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Afterwards, Face always thought it was like his life was split into two, very distinct, very separate sections; before Lt. Tracy Hopkins sidled up to him outside his quarters one day, and of course after. And while the ‘before’ was a bit of a blur, a whole jumble of missions and training and sex and drinking and laughing and girls and buddies... ‘after’ was cold, and crystal clear, and very, very painful in its clarity.

 

He’d mentally sighed when he’d seen her heading his way, one of Charissa’s never ending circle of friends, one of the many who would frown at him when he got drunk and sigh at him if he turned up to pick her up late, or tap their feet at him when he spent too much time laughing with his friends at the bar. And right now, when the pain in his heart was still raw and jagged and only six months old, he really, really wasn’t in the mood for any of that to start up again.

 

He adjusted his paper sacks of groceries into a one armed hug and teased his keys out of his jeans pocket, deliberately turning side on to her and replying to her greeting of, “Face...” with a rather curt, “Yeah – bit busy actually here Hopkins, hot date tonight, need to get ready.” Why should he give her the satisfaction of knowing he’d done nothing than follow through on a few empty, anonymous lays since Sosa had left him?

 

“Face...” but she was still there, still annoyingly close to him and he frowned, wondering what the fuck her problem was. “I really need to talk to you,” she almost whispered to him, glancing over her shoulder in a furtive and actually disturbing manner, “in private.”

 

Face actually had nothing on, nothing but the usual ‘all-pile-round-to-Hannibal’s-and-try-to-make-Face-forget-he’s-screwed-up-his-love-life-again’ evening of course. So he sighed and nodded something that could have been agreement and pushed into the cool dark of his little hallway, listening as Hopkins closed the door behind her and tracked him down into the kitchen.

 

She stood and stared at him, nibbling on her nails so much he could hear her, which was more than a little gross, while he unpacked his groceries. He tried to angle his body so that she couldn’t see what he’d bought; Sosa had always tutted in a disparaging manner when she’d seen his staple purchases, the chocolate spread, tins of ravioli, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, beer... Hell, it wasn’t like he didn’t eat fuck loads of fruit as well because he did, and he ate in the mess most of the time anyway, had no idea how to cook, so what was he supposed to buy? Chestnut paste and bullion??? He shook his head at the memory, but today he was more ashamed of the little bunch of nameless yellow flowers he’d bought on a whim to try and cheer up his depressing as sin apartment, than he was of his ‘nine year old’s diet’ as Sosa had termed it.

 

“What do you actually want?” he’d snapped out, mortified flush in his cheeks as he’d glanced back over his shoulder to find Hopkins staring at the sad little flowers he’d tried to hide in the sink.

 

She didn’t flinch at his harsh tone, hardly even batted an eyelid, just stared at the flowers still until she breathed out, “They’ll die if you don’t put them in water...”

 

Face sighed and felt the ache of tension in his jaw. “What do you want?” he repeated, coldly, quietly.

 

At last Hopkins looked up and Face was startled to see she looked a little upset and his heart started to pick up a slightly faster rhythm as he watched her, worried now without even knowing why. “I’ve just come from seeing Charissa,” she said quietly, and Face felt that familiar sick swoop in his stomach. Of course she had, he rubbed his hand over his mouth as he bit back a sigh, wondering what the fuck he’d done wrong this time, what she wanted from him, what he had that she could be interested in. There couldn’t possibly be anything left.

 

“And?” he asked flatly.

 

Hopkins laughed, a flat, nervous, irritating laugh that made Face frown and then he noticed she was actually shaking. “Shit, Face,” she muttered, “can I have one of those beers?” He didn’t answer, but he gave her one, popping the cap and getting himself one as well, leaning up against the sink as she perched awkwardly on a breakfast stool.

 

Three long swallows disappeared down her throat as she tipped her head and closed her eyes and then she put the bottle down, stroking at the condensation with her finger as she let out a long sigh and started talking. “I never thought you were right for her, always knew you’d hurt her.” Face felt the flush in his cheeks again but never spoke, he wasn’t going to go over this with Hopkins – there was absolutely no point at all in telling her that he was the wronged party here, that he was the one who’d been left broken hearted and bereft. “But shit...” Hopkins shook her head and looked up, meeting Face’s guarded expression, “you don’t deserve this.”

 

“Deserve what?” Face asked quietly, his pulse thumping loudly in his ears.

 

Looking back down at the table again, Hopkins rubbed at the nape of her neck and Face waited, his anxiety creeping up with every passing second. “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” she said eventually. “If it gets back to Charissa that I was the one who told you...” she shook her head slowly, “so, I’d appreciate you keeping my name out of this.”

 

“I don’t even know what the fuck ‘this’ is!” Face ground out, his nerves stretched just about as far as they could go.

 

“Charissa’s pregnant,” Hopkins blurted, her eyes still fixed on the table top. “She’s pregnant, and it’s yours.”

 

Face just stared at her, totally dumbfounded by those words. He couldn’t get them to rearrange themselves into an order in his head that actually made any sense. “Pregnant?” he repeated, knowing he sounded like a dumb hick. “She can’t be pregnant, she was on the pill.”

 

Hopkins looked up, sad, almost pitying smile on her face. “Not a hundred percent. They never teach you that in school?”

 

Face ignored her. “Anyway, can’t be mine,” he announced and took a swig of beer, “in case you’ve forgotten, I haven’t even seen her in six months. I might be good, but I’m not that good.”

 

Hopkins slid off her stool and fixed him with a cold, patronising stare. “She’s due to deliver any day now you jerk,” she muttered. “And she hasn’t been with anyone else since you, so don’t even try to worm out of this and pin it on someone else.” Face just blinked at her and she shook her head. “Well, now you know. What you do with it is up to you.” With one last shake of her head, she left her beer and walked out.    

 

_______________

 

Three hours after his bombshell had been delivered, Face let himself into Hannibal’s house, immediately hearing the raucous yelling from the back room which obviously meant that Murdock had brought his Xbox over again, and shouted a greeting before heading straight into the kitchen to stick his beer in the fridge.

 

 

There was so much to this, so, so much, so many different facets and emotions and considerations that he was struggling to sort it all into any particular order. He’d stood in the shower until the water had run cold thinking it all through and was no further on even now, even after the walk over here and the fresh air that he’d hoped would clear his mind.

 

“Hey, kid,” Hannibal’s voice behind him made him jump and he offered a lopsided smile over his shoulder as he opened his beer.

 

“Hey, boss,” replied quietly.

 

Within a fraction of a second Hannibal was there in front of him, Murdock’s gleeful howling chasing up the hallway towards them as Hannibal reached out and took hold of his shoulders, turning him so that they were eye to eye. “What’s up?” he asked, his brow furrowed in concern. “I was just about to call you, wondered where you were.”

 

For a moment Face considered brazening it out, doing what he always did in situations like this and lie and pretend everything was just great, but then he caught the genuine interest in Hannibal’s expression and felt a flush of shame that he would even consider conning this man, the one person in the world who had proved over and over and over that he actually really did have Face’s best interests at heart. 

 

Instead he blew out a long breath and forced his mouth to say the words that had been spinning and spinning in his head for three hours. “Hannibal... Charissa’s pregnant...”

 

The silence was heavy, and Face saw as Hannibal’s brows knitted further together, felt the pressure increase in the fingers on his shoulders and waited for the words he knew were coming. “Is it yours?” Face nodded. “You sure? I mean, I thought you used protection?”

 

Despite that fact that he was pushing thirty, Face felt his cheeks flush at the realisation that he was discussing sex with his ex-girlfriend and birth control with his CO. “I did. We did, she was on the pill. Apparently it’s not foolproof though.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Hannibal agreed and stepped back to lean against the counter leaving Face to wonder if he was the only male in the western world who didn’t actually know that. He folded his arms and fixed Face with a hard look, “So you’re sure it’s yours?”

 

Face bit back the flare of resentment that that clarification provoked within him and forced himself to recognise that Hannibal was just covering all of the bases here. He shrugged. “I dunno boss, I suppose no man can ever be one hundred percent sure can they?” Hannibal raised an eyebrow at that. “But she’s due to deliver any day now, and that puts conception into the time when we were still together, so...” He looked absently out of the window into the black square of night, “I never felt she was cheating on me...” but then he’d never felt that she’d wanted to end it all with him either. Or that he ‘suffocated’ her. Or that the ring he’d bought her would be the catalyst to her finally telling him what she really thought of him and walking out. What else had he been wrong about?

 

He felt a hand on his arm and looked round, finding Hannibal scrutinising him, worried frown still in place across his forehead. “So,” he said carefully once he was sure that Face was listening to him. “Why leave it this late to let you know?” he asked quietly. “What does she want from you?”

 

And that was the thing wasn’t it? That was what was spinning round and round in Face’s head all the time. What did she want? Why didn’t she tell him? And more to the point, what did he want?

 

“I don’t know,” he admitted to his feet before looking up again, his eyes begging Hannibal to help him make sense of all of this. “She didn’t even tell me now, Hopkins told me.”

 

That got Hannibal’s eye brows raised. “You haven’t spoken to her?”

 

“Not in sixth months.”

 

Hannibal shook his head. “Well, you need to talk to her, ask her what the hell she thinks she’s playing at. And I‘d suggest getting some legal advice as well, don’t agree to anything she asks of you until you’ve spoken to a brief.”

 

Face frowned. “I’m not gonna duck out of my responsibilities here you know, boss,” he said quietly.

 

Looking at him, Hannibal saw the determination in his eyes and the set of his jaw and felt a wave of sympathy rush through him. Of course, Face the man with no ties, no family, of course he would feel the obligation to this child so very, very strongly; he just hoped to hell that Sosa wouldn’t use that as one more weapon to hurt him with. “I know you’re not, kid,” he soothed, “but you have to do this properly right? Set it all up properly.”

 

There was a long sigh as Face scrubbed his hands over his eyes, “I don’t even know where she is. She’s never answered any of my calls or texts since she left.”

 

And there was that wave of pain again through Hannibal’s chest, he’d seen the state she’d left him in when she’d gone, but Face had pulled himself back together pretty quickly afterwards, or so Hannibal had thought. What the hell had the kid been doing texting her and calling her all this time? Especially since she’d never replied to him, he shook his head.

 

“I know where she is,” he answered gruffly. He’d tracked her down after she’d left, wanted to reassure himself that she was right out of Face’s life now, that he could relax without having to worry that she’d pop up one day on the base and have another go at flaying him alive. Face looked up at him. “She’s in DC. DoD. You want me to get an address for her?”

 

Face nodded, looking fairly stunned at the way things were moving. “I’ll need some time off, I guess,” he added hesitantly but Hannibal just nodded straight away.

 

“Of course, don’t worry about it, we’ve loads of time accrued, take what you need.” Face forced out a strained looking smile of thanks which promptly vanished as he dropped his eyes back to the floor where they stayed, staring in silence.

 

“What?” Hannibal said, moving closer, his hand back on the fine weave for Face’s shirt. “You okay, kid?”

 

Face looked up, his eyes bright with unshed tears. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said gruffly, going for that unconvincing smile again. “I just - thanks boss - you know? For putting up with me,” he shook his head again. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”  

 

Hannibal smiled and squeezed the arm under his fingers. He was about to say that it was okay, not to worry and that he’d always be there, when he thought he caught just the edge of desperation, of fear in Face’s eyes. “You want me to come to DC with you?” he asked instead, the words out of his mouth before he’d even considered them.

 

The effect was instantaneous. Face’s whole expression lifted, and the gratitude suddenly shining in those moist eyes was worth anything that Hannibal could ever do. “Please...” he breathed.    

 

Hannibal nodded.

________________

 

Eighteen hours later and Face was lurking on the porch of the single story house in the shady residential suburbs of Washington, his pulse thumping and his palms sweaty. Hannibal had dropped him off and then gone in search of accommodation for the four of them for the few weeks they planned on being in DC. Face couldn’t help shaking his head when he thought of how Murdock and BA (well, okay, Murdock mainly) had insisted on coming up with him and Hannibal as soon as they had listened in stunned silence to his news. At first he’d been appalled that his disastrous love life was turning into a team vacation, but then once he’d firmly squashed Murdock’s plans and seen the way both of his team mates had looked at him... well, he had had to accept that their desire to come to Washington was a lot about supporting him and very little about having a vacation. With a huge lump in his throat he’d accepted their offer.

 

So now Murdock and BA had gone on an open top bus ride around the city to check out all the good places to visit, Hannibal had gone to visit an old real estate friend he knew and Face was here, with a huge bouquet of flowers and ridiculously raised pulse rate.

 

He reached out a finger and pressed the doorbell, then stood off to one side to wait. He waited quite a while, just enough time to decide she wasn’t in and he was going to have to have a stupid long wait with this fucking enormous bunch of flowers until Hannibal came back for him, when he finally heard the lock click and the door opened.

 

For a second they just stared at each other, Face refusing to look down and stare at the evidence of what he had thought of as their love, but then she just shook her head in a resigned fashion. “I suppose you were always going to find out one day,” she eventually said by way of a greeting. “Someone was always going to blab. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have waited another few weeks.” Face frowned, a little confused, but Sosa just shook her head. “I suppose you’d better come in,” she told him flatly, and then turned and walked slowly back down the hallway, one hand jammed into the small of her back, supporting her spine as she walked.

 

Face walked in and closed the door, taking the time to study her, his eyes drawn to the swell of her belly, and his heart started to pound as he realised that right there, in this very room with him, was another human who actually shared his blood, a real honest to god relative, the first one he could ever remember meeting and the feeling was overwhelming.

 

He looked up as he entered the den and knew she’d been watching him as he’d stared at her very different figure and found himself flushing. “Hey beautiful,” he smiled at her, falling back into old safety nets very quickly. “I got you these.”

 

Handing the flowers over, he leant down to kiss her, noting, very clearly how she turned her head away from him to present a smooth cheek and tried hard to ignore the stabbing pain in his chest triggered by her move. Instead he watched as she almost tossed the flowers onto the couch at her side and smiled at her, trying to force his pounding heart to slow down. “So,” she flicked her eyes up to him, “how are you?”

 

For a second Sosa only looked at him, her head slightly cocked to one side, but then she smiled and it wasn’t a nice smile. “Well,” she said slowly, “I feel rather a lot like a bloated whale. I have no ankles, raging heartburn and stretch marks. I can’t remember what it’s like to be able to sleep through the night, my fingers are like sausages, brie and wine are just distant memories and I need to have a piss, on average, every thirty five minutes.” They looked at each other. “So, yes thanks, Face, I’m fucking top. You?”

 

Face’s whole expression fell. “Shit, Charissa,” he breathed out, “it’s not all my fault you know.”

 

For a minute it actually looked as if she was going to argue that point with him, but then she just blew out a long breath and brushed her hair out of her eyes. “No, not all of it I suppose, but you have certainly got off the lightest out of this mess.”

 

He frowned. “Well, of course I have!” he countered hotly. “When you didn’t even tell me, what the hell else was I supposed to do?”

 

Sosa paused in the act of smoothing her arrant hair down again and looked at him, confusion in her expression. “Why should I tell you? Another couple of weeks and it’ll be all sorted; nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about and we can both get back to living our lives.”     

 

An icy fist grabbed Face’s heart tightly and he looked at Charissa, wondering how many other ways her words could be assimilated. “What do you mean?” he asked quietly.

 

She folded her arms uncomfortably across the top of her stomach. “I mean that I have sorted all of this out, set up an adoption. It’s all arranged, papers have been signed and new parents lined up. The second it’s born, it’s being taken away, and by the end of the night it’ll be with new parents who will love it and you and I will be free.”

 

Face was truly speechless. He just stared at Sosa as she held his eyes with her own measured gaze and found himself struggling to get his head around what she had just told him. “You – you’re giving it up?” the pain in that realisation was almost more than he could stand.

 

Sosa frowned, she looked genuinely confused and let out a nervous laugh as she adjusted her position on the couch, “Of course I am!” she told him. “What the hell are either one of us going to do with a baby for chrissakes?!” Face didn’t answer and Charissa shook her head at him. “Face, we are soldiers or has that fact escaped you recently? What have you been imagining was going to happen here? That I would take you back on the strength of this and we would start that whole soap opera up again? Move in together and pretend like we don’t hate each other?”

 

Still Face stared, totally disbelieving of how they had ended up on such completely different pages. He didn’t hate her, despite the memories he had of their last few weeks together and the first few weeks apart, no, he certainly didn’t hate her. Had he envisioned them getting back together? No, of course not, so what they hell had he been expecting then? He found her keen eyes still on him and shrugged. “No, of course not. I just never thought you’d go through all of this,” he gestured at her uncomfortable posture, “only to have nothing to show for it at the end.”  

 

Sosa cocked her head as she stared at him, “Face, honey, the only reason I’m going through all of this at all is I was too late to get an abortion. You want a coffee? You’ll have to make it yourself, I’m beat.”

 

Somehow Face found himself in the kitchen, his hands flat on the counter, the kettle bubbling at his side, his head bowed as her words washed over him. She would have killed his baby, without even telling him of its existence she would have killed the only family he had in the whole world. And even now she had arranged to get rid of it, to pass it onto other people who would raise it, his child, as their own and he would never, ever be able to see it again, never be able to build up that relationship, nurture that life, make that link. He blinked away the tears. There was no way in heaven or earth that he was going to let that happen, no way at all. Charissa might not want this baby and that was her decision, one she was very entitled to, but him? God, he wanted it, only in the last few minutes had he realised just how much he wanted it, so much it was like a burning pain in his chest. He straightened his back and made the coffee, he wanted this baby.  

 

“Thanks,” Sosa muttered taking the mug from him and making a face with her first sip. “Eww, decaf, that’s something else I won’t be sad to see the back of.”

 

“How long have you got to go?” Face asked her, perching on the foot rest next to her sock clad feet.

 

“Well,” she replied carefully, glancing at him over the rim of her mug, “today is actually my due day, so any time now.”

 

“Right,” she could see his mind working behind his eyes. “So what happens with the adoption people then? You call them when you go into labour and they appear and whisk the baby away the second it pops out?”

 

Her dark eyes narrowed, “I don’t know what you have been watching, but I don’t think there will be much ‘popping out’ going on...” she muttered.

 

Face made an impatient gesture, “You know what I mean, and that’s what happens, yes?” She nodded. “Right. Well...” he looked down at her feet and then slowly back up again, making sure that his eyes were holding hers with every bit of honesty he could muster. “Charissa,” he breathed, “I don’t want you to do that, I really, really don’t. Don’t give our baby up like that. Please, I’m begging you, please, phone them and call the whole thing off.” 

 

Sosa couldn’t have looked more shocked if Face had announced he was gay at that point, she just stared at him, totally and utterly stunned as he held her eyes and she knew he was deadly serious.

 

“Face,” she eventually breathed, “I can’t do that, it’s all signed.”

 

He shook his head. “I can’t believe that there is a contract in the land that wouldn’t let a mother keep her baby if she changes her mind,” he told her gently and watched as a frown pulled at her brow.

 

“But that’s just it,” she said quietly, “I haven’t changed my mind.

 

He took a deep breath, determined to stay calm. “Charissa please. Don’t do this, don’t let someone else raise our baby.”

 

For a second there was a silence as she stared at him, her eyes wide and trusting and just for a minute he was transported back to the early days of their relationship, before she’d decided that he was full of shit and she’d liked the person he’d pretended to be much more than the person he actually was. His heart began to flutter in hope, before it was cruelly shattered by the words that flew from her mouth in anger. “You egotistical bastard!” she spat, hauling herself up to her feet and glaring at him. “How dare you? How fucking dare you expect that from me?”

 

“Expect what?” Face asked genuinely perplexed and raising his hands in a gesture of confusion.

 

“That I would give up my job, my career, my life, to stay at home and raise your illegitimate child, while you and your buddies go off for months at a time playing war hero and popping back for a quick round of softball with Junior whenever the mood takes you!” They glared at each other. “Even by your standards, Peck,” she hissed, “that’s pretty damn selfish!”

 

“Selfish?” Face was on his feet before he even realised and it was like the twilight of their relationship all over again. “How on earth do you have the neck to call me selfish when you would have murdered my own child without even telling me!”

 

“Murdered?!” Sosa’s eyes were wide in shock. “Oh, of course you would see it like that wouldn’t you? Good little Catholic boy that you think you are! Never bothered you in the field though has it? Can quite happily forget those Ten Commandments when you are shooting someone’s head off, or fucking someone’s wife, or stealing someone’s car! Fucking hypocrite!”

 

Face spun away from her and raked his hands through his hair. It was like six months ago all over again and he wasn’t going to let that happen, wasn’t going to let something this important get lost in a cloud of harsh words and anger. He steadied himself and took a deep breath, turning slowly and trying again. “I don’t want to fight with you anymore,” he told her quietly. “This is about more than just us now, just all our crap.”

 

“Your crap!” she spat back, anger still flashing in her eyes.

 

“Probably...” Face admitted, forcing out a strained smile. “And I’m not asking you to give anything up, Charissa, at all, I wouldn’t do that to you. You don’t want this baby and that’s fine, I’m not asking you to be involved, I’m not asking you to look after it.”

 

She looked at him. “You don’t want me, or this adoptive couple, to raise this baby?” she asked, the disbelief clear in her voice and Face shook his head. She paused for a moment, thinking hard. “Then who the hell will? You?” The cold laughter that greeted those words was like sandpaper on Face’s heart. He just stared at her, face expressionless and she suddenly stopped, frozen in the moment as her mind caught up with her eyes. “Oh, my God,” she breathed, “you’re serious. You actually think you’re serious.”

 

“I am serious,” he muttered, hanging onto his temper by the finest of threads.

 

Sosa sank awkwardly back onto the sofa and looked up at him. “Face, you have got to be the most irresponsible man I have ever known, what in hell’s name makes you think that you could possibly look after a child?”

 

“You have no idea what I am capable of,” he told her quietly.

 

“Maybe not, but I’m also fairly sure that you have no idea either.” He just looked at her. “I mean, think about this, how is it supposed to work when you go on a mission? What are you going to do? Wear a papoose over your BDUs?”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

 

“I’m not Face,” she spread her hands, “I’m being realistic! So come on, what’s going to happen? You going to leave it with your wife, your mom, your sister? Oh, no, not really possible, right?” He narrowed his eyes at her words. “So what then? You gonna put it into care? You not think it would be better off with a couple of parents who aren’t out of the county for eight months of every year crawling around in a dust bowl with people shooting at them?”

 

Face turned away from her. “I’m not going to put it into care!” he retorted, “I wouldn’t do that!”

 

“So what then Face?” he could hear that she’d leaned forward as far as her bump would let her. “Tell me, what are you going to do?” Silence met her words and she leaned back, smug grin on her face. “Call me? Guilt me into taking my turn?”

 

“No!” Face whirled back on her.

 

“So what then?!” she asked her voice rising. “What possible plan could Hannibal Smith’s wondrous protégé have for this mess?”

 

“I’ll leave,” Face shot back and that was enough to stop Sosa dead in her tracks.

 

“Leave?” she repeated, the incredulousness clear in her voice. “The army? You’d leave the army?”

 

“I would,” he replied and the conviction was definite in his tone.

 

“And do what?” Sosa asked instead, “What else are you qualified to do? It’s not like you have any savings to fall back on.”

 

Face flushed, his hastily conceived stratagem quickly turning to mush under Sosa’s scrutiny. “I don’t know!” he admitted angrily, “I’ll think of something! Right?”

 

For a second she just looked at him, and then all her anger melted away at the pain she could see in his eyes. “Look, Face,” she said carefully, “let me show you something.” He stepped forward to help her to her feet and she shuffled awkwardly over to the dresser at the side of the room and pulled out a folder. “Doctor Sam Jenkins and Doctor Louise Jenkins,” she said, handing him a photo. “Married for ten years, infertile due to Louise’s childhood treatments for cancer. He’s a paediatric specialist in Seattle, she’s a family practitioner. They have one adopted child, four year old boy by the name of Adam, and now they are looking for another to complete their family.” Despite himself, Face looked down at the photo in his hand and the smiling faces of the Jenkins family. “Face,” Sosa’s voice was as soft as the hand on his arm. “You really think you can compete with that? You really think you can give our baby a better home? With no job, no family, no house, no money?”

 

Face closed his eyes. “I’m that baby’s father,” he whispered into the silence. “My parents gave me away, and I always swore I would never, ever do that to my own child.”

 

“I know, Temp,” he felt her lean into him. “And they were wrong to do that to you, you were never better off from that decision.” A hand started gently rubbing his back. “But don’t you see that this is different? That you would be holding your child back if you didn’t let it go?”

 

“No one would love that baby as much as I would,” he whispered, his voice raw.

 

“I know,” and there was a hitch in Sosa’s voice too. “But sometimes love isn’t the most important thing in the world.”

 

He opened his eyes and looked into hers, “Love is always the most important thing in the world.”

 

Silence fell between them and then slowly, Sosa moved away. “I’m tired,” she said, her tone sad. “You need to go now so I can rest.”

 

“You’re not going to call them?” Face clarified and she shook her head.

 

“I’ll call you when I go into labour,” she told him quietly. “You can see it when it’s born if you want, I’m not going to deny that you’re its father, but after that you need to say goodbye and let go.” She looked him straight in the eye. “Maybe it would be better for you to just walk away now.”

 

She paused in the door to the hallway and they stared at each other and he knew she wanted him to head back south. “I’ll be there,” he said gruffly, “and I’m not giving up on this baby, Charissa, I’m just not.”

 

For a second she studied him carefully, but then she just shook her head and walked away.

 

__________________

 

The sidewalk under his feet pounded out a comforting rhythm as Face walked, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. He’d never been so confused, so conflicted before in his whole life. His heart, currently hammering so hard against his ribs was telling him one thing, but his head, swimming with pictures of that Jenkins family and imagining their kick ass house and their massive college fund, was telling him something completely different.

 

What was he supposed to do here? He had no idea, none at all. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, he just didn’t know if he actually should... Suddenly a figure stepped up right in front of him and Face reared back, frowning in confusion at the hands that grabbed his shoulders and the concerned face of Hannibal Smith that suddenly loomed in front of him.

 

“Jesus, Face!” Face blinked at the harsh tone of Hannibal’s voice. “I’ve been shouting you, phoning you for ages, what planet are you on?”

 

He shook himself. “Yeah, sorry boss, I guess I was a little distracted...”

 

The anger slipped instantly from Hannibal’s features and instead he squeezed the shoulders under his fingers and asked quietly, “How did it go?”

 

For a second Face just looked at him, then he laughed, a dry, bitter sound in the evening sunshine. “I’ll tell you in the car,” he said instead and Hannibal nodded.

 

_____________________

 

“Shit Facey, that sucks...” Murdock breathed as they all sat around with their beers after Face finished relaying his conversation with Sosa for the second time that day.

 

“Man, she is one cold girl...” BA added as he stirred around the remains of his curry pot.

 

“She’s not cold!” Face retorted, leaping to Sosa’s defence out of sheer habit. “It’s just not what she wants right now, I mean it’s not like either of us planned it, is it?”

 

Silence fell for a few minutes as they each stared into their suppers and thought about the afternoon’s revelations.

 

“One thing she got right though,” Murdock offered eventually and everyone turned to look his way. “It’s gonna be impossible for you to look after it though, doin’ the job you do.”

 

BA nodded to himself, but Face just frowned and went back to his noodles with a distracted, “Yeah...”

 

Instantly, glances were traded between the other three and Hannibal put down his carton so that he could lean forward and fix Face with his eyes. “Out with it kid,” he said quietly, “what’s going on in that head of yours?”

 

Face didn’t respond, just poked at the congealing noodles with his chopsticks, his brow furrowed in thought. “Well,” he said eventually, his voice quiet in the still of the room, “I suppose I could always leave, couldn’t I?”

 

Silence met his words, and he knew without even looking up the concerned looks that would be flying between his team-mates at his bombshell.

 

“You could, yes,” Hannibal eventually said, and Face was surprised at the calm he could hear in his CO’s voice. “You could even take a year’s leave of absence, see how things stood after that.”

 

“I’d still have the baby, even after a year,” he retorted a little hotly.

 

“I know,” Hannibal reassured him, “But you might have been able to come to some other arrangement that didn’t involve you leaving, change of duties, something like that.”

 

Face looked at him, his own mind spinning over his CO’s words. “Yeah...” he said quietly. “I could couldn’t I? That might work.”

 

There was a pregnant pause as three sets of eyes rested on him and he stared back into his noodles, deep in thought.

 

“So...” that was Murdock’s voice, eventually splitting the silence, “that you decided then, Face? You gonna take some leave?”

 

The whole room held its breath as Face looked up and stared at him. “I don’t know, bud,” he eventually whispered. “I mean, it’s not like it makes much difference though does it? It’s not like Charissa’s gonna cancel this adoption business.”

 

“It’s your baby too, man,” BA muttered and Face glanced over at him.

 

“He’s right,” Hannibal confirmed, getting to his feet. “No one can make Sosa keep this baby herself, but she doesn’t have sole say in who does get to look after it, though.” He wandered through to the kitchen of the sprawling penthouse that his real estate friend was loaning them and Face scurried after him, grabbing another couple of beers from the fridge as he dropped his uneaten noodles into the trash.

 

“You don’t think I should let her call the shots on this one then, boss?” he asked, the desperation clear in his voice and Hannibal turned to smile sadly at him.

 

“You’re asking me, kid?” he said, reaching out to put a friendly hand on Face’s shoulder. “From where I’m standing, seems to me that you’ve already made your mind up, always had done.”

 

Face held his eyes and nodded slowly.

 

_____________________

 

At twelve fifteen the next afternoon, Hannibal picked Face up from the front of Fulbright & Jaworski and pulled their hire car out into the creeping lines of traffic as they made their way over to meet Murdock and BA over at Mount Vernon.

 

“Well?” he asked, as Face leant back in his seat with a heartfelt sigh, “What did she say?”

 

Hannibal watched carefully as Face couldn’t help the hint of a smile that was tugging at his lips for the first time in three days. “She says that the contract won’t be valid if there is ‘good cause’ why the baby shouldn’t be placed for adoption. And the fact that I didn’t even know about it, much less consent to it, seems like a pretty sound ‘good cause’ according to her.”

 

“Great,” Hannibal felt a flash of relief wash through and turned back to the traffic once more. “It’s not gonna be a problem that you’re not married then?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Face replied, shuffling into a more comfortable position in the cheap car seat. “I need to make a claim on my paternity, and Monica is drafting a statement for both me and Charissa to sign that will establish it.” 

 

Hannibal glanced over at him. “You think she’ll sign it?”

 

Face looked around again and Hannibal felt his chest tighten as he saw the concern that was lying underneath his careful words of confidence. “Of course. And then Monica will have all the paperwork ready just to hand over to the adoption people, calling a pause to the whole procedure. And then it will go to court, and then the judge will decide what’ll happen next.”

 

And that was the bit that Hannibal knew Face was worried about, hell, they were all worried about. Face had told them about the perfect Jenkins family and the contract that Sosa had entered into with them. Was any judge going to let a single man, a soldier at that, raise a child when that was the alternative? He looked at Face who was gazing, unseeing out of the windshield of the car and felt a moment’s panic for the man he held such strong, complicated feelings for. If Face had that child taken off him now, Hannibal could only imagine how much it would destroy him.

 

_______________________

 

The plain, utilitarian clock on the bare lilac walls clicked onto three a.m. and Hannibal stood, stretching out his back and listening to the vertebrae click into line. “There’s no point you guys being here,” he said into the silence of the room. “Why don’t you head home and I’ll call you when something happens?”

 

“Could say the same to you bossman,” Murdock drawled without opening his eyes, “an’ there’s no way you’re goin’, just like us.”

 

“Righ’,” BA added from where he was laid over four chairs. “If we’re doin’ this, we’re doin’ this as a team.”

 

Hannibal smiled, knowing his team were much more than that, that they were a family and as such were going to be there for one of their own, and that gave him hope in a time that was just about as uncertain as any he could remember. They’d been here, in this little waiting room for almost twelve hours, watching other family members coming and going, until only they were left.

 

Sosa had wanted to do this on her own, had told Face as much when he’d taken the paternity claim over for her to sign, and even signed it for him, but when she’d called, told them things were moving, he’d gone into the delivery suite see her, and he’d never come back out again.

 

Hannibal hoped that that was a good sign, but then, wandering over to the small window that looked out onto the car park below, he found himself wondering exactly what a ‘good’ outcome from all of this could be. Did he think that Face was right to want to keep this baby? Bring it up alone? Well, he could understand it, knew exactly why the kid was doing it – but no, he didn’t think it was the right thing to do. So, why hadn’t he said anything, why was he sitting here, supporting the kid, letting him think he had his tacit agreement that this was the right course of action? He felt his cheeks flush, because he was a coward that’s why; because Face’s happiness was so, so, important to him, much more important than he should ever have let it become, so important that he would do whatever he could to try and make this dream a reality for him.

 

If Face wanted this baby, if he thought he could make it work and force the rest of the world into agreeing with him, then Hannibal would be behind him every step of the way. The kid deserved some happiness, some stability in his life, if this was what it took to achieve it, then Hannibal was here.

 

The baby was one thing of course, but Charissa Sosa was something else entirely. If that was what Face decided he wanted, if she was the route he was planning on to his happiness, then Hannibal would have an impossible task supporting him there. She wasn’t right for him, never had been, and Hannibal was also realistic enough to know that Face wasn’t right for her either. They’d had two frantic months that seemed to consist purely of sex, and then eight months of hell; nights where Face would turn up on his door, drunk, crying, slap marks on his cheeks more often than not and collapse sobbing onto Hannibal’s floor, his sofa or even his bed. Then the morning would come and he would apologise without quite meeting Hannibal’s eye and slink back off to her once more.

 

They’d argued in just about every place Hannibal had ever seen them, every bar, party, nightclub, barbeque, mess hall. She’d called him every name under the sun, sworn at him, accused him of appalling things, slapped him in front of his friends, his unit, his colleagues, thrown him out, literally, finished with him, flirted in front of him and every single, damn time, Face just went straight back to her.

 

Those ten months were the longest in Hannibal’s life, the day that Face had shown him the ring he’d bought, quite possibly the saddest, and the morning he’d gone round looking for him, found him in a drunken, sobbing stupor in an apartment stripped of all her possessions, one of the bleakest. He’d eventually thought him free of her, free of the poisonous hold she seemed to have on him, but now here they were, six months down the line waiting on the imminent arrival of a child created in all that warped passion by two parents who were totally incapable of making each other happy.

 

Keeping quiet and supporting Face while he tried to do his best for this baby was one thing, but letting him blunder straight back into that venomous relationship was another thing altogether, there was no way that Hannibal could stand around and watch her slowly destroy everything Face was a second time around. 

 

But maybe it wouldn’t come to that. Face had never mentioned them getting back together, was certain that Sosa wanted nothing to do with the baby once it was born, so maybe Hannibal was safe. He might not be able to have Face for himself, not the way he really wanted anyway, but if he could at least keep the kid out of Sosa’s clutches, that would be something.

 

__________________

 

The sky edged lighter and lighter, black slipping through indigo, until the red fingers of sunlight finally crept over the horizon to signal the start of a new day. Hannibal stood and watched it all, watched the car park below come to life with the start of the early shift and listened to the distant clanking as breakfast for staff and patients alike was prepared. But his mind wasn’t on any of it, nor was it on the two heaped forms of his subordinates who were desperately trying to grab some sleep on the flimsy plastic chairs. No it was firmly parked in that delivery suite with his second in command, wondering what the hell was going on, what she was saying to him now, what she wanted from him, and hoping beyond all reasonable expectations that Face could make it through this day with his heart intact.

 

A sudden squeak of the door caught his attention and he turned to look over his shoulder, just as Murdock and BA lifted their bleary heads from the uncomfortable chairs. As they all watched, the door moved again and then slowly started swinging inwards towards them, Face’s shoulder becoming visible as more and more of it opened. In an instant both Murdock and BA were on their feet and BA leant over to pull the door wide, revealing Face standing with his back to them. “Kid?” Hannibal asked, his heart thumping hard against his chest.

 

As they watched, Face slowly turned around and fixed his red rimmed and bloodshot eyes straight onto Hannibal’s. “Boss...” he whispered and Hannibal started to him, seeing the raw emotion on his boy’s face, wondering what the hell had happened and then freezing as he suddenly noticed the white bundle clasped in Face’s arms. “Look...” Face whispered again and Hannibal edged forward, eyes on the blanket, hardly daring to breathe.

 

“Oh, Face...” Murdock murmured leaning in.

 

Hannibal looked down and his breath caught in his throat as he took in the tiny sleeping face, pink and flushed, the rose bud lips, twitching slightly in a dream, the feathery eyelids, so delicate they were almost translucent and framed by the softest looking downy hair he’d ever seen.  For a second he couldn’t speak or move, could only stare transfixed, and then he looked up to find Face watching him, his own expression naked in wonder and as their eyes met a single tear slipped from a red rimmed eye and he smiled at Hannibal as it slid down his cheek. “Hannibal,” he whispered, “meet my daughter. Isn’t she just beautiful?”

 

“She’s stunning,” Hannibal croaked out, his throat so tight he could hardly even make that sound. Face’s incredulous smile grew even wider and Hannibal pulled him in, one hand on the back of his messy hair, tugging him close enough to press a kiss onto his head before whispering. “Absolutely stunning kid, congratulations, I’m so, so thrilled for you.”

 

They pulled back and Face’s smile just kept getting wider. “Guys?” he said, turning the bundle slightly so it was angled more towards BA.

 

“Oh, Faceman,” BA breathed, reaching out with a finger to ever so gently touch that so soft hair. “What an angel! She’s got her momma’s lips that’s for sure.”

 

“And her daddy’s eyes...” Murdock added as the tiny bundle in Face’s arms opened her eyes and blinked at the faces above her.  “She’s a stunner, buddy.”

 

“I can’t believe it,” Face whispered, “I can’t believe she’s mine... Look at her, she’s perfect, just perfect...” he shook his head, tears back again as he stared down, missing the pointed look that Murdock and Hannibal shared.

 

“How’s Sosa doing?” Hannibal asked carefully and Face shrugged, not taking his eyes off his daughter.  

 

“She’s okay,” he said quietly. “She’s said goodbye now, doesn’t want to see her again.”

 

This time three sets of eyes met over his head and Hannibal reached out and squeezed his bicep, hearing the pain in those words and hoping it was there for his daughter and not for him. “So, what happens now?” he asked quietly.

 

Face tore his eyes away from his daughter and looked up, that stunned smile on his face again. “I get to take her home,” he whispered. “Monica called my cell; she’s sorted it all out. There’s no reason for anyone to doubt my paternity claim, she’s lodged a legal challenge to the adoption, and in the meantime, she stays with me.”

 

“Take her home?!” BA’s eyes were like saucers. “Back to the penthouse? Now??!!” He glanced at Hannibal in rising alarm.

 

“Not now,” Face murmured, stroking a peachy soft cheek with his finger tip. “One of the nurses is going to show me how to do diapers and bottles and baths and all that. She said tomorrow.”

 

Too busy with his gazing, Face missed the quick looks of panic that flew around his team before Hannibal nodded at them, convincing them that they could do this, would do this, for Face.

 

Murdock took his cap off and rubbed through his hair, his eyes a little wide with lack of sleep and basic shock. “So,” he asked, his eyes falling back on the baby who had slipped into sleep again under Face’s gentle stroking, “what’s she called then buddy?”

 

Face looked up, surprised, as if he’d never even thought about that. “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “Obviously Charissa never really got around to calling her anything...”

 

And then it was the turn of the team to fall silent, each of them watching him, each of them with their own lines of thought etched on their faces.

 

“Hey,” Murdock spoke into the silence, and Face looked up, his eyes still a little watery from watching his daughter. “She’s your baby too, Face,” he said gently. “Sosa has made her decision, you’ve made yours. Someone needs to give this gorgeous little girl and name, and I know she’d love her daddy to do that for her.”

 

If at all possible, Face’s eyes became even brighter and he had to look down again, blinking hard to keep himself under control. Surreptitiously, Hannibal ran a hand under his forearm and squeezed tightly, just letting Face know he was still there for him. “Shit,” he breathed down at the blanket. “Can I do that? I mean – I can’t do that... Can I?” he looked back up again, his eyes, wide and totally overwhelmed, fastening tight onto Hannibal’s asking for the permission he felt he needed.

 

“Kid,” Hannibal told him, fighting with his own eyes now at the evidence of Face’s lack of faith in himself. “Like Murdock said, she’s your baby; of course you get to choose a name for her.”

 

Face just stared back. “Shit,” he repeated looking totally lost. “What shall I choose?”

 

“Somethin’ real pretty,” BA interjected softly, “jus’ like her.”

 

That got the watery smile back on Face’s lips and Hannibal could have kissed BA for managing it, but then Face frowned again, his eyes dropping back to the baby. “Aren’t you supposed to choose a name that means something to you?” he asked quietly. “You know, call her after someone you know or knew?”

 

“You can do if you want to,” Hannibal replied, trying to keep his voice light. “If there’s someone you’d like to name her after.”

 

Silence fell again and as they waited for Face to speak and eventually he looked up, his brow still creased in confusion. “I don’t know anyone,” he admitted quietly. “Apart from you guys I can’t think of anyone I’d like to call her after, and I don’t think she’d like been named after any of you.” He forced out a dry grin, but all Hannibal felt was the pain in his words.

 

“Buddy,” this was Murdock, and Hannibal knew that he wasn’t imagining the agony he could hear in the pilot’s voice. “Just do what the big guy said, think of the prettiest name you can, only the very best would suit her.”

 

Again Face glanced down at the sleeping infant, and Hannibal was just about to tell him that there was no rush, that he could wait a couple of days if he wanted to when he looked up again, his cheeks flushed and his eyes uncertain. “What about... Sophia?” he offered tentatively, “You think that will do?”

 

Hannibal smiled, “I think that’s perfect, kid,” he whispered, “just perfect.”

 

“Hi Sophia!” Murdock greeted, leaning over and waving even though she was sound asleep. “I think you and me are gonna be real good friends!”

 

“Only a fool’d be your friend, fool!” BA grumbled gruffly, but Hannibal knew it was only to hide the emotion of the moment.

 

“’Sophia’ means wisdom you know,” Murdock told him hotly, “so Face’s baby’s gonna be clever, so of course she’s gonna be my friend!” he stuck out his tongue as he reached in to stroke a tiny furled fist and Face smiled at him.

 

“I can’t believe this, Murdock,” he whispered, his eyes shining again. “This is hands down, the best day of my whole life. Ever,” he shook his head. “Just ever!”

 

Murdock beamed back at him as Hannibal squeezed his arm and started praying, hard and fast, that this whole thing wasn’t going to go up in smoke right in the kid’s hopeful, happy face.  

 

__________________________

 

Hannibal knew he’d found the room, tucked away at the end of the corridor, that Face and Sophia had been given as he could hear that plaintive, unmistakable new born wail drifting down the corridor towards him, with Face’s anxious tones quietly underneath. Without even realising it, he quickened his pace, pausing at the doorway as he saw that his lieutenant and his new daughter were not alone.

 

“Are you sure?” Face was asking a woman in her late fifties who was watching him as he tried to soothe a clearly frantic Sophia. “I mean, if she’s tired, why doesn’t she just stop crying and go to sleep?”

 

Pausing in the doorway, Hannibal kept out of sight, hearing the edge of desperation in Face’s voice. “She doesn’t know how to do that yet,” the nurse replied gently, and Hannibal read the name ‘Sandra’ on her badge, “that’s why you need to do it for her, calm her down, make her feel nice and cosy. Safe.”

 

“I’m trying!” Face answered, “It’s just not working!”

 

“Here, give her to me,” the nurse offered and Hannibal frowned, this time tomorrow they were going to be on their own, no nurse to bail them out then, Face needed to be able to cope alone; to give him his due however, he did pause, hovering uncertainly in front of the arms that were reaching out for his baby, before he slowly, carefully handed her over. “Okay,” Sandra said, making no attempt to stop Sophia’s hysterics, “take your top off.”

 

Face actually did a comedy cartoon double take – he’d obviously not been expecting that request, and if Hannibal hadn’t found himself straightening up off the door jamb in surprise and indignation, he would have laughed at how funny it had looked. “Excuse me?” Face asked quietly.

 

“Take it off,” Sandra repeated, “and get up on the bed. I’ll pass her back to you.”

 

For a split second longer, Face stared as Sandra began to unwrap Sophia from her blanket, leaving her wearing nothing but a diaper, her skinny little limbs thrashing in distress and Hannibal watched the way his expression crumpled at how sad she looked before he yanked his t-shirt up over his head and scrambled onto the bed, his bare feet rumpling the covers as he pushed himself into the pillows.

 

“Right, here, take her like this,” Hannibal stepped into the room now so that he could watch as Sandra handed her back, lying her face down, all curled up and miserable, on Face’s chest. “Now, hold her like that and here,” then she leaned over with the blanket, covering them both with it and stepping back. The effect was instantaneous. Sophia actually stopped wailing in mid-cry and just snuggled into Face’s chest instead and Face looked up, his eyes meeting Hannibal’s in shocked delight and Hannibal felt that old familiar tightening in his heart at the sheer joy and happiness he could see in that expression – what he wouldn’t give to be able to be able to put that look on his boy’s face every single day of the year.

 

“It worked!” Face whispered as Sophia’s eyes slid closed at last.

 

“Course it worked,” Sandra told him, picking up a dirty diaper and a wet towel as she wandered to the door. “Told you you’re a natural.” Then she winked at Hannibal as she left them to it.

 

“Shit – I never thought she was going to stop crying,” Face muttered as Hannibal perched on the end of the bed.

 

“It’ll take a while kid, for you to get to know each other, but like the lady said, you’re a natural.”

 

“You think?” Face’s eyes lit up at the praise and Hannibal couldn’t help but drop his hand onto the faded denim of his jeans and squeeze.

 

“Anything you turn your hand to you amaze me with. This, bringing Sophia up, you’re going to do this just great as well.”  

 

And that smile was back again, that totally wondrous smile, like Face really thought he was dreaming here and yet again Hannibal found himself praying that this was going to last.

 

“You think they’ll let me keep her?” and almost as if Face had read his thoughts, the smile was suddenly gone, replaced by naked, cold fear - Hannibal could already feel his heart starting to crack.

 

“I don’t know,” he admitted truthfully, “but we’re gonna give it everything we can though, yes? You, me, the boys and Sophia, we’ll fight this every step of the way until it’s all signed and sealed and in your name.”Face’s eyes were swimming in tears again at those words; his emotions riding so close to the surface at present and Hannibal squeezed the leg under his fingers once more.

 

But Face shook his head, “I don’t know if I can.” His voice was so quiet that Hannibal had to watch his lips move as well to hear him properly. “There’s so much I need to learn and sort out and arrange, I’m fucking terrified I’m gonna drop the ball here, boss.”

 

“You’ll do it,” Hannibal reassured him, leaning in. “You’ve always been a fast learner; you can move mountains in minutes if you need to. Face – relax kid, you’re gonna be fine.” Face still didn’t look convinced. “You might just want to stop swearing in front of her though, it’s not gonna be attractive when she starts talking.”

 

They shared a smile at that and Hannibal knew that Face was already thinking about his baby walking and talking and growing up and becoming her own person, and again he prayed that Face would be there to share that with her.

 

“Thanks, boss,” he whispered, adjusting his position against the pillows, looking a bit shifty and awkward in Hannibal’s direction. “Listen, err, Monica’s coming over about two, she’s got some papers to show me, could you maybe be here as well, have look at them with me?” Hannibal felt a rush of warmth surge through him at that request but glanced down at his watch, knowing that there were other things that needed sorting out as well. “Oh, you busy?” Face suddenly blurted, looking mortified and embarrassed. “That’s fine, it’s fine, boss. I don’t need it, I can do it on my own it’s fine...” he tailed off, looking down at Sophia’s sleeping head and Hannibal reached in to touch his chin, just with his finger tips, lift it up again so that they were eye to eye once more.

 

“Hey,” he whispered, making sure Face was listening hard to him. “None of that right?” Face just stared. “I told you I’d be here for you and I will be. Yes, I have some other things to do today, but if I leave now I can be back for two, okay?” Face nodded, his eyes shining once more and, still holding his chin, Hannibal smiled at him. “We know she’s yours, Face, but this is a team thing, yes? You’re not alone, you never will be. Me and the boys are right next to you the whole time. Understand?” A nod, and Hannibal could see how much he was struggling to hold onto his emotions. “Look, lie down a bit,” he suggested, standing up and letting Face shuffle down further onto the bed. “If she’s sleeping, you should be sleeping, you know she’s only gonna start crying again when she wakes up.” Face smiled at that, and Hannibal stood looking down at him noting the bright, bright blue of his eyes, the hopeful sheen to his expression, the barely contained desire for... what exactly? Then he flushed, realised he was staring and contented himself with straightening the blanket over the two of them and winking before heading to the door. “See you at two,” he whispered as Face’s eyes were already closing, and then he slipped out.

 

____________________

 

He was back just before two, walking down the corridor with Monica Santarpia, Face’s attorney who Hannibal knew he already liked a great deal. In the two minutes since he’d met her he’d decided that she was smart, motivated, efficient, savvy and most importantly, knew exactly what she was doing. He had no idea where Face had found her, but she was just was the kid needed here.  

 

The meeting between the three of them was brief, but upbeat, with Sophia laid in Face’s lap slowly, slowly taking a minute bottle of milk and allowing them to talk in peace. After only twenty minutes, Monica shook hands with them both, smiled down at Sophia and then left, leaving them to their thoughts.

 

“So – if the Jenkins’ decide to drop their claim on her, then you are home free hey, kid? Might not have to go to court at all.” Hannibal told him as he sank back in the window chair, thinking how Face already looked comfortable with the tiny baby in his lap.

 

“Yeah,” but he also looked distracted, watching Sophia mess with the teat of the bottle, a frown on his forehead. “Can’t see it though,” he admitted. “Monica already said that no one thinks I’m being serious here, that their attorney is going to recommend they stick with it, in case I don’t.”

 

Hannibal thought about that, felt for this family and their fertility issues, but he couldn’t really believe that anyone would fight against a man and his right to raise his own child. As much as he really didn’t want to lose Face to his daughter like this, didn’t want to have to go back out and do his job without his second, his best friend, his almost son or whatever the hell else that feeling he had for Face was, he had to admit that this was obviously what the kid wanted. As selfishly tempting as it might be for Hannibal to try and convince him to give Sophia up just so life could continue as was, he’d never do that, could never get in the way of the bond they were already forming, and as such, just couldn’t believe that any other sane person could either. Maybe this was going to work out okay after all...

 

“You think she should be taking this long with this milk?” Face eventually asked as Sophia started letting the teat slide out of her mouth, her eyes heavy again and Hannibal got up for a look.

 

“She’s tired,” he observed. “She’s had a rough day, this time yesterday she was still in her own private floatation tank, and now she’s out here, with you, and it’s cold and bright and confusing,” their eyes met and Hannibal shrugged, grinning, “she’s probably had better days.”

 

Smiling, Face lifted her up onto his shoulder and started patting her back gently. “Fucking best day of my life,” he muttered and Hannibal had to swallow hard at the sight of him, bare chest, bare feet, cross-legged on the bed, one of his hands covering the whole of Sophia’s diaper, the other, swamping her back as he tried to get some wind out of her. They sat in almost silence, Hannibal just watching, Face murmuring gentle nonsense as he rocked gently on the bed, then the peace was broken by a very unladylike release of trapped wind and Face huffed out a little laugh, right up until he felt the warm trickle of regurgitated milk running down his bare back.

 

“Oh, fuck,” he muttered, trying hard to see over his shoulder. “That’s gross...”

 

Hannibal was already on his feet, paper towels at the ready. “You know kid,” he said trying hard to choke back the laughter, “I think it gets a whole lot worse than this.”

 

_________________________________    

 

Ten a.m. the next morning, Hannibal was back at the hospital, rucksack on his back, carry out breakfast in one hand, car seat in the other. The corridor leading to Sophia’s room was all quiet and Hannibal cautiously pushed the bedroom door open, wondering what he would find on the other side. A smile bloomed over his face as he saw father and daughter fast asleep on the bed, Face still in his clothes looking crumpled and tired and dishevelled, Sophia wearing nothing but a diaper again and sprawled diagonally across his chest, clearly snubbing the clear plastic cot that was pulled flush up against the bed with the obvious intention of her sleeping in it. The room was a maelstrom of dirty diapers, half empty formula cartons and dirty bottles, and leaving the two of them to sleep, Hannibal started silently tidying it all up.

 

It didn’t take long for the rich aroma of coffee to drift into Face’s consciousness and Hannibal was there, standing at the side of the bed, smiling, as he finally cracked open his red rimmed eyes. “Mornin’ kid!” he greeted him brightly, “You sleep okay?”

 

Face groaned and disentangled a hand from the baby on his chest so that he could rub his sore eyes. “Sleep? What the fuck is sleep? I don’t think I had a wink...”

 

Helping him to sit up, Hannibal frowned in sympathy, “Really? And look at her now, sleeping like a baby,” he winked. “Was she a little less cooperative in the wee hours?”

 

“No,” Face muttered, managing to sit up enough to sip at the coffee without waking the sleeping baby on his front. “She’s slept almost all the night, she just likes to do it in positions that are not designed for my comfort, that’s all.”

 

Hannibal grinned. “You ready to head out?”

 

“Almost, the paediatrician is coming by first thing to see her, needs to sign her off and then we are free to go,” he met Hannibal’s eye, “on our own.”

 

“We’ll be fine, kid, you see,” the older man reassured him, patting his leg.

 

Face nodded, his eyes still holding Hannibal’s before taking a sip of coffee and groaning, letting his head drop back into the pillow. “What?” Hannibal asked in the process of rolling up a crumpled diaper.

 

“I tried to call you last night,” Face told him quietly, eyes still closed, “but the phone battery died.”

 

“What?” Hannibal repeated again and Face opened his eyes to look at him, disappointment showing in their blue.

 

“We can’t take her home unless we have a car seat thing,” he said quietly. “They won’t let us, and I meant to call you and ask you to pick one up, but, like I said... dead battery...”

 

He looked so disappointed that Hannibal really felt for him. “Car seat thing?” he asked and Face nodded despondently. “Like this you mean?” and he produced the infant carrier from the floor at his feet, smiling as he saw Face’s eyes open wide. 

 

“Shit!” incredulous happiness swept over his face as he looked from the carrier to Hannibal’s smug smile. “Just like that!” he said and couldn’t stop the laugh from bubbling out of him. “Where did you get that from?”

 

Hannibal found Face’s grin was infectious, and wondered where all these beautiful smiles had been before Sophia had been born. “Same place as I got these,” he said and reached into his back pack to pull out a couple of little white vests, a white baby-grow with little pink lambs printed on it, a pink fleece blanket edged in ribbon, a pack of disposable diapers, a white crocheted hat with a pink flower on the side and a pink terry rabbit with white ears and a tail; Face just stared. Frowning at the silence that came from the head of the bed, Hannibal looked up and found Face, eyes wide and wet, looking at him, his mouth open slightly but no sound coming out. “Are they okay?” he prompted, suddenly worried and glancing back at his purchases. “I mean I wasn’t sure you’d like pink, I know it’s pretty old fashioned, but I guess that’s just me. Anyway the woman in the shop said we could take them back, swap them for something a bit more modern if you want we just have to-”

 

He stopped dead at the feel of a hand on his cheek and looked up to find Face still looking at him, but this time with the barest hint of a stunned smile on his face. “They’re wonderful,” he said quietly. “Hannibal... I... I just don’t know what to say... I... thank you, and don’t worry, I’ll pay you back just as soon as I get to a bank.”

 

It was Hannibal’s turn to smile now, the warm on his face radiating warmth right down into the very core of his bones. “You won’t pay me back,” he replied steadily. “It’s my gift to you and Sophia, part of it anyway, help you get set up.” 

 

“Part of it?” Face queried but any further conversation was quashed by the arrival of the paediatrician who had arrived to give Sophia the once over before they were discharged.

 

__________________

 

It was a whole three hours later before the two men and the baby carrier stepped out of the elevator on the top floor of their apartment block. And despite Sophia’s continued slumbers, Face was glad to be back.

 

He’d found the whole check over by the doctor thing ridiculously stressful, so bad that Hannibal had eventually sidled over to him and grabbed hold of his bicep in an attempt to keep him still so that the doctor could talk to him. Sophia had cried the entire way through, she hadn’t wanted the young male doctor in the Mr. Happy tie to hold her, she hadn’t liked him opening her mouth and shining lights in her eyes. She’d screamed blue murder when he’d rotated her hips, prompting him to remark, “Nothing wrong with her lungs...” as Face had just about bounced on the balls of his feet under Hannibal’s hand, and she’d reacted as if the stethoscope pressed to her chest was made of molten iron.

 

Face had never moved so fast as soon as the doctor said he was done, scooping her up and whisking her to the furthest corner of the room, crooning and soothing her and leaving Hannibal to finish up with the final questions. “She seems perfectly fine,” the paediatrician reported over the frantic wailing coming from the far side of the room. “Is she eating, sleeping and passing waste okay?”

 

Hannibal frowned, feeling in over his depth already but manfully glanced back over at a very preoccupied Face and trawled through his memories of the past day. “She’s definitely had some milk,” he reported carefully, “and she seems to sleep a hell of a lot of the time.”

 

“Some new borns do,” the doctor reported, “your son is very lucky in that respect!”

 

Hannibal almost choked.

 

“And diapers?” the doctor prompted.

 

“She wears them, yes,” Hannibal stuttered out, still reeling from the earlier comment only to hear Face sniggering at his side.

 

“He means has she dirtied them!” he laughed and expertly juggled a quiet Sophia in one hand as he unrolled one of the diapers that Hannibal had only just tidied away. “There,” he showed the doctor, “is it supposed to look like that?”

 

“Meconium,” the doctor supplied helpfully. “It will turn into proper baby poo in a day or so.”

 

“Great,” Face retorted flatly, “I’ll look forward to that.”

 

Once the trial by paediatrician was over, they had to battle through the ordeal of the Iso-fix points. Hannibal had asked the woman in the shop to show him how to fit the baby seat into the back of the car, and she had done, in about two seconds flat. Face and Hannibal had been crawling all over the car in the parking lot, attracting sympathetic and pitying stares by the dozen for almost twenty minutes until they finally realised that the seat was supposed to be rear facing – and suddenly it was a whole lot easier to fit.

 

Next, they crept home through the heavy city centre traffic and Face was sporting a thumping headache as he waited with baited breath for Sophia to wake up and start screaming the whole car out. Not only had it just occurred to him that if she did that then he wouldn’t be able to pick her up to try and settle her down, but he’d also left the little cartons of milk and bottles that Sandra had given him in the back pack in the trunk of the car. Big, big mistake.

 

Fortunately, Sophia strayed true to form and hardly moved at all on the whole trip home, leaving Face to stare morosely out of the window as they passed a baby supplies store and balk at the prices of the baby carriages and cots and high chairs and stair gates and potties and baby baths, and wish he’d finally got around to opening that savings account that Hannibal been telling him to. 

 

Consequently, he was thrilled to get back and his plans for the evening were no more exciting than hoping he would have chance for a shower and a beer at some point – he really should have remembered his team and their promise to be there for him.

 

Hannibal leaned around him and unlocked the door and he pushed it open, carrying the baby seat in carefully so that he wouldn’t bash it against the door frame, and then he froze as the weirdest sight he’d seen in a long time suddenly reared up in front of him, and since he’d been working with Murdock for five years now, that really was saying something. The table by the window was covered in food, literally covered; corn, pizza, southern fried chicken, steaks, sausages, rice salads, pasta, bread, chips, salsa, the whole works. Next to that, there was a huge pile of assorted stuff that was stacked higher than the flat screen TV and what exactly it was, Face had no real clue just yet. Then there were the balloons and hand painted banners that said, ‘Welcome Home Sophia!” and the stack of beers in the glass fronted icebox right in the centre of the room. But strangest of all, the very strangest thing in a room that had just exceeded any expectations Face had so far for strangeness – was the fact that BA and Murdock were standing there in front of him, party hats on their heads, blowers in their mouths and cheerleading pompoms in their fists and they were leaping about and bouncing and waving – all in total silence.

 

Sophia slept on and Hannibal came up to stand at his side, watching the display of a party on mute with as much stunned interest as Face himself was. Eventually though, BA stopped, spat his blower out of his mouth,  yanked the party hat off his head, flopped down onto the sofa and cracked open a beer he had waiting conveniently at his side. “That’s it fool,” he told a crestfallen looking Murdock. “You had your three minutes, that’s all you paid for, now I need a beer.”

 

“Three minutes?” Face queried, still struggling to catch up.

 

“Silent cheering!” Murdock told him brightly, pulling off his own hat. “We didn’t want to scare her you know. Can I?” He’d already scampered to Face’s side and at his friend’s nod, took the baby carrier off him, placing it gently down in the middle of the room and then pulling Face over to sit down in the chair next to it. “Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!” he sang as he popped Face a beer and shoved it in his hand. “I mean I know this isn’t your home really but it could be, couldn’t it? Just for a few weeks while things get sorted and so it’s a sorta home right? And it’s Sophia’s first place to sleep that’s not Sosa or a hospital so it’s sorta her home as well right? So it is welcome home isn’t it, really???”

 

Face just blinked.

 

“Murdock...” and Hannibal’s warning growl was unmistakable.

 

The pilot cringed, “Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry! Bossman said I wasn’t to fuss you! I’m not fussing you am I? No! No, course not, we just wanted a little party to celebrate that’s all! And so we could give you the presents all proper like and things, right?”

 

Face was finding it a little hard to keep up and to his relief, BA pulled himself out of his chair and shoved Murdock down onto the footstool as he passed by. “Give the man some room,” he muttered, “you gonna bust his head you keep goin’ on like that.”

 

Murdock just grinned though and starting bouncing on his seat as BA approached the pile of gear and pulled a box off the top. “Are you going first, big guy? Yes! Yes!”

 

BA just shook his head and held a solid looking cardboard box out to Face. “Here, Face,” he said quietly. “This is my present for you and Sophia,” Face blinked again as he silently took the gift. “It’s a steam steriliser,” he explained at Face’s blank stare. “You need it to get all the bottles real clean so she won’t get bugs in her belly.”

 

Face looked up in silence, his eyes red rimmed and shining but BA just smiled and took the box off him again, setting it down on the floor and saying, “You’re welcome, dude,” as Murdock bounced up again.

 

“Here! Face, here, here!” he almost exploded and reached behind the chair, pulling out a wicker Moses basket, trimmed in white and pink cotton. “This is from me!” he explained unnecessarily. “And me and BA have already set up the stand in your room, right next to the bed and it rocks as well if you want it to!”

 

Face struggled to get his hands on the sides of the basket, but then Murdock had removed it just as quickly anyway and was now leaning behind the flat screen to spin a three wheeled baby carriage into the middle of the room. “This is from the boss!” he gushed as Hannibal sat in silence at the side. “It goes with the car seat, so the car seat can ride on the top, and you can run with it, taking Sophia out when you go jogging – just think how many chicks you’ll impress! – and and you can even trail it behind a bike! Right boss? That’s the one we got, yeah? The bike one?”

 

Face stood up, the untouched beer still clasped in his hand and he just stared at the baby carriage as Murdock finally managed to curb his enthusiasm. “Guys...” he said, his voice dry and hoarse. “Guys...” then he turned and fled for his bedroom, the door shutting behind him with a resounding slam that made Sophia startle in her sleep.

 

Silence greeted his sudden departure from the lounge and Murdock sank slowly to his butt on the edge of the sofa. “I’m sorry,” he muttered letting his head fall into his hands. “I’m sorry, I guess I was too much huh? Shit...”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Hannibal said slowly getting to his feet. “Our LT is just a little strung out at the minute, not enough sleep, too much stress. He’ll be good, you keep your eye on the baby for a while...”

 

Murdock instantly scuttled from his seat on the sofa to plop cross legged onto the carpet in front of the car seat and stare intently in at the sleeping baby while BA rolled his eyes and went off in search of a chicken leg.

 

_____________________

 

Tapping gently on the door, Hannibal let himself in and quietly closed the door behind him, leaning his shoulders against it as Face stood his back to him, hands fisted in his hair. “Kid?” he prompted quietly.

 

Face whirled around. “I’m sorry, boss, shit, I’m sorry...” he shook his head and took a step in and Hannibal felt his chest constrict at the look of anguish on his face, the desperation in his eyes and he closed the gap further, taking hold of Face’s shoulders, holding him firm.

 

“Sorry?” he asked gently, “What for?”

 

Face’s wet eyes followed him. “All that stuff,” he almost breathed out, “all that money... You and Murdock and BA, you can’t afford all of that out there!”

 

“Now, Face,” Hannibal said firmly, making sure his CO expression was on. “You let us worry about what we can and can’t afford. We wanted to get those things for you, all three of us. Hell, we had to haul Murdock right back before he bought you the whole damn shop!” Hannibal smiled, but Face’s expression just dropped even further.

 

“But you shouldn’t have had to...” he persisted, “It’s only ‘cause you know I can’t afford it and-”

 

“Hey!” Hannibal shook him slightly, his blue eyes narrowed in frustration. “You can stop that right there lieutenant, you got that? Right there. I’ve told you once how this is going to work and I don’t expect to have to repeat myself every five minutes! This situation is a team situation and as such we will work together to get it sorted, right?”

 

“But not money!” Face insisted, “I can’t have you all spending your wages on me! Just ‘cause I never planned ahead enough to have money waiting for something like this!”

 

“Face this is nothing to do with how much money you’ve got or even how much money we’ve got! This is all to do with how much we think about you, and how we want to make this easier for you, and how we know you’ve got a lot to think about!” They stared at each other. “If us buying diapers and cribs and car seats means that you can concentrate on Sophia and what you need to do to keep her, then that’s all we want kid, okay? We just want you to be happy.”

 

Face blinked madly at him, trying, unsuccessfully, to keep the tears in his eyes and off his cheeks. “Oh, Face,” Hannibal sighed giving in, and pulling the taught body close to him. “Stop worrying about us and let us help you, let us do this for you. After all you do for us, we owe you this and ten times over!”

 

“I never spend money on you like this though,” Face muttered mutinously from the depths of Hannibal’s shoulder.

 

“It’s not about money,” Hannibal repeated slowly. “You get us what we need, mostly before we even know we need it. You don’t think flying BA’s mom down for Thanksgiving, swinging it for Murdock to go up in that Tomcat, getting me that NASA bed when my back was shot, you don’t think any of that made a difference to us?” He smiled again as Face shrugged awkwardly against his shoulder and allowed himself to tug his XO in a little closer. “Come on kid, ease up off yourself and accept some help.” They pulled away from each other a little but Hannibal kept him close enough to look right into his red rimmed eyes. “You think Sophia is the first family you’ve ever had?” Again Face just blinked. “You’re wrong. Yes, you’ve got her now, but you’ve always had me, us. We’re your family too, kid, we’re her family. Let us act like one.”

 

It was finally too much for Face, all the emotional upheaval of the last week, two nights without sleep, the worry about whether he could do this, if he’d be allowed to keep his own daughter, the whole thing finally bubbled up and out of him in a real audible sob and Hannibal just pulled him back into his chest, holding him as tightly as he’d always wanted to and letting it all just flow out, ready for a fresh start.

 

________________________

 

Murdock had been right, Face realised as he steered the surprisingly manoeuvrable baby carriage out through the door of Starbucks and into the sunshine; being out and about and pushing this thing was like having his own personal babe magnet. Even dressed in jeans and a t-shirt like he was, he could see every woman between the ages of sixteen and eighty checking him out as he bent down to tug Sophia’s sun hat a little lower over her face, and when he was in his running gear... wow, as soon as he felt like getting back into the cattle market, it was going to be the easiest thing ever.

 

Sophia was awake, amazingly, and he had ducked into Starbucks to feed and change her in the ‘Daddy’s Room’, he’d never even known they’d existed before; as he was on his way to the Family Court for initial arguments to be heard in their case. The guys were all going to meet him there as Murdock and BA had offered to sit with Sophia in the lobby while Face and Hannibal went in to listen to the legal wrangling. Face was nervous, incredibly so. He had no idea just how strongly the adoption agency were planning on fighting this, and he still had grave doubts about how he would look in terms of his parenting capacity in the eyes of the judge. So much could go wrong here.

 

He pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind though as he bent down to smile at Sophia who was currently trying to swipe the white cotton mop cap off her head with clumsy, uncoordinated baby-swipes. She looked beautiful, absolutely beautiful in another Murdock-special-gift outfit, white sundress with yellow daisies embroidered all over, matching cap and pants to cover her diaper and tiny white socks. Beautiful. And spoilt. She was seven days old exactly today and so far hadn’t worn the same outfit twice – and Face hadn’t spent a dime on her either. She was going to be the financial ruin of the whole team but Face had stopped worrying about that, it was true what Hannibal had said, they honestly seemed to really want to do this, embrace his baby like this, and who was Face to stop them? Anyway, he thought as he finally rounded to the corner and found the entrance to the Family Court, he had much, much more concerning things to worry about right now.

 

He stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked up, frowning in disbelief at the lack of a ramp at a Family Court of all places as a whistle from above caught his attention and BA burst into the sunshine, jogging down the steps to help him up. “Hey there, sweet pea,” he crooned, sticking his head into the front of the buggy to smile at Sophia while completely ignoring Face, “aint you lookin’ pretty today?”

 

“Hey, BA,” Face replied easily as they picked the buggy up between them, “nice of you to notice. I’d done my hair specially for you and everything.”

 

BA chuckled. “Yeah, yeah, Faceman, you lookin’ good as well. Jus’ like always.”

 

Any further banter was rendered impossible by Hannibal, Murdock and Monica greeting them at the top of the steps, Murdock and BA grouching at each other as they bumped heads in both trying to talk to Sophia at the same time.

 

“Temp, hi,” Monica greeted with a quick handshake and a smile. “She’s awake, huh? I’ve never seen her awake.”

 

“Yeah,” Face bent down to pick up the cap from the ground where she’d finally managed to fling it, “you want to come round about 0300, she likes to be awake then.”

 

“You okay, kid?” Hannibal asked quietly, drifting closer and letting a hand grip Face’s arm just ever so briefly.

 

Face met his eyes and the worry and concern was clear to see. “I’m okay,” he answered though, “this’ll be fine.”

 

“It will,” Monica told him as they walked into the dark cool of the building. “Today is just about everyone having their first say. We find out how keen the adoption agency are in pursuing this, they find out how serious you are in being her parent.” She shrugged, “No decisions made today.”

 

Face nodded, trying to calm his frantic heart. He knew that, knew that no decisions would be made today, but he just wanted, so, so badly, to make a good impression on the judge, he just needed this to go so very smoothly.

 

“Peck! I can’t believe you are doing this to me!”

 

The voice, coming as it did from behind them, was enough to cut right through every polite conversation in the hallway and have twenty people turning on the spot to look at the speaker and Face felt his heart kick into hyper-drive. “Charissa,” he murmured in greeting, eyes flicking nervously around the lobby, “I didn’t know you were coming today.”

 

She stalked right up to him, all evidence of her baby weight lost or hidden and dressed to kill, her eyes flashing with a rage Face knew only too well. “Well, thanks to you and your selfish little stunt here, I haven’t got much choice have I?” she just about snarled at him.

 

Face looked around, awkward and flustered and more than a little hurt that she’d not once glanced down into the baby carriage in front of him. “Charissa,” he tried again. “You don’t have to be here, I told you, you are free to do whatever you want. You don’t want anything to do with Sophia, no one is going to make you.”  

 

“Sophia?” Sosa’s eyes narrowed at him. “You named her? You gave my baby a name without even asking me?”

 

Face just stared in confused silence, wondering what the hell it was he had missed here.

 

“He has yes,” this was Monica, trying to get herself in between him and Sosa, “and you will find that that was something that my client had every legal right to do. And you know this, Lieutenant Sosa, because you signed the paternity claim, acknowledging Templeton’s equal rights over the child.”

 

“Yes I signed it!” Sosa exploded, rounding on Monica now, “But only because I thought that the quicker I went along with his little ‘playing daddy’ game, then the quicker he would get bored and run back off to his Ranger friends again! I had no idea that he was going to drag me through the courts over this!”

 

Face physically recoiled and Hannibal grabbed his arm to keep him steady as Monica angled herself further between the two of them. “You don’t have to be here. My client is challenging the claim of the adoption agency, it is nothing to do with you, you have no reason to be involved.”

 

“Like hell I don’t!” Sosa spat, real fury in her eyes. “Just because I don’t want it myself, doesn’t mean I don’t want the best for it, and he,” she stabbed a livid finger at Face, “is so far from the best it’s untrue!”

 

“What?!” Face retorted, shaking Hannibal’s hand off his arm and stepping around Monica. “That’s why you are here? You’re here, today, at this, to stop me from getting Sophia?!”

 

“Don’t call her that!”

 

“It’s her name!”

 

“Her name is Abigail Jenkins!” Sosa yelled, and heads from all around the lobby swivelled their way, Sosa’s shouting also attracting the attention of the security staff. “And yes I am! You weren’t good enough for me and you sure as hell are not good enough for my daughter!”

 

“Right, lady, that’s quite enough of that!” this was Hannibal, his eyes narrowed in anger, stepping up next to Face but too late to stop his cold retort.

 

“You fucking cold hearted bitch!” he hissed under his breath, eyes bright with tears and before anyone else could move, Sosa’s hand whipped out between them and connected smartly with the side of his face, snapping his head around and filling the echoing hallway with the loud slap of skin on skin.

 

“Enough!” Hannibal snapped, his hand grabbing Sosa’s wrist as the security guards started heading their way. “And don’t you ever touch him like that again, you hear me?”

 

At this point, just as Sophia started up a loud wailing, Sosa’s attorney decided to join the fray, threatening Hannibal that he would be in trouble if he didn’t remove his hand from his client immediately. The Security guards started trying to find their way in through the chaos and everyone started yelling at once.

 

“Murdock!” Face was livid, an angry red hand print stamped on his cheek and a fury in his eyes that the team hadn’t seen in a long, long while. “Take her out of here!” he shouted, gesturing at the crying baby and Murdock spun on his heel in an instant,  turning the baby carriage on the spot and heading towards the bright sunshine once again.

 

Hannibal was holding onto Face, partly to provide that contact, that touch that he knew he needed right now, and partly to stop him doing something stupid as Sosa continued to needle him. He also kept his feet moving, making sure that his bulk was in between his XO and the still furious Sosa.

 

“You let him look after my baby?” Sosa yelled at Face, “That crazy man? Are you insane as well?!”

 

“Who’s insane?” Sosa’s swarthy looking attorney asked, holding his client back.

 

“What have I told you about calling him that?” Face yelled, trying to push past Hannibal and Monica who were both positioning themselves in front of him.

 

“He is!” Sosa yelled back, “And you must be as well if you think you are ever going to get a hold on my daughter!”

 

“Oh, brother...” BA muttered, edging in between the fracas and the line of sight of the security guards.

 

Your daughter?” Face was fighting Hannibal now in his desperation to get past him. “How dare you call her that? You’ve never fed her, held her, kissed her, changed her diapers! You don’t love her!”

 

Hannibal could see the tears standing in his eyes and the shifty tension in the Security Guards over BA’s shoulder as he struggled to hold him back. “Face! Stand down!” he commanded into his ear.

 

“You’ve never wanted her!” Face continued, “You’d have killed her!”

 

“BA!” Hannibal yelled, giving up on trying to get through to Face with his words and instead just struggling with his physical fury, “Get him the hell out of here!”

 

BA had graduated into trying to convince the security guards that it was all under control, holding them at bay, blocking their view of what was happening and trying to them to turn around and walk away, but at Hannibal’s shout he started making his way through the gathered onlookers towards Face. Sosa was looking furious as Face continued to yell at her, and she was also struggling with her attorney who was holding her back as it was obvious that she was itching to put another handprint on Face’s cheek. “It’s not a game, Face!” she shouted back. “You can’t just drop her when you realise she gets in the way of your cheap fucks!”

 

“Get him out!” Hannibal roared, shoving Face at BA just as Face made a concerted lunge at Sosa. “And you!” he pointed a finger at Sosa’s flustered looking attorney, “You just might find assault charges for your client on your desk in the morning, now get her the hell away from us if you can’t control her!”

 

BA grabbed Face from behind, looping his own heavily muscled arms under Face’s and walking him backwards as Hannibal stayed in front, hands flat on the kid’s chest, keeping him going even as he fought to get free, eyes fixed firmly on Sosa and still yelling over Hannibal’s head. “Does putting me down make you feel better about the fact you wanted to kill her?” his voice rang out loud over the general hubbub of the room and Sosa paled as a few of the onlookers gasped.

 

“You think you can do this?” she retorted instead, “You think you can put aside your ego long enough to look after a baby? Face, you are a shallow, disingenuous fuck! Who are you trying to kid? You couldn’t even stay with me long enough to pretend that any of the words coming out of your lying mouth were true!”

 

“You left me!” Face yelled back and Hannibal’s blood ran cold at his words. He was still fighting against the hold of his team; he may have lacked Hannibal’s own stature, and BA’s bulk, but he was made up of solid, working muscle and, determined as he was to get free, they were having a hell of a job holding onto him. “Don’t try to run that one on me, Charissa! You. Left. Me!”

 

“Okay, Face, that’s it now kid, all finished!” Hannibal interrupted, terrified what Face was going to start spilling if this went on any longer, terrified of the ammunition he was going to gift her with.

 

“Because you couldn’t commit!” Sosa parried.

 

“Bullshit!”

 

“Enough already!” Hannibal had his hand on Face’s cheek, right over the burning handprint, trying to turn the kid’s eyes onto his own, trying to snap this hold she had on him, but Face didn’t even seem to notice him.

 

“That’s why I asked you to marry me then was it?” Hannibal saw BA’s eyes widen as that bombshell, the one that only Hannibal had known, was dropped and he tried again to get through to Face.

 

“Kid! Face! Leave it now, come on!”  They were at the door back out into the sunshine, and Hannibal leaned forward over BA’s shoulder to push it open even as he heard Sosa’s words, the smirk in her voice like chalk down a board.

 

“I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth, I never loved you...”

 

It was like she’d slapped him again, Hannibal felt the actual, physical pain that he could see in those expressive blue eyes and knew that he could cheerfully strangle the woman to within an inch of her life right now, but the pain made Face sag, and that was enough for them to bustle him out of the door to within sight of Murdock who was stood holding Sophia, rocking her against his shoulder and looking over at Face in concern.

 

They kept on going, walking him across the grass as far away from the doors and the stares as they could as he finally turned his anger onto them. “All right! All right! Get the fuck off me, will you?” He was still tugging at their hold and fixed his cold, blue glare onto Hannibal. “Hannibal! Get off me!”

 

At Hannibal’s miniscule nod, BA let go and stepped back as Hannibal lowered his own hands, staying close enough to make sure that Face didn’t make a move back to the door. Instead, however, he tugged his t-shirt down over his bare back and stormed over to Murdock, taking Sophia from him and burying his face in her dress as he stood in the sunshine, obviously breathing hard, trying to get himself back under control. Hannibal turned to BA. “Get him home,” he said, quietly and in absolute deadly seriousness. “Get them both home and for fuck’s sake, make sure he stays there. Cuff him if you have to, but he does not leave that apartment, you got that?”

 

BA nodded, “Yes sir,” and Hannibal clapped him on the arm.

 

“I’m gonna go back in, see if I can’t do some damage limitation here. I’ll stay for the hearing as well if it’s still on.” BA nodded again and they both shifted their eyes to Face’s still form before Hannibal sighed and headed back into the building.

 

_____________________

 

Three hours later, Hannibal let himself back into the apartment and looked cautiously around, worried about what he would find. He nodded at BA and Murdock who were watching Myth Busters with Sophia asleep face down on BA’s stomach and narrowed his eyes at the lack of a fourth member of his little family.

 

“He’s in his room,” Murdock explained flatly, seeing the look on Hannibal’s face. “How’d it go?”

 

“Fine, we were only in there two minutes. Can I smell dinner?”

 

“Veggie jambalaya. You want some warming up?”

 

But Hannibal just shook his head and wandered off towards Face’s room. “In a bit,” he said quietly and knocked softly before letting himself in.  

 

He found Face sitting on the floor against the fitted wardrobes, his eyes dull and red rimmed, a dark smudge on his cheek bone the lasting evidence of Sosa’s blow. He also looked pretty much scared to death, as if Hannibal was going to march in here and take Sophia off him right this very second. “I’ve ballsed it all up, haven’t I?” he said in a voice full of trepidation as Hannibal perched on the edge of the bed facing him.

 

“No, of course you haven’t,” Hannibal told him gently. “Monica told you, this was about preliminaries only. We were in there two minutes, the judge barely even looked at us, Monica told him you were at home with the baby, and Sosa didn’t turn up, either did that Jenkins family. It was fine.”

 

Face let out a long, painful breath and thumped his head against the cupboards as he sagged in relief. “Thank fuck...” he whispered and closed his eyes.

 

Hannibal watched him for a minute, his eyes drawn to that damn mark on his cheek. “You alright, kid?” he asked eventually and Face laughed a dark, ironic laugh at his question.

 

“Jesus, Hannibal, how can I be alright after that little display?” he answered, the edge of desperation in his voice. “Who the fuck am I trying to kid here? If I can’t even keep my head when I’m supposed to be on my best behaviour, supposed to be proving to everyone that I can be a good dad for Sophia – then what the hell chance do I have of doing it for the next twenty years?”

 

Hannibal frowned and adjusted his position into a more comfortable one on the mattress. “You can’t blame yourself for reacting to that fiasco, Face,” he muttered. “You never started anything, it was all Sosa.”

 

Again came the ironic laugh. “You think that makes it okay? So what happens when Sophia falls out with her friend in Kindergarten? I’m gonna punch some five year old girl’s lights out and that’s gonna be okay ‘cause she started it?”

 

Hannibal just stared, appalled. “God, Face, no! Where the hell did you get that from?” Face didn’t answer, but instead let his head fall down into his hands. “You think that anyone who finds themselves a parent is suddenly some paradigm of virtue? Some perfect example of humanity? Shit, kid, no! Parents are just people still, people with emotions. Don’t be too hard on yourself.” Face didn’t answer. “And anyway, you didn’t touch anyone, she was the one doing all the hitting don’t forget.”

 

“Only ‘cause you held me back,” Face’s voice drifted up from his thighs. “If I’d had the chance, boss, I’d have loved nothing more than to land one on her.”

 

This time Hannibal stared as he folded his arms and frowned at the top of Face’s bent head. “No you wouldn’t have,” he answered quietly. “I know you kid, have known you a lot of years now, and I’ve never known you even raise a hand at someone weaker than you like that. That was never going to happen.”

 

Face lifted his head and ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Who am I fucking kidding, Hannibal? I can’t do this, I can’t even stop swearing for her. Sosa’s right, I can’t keep her.”

 

Hannibal leaned forward, elbows on his knees and fixed Face with his stare. “Are you bailing on her here, Face?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous.

 

There was a long sigh from Face, but then he lifted his head and met Hannibal’s hard gaze without flinching. “Don’t pretend you’re not relieved,” he said quietly, “I know you never wanted me to keep her.” Hannibal recoiled and sat upright, his eyes widening and his heart thumping and Face let out another blast of his cold laughter. “You thought I didn’t see it, boss? You think that I could spend all that time with you over all these years and not be able to see disapproval in your eyes, even when you try to hide it?”

 

Hannibal didn’t even try to lie his way out of being caught red handed like this. Instead he just scrubbed at his own face and then slipped off the bed, parking his butt right next to his lieutenant’s, their shoulders and hips jammed together against the wardrobe.

 

For maybe seven or eight minutes they sat in silence, each swimming in the current of their own thoughts, before Hannibal eventually broke the silence. “I’m so sorry, kid,” he said quietly. “You are right, of course you are right, why did I think I could ever pull one over on you?” He smiled affectionately at Face who didn’t return it, just looked blankly at the carpet between his thighs. “I didn’t want you to keep her, but you have to understand the reasons why.”

 

“Because you think I can’t do it? That I’m an emotional fuck up who doesn’t deserve a kid?” the bitterness in his voice was appalling.

 

“No!” Hannibal had his hand on a denim robed thigh without even thinking. “When have I ever thought that of you, kid? When have I ever had anything but the very highest opinions of you?”

 

That pulled a sad kind of smile from Face. “How much time you got here, boss?” he asked quietly.

 

But Hannibal didn’t laugh. “No,” he said emphatically. “That’s not true. Yes, we talk about things that might not have gone as well as we would have liked, yes, I always try to help you make a better job the next time, but I have never been let down by you, Face. Never.”

 

Face looked up, and Hannibal could see the desperation in his eyes, desperation to believe what he was being told, so he tightened the grip on that leg and forged on. “You are the best and the brightest and the bravest man I have ever served with kid, and that is the straight up and down truth of the matter. I’ve had to beat people off your ass ever since I first got hold of you, you wouldn’t believe the commanders that have wanted you for their own teams.”

 

There was a silence again as Face stared at him, blinking through the brightness in his eyes. “Yeah?” he asked, voice a little wavery.

 

“Yeah,” Hannibal reassured him, smiling now. “You think I’m good at what I do, kid?”

 

Face’s eyes widened a touch. “Good? Shit, boss you are the goddamn best!” 

 

The smile got broader, “Well, if that’s the case, then why would I have you on my team, why would I hunt you down like I did, why would I go to all the effort to keep you for all these years unless you were the goddamn best too?”

 

The slow, tentative smile that flickered across Face’s lips was like the sun rising on a summer’s day and Hannibal couldn’t stop the warmth that rushed through him at the sight. But then, just as fast, it was gone, a cloud in the sky, and Face frowned again. “But you still didn’t want me to have her,” his eyes were cold now, challenging, “so why?”

 

There was a silence, and Hannibal looked awkward, caught out, and Face braced himself for the lie he could sense coming. But then the boss just dissolved and the hand on his thigh gripped tight once more, and Hannibal’s blue eyes latched onto his. “Same reason, really kid, all these years I’ve fought to keep hold of you, and I just knew that this baby was going to be the one thing that would steal you away from me.”

 

Face stared at him, and Hannibal could see the gears in his head whirling, processing that information and trying to work out what it actually meant. He didn’t answer for a while, just held Hannibal in a measured stare before looking back at the carpet. “You don’t think I’d just fuck it all up then? Being a dad?” he asked eventually.

 

“No, kid, no!” Hannibal said, moving his hand now, feeling awkward after his little announcement and the way that Face had swept it under the carpet. “I never thought that at all, I told you all along, I think you’ll do a wonderful job at being a dad. You are doing a wonderful job already!”

 

Face lapsed into silence once more and Hannibal watched as he poked at the pile of the carpet with a long finger. “I can’t believe that Sosa hates me so much,” he eventually whispered. “So much that she is willing to go to court just to make sure I don’t get to raise our baby.”

 

Hannibal sighed and had to fight the urge to touch Face’s thigh once more. “She doesn’t hate you,” he said tiredly. “This is all about her and not about you. She just doesn’t want to see you managing what she can’t do herself.”

 

“You think?” again there was that desperation to believe in his eyes.

 

“I do.”

 

Again the silence. “But she’s gonna drag every damn thing I’ve ever done wrong out and into that court room, though boss, isn’t she? She’s gonna make me look like the world’s worst parent.”

 

Hannibal looked at him, right at him, right into his eyes. “Look, Face, you have to remember what it is we are doing here.” He paused to make sure he had Face’s full attention. “We are fighting the legality of the adoption, that’s all. This is not about you proving that you are a better bet for Sophia than the Jenkins are, all we have to do is show that there is good cause to doubt the way the adoption was set up, and we’re home free. That’s all.”

 

Face held him with wet eyes and eventually forced out a watery smile, “You keep saying ‘we’, boss,” he whispered roughly.

 

And Hannibal smiled back. “Team effort remember?” he whispered and a warm glow filled him as Face leaned in, bumping their shoulders together.

 

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes more, before sounds of disgruntled crying came drifting through the door and Face sighed. “Sound like someone wants a bottle,” he murmured and Hannibal climbed stiffly to his feet.

 

“Sure does kid, a dad’s work is never done, right?” he reached a hand down for Face as they shared a smile, hauling him up to his feet and right into each other’s personal space. Neither one of them moved, they just stood there, hands still clasped together, chests flush, groins only centimetres apart and Hannibal found his heart hammering hard against his rib cage.

 

Face lifted his eyes until they were staring right into each other’s souls and his smile slowly slipped away to be replaced by a look of complete seriousness and intensity. “It would never happen you know, boss,” he whispered, low and rough and the very tone of his voice started Hannibal’s blood rushing south. “Me, leaving you. Not for Sophia, not for anyone. It would never happen.”

 

Hannibal swallowed hard, feeling those words in his mouth as he tried not to fall right into Face’s so-blue eyes. “Good, kid,” he replied, shocking himself with the hoarseness of his voice. “Because I don’t think I could ever stand it if you did.” They stared at each other and Hannibal felt that Face wanted something from him, needed something more. “Your father’s loss has been my gain, Face,” he added, “I can’t imagine not having you around now.”

 

Face pulled back ever so slightly at those words, his head tilted to the side and looked hard at Hannibal, something close to disappointment in his eyes. Then he stepped away altogether, and turned to the door and Hannibal was left swaying at his sudden disappearance. “Yeah,” he said as he walked away, his voice cool and crisp now. “Damn kids, hey? Always under your feet.” And then he was gone and Hannibal could hear him talking to Sophia in the other room and suddenly his legs gave out and he sat on the bed with a thump wondering what the fuck had just happened. 

 

_______________________

 

Hannibal moved as quietly around the kitchen as he could as he toasted bread and brewed the coffee. It was 0827 precisely and unheard of in recent days to find no one up in the whole penthouse. Usually by now, Face would be up, trying to prop his eyes open as he gave Sophia her morning milk, gratefully accepting coffee and toast from anyone who would make it for him. The others tended to get up in rotation; someone, on hearing Sophia’s cries would get up, and then whoever was left in bed, would just turn over and grab another couple of hours.

 

Last night though, Hannibal had got up to go the toilet at around 0300, and, on seeing Face’s bedroom light on, had tapped gently on the door and slipped inside. In the thirty four hours since they had returned from the courthouse, relations between the two of them had been strained to say the least. Hannibal was still confused as to what had actually happened, how things had taken such a frosty turn after they’d appeared to be getting on so well, and was desperate to get everything back to normal; not having Face by his side was unacceptable in more ways than he was prepared to examine.

 

So he’d crept in, prepared to offer to take over with a squirmy fractious Sophia so that Face would be able to catch up on his sleep, but what he saw surprised him. Face was propped up on the pillows, head on the wall, eyes open and fixed on the Moses basket at the side of the bed. He looked up as Hannibal entered and placed a finger to his lips as Hannibal stepped forward, peeking into the crib and spying a sleeping Sophia, wrapped tightly in her cot sheet.

 

“Hey,” he whispered, smiling affectionately at the sleeping baby, “you finally got her to sleep in her basket, that’s great. Murdock will be thrilled.”

 

“Yeah,” Face said tiredly, eyes drifting back to his daughter. “Swaddling,” he explained, picking up one of his many baby textbooks and showing Hannibal the pictured of a securely swaddled infant. “Anything good enough for Jesus, is good enough for my girl,” he quipped and Hannibal smiled sitting on the edge of the bed near Face’s feet and letting his eyes drift over the baby.

 

They sat in silence for a while, and Hannibal glanced up, thinking perhaps that Face had drifted off into sleep but found him sitting just as he had been, eyes fixed on the sleeping child in the basket. “Face,” he whispered, and ever so briefly Face’s eyes flashed automatically over to him, before sliding back down to Sophia. “What’s going on?” Face just shrugged. “Come on kid, you can feel this tension just as much as I can. What the hell is going on here with us, kid?”

 

Face let his head fall down into his hand and a long sigh ghosted from his lips. “Nothing, boss,” he whispered, “nothing at all.”

 

Hannibal watched him again, the worry lines on his forehead, then tension around his eyes and reached out, fingers, tracing gently over the curve of a calf muscle. “Face, she’s sleeping, you should be sleeping, but you aren’t you’re sat here looking more worried than I’ve seen you in a long time. We’ve got weeks until the hearing, if you sit up every night worrying about it like this, you’ll burn yourself out before it’s even time to turn up.”

 

“It’s not that,” Face whispered, eyes still on Sophia. “No more than usual anyway.”

 

Hannibal frowned. “So what?”

 

Again silence fell and Hannibal sat waiting as Face obviously wrestled with the thoughts in his head. “It’s nothing,” he eventually said, the tiredness clear in his voice.

 

But Hannibal touched his bare leg again, unable to keep his fingers off all that warm skin. “Face, please,” he whispered and saw the guilty shift in those blue eyes, knowing that he’d got through now, just had to wait for Face to find the words.

 

“It’s nothing,” he repeated, “I just...”

 

“Just what?”

 

Face rubbed two fingers across the bridge of his nose. “I guess I just thought that things were going to be different,” he said quietly. “I just presumed that things were going to turn out different, eventually, that’s all.”

 

Hannibal was confused. “Of course things have turned out different, kid,” he said almost exasperatedly, “No one saw Sophia coming along, but that’s a good different, right? Not all different is bad.”

 

For a long moment, Face looked at him, his eyes dark and intense and then he smiled, flat and ironic. “Yeah, boss, I guess. One person’s bad is another one’s... ordinary, yeah?”

 

Another frown creased Hannibal’s brow. “Yeah, but... Sophia isn’t anyone’s ordinary though is she?” he asked.

 

Face held his eyes and smiled, reaching out to grip the hand on his leg. “No boss, she’s not. She certainly isn’t that...”

 

He’d laid down again at that and closed his eyes, and Hannibal had watched him for a few minutes and then when it appeared he was asleep once more, got up and slipped silently out of the room, flicking the light off behind him and Hannibal was left feeling even more confused than he had been when he’d walked in.  

 

- - - -

 

So this morning he’d let Face sleep on, Sophia was obviously having a bit of a lie in, the kid needed some serious rest and then maybe Hannibal might be able to work out what was going on in his head.

 

He knew Face well, inside out he’d thought. They’d worked together for almost ten years in one form or another and been through more near misses and close shaves than he could even start to count. He’d seen Face scared, hell, the two of them had been almost terrified out of their skins before as missiles or bullets or masonry rained down around them. He’d heard the kid’s voice shouting for Hannibal, thinking that he was a goner, or Murdock, or BA or even the Colonel himself, heard fear in his tone and his words before. But until that morning, he’d never heard that level of absolute, bone chilling terror before, that concentration of fear so absolutely petrifying in its intensity; the specific pitch of horror in Face’s tone that almost had Hannibal pouring the freshly brewed coffee all over himself in shock.

 

“Hannibal!!!!”

 

He ran for the bedroom door, even as Murdock and BA burst from their own rooms, even as Face flew out to meet him, limp baby in his hands, his face a white mask of terror and Hannibal snatched Sophia off him, laid her on the kitchen counter, vaguely aware of Murdock thumping numbers into his mobile and BA trying to get Face to calm down enough so that he could explain what the hell had just happened.

 

But Hannibal tuned all of that out, all he concentrated on over the thumping of his own heart was the tiny body in front of him, and like a slow motion reel, his eyes took it all in. Sophia was still wearing the white baby-gro with pink bubbles on that Hannibal himself had dressed her in after Face had bathed her last night. Her eyes were closed, long lashes so like her father’s, fanned delicately out across her cheeks; she was still and quiet, limp and floppy, her skin was flushed almost lilac, her lips blue tinged and Hannibal’s chest tightened in horror as his mind told him she was dead.

 

He forced a calm he didn’t feel into his limbs and probed with a large finger, searching in the crease of her neck, the flat of her chest and then he froze. “She has a pulse,” he reported sharply to Face and knew he didn’t imagine the sob of relief he heard. He snatched a glass up off the counter and held it over her nose and mouth as he vaguely heard Murdock relying his findings to the dispatcher, “And she’s breathing. Don’t panic kid, she’s still with us.”

 

Suddenly Face was next to him, shaking hands touching so, so hesitantly as together they turned her into the recovery position. “I just woke up and she was like that,” he was saying, the pain dripping from every syllable of his words. “She was in her cot, she’d slept all night and she just looked like that!” He glanced up at Hannibal, fear in his eyes. “You saw her didn’t you? When you came in? She was fine; I didn’t do anything, did I? She was fine!”

 

“I know,” Hannibal soothed him, “No one said you did. It’s okay, kid, it’s okay. The EMTs will be here soon, they’ll find out what’s wrong with her.”

 

Face fell to his knees at the side of the counter, one large hand cupping her tiny head and stared into her face and Hannibal dropped a hand onto his shoulder and started praying.

 

_______________

 

They followed the ambulance in silence and BA pulled up behind it in the ER bay to let Hannibal jump out before peeling his van off towards the parking lot. By the time Hannibal himself found his way in, Face, the baby, the medics, everyone had gone and it was another ten minutes until he managed to catch them up again.

 

He was shown into a room with a sign proclaiming it as Relative’s Room 4, and there was Face, his eyes swivelling to the door the second it started opening and his expression still that one of fear and dread that had broken Hannibal’s heart back in the apartment.

 

“They won’t let me see her, they won’t tell me anything!” he said, taking a shaky step towards his CO and Hannibal didn’t pause for a second, just gathered him up, firm and sure in his arms and pressed them together, holding Face’s head into his own neck.

 

“They won’t know anything yet,” he soothed gently; appalled at the sob he could hear in his voice. “They’ll need space and peace to have a good look at her and then they’ll come and talk to you. She’s in good hands, kid, the best, yes? We just have to grit our teeth and wait and let them do their jobs.”

 

Face didn’t answer, but he did hang on firmly to Hannibal’s shoulders and that’s how they stayed, oblivious to the world around them until the door opened once more and Murdock and BA crept in.

 

It was another forty minutes after the team were back together, and no one in Room 4 had spoken a word to each other, when the door opened again and a woman in a white coat came in. It was obvious that she was a doctor, and Hannibal found himself thinking that it made such a refreshing change to see a doc who wasn’t covered in a colleague’s blood when she zeroed in on Face as he stood and looked at her and held out her hand.

 

“Sophia’s father?” Face nodded and grabbed the proffered hand. “I am Doctor Anna Muller, a specialist in Paediatric Cardiology here at Georgetown; I have been examining your daughter.”

 

“Cardiology?” Face queried frowning. “There’s something wrong with her heart?”

 

Dr. Miller looked around at the other men in the room before asking, “Is Sophia’s mother here?”

 

Face blanched, but Murdock stepped forward, nodding politely at the doctor. “We have someone trying to contact her right now,” he explained politely. “She don’t live with Sophia and her daddy.”

 

The doctor seemed satisfied with that explanation and turned back to Face. “Would you like to step along to my office so that we can talk in private?” she offered carefully, but Face just shook his head.

 

“No, here is fine Doctor if you don’t mind.”

 

“Okay,” Dr. Muller nodded and motioned to the seats, taking a chair diagonally opposite Face as Hannibal slid in behind him, a firm hand pressed into the small of his back. “Sophia is stable at the minute,” she told them steadily. “We have machines helping her to breathe and circulate her blood, as well as performing some of the functions of her liver and kidneys.” Hannibal watched what little colour had been left in Face’s complexion drain right away.

 

“When she was admitted, she presented very much like a child in a cardiac emergency, so as soon as she was stable, we performed an ultra sound scan on her heart.” It was like the entire world was holding its breath.

 

“And?” Face whispered.

 

“I am very sorry to tell you that your daughter is suffering from a congenital heart defect,” Dr. Muller told him quietly and the whole world seemed to slip into silence.

 

For a second no one moved or reacted or even appeared to breathe, but then, just as Hannibal started rubbing a circle into the small of Face’s back, Face himself leaned forward and spoke, his voice surprisingly steady. “So, what does that mean, exactly?” he asked.

 

Dr. Muller pulled out her clipboard and quickly drew the rough outline of a stylised heart. “Sophia has what is known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome,” she explained. “It is a condition where both the left ventricle and aorta are significantly underdeveloped. They look like this,” she sketched in a small and malformed left side of the heart,” as opposed to this,” and then completed the sketch by filling in a healthy right ventricle and aorta. Face stared at the crude picture in shocked silence.

 

“What does that actually mean for Sophia?” Hannibal asked, his hand constantly, constantly, moving and stroking.

 

“It means that, in layman’s terms, her heart is unable to pump oxygen rich blood into the rest of her body. That’s why she was looking so blue when she was brought in here this morning.”

 

Again the stunned silence as four minds struggled to take all that information in, before Face spoke again. “So, she was born like that?” he asked, and Dr. Muller nodded. “But that doesn’t make any sense!” he objected, sitting up and flicking a quick glance at Hannibal. “She’s been fine! She’s nine days old today and she’s been absolutely fine until this morning!”

 

Dr. Muller returned to her diagram. “Sophia has been using a hole in her heart wall and a channel called the ductus arteriosus in order to let the oxygen rich blood flow into her body so far,” she made a mark on her diagram showing this. “But the ductus is a feature of the foetal heart only, and closes up in the days following birth. Now that Sophia’s ductus is closing, she has no way of oxygenating her body, and this is why she has fallen ill.”

 

Another silence followed as four sets of eyes stared at the diagram on the clipboard. “Can it be fixed?” Face eventually asked in a tone of voice that equally wanted and dreaded a truthful answer.

 

“Treatment takes the form of either a heart transplant or a number of complicated and delicate surgical procedures,” Face let his head fall into his hands and Hannibal’s palm slid up to the back of his neck, squeezing and holding him there. “Due to the lack of donor hearts, a transplant is a very rare solution and so we would be looking at surgery instead.” At the doctor’s words, Face sat upright once more, his blue eyes wide and desperate as they looked on to Dr. Muller’s sombre brown ones.

 

“It can be fixed though?” he whispered, “You can fix her? She’ll be alright?”

 

Dr. Muller looked steadily at him. “Lieutenant Peck, you must remember that your daughter is a very sick little girl, but with surgery, seventy percent of children with HLHS are still alive by their fifth birthday.”

 

Face’s eyes were swimming in tears as he absorbed those words, but Hannibal’s hand, warm on the back of his neck brought him round again. “And without surgery?” he enquired quietly and the doctor just shook her head. He leaned forward, determination etched over every plane of his face. “Where do I sign?” he asked. 

 

_____________

 

Hannibal looked around the room at his silent, pensive team and sighed; this was not going to be a good day.

 

Murdock was sitting in the corner of Room 4, the skin around his finger nails chewed and bleeding as he literally set about biting his them down to the quick. He shouldn’t even have been here, Hannibal knew, but also realised that getting him to go would be downright impossible, and even if he did go, was he really, honestly going to be any calmer waiting back at the apartment?

 

And of course if Murdock went then someone would have to go with him, and Hannibal didn’t fancy being the one who suggested that to BA. The big guy was pacing, up and down, up and down, his brow furrowed in deep worry lines and his hands clenched in fists. There was nothing short of an explosion that was going to get him out of this room today, Hannibal could see that plain as day and so looked away trying not to watch and worry about his two men.

 

But if he wasn’t watching and worrying about Murdock and BA, then that only left Face to watch and worry about. He sighed as his eyes landed on his XO who was standing, still as a statue in the doorway, his arms folded and his eyes fastened intently on the exit at the end of the corridor. He’d not spoken a word since returning from taking Sophia to the OR, Hannibal glanced at his watch, seventy minutes ago. Hannibal had held him briefly, asked how it had gone, but Face had just shrugged, disentangled himself from Hannibal’s arms and taken up his post in the doorway and Hannibal’s heart had broken just a shade more at that moment.

 

He knew the expression on the kid’s face well, had seen it before when the going had been difficult in the past. It was this side of his character that he knew had dragged Face through some very tough times in the past, this pig headed, stubborn refusal to acknowledge that anything would happen different from what he wanted. In a way, Hannibal supposed that it was a characteristic to be proud of, something that Face drew strength from, but it was also denial in the strongest terms possible, Face was convinced that Sophia was going to be okay here; seventy percent the doctor had told him and Face was willing to take odds like those any day of the week. The problem was, Hannibal felt, that he was refusing to listen to the other facts, the details like the seventy percent only applied to the children who survived the three major operations they needed on their hearts before the age of three, or the reality that most children had their HLHS picked up in the womb and so they could be taken down for surgery within hours of their birth, before the ductus arteriosus began to close and made them ill, made them weak...

 

He’d tried to discuss this with Face, tried to make the kid see the facts, all the facts, not just those that appealed to him, but he’d stared at Hannibal with his ice blue eyes and repeated his mantra that Sophia would be okay, that she was a fighter, that she wanted to be alright and so she would be. Watching him watching the corridor, Hannibal just hoped to hell that he was right. They had been told that the operation could take anywhere up to six hours; Hannibal looked at his watch and then back to Face – it was going to be a long, long, day.

 

_____________

 

As it happened, the wait was nowhere near as long as Hannibal had feared. After just less than two hours, Face’s stiffening posture alerted the rest of the team and within seconds he was stepping back away from the door and letting Sophia’s surgeon, Dr. Jake Cassidy, into the room. His face was sombre, his movements brisk and determined and Hannibal found his heart speeding up a gear as he watched Face cautiously step back to lean against the wall, refusing to sit as the doctor gestured at the seats. “Lieutenant Peck,” his voice was clipped. “I’m afraid we have come across a difficulty with the surgery.”

 

Hannibal held his breath as Murdock looked up, eyes wide and BA sank into a chair, head in his hands. “What kind of problem?” Face asked calmly, and Hannibal felt his own fear rise.

 

“The strain of the operation has proved too much for Sophia’s damaged heart, we have had to revive her three times already.”

 

Face didn’t speak, he just looked at the surgeon who returned his stare, face expressionless.

 

“So...” this was Murdock, eyes flicking from Face to the doctor and back again. “This means what exactly? You’ll have to try again? Tomorrow? Another day?” No one replied to his question, but the way that BA reached out to grab at his leg led Hannibal to believe that the big guy at least suspected what was coming next, and by the way that Face was shaking his head, so did he.

 

“No. No way,” he said leaning off the wall, his eyes blazing in anger. “I will not let you give up on my daughter like that.”

 

The surgeon stood his ground. “Lieutenant, I’m sorry. No one is giving up on Sophia, but if we try this again, she will suffer another cardiac arrest.”

 

“So... what? What you gonna do then? Nothing? Just a big fat fucking nothing?”

 

“We wait,” the surgeon replied carefully, refusing to let Face’s temper intimidate him. “We let her rest and we hope she gains enough strength so we can try again.”

 

“No,” Face shook his head and Hannibal rose slowly to his feet as he saw that determined calm starting to unravel. “I want another opinion. I want another doctor, a good one this time.”

 

“Face...”

 

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Cassidy repeated. “I know that this is hard to understand, but another doctor would just tell you the same thing. Sophia’s body is not strong enough for surgery right now, her organs have been damaged by the lack of oxygen from her heart. They are already in danger of collapse.”

 

“No!” Face lashed out at the wall, planting his fist firmly into the cork notice board and coming away with blood smeared knuckles and Hannibal was at his side in a moment, putting himself between his XO and the doctor who was stubbornly standing his ground.

 

“Face!” he barked and Face rounded on him, eyes flashing in fury.

 

“What?” Face snapped back. “You gonna let him do this?  You gonna let him give up on Sophia? ‘Cause I’m sure as hell not!” he whirled back to the doctor. “I want her transferring to George Washington! I want her treating there, where they can do it properly! You hear me?”

 

No one answered.

 

“Right!” Face spun for the door, “I’ll call them myself, sort it myself if no one else is going to do it!” He was out into the corridor before anyone else could speak and the entire room shook with the force of the slammed door that followed his exit.

 

“Jesus, man...” BA murmured, still gripping Murdock’s leg and Hannibal ran a hand over his own grey face.

 

“It’s okay,” he muttered to the doctor, “I’ll get him, he’ll calm down.”

 

Dr. Cassidy just nodded and said quietly, “I think Sophia’s mother might want to get here. Quickly.”

 

A choked sob was all that could be heard from Murdock, while Hannibal swallowed hard before asking the question no one wanted to hear the answer to. “Is there nothing else you can do but wait?”

 

And the doctor just shook his head. “I’m sorry. She’s a very sick baby.”

 

“Oh God...” Hannibal breathed into his hands and for a minute the whole room was silent.  “BA,” he eventually looked up to find the corporal holding a shaking Murdock to his chest, “You better get hold of Monica, she needs to find Sosa,” their eyes met and BA nodded. “I’m going to find Face,” and then, steeling himself for what he knew was coming, he slipped out of the room.

 

_____________

 

By the time Hannibal made it out into the corridor, Face was nowhere to be seen but an orderly busy throwing laundry down the chute caught his eye and pointed to the fire exit doors which were still swaying slightly with the force that they’d been thrown open. He quickly slipped through and followed the pounding footsteps he could hear heading down, taking the stairs three at a time and using his long legs to clear every corner over the banister rail.

 

Descending like this he managed to catch up with Face just as he reached the ground floor and wasted no time in trying to persuade his XO into stopping, grabbing his shoulder instead and spinning him around so that his back hit the wall with a solid thump.

 

Face came back fighting, but Hannibal was expecting the fist that swung at him and managed to duck back, feeling the breeze from Face’s punch as it skimmed the air in front of his face. As soon as it had passed, before Face had managed to wind himself up for the next one, Hannibal stepped in, crowding up close, narrowing Face’s options as well as his arc of attack and getting a barrage of solid thumps into his chest for his trouble.

 

“Face!” he shouted, the fists raining onto his pecs almost taking his breath away, “Stand down kid, come on, it’s me here!”

 

“Get off me!” Face spat back, giving up with his punches now as Hannibal was so close to him and resorting to trying the push the taller man away instead. “I need to call George Washington!”

 

Hannibal ignored his words and the attempts he was making to shove him away and continued just trying to hold him, to lean in on him, cover his tense, trembling body with his own and get through to him like that. “Face...” he soothed, and lifted a hand to run it through the messy hair.

 

“Get off me!” Face exploded, shoving hard again and forcing Hannibal into taking a couple of unsteady steps backwards. “You can’t make me do this! You can’t make me! No, no, no, no, no!”

 

“Make you?” Hannibal lifted his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Kid, I’m not here to make you do anything, I’m here to check you’re alright.”

 

“I’m alright!” the shaky answer came back as Face plastered himself against the wall as far from Hannibal as he could get. “Or at least I will be once I find some fucker who will get off his ass and help my daughter before she...” he stuttered to a halt and yanked his phone out instead, poking almost randomly at the key pad, his fingers shaking more with every passing second. Hannibal stood back and watched him as he raked a hand through his hair and started tapping again, holding the phone up to his ear and swearing loudly before pulling it back down and typing again, shaking so hard that his fingers fumbled the handset and he had to catch it before it hit the floor.

 

“Fucking stupid phone!” he muttered, and tried again, pressing keys and waiting and as Hannibal heard the unobtainable tone sounding out loud and clear in the quiet of the corridor, he just collapsed in on himself and sagged in a heap, his legs folding like a concertina beneath him, landing his butt on the floor, and his head dropped into his palms as the phone hit the ground and cracked into half a dozen pieces.

 

Hannibal stood back, giving him a minute as he huddled there, shaking and silent, before he dropped to his knees in the gap between those trembling legs and placed gentle but firm hands onto the knees of his jeans and waited.

 

The silence stretched on, only the sound of Face’s breathing, hard and laboured could be heard in the corridor, and eventually, when it was softer and deeper than before, Face looked up, his eyes still  hard but swimming in liquid crystal. “Nothing bad is going to happen, Hannibal,” he whispered. “Not to my baby, not while I have a single breath left in my body.” Hannibal waited, knowing there was more, and in a minute it came. “I’m all she’s got, and she’s relying on me to fight for her, to make sure they don’t give up on her!” The fury was back and Hannibal could feel the livid trembling of his muscles. “How dare they do this? How dare they just give up like this? They haven’t done anything else other than this stupid fucking operation! Who’s to say it won’t work the next time they try it? Who’s to say that some other surgeon couldn’t do it better? Make it work? They haven’t even fucking tried Hannibal! What are they thinking of? Not even fucking trying?!”

 

He stopped, his eyes wide and fixed on his CO and Hannibal could see the plea in them, the desperate entreaty to agree, to take over Face’s crusade, to fight for Sophia because Face knew if Hannibal was prepared to fight - then there was still hope left.

 

Hannibal knew what Face wanted, knew how much the younger man still relied on him as an emotional barometer, a guide, a harbour pilot. He knew how, with one word of support from him, Face would contact George Washington, would try to get Sophia transferred or at the very least have another doctor come over to give a second opinion. In a matter of hours it could be done, a matter of hours with Face on the phone the whole time or dashing between the two hospitals – and what would be the end result? Did he think that this would change Sophia’s chances at all?

 

Time seemed to freeze as they stared at each other on the dirty floor of the corner of the fire escape. Hannibal felt Face’s trust, his reliance, his dependence so, so heavily on his shoulders and knew that now, more than at any other time of his twisted and fucked up life, he needed Hannibal to be honest with him, truthful in a way that only those who really, really love you ever are. He closed his eyes and swallowed, before opening them again and staring at the man in front of him. “Face,” he said gently, his fingers firm on the trembling knees. “She’s already died three times this morning, they’ve spent almost an hour bringing her back. If she goes again, she’s not going to make it.”

 

Face stared before his head started to shake almost of its own will. “No,” he whispered, “there’s another way, there’s another option. If I can just get to George Washington and talk to them then I will-”

 

“No,” Hannibal cut him short. “You go there and who will be here for her? There’s nothing different anyone else can do, you know this, she’s too worn out right now. She needs to rest and she needs to do it with you here, the person she loves most in all the world.”

 

“You’ve given up on her already haven’t you? You think she’s going to die.” Face whispered and the sense of betrayal in his words was almost more than Hannibal could bear.

 

“It’s a possibility,” he admitted quietly.

 

The tumbling expressions on the kid’s face at those words was quite possibly the hardest thing that Hannibal had ever forced himself to watch; the way all of Face’s hope just died, the faith he had in Hannibal, the never ending, unerring faith, that just withered and turned to dust. The disappointment and the realisation that Hannibal was just a man as well, not a hero, not the being that could always fix Face’s life for him... It was all Hannibal could do to stop himself from taking it all back and making stupid rash lies into promises that he couldn’t keep.

 

“She’s relying on me...” Face whispered, stubbornly clinging on to the things that made sense in his life.

 

“She is,” Hannibal replied softly. “To love her, to be there for her, to do everything you possibly can for her, and you have done.” He tried to force out a sad smile, “She doesn’t expect you to be God, kid. She doesn’t expect you to be able to work miracles. You know from bitter experiences that things don’t work out well just because you really, really fucking want them to. Right?”

 

Still Face was staring with his desperate, desperate eyes and he slowly shook his head. “Hannibal,” he whispered, his voice so quiet that Hannibal almost couldn’t hear it. “I can’t do that, I can’t go back up there and wait and just accept this! I have to fight it,” his hands slid into fists, “I have to fight it until there are no other options left.”

 

Hannibal shook his head sadly, “You don’t have a choice,” he said bluntly. “You walk out of here and you let her down when she needs you the most, and that’s unacceptable. This stopped being about you the second that she was conceived, you aren’t the most important person in your own life anymore, Face.” He took a deep breath, “The doctor said there’s nothing to do but hope she can fight through this,” Face screwed his eyes shut in denial, “and while she fights, then she’ll want you there with her. You know that’s the truth, you know she’s happiest with you...” Hannibal slid his hand around to the side of Face’s cheek and gently thumbed the soft skin under his eye. “I’m so sorry, kid, to be the one that tells you this, but it’s the truth, and I think that deep down, you know it, and that’s why you are so fucking scared.”

 

Face opened his eyes again at those words and the two pairs of blue irises locked together as he finally acknowledged the appalling truth of the situation.

 

“I swore I would be with you through all of this, Face and that’s exactly what I want to do, but if you want me to go to George Washington and see if I can get you some answers, I will, you know I will. Always.”

 

The nod was so small that Hannibal almost missed it, but it was there and he leaned forward, pushing a firm kiss down onto the Face’s forehead. “Okay,” he whispered, “let’s get you back upstairs and I’ll head straight out.”

 

He picked up the pieces of Face’s phone and then rose to his feet, extending a hand to the man on the floor, but for a long minute, Face didn’t stir. Then Hannibal could almost see the way that he hauled on every single reserve of mental fortitude he had, using it to reach out for Hannibal’s hand and allowing himself to be pulled back to his feet, and then, with Hannibal’s arm firm around his shoulders, they slowly made their way towards the elevator.  

 

________________

 

They walked back into the Relative’s Room and straight into Dr. Anna Muller who was standing next to Dr. Cassidy and talking to BA and Murdock.

 

“Face! You’re back!” Murdock burst out the second he saw them and lurched forward, grabbing Face’s arm almost as if he was worried he was going to disappear right back out of the door again. “Dr. Cassidy has called Dr. Muller to come and have another look at Sophia, see what she thinks!”

 

Face felt an embarrassed flush creep across his cheeks as he remembered his earlier words to the surgeon, and he forced himself to look over and nod in gratitude. “Thank you,” he said quietly, “and I’m sorry for the way I reacted.”

 

Dr. Cassidy nodded back, as Face felt both Hannibal and Murdock squeezing his arms supportively. “It was understandable,” he admitted in return.

 

Face turned to Dr. Muller. “Have you seen her?” he asked.

 

The doctor nodded and gestured to the stuffed vinyl bench behind him, Face, seeing her expression, took a step back and sank slowly down, feeling Hannibal pressed up close next to him as Dr. Muller perched on the edge of the seat in front. “Dr. Cassidy was right to abort to procedure to realign Sophia’s aorta, after three periods of arrest like that, there was no way that she would have survived.” Face nodded, accepting now.

 

“So?” he prompted, the fear obvious in his voice.

 

“I’m afraid there is nothing more we can do other than help her to breathe and wait for her to stabilise so that we can try again.”

 

“You’re certain we’ll get that chance, then?” he pushed, eyes wide in hope.

 

But Dr. Muller just shook her head slightly. “I’m afraid that nothing is certain, we just need to take each hour as it comes.”

 

Face looked down at the floor between his feet as Hannibal’s big, warm palm slid around to hold the back of his neck. The silence was heavy and tense and eventually Face spoke without looking up. “There’s nothing else we can do?”

 

“I’m sorry, no.”

 

“And George Washington?”

 

“Any hospital in the world would tell you the same.”

 

He lifted his head. “Can I see her then?”

 

“Of course.” Both doctors seemed relieved at Face’s reaction and slowly rose to their feet.

 

“She’s being settled into Paediatric ICU as we speak,” Dr. Cassidy added. “I’ll send someone along to get you just as soon as she is set up.”

 

Face nodded and rose to shake his hand. “Thank you,” he said quietly, “for trying.”

 

The surgeon patted his shoulder firmly, “Hopefully I’ll get a chance to finish the job as well,” he replied and Face could only nod in return.

 

________________________

 

They were limited to two people at a time in the ICU with Sophia, and Hannibal insisted that Murdock and BA go home for a few hours, see if they could catch up on some sleep before Murdock returned to take his turn sitting with Face.

 

Sophia was still looked slightly blue, and her breathing was fast and shallow, despite the tubes in her nose delivering oxygen straight into her lungs. She was asleep, sedated to keep her calm, and wearing nothing but a diaper, a huge white dressing on her tiny chest evidence of the aborted operation of the early morning. Face had stuttered to a halt in the doorway as soon as his eyes had found her tiny frame swamped in the child’s ICU cot. Hannibal could see the devastation wash through his eyes as his colour disappeared and his hands start to shake. He’d taken hold of him, one firm hand on each shoulder, and guided him into the room, right up to the side of the cot and held him close, whispering, “It’s still her, she’s still in there,” in his ear as he squeezed.

 

Face had managed to pull himself back together a little at those words and had sunk into the chair at her bedside, leaning over to press a kiss on a peachy little cheek. He’d wanted to stay next to the side of the cot and hold her tiny fist, stroke her skin, but he was constantly being moved on, apologetically asked to stand at the side as tubes were adjusted, monitors checked, the contents of her fluids modified and none of the constant attention she was getting gave Hannibal a good feeling.

 

The times that they were alone without a nurse at the bedside with them became fewer and further between and Hannibal could see that Face was getting more and more anxious as the hours ticked on, could see that the kid was spending more time watching the faces of the nurses than he was watching Sophia.

 

Eventually, one of the nurses turned to him as she injected another drug into the IV port running into Sophia’s chest. “Sophia is running a slight temperature now,” she explained carefully. “So we’re giving her some antibiotics. The doctors think she has developed endocarditus, which is an infection of the lining of her heart.”

 

Face nodded wanly, all his rage gone, all his fight and spirit and determination washed right out of him at the sight of his daughter looking so frail in front of him. Hannibal recognised this version of Face before him, and it broke his heart to see it again.

 

This version of Face was the one who surfaced in moments of utter desolation and despondency; the time they’d thought they were going to be executed in Belize, when Jefferson, their new baby Ranger, had taken a bullet in the head on his first trip out, the morning after Sosa had left him... all times he had appeared before and Hannibal knew that it meant that Face was in despair. Hopeless anguish had descended on him and he was expecting nothing less than the very worst to happen to him now. Yet again the giant albatross of life was swooping in to crap on him from up high and Hannibal felt like screaming at the injustice of it all, he felt like grabbing Sophia and Face and running with them both to a place which was fairer, which wouldn’t do this to them when they had only just found each other.  

   

He walked over to where Face was slumped in the chair and pulled him in, buried the kid’s face into his stomach and just held him, right up until the door opened and Dr. Muller walked in.

 

Hannibal pulled back as Dr. Muller’s impassive eyes slid over them, but his stomach flipped as he felt Face’s hands holding onto him, trailing reluctantly over his hips as he moved away before he turned his eyes to the doctor and slowly rose from his seat.

 

“Lieutenant,” she nodded, smiling flatly as she approached the cot, “I hear she is running a bit of a temperature still?”

 

“Mmmm,” Face agreed morosely, “endocarditus the nurse said?”

 

“Yes,” the doctor agreed, listening to Sophia’s chest with her stethoscope, her expression darkening more with every second. “And pneumonia as well,” she added quietly, “I think we may need to change her anti-biotics.”

 

Face let his head fall into his hands as he slumped over the guard rail at the side of the cot. “Is that why she’s breathing faster?” he asked.

 

“Yes,” the doctor confirmed. “I think we should increase the oxygen flow as well.”

 

Face lifted his head up and Hannibal saw the pain in his eyes, the agony of inevitability. “She’s not getting stronger is she?” he said, and it was much more of a statement than a question; Hannibal held his breath.

 

Dr. Muller looked up from the screen on one of the machines that were monitoring Sophia’s progress and held Face’s eyes steadily for a slow count of ten. “No,” she admitted finally, “she’s not. Maybe by tomorrow morning, if the anti-biotics start to help.”

 

Face nodded. “I want to hold her,” he stated.

 

Again Dr. Muller was quiet as she considered him. “We can move you to another room, if you prefer,” she offered eventually. “It might be a little more comfortable for you both.”

 

Eyes full of moisture, Face nodded again. “Please,” he whispered, “we’d like that. And can I have her baptised?”

 

Dr, Muller nodded and Hannibal felt the pain from his heart as it broke clean in two.

 

___________________

 

It was only half an hour later that they were settled into another room, in a corridor of its own, well away from the rest of the paediatric wards.  

 

A couple of nurses had accompanied them and were currently helping Face to get settled on the double bed, shirt off, Sophia in his arms, her various tubes and lines arranged carefully over the side of the bed. The room was big, with a huge picture window all along one side, there was a TV, ice box, sitting area, en-suite, small kitchenette and of course the bed, in fact it looked nothing like a hospital room at all, and was much better than a lot of hotels that Hannibal had stayed in over the years. Face had stopped in the door way as the nurses had manoeuvred Sophia’s cot in through the door and whispered to Hannibal, “This is the room where they bring the kids to die,” and Hannibal had had to grab the wall to stop himself from keeling over right there and then.

 

Within minutes they were left alone, with a call button and instructions to buzz absolutely whenever they needed to. Hannibal stood at the end of the bed and watched as Face held Sophia, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead, tracing the line of her lips and nose with the very tip of his finger, he had no idea what to say, what to do, how the hell he was supposed to get through this himself never mind get Face through it, and what Sophia’s intentions were in all of this of course.

 

However, it seemed that Face had no such uncertainty. Without looking up at Hannibal he spoke quietly, fingers still stroking the flushed, bluish skin. “You can’t let Murdock come back here, boss,” he whispered, “you have to call BA, make him keep him at the penthouse.” Hannibal stood in silence, his throat far too tight to speak. “And you need to go back as well,” Face continued in a flat unemotional monotone, “No point both of us being here all night.”

 

“Kid,” Hannibal stepped up to the head of the bed, his fingers trailing across Face’s bicep and down Sophia’s skinny little arm. “You know that’s not happening, don’t you? I’m not leaving you on your own.”

 

Face’s head bowed at those words and Hannibal knew that he was nowhere near as calm as he was trying to let on, knew that he was relieved beyond all measure that he wasn’t going to have to get through this night on his own. “But you must call Bosco, right?” he whispered tightly. “Murdock can’t be here.”

 

Bending down to kiss first Sophia’s head and then Face’s, Hannibal murmured, “I’ll be five minutes,” and then slipped out to make the call.

 

______________________

 

In the end he was a little nearer ten, having called the apartment and thankfully spoken to BA, then called Monica and updated her on the deterioration in Sophia’s condition. Monica was almost as distressed as BA had been when she heard the news, and Hannibal had a tough job on holding onto his own emotions as he heard her stifled sobs coming down the phone line. She promised to pass the message onto Sosa’s attorney, but warned Hannibal not to expect anything as the previous messages had already gone unheeded. He’d already realised that of course, the absence of Sophia’s mother at the hospital had been noted constantly all day, but Hannibal found himself nothing less than relieved that she had decided to stay away; after Sosa’s little performance at the law courts the other day, the very, very last thing that Face needed right now was Round Two.

 

He let himself quietly back into the room and Face glanced up at his entry, his expression for a brief moment unguarded so that Hannibal could see the pain and fear etched into his bones, but then his mask was back up, and he let out a tired and wan smile as Hannibal walked around to the far side of the bed and slid onto the covers next to him, his back resting on the bed head next to Face’s shoulders. “How is she?” he asked quietly.

 

“No change,” Face replied and went back to tracing her still features with his finger tip, and Hannibal went back to watching him.

 

_____________________

 

Almost half an hour passed in silence before a deep breath signalled the arrival of a question. “Do you think it would have worked out, boss? Me and Sophia and the army and all that?”

 

Hannibal turned to look at his profile and wondered what this was, if this was Face giving up now, or just being realistic, or looking on the dark side while still really, really hoping for a positive outcome. “Of course,” he answered, lacking the fortitude to ask. “I told you before, I think you will be an incredible father, and there’s nothing you can’t do if you set your heart on it.”

 

Face lapsed back into silence for  a few minutes before starting again. “You don’t think she would have been happier with the Jenkins family then?”  

 

Sighing at the impossibility of that question, Hannibal ran a hand over his face and watched Face’s fingers on Sophia’s lips. “I am sure she would have been very happy if she had gone to live with them,” he admitted slowly, knowing that he couldn’t just sit here and lie to Face. “But she will be very happy with you as well, kid, and at the end of it all, when she’s all grown up – well, wouldn’t you have preferred to stay with your folks as a kid?”

 

“Yeah, I suppose,” Face admitted. “But hell, boss,” Face let out a dry laugh, “my childhood was so shitty, that’s really not saying much at all!”

 

“If Sophia could choose, she would choose you,” Hannibal told him firmly, reaching out to squeeze the leg under his jeans, and Face turned, his eyes bright and grateful for a moment before the cloud of gloom descended once more and his eyes fell on Sophia’s panting chest.

 

“You think she’d have liked her name?” he asked, almost ten minutes later. “I mean it was a fairly spur of the moment decision, most parents spend nine months coming up with just the right name and I didn’t even spend nine minutes...”

 

“No, but it came straight from your heart,” Hannibal reassured immediately, “that’s got to count for more.” Face kept his head bowed at those words. “And would she like it?” Hannibal let out his own dry laugh, “Well I’m sure that she’d have gone through a phase in her teens when she hated it and wished you’d called her Pinot Grigio or Sardinia or something,” Face let out a little spurt of laughter, “but in the end, hell, it’s such a pretty name, Face, how could she have failed to love it?”

 

They lapsed back into quiet and Hannibal found himself wondering when they’d started talking about her as if she was no longer with them and watched with Face as her tiny chest fought for each and every breath.

 

“The Priest will be here soon...” Face whispered into the heavy silence, his eyes shooting up to meet Hannibal’s, “To do the Baptism...”

 

For a second, Hannibal was lost for words. “Great,” he said eventually, feeling out of his depth already in any conversation about religion.

 

“Yeah,” Face said, looking away again, seeming awkward and embarrassed and Hannibal wondered what was going on. “I kind of wanted you to be her Godfather you know...” he murmured and Hannibal’s heart leapt in awestruck joy at those words. “But...” Face stuttered to a halt and Hannibal flushed as he realised that this was not the request he’d first thought it was.

 

“It’s okay, kid,” he rushed in to soothe. “You choose who you want, you don’t have to feel bad if there’s someone you really want. You need me to call someone for you?”

 

“No,” Face said, looking up again in annoyance, “Hannibal how could you even think that I’d want anyone other than you to be her Godfather?”

 

Hannibal frowned in confusion, going back to Face’s words and wondering where this misunderstanding was coming from.

 

“But you’re not Catholic are you?” Face continued miserably, “and I am , and she is, and so...” he looked so, so sad that Hannibal couldn’t help but reach out and grip the leg nearest him again. “So, you can’t be. Not her Godfather, only a Christian Witness.” He looked up again, his eyes wide and beseeching. “But would you do that boss? For us? Be a witness? I’d really cherish it if you would, and it would be like being a Godfather, to me and Sophia. So, it’s almost the same, really...”

 

He trailed off again, flushed with embarrassment and Hannibal reached out to cup his cheek, “Face, I would be honoured to be Sophia’s witness.” Face stared with wet eyes, struggling to hold onto his emotions. “Honoured and privileged to be linked to you both like that.” He shook his head, his own incredulity filling his expression with wonder. “Kid – no one has ever asked me anything so incredible, so important, before – ever.” He smiled in wonder, “You’ve made an old man very, very happy.”

 

“Less of the old,” Face replied, blinking frantically to clear his vision, “and you might not be quiet so thrilled when you find out how long Catholic baptisms take...”

 

__________________________

 

In the end the baptism didn’t take anywhere near as long as Hannibal had dreaded. He’d found it a strangely soothing time, with the priest’s gentle tones, and the calmness that had seemed to seep into Face’s eyes as his mouth moved soundlessly with every word the Father used. Face was obviously very, very familiar with this sacrament, and Hannibal was surprised – in all the years he’d known the kid, he’d never known him go to church, not once. Obviously he knew about his upbringing and supposed that was all there was to it, that all those years of teaching from the priests and nuns had etched memories into his heart that were there for life.

 

Sophia had slept through the entire service and Face had held her the whole while, in fact, he hadn’t let her go once since the nurses had first handed her over, all those hours ago.

 

It was well after midnight by the time that the priest had gone, promising to return at a moment’s notice if Face wanted him to and the three of them were left alone once again. Hannibal moved to the kitchenette and started to make coffee, finding a stash of individually wrapped biscuits in the cupboard as well, and together they sat on the bed, as he all but forced some sugared coffee and chocolate chip cookies down Face’s throat as he stubbornly cradled his daughter in one arm.

 

“You want me to have a turn in holding her?” Hannibal asked quietly, once all the coffee and crumbs had been cleared away.

 

“No, I’m good thanks,” Face replied, back to staring into Sophia’s face as she slept.

 

“You think her breathing is easier?” he asked after another ten minutes of silence and Hannibal leaned forward, watching her critically, determined to tell Face nothing but the absolute truth of the matter.

 

“Yeah,” he said eventually, noting the hint of a smile washing over Face’s lips at his words. “I do. You think the anti-biotics are working?”

 

“Fuck, I hope so,” Face replied and glanced at the clock, “0300. Dr. Muller said if she was stronger in the morning they would try the op again didn’t she?”

 

Hannibal didn’t remember that, not those words or even that exact sentiment, but one look into Face’s desperate expression and he found himself losing the nerve to tell him otherwise. “You want me to go get a nurse?” he said instead, wondering if perhaps Face would get the chance to ask his questions to someone better qualified to tell him the truth.

 

“Yeah,” Face replied, edging himself a little higher against the bed head. “They haven’t seen her for a while; maybe they’ll see a good improvement.”

 

Feeling that sick, swooping feeling of dread in his stomach at Face’s words, Hannibal just nodded and headed for the door.

 

He didn’t quite make it though, before Face’s voice called him back, that same edge of fear in at from yesterday morning in the apartment and he turned on the spot to see Face holding Sophia still, but sitting bolt upright in bed, his face a mask of fear and confusion as the tiny body in his arms jerked and twitched.

 

“Hang on,” Hannibal told him, grabbing the call button and pressing it hard before opening the door and sprinting along the corridor to the nurse’s station.

 

People were already coming and Hannibal ran back with them, his brief explanation of, “She’s fitting,” totally unnecessary in light of the evidence that greeted them in Face’s arms.

 

They took her off him, laid her in the cot and started working on her, checking her over, fiddling with the lines until the twitching gradually stopped and Sophia lay still once more, her skin flushed blue, and her limbs limp and floppy, almost hidden by all the white coats around her. Face had scrambled up off the bed as soon as they had taken Sophia off him and was now standing at the side of the bed. Hannibal was stood behind him, both of them watching in mute horror, holding his biceps in two large palms, letting his XO lean up against him to keep him standing, more than aware of the trembling he could feel in the hard muscles of his body, and when the doors to their room burst open and the defibrillator was rushed in, it was only Hannibal’s hold that kept Face on his feet at all.   

 

More and more people seemed to be crowding into the room with every passing second and Hannibal slowly started pulling Face away, taking him backwards, giving the professionals more room to move but trying to save him from the sight of seeing Sophia like that, going steadily bluer with every second, her whole body limp and lifeless. And then there was a nurse in front of them, taking Face’s hand, trying to steer them out of the door, her eyes wide and sympathetic. “Why don’t you come this way with me?” she asked gently, trying to position herself in Face’s line of vision, “I’ll make you a coffee.”

 

Hannibal stayed silent, knowing that this was Face’s call, his eyes were burning and his throat so tight he could barely breathe, but none of that mattered, all that mattered was doing this in exactly the right way for Face. He felt the boy in his arms shift and knew that Face had finally focussed on the nurse speaking to him and he sensed him pull himself up a little, look her in the eye and hold onto a bit more of his own weight. “Can I stay?” he asked quietly and Hannibal was so proud of him. “Just here, out of the way. I don’t want her to think I’ve left her.”

 

For one awful second, Hannibal thought that the nurse was going to tell him that it was pointless that Sophia wouldn’t know if he was there or not, and he knew that would destroy Face to hear that, he knew that all he wanted was to make sure that his child never felt the pain of abandonment that had stalked Face throughout his entire life.

 

But the nurse only frowned, her whole face pinched in vicarious pain. “Are you sure?” she asked gently. “I really think you would be better somewhere quieter.”

 

Face smiled sadly at her. “Ma’am, I’m a soldier,” he replied. “I’ve seen my fair share of death already; I’ll stay if I can.”

 

Hannibal felt his heart crack at those fatalistic words and wanted to shake Face, tell him not to give up, that Sophia was still here, she was still fighting, the staff were still fighting – but really, how fair was it to fill his heart with hope like that?

 

In the end, the nurse just glanced over her shoulder at the working doctors and nodded tightly at him, “If you are sure that’s what you want,” she whispered, and at Face’s assent she dashed back across the room to help out.

 

It was impossible to say how long they were all there for, Hannibal leaning against the wall, Face tucked tight against his chest, the both of them watching the frantic efforts of the professionals gathered around Sophia’s cot as they tried over and over again to get her damaged heart beating again. But eventually came the moment that Hannibal had known was coming, ever since Face’s terrified shout back in the apartment almost twenty four hours ago. The duty doctor stopped in what he was doing, and for a split second Hannibal saw his shoulders drop and felt Face sag against him in response, and then he turned to them.

 

Hannibal tightened his hold on his boy, holding him close, holding him up, determined to hold him together for the rest of his life as the doctor said, “I’m so sorry.”

 

Face didn’t move, didn’t speak, he just stood, his back jammed tight against Hannibal, the feel of a frantic, broken heart thumping hard on the colonel’s sternum, and stared at the doctor. It was an awful moment, one where Hannibal knew that he needed to step up here and make things as right as they could be, but he was at a loss, for the first time in his life there was no plan, no solution, not even a way he could see through the mire they were in, so he just held Face close to him and stared at the cot where Sophia lay still and quiet.

 

“Right,” Face said eventually in a voice so small and broken that Hannibal didn’t even recognise it. “Can I hold her?”

 

Face’s words shocked him back to life and the doctor nodded. “Of course, of course. You’ll want some time with her; take all the time you want.” People were already filing out of the room; wheeling away the equipment that they’d hoped would give Sophia enough time to fight off her infections and leaving them to their stunned silence. “I’ll come back and see you in a bit, okay?”

 

Face just nodded, Hannibal held him still and the doctor shuffled awkwardly from the room. Soon it was just the three of them and one of the nurses who had helped them settle into the room earlier on and somehow Sophia had been dressed in a white baby-grow, not one of the millions that Murdock and Hannibal had bought her, just a plain white one that the hospital obviously kept in stock.

 

The nurse brought her over, without all her tubes and wires and monitors now, and just looking like she was sleeping and Face stepped up, out of Hannibal’s arms, leaving the older man feeling cold and alone, and took her from the nurse, laying her straight on the bed to open the poppers down her front. “She likes skin on skin,” he explained quietly as he stripped her tenderly and expertly, “it always settles her down.”

 

“Of course,” the nurse replied quietly, her eyes suspiciously bright. “Call me if you want me,” she said, and with a gentle touch to Sophia’s head, she turned and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

 

Face lifted Sophia up against his shoulder and walked slowly to the couch, lowering himself down and closing his eyes as he pressed his face into the crook of her neck; Hannibal was frozen against the wall still, his legs refusing to move, his mouth refusing to work, his mind refusing to think, but his eyes working just fine as he stared in hopeless dismay at Face sitting immobile and holding onto his dead child.

 

Eventually, he managed to kick himself into movement and walked on leaden, dead legs across the room, sitting heavily on the coach next to his XO, immediately sliding his arms around the cold bare shoulders and pressing a heartfelt and very much meant kiss into his hair.

 

“I’m sorry, Face,” he whispered, “shit, kid, I’m so very, very sorry.”

 

“I know,” Face’s voice was steady, but laden with a pain so, so deep that Hannibal felt himself sway. “Me too, boss, me too.”

 

They sat in silence, Face holding Sophia, Hannibal holding Face as the grey light of dawn slowly crept into the room and Hannibal was reminded, so painfully, of the morning, only ten short days ago, that she first came into their lives.

 

_________________________

 

Slowly the hospital came to life around them. The doctor returned, but Face was in no mood to talk, nurses dropped in to see if they needed anything, but left when Face didn’t acknowledge them. He hadn’t spoken since those first sentences to Hannibal, hadn’t moved at all, hadn’t shed a single tear, he’d just sat and held his baby and kept his eyes closed and concentrated on breathing and Hannibal had never felt so, so out of his depth before.

 

“We need to call BA, let him know what’s happened,” Hannibal said quietly as the clock on the microwave clicked onto 0800. Face didn’t answer or even move and Hannibal felt his own desperation step up a notch. It was true though, BA would be awake now, wondering, as would Murdock and Monica as well, they needed telling. The worst thing that could possibly happen would be Murdock getting too antsy and anxious and turning up here on his own, just barrelling in and finding Sophia here like this, seeing Face like this... He needed to call them.

 

Just as Hannibal had decided that he had to go and make the call, couldn’t wait any longer at all, that he’d need to ask someone else to sit with Face so that he wasn’t alone, the door suddenly flew open and Hannibal looked up in shocked dread, thinking he’d maybe left it too late.

 

But it wasn’t Murdock at the door, or BA or even Monica standing there, eyes fixed on Face’s empty, devastated, blue ones, but Sosa, and Hannibal was on his feet in a second. She had no eyes for him, though, only for Face and Sophia, and Face slowly stood up, still holding Sophia against his bare chest, as Sosa’s attorney appeared in the doorway behind her.

 

They stood and looked at each other, Hannibal poised to grab her and literally throw her out of the room if she started a rerun of the debacle in the court house again. She took a step in, and Hannibal noticed that she was shaking, her eyes red rimmed and bloodshot and her bottom lip was quivering.

 

“No,” she said, her eyes overflowing with tears. “No, Face, tell me no, please tell me no...”

 

Face adjusted his hold on Sophia so that he had one hand free and reached out, his arm shaking as it stretched across the gap towards her. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and Hannibal felt his fists clench in anger that Face, the one who was the most devastated by all of this, would feel the need to apologise to her, the woman who would have made sure Sophia had never been born if she could have managed it. “Charissa, I’m sorry...”

 

And then Sosa moved, with a strangled sob she almost threw herself at Face, one arm going around his bare back as he pulled her close to him, one arm going up and around Sophia, holding her and then looping up and around Face’s neck. Her sobs were loud and shaky and Face’s arm held her firm around her shoulders as he pressed his face into her hair and she cried hard into his chest. With a heart of lead, Hannibal silently walked out of the room to give them their privacy and make the phone calls he could put off no longer.   

 

____________________

 

It was late in the afternoon when Hannibal and Face got back to the apartment from the hospital. Face was still strangely silent and subdued, and still hadn’t shed a single tear; not when Sosa was there sobbing all over him for hours, not when the funeral people came and showed him pictures of tiny white coffins, or even when they had eventually had to go and leave Sophia behind them.

 

Hannibal leaned in over him and unlocked the door and they stepped inside the silent apartment. Hannibal noticed as Face’s eyes slid straight over to the corner where the baby carrier usually stood, and was now very conspicuous by its absence. They stood in silence and Hannibal watched as Face’s eyes slowly tracked to the empty space on the counter where the steriliser had been, then to the corner by the table where the car seat used to stand, and finally to the footstool which had doubled as a changing table with its yellow striped changing mat, now nowhere to be seen.

 

Before he had chance to speak, however, there was movement from the shadows of the living area and a very hesitant Murdock and BA stepped forward. Hannibal saw Face tense, and draw himself up straight as Murdock, eyes red and puffy, just walked right up to him and hauled him close.

 

The four of them stood in an awkward silence as Murdock and Face hugged hard and Hannibal tried not to listen to Murdock’s pained sniffles into Face’s shoulder, but then Face pulled away.

 

“Face, buddy, I’m so sorry,” Murdock whispered and Face forced out a flat smile.

 

“I know,” he said, “it’s fine, it’s okay HM, don’t worry about it.” Murdock couldn’t have looked more shocked if Face had slapped him and Hannibal and BA shared a dark look as Face gently disentangled himself from Murdock’s grip. “I’m beat, buddy,” he said casually, “I’m gonna go turn in.”

 

Murdock just stood and stared as Face offered him an apologetic smile, patted BA on the arm and then turned for his bedroom, closing the door firmly behind him as he went.

 

“What the hell, man?” BA whispered, pulling Murdock into his side in a one armed hug.

 

“I know,” Hannibal said, already turning, “don’t worry guys, I’m on it, okay? Leave him to me,” and before anyone could say anything else, he’d gone, following Face into his room and letting himself in without even knocking.

 

Face had already stripped his jeans off and was unbuttoning his shirt, standing in the gap next to the bed where Sophia’s cot had been. “Hannibal,” he said quietly, hardly looking up at the boss. “I really am dead on my feet here you know, I just want to get some sleep.”

 

“I know, kid,” Hannibal soothed. “I’m not gonna get in your way, I’m just gonna stay here and wait until you drop off, okay, see if you need anything.”   

 

Face sighed and sat on the bed in his trunks to pull his socks off. “Really, you don’t need to, I’m fine, honest I am.” He threw the socks across the room and climbed slowly to his feet. “I just need to get some sleep, and then tomorrow I need to make all the final arrangements for the service and pick up the death certificate as well, ‘cause we’ll need that.” He stopped to rub at his face before taking hold of the edge of the duvet and Hannibal felt a pain in his chest even worse than the one that had been there since Sophia fell ill. “I suppose I should ask Charissa about the service as well, hey? But she’s pretty much an atheist so I dunno what she’d want and anyway, the undertaker said-”

 

And he stopped, dead, right in the middle of his sentence and Hannibal looked up to find him with the duvet pulled back in front of him and his hand reaching out for the little pink muslin square crumpled up in the sheets of his bed. Hannibal took a step forward, watching with drawn breath as Face hesitantly touched it, letting his fingers curl into its folds and pick it up, moving it slowly, so slowly and carefully up towards his face. Then he closed his eyes and like an addict going back for one more hit, pressed it to his nose and inhaled deep and hard.

 

The effect was instant. It was as if his legs had been scythed out from under him, he collapsed in a heap on the bed, the muslin held tight in both his hands, his knees drawn up so he was curled into the foetal position and sobs, noisy, raw, heart wrenching sobs spilling from his very soul as he curled in on himself and cried and shook and held onto that muslin as if it were the only thing in the world that reminded him that Sophia had ever been his.

 

Hannibal was moving in a fraction of a second, kicking his shoes off and crawling onto the bed next to Face, grabbing him, holding him, folding him into his chest and crying with him, his own tears spilling noisily out as he sobbed for a tiny lost life and a broken hearted love.

 

To his relief, Face instantly turned into his chest and, with the muslin still pressed into his cheek, clung to Hannibal, his hands actually hurting with the strength of their grip. “Why, boss?” he sobbed, his whole frame shaking hard. “Why did God take her from me like that? What did I do? What did she do? We only wanted to love each other!”

 

Hannibal couldn’t reply, what was the answer to that? It was questions like that that had driven him from church in the first place.

 

“She was just a little baby,” Face continued, Hannibal’s shirt already soaked in his tears, “and she never had a chance. Never had a fucking chance to live her life, do all the things she should have done. Why? Why, boss? Why me? Why her?”

 

“I don’t know kid,” Hannibal whispered, kissing his head, stroking his back, holding him as tight as he possibly could. “Sometimes there just isn’t a reason for things like this.”

 

“I loved her,” Face sobbed. “I really, really loved her, and I think that maybe one day she could have loved me too.”

 

“Oh, Face,” Hannibal held his head tighter; “she already loved you so much! So, so much! You were everything to her. I mean she liked us, tolerated us if we would feed her and everything, but you... You were the only one she ever wanted to be with, surely you saw that kid? She was already head over heels in love with you, she honestly was, and who the hell wouldn’t be?”

 

Face just sobbed harder at those words and Hannibal held him and knew that this storm would be a long time riding out. “I never even knew I wanted her, and then when she came, she was suddenly all I ever wanted,” he whispered, voice jerking with his tears, “someone I could love like that, someone who would love me back...” He clung harder, “But I knew I would never get that, not really, I mean Sosa would never have given her to me if she’d had any choice in the matter at all...” Hannibal felt that old familiar murderous rage start up in his chest at the mention of her name again. “And so I got her and she was such a wonderful, wonderful gift, and everything was so damn perfect, and now... this... and fuck Hannibal... I’m never gonna get that again, that love, that connection, that being the most important person in someone’s life...”

 

“Oh, Face, no,” Hannibal quietened him. “Don’t say that, that’s not true. You won’t ever get Sophia back again, but you’re still loved, you’re still important, don’t ever think you’re not!”

 

But still Face sobbed. “It’s not the same,” he said, his mouth twisted in a mocking smile. “You don’t know what it’s like, boss, to be me, to be alone all the time, always so fucking alone...”

 

He buried his head in Hannibal’s chest and the tears came afresh and Hannibal was shocked and appalled. He’d known Face for so many years and they’d been through so many ups and down together, but he’d never seen or heard him like this, never seen him so down, so honest about his feelings, so dejected and depressed. “No, kid,” he whispered, “you’re never alone, I told you that, as long as you have me you will never, ever be alone.”

 

Face looked up at those words, but instead of the calm acceptance Hannibal had hoped to see in his eyes, the cold, cynical sneer was back. “You can’t know,” he repeated. “I’m always alone, destined to be forever alone because what I really want, really need, is so far out of reach it’s fucking laughable.”

 

There was a minute’s pause as Hannibal’s heart hammered in his chest and Face’s words reverberated around his head and then he made a decision. He reached out and slid his palm around Face’s wet, hot cheeks, caressing him, tipping his head so he was looking right into Hannibal’s eyes and he leaned in so that their noses were almost touching. “I do know,” he whispered, looking right into Face’s eyes. “And it’s not out of reach because it’s right here, with me and you, and together we can find that and have that, and you will never be alone because of the way I love you.”

 

Face stared, his eyes wide and the tiniest, tiniest glimmer of hope shone out through all the misery there. “You can’t love me like that...” he whispered.

 

Holding his eyes, Hannibal dipped his head and pressed the lightest, most chaste kiss onto Face’s lips, barely making contact before pulling away again and looking back into his eyes. “I do love you like that,” he whispered, “and I swear to you that I will get you through this. My love for you will get you through this time. You understand me?” Face just stared. “And then, later, if you want to... Well maybe we can see what else we can make from this, yes?”

 

Tears still slid from Face’s eyes and he looked hard at Hannibal, that glimmer of hope floating determinedly in all his heartbreak. “Really?” he whispered, barely daring to hope. “Afterwards?”

 

“Yes, sweetheart,” Hannibal told him, kissing the tip of his nose and holding him close, “afterwards.”