It took almost a week for Face’s release papers to arrive and it was pure agony for the young man. He didn’t have much to do and he didn’t know where to go. Even if he was sure nobody at the base knew about his “conditions”, he couldn’t find the strength to leave the house. He had been sure that being rejected by Hannibal because he couldn’t accept his “fault” would be bearable, but this was so much worse; Hannibal had slept on the couch the night after his confession, Face heard him crying and all he wanted to do was to take the older man in his arms and comfort him, telling him everything was alright, but he couldn’t.
Hannibal’s words were engraved in his mind, his need to be alone understandable and so he waited until dawn, unable to sleep, in the silence of the bedroom they had shared so many nights. The following morning Face ventured out of the room in order to go to the bathroom and the Colonel was already up and preparing breakfast. Usually they didn’t care much about breakfast and Face was shocked to see the amount of food Hannibal had prepared; he wasn’t hungry and he didn’t know how to behave. He tried to be silent but the older man heard him.
“I hope you’re hungry because I made you breakfast,” the older man stated, his tone calm but detached.
What was that supposed to mean? The night before the Colonel had declared he wanted to be alone, and now this. Unable to move, Face just stared at him and waited for his next move.
“Are you ok?” he asked. Again, Face stayed silent. How was he supposed to react to his attentions? When Hannibal cautiously approached him and guided him to the table, encouraging him to sit down and to try the milk bagels he made just for him, he felt like screaming. But no sounds emerged from his constricted throat. Truth was milk bagels made him nauseous but he managed to eat one just to please the older man.
The rest of the breakfast was consumed in silence, Hannibal actually didn’t eat himself but stared at his lover all the time; the LT felt uncomfortable under his gaze and just wanted to run away from him but did not. Fifteen eternal long minutes later Face declared he was finished with the breakfast’s nonsense; he got up to sit in the outside porch, while Hannibal cleaned the small kitchen and put the remaining food back in the fridge. Normally, a night without sleep didn’t affect the LT but since he got pregnant his body had started to behave differently from usual; the warmth of the sun and the pleasant sensation of fullness from the huge morning meal made him drowsy and he fell asleep on the uncomfortable old swing.
When he woke up, a good three hours later, stuck in a blanket Hannibal had covered him with, he found out the older man had gone to gather some supplies. The Colonel returned shortly after 2 in the afternoon and hurried inside, claiming he was sorry if he was late but now he was going to fix a delicious lunch. In order to avoid the older man and his attentions, Face spent the rest of the evening dozing in bed but he could not escape the – truth be told – very good meal; Hannibal checked on him a couple of times, clearly worried for his health, and did actually leave him alone only when the younger man explained that he had had a bad night and he needed to sleep; that seemed to reassure the Colonel and Face was left alone with his thoughts.
Why was the Colonel suddenly so caring about him? Not that he didn’t care before, he had always been more like a father to him and the guys; when oneof his boys was hurt he was always ready to help and never let them down. Never. But things were different now. Hannibal had made his point very clear: he wanted to be present for the child, not for him. He was taking care of Face now only because he was the vessel of his child, not because of him!
The idea of being dumped after the baby’s birth brought tears to his eyes. Normally he didn’t like crying, he wouldn’t admit to being weak in front of other people. But the events of the last months had left him emotionally exhausted and he just didn’t care if Hannibal heard him, he felt like shit and he needed a breakdown. He screamed in the pillow and sobbed until he fell asleep. Hannibal, of course, had heard that he was in distress but, unsure about how to behave, left him alone; finally, when the room fell silent, he entered the bedroom and sat beside his unconscious lover; if Face was awake, he wouldn’t have let him get so close.
Hannibal caressed him for a while and the younger man shifted on the bed and actually snuggled closer to him but the Colonel didn’t stay. Physically, he felt the desire to hold the LT in his arms and never let go of him; emotionally he couldn’t forget their conversation. “Why didn’t you tell me, baby? I love you so much!” he sniffed between hot tears. With a final kiss to his lover’s head, he left the room.
Face awoke four hours later and felt definitely more human. Hannibal was smoking outside and he sighed in relief, the constant hovering of the older man made him uncomfortable. His peace was short lived, however, because Hannibal decided to personally prepare dinner and for the third time in a day he started to bustle about the kitchen. Face didn’t dare to ask him why he was doing it and the Colonel didn’t say it. It was so very strange: it seemed they were trying to ignore each other but at the same time they couldn’t avoid feeling involved in a surreal situation.
Hannibal was very polite to him and actually tried to talk to the younger man, but it was useless: the wall between the two men was becoming thicker and thicker with each passing hour, the need to talk and to understand each other buried under layers of fears and insecurities. After dinner both men were embarrassed because the house was very little and the only small portable TV was in the sitting room; both men were in search of some diversion to pass the time and they ended up sharing the same room, Face sat on the couch and Hannibal on the armchair, trying to keep as much distance as possible from each other. That, more than anything, hurt.
Face needed to be reassured and to be held right now and Hannibal understood it but he could not forgive him for having lied to him for so long. He couldn’t avoid, however, the urge to fuss over him, making sure he was comfortable, asking if he needed anything; he even prepared a special chamomile tea and offered it to the LT before he went to bed. “It should help you to sleep” he explained. Face accepted the hot cup from the Colonel’s hands and accidentally he brushed the older man’s fingers: the simple gesture made his heart jump in overdrive and he hurried from the room, hoping Hannibal didn’t see the tears flowing freely down his cheeks. The chamomile helped, anyway, and Face slept almost all night.
The following day was a re-run of the previous one; on the third morning, when Face came out of the bedroom and found Hannibal once again preparing breakfast, he couldn’t help asking him “What’s that supposed to mean, Hannibal?” in a broken voice, hoping not to break down in front of him.
Hannibal watched him with a curious look. “Just taking care of you, kid” was his honest and fair reply.
“I’ve never had any problems in having breakfast before, you know! I’m pregnant, not an invalid!” he spat out in anger.
Once again, Hannibal didn’t react to his tone. “Come on, Face, there’s no need for you to be so upset. I just wanted to be helpful.”
The LT felt he was about to cry and to laugh at the same time. Hannibal wanted him out of his life and now he wanted to be helpful. It was pathetic, he was pathetic. “I don’t want your sympathy or your pity, Hannibal!”
“This is NOT pity, Face! This is caring for you! There’s a big difference!”
Face could not believe his own ears. “Yeah, sure, Colonel. You just want to ease your conscience while I’m stuck here with you, then you’ll return to your usual life while I will be miles away from you. God! You think I betrayed you because I didn’t tell you about my … condition… as soon as I found out!” He paused, angrily wiping away tears from his eyes. Hannibal tried to calm him down, tried to hold him, saying he wasn’t doing any good to the baby by being so agitated, but Face went wild.
“Jesus, Hannibal! Why the hell do you think I did it? Because of you! Because I didn’t want to ruin your life! Because I knew the... situation… was going to embarrass you and I didn’t want you to give up your career because of My problems!” The Colonel, who was watching his lover pacing the room furiously, tried to interrupt him but it was useless. “Do you have any idea how I felt? Knowing I was going to lose everything I value in my life? What the fuck do you know about it? What do you know about throwing up every morning and pretending to be alright? I tried to tell you, Hannibal, I swear! But…”
“But what, Face?” Hannibal exploded suddenly. “Do you hear yourself? Don’t you understand this is so far beyond you and me and the fucking career? You’re talking about a baby, Our baby! It’s not a problem or a situation, as you called it. It’s a gift! And it is something we made together, this child is the supreme symbol of our bond. This is not only about you and I’m not doing what I’m doing because I feel obliged to! I want to do it, I want to take care of you. Because I love you…”
“B-But, I don’t understand, Hannibal… You said you wanted to be alone and I thought… I thought…”
“I said I needed to be alone to clear my mind. I *know* I love you, this is not the problem here. But you deliberately chose to lie to me, you put our baby’s life in danger and I can’t just ignore that. I can understand you were afraid to tell me but you should have come to me anyway and discussed the situation as soon as you found out, and together… together Baby!... we would have decided how to behave. Me and you! And you know what? I don’t give a damn about the fucking career, I would have retired and started a new life with you! Now…”
Face waited for an agonizing long minute for the Colonel to finish his tirade, feeling the room started to spin around him but he held on.
“Now I don’t know if I can trust you again, Temp. I’m sorry but this is how I feel.”
Face could understand it. He knew the Colonel had every right to feel this way. “So, what do you suggest now?” he asked, hoping Hannibal had an answer for his question.
The older man sighed and sat down, closing his eyes. “God, Face, I don’t want to let you go but you have to understand… what you’ve done was absolutely unjustifiable. You put yours and our child’s life in danger and the life of the whole team in danger too. What if you were captured? If you were shot? As an officer it was your duty to inform your superior about your physical condition. You made Bosco an accomplice of your lies. I should report your actions to the General, you know that?”
Face nodded. Hannibal was speaking the truth. He had no excuses for his behaviour.
“I won’t, however. I think being released is a sufficient punishment for you just now.”
Hannibal’s last words hurt the younger man more than anything. “So… this is a punishment? For my mistakes? Is this your aim? To make me feel worse than I am already feeling?”
“I don’t know what it is. All I know is with your actions you didn’t leave me any space to help you…”
Suddenly, the world around the LT crumbled and he felt himself falling until a warm solid mass held him upright and led him to the couch. “God, I’m sorry baby… it’s my fault, I shouldn’t have talked to you like that… how do you feel? Are you nauseous? Dizzy? I’ll get you some water… don’t you move!”
Face didn’t feel like moving at all and waited for the dizziness to pass; when the room stopped whirling around him, he tried to sit but Hannibal pushed him flat on his back and helped him to drink the refreshing liquid. The older man was really worried about him and the LT tried to reassure him. “I’m ok, really. It wasn’t your fault… I am the one who screwed up everything… I’m sorry, Hannibal! I love you so much!” he said and smiled tiredly at his lover.
Hannibal smiled back at him tenderly. “I know you do. Now I want you to listen to me and listen carefully: you’re going to go back to the States, stay with BA’s mum, take care of yourself and our little miracle. If you have a problem I want you to call me; I want you to keep in touch with me; I want you to call me if you feel sad or lonely or if you need to talk. I know I can’t be physically present but I’m not letting you down. Do you understand? You didn’t trust me in the past, I want you to trust me from now on, Face! Can you do it?”
The younger man felt his heart lighten at these words. “So there is still hope?” he whispered, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“There will always be. I know things are difficult now, Temp, but we are gonna make it, together!”