“I don’t know, boss, what do you think?”
Face flashed a quick look at Hannibal beside him as they both mulled over the sorry state of the old plantation house which was looming out of the evening shadows, seemingly fighting for every choked breath through the tenacious fingers of the advancing jungle.
Hannibal met his eyes before giving his careful answer. “You don’t know, how? Whether it looks safe enough to go in or whether Mason is desperate enough to hide out in there?”
Face went back to staring at the gaping windows. “Both I guess.”
They slid into silence and Face shivered as the evening breeze slipped through his sweat-soaked shirt; a product of their long afternoon toiling through the steaming rainforest. He knew Hannibal had noticed him and heard the sigh that preceded his verdict.
“Well, kid, it’s up to you. We can go in now, have a look around, or retreat a little, make a camp, come back in the morning.”
“But if he’s in there, he might have split by first light.”
“And we’ll never pick up his trail again in this fucking jungle.”
“I guess not.”
It was Face’s turn to sigh at that. “Well, that decides it then, right? We go in.”
“I suppose it does.”
The jungle may have been thick and tangled and full of creatures who liked nothing more than to sting or bite or suck blood, but it also offered up the protection of its thick vegetation which enabled an approach to be made without any thought for stealth. It was slow going though, and by the time that the aged and cracked porch was within a hand’s breath, Face was breathing hard again, his hair as wet as his shirt and an uncomfortable awareness of Hannibal’s steady eyes on him.
“Are you okay?”
He tried to still his breathing a little before answering. “Of course.”
“You need a rest?”
Another pause and a defiant stare Hannibal’s way, “No.”
But Hannibal just smiled at him, that kind of sad, lingering smile that he’d used so much over recent months and Face turned away, not really liking to see it.
“Come on, then, let’s do this.”
They knew they were on the right tracks when they spotted the splintered boards of the porch, obviously freshly caved in by hasty boots and even more so when Hannibal pointed out the shattered lock.
“Messy,” Face whispered under his breath as he pulled the door open, “Amateur.”
“Don’t let it fool you, kid,” Hannibal’s voice was right in his ear. “Mason is no idiot, and he’s desperate. Desperate men with nothing to lose are dangerous.”
“So I’ve heard.” Face flicked another look Hannibal’s way as he replied, wondering what lay behind the boss’ words but Hannibal was already looking over Face’s shoulder and into the hallway beyond.
Face turned and saw them straight away, one set of fresh prints in the accumulated filth of years heading straight across the hallway and up the sweeping staircase. “He’s trapped himself on the upper level.”
“Yeah. That or set up an ambush point.”
That was a point, a good one; after all, Mason knew he had company, knew he was a wanted man. Face let out a long breath and pulled back from the doorway. “Okay…” he looked Hannibal in the eye. “So, not the front door,” they shared a smile. “Try the back?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
It took another twenty minutes to fight through the jungle to the back door and Face was breathing hard again, sweat running off him in rivulets and his skin marked by the barbs of a hundred hungry insects. He caught Hannibal’s gaze on him as he swatted yet another flying predator trying to settle on his neck and just rolled his eyes. “Don’t say a word…”
Meekly, Hannibal obliged.
Face’s lock picks were no match for the rusted and ancient back door, so in the end he resorted to his trusty knife, jimmying and levering away at the creaking iron until it simply sheared off in his hands.
“Well, that’s one way to do it.”
Laughing, Face stepped to the side and gestured Hannibal in front of him, “After you.”
The silence and the heat as they stepped into the little kitchen at the rear of the house were oppressive. Here, the dust lay thick and undisturbed and, despite the temperature, Face shivered once more. It was like a little pocket of history, all on its own. And not necessarily the good kind.
Hannibal turned, his tall figure quite clear to Face despite the blanket of night. “Are you alright, kid?”
For a moment Face considered just blowing him off but then he realised that this was Hannibal and he’d never been able to do that with any degree of success so he relented, blowing out a long breath and rubbing absently at the bites on his arms. “Yeah, I guess so. This house is just fucking creepy. You get that?”
Hannibal laughed softly, but he did take a step closer to Face, comforting even though they weren’t touching. “Creepy? I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on that. It’s hardly a scientific term.”
“And you’re hardly a scientist. Might have known you’d just take the piss.”
“Hey,” he’d gone to move off again, leave Hannibal and his snarky comments to it but that single word spoken in that commanding voice had him frozen in his tracks in an instant, eyes on the filthy floor even as Hannibal came right up to his side. “I’m sorry, Face. I’m not taking the piss, I just… I wish I knew how to help you.”
Face closed his eyes, knowing that they’d shifted their conversation away from the creepy old house and on to something completely different, something they’d been over so, so, so many times in the last eighteen months; it was hardly the time or the place to go over it again.
“I don’t need any help from you. I just need you right here, with me, always.”
“I am right here. With you. Always.”
“Well, that’s okay then isn’t it? Now shift your ass over will you? I need to see where this door goes to.”
For a moment Hannibal didn’t move and, from his expression, Face could tell that he was less than happy with the end that had been brought to the conversation. He relented though, eventually, as Face had always known he would and drew back, allowing Face to creep past him, opening the door as soundlessly as if it had been on air.
“We’ve hit the jackpot here, boss,” Face reported back in a hushed whisper. “Servants’ staircase, should take us upstairs and give us the jump on Mason no problem.”
“Excellent,” Hannibal’s voice was at his ear once more. “Your clients will be stoked, kid, I don’t think they really believed he’d ever be brought to trial.”
“Our clients,” Face hissed over his shoulder and Hannibal shrugged.
“Well, it was you who got this gig, for sure.”
Face just shook his head and then moved off towards the foot of the stairs. He climbed steadily upwards, aware of Hannibal at his back, soundlessly tracking him and he had to huff out a little laugh.
“What?” Hannibal’s voice was barely a breath, “What’s so funny?”
“How many you think this is then, boss? Staircases I mean. How many do you think we’ve crept up like this trying to get in somewhere or out of somewhere or find someone or ditch someone? Hell of a way to make a living.”
“There are worse ways.”
“I guess. I was just thinking, though, that-”
He never finished that thought.
The head of the stairs was right in front of him, there was a painful creaking of pipes and ancient plumbing and then, from the door directly ahead, Mason suddenly appeared, trying to dry his hands on the fronts of his trousers. The hunted man stood and stared at Face and Face paused for just a fraction of a second. Going down would have been the best bet but he knew that Hannibal was right behind him and he couldn’t, just couldn’t, do that. So, like so many other times in his life, he opted for the unexpected, leaping forward instead of back.
Mason was shocked, jumping back out of the way as Face rolled past him, getting to his feet and turning, weapon at the ready, just as Mason pulled himself back together.
It must have been a close run thing, very close indeed. Face knew he’d had the time to flick off his safety and aim, he knew he’d pulled the trigger as well, three shots aimed at a thigh and the vain hope that he’d still get Mason to stand trial back in the USA. It was the kind of ballsy manoeuvre that Face had pulled off many times in the past, but – as Hannibal had always told him – there was always going to be the day that his luck ran out and it seemed that that day had finally arrived.
The bullets didn’t hurt, even though he felt each one of them as they slammed into his chest and who’d have thought that Mason would have been such a good shot? The wall did hurt though, as he cracked his head on it and the next thing he knew he was on his back, his limbs heavy, his lungs stubborn and a salty warmth filling his mouth.
He coughed it away, unsuccessfully tried to move his head and instead settled on just moving his eyes. Mason wasn’t a problem anymore, not for Face at any rate, that damage had been done but there was still Hannibal to consider and it was all Face could think about. Where was he? Had he left? Surely not… He’d promised, hadn’t he? Always?
“Hannibal…” what he’d wanted to be a shout came out more like a strained gurgle, but it was enough and within a laboured heartbeat, Hannibal was there, at his side, his expression wretched, his eyes flicking down to Face’s chest and back up again, helpless and agonised.
“Jesus Christ, kid,” the fear in that beloved voice was horrific. “I didn’t see him, I just didn’t see him, oh, fuck, baby, just hold on.”
Face laughed at that, or tried to anyway, feeling the warm blood running out of his mouth with his efforts.
Bless Hannibal for still believing in the face of such stark truths.
Bless Hannibal and his optimism.
Wasn’t going to do them any good though and he wished he could say that, wished he could make it clear to Hannibal that he was dying here, that his heart was struggling and his lungs were failing and his blood was spilling out all over the filthy floor. Wished he could ask Hannibal what he should do. Wished he could hold that strong hand. Just once. Just one time in these whole, fuck-awful eighteen months.
“Face… Face! Open your eyes and look at me!”
Had he closed his eyes? He wasn’t sure, wasn’t even sure he could open them but he tried, blinking and blinking as the pain reared up in his chest, God it hurt… Was that Hannibal’s voice still? Why couldn’t he see anymore? He managed to twitch his fingers, reaching vainly, wanting nothing more than to feel that strong hand in his but there was nothing, just dust and sticky blood. Panic awoke inside him intensifying the pain as his shredded heart tried to pump harder; he realised that he was blind, paralysed, choking in his own blood, twitching in helpless agony as his nerves finally made sense of the bullets in his chest.
And he was dying.
Where was Hannibal? What was going on? The pain was excruciating now, like a burning sword, pinning him through his chest and he wanted to writhe away, to scream in agony but he couldn’t do anything, couldn’t move or make a sound beyond a choking gurgle. His throat was full of blood, he couldn’t swallow it down anymore, couldn’t breathe. The fear was smothering him, like the blood. It had always been his worst nightmare to die violently and alone and now he was, bleeding out all over a filthy and rotten floor.
Hannibal had gone, that much was obvious, left him as Face had always known was inevitable. Or… maybe Face was the one who’d left? Moved on to a place where Hannibal couldn’t follow. Was that why it hurt so much still? Why he was still choking on his own blood? Feeling it welling up his throat from inside him, running down his chin, running out of his nose. Somehow that thought was even more terrifying than his first.
The pain was mounting, screaming through him but the fear was the absolute worst – how much longer could he stand it?
Suddenly, it all snapped away.
Everything stopped; the terror, the agony – everything.
Face’s eyes flicked open and he took a deep, clean breath. There was no more blood but there was Hannibal kneeling in the filth at Face's side still, his expression etched in fear, his eyes desperate. Slowly, Face pushed himself up and looked down at his chest. Then he looked at Hannibal, caught the other man watching him and deliberately reached out his hand. Hannibal's blue eyes shifted to that hand and, for the longest moment, he just stared at it, he didn’t move, it was almost like he couldn’t move but then, with the most obviously colossal effort, he lifted his own in response.
Face’s forehead creased into a frown as he noticed Hannibal’s whole hand shaking. He watched, transfixed, as those trembling fingers edged towards his own and then they were there, warm and solid and, oh God, so damn good after such a long time.
He sucked in a sudden breath, and closed his eyes at the incredibility of it all. He thought he’d lost this – he thought this was gone from him forever.
He threw himself forward and Hannibal caught him, pressing their bodies together, moulding them closer and closer as Face tried to touch everything, to kiss everything. It was totally overwhelming.
“I’m so sorry,” Hannibal's words gusted through his hair, “Oh kid, I’m so sorry…”
Face pulled back, looked into that dear, dear face, touched it, just couldn’t help himself. “It was my time.” Why was his voice shaking so much? “You said I had to wait and I damn well waited. And then it was just my time.”
In return, Hannibal's shaking hand rested against Face’s cheek. “But you’re too young, baby. You should have had years left, years of life, you’re too young for this.”
Face got to his feet at that, never letting go of the man in his arms, tugging Hannibal with him and stepping disdainfully away from the blood-soaked body at his feet. “Life?” His voice was tight, choked, as if the cloying blood was still there. “My life ended with yours. The night I lost you and the guys,” he shook his head. “What was the point in going on?”
“We’ve been over this,” Hannibal was still stroking him, marvelling at the feel of skin he’d almost forgotten all about. “You have to wait for your time. You take a short cut and you risk it all…”
He still looked frightened at that, as he had done every single time they’d discussed it in the last eighteen months. Face grabbed at his stroking fingers. “And that’s what I have done. I’ve endured every single fucking day. I’ve lived ‘cause you told me to. I’ve eaten and drank and looked after myself and out for myself for all these months ‘cause you told me to – tonight just happened, there was nothing I could have done about tonight.”
And there wasn’t, he was convinced of that, so why did Hannibal look so damn frightened still? Why was nothing happening? He looked around the room and nervously squeezed the warm fingers in his own. “So what happens now? Come on, you’re the expert, what do we do now? Surely I’m not expected to hang around here and haunt this fuck-awful place for all eternity, am I?”
It was a poor joke, but Hannibal didn’t even laugh at the effort Face was making and that brought the fear back all over again.
“Well,” he cleared his throat slightly. “For Murdock and BA and I it was pretty instant really. That lorry hit us, the van was crushed and the light was there almost straight away,” he shrugged. “It was just there.”
Face knew that. Hannibal had told him before, on one of the long, sleepless nights when Face could look and listen but not touch, never touch, and not be held the way he’d needed to be held either. It was still hard to hear though. The van had broken down. Face had got out and climbed up the embankment to try and place a call to a local garage when the big rig had skidded in the rain and just crushed the van right in front of him. For a moment he’d stood and stared and tried to get his head around what he’d seen. The explosion had shocked him out of his stupor though and he just ran. Just ran and ran until Hannibal’s voice had reached him and, for a deliriously wonderful moment, he’d though that his man had survived the inferno but when he’d reached out… Sickness swirling inside him once more as he remembered how his hand had gone right through those reaching fingers…
“But you didn’t go in…” Face had his eyes closed again, his fingers hanging on to Hannibal as tightly as he’d ever done when they were both alive.
“I didn’t,” there was a kiss to his lips, “I’d never leave you, Face. Never. I’ve told you that, every day I’ve been at your side, I’ve told you and told you and told you…”
Every day Hannibal had stayed by his side. Eighteen months. A spectre that only Face could see or hear but even he couldn’t touch. And now?
“What if I don’t get to move on…” it was a fear that had always stalked him.
“Then I stay too.”
Face opened his eyes, “You’d be a wandering spirit for evermore? For me?”
They looked at each other and then Hannibal glanced over his shoulder, his eyes when they came back were worried once more. “Don’t you see it?”
Face tightened his grip and followed Hannibal's eyes, seeing only the top of the stairs, “See what?”
Hannibal glanced again then stepped in, his arm winding around Face’s waist. “It’s brighter now than it ever has been. You don’t see it at all?”
Squinting into the darkness, Face felt the edges of panic tugging at him. “I don’t see it,” he looked right into Hannibal's face, “It was there? All this time? It’s always been there?” Hannibal nodded and Face kissed him hard and thankful and possessive – and just a little desperate. “Don’t go without me.”
“I won’t, I never would.”
Face could feel its pull though, even through their kiss he could feel the tug, like the changing tide, pulling Hannibal away from him and it was terrifying. “Don’t go.”
“Please Hannibal, don’t go. I can’t do this alone; I can’t stay here without you. Please, please don’t go.” The panic was swirling inside him once more.
“Face,” but the hand on his cheek was warm, steady now. “Open your eyes, baby, don’t be scared, you never have to be scared again.”
For the briefest of moments Face resisted, but then it became too much for him and he opened his eyes, blinking against the light that almost blinded him. He sucked in a breath and Hannibal laughed, tugging him closer still, “You see it now?” Face could only stare. “It’s here for you.”
“Of course. So let’s go.”
They stepped forward as one, arms still entwined, Face just concerned enough to need to hold on. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered his eyes drawn to the shimmering and pulsating light.
Hannibal's words reminded him of something and he turned, his eyes taking in the blood soaked body in the hallway, blue eyes staring, unseeing, at the ceiling. “I feel bad just leaving that there…”
Hannibal squeezed him. “You don’t need it anymore.”
Hannibal's eagerness was infectious and Face wondered at the strength of the man to resist this for eighteen long months. They stepped forward once more and Face’s eyes were drawn downwards to the twisted form of Mason at the foot of the stairs. “What the fuck happened to him?”
“I did,” Hannibal growled. “He killed you, kid. There was no way I was ever going to let that one go.”
Face frowned. “Maybe he did me a favour…?”
A terse shake of the head was his only answer to that.
“Where’s he gone?” Face looked around anxiously but Hannibal only tugged him onwards.
“Not where we’re going.”
They stepped forward again and then Hannibal laughed, gesturing with his head towards the glowing tunnel, “Look.”
Face looked and gasped through the tears that sprang into his eyes, holding Hannibal tightly still. “You think they’ve been waiting for us all this time?”
“Probably,” the two shadowy figures were unmistakable, especially the way that one of them was bouncing up and down. “And if they weren’t already dead, I imagine BA would have killed Murdock a hundred times by now.”
Face let out a shaky little laugh and then froze stock still, his eyes widening as he gazed into the light, “Hannibal… that's the Father…” It was, Father Magill’s figure strolling into view with two more shapes and it was Hannibal's turn to laugh, although it was more than a little choked.
“My parents,” he breathed and Face squeezed him close once more even as he tried to pull away.
“What are they going to think of me?”
“They’ll love you, because you love me.”
Face shook his head, “But all this time, all these months…”
“Believe me, baby, it’ll be fine.”
But now Face wasn’t even listening; his eyes were fixed on the tunnel as it swirled and eddied around them, his grip on Hannibal almost painful. Two more figures had joined the waiting party, a man and a woman, looking as if they were in their twenties, younger than Face, the cut of their clothes unmistakably retro. The woman had long, straight hair, mini skirt and knee boots and she stepped forward, her arms held open wide towards the two men and Face couldn’t move not even when Hannibal tried to pull him forward.
“Oh God…” it was all he could get out.
“They never left you, not by choice. You see that now? They never left you.”
Face couldn’t answer, couldn’t speak but he did find his feet again as Hannibal drew him forward towards the woman and the rest of the eager waiting party.
His fingers were tight in Hannibal's clothes though, pulling him close as the room behind them vanished and Hannibal leaned in to press a kiss into his hair. “Right here. With you. Always.”
And then the light swallowed them up. Together.