CHAPTER THIRTY NINE

Hannibal awakened early, eager to be out of bed for a change. He decided that today he would make up for Thanksgiving and give everyone his famous turkey dinner. The activity would give him something to do, and everyone could use a reminder of how things used to be. A holiday treat and an incentive rolled into one.

Hannibal was checking through Maggie's cupboards when he first felt someone standing in the doorway. He turned his head and saw Face. He sighed to himself - same clothes as yesterday, hair mussed, unshaven. Not today, he thought. Let it go.

"Morning, kid."

Face looked at him warily. "Morning." He looked at the turkey sitting in the sink, and the other supplies crowding the cupboard surfaces.

"Christmas Day, Face. Somewhere we missed Thanksgiving so we're making up for it now." He pointed casually to a bowl with pumpkin pie mix in it. "You used to show off cracking eggs with one hand. Think you still can?"

He popped an egg into Face's left hand, grinning. Face pondered it for a moment, looked up at Hannibal and gave him a half-smile. Deftly he broke the egg and let it plop, shell-free, into the bowl.

"Great. You are my official assistant today." He pulled a chair up to the table and handed Face a recipe card. "What're you waiting for? Get cooking."

Hannibal turned back to his cupboard search. He stood for a moment before a grin appeared on his own face. He knew what Hannibal was trying to do. That was fine. Two could play the "everything's just fine" game. Even one handed. He sat down to make a pie.


*****

Maggie smelled onions and garlic and other spices drifting from the kitchen. As she got closer to the door, she heard voices. Hannibal. And Face?!

"Got it, kid? Okay, no problem. We'll let Murdock handle KP." Chuckling from both men.

"In here, Hannibal?"

"Yep, just dump it all in there."

Maggie peeked carefully around the door. She didn't want to disturb this. Face, with his good hand, was carefully pouring the pumpkin mix into a pie shell. Hannibal watched, ready to lend a hand if needed, otherwise letting Face handle it all.

"Okay, better let me get that in the oven." Hannibal carefully placed the pie in and set the timer.

"What's next?"

"Dressing. If you hold the onion chopper between your knees, you should be able to chop them up for me."

"Ok."

The two were so involved in this project they didn't notice they now had an audience of three. Quietly the trio moved away from the door, grinning at each other. They were perfectly willing to wait for breakfast if it meant some "normal" time for Face and Hannibal. They sat in the living room, watching the tree lights and listening to the voices from the kitchen. It was the best Christmas present they could have asked for. On occasion there was a small crash or clatter, and they cringed a little each time. They would hear Hannibal tell Face," Don't worry about it.", and they followed the same advice.

When the two came out to the living room, Hannibal had his hand on Face's shoulder and they were both grinning from ear to ear. Seeing the others watching them with matching grins, Hannibal chuckled and Face almost seemed embarrassed.

"So, now we'll find out how good a cook Face is," he chortled.

"Or how good a teacher you are," Maggie corrected, with a laugh. "If you two are finished demolishing my kitchen, I'll see if I can manage breakfast. BA, Murdock, you can assist me."

Hannibal and Face replaced the others in the living room. Hannibal noted, with some satisfaction, that Face was staying away from "his" chair by the window.

"Well, Face, how's it feel?"

"What?"

"We just took another step in passing the torch - the tradition part."

"Passing the torch?"

"Yeah. You didn't think leading the team was just running missions, did you? You gotta take care of the morale, too. And part of that is keeping the traditions."

"Wait a minute. You're the leader here." Face was starting to feel an odd misgiving.

"Not forever, Face. As long as I can, sure. A long time yet, I hope. But you gotta be ready to take over and that means all the aspects of leading this group."

Face was now totally at sea. How could Hannibal expect him to look after the team like that? Not Face. No, that wasn't right. Hannibal couldn't really think that he would - could - continue as his second. That he would even be able to stay with the team. No. No. Hannibal wasn't thinking. Or was it just words? To make Face think he was still wanted. A lie so Face would do what they wanted - talk about it, take the pills, pretend everything would go back the way it used to be. But Hannibal kept saying he wouldn't lie to Face. He wouldn't. And Face wanted to believe him. But what if he thought it was the only way to keep Face going? To keep him in line. Hannibal took care of his team. He felt an obligation to do that. So would he lie to take care of his obligation to Face? That was all Face was after all, an obligation. Someone they had to take care of regardless. Face had been thinking so clearly and now his thoughts were all jumbled again. Was it Hannibal's lies or those damn pills? Or was Face just screwed up?

Abruptly, Face stood up and strode from the room. He needed space. He needed to think. Get his head straight. Something wasn't right. He couldn't reconcile what he'd done with what Hannibal was saying. It wasn't right. It couldn't be.

"Face?"

Hannibal called to him as he walked out, but he ignored him. He didn't want to hear Hannibal's voice any more. He had to listen to his own mind. That was the only one he could trust right now. The only one that wouldn't try to manipulate him. He stepped out the door and moved a few feet into the yard. He didn't need to go far, just out of hearing range. He hoped Hannibal wouldn't follow. He didn't want anyone to follow. He needed to be alone. Completely alone. Like he had been for all those months before...

He could feel the drowsiness of the pills coming on him again, draining his energy. He didn't want to sleep, and those pills made him sleep all the time. Sleep meant dreams. Dreams he remembered. He wanted to go away again. No dreams there. No memories. No voices badgering him. Baiting him. Lying to him.

"Face?"

Damn. Hannibal had followed. Go away. Please.

"You okay, Face?"

"Yeah." Go away.

Hannibal stood for a moment, unsure. He was afraid Face might take off again. He didn't know what had happened to make Face bolt as he had. Surely he hadn't said anything that Face hadn't already known before. Unless Face thought things had changed now.

"Face, I know you want some space right now, okay? I just want you to know that I still trust you to take over for me. We're having a bit of a rough time right now, but that's not going to last forever. In the long run, nothing's changed. Ok?"

"Yeah." Go away.

Hannibal sighed and went back in the house. The rest of the team were watching from the kitchen. He shrugged his shoulders. Let it ride. He stayed by the window, watching, just in case. Face stood perfectly still for a few moments before finally sitting under the tree, leaning back against it. Hannibal relaxed a bit. Maybe Face had just gotten overloaded this morning with all the activity. When breakfast was ready, Hannibal went out and gently woke him.


*****

The rest of the day passed without incident. By unspoken agreement, no one made any demands on Face for conversation or activity. He sat in his chair, either dozing or just watching out the window. He didn't appear to have the surge of energy he usually did as the pain killers wore off. Instead he seemed to be slipping back into his "inner space", as Murdock called it.

But Face had not been able to slip away. It would not come for him. Instead his mind was racing with random thoughts and visions. It was all he could do to sit still and not let the others see the chaos he was experiencing. There was no sense to the images, no rhyme or reason. He saw Aadil's head exploding one minute, Hannibal's turkey in the sink the next. Stockwell pointing the pistol. The Christmas tree. The longer the images danced across his mind the more convoluted and disturbing they became. Suddenly he was not blasting a bullet through Aadil - instead BA's skull took the attack. The relief was almost physical when Hannibal announced the turkey was ready.

The dinner itself was fairly normal. It was embarrassing at first for Face to have to have someone else cut up his food, and he was clumsy using his left hand, but once past that it went smoothly. Murdock noticed that Face avoided looking at his left hand as much as possible, and that caused him some concern. He would talk it over with Maggie before they left the next day. Unlike the antidepressants Face was taking, the anti-psychotics should have kicked in already. And if that was the case, Face shouldn't be having any aversions to his hands. The thought crossed his mind that maybe Face wasn't taking them, but he dismissed it. Why wouldn't he take them?

That evening Hannibal reminded Face that they would be leaving in the morning, to which he received no response. Face went to bed early, which everyone assumed was due to the medications. But once alone in his locked room, Face paced quietly, unable to put the renewed images from his head. It was long after the others had gone to bed that an exhausted Face finally succumbed to sleep himself.