1. All an adventure
“So, now do you want to tell me what you were playing at?”
Face tried to stand tall but it was surprisingly hard to hold his ground in front of the imposing figure who had pulled him out of the fight and dragged him across the base. He took a deep breath, and tried, “It was a private matter, Major.”
“A private matter?” The silver-grey major with the piercing blue eyes stepped closer to Face, towering over him by a good few inches. Face fought the instinct to take a step backwards. “A private matter that had the two of you brawling like teenage street thugs, in front of a crowd of at least twenty other recruits?”
“He didn’t like that I keep beating him in the tests.” Face shrugged, trying to play it cool. “Not my fault if the guy’s a poor loser.”
“And that was all of it, was it?”
Those piercing eyes bored into Face’s, as if peering into his soul, and Face tried not to blink or look away. He swallowed, wondering exactly how honest he should be. By all rights, the major should’ve dragged him straight to the MPs, rather than to his pokey little office, so something was going on. This major was up to something.
“Okay, so I might’ve slept with the girl he used to date,” Face admitted eventually, giving in to the power of that penetrating stare. “He didn’t like that much either.”
“You’re top in your class, could have the pick of any posting you like when you graduate, and you’re risking it all over a girl?”
Well, that certainly made Face blink. There was no reason this man should know anything about him. “You know I’m top?” he asked in surprise, and the major smirked, quirking one eyebrow up before answering.
“Of course I know. Peck, isn’t it? Though you prefer Face.”
“How the hell did you – I mean, yes, Sir. I prefer Face.”
The major stepped back, perching on the edge of his overflowing desk, the smirk changing to the beginnings of a grin on his handsome face. “I’ve been watching you,” he told Face as he folded his long arms across his chest, biceps bulging beneath his uniform jacket. “Watching the whole class, obviously, but you have a lot of potential. And it makes me mad when you go throwing it all away.”
“I really wasn’t.” Face had a sudden inkling who this major was, and his heart just about skipped a beat. He’d heard stories, all the recruits had, of one particular Ranger who had a knack of making the impossible possible. He hadn’t realised the guy would be so damn handsome, though. Trying to refocus his thoughts away from the utterly inappropriate, he quickly tried to explain, “Sir, it just happened, honestly. I didn’t plan it.”
The major wasn’t smiling any longer, his eyes narrowing. “Seems to happen to you a lot, Face. I’ve read your file. It’s a baffling mixture of glowing reports and written warnings. How much longer do you think you’ll be able to get away with it? You think you’ll even make it through basic training if you keep going like this?”
Face found himself shrugging again. There was something about this man that knocked down the confident walls he’d fought to build up, making him want to be utterly honest. “I don’t plan any of it, sir. I want to be the best, but I don’t know…” He paused, then ploughed straight on, “What if this is the best I can do? All I’m good for?”
At that, the major reached out unexpectedly and took Face’s right hand in his own, turning it over until he could see the scraped and bruised knuckles. “Don’t they even teach you how to throw a punch properly anymore?” he chided, and Face, to his annoyance, felt a blush creep over his cheeks. “You’re better than this.”
“What if I’m really not?” Face all but whispered, shaking his head a little.
“You really are. Trust me, kid, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know true talent when I see it.” Keeping hold of Face’s hand, the major pushed up to stand to his full height again, tugging Face closer. “Keep your nose out of trouble for the next few weeks. Let them play all the games they want, you just make sure you keep that number one spot. Then, when you graduate, come join my unit. I’ll show you the world and what you can really do.” Those bright blue eyes sparkled. “What do you think?”
Face knew immediately that he was going to say yes, but – “I don’t even know your name, Major.”
“Yes you do, kid.” The major turned his grip on Face’s hand into a proper handshake, his skin warm and dry, callouses from handling a thousand weapons rough against the shameful scrapes on Face’s knuckles. Face could feel the power and strength in that grip. It was a grip he knew he could trust and that would never let him fall. “So, what’s your answer?”
Face smiled, drawing himself up to his own full height and standing to attention. “Yes, Major Smith.”
“Hannibal, kid. It’s just Hannibal.”
2. I risk it all
The mission had been an absolute bitch, but it was finally over, or it should’ve been. The team were still on edge, still alert and with guns held ready as they made their escape, but they were laughing a little as well, congratulating themselves on another supposedly-impossible job very well done.
“Did you see the look on his face, boss?” Face crowed, dropping one arm heavily around Hannibal’s neck as he rode the adrenaline rush caused by one too many close calls. “When he realised what we’d done? Did you see?”
Hannibal laughed, indulgent as always. “I saw, kid. It was quite a picture!”
“It was an absolute work of art, was what it was!” Murdock called back over his shoulder, as he skipped – quite literally skipped, to Face’s amusement – ahead of them towards the waiting chopper that would carry them back across the border from Kenya into Tanzania. “A Picasso! No, a Monet!”
Perhaps predictably, BA had started to drag his heels a little the closer they got to the chopper, whilst also watching their sixes, leaving Hannibal and Face in the middle of the team. “You sure we can’t just hike it, Hannibal?” Face heard the big guy call. “Hell, I’ll hike it by myself and meet you all there.”
“You know the drill, Sergeant. We don’t split up for anything, unless we have no choice.” Hannibal’s word on the matter was final, of course, though Face winked knowingly at their Colonel as they shared a quick sideways glance, recognising the familiar spark in those bright blue eyes he loved so much.
Face didn’t need further orders, and immediately he reached down to his pocket, subtly digging out the bulletproof tube that contained a syringe loaded with a single shot of powerful tranquilizer, just enough to get BA onto the chopper and back to safety. He kept it safely alongside a second similar tube which held a cigar for when Hannibal inevitably ran out of or lost his own, though Hannibal didn’t seem to need it just yet.
“I know it’s your line, boss,” Face started, uncapping the syringe with a flick of his thumb. “But I do love it when a plan – ”
Then noise, heat, a bright light, and immediate darkness.
Utter, total, dead silence.
Couldn’t move, couldn’t open his eyes. Wetness on his arm and a weight on his chest. Couldn’t breathe.
The team. Where were his team?
Then, sound came rushing back in a screaming surge that made Face flinch. He could hear Murdock shouting and BA bellowing, and he was moving, somehow, flying through the air, and then he was settled down onto something hard, a bench, and oh, literally flying, that swooping sensation in his stomach followed by the distinctive roar of a chopper bursting into life.
Hannibal. Where was Hannibal?
Couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t –
“I’m here, Face, I’m right here.” Oh, maybe Face had managed to actually say that out loud after all. He felt sure he hadn’t. Couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn’t feel, couldn’t – “Lie still, kid. It was a grenade, you took the brunt of it but you’ll be okay if you just lie still.”
More shouting from Murdock and from BA – oh God, they were useless without Face, had they not given BA his shot? – but their words were indistinct now as Face felt himself starting to drift away on the clouds they must be flying through by now. The weight on his chest was heavier, the darkness thicker, and he knew what this was.
It should have scared him, but strangely he felt fine with it, his entire body growing numb. Apart from one thought.
Suddenly, a spark of sensation. He could feel a hand in his own, squeezing tightly and pulling him back, shielding him from the darkness. “I’ve got you, Lieutenant. I won’t let you go.”
Hannibal’s voice was clear and close, and as Face gasped in a strangled breath around the weight on his chest he could smell the faint whiff of tobacco. Cigar time now, then. Of course it was.
The darkness was still beckoning, stronger now as the first twinges of pain started to pierce their way determinedly through the numbness, prickling all over Face’s body and growing into a steady roar all along his left side. Arm, chest, neck – a crescendo of agony, and perhaps he whimpered, though he hoped he was stronger than that. He was a Ranger. He was meant to be stronger than anyone and anything.
He suddenly didn’t feel very strong.
“I’ve got you,” Hannibal told him again, as calm as if they were simply strolling hand in hand along a beach, with not a care in the world. “Stay with me now. I won’t ever let you go.”
Strong fingers squeezed again around Face’s as the pain slowly whited out everything else, and Face held on for his life.
3. All that will come in between
“Look at that view, Face.” Hand in hand on the edge of a cliff, and it feels like they are standing at the very edge of the world, looking out at the distant horizon as the sun sinks slowly, painting the desert and sea in a thousand shades of gold. All just for the two of them.
“You’re still here? Don’t let me go.” Lying in a hospital bed, drifting on a cloud of painkillers, Hannibal’s hand is the only anchor Face knows.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant. I’m so proud of you.” Those simple words and a firm handshake from Hannibal mean so much more than the shiny new medal pinned to Face’s breast, and he can finally feel pride in his own achievements as he looks into blue eyes he loves so much.
“Gotcha, kid.” A strong hand hauling Face from his precarious position underneath a truck as they hurtle through the streets of Baghdad, and Face knows Hannibal will never, ever let him fall.
“One day, sweetheart. One day that’ll be us.” Sitting in the back of the church, watching their friends say ‘I do’, Face isn’t at all sure he heard Hannibal’s whispered words correctly, but as his lover’s cool hand sneaks into his own, his heart beats a little faster all the same.
“Ready? And go!” Arms stretched wide and hands locked together, they charge at the mob to meet them head on, sweeping them off their feet and, whooping with glee, they charge onwards to make their escape, still clutching each other’s hands as they race away into the night.
4. Will you catch me
Face really didn’t want to talk about it. Not until he knew something more, certainly, and maybe not even then. So when Hannibal suddenly sat down close by his side on the cool ground, he tensed up immediately. He hadn’t even heard his lover approaching, and he swallowed hard, dreading the coming conversation.
But Face should’ve known better.
Hannibal knew him now, inside and out, after an incredible ten years spent working side by side and loving each other through everything. Hannibal knew not to push him. Hell, Hannibal had probably been watching through the kitchen window for the last half hour, seeing how Face had stood frozen on the driveway unable to make himself actually enter the house. Hannibal had probably watched Face turn away with slumped shoulders, walking up onto the little grassy mound on the edge of their land, and watched him sink down and just stare out at the darkening sky.
And so Hannibal now, to Face’s great relief, just carefully rearranged himself until his shoulder was pressed right up against Face’s, their hips touching and thighs close, before holding out one of the two frosty bottled beers he held in his hands. Hannibal didn’t say a single word.
Face felt so unbelievably grateful he could almost cry, for the first time since the clinic had told him the news earlier that afternoon. He let himself sink sideways a fraction, soaking up a little of Hannibal’s warmth and a lot of his strength, and together they just sat and sipped quietly at their beers watching the sunset, until Face finally felt strong enough to speak.
“They want to run some more tests.” His own voice sounded hollow, weak, and Face frowned to himself. “It’s probably just a cyst, but they aren’t sure, and it could be… well, it could still be something.”
Hannibal placed his nearly empty bottle down carefully on the grass before resting one hand palm up on Face’s knee in invitation. Face didn’t even have to think about it: immediately, he placed his own hand into Hannibal’s and let his lover wrap those long, strong fingers around his own. He braced himself for a slew of platitudes and promises that ‘everything will be fine’ – he didn’t want to hear it, not any of it, not when he was trying so damn hard to hold himself together.
Face really, really should’ve known Hannibal better than that.
When Hannibal did eventually speak, his hand closing convulsively around Face’s own, his simple words released a knot somewhere deep in Face’s chest. “You’re not on your own, Face. Whatever they find, we’re all here with you. I’m right here with you, and I hope you know that.” Hannibal’s calm voice was so sincere, his grip so steady, and Face believed him completely and utterly as he repeated, “You’re not on your own.”
Face nodded, still staring out at the last glimmer of daylight even as he watched Hannibal from the corner of his eye, savouring the points of contact at hand and shoulder and hip. Hannibal was always right there with him.
“Would you come with me?” he asked suddenly, and Hannibal’s grip impossibly tightened even more, the faint pain a grounding sensation Face actually relished over the vague numbness in the rest of his body. “Tomorrow morning, I mean. It’s just a scan, but – ”
“Of course I’ll come. I would’ve come with you today if you’d let me.” Hannibal slid his free hand under Face’s chin, turning him gently until they were finally facing each other properly for the first time. Face’s beer bottle was still nearly full but it suddenly felt almost weightless as he stared into Hannibal’s bottomless blue-grey eyes, seeing nothing but love and reassurance there. “Face, sweetheart, I’ll be there every day.”
For a long moment they just stared into each other’s eyes, and Face could barely blink though he felt the frustrating sting of tears. He thought Hannibal might kiss him, but instead they just breathed together, Face’s chest rising and falling in perfect synch with his lover’s. “John,” he started, not sure what he wanted to say, and Hannibal smiled at him gently.
“Come on, baby. It’s long past dinner time, and Murdock and BA will be getting worried.”
Hannibal drew Face up with him as he moved to stand, still holding tight to Face’s hand, and Face just let himself be moved, guided, ushered across the grass with that anchoring grip. His emotions were all over the place but he felt calmer, somehow, knowing Hannibal would fend off their team mates’ well-intentioned questions for him.
With a gentle tug on Hannibal’s hand, Face stopped them just a pace away from the front door, looking again into those calm, loving blue-grey eyes. And this time he did close the distance and pecked a soft kiss to his lover’s lips, before whispering, “Thanks, Hannibal.”
Then the front door was swinging open and they were in, and normal life, or what passed for it in the Rangers, resumed once more.
5. This life we choose
“Hannibal? What are you doing?” It was the end of a long and wonderful day, a hike out to Face’s favourite spot with a picnic and a few beers, and the sight of Hannibal suddenly dropping to one knee was completely unexpected. “You okay? Here, let me help.”
“I’m fine.” Hannibal waved off Face’s attempts to help him stand, and Face just watched, confused, as his lover dug something out of one of his pockets instead, turning it over in his hands slowly. “I’m just a little nervous, that’s all.”
Hannibal didn’t sound all that nervous, though there was something in his eyes that Face couldn’t quite read. He frowned, trying to figure out what his lover was holding, in hands that – to his surprise – were shaking ever so slightly.
It was something small and black. A cube, or a box. Oh. A ring box.
Face felt his heart start to race immediately as his eyes opened wide. “John, what – ?”
“Templeton Peck. Face. Sweetheart.” Hannibal flipped the box open with one hand to reveal a simple gold band, set with a tiny diamond. Perfect, classic, and Face’s chest started to feel tight. Hannibal visibly swallowed hard, though his voice remained steady. “I have something I’d very much like to ask you, if you’ll let me.”
“Why now?” Face blurted out a question of his own before he could stop the words slipping from his mouth. This wasn’t real, surely. This couldn’t be happening. Things like this didn’t happen to people like him. People like him weren’t this lucky.
But Hannibal didn’t seem to mind the interruption, and for all his earlier words he didn’t seem particularly nervous either. He smiled up at Face, still down on one knee, blue eyes shining with love.
“I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time. I actually bought this ring nearly a year ago, after Kenya, when I first knew you were really going to be okay.” Hannibal reached up one hand to Face, quirking an eyebrow in question, and Face instantly took that hand in his own, using it to anchor himself as the older man continued, “And then, over these last few weeks, waiting for the test results and trying not to imagine the worst…”
“I’m fine.” Face squeezed those long fingers tightly, feeling the tremble in Hannibal’s hand as the mixture of complicated emotions threatening to choke him. He knew just how close he’d come to checking out for good after the explosion in Kenya, Hannibal staying by his side as he was transported back to the states, and there had been a few long and scary days recently before all his tests had finally come back clear. “It was just a cyst, remember? I’m absolutely fine.”
Hannibal closed his eyes briefly, clearly gathering himself, and Face saw him swallow hard again before those blue eyes snapped back open, staring up at him. “We risk so much doing the jobs we do and living the lives we’ve chosen to live. You’ve followed me into what should’ve been certain death and yet we’ve somehow walked away each and every time.”
“I’d risk anything just to be with you, John. You know that.” It might be corny, Face mused, but it was true.
“And I’ve always been amazed and grateful that you make that choice. I don’t take that lightly. But I could’ve lost you this time, from something completely out of our control and something we never would have chosen, not in a million years. And it made me realise that life is just too damn short.”
Hannibal’s grip on Face’s hand grew tighter then, almost painfully so, but Face found himself smiling as tears of unexpected joy started to prickle his eyes. Hannibal’s hand was smooth and cool, and no longer shaking, though Face’s felt weak and sweat-slicked as adrenaline flooded his body.
Were they really going to do this?
“Ask me,” he heard himself tell Hannibal, surprised to find his voice was barely more than a whisper.
Hannibal’s supposed nerves were suddenly visible in his eyes for the first time as he hesitated, biting briefly at his lower lip. “Are you sure, sweetheart?”
Face felt he might vibrate out of his skin with anticipation. “Ask me.” He squeezed Hannibal’s hand as tightly as he could. “Go on. You bought a ring and everything, so you might as well.”
He knew exactly what he would say. There was no question what his answer would be.
And finally, with a tiny grin and a flash of those gorgeous eyes, Hannibal took a deep breath, and asked.