CHAPTER FOUR

"I really wish you had waited, Doc." Hannibal chewed on the unlit cigar. His voice was calm, but there was a spark in his eye that the doctor didn't miss.

"I know you wanted to be there when I talked to him, Mr. Smith, but he asked. I can't very well tell a patient they can't hear about their condition until their friends arrive. That would only have caused more anxiety, and he was clearly worried enough. Besides, he took the news very well, all things considered."

Hannibal looked at BA, both of them knowing what that meant. No one, including Hannibal, could give an Oscar-winner like Face could. There was no way he would ever let a stranger, even his doctor, know what was really going on inside. And now he'd had more than an hour to think about things, without them. Which meant he'd already decided how to 'handle' the team.

Damn.

Sighing heavily, Hannibal nodded at BA and the two men continued down the hall to Face's room.

He'd been moved to a private room the day after the breathing tube had been removed and he was no longer considered 'at risk'. His voice was gradually coming back, although it was difficult to understand what he was saying because of the wired jaw. Then again, he hadn't had a lot to say. The conversations had mainly centered on the job. He hadn't asked or said anything about his injuries to either Hannibal or BA. Which only made his asking the doctor, when they weren't there, all the more worrisome.

Hannibal pushed open the door and stopped. Face was sitting on the edge of the bed, back to the door, staring out the window. They'd had him up and walking around with an aide several times a day for the last couple of days. If everything stayed on an even keel, he would be released the next day. At the sound of the door opening, he spun around, a little too quickly. BA was at his side instantly, grabbing his good arm to keep him from falling off the bed.

"Whoa, man, take it easy. You okay?" BA looked anxiously at him.

"Yeah, jus lil dizzy..." He let BA gently push him down on the bed, sighing as he came to a rest against the pillows. Face closed his right eye.

Hannibal tried not to look at the bandages on the left side of his face, but it was hard not to. He turned to BA, wondering how to start. BA shook his head and watched out the window, making it clear whose job he thought this was. Hannibal sighed, resigned, and moved to the side of the bed.

"We saw your doctor. He said he talked to you about your injuries."

"Yeah."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Nothin to talk 'bout."

"Look, I know this isn't easy, kid, but we..."

"Tired, Hannibal." Face slid further down on the bed, pulling the sheet over himself.

"We have to talk sometime, Face." Hannibal winced as soon as he said it. BA turned his head, glaring at him. But Face seemed to ignore it.

"Later..."

"Okay, kid." Hannibal leaned close to the bed. "But we're here for you. You remember that."

He signaled to BA and the two men headed for the door. Hannibal looked back before letting the door close completely.

Face was softly hitting his fist on the bed.


*****

He hadn't lied to Hannibal. There was nothing to talk about. And he really was tired. He'd taken a little excursion, after the doctor had left. Unauthorized, unsupervised. But necessary.

He'd known, of course, that things were serious. That these weren't the every day, moan-and-groan-then-walk-away-from-it injuries. It was obvious there were some major problems. Which was why he hadn't asked Hannibal about them. Why he waited until he knew Hannibal and the guys wouldn't be around before he asked the doctor. He didn't need their interference, or their lies, however well-meaning. He needed the truth, complete and unvarnished. And that's exactly what he'd gotten.

He listened without saying a word as the doctor went through everything. Whenever the doctor had hesitated, he'd just waved his hand, impatiently, wanting, needing to hear everything. Listened just as quietly as the doctor had gone through the therapies and surgeries and corrective measures. When he'd heard how long it would take, when he'd heard what couldn't be done, only then had he spoken.

He'd thanked the doctor, and asked him to leave. After a moment's hesitation, the doctor had complied.

He'd waited a few minutes, not really thinking about anything. Just...not being. And then he'd carefully moved to the edge of the bed, and slid off, holding tightly to the railing with his good hand. His left leg and hip ached badly, but the bones were only bruised, not broken. He would manage. After all, he'd walked up and down the hallway several times. Okay, with an aide practically holding him up, but he'd done it. He could manage the ten or twelve feet to the bathroom on his own.

It was slow progress, grasping the bed, then the bureau, finally the door to the bathroom. Trying to keep the dizziness from overwhelming him. A couple of times he nearly missed his handhold, misjudging the distance. But finally he was in front of the sink. In front of the mirror.

He leaned heavily on the sink, catching his breath, not yet having the nerve to look up, to look at the mirror. He felt cold. But he forced himself to look up.

He felt the air go out of him. No. No, that couldn't...that couldn't possibly be him. Not...that...thing...


*****

"Whatcha think, Hannibal?"

"You know what he's doing as well as I do, BA."

"You gonna let him get by with it?"

Hannibal lit his cigar, puffed slowly. They were standing outside the hospital, in the shade of a large oak. Just behind them and to the right, up four stories, was Face's window. Hannibal was watching it as they spoke.

"Yeah, BA, I am. For now. Once he's out of the hospital, settled in at the apartment, then we'll have to deal with it. But right now, I think he needs to be in control of things, as much as he can, anyway. So we'll give him some room. Just not too much." Hannibal frowned.

"You don't think he'll do anythin stupid, do ya?" BA followed Hannibal's gaze up to the window above, then looked back when there was no response. "Hannibal?"

"I don't think he intends to, BA. But we'll keep an eye on things. Sometimes, impulses kinda take over. We just need to make sure we're around if that happens."

BA looked out toward the street. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. So why did he feel so damn cold?


*****

He had stared at the reflection in the mirror for some time, staring at every inch of gauze. Finally, he reached up, slowly, with his right hand. It took some doing, but he got the fastener off the end of the bandage, and slowly drew it away from his face. Methodically, mechanically, he removed each piece, dropping them heedlessly on the floor. When only the dressing over his cheek and eye was left had he stopped. Taken inventory.

He ignored the myriad scrapes, thin cuts and bruises. Those he could've gotten in any fist fight. What he looked at were the stitches. Dozens of stitches. Hundreds. Hell, thousands. Around his jaw, his lips, his nose. The doctor had said they had to do a lot of work, not only closing wounds but on broken bones. Lots of broken bones.

But this...

He felt sick. He shivered. But he had to finish. He had to.

He reached up again. His hand shook, and he hesitated, forced himself to calm. He took hold of the dressing's edge, and slowly peeled it down. When he got a good start, he closed his eye before continuing. When he felt the bandage painfully release from his cheek and fall against his wrist, he dropped his arm, letting the dressing join the rest of the gauze on the floor. Taking another deep breath, he looked.

He realized immediately that what he had previously seen was the good part. The part he might have been able to cope with.

With the dressing gone, there was nothing supporting the left side of his face. It sagged. Like Sister Agnes' face had sagged after her stroke. The cheek was sunken, horribly discolored. Even the bone above his eye seemed distorted, and his eyelid lie useless.

He stared at that eyelid.

With one last shudder, he lifted the eyelid. And looked, fascinated, sick.

There was absolutely nothing there...


*****

Sandy had watched when the doctor walked out of Tim's room. She'd been there when he had asked, through those horrible wires, for "the whole story". She would look in on him shortly, knowing that patients usually needed some time alone after such a session. Particularly in cases like this. So she waited until she felt he'd had time to get over the initial blow.

She was on her way in when she heard the low moan coming from his room. For a moment, she hesitated. She didn't want to intrude on his grieving, but at the same time, sometimes patients got overwrought and did things they regretted later. She would just step inside, to see what was happening. If he was otherwise all right, she could leave without disturbing him.

The first thing she saw when she opened the door was the empty bed. That was all she needed. She rushed in, immediately checking the far side of the bed to see if he had fallen. That's when she heard the choked off sob. From the bathroom.

Damn!

She rushed in, expecting to find him crumpled on the floor, or sitting on the toilet seat, distraught and crying. Instead, she was horrified to see him leaning against the sink, his head against the mirror, his dressings scattered on the floor around him. She knew immediately what he had done.

"Tim! Tim, come on, hon, let's get you back to the bed, Tim, come on..." She gently took him by the shoulders and pulled him away from the sink. Wrapping his right arm around her shoulder, she got him moving out into his room. He leaned heavily against her, barely walking on his own. The moment she got him sitting on the bed safely, she pushed the button for help. Two more nurses came hurrying in, and together they got him back into bed. Sandy stayed with him while the doctor was called.

It took some time to replace the dressings. The doctor softly scolded him, but there was just a bit of admiration in his voice. It took guts to do what Tim had done, even if it could have caused more damage. Once things were back in place, he took a few more minutes to remind Tim that they had only started to repair the damage. He just had to have patience.

Sandy watched him closely as the doctor finished up. She knew there was something Tim wanted, just from the look on his face.

"Is there something else, Tim, something you need?"

"Don't tell them. Please."

The doctor hadn't liked it, nor had Sandy, but their allegiance was to the patient. So when John and BA showed up a half hour later, Tim's sojourn was not mentioned.


*****

"Think we should go back up now? Even if he don't wanna talk, he might be ready for comp'ny."

"Yeah, I think he's probably ready for us. We'll just let things ride for now. Let him adjust at his own speed. We'll be there when he is ready to talk."

As the two headed back into the hospital, BA cleared his throat, and Hannibal knew something else was bothering him. He stopped at the door, waiting.

"What is it, BA?"

"What happens when he wants to see it, Hannibal? Then what?"

"Then we'll be there, too, BA. No way will I let him go through that alone..."