by Elizabeth Kent
Animal-rights warnings: A couple of shellfish were harmed in the production of this story. At the beginning of this story there are two lobsters. At the end of this story, there are not two lobsters. I know some readers are sensitive to this issue, so I thought I'd better warn you.
Hannibal fished around in his pocket for the key to the house and inserted it in the deadbolt lock. He could hear the roar of the vacuum cleaner coming from somewhere inside and sighed a little, remembering the pile of dirty laundry he'd left on the bedroom floor that morning and the stack of dishes in the sink that he'd just been too tired to get to last night. He'd forgotten that Face was coming today. This new movie role, his first outside a monster suit in years, was quite a bit more taxing than Aquamaniac ever was. There was even a script to memorize, something he hadn't had to do for a long time. Plus the makeup that made him unrecognizable to the MPs in this role took a long time to apply, so he always had to be at the studio early. Housework just fell by the wayside. Housework had never been his strong suit anyway, usually resulting in a mad scramble to get everything picked up when he knew Face was going to be there. He loved Face with every fiber of his being and cherished the days they could spend together in his small house. But the man had a ridiculous obsession with neatness and order, probably a holdover from years in a Catholic orphanage with fussbudget nuns. Clutter and dirt bothered the hell out of him, and Hannibal knew it, so he at least tried to neaten things up a bit when he was entertaining his lover. But this week he'd been so caught up in his work that he'd forgotten. He hoped Face was still speaking to him by the time he got inside.
He pushed the door open and poked his head in first to get the lay of the land just as the vacuum cleaner whined into silence. This was worse than he'd expected. Every window gleamed, every metal, glass, or brightly-polished wood surface shot daggers of light at him. It was like the entire house was glaring at him at once, regarding him with silent condemnation and daring him to say a word about how much better it looked than it had when he left it before five that morning.
Maybe he ought to just duck back out and go buy some flowers or an expensive bottle of wine to soothe the feathers he could almost hear ruffling from the back part of the house. But it was too late. Just as he was about to retreat, Face came around the corner pushing the vacuum (with its cord neatly wound around the handle instead of just haphazardly coiled up and suspended from an attachment hook) in one hand and carrying a load of dirty socks and briefs under his other arm. Dressed in a pair of ragged cutoffs and one of Hannibal's old t-shirts, he was barefoot, sweaty, mussed up, and looked good enough to eat. Hannibal smiled. "Hi, kid."
"Hi, kid?" Was that all he had to say for himself? Face bit back a retort and tried to decide on a reaction. He'd had plenty of them since he'd let himself into the house that morning, his arms full of grocery sacks and packages from the specialty shops he'd just visited, and immediately tripped over the duffel bag lying just outside the kitchen. As he'd sprawled face-first on none-too-clean linoleum and watched oranges, bagels, onions, and a bottle of wine roll away from him, he'd moved from shock to anger. Anger had quickly turned to alarm when he realized he was lying crotch-down on one live lobster while another waved its pincers alarmingly close to his nose. With a yelp he'd jumped to his feet and scooped up both lobsters, meaning to plop them in the kitchen sink, only to find the sink already filled with dirty dishes. A pissed-off, squirming lobster in each hand, he'd made a dash for the bathroom, arms raised to get down the narrow hallway without smashing his passengers against the wall, and avoiding not just one, but three separate piles of dirty clothes, a golf bag, and Hannibal's yet-to-be-aired-out sleeping bag from their last job. He tried not to notice the dirty ring in the tub as he dropped the lobsters in it then ran back to the living room for newspaper to soak in water and throw over his reluctant dinner guests. And the day hadn't gotten any better since then. Every room he went into had a mess in it. The bed was unmade, dirty ashtrays lay all over the house, and a pile of unread newspapers teetered on the brink of collapse next to the sofa. He'd had to clean out the refrigerator just to find enough room for the lobsters, who were beginning to wilt a bit in the tub. And he hadn't even gotten around to cleaning the bathroom yet. He'd had a romantic dinner planned, with hors d'oeuvres, a different wine for each course, a decadent and complicated dessert, and fresh baked bread. But that took hours to prepare, and he didn't have hours anymore.
He finally settled for the first thought that had popped into his head when he'd finally corralled the lobsters and taken a quick and disgusted look around. "I can't cook in this mess!" He joined the rest of the house in glaring at Hannibal.
Hannibal had the grace to look at least a little bit chagrined. "I know, kid. I've been busy at the studio all week and..."
"...and you forgot I was even coming over, didn't you?" Face finished for him.
"I didn't forget you were coming over, I just forgot it was today. I thought I'd have time to straighten up tonight and you'd be here tomorrow."
Face dropped the pile of clothes on the floor, wheeled the vacuum to the coat closet, and shoved it inside before turning back to his lover. He planted his fists on his hips. "You can orchestrate an attack on an entire town full of crazed eco-terrorists, but you can't remember something as simple as a dinner date?"
"That's what I've got you for," Hannibal said. "To remember the simple things. Nobody does it better than you."
Face wasn't sure whether he was being insulted or patronized, but neither of them worked for him.
* * *
Hannibal couldn't help admiring his lover, even if Face was about to tear a strip off of him. Face was a walking alarm clock. He knew everyone's schedules a month out (except that Hannibal hadn't remembered to tell him about the role he'd just landed or his expanded hours at the studio). He could rattle off everyone's bank account balance to the penny, calculate earnings on investments, and remind them all of each other's birthdays. He even memorized the supermarket ads. He knew without looking if they were getting low on ammunition, could tell you every way into and out of a town or building before you'd been into it, and found out which gas station had the lowest prices each week. He remembered what kind of food you liked, what colors you preferred (even if you never actually said it, because he was a keen observer) and whether you wanted salsa or catsup with your scrambled eggs. Face never forgot anything, and that made him invaluable on and off the job. Unfortunately, that also meant he never forgot when you'd pissed him off. And Hannibal realized just a little too late how Face might have interpreted the words he'd just spoken. He decided he'd better just quit while he was ahead. He plucked a cigar out of his shirt pocket and stuck it in his mouth, figuring he wouldn't say as many stupid things if his mouth were busy. He patted his pockets and realized he'd left his lighter in the car. As always, though, Face was striding across the room. He'd have a light. He always did.
Face snatched the cigar from his lips and stuck it back in his pocket. "On, no, you don't!" he exclaimed. "The flowers I brought are already struggling to breathe in this polluted air. You know, you could open a window once in awhile and let some of the smoke out!"
"It's been cold out."
"It's been in the sixties all week!"
He should have known Face would have looked at the thermometer every day. He felt bad about forgetting the day, but did Face have to get so pissy? He sighed and headed for the couch. He pulled off his windbreaker and was about to lay it over the back of a chair when Face grabbed it away from him and took it to the coat closet. "I'm sorry, Face. It's been a long week."
"Last I checked it was exactly as long as any other week."
"Look, kid, get off my back, will you?" Hannibal finally snapped. "I've been at the studio before five every day, and this is the first day I've made it home before nine o'clock. I haven't even seen this place in the daylight for a week and a half. I've finally got a role, a real honest-to-God role in a movie, and I'd really like the chance to just enjoy that a little and do it well instead of fussing over a dirty house!" He flopped down on the couch and put his feet up, wondering where Face had stashed the throw pillow he usually kept there. He pulled the cigar back out and glanced at the spotless coffee table to see if there were a book of matches there. There was nothing but a vase full of roses. Damn, he really, really needed a smoke.
* * *
Face opened his mouth to retort, then snapped it shut. Now that he stopped to really look, he could see that Hannibal did look tired. He was usually the picture of health, so when he was overdoing it, Face could tell. It was nothing dramatic, just a slight puffiness under his eyes and an uncharacteristic slump to his shoulders. But it was enough to let him know Hannibal was a little off his game. Maybe the rest of the laundry could wait awhile. Except for the pile that was sitting in the middle of the otherwise perfect living room. He pulled out a lighter, flicked it open, and held the light out to his lover.
"I"ll try not to kill the roses," Hannibal said as he stuck the cigar in his mouth and leaned toward the flame.
"Thanks," Face said. He pocketed the lighter and went back to the pile of clothes. He scooped them up, took them out to the laundry room, and added them to the overflowing hamper. Maybe he could put everything in the washing machine later. Maybe it could even wait until tomorrow.
Hannibal's feet were on the coffee table when he went back in, and his eyes were closed as he puffed contentedly on his cigar. It was about time to get some more. Hannibal would be running low by now. He went into the kitchen and opened the bottle of wine, remembering to save the cork for Murdock, who was collecting them for some art project. He checked on the lobsters, who waved sluggishly at him from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, and snagged a couple of recently-washed wine glasses off the drain board. He set the glasses and bottle on a silver tray and carried the whole thing into the livingroom. "So," he said, sitting next to Hannibal and using one bare foot to push Hannibal's discarded shoes out of sight under the couch, "tell me about the movie."
* * *
Hannibal roused himself and sat up, accepting a glass of wine and putting his cigar down in the crystal ashtray that appeared at his elbow. "First," he said, running a thumb over Face's five o'clock shadow, "there's something you forgot to remind me to do when I came home." He leaned forward and brushed his lips across Face's. He felt Face's lips curve up in a smile before they opened and captured his.
"I figured you'd eventually remember," Face said when they pulled apart.
"You're wearing my favorite outfit." Hannibal ran a possessive hand up the inside of Face's thigh.
"That's because mine has eggs and pickle juice on it," Face said. "And everything else that fit me was in the laundry basket already. Or on the floor. Or the bed. Or draped over a chair."
"You could go naked."
"I'm sure your neighbors would love to see me taking out the garbage in the buff," Face snorted.
Actually, Hannibal thought, they would. He could probably sell tickets. But this wasn't a good time to say so. "Like I said kid," he sighed, "it's been a rough week. I should've remembered, though. Sorry."
"It's all right," Face said. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Hannibal's again. "I'll find a way to get even later."
Tired as he was, Hannibal felt himself begin to revive as he told Face about the movie. He was playing a role he knew well: the war-weary commander of a group of eager and idealistic young soldiers. Never mind that the war was set in space two hundred years in the future and that even his own mother wouldn't recognize him behind the grotesque scars applied to his face every day. It was a good role, written well, and the kids he worked with reminded him a little of the kids he'd led through the hell of Vietnam. Unlike most of those soldiers, though, these young people would survive, and they'd win the war. Only one character was slated to die: a smart-aleck newbie fresh from the space academy. A kid whose death would save the world. She was his love interest in the movie, the one person in the world who could see beyond his scars and touch his heart, and their last scene together would be a real tear-jerker. The scene hit a little too close to home for him, and he didn't think he'd have any trouble working up the tears when they filmed it. They'd rehearsed it a little today for filming next week, and it had conjured up any number of similar almost-disasters starring his own lover over the last fifteen years.
"A girl, huh?" Face said. "How does she kiss?"
"She's all lip gloss and pointy teeth," Hannibal said. "She's from the Sirius galaxy and doesn't look quite human."
"The Sirius galaxy?" Face said. "You mean she's a dog?" He laughed a little. "Or maybe she's a vixen?"
"If I didn't know better, Lieutenant," Hannibal said, putting an arm around Face's shoulders and drawing him close, "I'd think you might be a little bit jealous. Am I right?"
"The CO is always right, Colonel," Face said. "Even when he's wrong."
"You don't have anything to worry about," Hannibal said. "No pointy-toothed vixens need apply. Now," he nuzzled Face's neck, "how about we spend a little time catching up?"
"Sorry," Face said, pulling away and standing up, "I can't make love in a dirty house."
* * *
Face reached out to snap off the light, careful not to dislodge the silver head that rested on his shoulder. Hannibal lay half across him, sound asleep, and Face gently stroked the back of his head as he drifted into sleep himself. He was glad he hadn't taken his ire out on Hannibal after all. The evening had turned out fine, and he just couldn't find it in himself to hold it against Hannibal. Hannibal was more excited about this movie than he'd been about a project in a long time. And the more he talked, the more Face understood what a hectic schedule his lover had been following. If he forgot what day it was, Face couldn't blame him too much. After all, Hannibal was the big picture guy, and Face was the detail man. He should have called Hannibal anyway to remind him. He'd do that next time. And he made a mental note to hire a maid, too. He had some connections and knew where he could find reliable, discreet help who wouldn't feel compelled to tell anyone else they were cleaning house for Hannibal Smith of the A-Team. And as Sister Margaret had always been fond of saying, an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. For a modest fee, neither of them would have to clean the house when Face came over, saving time for more...pleasurable...pursuits.
Hannibal had helped him finish cleaning the house, and they'd puttered around together in the kitchen, snacking on cheese and crackers while Face cooked the lobster and baked potatoes in the microwave. They'd eaten by candlelight at the picnic table on the screened porch, trading butter-flavored kisses and creating a messy pile of shell fragments on an old dish towel in the center of the table. They used paper plates that went straight into the garbage after dinner and left almost nothing to wash. Instead of the elaborate dessert he'd planned, they fed each other orange sections and licked the juice off each other's chins. It wasn't a half-bad dinner after all.
He hardly even noticed the ring in the bathtub when they'd gone in to take a shower before bed. But, well, he couldn't help it. He just had to clean the damn tub before he could actually get out. Hannibal had laughed at him but dutifully clambered out to get the cleanser and sponge from under the sink. He even cleaned the toilet while Face scrubbed the tub, then dried Face tenderly and chivvied him down the hallway and into the bed. By then it didn't really matter that the sheets weren't exactly fresh. They had smelled like Hannibal, and that was okay; and now they smelled like Hannibal and Face and their love, and that was even better.
That was the best.
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