by Elizabeth Kent
There's a bit of French in here, but it should make sense in context. And I hope I've spelled it correctly.
Sequel to "Last Minute Reservations," which was a sequel to "Fortune's Fool." Both stories are available on the old A-Slash archive.
* * * *
Face burrowed a little lower under the down comforter. The morning breeze blowing through the open window was refreshing, but chilly, and he was comfortable in a wide, soft bed. Warm and still sleepy, he had no desire to move. Behind him sheets rustled, then a gentle arm encircled his waist, pulling him closer, and lips pressed a kiss to the back of his head.
"Mm?" Face rolled over in his companion's arms, grunting just a bit as the movement caused pain in his still-healing abdomen.
"You all right?"
"Fine, Adam. I'm fine." And he was now.
If he raised his head, Face could peer out the window opposite the bed and see the Loire River flowing below. He'd lain propped up on pillows for hours yesterday just watching the river, the occasional passing boat, and the cars on the highway beyond the green fields on the far side of the river. The chateau, Adam's ancestral home, was fairly small as castles went, but its turrets, crenellated walls, and sturdy stone towers were definitely castle construction. It was less a palace than some of the chateaus Adam had pointed out to him as they drove up the highway the previous morning, but far more modern than typical medieval castles. Who'd have thought that after all those years of trying to scam a good place to live, he'd end up in a castle after all?
It was quiet here, a good place for him to rest and recover. Serene. Their bedroom was large, the furniture comfortable, and the service unobtrusive. And best of all, it wasn't Langley, Virginia. It wasn't the house that had been his prison for the last six months. He and Adam had a lot of catching up to do, but they hadn't felt like talking. It was enough to enjoy the silence together, to trade tender caresses and let the frantic and relentless pace of the last six months give way to the leisurely, gentle rhythms of life in the French countryside.
Two weeks ago he'd lain on the floor of the Villa Cucina fully expecting to die, and he had bitterly regretted only two things: that his beloved best friend would feel responsible for his death, and that he would never be able to say the words "I love you" to Adam. His seven-year relationship with Adam, based at first only on mutual sorrow over unrequited love for other men, had grown from an occasional pity-fuck to mutual regard, affection, and friendship. It was all either of them had ever asked from the other. Along the way, though, something had happened that neither of them recognized until it was too late and Face was stuck away at Langley, unable to see or talk to Adam. He knew, then, that he loved this man and feared he would not live to see him again. And he nearly hadn't.
"You're so thin, Templeton." Adam's hand stroked over Face's ribs. "I hardly recognized you."
Face smiled a little. "I wasn't exactly at my best when you found me," he said.
"Looks to me like you haven't been at your best for awhile." Adam propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at Face. "And you needed a few more weeks in the hospital, too, I think." General Stockwell had had Templeton removed from the hospital after only a couple of days, days during which Templeton mostly slept, still in a great deal of pain and not up to conversation. Murdock had filled Adam in on the situation with the army and the pardons the team hoped to earn.
"I guess I haven't been," Face admitted. "And I've probably been pretty hard to live with the last six months, too."
Adam shrugged. "You couldn't have told that by the way the others hovered around your bed while you were in the hospital."
Face smiled at that. "They hovered?"
"Like mother hens," Adam said. "All of them."
"They weren't too hostile, were they?" Face asked. "They tend to come on pretty strong."
"The first time I met your best friend, he was on the other end of a gun," Adam said. "After that beginning, everything else was a piece of cake." Hannibal, of course, had been hardest to win over, especially once he understood the true nature of Adam and Templeton's relationship. If Murdock hadn't been there to speak for him, Adam had no doubt Hannibal would have thrown him out on his ear. "But I have to admit, I haven't been grilled so thoroughly since I showed up to collect my first prom date."
Face shook his head a little. "He goes parental on me sometimes."
"He loves you. They all love you, in their own ways. That's why Hannibal could understand, finally, why I love you in my way."
Face looked up into Adam's eyes and read the love there, as well as the anguish of the last six months. How ironic that after a lifetime of looking for love, he could recognize that he'd had it all along only after the harrowing experiences of the last half year had shattered his romantic notions of what family should be, what love was. He'd chafed under his captivity, but while it had nearly killed him, it had taught him things, too. Important things.
For as long as he could remember, he had wanted to find his parents. In his fertile imagination, the reunion was sometimes joyful, sometimes confrontational, but it always ended with reconciliation, with acceptance. With subsequent discoveries of brothers and sisters and a family happy to welcome him back into the fold. Instead he'd found a swindler who had abandoned not one, but two families. Who knew he was dying but never revealed himself to his son, his first-born and first-abandoned child. Who left him to try to coax memories of his father and grandparents from a wary, reluctant half-sister. He and Ellen had met occasionally since A.J.'s death, and while their meetings were cordial, they were not warm. It didn't feel like family, and it probably never would.
Hannibal was more a father to him than AJ could ever be. He'd shepherded Face since Vietnam, taught him what it meant to be not just a man, but a man of courage and conviction. He'd given Face affection, encouragement, and the occasional kick in the ass. And no matter what Face said or did, Hannibal never abandoned him. Murdock and BA felt more like family than Ellen did -- older and younger brothers who fought over everything while he played the middle child's role as peacemaker. Only meeting AJ, only knowing at last that his biological father was not the family he wanted or needed, could allow Face to appreciate now what he had in the team.
And while he had long ago given up hope that Murdock could love him as anything more than a brother, only his forced separation from Adam could show him that true love ran deeper than the trappings of romance. With Adam there had never been the flattery, the coyness, the emotional ups and downs of romantic love. Instead, from the beginning there had been friendship, shared interests, and the desire to heal one another's wounds. The physical attraction was there, of course, but it had never been the focus of the relationship. All along he'd had true love, and now he could see it for what it was.
He should send Stockwell a thank you card.
"It's going to be a pretty day," Adam said, nuzzling Face's hair. "How would you feel about driving into town this afternoon? You think you're up to it?"
"Mm-hm. I'd like to see the town even if it's only from the car."
Adam caressed Face's side, letting his fingers linger over the scars on his abdomen. "You'll recover your strength soon and then we can walk into town from here. It's only a couple of miles. Just far enough to work up an appetite for a good meal. In the meantime, I've asked the cook to send up some breakfast and a pot of coffee. They should be here any moment. Do you want to eat in bed?"
"No, I've eaten enough meals in bed for awhile. Let's sit at the table."
"The table it is." Adam reluctantly released Face and climbed out of the bed. He had just pulled on a robe when a knock on the door announced the arrival of their breakfast. Adam answered the door then stood aside as a young man pushed a tea trolley into the room and transferred china, silver, a bowl of fruit, and a fragrant basket of bread to a small table in front of the window. The coffee pot joined the rolls in the center of the table. While Adam chatted with him in flawless French, the young man built up the fire, then winked at Face on his way out.
"He thinks you're cute," Adam said, returning to the bed with a soft, thick robe.
"I'm old enough to be his father," Face said.
"Thanks. That makes me nearly old enough to be his grandfather."
"Yeah, but a really youthful grandfather," Face said with a laugh. "So, if this is a castle, then he must be, what, a servant?"
Adam smiled. "We prefer to call them employees these days," he said. "We've been trying to do away with that whole upper and lower class thing since the French Revolution." He helped Face into the robe and out of bed, then put a strong arm around his shoulders while they made their way to the table. Face was recovering slowly from his wound and welcomed the assistance. Movement was painful, and he was still weak. Adam was babying him, but Face welcomed that, too. There were more than fifteen years between Face and Adam, but Adam kept himself fit and was more than strong enough to care for him. Face watched Adam pour their coffee and wondered if his expression reflected his awe and disbelief at their sudden reunion.
He had hit rock bottom emotionally, spiritually, and physically in the last six months. He knew he was losing more weight than he could afford to, but he was too depressed, too upset to eat. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt really hungry. He ate to keep up his strength, to get through the next mission and the one after that. At Langley there was no joy in his life anymore, no good reason to even get up in the morning.
It grew harder and harder to hide his distress. Murdock understood, of course, but Hannibal and BA didn't know and couldn't understand. Without Adam, he felt more empty and hopeless than he ever had in his life. Hannibal kept assuring him they'd get through their missions, get their pardons, and go back to L.A. They were still doing the work they were trained for, he told Face, and they were all together. Face's repeated attempts to leave, the way he retreated to his room whenever possible, withdrawing from everyone, puzzled Hannibal, and Face knew it hurt him, too. But Face couldn't help it.
Only Murdock could reach him, and after the fiasco with A.J. Bancroft, even that relationship was strained for awhile. Not even the Faceman could hide his pain forever. The night he'd gone to the restaurant with Frankie and Murdock, he was about as low as he'd ever been, and sometimes he could still scarcely believe he'd woken at the hospital with Adam at his bedside.
"Do you want jam or just butter?" Adam interrupted Face's reverie by sliding a plate with two piping hot rolls in front of him.
Even in his weakened condition, Face was perfectly capable of buttering his own bread, but he smiled and said, "Just butter," and watched contentedly while Adam smeared as much rich, yellow butter on the roll as he thought Face would eat. Just to eat a meal out from under the watchful gaze of Stockwell and his Abels was a relief.
While they ate, Adam watched Face trying to use his twenty-year-old high school French to puzzle out the headlines in the newspaper. Grateful as he was for Templeton's survival and their reunion, he had still been appalled by the changes their six-month separation had wrought in his lover. He was used to cataloguing new scars, new injuries, when Templeton came to him. It had always been that way with him. Adam never asked, but he always knew which ones had not been there before. He found them this time, too, even beyond the obvious scars from the bullet and subsequent surgery. But even worse was seeing Templeton so gaunt, so worn down. There were lines in his face that hadn't been there six months ago, and he looked to have aged years until he seemed closer to Adam's age than his own. Still, today he looked much better than he had when Adam had collected him at the airport two days ago.
Face swallowed the last bite of his roll, washed it down with a last sip of strong coffee, and felt a sudden surge of energy and happiness that he hadn't felt in months. The euphoria of being in love, the contentment that just being in the same room with someone you loved, was something he hadn't really felt since he'd dated Leslie. And perhaps he hadn't really even felt it then. Somehow nothing had ever felt as good as this, as right. Maybe it was the pain meds he was on, but he thought not. It was, at last, love. He wiped his mouth with the crisp white napkin and smiled across the table at Adam, who was using the corner of his robe to polish his glasses.
A polite knock at the door heralded the return of the young man who had brought breakfast. Face tried out a few words of his own French, saying, "Merci beaucoup," when the young man removed his plate. "Comment vous appelez-vous?"
"De rien, Monsieur," the young man answered. "Je m'appelle Chretien."
"Je m'appelle Templeton Peck," Face said.
"Enchante, Monsieur Peck," Chretien said.
At that point, Face ran out of French and was more than happy to let Adam continue the conversation. Face caught only a few words of the exchange: yes, no, thank you, bathroom, and afternoon. "You feel up to taking a bath with me?" Adam asked in English.
"I hope you're talking to me," Face said, realizing only belatedly that Chretien understood English when he and Adam both laughed.
"I am," Adam said. "Chretien will draw a bath if you're ready."
"I'm more than ready," Face sighed. Ready to wash Langley and its heartache away, ready to soak his sore, aching body in hot, bubbling water.
Fifteen minutes later Adam was helping Face over the edge of the tub into lavender-scented water and settling his head against a sage-colored towel. Face groaned happily, shifting just enough to get the sore spot on his back in front of a powerful jet. He watched Adam shrug out of his own robe and flick a switch that raised the shades on the windows, giving them a view of the valley. From his vantage point, Face could see the roofs and chimneys of the town below, its cobblestone streets cluttered with houses, shops, and cars.
"Okay?" Adam asked as he settled into the water opposite Face.
"Okay," Face agreed. For the first time since their reunion they talked about the intervening six months, letting go of their grief, allowing it to dissipate with the steam that rose about them and winked out of existence somewhere near the ceiling. Face told Adam about A.J. Bancroft, about the sham of a trial, about the cold, heavy fear that had settled about his heart as he waited to die at the Villa Cucina. Adam told Face about moving all Face's things to his own home, keeping them safe against the day he returned, as Murdock had promised he would. About the business he'd conducted only half-heartedly while Face was gone, about his belated revelation that Face was the person he'd been waiting for all his life. And it warmed Face's heart to hear it, drove out that last dark bit of loneliness and self-pity he had carried deep inside him all his life. He was loved, not just as a friend, a brother, a son, but as a soulmate. Someone's other half. For the first time in his life, Face felt whole, as if all his life he'd been trying to fit together pieces of a puzzle that had finally, suddenly, snapped into place.
Moving carefully, Face lifted his arms, and Adam came willingly, bracing his arms on the sides of the tub to avoid resting his weight on Templeton's tender abdomen. He loved Templeton, then, gently and thoroughly, as he'd dreamed of loving him. And Templeton, when he came, called Adam's name.
Adam shifted behind Face, pulling him back to rest against his chest. Face lay spent and sleepy in Adam's arms, listening to Adam's steady heartbeat, and knew he was home.
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