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Fairy Dust

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Face sat on the wooden porch as the early evening sun retreated stealthily across the yard and watched as Sophia, immersed in her own imaginary world, played in the sandbox. He was tired, his eyes felt like they were full of sand themselves, he'd had hardly any sleep the night before, and he knew that the way Jack was sleeping, or rather not sleeping, at the minute, he'd probably be getting about the same amount tonight. But then Sophia turned to him and smiled, the sun lighting up her dark hair, running strands of shining copper through it, and suddenly nothing else mattered.

She was three years, three months and twelve days old today, a count that Face held privately and secretly in his own head, ever since Charissa had just looked blankly at him when he had announced that it was the morning of her five hundredth day anniversary. But it was a big deal to him, a huge deal; after all, Charissa had not been there the morning that Face had awoken to think she was dead in the cot beside him. She'd not been there when the surgeon had told him that they'd had to bring her back from the dead three times, she'd not been there that long, god awful night when he'd held her and waited to see if she would live to see the morning and another chance at the operation she so desperately needed.

No, Charissa had arrived in the early morning, when the anti-biotics had already started working and Sophia had started coming around. She'd turned up just after the surgeon, who had promised that they would try again late morning as long as she continued making the progress that she was. Charissa had been scared, freaked out, worried that the baby she'd never even wanted was going to die in front of her eyes, but she had never been terrified like Face had. Thinking of those hours now, he still felt physically sick, he still felt the horror seize his heart and grip it tight. He knew how so very close he had come to losing her, and he knew how close he'd been to losing himself.

What had saved him that dark night and bleak morning? What had stopped him from pitching into an abyss he would never be able to crawl out of again? Well, it wasn't as much as 'what' as a 'who'...

Without Hannibal by his side that night Face was under no illusions whatsoever about the predicament he would have been in. That night, like so many others in his life, Hannibal Smith had been the one thing that had anchored him to reality and hauled him through to the other side. Which made it all the more strange, all the more tragic, when he considered what had happened between them after that point.

He'd felt, that night and the days leading up to it, that he and Hannibal were edging towards something, maybe a clearer definition of the gnarled and complex relationship they already had. But then Charissa turned up, and the whole thing went to shit. It didn't happen over night of course, but it was obvious from the second she walked into the room they were in at the hospital, that Hannibal was starting to pull away. He left almost as soon as she walked in and Face didn't see him again for hours. When he did come back he was withdrawn, stand-offish even and his coldness hurt Face right down to his core.

The pattern continued, Face took a year's leave of absence and stayed with Sophia and Charissa at her house in DC. Hannibal had just looked at him, long and hard when he'd announced that decision and said that they would be heading back to base then, that they had missions to run and couldn't stay off with him indefinitely. He knew that, had expected that, but what he hadn't anticipated was how coldly Hannibal would say it. But the boss came back, four weeks later, on his own, to visit Face in between missions, see Sophia, check up on how things were going. They went out for beer together, leaving Sosa alone with her daughter for the very first time, and that's when Face had dropped his bombshell; he'd asked Charissa to marry him, again, but this time, she'd said yes.

What he'd thought was happy news, the happiest news he'd ever had in his life, was met by a stone cold silence and a furious stare and a pain in Face's chest similar to the one he'd had the days that Sophia had struggled to hold onto life.

Hannibal glared at him, told him in no uncertain terms that he was making a mistake. Told him that Charissa didn’t love him, never had, never would, and was only interested in grinding him into the dirt. Told him that marrying her was akin to signing over both Sophia and a lifetime of wages straight over to Sosa. Told him that he wasn't prepared to stand around and watch him as he threw his life down the toilet on her account.

Face had been furious in return, he’d accused Hannibal of being jealous of him for getting married, said he’d only ever been interested in running Face’s life for him and of course they had ended up having the mother of all rows and Hannibal had stormed out of the bar. They hadn't spoken since, not one word, text or email. Six months later, when Sosa had collapsed, crying and sobbing and ranting and saying how much she hated her new part time working rota, Face had agreed to quit the army completely, agreed that he would stay at home and look after Sophia full-time while she went out and did what she'd always done, what she'd always wanted to do.

Hannibal didn't come to his wedding and neither did BA. The big guy had written Face a letter saying that he couldn't stand around and watch while Face ruined his life over that 'harpy'. Murdock had come, he'd stood as Face's best man, but Face had known that he hadn't approved either, hadn't wanted to be there any more than Charissa had wanted him there, Face hadn't talked to him since.

He sighed, and rubbed at his three day growth of beard and wondered how they all could have been so right, and Face himself so wrong. But then of course he realised that it was no fluke, no great feat of clairvoyance on the part of his ex-team. No, they were only seeing what he himself knew damn well was the truth. That's why he'd been so pissed with Hannibal – who the fuck wanted the cold hard facts of truth pointing out to them, when all they were really looking for was a bit of fantasy and escape? What had Hannibal been thinking of telling Face the way things were always going to end up when Face had just wanted to crawl into a hole of self-deceit and hide for a while?

And it seemed that Charissa could stomach him only slightly better than she could stomach Murdock; that maybe she was regretting their hasty union even more than he was. They argued a lot, she didn't like Sophia being so ill all the time, couldn't cope with the medication and the lines and the drips and the worry of it all. So Face made sure she didn't have to, made himself an expert in everything Sophia would need so that Charissa didn't have to get involved – he was disappointed to see that it clearly didn't help much. Even though Face was the one who sorted out all the medical issues and appointments, even though he was the one who slept on cot beds in hospitals, even though he himself had no life at all that didn't involve Sophia, no friends, no job, no hobby, no anything, she still wasn't happy with her lot in life.

Two years in and he was floundering, his little family, the one thing he'd wanted more than anything else in his whole life was crumbling around him, and he was desperate to do something, anything, that would save it. He wasn't the first person to make the mistake of thinking that maybe having another baby would save a relationship, and he certainly won’t be the last, but he possibly did have to pay a higher price for his suggestion than most people do.

He first mentioned maybe having another baby together one night as they were preparing for bed, and he literally didn't know what hit him once he had. In the end it turned out to be the hairdryer that Charissa had been about to use when he'd spoken, but he didn't see as he'd turned away, intent on walking out and sleeping in the den as soon as it became clear how upset, how angry his suggestion had made her.

Unfortunately, turning his back and walking out on her as she screeched at him only seemed to fuel her rage, and she followed him, shouting and yelling and when he still didn't stop, swung the hairdryer at the back of his head. Sitting on the porch steps in the afternoon sun, Face reached up and unconsciously touched the scar he knew was there, but at the time he knew very little about it. One minute he was at the top of the stairs wishing she would stop yelling before Sophia woke up, the next he felt a blinding pain in the back of his skull and he was pitching headfirst down the wooden stairs.

The last thing he remembered hearing was Sophia, screaming for him from her bedroom door as he fell, the first thing he saw when he awoke in a hospital bed was Sosa, tear stained and repentant, holding his hand and telling him how sorry she was, how much she loved him.

He discharged himself from hospital the same day, desperate to get back to the little girl he had spent every single day with for the last two years, and told the police officer who came to talk to him that he'd slipped and fallen. As soon as they had got Sophia settled into bed that night, as soon as she had relinquished the vice like grip she had on her daddy, they had gone to bed and Charissa had sucked him to hardness then ridden him like they hadn't done in years.

Nine months later, Jack was born, and funnily enough that happy event only seemed to make life even worse.

Almost as if Jack heard himself in Face's thoughts, he stirred in his buggy in the shade and Face raised a hand to rock the handle, settling him down for now, and sending him back to sleep.

“Is he awake?” Sophia asked popping up at his elbow, her face serious and concerned.

“No, not yet,” Face told her, smiling at her through the tiredness and worry in his eyes. “I reckon he'll sleep a little while longer.”

“Good!” Sophia announced as she turned and stomped back towards the sand box, “He cries far too loudly!”

Face smiled as he watched her go and shook his head, wondering exactly how much of her mother was going to be in her.

So Jack's birth made no difference to Sosa's level of happiness at all, unless of course it actually made her more unsettled. She started working more and more, going away for three weeks, four, six. Sometimes Face went weeks without speaking to her, without even speaking to another adult. But he was happy with his kids, happy watching Jack grow without all the stress he'd had with Sophia, happy in his own way - until the day that the day care centre called.

He'd decided to put both of the kids in private day care for one day a week. He'd noticed Sophia especially was very, very clingy with him and had never had the opportunity to mix with other children. School was just over the horizon for them now, and as much as Face would really like to freeze time and keep her here with him forever, he knew they'd have to do this next step together and day care was the logical stepping stone.

It was a Wednesday in May, Charissa was off and he told her he'd made an appointment with a couple of local schools and asked if she wanted to come with him, check them out, help decide which one they'd choose for Sophia. But he'd seen the way her face fell at his suggestion and quickly changed his mind. He knew this type of thing wasn't really her scene and so said he'd go alone; there were no arguments from her.

He came out of the first school and retrieved his phone from the glove box of the car, frowning at the list of missed calls from the day care centre. On calling back, he found out that both Jack and Sophia had been sick, probably nothing to worry about, children were sick all the time, but with Sophia's ongoing medical issues, the staff there were always more than cautious with her and always phoned home in case of an emergency.

He wondered aloud why they hadn’t done that this time, why they'd gone straight to his mobile and not caught Charissa at home. That's when they told him that they had; that there had been no answer at the house and Face had frowned, thinking perhaps she'd gone out instead of the day in that she'd planned.

But when he got to the centre, Sophia was upset, so he'd pushed it to the back of his mind, put her and Jack into the car and driven home, and by the time he arrived, they were both asleep. It was no great difficulty to carry them both out at the same time, Jack in his car seat, Sophia resting on his shoulder, and he took them upstairs intending to put them both in his and Charissa's bed where he could watch them more easily if they were sick again. The door was pushed almost closed, so he nudged it with his foot and promptly froze in the doorway, heart thumping hard in his chest.

There was a time in his life when the sight that met him would have had him flying into a violent rage, and all of his army training would have been put to exactly the wrong usage, but this morning he just found himself staring, thanking his lucky stars that Sophia was asleep and turning around to walk straight out again. Didn't mean he wasn't upset though, didn't mean it didn't hurt him, because it did, it was a pain so sharp and intense it almost crippled him. And the worst of it all wasn't even the cold, hard, unavoidable facts of what he'd seen, but the way that Charissa had held his eye in the mirror over the dressing table as the totally oblivious Lieutenant Lopez had continued to fuck her from behind.

He'd taken the kids and driven straight to a motel, telling Sophia when she woke up that they were having a mini-holiday, much to her delight. It had got to the stage that Charissa was away so often, so uninvolved in the children when she was home, that her daughter didn't even ask where mommy was, when she would be seeing them again. He waited for her to contact him, and after three days she eventually did, telling him she was going away on a mission for a month, and that when she returned home, they needed to talk. Face wasn't surprised by that, but he was taken aback by the legal separation papers that arrived in the post the next morning, offering him full custody of the children.

But all of that paled into insignificance five days later when he received the official notification of her death in action, killed in a friendly fire incident along with the other occupants of her transport vehicle and the next two months were hard in a way second only to the months when Face was terrified for Sophia's health. That first night, after Face had explained what had happened the very best he could and managed to get a tearful and confused Sophia to sleep, he sat alone in the den, tears rolling down his cheeks as he cried for Sosa, and for his children and for the mess they’d made of their life together, but couldn’t help from wondering if, should circumstances be reversed, Charissa would be here crying for him, or whether she and Lopez would already be partying in his absence.

The press went crazy over Charissa’s story, doting mother of two young children, killed defending the country she loved. Face was loyal enough to go along with the whole charade, even though it almost killed him, even though he knew damn well that the rumours about her and Lopez were all over the place, and he couldn't wait for it to be over so he would be left in peace – no longer having to lie to the press, no longer having to lie to her parents.

Just at that point though, just when things were starting to calm down, the press found out about the separation and it all started up again, although this time Face found himself in more than a supporting role. Speculation was rife as to what he had done to push a devoted mother into such a desperate act, and to add insult to injury, the army decided to withhold both the DIC payments and the Death Gratuity as the circumstances of the separation were examined.

It was at that point that Face had had enough, and fortunately for him, Father David, watching in dismay from Los Angeles as the drama unfurled, realised he would have reached that point and got in touch with the offer of this house. Out in the wilds of Nebraska, basic but secluded, the house belonged to Father Dominic Jackson who had offered it up for five months while he went to Europe touring around. Face jumped at the chance, and within twelve hours of receiving the call from Father David, the three of them were packed up and gone, driving away from Washington in the dead of night.

And there they had been since, apart from Father David, only Charissa’s parents knew where he was and that was the way he wanted to keep it, but time was running out. David and Portia Sosa were unhappy with the living conditions and isolated position he had their grandchildren in, and were pressurising him to move to New York where they could be closer to them – the last thing he actually wanted to do. But Father Dominic was due back from Europe soon, and even more depressing was the fact that his bank account was almost empty, and still the Army hadn't decided what was happening over Charissa's DIC.

He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, had no job, no home, no money, no friends, no options, and unlike other, similar, times in his life, this time he had two young children who were completely dependent on him as well. In years gone by, he had occasionally resorted to pulling a few tricks to pay difficult bills, but now even that option was a no go for him, how could he do that with the kids needing him like they did? What kind of responsible father paid bills like that? Plus who on earth would be interested in him now? He wasn't seventeen and almost child-like any more, there was no way he'd be able to pull in the johns like he used to.

Sat on the old dusty porch in Nebraska, he forced back the despair that threatened to overwhelm him and rubbed his face again, wondering for the millionth time in the last few days just what the hell he was going to do.

The sound of a car jolted him out of his thoughts and he frowned at the unfamiliar hire car heading down the dusty track towards the house. Sophia, clingy once more, despite the day care that Face was spending money he didn't have to send her to, instantly ran to his side, her grubby fingers clinging to his shorts and he just knew that he wasn’t up to a run-in with Charissa's parents right then, knew he would end up punching David Sosa's lights out one day soon if he criticised the way that Face was raising his own damn kids again.

The car stopped at the end of the drive way and Sophia's hand tightened. “Who is it Daddy?” she whispered and Face was devastated by the fear in her voice.

“I don't know, honey,” he told her, sliding her onto his knee. “But it's no one to worry about, I promise you that.”

They watched together in silence as the car door finally opened and Face was glad he was still sitting down on the steps as the very unmistakable figure of Hannibal Smith straightened up on the far side of the car.

___________________________

Hannibal took a deep breath and sighed as he leant back in the seat of his hire car. He was both dreading and looking forward to this moment in equal measure, but knew that whatever happened over the next hour would forever dictate whether he and Face had any future together in any type of relationship, colleague, friend, family, whatever – and he was in no rush to find that out right away, sometimes it was better just not knowing.

He knew now that he'd made a huge, huge error in judgement over these last three years, wondered what on earth he’d been thinking of in leaving the kid alone like that for all this time. Knew that his emotional reaction to a decision he didn't like had cost Face three close friends, probably his job as well and maybe even his marriage; maybe with the support of his team and his buddies he may have been able to negotiate this minefield of a marriage to Sosa more successfully.

But then, Hannibal conceded as he finally slid out of the car, he supposed that Sosa would always have gone on that last mission to Afghanistan, would always have been in the transport that was hit by the 'friendly fire'. He shook his head as he straightened up, shit – the kid had no luck in his life, never has had.

Turning he took in his first sight of Face's current home and his heart sank even further – it was a hovel, there was no other way to describe it. 'Basic' Father David had said when Hannibal had called him and begged, literally begged for an address off him, but Hannibal wondered if the Father had even seen it as 'basic' was far, far too generous; it didn't even look like it would keep the rain out should they ever get anything akin to a decent amount of precipitation in this godforsaken dust bowl. ’You did this to him,' his subconscious helpfully supplied, 'you pushed him into this, out here on his own, hiding from the world.'

Hannibal had seen the mess that had become Face's life the second they returned from in-country. Murdock and BA had gone out for a few beers while Hannibal went to catch up on e-mails and other essential communications, but the pair of them were hardly out half an hour when they came storming back in, Murdock all wound up and stressed and BA with his knuckles busted up and a face like thunder. It took Hannibal twenty minutes to calm them down enough to get the whole story out of them – how they'd been told within five minutes that Sosa had been killed in action just the week before, but the news that she'd been fucking around, Lieutenant Lopez, to be precise had followed straight after. A comment that Face had obviously never been man enough for her, coupled with renewed speculation that maybe the rumours about him batting for the other team were correct after all, had had BA letting fly with his temper and that had been that.

Hannibal had checked out BA's fists, looked Murdock over carefully and sent them both to calm down and chill out in an off base hotel, and then promptly called Father David to see how much truth there actually was in any of those stories.

The conversation with the priest had been depressing to say the very least. Father David knew all the ins and outs of the whole story, more even than Hannibal had already heard. He knew about Sosa's untimely death of course, but he also knew about Lopez, confirming that it was true, telling Hannibal what Face had told him and Hannibal died just a little inside at what his poor boy must have gone through at that. He told him about Jack, about the incident on the stairs that preceded his birth, about the separation papers and about how the army was still sitting on the financial support, leading him to offer the wooden house in Nebraska as a solution.

That was all depressing enough, but what made it even worse was the underlying hostility that Hannibal could feel radiating from the priest throughout the whole conversation. An underlying hostility that was no doubt at all aimed at him and the decisions he’d made when he'd walked out of Face's life three years ago, missed his wedding, missed the birth of his son, the breakdown of his marriage and the death of his wife. Hannibal was surprised, Father David was one of the most genial and forgiving men he had ever met, but he wasn't in disagreement at all – he should never have reacted the way he had to the choices that Face had taken, should never have walked out on the kid and, even worse, taken the rest of his family with him. He should never have left him alone to cope for all this time when he knew damn well that 'alone' was the one thing that Face did not do at all well.

So now was the time to put all of that right – hopefully. Now was the time when he came back and made his apologies and if he was lucky, luckier than he deserved to be, Face would allow him to be the friend he should have been all throughout these three, tough years.

He looked up as he walked through the gate and down the dirt path towards the little house, sucking in a breath when he saw Face slowly rising to his feet on the porch at the end of the track. He was holding a little girl, far, far removed from the sickly baby that Hannibal had last seen in hospital in DC all those years ago, this child looked healthy and strong, her dark wavy hair, obviously inherited from her mother, and the way she clung to Face's t-shirt, her head on his shoulder, tugging at Hannibal’s heart. He raised a hand in greeting to his long term friend and old XO, but Face didn't respond, didn't move a muscle, just kept his arms wrapped tightly around his daughter and looked back and Hannibal was shocked in the change he could see in him in the three years they'd been apart.

Face looked tired, the heavy stubble on his chin didn't help, but his skin looked grey and sallow, he'd lost weight, muscle bulk as well, which made him look smaller somehow, and all Hannibal wanted to do was take him in his arms and hold him, smooth away all the hurt and strain he could see in that expressive face and make it all okay again.

But now they were only a metre apart, and Sophia was clinging onto Face in a way that did not invite Hannibal to hug him in greeting so instead he stood back at the bottom of the steps and forced out a flat smile instead. “Hey kid,” the old familiar nickname slid out all on its own and Hannibal was suddenly reminded of the years of history they had together and he felt even worse as he realised how he'd thrown it all away. “You got time for a beer?”

Face regarded him coolly, that blank screen of an expression he could use so effortlessly firmly in place before he nodded slightly. “Time, yes. Beer, no. Sorry, I need to head out to the shops sometime.”

Hannibal shrugged easily and took another step up towards the house, ridiculously relieved he wasn't being sent packing.

“Anything's fine,” he answered and wondered if he should say something to make up for the three years of silence between them, but at that minute Face turned his back and retreated into the house, gesturing at the wooden benches on the porch.

“Take a seat,” he said and disappeared into the dark of the house, Sophia watching Hannibal suspiciously with her dark eyes from his shoulder and Hannibal lowered himself down onto one of the benches, noticing the baby in the buggy for the first time, and with a lurch he realised that Face was still using the carrier that he himself had bought for Sophia.

The evening was cooling down and Hannibal had had a long drive, he sat back against the wall and closed his eyes, listening to the familiar modulated tones of Face's voice, words hidden by the wooden walls, and Sophia's higher pitched replies, as they drifted through the open door.

Within minutes footsteps caught his attention and he opened his eyes to find Sophia standing there, watching him and holding out a pink plate with Rusk biscuits on it. He smiled and reached forward. “They for me?” he asked gently, more than aware of how his size and voice may appear to a small child and Sophia nodded, waiting until he'd taken the plate off her before turning and scuttling back into the house. That first interaction, tentative as it was, filled Hannibal with something warm in his chest and he suddenly realised what he had missed by cutting himself off from this child as she'd grown from a baby into this beautiful little person. And beautiful she was, she may have had nothing of Face's colouring left in her now, all taken by Sosa's dominant dark, but she still managed to look like him, her dark hazel eyes were shaped exactly as his were and the way her whole face was arranged left him in no doubt of her parentage.

He cast his eyes over the sleeping baby in the pram and wondered if he was going to stay fair; he certainly seemed a lot lighter in colour than Sophia had been as a new born, even with her baby blue eyes. He certainly looked like Face and Hannibal just hoped that his childhood was a happier one, that he would enjoy the advantages that had eluded his father.

Face and Sophia arriving back onto the porch brought his attention back to the present and he looked up, watching as Face passed glasses and plates and juice down to Sophia who in turn handed them to Hannibal or put them carefully on the table and Hannibal had a lump in his throat as he recognised what a team they must be together – a team they must have had to be together, especially these last few months, after all, who the hell else did either of them have now?

“Thank you,” he said gravely as Sophia handed him a chipped and scratched glass before struggling over with the jug and sloshing juice into it for him, looking proudly back up at Face who smiled and winked at her. She repeated the move in the remaining two glasses before grabbing a Rusk off the plate and climbing up onto her daddy's knee as Face sat on the bench opposite Hannibal.

For a few minutes there was silence, a heavy, brooding silence, that only Sophia seemed unaware of as the two men sipped at their juice and birds swirled over head looking for somewhere to roost for the night. In the end Hannibal could stand it no more. “Face,” he said, so quietly he almost cleared his throat and stared again. “I'm sorry, kid, so sorry for the way this has all turned out for you here.”

There was no reply at first, Face stared out at the scrub, Sophia stared at Hannibal and Jack stirred slightly in his sleep. “It's okay,” came the eventual reply, “it's not like you didn’t warn me, hey? You told me she never loved me. You’ve got every right to say, ‘I told you so’.”

“Face,” Hannibal put his glass down on the table, “I should never have said that to you; I should never have stormed out like I did and I’m certainly not here to say, ‘I told you so’.” Face’s eyes were resolutely fixed on the horizon and Hannibal sighed. “I’ve come to say I'm sorry; that I've been the worst friend ever.”

The silence fell again and Hannibal wondered if Face had even heard him as he continued to stare out at the scrub, but Hannibal knew he wasn't imagining the brightness he saw in those eyes.

“Excuse me,” Sophia chipped in and Hannibal started at the clear little voice that came from Face's knee.

“Yes, Sophia?” he asked, kind of taken aback at the direct way she was addressing him.

“Is that a Toys R Us bag there?” she said leaning forward for a better look at the bag under Hannibal's legs and he laughed as Face snapped out of his funk.

“Sophia, that's rude, asking questions like that!” he admonished even as Hannibal leant down to pull it out.

“No, it's fine,” he assured Face, “she's a clever girl. What did you do? Spot the giraffe on it?”

Sophia shook her head and leaned forward for a better look, “No. I can read lots of words; my daddy shows me what they mean.” The pride in her sentence was touching and Hannibal wasn't sure if it was directed at her reading ability or her daddy – he suspected equal amounts of both.

He nodded in reply and handed the bag over to her. “It's for you anyway. A present from me.”

Sophia's eyes grew wide and Hannibal felt his smile spread. “For me?” she breathed in awe. “Can I take it, daddy?” Face nodded and Hannibal knew know that he wasn't imagining the wetness in his boy's eyes now as Sophia reached out, peeking inside and gasping out a dramatic three year old gasp.

“Daddy!” she breathed, pulling out what was inside. “Look! It's pink!” Hannibal laughed and watched as she man-handled the pinkness around until her eyes worked out what she was holding. “Fairy wings!” she squeaked. “Look daddy! Fairy wings! Better ones than Camille's as well!”

“And a wand,” Hannibal supplied, leaning into the bag and pulling out the wand.

“A wand!” Sophia repeated, her Sosa-eyes so wide, “A real life wand!” She slid off Face's knee in a second and started trying to rip open the cellophane package around the wings. The next two minutes were a frantic mixture of hands, excited three year old limbs and frantic shushing noises when Jack threatened to wake from all the noise, but eventually Sophia was standing, grinning proudly, wings on her back, wand in her hand, as Face took her photograph on his mobile phone.

“You look beautiful, Beautiful,” he told her and they shared a smile which spoke of their absolute closeness before she turned on her heels and leapt down the steps, running around the yard in exaggerated fairy leaps, waving her wand at anything and everything she came across.

“She does look beautiful,” Hannibal told him while watching Face's expression. “She looks really well, how have things been with her?”

Face sighed and scrubbed a hand across his eyes. “Yeah, fine,” he said in a tone of voice that meant exactly the opposite. “She's had all her ops now, everything is plumbed in as well as it can be, so we,” he paused, “I have to just hope it stays that way.”

His eyes stayed on his daughter the whole time he spoke and Hannibal felt that creeping edge of guilt as he thought about all the operations that Sophia had needed before she was three, and how Face and Sosa had had to go through all of that stress and heartache. “I'm sorry we weren't there to help,” he said quietly and Face just shrugged.

“Doesn't matter,” he muttered quietly.

“What about Jack?” Hannibal asked nodding at the pram, “is he okay?”

“Fine,” Face answered, turning to his son who seemed to be stirring awake at the mention of his name. “He's teething at the minute though, won't sleep during the night, crabby as hell during the day.”

Hannibal nodded and they slipped back into an awkward silence as Jack settled once more.

“And how have you been then, kid?” Hannibal eventually, and cautiously, asked.

“Fine,” Face replied again, still refusing to meet Hannibal’s eye at all and the older man felt himself floundering. It was a long, long time since he’d seen this side of Face thrown his way, the impenetrable wall, the stony silence, but he remembered now how hard it was to break through.

“I’ve thought about you a lot these last few years,” Hannibal quietly admitted, watching Face’s expression and thinking that perhaps there was a little flicker of something in his eyes at those words, just perhaps.

“Yeah?” but the body language still screamed disinterest.

“Wondered how you were getting on.”

 

“Yeah?” and this time there was irritation in that one word and Face turned to him, his blues eyes watery but flashing with anger. “That why you didn’t come to my wedding then?” he spat, “Or call to see how Sophia was getting on? Or to say congratulations when Jack was born? Or check up to see if I was still even alive?” Their eyes met and for a second Face looked utterly mortified that he’d said any of that out loud, Hannibal could almost see his shutters sliding down into place again before he folded his arms protectively against his chest and turned back to the setting sun. “Anyway, doesn’t matter,” he muttered, emotions locked up tight once more.

“You could have contacted me,” Hannibal pointed out, his own tone calm and controlled, but Face just laughed, a nasty, bitter laugh.

“Really Hannibal?” he asked, twisting to throw his ex-commander a cold glare. “Really? After what you said to me? What was it? That you were fed up of wiping my ass for me? That I was a born loser and seemed determined to ruin my own life no matter how hard you tried to stop me? That you were fed up of trying to clean up after my idiocy and you had better things to do?” Hannibal stared balefully at him and Face shook his head and turned away. “Yeah, I was really gonna send you a Christmas card after that wasn’t I?”

“I said things I didn’t mean,” Hannibal admitted, “and I’m not proud of myself.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Face told him breezily, “it’s not like you weren’t proved right,” he leaned over to look in Jack’s pram, “once a loser always a loser, hey?”

“Face, that’s not what-”

But right on cue, Jack squirmed again and immediately started to wail, earning a worried look from Sophia at the end of the garden and a frown from Face. “Hey, little guy,” he soothed as he bent and picked him out of the pram. “You have a good sleep, hey? You feel better now after that?” A miserable cry was all he got in reply and Jack arched his back in that very uncooperative way that babies have when someone is trying to hold them, and shoved his fist straight into his mouth. “Gums ache again, huh?” Face asked him as he jiggled him on his shoulder, “You poor boy.”

“Here daddy!” Sophia appeared beside him, a carrot stick in her hand and Face took it from her, handing it straight to Jack.

“Soph, you are an angel, thank you.”

Jack took the carrot stick and shoved it straight into his mouth, stopping his wailing and complaining as he gnawed the cold stick on his sore gums instead. “No, I'm not,” Sophia replied in total seriousness, “I'm a fairy!” and then she turned and skipped back into the yard.

Hannibal couldn’t help but laugh at that, but Face’s expression remained taut as he sat down once more on the bench, Jack on his knee now, chewing forcefully on the carrot. “Can't you get cream or something to help with that?” Hannibal asked noting the baby's flushed cheeks and dribbling gums.

“Yeah...” Face looked away, watching Sophia as she ran in the yard again, “I just haven't had the chance to hit the shops for a while,” he replied and Hannibal watched him, knowing there was more to that sentence but leaving it for the meantime.

The silence descended again and Hannibal found himself thinking back to other blue evenings in deserts and camps and forests all around the world when the two of them had talked and talked without pause for hours. He scrubbed at his tired eyes and tried again. “Face,” he said, his voice as sincere as he felt, “I am sorry, sorry about what happened with you, with Sosa, all of it. Sorry I wasn't there when Jack was born, sorry I wasn't there for your wedding...”

“Wedding?” Face spat, his eyes flashing dangerously in Hannibal's direction. “It wasn't a wedding, it was a fucking farce. And don't sit there trying to pretend that you don't know about Lopez, 'cause I'm sure you do. I’m sure you know all about it, how I couldn’t even please my own wife, not enough to make her want me anyway.”

He choked to a sudden stop and Hannibal felt his heart crack a little more, “Face-”

And while we're on the subject of things you don't know,” Face’s eyes had that wild edge to them now that Hannibal had only seen once or twice before, and Jack was starting to squirm on his knee, upset by the unpleasant atmosphere. “His name isn’t even Jack, it’s Jonathan, and I’m fucking sick of no one calling him that!”

For a second Hannibal was stunned but remained silent as Sophia appeared at the edge of the porch, her eyes wide and staring at Face. He suddenly seemed to deflate under her gaze, forcing out a credible impression of a smile through the tears in his eyes and dropping his face into the crook of Jack’s neck, taking deep, calming breaths as Sophia smiled timidly back and skipped off again.

“But,” Hannibal started quietly as soon as she had gone, “you and Sophia call him Jack...” his confusion was clear.

“Charissa's father started it,” Face said quietly, still burrowed in Jack’s neck. “He said Jonathan was a mouthful for a baby, said Jack suited him better, was a good nickname. Soon I was the only one not calling him that. What choice did I have? Didn't want the poor kid growing up with a whole raft of different names did I?”

Like you did... Hannibal filled in and his heart ached even more.

They sat in silence while Jack chewed at the carrot and Sophia cast spells in the yard and Hannibal wondered how he could fix this, if they’d ever find their easy camaraderie again.

“Look, Hannibal,” Face eventually butted into the silence, shifting an increasingly restless Jack onto his shoulder. “Don't think I don't appreciate you coming here or anything, ‘cause I do, and it's been great to catch up,” Hannibal bristled at the sarcasm in his voice, “but I really have to get these kids fed and ready for bed. It's getting dark already.”

“Let me shout you dinner,” Hannibal interjected, desperate not to have to leave right now, not with things still as awful as they were.

But Face just sighed. “You can't shout me dinner,” he explained patiently, “kids remember? I can't just leave them in the car with the window open a crack.”

“All of you,” Hannibal clarified. “Sophia would like dinner out, right? And there are high chairs for babies in loads of places. I'd like to take you all out, kid, the whole family.”

Face looked slightly taken aback at that, and Hannibal had a moment of hope, before he was shaking his head again. “I dunno, boss,” he said and Hannibal felt his heart leapt at that one little word tagged on the end of that sentence, totally unconsciously. “I don't want Sophia going to bed late. Jack's sleep is screwed enough as it is without her joining in.”

Hannibal nodded. “Well, let me get some take out then,” he persevered. “You get them ready for bed and I'll bring something in for us all. Does Sophia like pizza?”

“Yes!” came the shout from behind them and there stood Sophia, fairy wings wonky on her back, wand held aloft. “I love pizza!’Specially spicy sausage! Don’t I daddy?”

“You do,” Face agreed, his expression sullen.

“Okay,” Hannibal was on his feet and heading down the path again before anyone could stop him. “I'll make sure I get some spicy sausage. There a pizza place in Blue Hill?”

Face nodded as Sophia bounced up and down on the wooden steps shouting “Pizza! Pizza!” and with a smile on his face, Hannibal slid back into his car.

_________________

The thirty mile drive gave Hannibal plenty of time to think about what he had seen and heard so far, and one thing was clear in his mind – there wasn't a force strong enough in the whole universe that would keep him away from Face ever again. Leaving had been the biggest mistake, the cruellest mistake, that he had ever made, and in whatever form it took, he was going to spend the rest of his breathing days making it up to the kid.

Soon he was arriving back, pile of pizza boxes in his arms, and a trunk load of groceries waiting outside. He'd finally worked out why Face looked so shifty when he'd mentioned the teething stuff for Jack and Father David’s words about the DIC money and the Death Gratuity came back to him – Face was obviously flat broke, he hadn't worked for almost three years, never had much in the way of savings, and if the Army were being pissy over what he was due – well it was no wonder he was running short of money.

Sophia let him in, still wearing the fairy wings, but this time over a pink nightdress, and she was still bouncing around all over the place, the limitless energy of an excited three year old on display. Together, while Face bathed and dressed a screaming Jack, she and Hannibal put all the food away, Sophia getting excited all over again at every item Hannibal pulled from the bags. Then they set the table and made drinks, Hannibal just about seeing through Sophia's poker expression when she told him that she would oh-so-definitely be allowed a can of coke with her pizza just before bed time. Like father like daughter, he marvelled to himself as he took the can out of her eager hands and swapped it for a cup of milk.

Face came in with Jack who was still crying and plonked him in his highchair as he started warming a bottle of milk up, eyes running silently around all the food stacked up waiting to go away in the kitchen. Sophia was still helping get things ready and was now in the fridge, getting out the bottle of ketchup that Hannibal had just put in there and announcing that she was going to put it on the table in the room.

She'd barely disappeared through the open door when Face turned on the spot, his eyes narrowed and furious. “What the hell, boss?” he hissed quietly. “You think I'm a charity case or something?”

Hannibal sighed, but before he had the chance to answer, there was a crash and a scream from the other room and Face disappeared in a flash, almost skidding through the door in his haste to get out. The noise had made Jack stop in his crying, but seeing Face disappear out of the door while his milk was still warming in the pan of water was enough to send him into hysterics once more; Hannibal, who had been on his way to see what was wrong with Sophia, instantly changed his mind and pulled the bottle out of the water instead, testing it by squirting it on the inside of his arm like he used to do with Sophia’s, then having a little sip just to make doubly sure. Happy that it wasn't going to scold anyone, he screwed the trainer teat on, and lifted Jack out of the highchair, carrying him out onto the back porch where he could sit on the bench in the dark and give him the milk, letting Face have the space and peace to sort out Sophia.

He could hear their voices now, Face quiet and calm, Sophia's still hitching with sobs and within another five minutes the door from the kitchen opened and a tear stained Sophia limped out onto the deck, holding her night dress up so that Hannibal could see the Barney plaster on her shin.

He winced in sympathy as Jack clasped tightly onto his bottle with both hands, drinking steadily as he let his eyes roll over to his sister. “Ohh,” Hannibal said whistling slightly. “That looks sore.”

“It is,” Sophia agreed sniffily, “and I broke a chair, but Daddy's not too mad at me.”

“No,” Hannibal agreed remembering the look of panic in Face’s eyes as he heard Sophia fall, “I'm sure he's not.”

Sophia perched on the bench opposite him and watched him feed Jack with critical eyes. “How come you know how to do that?” she asked eventually. “Did Daddy show you?”

Hannibal laughed. “I used to feed you,” he said, suddenly very nostalgic for those days. “When you were tiny.”

Sophia's eyes grew wide. “You did?” she said looking totally amazed and Hannibal laughed again.

“I did.”

“So...” she frowned, shin totally forgotten as she tried to work this all out. “Did you used to be a friend of Daddy's then?”

Hannibal felt her words in his heart like an icy spear. “I still am,” he said quietly and Sophia looked at him, her brow furrowed almost as if she were puzzling something out, or making a decision. She leaned in, glancing at the closed door to the kitchen for a second before setting her resolve and fixing her large, brown eyes on Hannibal.

“When Daddy goes to bed at night,” she said in an almost whisper, “he cries,” and that icy spear twisted. “He thinks I don't hear but I do. Sometimes I sit outside his door and listen, and when he stops I go back to bed.” Hannibal just stared at her, speechless. “I went in once to give him a hug, but he was cross with me for getting up and pretended he wasn't even crying.” She frowned. “Why would he do that? It's okay to cry isn't it? That's what he always tells me.”

“It's fine to cry,” Hannibal answered roughly, “your daddy is just trying to protect you, that's all.”

Sophia just frowned, confused by Hannibal’s words, but Face's entrance from the kitchen put a stop to their conversation before he could further clarify his meaning or promise her, that if there was anything at all he could do about it, her daddy would never have to cry in the dark on his own ever, ever again.

__________

The pizza went down well, Sophia was excited and, true to her word, demolished the spicy sausage pizza with an enthusiasm that Hannibal often saw in BA when he was around food. Jack ate little bits but seemed happiest chewing on a crust, the pressure on his sore gums obviously soothing. Face was quiet, answering questions and prompts from Sophia if she directed them straight at him, but otherwise focussing all his attention on Jack and largely ignoring Hannibal's presence altogether.

All too soon for Hannibal, ever aware that he would have to leave at some point, the meal was finished and Face took Jack up to bed almost immediately. He didn’t speak when Hannibal pressed the teething gel and infant paracetamol into his palm but he took them both and left the room just as Sophia started tugging on Hannibal's leg, a pile of picture books in her arms.

By the time Face came back down for Sophia after Jack was settled into sleep, she was almost asleep herself at Hannibal’s side as he read the third book from her selection. Face kissed her head and scooped her up and Hannibal's last sight of her as she rounded the corner of the staircase was a sleepy smile from over Face's shoulder that warmed his heart.

While Face was upstairs, Hannibal took the opportunity to tidy away the last of the shopping and wash the dishes from dinner, as well as clearing away all the rubbish and left over pizza, which he carefully wrapped in foil and placed in the fridge. He was just straightening up from this task, bottle of whiskey in his hands, when he became aware of Face standing in the doorway behind him, leaning against the jamb, arms folded and Hannibal straightened, sensing the tightening of the atmosphere instantly.

“Whiskey, kid?” he offered, determined to ignore the glare that Face was sending his way.

“I don't need your charity...” Face ground out, his beautiful, beautiful blue eyes cold and hard.

“I know,” Hannibal countered levelly. “That's not what this is. This is a friend helping out. Now, you got any ice in here?”

For a long, drawn out minute there was no reply, before Face finally offered, “Top shelf,” as he turned away; his eyes were still cold but it was enough for Hannibal to let out an internal sigh of relief.

They moved to the living area and sat at opposite sides of the room, Face downing his drink in fairly substantial gulps and Hannibal watching him carefully, wondered how to play this, how on earth he could move their friendship forwards – what he could stay to start them off again.

In the end, however, he didn’t have to worry about that. “Why are you even here?” Face started for him, “You made your opinions on my life clear enough the last time you came up to DC. Came to check for yourself how bad things have got? Rub my face in the mess I’ve made of everything?” Face looked over and the raw agony in his eyes slashed at Hannibal's heart.

He sighed. “No, Face, of course I haven't. I've told you, I’m only interested in apologising for the way I acted, all the things I've said and done, haven't done, over these last few years.”

Silence fell and Hannibal noticed that Face's glass was empty. “Well, okay then,” and there was that bitter tone of voice once more, “apology accepted. You are absolved of all guilt. You can go now.”

He sighed again as he looked at Face's set expression, the lines of anger in his face, and realised he'd never seen him like this, so cold, so bitter, and knew that it was all his fault. It was looking more and more likely that their relationship was pretty much damaged beyond repair, but there was no way that Hannibal was going to give up just yet. He ignored Face's dark stare as he filled up both their glasses and moved to sit with him on the sofa, a hand on his knee in the type of gesture that was so natural before all of this that it had been almost unconscious; now it just felt awkward.

“I'm not going anywhere,” he said quietly and firmly as Face resolutely ignored him. “I know I overstepped the mark in what I said and did back then, it was none of my business what you chose to do with your life. I should have been there to support you regardless, not walk out on you when you still needed me.”

Face didn't answer, didn't respond at all, just sipped slowly at his fresh drink and stared hard at the fireplace in front of him.

Hannibal tried again. “I didn't plan on any of it,” he admitted, eyes trailing to the wooden floor. “It was just when you told me what your plans were, and I knew she didn't deserve to have you like that...” he tailed off as he felt Face's leg stiffen under his hand. “I'm sorry,” he mumbled again, “I’m doing it again aren’t I? I know you love her. I just...” he tailed off, not sure that either of them could cope with the admission that was about to follow that statement, the real reason he blew his stack when he realised that Face was going to be lost to him for ever more.

Silence fell again and he risked a glance at Face who downed the rest of his drink in one, obviously holding onto himself by the thinnest, most fragile of strands and Hannibal suddenly thought of what Sophia had said to him, about how Face cried himself to sleep every night, and his heart ached anew.

“You just what?” Face prompted, shocking Hannibal out of his thoughts, his voice low and raw.

Hannibal squeezed his leg, unsure what to say, knowing that Face needed something solid here, something that was going to prove that Hannibal wasn’t about to get up and walk straight back out of his life.

He moved his hand away and turned, dropping his head into his palms, the truth, the absolute honest truth bubbling up inside him like a geyser. He took a deep breath. “I guess I was just jealous,” he admitted flatly.

There was a brief pause. “Of me?” Face scoffed incredulously, and Hannibal wondered how the kid could possibly be so blind.

“Of her,” he said quietly, “and more than a little heartbroken.”

He kept his head down as his words hit cold, hard silence and he allowed his eyes to sink closed in abject horror at what he’d confessed. For a few, awkward minutes, neither of them moved then Hannibal tentatively lifted his gaze to his companion, who was sitting looking pale and shocked at his side. Their eyes met and at that Face got up and walked out.

For a dreadful, horror struck moment Hannibal stared after him, watching in dismay as the door swung closed in his wake but then he just slumped backwards, letting his head drop down onto the back of the sofa, forcing out a long breath and closing his eyes. This was a mess, an unholy shit-pile of a mess, and he was making it worse at every turn. What the hell had he been thinking of? Saying things to Face like that? Why did he think it would matter? Make it better? Now the kid was just disgusted in him, for ruining his life, taking away his friends over an unrequited crush.

He shook his head. He was losing Face here, losing him in every way and for all time, and that was inconceivable. If the last three years of estrangement had taught Hannibal anything, then that was the existence of the Face-shaped hole beside him that had haunted him through every minute of his days and nights during the last thirty six months. It was a hole that he wanted, no needed filling, and if it was filled by a friend, or a subordinate or a buddy, then right at this very minute, he would take whatever he could get.

He realised that the time for conversation and reasoning and justification was gone, if indeed it had ever been here. All that was left to him now was pleading, pure and simple begging for Face to let him stay in his life, let him have some kind of contact, be some kind of friend. There was no room left for pride or dignity, he just needed another chance. With a fear in his heart sharper than any he’d felt in a long while, he hauled himself up off the sofa and followed Face out through the kitchen door.

Wandering cautiously into the yard, he found him leaning in the railing of the porch, looking out at the black night and the diamond pinpricks of stars in the sky and Hannibal joined him, standing close enough that he could smell his body spray, feel the heat from his arm, but not actually close enough to touch.

The silence stretched between them, and just as Hannibal was drawing breath to apologise once again, once again, Face beat him to it. “I've made such a mess of everything,” he said quietly, and the pain in his voice stole Hannibal’s words from his throat. He turned to look at him, his chest tightening painfully as he noted the silver tracks down his cheeks and with a start he realised that, yet again, he'd left the kid to cry alone in the dark. “It would have been so much easier on everyone if I'd sorted the birth control in the first place and then Sophia would never have been born, never had to go through all of those operations and pain; me and Charissa would never have spent the last three years ripping shreds off each other; Jack wouldn't have been saddled with a useless father and a dead mother...” He tailed off, his head falling down onto his chest, too choked to continue, and Hannibal couldn’t stop himself from reaching out to grip his arm.

“You don't mean that,” he whispered, creeping closer, letting his hand draw him in. “No one would want that. Sophia loves you, she’s happy, so is Jack. And you’re far from useless, Face, please don’t do this to yourself, kid; you're doing a wonderful job.”

Face shook his head, staring stubbornly down at the porch railing. “Hannibal – I have no house, no job, no wife. I'm flat broke with no hope of anything better in the future... I've got two kids who are relying on me for everything single thing they need and I can’t even afford to buy teething gel - how the fuck can that mean that I'm doing a wonderful job?”

Hannibal looked at him, and he could see that Face was on the edge, slipping fast, three years of worrying and struggling and fighting and coping threatening to get the better of him at last. That was the very last thing that Hannibal was going to let happen, so he increased his hold on the arm under his fingers and stepped in so they were pressed close together. “Because you are loving them,” he whispered into the shell of his ear. “You know how important it is for a kid to feel loved and wanted and you’re giving them that. Despite losing their mom, despite needing to move on, you’re giving them a home and a family, kid. Don’t undersell yourself.” Slowly, he let his hand creep up Face’s arm, over his shoulder, until it slid up to the warm nape of a bent neck.

“It’s not enough,” Face answered, his voice hushed in the thick heat of the dark. “Another couple of weeks and we’ll have no money left at all. I can’t get a job, I’ve no skills that anyone would ever be interested in, no qualifications, nothing.” He shook his head and Hannibal saw a bright, silver tear splash and burst on the top rail of the porch. “Maybe Charissa’s parents are right, maybe the kids would be better off with them.”

Hannibal moved without thought, grabbing Face by the shoulders and twisting him until they were face to face, their hips resting against the railing. “No, they wouldn’t, and you know that!” his eyes were flashing in ager at Face’s words. “Don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on them so damn easily! You’ve always been a fighter, kid, where’s that fight now?”

But Face just shook his head and looked down again. “There’s no way out,” he said, his voice flat and resigned, “I’ve gone over and over and over it all in my head, there’s no way out of this.”

Hannibal held his shoulders firmly and looked down at his bent head, hating the resignation he could see there. He understood that Face didn’t want to rely on the money finally coming in from the Army, knew that by questioning the circumstances of the separation, believing the hints in the papers, that Face would now only take that money if it came with an apology which was highly unlikely. Which left only one thing that Hannibal could see, the one thing he’d always had at the back of his mind, but he didn’t want to drop on Face while the kid was so churned up with everything, while he was still so distrustful of Hannibal himself.

But now – what other options did he have? How could he let Face live another minute thinking that his life was so damn hopeless. He made his decision and took a steadying breath. “Face,” he whispered, his heart and his mouth running away with his brain and his expression intense, “I want you back in my unit.”

Silence fell.

“What?” It would have been impossible for anyone to look more surprised than Face at that point in time as his eyes, wide and wet, flicked up to meet Hannibal’s.

“You heard me,” Hannibal held his stare.

The crickets chirped and somewhere in the distance an owl hooted as the two men stared at each other. “But... Hannibal...” Face eventually martialled his stunned brain cells into producing some words of reaction even as he looked imploringly at the man in front him. “How can I do that?” he asked. “There's the kids, and the fact that I'm not even in the army anymore; you forgetting about all of that?”

“Not a problem,” Hannibal assured him, his words running together in his desperation to make Face believe him, to make him believe himself. “I have a house on base, family house, four bedrooms, you could all move in with me. You know the childcare and schools are good there, and... well there's things we could arrange for missions...”

Face frowned, still completely wrong-footed by all of this. “Things?” he asked sharply, “What kind of things? A cupboard somewhere for them?”

The silence fell again, even the crickets seemed to be holding their breath now as Hannibal stepped in even closer and slowly turned Face around so that his back was to the railing and positioned himself in front of the younger man, so close their legs were pressed together, and then he took hold of Face’s hands, bending his elbows so that four sets of clasped fingers were pressed between their chests, then he looked right into Face’s eyes, holding them with his own, beseeching the man inside to try, just try, to understand him. “Kid, I'm sorry,” he repeated earnestly and Face looked away, the honest emotion too much for him. “I've been an ass for all these years and I'm trying to make it better. Please don't fight me on this. Please at least let me try to make it up to you.”

For a long minute there was no response, nothing but Face’s unsteady breathing, and Hannibal watched as he stared out into the darkness, his eyes reflecting the battle his emotions were having inside his heart. Eventually, he turned back and nodded tentatively, the tightness of his expression a clear indicator of his continued distress.

Hannibal managed to hold onto his sigh of relief, and instead took a deep breath, starting his explanation again. “A few months ago, BA's Aunt Phyllis died,” Face’s eyes, creased in concern, briefly flicked his way. “And he asked his Momma to move down south so she wouldn't be alone. He got her a house, just off base, right around the corner from him and Murdock, and she's setting herself up as a childminder.” Face's eyes finally latched onto his. “She suggested it herself kid,” Hannibal said gently. “She's got a spare room so they could stay with her when we’re away. They would still be able to go to the same school or pre-school or whatever, see their friends... she only lives five minutes from me, and you know her, Face, you know how good she is with kids. It wouldn't be the same as being with you, of course it wouldn’t, but you know they'd be happy and well looked after.”

Face nodded slowly, cogs turning in his mind at the possibilities, and then his expression fell again. “But Hannibal,” he said, his voice raw, “I'm not in the army anymore, remember?”

For the first time since Sophia had gone to bed, Hannibal smiled. “There's ways around that one as well, kid.”

He frowned, “Really? You really think the General is gonna go out on a limb for me?” He raised an eyebrow, “I think not... Hannibal?” the colonel's expression had dropped at his words, “What is it?”

Now it was Hannibal's turn to be silent as his eyes raised to the stars for a moment, composing himself before turning back to Face. “Things have changed,” he explained quietly. “Russ is currently in Leavenworth awaiting a Court Martial.”

Face's eyes widened. “What?” He couldn’t believe that Sosa would have kept something like that from him.

There was a long sigh as Hannibal prepared himself and bit the bullet, deciding to just get the whole painful story over with in one go. “Seems Russ was a little disillusioned with the way things were going in the Army,” he explained quietly. “Got involved with some CIA schmuk and Pike from Black Forest, you remember him?” Face nodded, unpleasant memories suddenly flooding his head. “They decided to help themselves to Saddam’s US dollar printing plates, make their fortune. But they were so busy bickering amongst themselves about the spoils that they didn't notice their plan rapidly unravelling around them.”

Face didn't speak at first, just stared at Hannibal, his eyes wide as he tried to take the whole story in. “Shit...” he breathed eventually.

“Yeah,” Hannibal agreed. “But the worst thing was,” he tailed off, eyes to the stars again, fighting with his emotions and took a deep breath. “The worst thing was,” he started again, “they needed a fall guy, someone to be left holding the can when they all disappeared with their booty.” Face frowned as he began to realise just what Hannibal’s words meant. “We were supposed to take that fall, but the team had to drop out of the op the last minute. We’d lined Jackson up as number four and he broke his arm playing volleyball an hour before show time. So we were clear and the whole thing went to shit around us.”

Face just stared, struggling to take all of that in, “Oh, boss,” he breathed, his hand automatically tightening on Hannibal's, “What a fucking pile of shit, I'm so sorry, I don't know how he could. Especially after...” He tailed off, both of them knowing that Face was referring to the relationship that Hannibal and Russ had had way back when John Smith was just a raw recruit.

Hannibal shrugged, desperate to steer the conversation away from that part of his life for now, and the ease with which Russ had tried to ruin him. “Upside of it all is though,” he said, clinging on to Face’s hands as if his life depended on it, “they were so desperate for me not to leave after all the shit, that they promised just about anything to get me to stay. Anything. Including bringing you back on board. Three month refresher, and you're good to go, kid. Same rate of pay, same rank, everything.”

There was a stunned pause before Face said, “They can do that?”

The smile was back, “They can if you ask the right people.”

“Shit.”

“I know,” Hannibal squeezed the hands in his, “it's a lot to take in.”

Their eyes met. “You'd do all that for me?” Face asked quietly, his eyes wet again, the frost gone from his expression for the first time since Hannibal had first seen him that afternoon.

Hannibal nodded solemnly. “All that and more. Anything. I'd spend my entire life trying to make up for the way I've treated you these last few years, kid. Whatever you need, I'd do it for you. Anything. Everything. What do you need, Face? What can I do for you? Whatever it is, it's yours.”

They looked at each other for the longest of moments, then Face shifted almost imperceptibly closer, “I just don't want to feel like this anymore,” he whispered. “It's like I'm hollow, empty. I can't stand it.”

Hannibal crept in, lifted one of his hands and cupped the side of Face's cheek, feeling the residual wetness there from the tears. “My boy,” he murmured, “my only boy,” and he felt Face lean into him, closing his eyes as he pressed into Hannibal's palm. “I'll do whatever you let me, I'll be whatever I can. I need you by my side so much, and I've wanted you forever.”

“But I’ve ruined everything,” Face whispered brokenly. “I’ve made so many wrong, wrong decisions... I thought Charissa was my best chance at being a family, the best thing for Sophia, being with her mom and dad like that.”

“You’ve ruined nothing, of course you were going to think that,” Hannibal soothed him, stroking the soft skin under his eye with a gentle thumb. “You did your best, you tried your hardest; no one could have done more, it just wasn’t meant to be.”

“But that’s the thing,” he pulled away slightly, dropping his head, staring at his bare feet on the dusty decking. “I knew,” his voice was so quiet that Hannibal even stopped breathing to ensure he could hear. “I knew all along it was never going to work, that she didn’t love me, wouldn’t stay. And I never really loved her either, not as much as... I could have done.”

Heart thumping hard in his chest, Hannibal ducked down, trying to see Face’s expression in the darkness. “As you could have done?” he repeated tentatively. He leaned in, feeling Face move towards him, eyes still on the ground, and reached slowly for a stubbled chin, gently lifting it up, watching as Face’s eyes, shimmering in the half light, came into view; eyes full of trepidation, fear almost.

“I’ve ruined everything,” Face repeated, his voice barely a breath.

“You’ve ruined nothing,” Hannibal’s voice was firm but gentle as he reiterated his message. “The three of you are a family, you all have your lives together just waiting to be lived, it’s all still out there for you, kid.”

But Face shook his head. “I had my chance, my shot at true love,” his lips twitched in an ironic attempt at a smile, “and I passed it up, tried to stick with what was conventional rather than what was right. You knew that and I knew that – but I still went ahead and blundered into a doomed marriage. And now it’s too late.”

It was impossible for Hannibal not to know what Face was referencing; they stared at each other, each wrestling with the right words to say, wondering if the gamble could pay off.

“I’m sorry I broke your heart,” Face whispered.

“I’m sorry I walked away,” Hannibal shot back.

Something similar to a smile flickered through Face’s expression, but vanished just as fast as Hannibal leaned towards him, blue eyes boring into his own. “You know I love you.” Hannibal’s words were felt more than heard and Face did, he'd known all along, just never let himself actually believe in it. And he loved Hannibal, really and honestly, with a depth that he'd never quite managed with Sosa.

All those years of denial, of running away from what he knew was true, of trying to force himself into the round hole that his life could never be. Maybe it was that desire to be ‘normal’, maybe it was the fear that by embracing the one thing that meant the world to him he would lose it all, maybe it was just plain cowardice, but whatever it was, all he knew now was that he was fed up of running away, fed up of denying himself what he knew he wanted, fed up of not being with the person he knew was his soul mate.

He stretched up, leaning into Hannibal even as the boss leant into him and as his eyes flickered closed, their lips touched at last, a tentative introduction, a testing of intentions nothing more and then they drew back, two sets of wary blue eyes cautiously trying to read the other before Face’s arms, moving of their own volition, snaked up to wind around Hannibal’s neck and, pulling him close, they fell onto each other in desperation as the dam finally burst.

Within five frantic minutes they were in Face's bedroom, his entire worldly possessions spilling out of holdalls around their feet, toys and bibs and clean stacks of diapers everywhere and Hannibal felt that tide of love within him swell and crash over them both, taking away his breath with the force. He pushed Face against the wall, one arm hard across his chest holding him there, their mouths still latched together, another hand fumbling at the fastening of his shorts.

Face didn't fight him, he just stood there, his back flat against the wall of his children's bedroom and let Hannibal devour him, let him strip away his shorts and briefs, let him push his t-shirt up exposing his pulsing hard on, let him fall to his knees on the wooden floor, his mouth ghosting hot breath over his taut stomach and then Hannibal froze, looking up as Face looked down and their eyes met.

“I need you in my life, Face,” he whispered, his voice low and raw. “I can't go through another three years like the last.” Face's eyes, luminous in the night-light from the landing, looked down at him. “If us doing this is going to ruin anything, I'd rather just have you as my friend.” Face stared at him as the silence between them stretched onwards. “It's your call, kid.”

Hannibal could see Face's throat working as he tried to swallow past the lump lodged tightly there, tried to get some liquid into his suddenly parched mouth. “I need you too,” he whispered to Hannibal's upturned face. “I need you, I need this,” he smiled, a tentative, watery smile. “You know I love you too.”

And Hannibal did, like Face, he'd always known it, but he'd never been sure about the exact form that love had taken. Father, friend, mentor... it could have been anything. But now he knew, now he had Face looking down at him, his watery smile fading slowly in the face of Hannibal's silence and the time for waiting was gone. Holding Face's eyes with his own he slowly leaned in, watching enraptured as the chest above him began to heave as it sucked in huge breath after huge breath, bracing himself for what was to come. And then he was right there, just his finger tips on the base of the hot erection, holding Face steady so that he could breathe in the delicious, heady smell of male arousal, savour the last few seconds of anticipation, wonder if everything he had ever dreamed about this moment would be anywhere like the reality.

If anything, it was better. The taste of Face, hard and leaking, just for him, was enough to make his eyes flutter closed, the moan that was dragged from his boy's throat, unmistakable pure bliss as Hannibal's tongue swirled around his swollen cock-head and then swallowed him down, made him glad he was already kneeling as the muscles in his legs turned to jelly beneath him. The thump of the head above him hitting the thin bedroom wall tightened the knot in his belly and he suddenly knew that this was right, this was so, so damn right that it was a crime they hadn’t ever done it before.

He moved his hands, sliding one down to cup the tight, quivering balls bouncing slightly against his chin with the bobbing movements of his mouth, the other creeping around the back of a hard, hair dusted thigh, creeping further up past the crease of a taught buttock, until it found the dip it was looking for and slid in, tracing up and down, feeling the tight, puckered nub of muscle that was his ultimate destination for the evening. He felt Face tense at his careful, cautious probing and pulled away, aware of the trail of spit still joining them as it lengthened, shining in the moonlight like a silken thread before finally breaking, separating them in only one way. “Okay?” he asked hoarsely and Face nodded, mute. “You done this before, kid? With another man?”

And now Face swallowed and his fists clenched. Hannibal watched as his eyes flicked away to the door and then flicked back and he wondered what was going on, whether he was worried about the kids coming in – or if he was wanting to bolt... “Face?” he prompted gently.

“I’ve done it before,” Face eventually replied, “but not for a very long time.”

Hannibal frowned at that, knowing Face well enough, even after all their years apart, that he could tell there was something more in that quietly delivered sentence. “And?” His hands were still moving, gently thumbing over the two neat balls he could feel nestled in his palm, and rubbing softly, soothingly, at the swell of a thigh muscle.

Again Face swallowed and again he glanced at the door. “It was a long time ago,” was all he said.

Hannibal pondered this, keeping his movements slow and soft. “You sure you want to-”

“Yes,” Face cut him off abruptly.

“I won’t hurt you,” Hannibal promised him, “I think I’ve hurt you enough to last a lifetime as it is,” Face started to object to that statement, but Hannibal silenced him by dipping his head and quickly, firmly, sucking on the swollen tip of the cock in front of him, again Face’s head thudded back against the wall. “I won’t hurt you,” Hannibal repeated, pulling off with a gentle kiss. “Whatever you’ve experienced before, I promise you, this will be different, this will be good.”

Face nodded, and Hannibal knew that they would have to come back to this at some point, that there was a skeleton in Face’s closet that was going to prove troublesome if they didn’t deal with it, but for now, they seemed to have reached a compromise, an understanding. “I know,” Face whispered, “I trust you.” Again, the watery smile, “That’s why I’m here.”

Hannibal smiled back and squeezed the globe of a firm buttock, his heart thumping in joy at Face’s words, his trust. “Okay,” he whispered. “So – how do you want to-”

“I’ll bottom,” Face interrupted and Hannibal was surprised and somewhat endeared to see the flush of embarrassment on his cheeks.

“You sure?”

“Yes,” Face paused, “unless you’d rather I...” he tailed off, undeniably embarrassed now.

“No,” Hannibal got to his feet, noticing the flagging of the once so keen erection in front of him. “No, baby, that will be wonderful. Anything with you will be wonderful.” And then he leaned in to start up another kiss, feeling the edge of desperation in Face’s response, knowing that the kid had been right when he’d said he needed this, but also realising that that worked both ways.

For long minutes they stood up against the wall and kissed, slowly at first, deeply, each trying to tell the other how much this just felt right, but then speeding up, quickening their pace as the temperature started to rise once more and Hannibal almost melted in relief as he felt Face’s renewed interest nudging heatedly at his thigh.

As the kiss, hard and fast and desperate now, a heady mix of tongues and teeth and lips, continued to claim them, Hannibal was vaguely aware of Face stepping out of his pooled shorts and trying to push up off the wall. He broke their contact and stepped back, but before he could go too far, Face’s hands were on his arms and their eyes met, both breathing hard through their kiss reddened lips. “Undress me,” Face whispered and Hannibal moved like lightening, stripping off the only remaining item of clothing before helping Face’s frantic fingers as they fumbled with the buttons of Hannibal’s own shirt, the zip of his jeans.

In less than a minute they were both naked and Hannibal suffered a moment of panic when Face stepped towards the door, but before he could say anything he watched as the kid just hauled one of the bags across the wooden floor, placing it carefully so that door would only open a few inches if pushed from the outside, and then turned back to the bed, his expression an adorable mixture of lust and nervousness.

“Come here, my love,” Hannibal whispered, the words out of his mouth before he could consider their intelligence, but to his relief, it seemed to be just what Face needed to hear and he was across the room and in Hannibal’s arms, knocking them both onto the sad, old bed before Hannibal had the chance to withdraw them.

And then it seemed that the time for talking was over, Face pinned him to the bed, climbing on top and positioning their straining erections together so that they could rub and rut at each other as they kissed, and just as Hannibal was about to pull away, plead with him for a break before he blew his load far too early, Face was gone again, quick as a snake he was on the other side of the bed, flat on his back, tub of Vaseline in his hands, eyes wide and aroused, holding tight onto Hannibal’s.

The invitation was clear and Hannibal accepted it in an instant. He reached out and took the pot from Face’s fingers, leaning forward to kiss his far too tempting lips and unscrew the lid all in the same movement. Without looking or caring where he dropped the pot afterwards, Hannibal reached in with two eager fingers, scooping out a huge, generous chunk of the salve and stretching down with both hands, an awkward move balanced as he was on his knees, his mouth still fused with Face’s.

This time, when his searching fingers found that most secret of places, there was no tensing up from Face, just a small sigh right into the cavern of Hannibal’s mouth and a widening of his thighs, allowing more room for exploration.

Hannibal took advantage right away, climbing into the gap provided by Face and, with one slick hand working the hot length of his cock, gently but firmly pressed a single finger right in past that grasping muscle.

Face let out a tiny noise at the intrusion and just as Hannibal was about to pull back, break their kiss and ask if he was okay to continue, he surged up, wrapping his arms around Hannibal’s neck and keeping him close while simultaneously tipping his hips up and pushing that questing finger further inside.

Trying to concentrate on being gentle and fulfilling his promise not to hurt Face was difficult, Hannibal found, with the kid’s tongue stroking his palette the way it was, so he finally broke away, bending to drop apologetic little kisses to a stubble covered neck as he pulled his finger out to slowly, gently, replace it with two. “Okay?” he asked this time, breathing hard with arousal and the effort of holding himself over Face like this with both of his hands otherwise employed.

“Hmm-mmm,” came the vague reply and Hannibal sat back on his knees, disentangling himself from Face’s arms, fingers still turning and pressing, but leaning back so that he could better gauge the kid’s reactions. He took it slowly, watching all the time as Face’s head thrashed on the pillow, slowing down if his lips pressed together too hard, speeding up when those lust filled eyes opened and settled on him.

It took a long while, certainly far longer than Hannibal had ever spent preparing someone like this before, but then, this was Face and, hand on heart, Hannibal knew that he’d never, ever shared a bed with anyone he’d felt so passionate about, loved so deeply before. In fact he’d never even felt like this before, like whatever happened to him in their lovemaking session was inconsequential, like it was all about Face.

He moved to three fingers, slowing down his twisting when Face arched up, his brow furrowed and his eyes closed tight. “Sorry,” he whispered.

“It’s fine,” Face forced out through uncooperative lips, “feels fucking amazing...” and that’s when Hannibal realised that a stray knuckle had inadvertently brushed Face’s prostate, further back than Hannibal had expected to find it, that tight little bunch of nerves was now singing under his finger tip, making Face moan and writhe, twist and gasp as Hannibal varied pressure and direction, watching carefully, memorising everything.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, amazed that this wonderful creature, the object of his dreams and desires for so many years now, was here, in front of him, waiting for Hannibal to claim him, it was incredible.

“Do it,” Face breathed, his expression twisted in unmistakable lust, “for God’s sake Hannibal just do it before I come everywhere.”

Face’s desperation would have been funny if it wasn’t for Hannibal feeling exactly the same. He withdrew his fingers, forcing a level of calm and leisure into his muscles that he certainly didn’t feel, and shuffled forward until he was close enough to slide under Face’s butt, lifting the trembling body until it was laid in his lap, trapping his pulsing cock in under a wonderful warm weight.

For a moment, he held them there, letting Face adjust to the change in position, loving the feel of his cock trapped between two firm buttocks, one hand stroking the hot, smooth length in front of him, two fingers slipped back inside, turning and stretching. It was wonderful, he thought to himself, having Face laid out in front of him like this, so warm and pliant and receptive; it made his stomach clench in regret that he hadn’t done this years ago, been brave enough to take that next step years ago. What hurt could he have saved them from if he had?

But in the back of his mind he knew that that was impossible, that, hard as it may be, this was the way that things had needed to play out in order for them to have the best chance of being happy together now. He knew that Face had always craved a traditional, nuclear, family, that he’d always been looking for the person to try that out with, that things may not have worked out with Sosa in the way or even the order that he would have chosen, but that he had had to try, had to give it his all, otherwise he would always wonder, always berate himself for what could have been.

“Hannibal?” Face’s voice, quiet and fearful, brought him back and he looked down, horrified to realise that he’d stopped in his stroking and petting and that Face was staring at him, thoughts of rejection obviously starting to bubble up inside him.

“Okay, kid, it’s okay,” he instantly soothed, and looked down, gripping Face’s flagging cock with fresh vigour, pumping it firmly, watching as the blue eyes studying him rolled back and Face slumped into the pillows, moaning in relief once again. “You ready?” Hannibal asked him, lining the flushed head of his cock up with the stretched opening and his reply only came as a silent nod. “Tell me if I hurt you,” he whispered as he gently spread Face’s legs as far as they would go, and pushed, smooth and hard, feeling the pressure of that strong muscle before it yielded and let his crown into the slick heat of Face’s hole.

They both moaned together at that first breaching and it felt so incredibly, amazingly wonderful that Hannibal had to rein himself in before he just slammed all the way home. “Alright, baby?” he asked, words strained and breathless. Face didn’t open his eyes, his forehead was still creased in concentration or pain or maybe a bit of both and Hannibal steadied himself on one hand before reaching out and taking hold of that beautiful hard cock, currently dripping precum all over Face’s stomach. “Does it hurt?” he asked, stroking it firmly again, “Shall I stop?”

This time Face shook his head, a breathy, “No, keep going,” forced out of his lips.

So, making sure he was keeping up his stroking, sweeping his hand over the sensitive head every now and again, thumbing the leaking slit and rubbing that spot just under the crown, Hannibal continued to push, slowly, slowly in. He watched Face all the time, watched his brows drawing closer together, felt the tightness of the walls squeezing him almost to the point of pain. “Relax,” he breathed, trying to hold back the almost overpowering desire to surge forward into the incredible grip Face had on him. “You’re fighting against me. You want me to pull out?”

“No!” At last Face’s eyes opened, and Hannibal was horrified to see the tears swimming over the blue. “I need you, John,” he whispered, sounding so lost and broken that Hannibal felt his own tears spring to life. “I can do this, I know I can. You’re just...”

“What sweetheart?” Hannibal asked, gritting his teeth with the effort of holding himself still like this.

“It’s just been a long while...” Face finished miserably and Hannibal decided that that was enough, that there was no way Face was ready for more than this, that they needed to stop, try again later maybe, do something else for now. He went to pull out but Face was too fast for him, he’d obviously read the expression on the boss’s face to perfection and knew that he was about to call a halt, so he surged up instead, shoving with his hands, forcing his thighs and his abs to hold his weight, managing to get his feet under him at the last moment and levering himself into Hannibal’s lap, forcing the cock inside him all the way in, right up until Hannibal was sheathed to the root.

They both cried out, for two very different reasons, and Hannibal found Face clinging to him, arms wound tightly around his neck, face buried in a shoulder, calves creeping around until they were wrapped around a wide back and Hannibal held him tightly, tried to think around the glorious pressure on his cock that was already making his hips tip and roll. “Don’t turn me away,” Face whispered, “I want this, I want it to be good.”

Hannibal gave in, nuzzling at the sweat soaked neck in front of him and starting to thrust up, long, lazy pushes for now, testing Face out, seeing how he felt, knowing how deeply he was buried in his boy’s body. “It will be,” he murmured back, “because I love you.” And Face clung more tightly to him, encouraging Hannibal’s thrusts to get faster and deeper.

They shuffled and shifted together, adjusting their weight and positions until they were just about sealed tightly together. “Ah! Shit!” Face breathed into Hannibal’s ear, his own hips joining in with the motion as well now, rolling in to meet Hannibal’s on every thrust. “That’s it, oh, yes... Perfect...”

Hannibal felt his heart swell at those words, and knowing that he had his angle just right now, set about pushing Face over the edge. He was big, he knew that, too big in a lot of cases to be able to stimulate his partner’s prostate during penetration. But it was like he and Face were made for each other; Face’s hot button was a little further back than usual and so with every single deep thrust in, Hannibal was able to slide right across it, the firm head of his cock massaging it with just enough pressure to have Face almost sobbing in his arms. “Oh, John,” he was whispering, “oh, John. Oh, baby, yes...” and Hannibal kept going.

In the circumstances, they lasted a wonderfully long time until Face was nothing more than a quivering mass of jelly in Hannibal’s lap, clinging on like a possum, unable to muster up any coordination through the tendrils of pre-orgasmic fire that were running through him. Every thrust from Hannibal pulled a moan of pure ecstasy from him and nudged Hannibal’s own orgasm just that little bit closer until he began to worry that he wouldn’t last to see Face over the edge. “Come on, baby,” he whispered, determined to use every trick he knew to see Face come before him, “I want you to come on me, want to feel you shoot all over my chest.”

Face grunted at that and his arms tightened, trapping his cock, hard, between two strong torsos.

“Oh, yeah,” Hannibal murmured, feeling the hot length against his skin, “that’s it my beautiful boy, come for me, let go and show me what you’ve got, I wanna feel it...”

And with a strangled cry, Face did, his body twitching and jerking, his mouth biting down on a thick, corded muscle to try and keep the noises inside, his arms pulling even tighter, forcing Hannibal so deep inside him that the boss’s head swam and he too was coming, shooting right up into Face’s heart, planting his seed right in the boy’s very core where it would stay forever, claiming him, keeping him safe and loved and happy, right where he belonged.

He was aware of the spasming cock jammed up against his chest, could feel the hot ribbons of come as they squirted out, covering both of them equally and the sheer beauty of the whole moment blasted him apart, forcing spontaneous tears from his closed lids as he held onto Face’s body and covered him in tiny kisses, never, ever wanting to let him go.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long, once the endorphins ran out, before the lactic acid kicked in and Hannibal’s thighs started cramping up. As gently as he could, he manoeuvred Face’s now lax body up the bed, keeping them joined until he was laid flat on his back, head on the pillows, and then he slipped out, watching in fascination as a tide of semen followed his withdrawal, soaking the sheets in an instant. He shifted a still boneless Face sideways then, out of the wet patch and finally laid himself down next to him, his heart thrilling as Face instantly turned onto his side, burrowing into Hannibal like a puppy and Hannibal wrapped him up and pulled him closer, fumbling around in the dark until he’d dragged the sheet over them both.

“Okay?” he asked.

And getting a sleepy, sated, “Mmmmm,” as his reply.

He lay still for a few minutes, knowing they had all sorts of things to discuss, but just needing a window in which to pull himself together after experiencing the most intense, mind blowing sex of his entire life. And then, just as he was about to start, to ask Face what happened now, how they were going to do this, he noticed the quiet little huffs of air against his chest, and realised that Face was asleep. Smiling indulgently, remembering the dark, bruise-like shadows he’d seen under the kid’s eyes, he just pulled him closer, letting him snuggle under his chin and kissing him on the hair, before hoping that Sophia wouldn’t come looking for Face in the night, and finally letting his own eyes slide shut in contented exhaustion.

_________________________

A harsh, wailing cry jerked Hannibal awake from his rest when it was still pitch black outside. He suffered a moment’s panic as he thought that perhaps Sophia had indeed stumbled in on them and was horrified at what she had found, but soon realised that the wail was coming from the room next door and was for too infant-like to be Sophia.

“It’s Jack,” Face told him, already out of bed and hastily dragging his shorts back on. “I’ve got him, go back to sleep, boss.” He dropped a quick kiss in the vicinity of Hannibal’s face, finding a stubbled cheek and then was gone, climbing over the bag that still blocked the doorway and disappearing into the room next door in a flash.

Hannibal lay motionless, still feeling the pressure left by Face’s parting kiss and the resulting warmth in his heart as he listened to his soothing tones, comforting Jack as he took him out of the room, away from the still sleeping Sophia and downstairs, closing the kitchen door and blocking out any further sound.

Face had told him to go back to sleep, but he found he couldn’t, all the questions that had been whirling around in his head from before were still there and he wanted answers, wanted to know what they were doing here. It certainly didn’t seem like Face was just after a casual fuck, someone to tide him over until he found a more appropriate solution; he’d told Hannibal he loved him, acted like he loved him, so maybe he actually did? Maybe this could work out better than Hannibal had ever hoped? When he’d suggested that Face and the kids come and move in with him, let BA’s momma help out with child care when they were working, all he’d anticipating getting back was his XO, his friend, his almost-son. But if this went the way that he was hoping it would – then he’d end up with something far, far better, and he’d never have to try and force himself to think of Face in that paternal way again.

It was deathly quiet in the house now, and, as far from street lights as they were, thick black as the moon had gone. Hannibal knew that sleep was about as far away from him as possible, and so quietly pulled himself from the bed, pulling his jeans back on over bare legs and padding, as silently as possible, down the stairs and into the kitchen.

The room was empty and Hannibal suffered from a moment’s confusion before he noticed the door standing open just a crack and crept over, pushing it wider to watch in silent admiration, as Face lowered a now sleeping baby gently down into the waiting pram on the porch.

“You got him back off again,” he whispered, as Face draped a sheet over Jack and then fastened the fly net up over the hood of the carrier.

“Yeah,” Face took a step away, nearer to Hannibal. “I used some more of that gel you bought, it’s really good,” their eyes met in the light spilling from the kitchen window. “Thanks.”

Hannibal smiled, trying to place the expression in Face’s eyes. “You’re welcome,” he said brightly, “I’m here to help!”

Face’s whole countenance fell at those words and Hannibal’s heart thudded painfully as he realised he’d said the wrong thing, why, he wasn’t quite sure, but it was obvious that it hadn’t been what Face had wanted to hear. “Kid?” he started.

“So that’s all this is?” Face said over him, “You ‘helping out’? Charity? Sexual hand-outs to the poor, penniless-”

Hannibal didn’t let him continue, he stepped in and took hold of his face firmly in both hands before leaning in and kissing him. For a moment, Face was still against him, and then he surged forward, his own arms coming to wind up against Hannibal’s shoulders, kissing back with an enthusiasm that took the breath away from both of them.

“Face, I love you,” he said eventually, when they were resting their foreheads together, still breathing heavily. “You will never get charity from me, only love. Do you understand that?”

He felt Face nod against him, “Yeah,” he whispered, “I’m sorry. It’s just been hard...” he tailed off and Hannibal knew what he meant, knew that the last few years had been exhausting for him.

Hannibal kissed him again then, just a press, just to build his own courage up really, to say the words that needed saying. “As long as you want me, that is,” he said quietly. “I’m not going to force myself on you, kid.”

Face pulled away and looked at him, his brow creased in confusion. “You think I’m conning you here?” he asked, the hurt shining in his eyes. “I told you I love you, doesn’t that tell you that I want you too?”

There was a pause as Hannibal took a deep breath, calming his own emotions and making sure he had this right in his head before he spoke. “The last three years should never have happened the way they did,” he eventually said, keeping a tight hold on Face to make sure he couldn’t run off on him before he’d finished. “And a major reason they did was because of the hurtful things that we said to each other, the truthful things that we didn’t say to each other and the assumptions, wrong assumptions, that I for one know I made.”

He waited, allowed Face that time to object if he felt the need, and when he stayed staring down at his bare feet in silence, Hannibal continued. “I’m not going to run the risk of that happening to us again,” he said, the plea obvious in his tone. “We need to talk more, communicate much better if this is going to work out. I’m not going to go off assumptions anymore, kid. I know you don’t like talking about the way you feel, and truth be known, neither do I, but that’s something we’re just going to have to get around, ‘cause I’m not gonna lose you here Face, not over something as stupid as a misunderstanding. We need to start being honest.”

Still Face didn’t answer, and Hannibal was starting to worry, starting to wonder if he’d somehow offended the kid, when he raised his head and looked straight into Hannibal’s eyes. “I love you,” he said simply. “I want to share my life, my heart, my soul, my bed – my kids - with you.” Hannibal felt tears prick his eyes. “The one main reason that things never worked out between Charissa and me was that she wasn’t you, you’re the only one I’ve ever wanted since I was sixteen years old. You’re it for me, John, my everything, without you, I don’t even work right.” He paused, “Is that honest enough for you?”

And then it was Hannibal’s turn to be silent, having to fight around the lump in his throat to speak. “So much wasted time,” he eventually managed to whisper, “so much heartache and misunderstanding...” they stared at each other. “Yes, kid,” he said clearing his throat and forcing a smile Face’s way, “That’s more than honest enough for me. And I’m yours Face,” he shrugged, “always have been.”

Face’s eyes shone with tears and he fell onto Hannibal’s shoulder, his face buried in a warm neck as Hannibal wrapped him up in strong arms, holding him close and just drinking in his scent, the solid weight against his chest, the way that he could feel that resilient heart beating against his own.

“So what happens now then?” he asked eventually, still holding Face tightly to him. “How are we going to do this?”

The silence that followed his words stretched on but Hannibal forced himself to be calm. Face had said he loved him, and Hannibal believed him one hundred percent, all the kid needed was some time, and Hannibal had already promised him anything he needed. He rubbed slow circles on the bare back under his fingers and waited.

Eventually Face pulled back, one arm still loosely draped over Hannibal’s broad shoulders, the other sliding round so that a warm hand cupped the spot on Hannibal’s neck where his face had just been buried. He took a deep breath. “We’ll come back to base with you, all three of us.” The words came out in a rush of air and Hannibal knew how hard all of this was for Face; he could risk his own life, his own happiness without too much thought, but now he was risking the happiness of his children as well, and that was a whole different ball game, and of course, accepting help had never really been Face’s strength. “We’ll talk to the brass, meet up with the guys again...” Hannibal could see the unfamiliar nervousness around Face’s eyes at his words. “And if that all pans out then we’ll see what we can do about getting the kids settled.” Hannibal nodded, happy to go along with whatever Face wanted, his heart singing for joy in his chest.

Face took another deep breath, “When do you want me?”

“Always, I want you always,” Hannibal shot back, fast as a whip and they shared a smile, hands moving to find each other by touch alone. “But, well, whenever you can make it. How soon can you be packed up to leave here?”

Face’s expression darkened. “Three hours?” he said flatly and Hannibal laughed but Face didn’t. “No, seriously boss,” he whispered. “Three hours. We don’t really have much, left it all in DC. We can be packed up in no time at all.”

The smile had vanished from Hannibal’s face at those words and he reached out, cupping a stubbled cheek. “Things are going to get better, sweetheart,” he whispered, “I swear they are.”

“I know,” Face smiled at him, “they already have.”

Hannibal returned the smile and couldn’t resist the kiss he leant in to press on Face’s more than willing lips, still marvelling that he was allowed to do that now. “So, tomorrow, today then?” he asked. “You sure?” and Face nodded.

“Damn sure.”

The smile they shared then was so full of hope, full of love, that Hannibal had to draw Face to him, have yet another one of those kisses that he knew he would never, ever tire of tasting, deeper this time, a promise of things to come. And then, together, they manoeuvred Jack’s carrier back into the house, leaving it in the dark kitchen while they withdrew to the main living area and folded their long frames onto the sofa, a glorious tangle of hands and limbs.

And that’s where they were when Sophia found them the next morning, Hannibal opened his eyes to see her standing there, still in her pink night dress, ignoring Face who was sleeping on in Hannibal’s arms and holding out her wings. “I can’t get these on!” she whispered, sounding so much like a frustrated Face it was almost hilarious, “Will you help me?”

Hannibal nodded and carefully eased himself out from under his sleeping XO before taking Sophia out onto the front porch to help her with her wings. As soon as they were properly secured, she was off, skipping around the dusty yard on bare feet as the sun started heating the air around them. Hannibal watched her for a bit and then turned to look through the window and check on Face who was still sound asleep on the sofa and through the open door of the kitchen, he could see Jack’s, Jonathan’s carrier, as still and quiet as its occupant.

The sound of dusty feet brought his attention back to the yard and there was Sophia, standing with one hand cupped inside the other one, staring intently at a little pile of sand in her palm.

“Look!” she said and her reverent whisper alerted Hannibal to the possibility that she was seeing something a little different to him.

“What?” he asked, matching her tone perfectly.

“Fairy dust,” she breathed, “it makes wishes come true. You want some?”

She held her hands out to him and Hannibal took a pinch. “What do I do with it?”

“Make a wish and sprinkle!” Sophia told him, demonstrating enthusiastically. “But don’t tell your wish otherwise it won’t come true...”

Hannibal nodded solemnly and followed her directions, closing his eyes for his wish and opening them back up again to sprinkle and catch Sophia’s delighted expression. With that she skipped off again, far too busy being a fairy to stay too long with him and he smiled to himself, already totally in love with his instant family and knowing, just knowing, that this time they would get it right.

After all, what could beat the power of fairy dust?