick’ Chapple. Sure, the two men were friends, and they’d worked together for at least twenty years. Perhaps they were even best friends. But there was a devoted love, a sensual love in the way Chick looked at Harry. And there was a certain physical comfort in Harry when Chick was beside him, a certain availability in the way his body spoke, which led Truman to suspect that Harry returned the emotion in some way or other. The idea had been a mere moment of idle speculation, a recognition of emotion familiar to Truman. It hadn’t mattered much then. It mattered a whole lot to Dan Truman now.

Harry wouldn’t or perhaps couldn’t settle once they’d reached Truman’s apartment. Truman had poured them each a bourbon on ice, and he’d sat down on the sofa, watching as Harry paced to and fro.

They made conversation about the various mementoes Truman had displayed throughout the front room, all of them space– and NASA–related. It became obvious that Truman didn’t have much of a life outside work. Eventually Harry observed, ‘There’s no family shots.’

Truman glanced away, remembering his parents and his sister, echoes of regret looming large. He’d call them, once news leaked about the asteroid. Just in case any of the four of them were of a mind to resolve anything. ‘It got complicated.’

Harry nodded sympathetically. ‘Can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em,’ he commented. As Truman chuckled despite himself, Harry continued more seriously, ‘But no matter how difficult it gets, it’s more difficult without them.’

‘You’ve got true family,’ Truman responded. ‘Grace, of course. AJ. Chick. Your team.’

A silence stretched as Harry became distracted by his thoughts. Eventually he said, ‘They’re all out there getting lucky… Every damned one of them. That asteroid hitting couldn’t be half as bad as letting those men loose on the world for a night.’

Wincing, Truman turned away. He didn’t have a sense of humour about the asteroid. Not yet. Maybe not until years after they’d blown it to hell and back. He couldn’t even bring himself to call it Dottie, the name given the damned thing by the man who first located it.

‘Sorry.’ Harry looked about him, took another restless pace or two. ‘This ain’t exactly what I thought I’d be doing tonight. Been a long time, you know?’

Truman nodded, and tried to broach the subject, but thought better of each attempt before he voiced it. ‘Tell me about you and Chick,’ wasn’t the way to begin his own seduction of Harry. Neither was, ‘I know I’m not –’ Eventually Truman simply said, ‘Bedroom’s through here. If you care to join me.’ And he put his glass down, and stood up, and took a step in that direction.

Harry nodded agreement when Truman turned to look at him. ‘Sure.’

It was going to happen that easily. And why shouldn’t it? Some things in life deserved to be straightforward. Truman smiled to himself, and led the way.

 

They each undressed alone, with yards of empty space between them. They hadn’t even touched yet.

Eventually, inevitably, Truman sat on the side of the bed and bent to unfasten the leg–brace. He warned Harry, ‘This is the bit no one wants to watch.’

‘You think that bothers me?’ The man’s tone was casually gruff, slightly amused. ‘It would take more than that to bother me…’

Truman glanced up at him with a sharp eye. ‘So I’m at the acceptable end of a continuum?’

‘We all are, Dan. We all are.’

As if Truman needed any further reason to admire this ordinary, extraordinary man.

 

‘Ground rules,’ Harry announced as he walked to the bed, ‘and forfeits.’

They were both naked now, Truman lying there with the sheets discreetly covering him from the waist down. Harry was magnificent: Truman had thought himself fit for a man of his age, until he saw Harry. ‘What rules?’

‘First man who makes a drilling joke gets drilled.’

Surprised and delighted, Truman couldn’t help but laugh. ‘They told me you’re the best in the business, Harry Stamper… I heard no one can drill deeper or truer.’ It was the most he could manage off the cuff. ‘Prove it.’

‘You sure?’ Harry asked, his light eyes intently fixed on Truman’s face. They still hadn’t touched.

‘Yeah. Been a long time for me, too. But not that long.’

And then Harry was climbing in beside him, they were carefully moving into each other’s arms, and the sudden warmth of another human creature enveloping him and being enveloped was enough to take Truman’s breath away for a moment. For a while there was a tentative exploration of what was welcome, a respectful testing of boundaries. But soon they both surrendered to the passion, ceded control each to the other, forgot to think and judge – and the respect became a mutual need to bestow pleasure.

‘Sure?’ Harry asked again when it became time for Truman to give what he’d promised.

In answer, Truman reached for the bedside cabinet and rummaged around in the top drawer for the slightly dusty box of condoms.

Meanwhile Harry had grabbed his wallet – both men produced a foil–wrapped rubber at the same time. ‘Snap.’

‘You’re the hero, hoss,’ Truman said, lying back the better to see Harry crouched there on his bed. Magnificent. ‘Take what you want. It’s your last night on Earth.’

Harry sobered at that statement – he was always sober when Truman expected trivia or joy or diversion, and light–hearted when Truman would have been deadly serious. Truman found the man intriguing. Soberly, Harry said, ‘Could be the last time for all of us.’

A shiver ran through Truman, and he didn’t try to quell it. He wondered if thinking about humanity’s possible doom, his own death and Harry’s death, mightn’t be counterproductive for the task at hand. But it didn’t seem to be. Apparently needier than ever, Harry took Truman’s offered condom, rolled it on, and knelt between Truman’s legs. In fact, Truman reflected as he was gradually thoroughly deeply possessed, there was an extra frisson of urgency threatening to sweep them both up, and a level of honest connection between them he’d long been without. All he could do was thank God for it all, despite the destruction this fulfilment was bound up in.

 

An image seared its way deep into Truman’s memory. Harry fucking him. Truman strung out on the edge of orgasm, where he’d been for what felt like hours, pleasure having become his natural state for a while. Harry shifting upright, resting Truman’s butt on his spread thighs, and hooking Truman’s ankles on his shoulders. There was Truman’s withered calf between them, obvious and wrong – and it didn’t dim the passion one watt. Harry turning his head, and pressing a dry kiss to the arch of Truman’s twisted foot, and then a kiss for the arch of his right foot, casually as if it didn’t matter at all.

It mattered to Dan Truman. It mattered a whole lot.

 

Afterwards, Truman finally gave in to curiosity. ‘Tell me about you and Chick.’

Harry shifted a little, getting comfortable and drawing Truman back into a closer embrace. For a moment Truman thought tact or reticence might keep the man silent, but eventually Harry said, ‘Chick’s a gambler. Ten years ago he took the gamble that I was lonely enough to want him. We’ve kind of been together ever since, with various detours.’

‘He won, then.’

Shaking his head, Harry said, ‘Nah. I can’t give him what he wants.’

Truman wondered what it would take for Harry to return that kind of love, and whether he’d felt that way for Grace’s mother. But as soon as he’d thought of it, Truman dismissed himself as a contender for such a prize. Perhaps it simply wasn’t given for this man to have that in his life. Harry Stamper had other kinds of love, and other extraordinary qualities. Perhaps anything more would have been too much. Perhaps God had made him for other things.

Meanwhile, Harry’s thoughts had apparently been of Chick. ‘He gambled that he could keep loving me while loving her,’ Harry murmured into the silence. ‘That didn’t work out too bad. Work kept them apart for months at a time. But when he gambled away their house and their savings and their dreams, that’s when she threw him out. And when he took the gamble that she didn’t really mean it, she took out a restraining order. It’s pretty sad. His own son doesn’t know him.’

That was sad indeed. Truman turned within Harry’s arms, seeking to return the man’s embrace.

‘If she knew what he was gambling on now… What the stakes are, what he’s risking, what it’ll mean if he wins. Maybe that’d make a difference.’

Rather than harming the mood, such human considerations served only to heighten it… Truman felt Harry’s fingertips drift up his throat, and Harry’s fingernails gently scratch through Truman’s trim beard, then his chin was lifted the better for Harry to kiss his mouth.

‘Again?’ Harry murmured.

‘Again,’ Truman firmly replied.

 

‘Tell me about the ring,’ Harry said, breaking their post–coital silence. He lifted Truman’s left hand, and they both stared at the traditional gold wedding band on his ring finger.

‘A man gave it to me,’ Truman eventually confessed. He’d let his colleagues and acquaintances assume the obvious for so long now that it seemed strange to tell the truth, though Truman was used to thinking of himself as an honest man. ‘Years ago. That’s when things finally went wrong with my folks.’

‘What happened to him?’

‘Oh, things went wrong with him as well not so long afterwards. But I’ve never once taken it off.’

Harry ran a fingertip down the back of that finger, and then traced the gold band. ‘I know how that goes,’ he gruffly said, perhaps thinking of Grace’s mother.

Truman cast him a empathic look, acknowledging the usually well–buried romantic streaks they were admitting to. But then he chuckled. ‘There’s that. And there’s also the fact I enjoy the subversiveness of it. People leap to certain conclusions, but if they knew who’d given it to me it sure wouldn’t seem so wholesome…’

A snort of laughter, and a wryly delighted look on that handsome face.

‘Again,’ Truman murmured. It was more of a demand than a question.

Turning from delighted to mock–aggrieved, Harry collapsed back against the pillows. ‘I know they convinced you I’m the best, and they weren’t too far wrong, but I gotta save some stamina for the mission tomorrow.’

Chagrin fell through Truman, along with a return of responsibility. ‘Of course.’ What had he been thinking? Struggling to sit up, he continued, ‘You’ll want to sleep in your own quarters. I’ll arrange –’

But Harry was shushing him. ‘If you think I’m getting out of this bed tonight, you’re gonna be disappointed. Turn the light out.’

Truman did so, and lay back, still in Harry’s embrace. The man hadn’t let him go. ‘Thank you, Harry,’ Truman quietly said, preparing himself to try to settle, or to at least let Harry sleep. ‘Goodnight.’

There was a chuckle, though, and Harry shifted over him. ‘Hell, Dan, I just get a kick out of doing it in the dark sometimes.’ And they were kissing…

 

Dan Truman had fallen in love, and he only realised the extent of it during the next few days while managing the mission. The two shuttles carrying Harry and his team first docked at the Russian space station for refuelling, then headed for the rock. There were hours of danger and hours of boredom. There were hours of lying alone in the bed he’d shared once with Harry Stamper. Dan Truman was in love. The emotion was nothing, really, compared to the enduring bonds Harry already had with his daughter and his crew, the oddball family he’d gathered around him. But it was love. It had been a long time, but it hadn’t been that long… He knew what was what. Dan Truman was in love.

 

At the last, when they’d run out of options, when the mission had already claimed the lives of seven men, Harry stayed behind to detonate the bomb and blow the asteroid – and himself – to kingdom come.

He made a last video call to Grace, gave her and AJ his blessing, asked her to tell Chick he couldn’t have done it without him… And then he was gone.

 

Truman was grieving, but he didn’t impose that on anyone else. He gave Grace a hug when she most needed it, but otherwise he stayed out of the way, kept himself busy with all the minutiae of landing the surviving shuttle.

Those were strange hours… Part of him was elated, for the Earth was saved. Part of him was distraught, because the man he loved was dead. And part of him was utterly calm and accepting, even thankful, for it seemed apparent to him that God had made Harry Stamper for exactly this fate.

Along with the medics and the mechanics and the families, and everyone in NASA who could be spared from their duties, Truman went out to the runway to meet the pilots, and Chick Chapple and AJ Frost and the two other surviving members of Harry’s team, and the Russian cosmonaut they’d taken from the space station. Truman had a grin on his face, the elation ascendant right now in this atmosphere of celebration.

AJ said to him, ‘Harry wanted you to have this.’ It was Harry’s mission patch.

Truman held it in both hands and stared at it, all joy and heartbreak, endeavouring to betray only the former. So Harry had known. Harry had known Truman fell for him, and he wanted Truman to have at least one of his dreams come true. ‘He did, huh?’ was all Truman could manage. He read the mission motto emblazoned on the patch as if for the first time: For all mankind.

God made Harry for this, God made the man extraordinary.

Posted in: Armageddon, Slash fic

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4 responses to “Last Night on Earth”

  1. avatar Erik says:

    OMG. I love this fic. So magnificently wonderful and heartbreaking!

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Erik – Thank you so much! This fic really meant a lot to me, and I’m very happy that you stumbled upon it all this time later… I really appreciate your comment. ♥

  2. avatar da says:

    This is by far your best piece of fic – unexpected in character choice and very well crafted. you should be proud. To often people get caught, myself included, in cannon pairings; this goes to show you that a good writer can make anything believable. The detail about Truman’s leg and Chick’s fatal flaws, gave it a very human quality – not everything is fairy tale beautiful.

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Thank you so much, da! I have to admit I was indeed proud of this little fic, and your kind thoughts have prompted me to revisit it quite happily. Thank you. I’m so glad that it worked for you, and I’m gladder still to know of the reasons why. That really means a lot!

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