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It's Better This Time

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The door to the warehouse slid open, and so did Face’s mouth, though, Hannibal mused, only one had ever been shut.

“Who the hell hires mercenaries this early in the morning?”  Face walked inside, boots dragging over uneven concrete.  “I hate morning people.  I already hate this guy.”

Murdock held up a styrofoam cup, said, “We got coffee,” as if that made everything okay.

“And bacon and eggs,” B.A. added.

“That diner’s open 24/7.  You can eat breakfast whenever you want.”

“The night waitresses don’t put the little happy faces on the pancakes,” said Murdock, “’cause they hate their lives more than the day waitresses.”

Hannibal shrugged, finding this assessment accurate.  “Considering we’re late,” he began, gaze landing on Face who thumbed his nose, “Mr. Greene should be here shortly.”

The day had started typically enough.  Face was late to the diner, slow to eat - took up more than his share of the booth - knocked a leg against Hannibal’s own while the older man attempted to consume his grits.  When it was time to leave, Face conveniently had no money.  It sparked an argument over responsibility and preparedness that inevitably ended with Hannibal paying for his meal, and whatever lesson could have been learned was completely lost.

In the warehouse now, Murdock was in Hannibal’s face, voice low yet excitable.  “Can I let him in?”

B.A. grunted, “Your crazy ass is gonna scare him away.”

“Sure,” was the answer, Hannibal lighting a cigar without looking up.  The other bounded outside and down the alleyway and no one went after him.

Face took his place next to Hannibal, fingertips brushing his thigh, causing the leader to still.  He purred, “I’m gonna pay you back,” lips curling into that playful yet smug smile.  Hannibal nonchalantly shrugged him off, though two powerful beats of his heart had him anxious to get this meeting over with.

After several minutes, Murdock returned, arm intertwined with that of a thin man.  He was mid-30’s, had a side part and a sweater, and was apparently too meek not to go with anyone who bid him come.

The team stood and Face gave Hannibal a wary glance, completely expecting Murdock to have chosen a random victim off the street.

“He’s here, fellas,” Murdock announced, as the rest waited to see how this would pan out.  “Congratulations, you found the A-Team.”

The man started cautiously, “I’m Jonathan Greene,” and that’s when the atmosphere relaxed.

“Mr. Greene,” Hannibal addressed, shaking his cold, clammy hand.  From closer, he could see the man had been caught in the rain, or rather, dragged through the rain by Murdock.  Introductions began, everyone gesturing at the sound of their name.

Cigar hit Hannibal’s lips and he asked, “What can we do for you?”

“I’m having trouble with…”  Jonathan glanced behind him at the secured door before going on.  “…my business partner.  I need him gone.”

Everyone stood silently, waiting for the part where they got to use heavy force.

“We have an antique store.  It’s always been an antique store, always, for a hundred years – but it wasn’t good enough for him - didn’t make enough money.  He got into other things…”  There was a moment’s hesitation before he stated, “Drugs.  He started dealing from the shop and now he’s selling guns.  There are always criminals around.  They’ve driven away all my legitimate business, and my children, they live upstairs.  I can’t risk this anymore.

“I can’t go to the police.  I don’t want him sitting in a jail cell consumed with anger, waiting to get to me.”  He added quickly, “But I don’t want him dead.  I want him scared.  He has to sign his share of the property to me, and then I want him to leave.”

Hannibal rested an elbow on his arm.  “If he’s dangerous, we can’t guarantee -”

“I don’t want blood on my hands,” Jonathan pleaded, intertwining fingers.  “You’re the best.  You can’t tell me it can’t be done.  Please.”

Face opened his mouth to speak, but Hannibal placed a hand on his shoulder, answered, “Understood.”

Relief washed over the man’s face.  He nervously brushed through his hair and straightened his clothes.

“I can give you what I have, though it’s obviously not much.”

“A thousand,” offered Hannibal, “and one of your TVs.”

Face imagined a dusty old tube television and pursed lips.

“$1,000?  Okay…sure.  Sure, I can do that.  You’ll get it, thank you.”

Hannibal shook hands again and the deal was sealed, and Mr. Greene led himself out.

Murdock pulled the hat from his head, wrenching it between fingers.  “Not killing anybody - how can we guarantee that?”

“We can’t guarantee anything, ever,” Hannibal stated.  “That’s how it is.”

“And if the guy just gets angry?” B.A. questioned.  “If he comes back and does something worse?”

Hannibal tapped his bicep, said with confidence, “You’re an excellent negotiator.  Killing’s never the intent, anyway.”

“But we don’t promise it won’t happen.”  Face huffed, kicking scrap metal.  “What are we doing this for?  Pennies?  Some of these, they’re a waste of time.  I’ll have to get a second job.”

B.A. snorted.  “We all know you don’t work.  You sweet talk people out of their money and their clothes.”

“Face,” Hannibal said, and the younger man regarded him reluctantly, “you’ll be fine.”

“We used to do jobs that meant something.  Huge, important jobs.  Back in Afghanistan -”

This means something,” Hannibal barked.  “To these people, it means something.  Not everything is exploding buildings and international terrorism.”

Face started, “I just…” but the words disappeared, and he was forced to swallow his fear of being useless.

The former colonel wasted no time giving out orders; spoke with the same level of command and enthusiasm no matter the mission.

“B.A., scout out the antique store.  Murdock, any information on this dealer you can find.”  A hand hit the back of Face’s neck, heavy and possessive.  “Face and I’ll handle the planning.”

__________

The motel room was dark and air stagnant.  Lips brushed Face’s back as Hannibal kissed over the sharp bone of his shoulder blade.  He trailed up his neck; teased lightly until he could catch him by the mouth.  The movements were slow and gentle, and Face scratched over Hannibal’s lips with teeth in annoyance, needing more.

Fingers pressed into flesh, pulled down Face’s thighs and gripped tightly.  The younger man let out a low growl as he slammed backwards to take Hannibal deeper; clawed at the bedsheets when eagerness brought swift pain.   Displeasure came out in groans as arms shook and Face struggled to remain upright on his knees.

The other was still, rough hands at his hips, keeping Face from making any other rash decisions.  Face buried his head in the crook of his arm and whimpered – louder – “Hannibal, please.”  He rocked again, cock hard and dripping and unattended.

Hannibal ran a palm up his spine, and Face arched into it, letting out a breathless moan.  Face was always so impatient – made it a point to be grating until he got what he wanted – and this was one of the few times Hannibal could make him wait; when he felt he was completely in control.

Hannibal slid out to the tip, gave a dry smile hearing Face huff in frustration.  The thrusts were short and deep but slow.  Face breathed into the mattress, wetting the space beneath his open mouth.  He could feel Hannibal move inside him, felt stretched and filled, heard the steady beat of skin hitting skin.

Face writhed underneath, twisted his body against Hannibal’s own.  The pace quickened and he was moaning again, as if he was precious and innocent - and Hannibal wanted more.  He felt along the side of Face’s abdomen, over muscles and ribs, slipped underneath to press at the dip in his stomach.

Face moved excitedly, rocked forward, expecting a hand around his cock.  The fingers groped downwards, over the trail that lead to his groin, then stopped.  Face tucked head under, watched as the other touched over him lightly, dipping between his thighs and never touching his arousal.  He cried out as he throbbed and ached, precum bubbling at the head of his cock and dripping in a sticky line to the bed.

Face wriggled again and Hannibal pounded into him with a new vigor.  He bit at his back and pinched at the sensitive skin between his legs.  The panting increased until Face was whining again with that sweet and helpless sound that made Hannibal’s cock throb.  The older man spit in his hand and wrapped fingers around his lover’s arousal.  He jerked him swiftly, felt himself unable to hold on much longer.  Face thrust into his hand, moving back and forth to Hannibal’s own rhythm.

A thumb pressed into the underside of Face’s cock; swept over the soft head and spread precum back down his shaft.  He was trembling now, making half formed pleas as Hannibal gripped tighter, stroked him faster.

Fingers twisted into the sheets, muscles tight as he came, moaning into the darkness.  Hannibal kept on, whispering to Face as the other braced against the mattress, and then he came too, with long thrusts that ended with him buried deep inside.

Face tensed when Hannibal finally moved; wet skin prickling with cold air, and then he was empty.  Hannibal stroked his hair and found his mouth again.  Both breathed into the kiss, exhausted yet still unable to get enough.  Face ran his tongue over Hannibal’s lips when they finally parted, pulling him back in one more time.

The older man made his way to the bathroom and Face followed happily, shutting the door behind them.  When Face emerged again, he was still wet from the shower and content to roll around the bed like a dog in from the rain.  He scooted to his side and waited for Hannibal to join him, staring up at the jagged ridges that formed the popcorn ceiling.

Face commented indignantly, “This place is the fucking Bates Motel.”

“It has character,” was the predictable response as Hannibal tucked himself in on the opposite side.

“I’m staying downtown,” he stated, lips curling and voice sweet, “a condo on 5th.”

“Who did you swindle?”

The smirk was wiped instantly.

“I don’t like that word.  It’s all opportunity.”

“Who did you sleep with?”

“That’s not fair either.”

Hannibal said plainly, “It’s always one or the other.”

“I have a week before Mr. Richards returns from Germany.”

“…Mark Richards?”  Hannibal propped himself on his arm, causing Face to follow.  “The technology mogul?  He’s in Germany because his son is in a military hospital.  Come on, Face.”

“I’m not ruining anything!  The place’ll be in better shape than when he left it.”

Hannibal gave a rough sigh.  “You have no moral compass.”

“What’s the big deal?” Face asked, voice rising.  “It’s vacant - I’m not hurting anybody.  When the hell am I ever going get another chance like this?  When the hell will I ever get to live that way?”

Hannibal huffed through his nose but said nothing, and it was the silence Face hated.  It was in silence he heard himself question and heard himself doubt.

Face stated again, “I’m not hurting anybody,” and Hannibal shrugged.  “You could stay there with me,” and now his voice was warm as tongue slid over teeth.

“Kid…”

“It’s got a Jacuzzi tub and there’s this $100 prosciutto -”

“You’re eating his food?”

Face paused, mouth still open.  Hannibal rolled to the other side, voice muffled by the pillow.

“We’re up at six.  B.A. and Murdock are coming at seven, which means you need to not be here.”

“It was easier when it was just us.”  Face bit his lip, waited for agreement and received none.  “I could’a gotten here early.”

“I doubt it.  You’re always late.”

“If you wanna talk about someone coming late, talk about yourself.”

“Goodnight, Face.”

Face turned back to the ceiling, commented tiredly, “Are we fighting?  I feel like we’re fighting.”

“Get some sleep.”

There was silence, both stiff and unmoving.  For a while, Face attempted to force slumber, but couldn’t, and anxiously sat up, ripping the sheets away.

“I’m not getting up at six,” he grumbled.

Hannibal stood with him, watched as he made a beeline to the bathroom and returned with a toothbrush.  He asked, “You’re leaving now?” in surprise, though he simultaneously retrieved Face’s old military duffel.

The response was sharper than expected when Face grabbed the bag and hissed, “Can you not touch my things?” and all Hannibal could do was turn palms to the sky in peace.

He mumbled a “Goodbye,” and Hannibal let him go.

__________

The team arrived at the antique store just after closing, after a day spent discussing plans and throwing out ideas.  Face was quiet during the meeting, sulked around just as Hannibal expected he would, and so he ignored it, just like he normally did.

“What’s the big deal?” Face had asked – several times, without answer.  Finally, Hannibal reverted to something simple, though he was beginning to miss their overly complicated missions and ridiculous stunts.  He patted his stomach as if subconsciously checking to see if he was getting out of shape.

Secure the entryways, take out the thugs, muscle the dealer into never coming back.  Couldn’t be simpler.

“Good,” Face stated, throwing a hand in the air.  “Where’s the bathroom?”

An eyebrow raised and Hannibal questioned, “You’re leaving now?”

“You wanna go with me?  I’ll be back.”

A sharp headshake and blunt words told Face he’d pushed him.  “Just stay out there.  We need someone at all entrances.”

Face looked to B.A. and Murdock as if to ask, What about them?  Feeling forcefully cut from the group, a scowl painted his face, and with heavy steps, he walked away.

The building was long and skinny with alleyways on either side that were barely wide enough for a rat.  He trekked through an abandoned kitchen and stepped over boxes piled in a makeshift store room.  The front of the building was in sight, and Face barely stepped through one of the rotted doorframes before hearing:

“Who’s that?”

The back of Face’s fist flew into the man’s face, knuckles connecting with his cheekbone in a heavy crack.  He was behind the counter carrying an array of weapons which clattered to the floor.  Face threw a knee into the back of his leg, grabbed his collar and jerked backwards, sending him crashing.

Another crook was already upon him swinging fists; one Face dodged and one he didn’t.  Head whipped to the side with the force of the blow, and Face groaned when the next pounded into his stomach.  He took a hit to the jaw - something on the man’s gloves catching his lip and splitting it open.

Face slammed his heel into the other’s foot.  It sent him doubling over, low enough for Face to thrust a knee into his chin and put him on the ground.

“Hold it, pretty boy.  Guns down.”

From the corner emerged another, gun in hand, targeting his head.  He commanded again, “Guns down,” and Face reluctantly removed the weapon from his belt.  The man circled and Face had no choice but to follow the lead, right into the wall.  He was close now, sunken face and rough skin visible in the dim light.

“You do this?”

Face grinned, smearing blood over his chin.

“I’m just here for a bear pelt.  Maybe a potato chip that looks like Abe Lincoln.”

The gun hand slammed into his head and was followed by another blow with his empty fist.  Face crumbled to his knees.  Eyes searched the thug’s body, looking for an opening. 

“My boys down there aren’t looking so good,” he said as he tangled fingers in Face’s hair and pulled his head backwards.  Face grunted, looking towards the doorway.

In the distance was the crashing of boxes and Hannibal cursing, “Dammit.”  A shot was fired into the hallway and then there was silence.

“How many of you are there?”

Hannibal peered from around the doorframe, handgun at ready.

“I was coming to make sure you weren’t playing with yourself,” he began, “but I see you’re busy playing with someone else.”

Face spit, a mixture of saliva and blood that hit the floor and trailed down his chin.  From low in his throat, he groaned, “Why am I always the hostage?”

“Because you always do something stu -”

“Don’t answer it!”

The man waved his arm, commanded, “Come out - weapons down, hands up, or I blow his brains out right here.”

Hannibal took another drag on his cigar before extinguishing it into the floor.  He stepped into the doorway slowly with hands by his head.

The crook nodded as realization hit.  “Am I so famous now, that the motherfucking A-Team is after me?”

“I’d never heard of you until recently,” Face offered.  The reaction was a fist pounding into his gut which put him right back on the floor.

“Who sent you?”

Hannibal put up a hand as if to calm him, said, “We work alone.”

“You work alone?  You take out petty crooks now, huh?”

The butt of the gun slammed down on Face’s temple, red bubbling through his hair and down the line of his jaw.  He staggered and was caught by the upper arm.

Hannibal stood with jaw clenched and body stiff.

“Was it Jimmy?  He’s been trying to get me outta here.  Thinks these are his streets.”

Face coughed, echoed, “Yeah, it was Jimmy.  We don’t like him either.  He ate Cheetos throughout our meeting – didn’t offer us anything.”

“Then Jimmy’s given me a present.  You’re worth a lot of money.”  The barrel of the gun pressed into Face’s temple.  “Alive or dead?  I think that’s the deal.”

Face caught Hannibal’s gaze, those slight eye movements that made his stomach turn in preparation for what he had to do.  Hannibal stomped forward as if to attack, and when the man swung his gun arm out, Face caught him, threw him off enough to make sure the bullet blasted the floor.

He wrenched the weapon from his grasp, barely missing a gash to his leg when a knife was pulled.  Face caught his wrist, but the blade still cut his cheek.  All his weight was thrown into twisting his body and twisting the man’s hand, and in one swift movement, the knife was buried in the crook’s neck.

The room was still as the body slid to the floor like a ragdoll, Face’s mind blocking out the sound of his own labored breaths.  He looked cautiously to his leader.

“…Do you think we’ll still get paid?”

__________

B.A. threw arms in the air, yelled, “Shit, man!”  Murdock’s reaction was more reserved as he watched with wide eyes and mouth slightly agape.

Hannibal’s entire being relaxed, head tilted, and he looked tired.

“Everyone’s safe.  That’s what matters.”

“And what?  It’s okay because he’s a smalltime crook?” B.A. bounded over to Hannibal and Murdock, and the three formed their own circle while Face looked on.  “What if he was a terrorist, if he had information, if we needed him?

He was answered with silence and averted gazes and all B.A. could do was grit teeth.

“It’s over now,” Hannibal said, though his tone suggested he wasn’t happy either.  “We just have to deal with it.”

He motioned for Face, who wobbled slightly and then followed.  B.A. called after them, “We gotta clean up?”

Hannibal waved him off with an ambiguous, “We’ll be back.”

He led Face by the arm into the back room, looked him over silently as the other peered down in disappointment, skin patched with bruises and hair matted with blood.  Hannibal massaged his arm, whispered, “You’re alright,” in that low, soothing tone that made Face feel like a child.  He pulled him into an embrace, patted his back and kissed his cheek, and Face sighed deeply into the older man’s shoulder feeling half his burden taken up by the other.

The door behind them opened cautiously, causing Face to whip around while Hannibal pushed ahead of him.  Jonathan peered in before fully stepping inside.

Hannibal’s brow knit at the intrusion.  He almost asked why he wasn’t far away from the building, before deciding he didn’t much care about the answer.

“Is he gone?”

Face let out a slow, “Yeah…”  He turned to Hannibal for help, but the older man only gave a stern look and he was left on his own.

Face turned back, stared the man in the eye, said with gravity, “He’s dead.”

“He’s dead?”

“He threatened -”

“Which one of you did it?”

A gun whipped out and Face’s hands flew up.

“Whoah whoah whoah, what is this?”

“Which one of you killed my brother?”

What?

Hannibal moved forward, placing himself between Face and the gun, but Jonathan motioned for him to step aside.

Hannibal spoke, stern yet calm.  “He threatened my men, there was no choice.”

“That wasn’t the deal.  I’ll shoot you both if I have to.”

“I’m the leader -”

Face blurted, “It was me.”

“Face -”  The gun turned and Hannibal shouted, “No!”  He lunged but the shot had already fired.  A blow to the back of the head put Jonathan under and Hannibal scrambled to where Face was kneeling on the floor.

He growled, “Shit,” at the stain soaking through Face’s clothes.  Face clutched at his side like he was trying to prevent his entire being from falling out.  Sharp breaths were cut short by a strangled moan, and Hannibal was on the ground with him, a hand on his knee, telling him to remain still.

He said, “You’re fine,” like he always did, thumb caressing over a cheekbone.  Face nodded, and though he didn’t feel fine at all, believed him - believed everything he said.

They left as quickly as possible, Face groaning when made to get in the back of the van.  Hannibal followed after and did his best to brace the younger man for all the bumps and turns, which was never quite good enough.

They’d made it to safety, after having spent the entire ride listening to Face yell, “This is bullshit,” and “Fucking kidding me,” and groaning and whimpering like he was dying.  Every sound that came from his mouth made Hannibal feel worse.

At last they fixed Face as best they could and knocked him out with pain killers.  This was neither the first time nor the last that Hannibal would see him this way, that he would be sick over this man, that he would stay awake at night, hating himself for every mistake he ever made.

The team cut their losses and left the criminals for the police.  Mr. Greene would recover and his business and his children would be safe.  The goal was met, but Hannibal spent his time staring blankly, going over again and again what he should have done differently.  Frustration made him rigid, imagining a million different scenarios in which no one was hurt, when he couldn’t act one out in real life.

He’d sent B.A. and Murdock to gather Face’s things and remove any evidence the young man had lived in the condo that was not his, which included replacing the $100 cuts of meat.  He wanted to pretend the money would come out of the kid’s paycheck, but knew after what happened today, he was never going to make him cough it up.

Some of Face’s belongings were on the table, including that bag he loved so much - a military duffle that was beaten to hell and dirtied and written on.  There were pen scratches of half poems or thoughts, or maybe things he’d overheard others saying.  As intimate as the two were, there were lines still drawn.  Rummaging through Face’s things was one of them.

Hannibal lifted it, considered its weight, ran hands across the fabric feeling lumps and bumps of the contents inside.  Face was so possessive of that bag.  He carried it everywhere – it couldn’t be touched.  Hannibal couldn’t help but be upset by the behavior; couldn’t help but feel he was hiding something.

He hated himself before he did it, but the gnawing at his stomach had grown to be too much.    He opened it, right there in the room with Face sleeping feet away.  There was clothing and some scraps of fabric that meant nothing to Hannibal.  There was an empty watch case and freeze dried space ice cream that made Hannibal grin and wonder if he was really saving it for outer space.

There was nothing odd, nothing he would consider precious or personal, and so he dug deeper, unconvinced Face would fight over the useless items he’d already found.  Fingers brushed a small metal container that rattled when he pulled it out.  The first thing he saw when opening it up, was himself.

He was young then, late 20’s, weighed down by battle gear and a machinegun, and looked goofier than he remembered.  Hannibal peeled the photo from the case, mouth slack and eyes softened by a wave of nostalgia.  Everything was so important back then, and he thought about how much he wanted to prove himself; how much he needed respect.

He remembered how much like Face he really was.

Face groaned through the pain as he shifted in bed; sighed deeply when he found new bandages every time he turned his head.  He watched as Hannibal studied the paper in his hand and waited quietly for acknowledgement.

At last, the other’s head lifted and he questioned, “Where did you get this?”

“Hello.”

Hannibal sighed in relief, coming to his senses.  He was at Face’s side immediately, hand petting his forehead and down his cheek.

“You okay, kid?”

“I’m alive.  That’s a start.”

There was a moment’s tension where Hannibal thought maybe he hadn’t seen, maybe he hadn’t heard.  He could put the photo back and they would never have to talk about it.

“Going through my shit while I’m unconscious?”

The response wasn’t immediate, Hannibal unsure of the tone of his voice.

“Did you eat my ice cream?”

That brought a chuckle and he answered, “No.”

Quiet again, without even the ringing of silence.

“There’s a picture,” he began, holding the photo to Face’s eye level, “of me.  You keep this with you?”

Face shrugged, heat flushing his cheeks.

“Don’t see enough of my mug already, huh?”  When Face didn’t answer, he offered, “In case I die?”  Again, no response, the other looking increasingly uncomfortable.  “…In case I leave?”

Face’s eyes cast downwards as he stared at the blanket.  Hannibal pulled back, expression stony.  He’d sacrificed his time and given so much – done everything in his power to love and protect this man, and couldn’t help when the next words were gruff.

Why would you think that?

He said, “Everybody else left,” and shrugged, like it was a fact and he had accepted it.

“After all these years, you still think I’m going to get up and walk away?”

“When you get frustrated, when you get tired – I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.”  Face raised his arm halfway showing all the bruises and gashes.  “I fucked up.  Look at me - look at me - I fucked up.”

“You did everything you cou -”

“I fucked up, on an easy, half-assed mission.  The only reason you’re not yelling is because I look pathetic.”

That took Hannibal aback and he felt foolish for ever being upset.

“I shouldn’t have sent you alone.  You were just…”  Jaw tightened and he began again.  “I was annoyed.  That’s my fault.  It’s my job as leader to have good judgment, to keep you safe.”

The tip of his tongue came out and Face said, “I am annoying.”

Features relaxed.  Hannibal nodded.  “You are annoying.”

He kissed his forehead and Face grunted, tilting his neck backwards as best he could.  Hannibal came down again and caught his top lip, avoiding the gash that marked the lower.

When they parted he asked, “You still need this?” holding the photo between fingertips.

The response was simple.  “I don’t need it.  I just like having you with me.”