No one knows.
No one knows, and that’s the way they both want it. Not that they’ve ever actually had that conversation in so many words.
There’s nothing to be gained by telling people, not when they aren’t quite sure what they actually are to each other. Neither of them like labels. And anyway, it’s only been a year or so. Far too soon to be making grand declarations of love to each other, let alone to the whole world.
Though it really is love, BA is sure of that much.
Still, even with DADT a distant memory, there’s really nothing to be gained by telling anyone, not yet. They’re team mates first and foremost, and that might not be permitted if they declare themselves a couple, or partners, or boyfriends or whatever other word Face might prefer.
On occasion, BA has wondered if Hannibal might suspect something. Their clever, cunning Colonel, always three steps ahead of everyone. If anyone was going to figure it out, then it would be Hannibal, but he’s never said anything to either of them yet, and they’ve been careful never to give him a reason to bring it up.
As for Murdock, well, who knows what might be going on in their crazy pilot’s mind at any given moment? In some ways BA knows he’s the most observant of the team, but in other ways he’s the most oblivious one, lost in his own world.
Whether or not their team mates might suspect, they’re certain no one knows for sure, and BA’s always been glad of that. It’s given the two of them the space to work things out slowly in their own time, from the first moment they’d unexpectedly fallen into bed together, to their first weekend away without Murdock and Hannibal, right through to their tentative plans to escape together for Christmas, if a mission didn’t get in the way.
One whole year together, when neither of them had even really been looking for a quick fuck, let alone the unexpected relationship that had grown out of their close friendship. One whole year of taking it all one day at a time, fighting together and living together and letting things develop without any pressure from anyone, least of all from themselves.
No one knows, and that’s been just perfect.
Until Face went out on a mission with another team, just for a few days. Not the first time, and it had been a simple mission, in theory, but it had all gone to hell when they were finally on their way back to camp, three weeks behind schedule. They’ve missed Christmas, nearly missed New Year as well, and now Face is unconscious, critically injured, not even stable enough to be transferred out and away from the front line.
And no one knows.
BA wants to scream. Wants to shout, or cry, or hit something, and to a certain extent he can do all of those things without anyone questioning him. To the rest of the camp, Face is his teammate, and the four of them are known to be close. They’ve always been more like family than colleagues, certainly, and Hannibal is a bizarre mixture of older brother and father figure to them all, while Murdock is BA’s crazy kid brother, and Face –
Face is everything.
BA could certainly scream, and no one would be surprised, not for a moment. But they wouldn’t know the true depth of his heartache. Face is everything to BA, and he might not make it.
Hannibal is Face’s next of kin, of course, and has been for more than a decade. Hannibal has power of attorney, should the very worst happen, and Hannibal is the only one the medics have allowed back to see Face so far, though BA knows he’s fought hard trying to get him and Murdock through for even a minute. It’s been three days now since BA had caught a brief glimpse of the man he loves, bloodied and barely recognisable as Face had lain limply on a stretcher, an oxygen mask obscuring most of his handsome face. Three days of waiting and hoping, and praying, though Face is the one who still believes, not BA.
Hannibal looks grey and pinched with worry, though he tries to sound positive when he reports back to BA, and to Murdock. Murdock hasn’t slept since it happened. Neither has BA.
Hannibal tells them Face is still too weak to be moved, but he’s as stable as he can be, given the three bullets he took to the abdomen.
Hannibal tells them Face flat-lined twice on the first day, and again once on the second day, but the doctors are monitoring him closely and he’s holding his own.
Hannibal tells them Face is breathing with the help of a ventilator, but that he’s sure it’s more of a precaution than a necessity.
BA wishes he could believe his colonel. If Face was truly that stable, and truly holding his own, and truly capable of breathing by himself, then the Army would’ve flown him out of there by now. A dusty tent in the middle of a warzone is not the place to heal and recuperate. A dusty tent in the middle of a warzone is a place to –
BA can’t even think the word. Face won’t do that. He just can’t.
And no one knows how BA’s heart is breaking. He can’t imagine his world without Face in it, not anymore.
To the rest of the world, Face is a smart-talking conman, but to BA he’s a sweet guy who fumbles over his words when he really cares about what he’s trying to say. To the rest of the world, Face is a terrible flirt and something of a whore, but to BA he’s nothing but a gentleman. The flirting still happens, but it’s more to keep Face’s reputation in place now, and for the benefit of the team. Neither BA nor Face have been with anyone else since they decided to be exclusive, nearly six months ago. That was one particularly awkward conversation BA would rather not repeat.
Yes, Face is handsome, but he’s so much more than just his good looks. He’s quick-witted and clever, brave and loyal, and when he loves he does so with his whole heart and soul. BA sometimes wonders what Face would see in a man like him, but they balance each other out somehow, Face loud where BA is quiet, and oddly shy on occasion where BA is bold.
And the sex, when they have time and space to indulge in more than a hasty hand-job behind the supplies tent, is incredible, though BA would willingly never make love to Face again so long as Face survives.
BA wants to be with Face right now, more than anything. He wants to be able to hold his lover’s hand, and to smooth his hair back, and to stroke soothing circles over his forehead. He wants to be able to kiss Face’s stubbled cheek, just one more time. Just in case.
On the fourth day, the very last day of the year, not even Hannibal is allowed back to visit Face, and BA braces himself for the worst as the team gather in silence outside the medical area. Murdock won’t leave BA’s side, though thankfully he’s a silent and pale ghost BA can easily ignore, while Hannibal paces in ever-increasing circles, unlit cigar clenched tightly between his teeth.
The desert sun is burning hot and relentlessly bright, though the world feels cold and dark to BA.
He wishes he had the words to tell Hannibal and Murdock how much he feels for Face, though he knows they both love Face too, in their own ways. As much as Hannibal is their leader, Face is their common ground, the centrepiece of their odd foursome. Hannibal’s protégée, Murdock’s best friend. If Face doesn’t make it, BA wonders if the three of them can ever survive, or if this will be one of the last times they are all together.
Hours pass, and the world takes on a strange, dreamlike quality as they wait, while normal camp life carries on around them, soldiers going about their daily routines as if the world might not be ending. When the doctor finally does step outside and opens his mouth to speak, pausing for a long, long time, BA immediately knows in his heart that Face has gone. Time seems to slam to a complete stop, BA’s pulse thundering loudly in his ears, but then –
But then, the doctor announces that Face is awake, and it takes a long time for his words to feel even remotely real. For a long moment the three of them are frozen in their shock, unmoving and staring at each other, unblinking. Then the delight starts to take over, and Murdock whoops loudly, seizing BA in a bear hug, while Hannibal steps forward to shake the doctor’s hand with a grip that could break fingers.
BA can barely breathe, his heart racing in his chest. Face is awake, when they’d thought they might lose him. Face is awake, stubborn bastard that he is, when the doctors had been too scared to put him on a medevac flight. Face is and always has been stronger than anyone gives him credit for; behind those model good looks, he’s a Ranger, he’s tough, and he’s a survivor.
Face is awake, and the doctor immediately leads Hannibal back to see his fallen man. BA just stands there, Murdock dancing in happy circles around him, wondering what on earth he should do now, until the colonel reappears unexpectedly only a few short minutes later.
Hannibal catches BA’s gaze and smiles a little, the slightly crooked smile that BA thinks of as his real, genuine smile. He tells BA the doctors have agreed to let him back, just for a few seconds. The tone in their colonel’s voice implies that there may have been threats involved, and possibly even violence.
Hannibal pauses, then he quietly tells BA that it’s okay. He tells BA that he knows, that he’s known for some time.
BA finds he can’t even care about that right now, because Face is awake, and awake means Face will be fine. It might be a long road ahead of them, but they’ll face it all together, and if Hannibal knows, well.
BA’s surprisingly fine with that.
Murdock hugs BA briefly one more time, and whispers in his ear a request for BA to give Face all his love too. Then, with another flash of that crooked little smile, Hannibal beckons for BA to follow him back into the maze of medical tents, so dark after the brightness of the desert sun.
It’s a long, long walk back to the tiny area that houses the critical care unit, but finally Hannibal pauses outside a small, curtained-off area, gesturing for BA to go ahead.
BA takes a single steadying breath before ducking nervously behind the curtain. And there he is. Face looks weaker than BA has ever seen him, pale and oddly thin as he lies on the hospital bed, dwarfed by machinery and drowning in tubes and wires. The ventilator is still in place, but the inevitable bandages and dressings are concealed beneath the clean white sheet pulled up to his shoulders, and there is immediate recognition in sleepy blue eyes when Face glances in BA’s direction.
Recognition, and love.
It’s nearly enough. Hannibal has their backs, and BA knows their colonel will keep the doctors and nurses at bay behind that curtain for as long as he can, buying them some privacy. Murdock clearly knows as well, and one day soon, when this is all just another anecdote to retell around a campfire, BA might think to wonder when and how their teammates figured it all out.
But for now, BA suddenly doesn’t care if the whole damn Army knows. All he wants to do is to kiss Face, and hold his hand, and so that’s exactly what he does – that pale skin is reassuringly warm and alive beneath BA’s lips when he presses a series of gentle kisses to Face’s cheeks and brow, and long fingers close weakly around BA’s own when he slides his hand beneath Face’s, careful of the trailing IV lines.
I’m here, BA says softly. I love you, fool. You ever get shot again and I swear I’ll… He shakes his head, choking on emotions, and Face somehow manages to smile at him around the ventilator tube before his beautiful blue eyes slip closed once again.
BA snags a stool with his heel to drag it closer, not wanting to let go of Face’s hand for even a second, more than prepared to stand his ground when the doctors come to try and lead him away. He settles himself as close to Face as he can, finally feeling his racing heart start to ease, and whispers, Happy new year, Temp.