“You know what day it is, Boss?”
Face’s calm words were deceptively casual, but immediately Hannibal suspected there was a deeper meaning beneath the simple question. He frowned, thinking for a second before he answered. “Friday, still. Though nearly Saturday now, I think.”
Face huffed a tired laugh, though Hannibal could still tell that his breathing was too shallow, too careful. The younger man had admitted earlier to having bruised and possibly cracked ribs; hardly a surprise after the way he had fallen down a cliff earlier in the day, landing hard on the rocky ground, but still something Hannibal knew he had to keep an eye on.
After a moment, Face tried again, “No, I mean the actual date.”
“Oh.” Again, Hannibal had to think. They’d been out on this mission for over a week now, though at last it was nearly over. Not a moment too soon, especially with both of them injured and awaiting rescue in the morning. “Fourteenth February. Why?”
“Just, y’know. Valentine’s Day.”
Too dark to see his boy’s face, but Hannibal could imagine the tiny smile he’d see there. No moon tonight, though the stars were out full force in the skies above where they lay. A blanket of diamonds twinkling on high, something Hannibal never tired of seeing, though he preferred to see them from the safety of the FOB rather than from an improvised shelter in the middle of the desert.
“You missing a hot date, kid?” he asked with a smile of his own, shifting slightly in the sand. His badly sprained knee gave a painful twinge at the motion, though thankfully the morphine shot from earlier had long since dulled the worst of the pain. Another souvenir from their frantic escape earlier in the day; BA had managed to make it safely back to Murdock’s position, at least, while Hannibal and Face had been forced to run out into the desert when their position had been discovered. They had been able to elude the mob hunting them, though when night started to fall they had decided to make camp in the dunes rather than struggling on blindly with their injuries. Hannibal knew Murdock would be able to find them easily enough in his chopper the following morning, with BA’s guidance on their last position.
As darkness had descended, the two men had gradually crept closer together for warmth, not daring to light a fire, until they lay shoulder to shoulder, heads side by side in their shallow sandy shelter. It was cool but not cold yet, though Hannibal knew that might change as the night went on, and neither of them had life-threatening injuries. They had some water and a little food, and a single blanket they were currently sharing – they’d certainly spent nights in far worse conditions than these, and right now, in spite of everything, Hannibal allowed himself to relax, feeling glad that it was Face who was pressed against his side. Face who was here with him now.
They were pressed so closely together that he could feel his boy shrug before Face finally answered Hannibal’s question, his soft voice seeming too loud in the quiet of the desert. “Not really. Had something planned, y’know.” Another shrug. “If I was at the base, if she was at the base. If we had nothing better to do.”
Hannibal’s turn to laugh, though inside his heart broke just a little. How typical of Face; a girl at every base, never single for long. Still on the rebound, perhaps, though it had been months now since Sosa had left him with barely a word of goodbye. He had thought Face was over the break-up now, or as over it as he was likely to get. The team had helped him through, and Hannibal in particular had been there for many drunken, tear-filled nights, holding Face tightly in his arms when his boy would eventually collapse in exhaustion. Somehow he’d managed to resist the urge to confess his feelings for the younger man, to kiss him passionately as he’d always wanted to, knowing that wasn’t what Face needed to hear while he was grieving the end of a serious relationship. Not knowing if Face would ever be ready to hear that, not from him.
Though if Hannibal listened to the rumours, Face had a man in nearly every base too. Those were dangerous rumours in their line of work, of course. Face had always just laughed, shrugging them off easily in that casually confident manner he had, though Hannibal couldn’t help but notice he had never denied them outright. The colonel had always wondered, couldn’t help but wonder, but Face had never given him any kind of sign that he might be interested in Hannibal as anything other than as a friend and mentor. Wondering and dreaming were all he dared do.
By his side, Face shifted a little closer in the sand, until every nerve in Hannibal’s side was alight with the heat from his boy. He snapped abruptly back to the reality of the moment, rather than his fantasy world. “Real romantic there, kid,” he told his boy softly, almost able to predict Face’s next words. And sure enough –
“Better than being alone, right?”
“You’ve never been alone on Valentine’s Day since I’ve known you, Face.” Hannibal knew his boy would take the comment for the gentle teasing it was. And it was true enough – the handsome lieutenant had always been able to find a date, seemingly able to produce beautiful women effortlessly even in the middle of an all-male base.
But there was another little huff of laughter from the younger man, tinged with sadness this time. “Never really been with someone, either, though.”
Pain in Face’s voice, though Hannibal knew the younger man well enough to be sure it wasn’t all caused by his battered ribcage. He smiled softly, turning his head until he could just make out the shadow where his boy’s head rested. “Ah. You mean someone important?” he asked quietly, sensing they were getting to the heart of the matter. “Someone special?”
The shadow nodded. “Yeah. Even with Charissa, we were never…” Face’s voice tailed off, though Hannibal could easily fill in the rest of the sentence for himself. He knew his Lieutenant had met Sosa in early March of last year, just as he knew their relationship had fallen apart spectacularly just before Thanksgiving. They hadn’t had a Valentine’s Day together, and Hannibal felt almost guilty for thinking that was probably for the best, given how badly things had ended between them.
“You still miss her?” he asked hesitantly, not sure he wanted to know the answer. He’d never liked Sosa, never thought she was good for his boy, though he had only ever wanted Face to be happy. And Face’s words, when they finally came, relaxed the uncomfortable knot which had started to form in his chest.
“No. That’s over, finished. I’m not thinking about her tonight.” Face’s words were strong and sure, and Hannibal could hear the ring of truth there, even as his boy added a whispered, “I’m really not.”
“You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself. If you want to talk…?” Please say no, Hannibal thought desperately, really not wanting to talk about El Diablo, as Murdock had taken to calling her. Not with Face’s warm body keeping away the chill of the desert and the dull pain from his injured leg. He’d listen, of course, if his boy wanted to talk, and he’d offer what advice he could, but he didn’t want Face to drag himself through that hell all over again. He didn’t know that he had anything new to offer in the way of comfort, though he wished he could just take all the pain away from this remarkable man by his side.
“Not about that,” Face said firmly, and again Hannibal could hear the truth in his boy’s voice. “It’s done, she left me, her loss. Whatever.” Still a touch of bitterness there, perhaps, but Hannibal believed Face, especially when the younger man tried to change the subject in his own clever way. “Did you have a hot date tonight, Boss?”
Hannibal shrugged, knowing Face would be able to feel the action, pressed together as they were. “When do I ever, kid?”
“Smokin’ hot silver fox like you? I’m sure there would be women lined up around the block if you ever let them know you were looking.” Face’s voice took on that low, sultry note Hannibal recognised from the many times he’d overheard his boy flirting, though he knew the younger man was only teasing him now.
Still, he chose to answer seriously. There was something about lying here as they were, just the two of them beneath the stars, too dark to see Face’s bright blue eyes…“I’m not looking, not seriously at least. It’ll happen if and when it happens. I can plan for everything, but I can’t plan for love.”
“Poetic, and very profound.” Beside him, Face rolled carefully onto his side, grunting slightly as he presumably jarred his aching ribs. Automatically, Hannibal lifted an arm to let his lieutenant slide closer still until Face could rest his head comfortably on Hannibal’s shoulder, his chest pressed to Hannibal’s side. Getting cold, the colonel assumed – his boy was from southern California and had never particularly thrived when temperatures dropped.
He lay still until Face seemed to settle once again, enjoying the feeling of having the younger man’s muscle-packed body cuddled close. The atmosphere between them grew even more intimate as the stars continued to shine, and Hannibal felt reluctant to break the silence. He listened to Face’s shallow breathes for a long minute, before he whispered, “Have you seen all these stars? Inspiring, I guess.”
“And romantic,” Face whispered back to him, his warm breath tickling Hannibal’s neck.
“You could have taken your date stargazing.”
“Nah, probably just would’ve taken her to bed. Better than being alone, for both of us, but she knew what it was all about.” As much as he appreciated Face’s honesty, Hannibal felt his heart break a little more. This man deserved so much more than that. “So, if you did have a hot date planned for Valentine’s Day, would you have gone stargazing?” Face asked him then.
Hannibal smiled into the darkness. “I don’t think I’d have been that creative,” he admitted quietly, letting his imagination wander. “Simple, old-fashioned romance for me. I would take my partner out to dinner, most likely. Somewhere nice, not so posh that it’s uncomfortable, but somewhere quiet and intimate.”
“Oysters?” Face’s voice was barely audible, his presence a wonderfully warm weight by Hannibal’s side.
He dared to tighten his arm around Face’s shoulders, not even having to think about his answer. “No. Cliché. And they taste horrible.” Face laughed softly, stretched one hand out to rest on Hannibal’s stomach in return as he snuggled closer still, a welcome point of heat in the dark desert. “No, probably Italian, if I knew they liked it too.”
“Sounds nice. Luigi’s?”
Face’s favourite restaurant, just around the corner from their shared off-base house back in the States. Hannibal closed his eyes then, blocking out the twinkling stars above them, and gave himself over to the fantasy of taking his boy out. “Yes, if we were near Benning. Then, perhaps, a show if there was something on. Nothing too high-pressure, comedy maybe, or a play if there was something interesting showing.”
“Mmm, I love the theatre,” Face breathed, something Hannibal knew all too well; he had been surprised to learn that about his lieutenant last time they were back home, and carefully tucked the idea away for future use. “Never get enough time to see what’s new.”
“Then, perhaps, depending on how it was going, we’d go back to ours.” How had a simple conversation turned into this, Hannibal had to wonder? Imagining himself treating this wonderful man in the way he deserved to be treated, spoiling him the way he should be. “A slow walk back, in the moonlight. Maybe I would point out the stars if the sky was clear. We could talk, hold hands. Just walk.”
A pause, before his boy murmured, “I like the way you think, Hannibal. It all sounds wonderful. The perfect Valentine’s Day.”
It really was a wonderful dream, but Hannibal had to snort softly with laughter. “Who am I kidding? As much I like to think I could arrange that, it would probably be take-out and a movie at our place.”
“I’d like that more than the restaurant,” Face whispered into the night. “More intimate, somehow, yet more relaxed at the same time. Perfect, especially if we were just back off a mission.”
Was Face imagining it too, imagining being by Hannibal’s side through choice rather than necessity? Suddenly, the colonel thought of something he knew would make his boy smile. “A box of chocolates for afterwards, as a special treat.”
“Those dark chocolate ones?” And sure enough, Face’s voice became a little more animated still. “With the praline centres?”
“Of course; I know they’re your favourites.” Nearly impossible to find, in fact, though Hannibal knew Face could arrange a steady supply for himself easily enough if he wanted to. They wouldn’t be a treat then, perhaps, and so Hannibal always took a great amount of pleasure in finding some for his boy whenever he could, manufacturing reasons why Face had deserved a treat that day.
“You spoil me, boss.” The hand resting on Hannibal’s stomach flexed a little, stretching across to wrap around his opposite hip.
“I would,” he told his boy, blinking his eyes back open and staring up at the starry skies as the fantasy vanished. “You know I would.”
A beautiful dream. Hannibal had sworn to himself long ago that he would take care of Face as much as he could. His boy could take care of himself, of course, had been taking care of himself since he really was just a boy. He was a soldier, a Ranger, the best of the best, and one of the strongest men Hannibal had ever known. But that didn’t stop Hannibal wanting to be the one to take care of him, the one to spoil him and show him how much he was loved. But it was just a beautiful dream, surely, and nothing more.
But Face’s next whispered words made Hannibal question everything he thought he knew. “Can we do that? Can we really do all that, John, when we get back home? Once my ribs are healed and your leg is all better?”
Despite the chill of the desert night, Hannibal felt heat spread through his body, particularly from where Face’s strong hand held tight to his hip. Hope made his heart beat faster, and yet he still couldn’t quite let himself believe. “Temp, I thought we were just talking, I – ”
“I mean, I understand if you don’t want to.” Face spoke rapidly, his words earnest yet so very soft that Hannibal had to strain to hear them. “But I’d want to. I do want to. I want you.”
“Well, we are spending Valentine’s Day together, I suppose the least I can do is take you out on a real date when we get back!” Automatic, really, to make a joke out of it. To give Face a chance to back out, to laugh it off.
But to Hannibal’s disbelief, Face did no such thing. Even as close as they were, he couldn’t really make out his boy’s handsome features or beautiful eyes in the desert night, but he could see the shadow as Face lifted his head, could feel the pressure as Face rested his chin on Hannibal’s shoulder. They were so close, and it would be so easy…
As if by unspoken agreement, Hannibal leaned his head up as Face stretched forwards, and suddenly they were kissing. It wasn’t perfect – Face’s lips were dry from the heat of the day, as Hannibal knew his own had to be, and the angle was wrong. Too much tongue on both sides, an uncomfortable clash of teeth, and Hannibal’s nose was crushed against his boy’s cheek, yet in spite of everything it felt absolutely right.
He dared to slide a hand up to cradle Face’s head closer as the kiss deepened, feeling the stickiness of sweat in his boy’s curls mixed with sand from the desert in which they lay. He’d always imagined Face’s hair would be soft, despite all the products the younger man used to keep it under control, and Hannibal promised himself there and then that they would have to try this again after they were rescued, finally allowing himself to hope this could actually be something real, something Face wanted.
It certainly seemed that way, Face managing to prop himself up on one hand to lean even further into the kiss, though it wasn’t long before the joker in the pack suddenly raised its head. Or the two jokers, in actual fact, as Hannibal’s knee gave a particularly painful twinge in the same moment that Face pulled back with a soft hiss of pain, dropping back to the sand at Hannibal’s side and wrapping an arm around his chest, breathing ragged from more than just their kiss as his battered ribs announced themselves again.
For several long minutes they just lay together in the sand, Hannibal trying to force the twisted muscles in his leg to relax as Face tried to catch his breath, curling up close against Hannibal’s side once again. The colonel dared to keep his hand in his boy’s hair as Face’s head settled back onto his shoulder, stroking gently and hoping to offer some comfort. Far too dark to see anything of the younger man’s face, let alone his bright blue eyes, and the temperature was dropping rapidly now. Hannibal tugged their single blanket up a little higher, still feeling the warmth in his heart, and was content to let the silence grow a little longer, just holding his boy close.
Still a hint of doubt in the back of his mind, though, despite that wonderful kiss. Hannibal knew Face well after so many years together, knew how he never liked to be alone for long. A girl in every base, perhaps a man in every base too. Was this only happening now because of the date? Because Hannibal was the only warm body close at hand?
Almost as if he knew the direction Hannibal’s thoughts had turned, Face was the one to speak up first, his breathing calmer again and his hand moving to start stroking gentle circles on Hannibal’s chest. “I’m serious,” he whispered into the starry night, and Hannibal felt a wide smile spread across his face as everything finally felt real.
“How long?” he asked softly, knowing Face would understand exactly what he was asking.
“Since the first moment I saw you. And you?”
“Not the very first moment. You were rude as hell.” Hannibal knew he owed Face the truth, and he laughed softly at the memory of the cocky nineteen year old he’d first met in a tent in Iraq. Face had been battered and bruised, bloody and beaten down, yet he’d still been arguing and standing his ground, defending his actions after being found fighting with another soldier. Turned out he had actually been the one attacked, but it had taken a long time for the truth to come out as Face had been protesting far too loudly and swearing at the way the MPs had been restraining him. Now, Face laughed too, little more than a breathy gasp, and Hannibal knew his boy was remembering those same events. He added softly, honestly, “Not the very first moment. But it was soon after that, for me. I never thought that you…”
“I never dared hope,” Face confessed, his words muffled against the blanket as he cuddled a little closer still.
Hannibal instinctively tightened his arms around Face as much as he dared, wary of his boy’s injured chest. Suddenly he was very glad of the darkness in which they lay, far too aware that he was grinning like an idiot despite their dangerous situation and their injuries, and he had to bite his lip to keep down the joyous laughter he could feel building.
“Look at those stars,” he murmured instead, pressing a gentle kiss to the top of Face’s head. “So many stars. Millions and millions, all shining up there just for us. Just for you, Temp.”
“You old romantic,” Face breathed, and Hannibal could hear the exhaustion in his boy’s voice now, as the traumas of the day caught up to him at last. “You really are gonna spoil me, aren’t you, John? And you’ll let me spoil you right back?”
Face’s words slowly sank in, and Hannibal just had to smile once again. Things would hopefully change between them for the better after they returned to their real lives, once he could take his boy out on that date they had fantasised about, but some things would never change.
Hannibal kept his words soft and his arms tight as he answered Face. “Less of the ‘old’ please, Templeton. Now get some sleep.”
“Yessir…” Face slurred softly. Even though he was practically asleep already, there was still an answering smile in his voice. Oh, this was going to be very interesting, Hannibal found himself thinking as he gingerly adjusted the position of his bad leg before settling further into the sand with a contented sigh, keeping his boy as close as he could.
He was exhausted too, but he doubted he would be able to sleep, not yet. Perhaps not at all. Not with Face cuddled so close beneath those millions of stars, not when this all still felt like a dream. And surely someone should keep watch, too, just in case their position was discovered after all.
As Hannibal felt Face finally slip into sleep with a tiny sigh of his own, he decided that perhaps he could let the stars keep watch tonight instead, keeping them safe until the morning brought bright sunshine and, hopefully, rescue. Nothing bad could happen to them under that blanket of twinkling lights, not on a night of surprises and promises like this one. The stars could keep watch over them both, the colonel and his boy.