“Good evening, Lieutenant. It’s been a while.”
Face spun around in surprise to see the one and only General Russell Morrison, deceased, standing behind him in his full dress uniform, with medals gleaming and boots polished to the highest shine.
“What the f – ” he started, reaching immediately for a gun that simply wasn’t there, startled to realise he was only wearing a pair of boxer briefs and a loose t-shirt of Hannibal’s that nearly drowned him.
Morrison smiled as Face fumbled for his non-existent weapon, his eyes almost sad, and shook his head. “Sorry, kid. That’s not an option I’m afraid.”
“How the hell are you standing here?” Face hissed, just barely resisting the urge to take a swing at the older officer, choosing instead to wait until he knew what was going on. Hannibal would be proud of him.
“I’m not here. Not really here, at least.” A casual shrug as Morrison shifted into parade rest. “No more than you really are.”
Face narrowed his eyes sharply at that. Nothing was making any sense – Russ Morrison, traitor, had been dead for more than five years now, blown to pieces on a cold and rainy lakeside in Germany. But then, something slipped into place in Face’s mind.
The last thing he could remember was falling asleep in Hannibal’s arms.
Ah, of course. He felt his tense shoulders relax a fraction at the realisation, and he took a slow, calming breath.
“So if you’re not here, and I’m not here, then this is all some sort of twisted dream, right?” More of a nightmare, obviously, but the General immediately shook his head firmly.
“I wish it was all just a dream, son.” Morrison hesitated, looking thoughtfully at Face with the same piercing gaze that had always terrified him as a wet-behind-the-ears baby Ranger, then gestured for Face to look over his shoulder. “This is all too real, I’m afraid. Take a look.”
It had been drilled into Face to follow any and all orders from a higher officer, and he turned automatically in spite of his desire to keep Morrison in his sights at all times. And he gasped when he realised they were standing in the bedroom he and Hannibal were currently sharing, in their most recent, and most luxurious, safe house. Life on the run didn’t allow for a lot of luxuries but for once things had worked out well, a wealthy and grateful client loaning them a gorgeous beach house with an enormous California king bed.
The room was dark, the picturesque view of the ocean lost to the night, and in the bed lay Face himself, cradled in Hannibal’s strong embrace, their eyes closed and their expressions relaxed.
“I don’t understand,” Face whispered without thinking. “Of course this is a dream. It has to be a dream. Or, I don’t know, some kind of freaky out-of-body experience.”
“Look closer,” Morrison told him quietly.
Face took a half-step closer to the bed, peering through the dim shadows of the room. The him on the bed was curled on his left side, just as he had been when he’d fallen asleep, with one hand resting limply on the pillow by his slightly parted lips. Hannibal was spooned up behind him, nose pressed to the nape of his neck, arms wrapped loosely around the sleeping Face’s waist.
“I don’t know…”
“Look even closer,” Morrison whispered right in Face’s ear, and Face shivered, frowned.
Hannibal was snoring softly, faint whuffles that barely disturbed the silence of the night. The bed sheets were pushed down to their hips, so the gentle rise and fall of Hannibal’s broad chest was clearly visible as he breathed steadily in and out. He seemed peaceful and comfortable, to Face’s eyes, a gorgeous specimen of a man at rest.
Still frowning, Face turned his attention to his own double, expecting to see a matching rise and fall as he breathed in sync with his lover. It was his favourite sleeping position, when they had the space to indulge, having Hannibal spooned up so closely behind him, feeling Hannibal’s chest brush his back with every inhale as they quite literally slept together.
But the Face lying in the bed, held safely in Hannibal’s arms, wasn’t breathing.
“You see it now, don’t you?” Morrison moved to stand by Face’s side, a warm presence against his shoulder, and looked down at the pair on the bed. “You stopped breathing in your sleep, Lieutenant, then your heart simply gave up. Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, or that’s what they’ll decide. They’ll never know for sure.”
“No,” Face breathed, frozen in place as Morrison rested one hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently in an attempt at reassurance. The hand was hot, heavy, and Face felt pinned in place like a butterfly on a board.
He could feel that hand, right down to his bones. This was real. This couldn’t be a dream.
He was dead.
“I’m so sorry, kid. There are worse ways to go, I suppose. Let’s face it, I should know.”
At the jarring words, Face found the strength to shrug out from under the General’s hand and staggered a few feet away, though he couldn’t quite tear his eyes from the bed. “Is that supposed to be comforting?” he managed to ask, noticing with horror that his doppelganger had blue-tinted lips, his skin a strange shade of grey, the signs visible even in the dimness of the night.
“Not at all. I apologise.” Morrison did sound genuine, but Face didn’t give even a single fuck. “I know how hard this is, believe me.”
“So if I’m really dead, where’s my light at the end of the long, dark tunnel? What the hell are you supposed to be? My guardian angel?” Face snorted, feeling close to tears, his chest tight as the reality of the situation started to sink in. “Or is this like something out of Scrooged? Are you the ghost of Christmas past?”
A surprised laugh filled the room, and Face spun to stare at the General, his hands tightening into fists. “I forgot how much attitude you always had, kid,” Morrison explained quickly, a tiny smile still hovering on his lips. “Most people in this situation would be weeping or screaming, or denying the evidence in front of them, not questioning my presence.”
The evidence seemed pretty clear to Face at that moment, and questioning it had somehow never occurred to him, though a tiny part of him was clinging to the idea that perhaps this really was all just a nightmare. “Will weeping change anything?” he asked, feeling a little hysterical. “I mean, I’m happy to scream if it’ll make you disappear.”
Morrison looked almost hurt. “That’s not very nice, Lieutenant.”
The years of history between them, both good and bad, bubbled up in Face’s chest until he felt he could almost explode at the older man. This was Morrison, who had been Hannibal’s lover once upon a time, who had remained one of Hannibal’s closest friends. Morrison, who had laughed and joked with the team around campfires, who had helped hide Hannibal and Face’s relationship. Morrison, who had betrayed them all for cold hard cash.
“You’re a traitor,” Face hissed, the words practically choking him. “How could you do that to Hannibal, someone you say you used to love?”
“I did love Hannibal, kid, long before he met you. A part of me will always love him.”
“Then how could you – ” A sudden, horrific thought derailed Face’s righteous anger at the General, and he gasped. “Oh fuck, Hannibal’s going to wake up and find me like this, isn’t he?”
Morrison’s silence spoke volumes, and Face felt his heart sink, his knees turning to jello. Oh Hannibal…
Hannibal didn’t deserve this, not after going through so much in his life, and losing so much. Hannibal who had fought for his country, who had loved Face so unconditionally for so long. Face would give anything to spare his lover the pain of waking to find his dead body lying in the bed by his side.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Morrison said softly, as if reading his thoughts, and Face stepped closer to the bed, reaching out as if to shake Hannibal’s shoulder. “And you know that won’t work.”
It didn’t stop Face trying anyway, but sure enough his hand simply passed straight through his lover’s sleeping body. Hannibal didn’t even stir, still breathing regularly, though Face felt pins and needles spread rapidly through his own arm, and he quickly pulled it back to cradle it against his chest as if wounded.
Hannibal was so peaceful, his long, lean, tanned body relaxed as he breathed deeply and steadily, at perfect rest. Cradling a corpse in his arms.
“So, what happens next?” Face managed to ask eventually, narrowing his eyes at the General by his side. “And why exactly are you here again?”
“I’m here to help you.”
Face snorted, raking one hand back through his hair. At least he felt solid enough for now. Real enough.
“How can you help me?” he questioned after another pause, genuinely curious despite the situation. If there was even the smallest chance that this was some nightmare his sleeping mind had conjured, what role had his subconscious given to the deceased General? “If I’m dead, I’m dead. You’ve already told me there’s nothing I can do. So surely there’s nothing you can do for me.”
“But I really can help,” Morrison insisted, his gaze turning suddenly intense, his eyes dark and unblinking. “I can help you move on. I can help you say goodbye.”
The very thought nearly broke Face’s heart, and he squeezed his own eyes shut tightly. “I don’t want to say goodbye,” he whispered into the night. “I never thought that I’d be the one…” His voice failed him, but Morrison continued as if he knew exactly what Face was thinking.
“You never thought you’d be the one to go first, right? You thought you’d be the one left behind, not the one leaving him behind.”
Okay, that was all a little close to the truth for comfort. Face squirmed in place, feeling a shiver run down his spine, but he still couldn’t quite acknowledge Morrison’s words. “I never wanted to hurt him,” he said eventually, opening his eyes to stare at Morrison, and to his surprise the General laughed again, a touch of bitterness beneath his obvious amusement.
“Oh, then you wanted to be the last man standing, is that it?”
“No!” Quite the opposite, actually; Face always figured he’d go first if they were out in battle, in a blaze of glory which would make Hannibal proud, but since they’d been on the run, well – “Stop twisting my words!”
Morrison, or Morrison’s ghost, held his hands up as if in surrender, though he was still smiling. “My apologies, Lieutenant. I really am just trying to help.”
“You keep saying that, but – ”
“But how? That’s simple. We both loved Hannibal, and he loved us both. I just have to ask you one easy question: what would you give to avoid hurting him like this? To avoid having him wake up to your cold, dead body?”
Face suddenly felt his heart racing in his chest, the same heart that had apparently failed him in his sleep. It was beating so fast his breastbone hurt, and he could feel the vein in his neck throbbing painfully. “There’s a way back?” he asked, turning slowly back to look at his lover, lying asleep and blissfully unaware on their bed. And he knew what his answer had to be. “Anything. I’d give absolutely anything to avoid hurting him like this.”
He meant it with all his heart, but he only realised his mistake much too late when Morrison threw his head back and roared with laughter. “Well said, son. That’s a more than acceptable answer, and I guess I’ll take my own choice of ‘anything’. Luckily I know exactly what I want.”
Face regretted his words immediately; he’d spoken too soon, stupidly without question. “Wait, I mean – ”
“Goodbye, Lieutenant. I’ll look after him for you, I promise.” And with that, the laughing General disappeared in the blink of an eye, followed immediately by the bed, including Face’s body, and Hannibal, and –
And Face woke with a strangled gasp, choking on pure air and with his heart jack-rabbiting away beneath his breast. Hannibal’s arms were heavy around his waist, the bedroom around them cool and dark, and for a long, horrible moment Face couldn’t remember what had woken him.
He blinked into the darkness, clearing the sleep from his eyes as he tried to slow his breathing and calm his heartrate, and eventually things started to solidify around him. And he remembered.
Just a dream, after all. Just a horrible, twisted dream. But Face was alive, and Morrison was dead, and Face was safe in Hannibal’s arms.
Hannibal, who usually woke at the first sign of a nightmare. Hannibal, whose arms would tighten and caress and soothe Face, who would whisper words of comfort in his ear while he fought off the shadows of the night.
Hannibal, whose arms were heavy and still and cold. Whose chest wasn’t moving against Face’s back as it should have been. Whose gentle exhales weren’t teasing the hair on Face’s nape as they always did.
Face suddenly couldn’t take a breath, couldn’t even swallow over the lump in his throat as he found Hannibal’s hand with his own and gently squeezed the too-cool flesh.
It couldn’t be.
Was this Morrison’s ‘anything’?
“John?” he whispered, tears prickling in his eyes. “Oh, please. No. John, wake up.”
And Face gathered his courage and slowly started to turn over.