Hannibal woke to an empty bed and a dark, silent house. He waited a moment, hoping to hear the flushing of the toilet or the running of a tap but when the quiet continued uninterrupted he sighed and lifted back the duvet, knowing without doubt where he would find his missing partner. His feet padded silently along the hallway and paused at the doorway, waiting a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness before he could properly make out the scene in front of him.
Face was sitting perched on the very edge of the chair, elbows on knees, eyes fixed on the still shape in the cot before him, the shapes and contours of Jonathan’s limbs picked out in the dull orange glow of the night light.
“How’s he doing?” Hannibal asked quietly, drifting forward and placing his hands on Face’s shoulders, feeling the shrug he got as an answer to his words. “Has he been awake?”
This time Face shook his head and Hannibal smiled a little as he felt him lean back into his touch. “No, he’s not stirred. You think I should wake him? You know like we do? Check for concussion?”
Hannibal frowned. “Is that what they said at the hospital?”
“No. They said they weren’t worried about that but to watch him for vomiting just in case.”
“No then,” Hannibal squeezed a little harder. “Let him sleep. And you. You should sleep too, come back to bed, sweetheart.”
Predictably Face didn’t move and Hannibal had to suppress a sigh. He knew damn well that the kid was blaming himself for this little mishap and it didn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference what anyone said to him.
It had started off as just another pleasant afternoon in the house. Momma had been around and made fairy cakes with Sophia while Hannibal and Jonathan played in the kiddie pool. They’d all eaten lunch together and then Momma had gone, Sophia had wandered inside to play with her dolls’ house and Hannibal sat in the shade of a tree chatting to Face while he and Jonathan pottered in the garden playing and exploring together.
Jonathan was almost two years old, as bold and inquisitive as Sophia had been quiet and timid. He managed to find himself in more scrapes than Face and Murdock combined, and his sense of self preservation was non-existent. Face was following him around the garden, less than a step behind, answering all his one-word questions and showing him new things whilst also keeping up his conversation with Hannibal. In a matter of moments, Jonathan had climbed the steps of Sophia’s slide, not unusual for him and Face took a step in, ready to catch him at the bottom as he slid down. But this time, it seemed his dare-devil son had different ideas; with his blue eyes fixed on Face and a wide smile of his own, Jonathan started jumping up and down on the very top of the slide, only managing two successful bounces before the inevitable disagreement with gravity resulted.
Hannibal and Face both moved like lightning as Jonathan fell, flipping over the hand rails so he was plummeting head first towards the grass. Face was the closest and managed to get one hand on a small ankle, stopping the downwards momentum but swinging his son head first into the metal steps instead. Hannibal’s initial surge of relief was soon swamped by fear and horror as the afternoon air was rent by a pain-filled scream and blood splattered messily all over the slide and the garden.
Given the circumstances, Face was calmness personified. He laid a screaming Jonathan on the grass as he checked the gash on his forehead, taking the cloth Hannibal passed him and pressing it down even as his other arm reached out to grab a hysterical Sophia who had appeared the instant she’d heard her brother’s distress.
They must have looked a strange party as they piled into Face’s old SUV; Face and Jonathan in the back seats, both covered in blood, with a sobbing Sophia clinging hard to them, while Hannibal slid in behind the wheel. Their arrival at Martin Hospital resulted in Hannibal having to peel Sophia away from her dad and her brother, allowing Face and Jonathan to go straight into a treatment room as Jonathan continued to leak blood all over the floor.
The hour they had had to wait for news had been a stiff test of Hannibal’s newly developed parenting skills. Sophia hadn’t wanted him, she’d wanted Face and he’d had to resort to two trips to the vending machines and a walk out to the scrubby little pond across the way before she’d stopped crying enough to respond to him. After that they sat in the waiting room, Sophia perched on his knee, untouched pack of potato chips in her hand, red puffy eyes staring at a silent episode of Judge Judy, until a nurse came by to collect them.
Hannibal’s heart had been thumping hard in his chest as the curtain had been pulled back but he was greeted by the sight of a giggling Jonathan sitting up on the gurney, huge white dressing on his forehead as one of the porters played peek-a-boo with him. Sophia was instantly at ease as well, seeing her brother looking so well, she squirmed out of Hannibal’s grip to watch the show, joining in with the giggling and trying to keep her chips out of Jonathan’s reach.
It was Face that looked ill. He was slumped in a chair in the corner of the cubicle, still covered in blood and as white as a ghost. Hannibal paused just long enough to speak to Jonathan and kiss him on the head before turning to the chair, dropping to his knees in front of it and sliding both his hands onto Face’s legs. “You okay?” he asked gently and Face’s eyes, wide and worried flicked his way.
“Yeah,” Hannibal’s heart ached at the way his voice shook. “Six stitches, but it’s not too deep. You know how head wounds bleed.”
He did, they’d all dealt with enough over the years and that’s what he’s told Sophia over and over again as they’d waited. Two sets of giggles filled the air behind him and he squeezed the leg under his fingers. “Can he come home?”
Face nodded blankly at him. “Yeah. Whenever really.”
So Hannibal had taken charge and arranged for them to leave, brought the car around and fastened them all in, letting Sophia ride in the front so she wouldn’t see all the blood and stopping at the drive-thru on the way back. Murdock, BA and Adele were all waiting for them when they arrived home, alerted by Hannibal’s stream of texts from the waiting room and it was a huge relief to see that they had removed every trace of blood from the garden and the house before Sophia, and Face, had had to see it again.
It had taken a lot of persuasion before Face had gone to shower in the en-suite, Murdock tracking him the whole way, talking all the time and collecting together the blood soaked clothes, already planning the best ways to get them clean. Hannibal took Jonathan to bath, while Momma promised to watch Sophia’s own shower. BA disappeared out into the front yard with a bowl of hot soapy water and Hannibal felt a surge of pride at the way his team worked even when they were on down-time.
Within an hour the kids were asleep in bed, the reinforcements had gone home and Hannibal had at last got his chance to wrap Face up in his arms and try to work that look of blank horror off his boy’s face.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he’d whispered as they lay tangled up in bed together. “You know that right?”
Face had just sighed, a long shuddering breath that tugged at Hannibal’s heart. “I should have been quicker,” he’d whispered into the dark.
“You were as quick as you possibly could have been. You couldn’t have been any closer to him, Face. The kid needs space to find his own way.”
Face instantly tensed. “He could have died if he’d landed on his head!” he responded hotly. “Is that the kind of space you think he needs?”
Hannibal sighed and tugged him a little closer. “No, sweetheart,” he whispered gently. “It’s not and you know it. All I meant was that kids get into scrapes, it’s how they learn. We have to give him that space and be there to help out if it goes wrong. Wrapping him in bubble wrap won’t do him any favours.”
Face hadn’t responded to that, and Hannibal had let him keep his silence, holding him until they had both fallen asleep.
Back in the present in Jonathan’s little room, Hannibal watched him sleep as he gently rubbed Face’s tense shoulders, marvelling at the way his mouth moved as he dreamed, his little fingers curled into fists and opened out again, his eyes fluttered under the white dressing and realised that he could watch them sleep, Sophia or Jonathan, for hours and never, ever tire of it.
“What if I’d missed him?”
Face’s voice, rough and broken, cut into his thoughts and he frowned, not liking that possibility any more than Face did.
“But you didn’t.”
Face turned to look at him, his eyes huge and wet. “But what if I had?” he asked. “What would I do, Hannibal, if something happened to him? Or to Soph? What if her heart plays up again or if she’s ill or what if Jonathan falls down the stairs or-”
“Shhhhh...” Hannibal dropped to his knees in front of Face, taking his cheeks in his palms, quietening him with a kiss. “None of that is going to happen you know. None of it.”
“But you were right,” there was still that edge of panic to Face’s voice that Hannibal didn’t like. “I can’t follow him around all day waiting to catch him, I can’t wrap him in cotton, I can’t always be there...”
“No, you can’t.” Hannibal kissed him again. “And neither can I but we can both teach them how to look after themselves, how to make the right decisions. They’re clever kids, Face, and they have a lot of people looking out for them. They’ll be fine. You know that, right? They will be fine.”
For a second that panic was still there, right in the edges of Face’s eyes tearing at Hannibal’s soul, but then it all seemed to melt away and Face slumped forward, his forehead resting on Hannibal’s. “I just love them so much,” he whispered. “They’re so wonderful, I feel like they’re more than I’ll ever deserve.”
“It’s terrifying,” Hannibal agreed. “But you’re doing a brilliant job with them, kid, brilliant. I’m so proud of you.”
Face pulled back. “We are,” he corrected. “We’re doing a brilliant job.”
Hannibal blinked at him, his eyes suddenly blurred then tugged him in for another kiss, only letting go when they were short of air and they both went back to resting their foreheads together again.
“I love you so much,” Face eventually whispered. “I always have done. I can’t believe I ever tried to live without you.”
Hannibal swallowed and stroked his hand through soft, curling hair. “And I love you too, baby. You, the kids...” he shook his head, “I can’t believe I’m this lucky.”
Again Face pulled back and waited until Hannibal met his eye. “You know I named him after you?” his voice was nothing more than a breath but it sent a wave of love washing right through Hannibal’s whole being.
“I didn’t.” He’d often wondered, but never let himself hope. “Face... kid... that’s...” He didn’t have to finish, Face didn’t let him, just fell on him again and they kissed and kissed until a sleep filled grumble from the cot pulled them apart.
Jonathan soon settled again and they went back to watching, Face still perched on the edge of the chair, Hannibal kneeling at his side, hands clasped tightly together.
Eventually though, Hannibal had to move, the pins and needles in his legs threatening to pitch him over. “Come back to bed?” he asked struggling to his feet but Face just shook his head.
“I can’t,” his eyes stayed fixed on his sleeping son. “What if he’s sick or something?”
Hannibal nodded and kissed the crown of Face’s head before moving off towards the door, missing the look of hurt disappointment that followed him. He wasn’t away long though, within minutes he was back, spreading duvets and blankets and pillows on the floor, smiling at Face’s stunned expression as he gently lifted Jonathan and his mattress out of the cot, placing them next to the nest he’d made on the carpet. Then he sank to his knees and pulled Face to him, adjusting them until they were spooned up together, Face at the edge of the cot mattress, his own solid length pressed against Face’s back, then he tugged over one more blanket and kissed the warm neck in front of him.
“Go to sleep,” he whispered. “And we’re right here if he needs us.”
Face’s hand found his and squeezed hard. “I love you, John,” he whispered and Hannibal smiled into his soft hair.
“I love you too, Temp, now sleep.”
They did, all three of them, four of them when Sophia found them and clambered into the space between Face and Hannibal’s legs. It wasn’t the most comfortable night that any of them had ever spent, but it may well have been the cosiest. Wrapped up in each others’ love as they were, it was well after eight before Hannibal’s eyes flickered open once more and his heart swelled with pride as he watched his little family sleeping around him. He thought back to Face’s words and knew exactly what the kid had meant – he was the luckiest man in the world to have all this and, pulling the covers over them all again, he knew he’d treasure every single minute of it.