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Visions of Sugar-Plums
Summary: Hannibal and Face prepare for the holidays.
Notes: 1. Movie reference: A Christmas Carol (1951), starring Alistair Sim
2. As usual, a simple idea took on a life of its own…
Disclaimer: The canon characters are, of course, the product of Stephen J. Cannell's fertile imagination. I can only hope I've done justice to his creation.
Visions of Sugar-Plums
Templeton Peck woke in darkness.
The first thing he realized was that he was alone. The second thing was that he was safe and warm inside his self-made cocoon. The third thing was that the musky scent of his lover lingered in the sheets. He breathed it in deeply, and almost purred with contentment.
As he pulled the blankets off his head, he became aware of the sounds of food preparation in the apartment's kitchen, and the aroma of sugar cookies baking in the oven. He smiled, imagining Hannibal up to his elbows in flour, rolling dough and cutting out cookies with military precision. He was grateful Hannibal had left him out of this part of the project, as he was hopeless in the kitchen. His part in the proceedings would come later.
Snuggling down under the covers again, he drifted back to sleep, dreaming of what things would be like on his first Christmas alone with Hannibal.
Hannibal was taking yet another pan of cookies out of the oven when he heard a shuffling sound. He had to smile when he saw his normally fastidious Lieutenant making his way into the kitchen with delightfully tousled hair and his bathrobe hanging open. Placing the pan on a cooling rack, he poured a cup of fresh coffee, then pressed the mug into the hands of his bleary-eyed lover. Sliding his hands up the smooth chest, his thumbs brushing the brown nipples as they went, he kissed him firmly on the lips and pulled the younger man's bathrobe closed before he tied it.
'Did you sleep well, baby?'
'Too well,' Face replied. 'I think I'm more tired now than when I went to bed.'
'Probably because you had me up half the night, making love.'
'So how come you're so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?' Face whined.
'Duty calls,' Hannibal told him, sweeping an arm around the room to show off the results of his morning's efforts.
Face took one look at the ranks upon ranks of cookies ready to be decorated, and groaned, turning away like Ebenezer Scrooge at the sight of the Spirit of Christmas Present. Hannibal burst out laughing at the look on his lover's face.
'Oh, no, you don't, Lieutenant!' he said, grabbing Face's arm and guiding him to the kitchen table. Sitting him down, he wrapped his arms around the younger man from behind. 'The deal was that I make the cookies, and you decorate them.'
'But so many, Hannibal! It'll take forever!'
'I have faith in you, Lieutenant,' Hannibal stated confidently, grinning as Face dropped his head in his hands. 'However, I won't make you do it until you've had a chance to get some coffee and a shower.'
'Gee, thanks!' Face muttered sarcastically. 'And do I get some toast to go along with the coffee?'
'All you have to do is ask, baby!' Hannibal said, placing a plate in front of the younger man. 'All you have to do is ask!'
An hour later, the two men sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table, a row of bowls containing colored icing between them. Working like an assembly line, they decorated the stars, bells, angels, reindeer, donkeys, snowflakes, camels, and other shapes. Some just got a coating of white icing and a sprinkling of colored sugar, while others were decorated more elaborately.
It took all day, and by the time they were finished, every possible surface in the apartment was covered with cookies in various stages of drying. Pleased with the results, they cleaned up their mess, and retired to the living room for some well-earned relaxation, knowing they had enough for everything they had in mind.
B.A. picked up the pistol he had just cleaned when he heard footsteps stop outside his door above the garage, but relaxed a bit when he heard the coded knock. Ever vigilant, he checked the peephole before opening the door to admit his CO and his friend. Hannibal nodded his approval of his Sergeant's caution.
'Hey, Hannibal! What's up?' he asked, raising an eyebrow at the box in Hannibal's hands.
'Nothing much, B.A.,' Hannibal replied, handing over the box. 'Just stopping by to bring you some seasonal goodies.'
'Man, these cookies look good!' B.A. exclaimed, looking inside. 'You guys make these?'
'Well, Hannibal made them,' Face said. 'I just helped decorate.'
'Then they gonna be good,' his friend declared, ''specially with milk.' They all chuckled at that. 'Man, I wish I had some to send to Momma,' he added wistfully.
'Don't worry about that, B.A.,' Face told him as his lover wandered over to the window. 'Hannibal's way ahead of you. He drove all the way to Las Vegas to mail a huge box of them to her.'
'Thanks, Colonel!' B.A. said, his eyes lighting up. 'Mama loves kids. She ain't got much to share, so she'll really appreciate this.'
Hannibal turned to look at him.
'Just remember that you're expected for Christmas dinner, Sergeant!' he said firmly, pointing his cigar at him.
'I'll be there, Hannibal,' B.A. said. 'Wouldn't miss it for the world.'
Bishop David Magill put down his pen and sighed. The last-minute details for the orphanage Christmas celebrations were finally in place. It wasn't easy organizing gifts and special treats for several dozen children and their caretakers, but he'd done it yet again, and he nodded with satisfaction
He was just rubbing his eyes when there was a knock on the study door.
'Come!' he called, his brogue thicker with his fatigue. He smiled when the door opened to admit a 10-year-old boy with auburn hair, startlingly green eyes, and an ingenuous look on his face. The newcomer reminded him of another young lad who had wandered into his life a dozen or so years before, and he felt a twinge of sadness.
'Yes,' the bishop said. 'What is it, Michael, me lad?'
'Forgive me for interrupting, Father,' the boy began.
''Tis quite all right, lad,' Magill replied, amused the boy's choice of title. If his charges felt more comfortable using the more casual form of address, who was he to complain? 'Did ye need somethin'?'
'I was raking leaves with Sister Innocentia at the gate just now,' Michael announced solemnly, holding out a small padded envelope. 'A strange-looking man came up and gave her this. He pointed at me and asked that I bring this to you. To you and no one else.'
Magill took the envelope with a puzzled frown, but then he lightened his expression.
'All right, Michael,' he said, dismissing the wide-eyed boy gently, 'go and get ready for supper now. And tell Mother Katherine I'll be down directly.'
'Yes, Father!' the boy chirped, and hurried out of the study.
Magill cut open the envelope and tipped the contents out into his hand. What fell out was a key with a number stamped into its thick plastic tag, such as one might find used at public lockers, and a slip of paper with the word 'greyhound' and a date on it: December 24, 1973 – three days away.
Looking at it carefully, he thought it looked like the ones used at a nearby bus terminal. What it could mean, he couldn't guess, but he knew that the only way to solve the mystery was to find the locker the key fit.
The bus terminal was bustling with holiday travelers as Bishop Magill pushed open the swinging door. Looking around, he saw several banks of lockers. It didn't take him long to find the correct section. Inserting the key, he turned it, and pulled open the spring-loaded door.
An aroma redolent of butter and sugar wafted out of the locker as he opened it. Inside were three sturdy cardboard boxes stacked one on top of one another, and tied together securely with twine. On top of the boxes was another key, which fit the locker below, where he found a further three boxes. They were all addressed to Bishop David Magill of St. Bartholomew's Orphanage.
Removing the boxes, he heard something shift slightly inside. His face lit up when, prying up a corner of the interlocked flaps of a top box, he spied the unmistakable sight of dozens of home-made cookies, all lavishly decorated. The method of delivery was odd, but he had a sneaking suspicion as to who was behind it.
Picking up a package in each hand, he turned to leave, colliding with someone as he did. He took a long look at the person he'd bumped.
It was an older man, in ragged clothes, a tattered hat pulled low over his eyes. Several days' growth of beard covered his cheeks and chin, and he held a flat bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag in his hand. He could smell the alcohol on the man's breath.
'Shorry, padre,' the drunk slurred. 'Didn't…shee you standin' there.'
'Not to worry, my good man,' the bishop demurred. 'Are ye all right?'
'Not as well as I could be, I'll admit,' the other man said, swaying a bit. 'Could you shpare a couple bucks for a homeless vet?'
'Most assuredly,' Magill replied, digging out his wallet. He'd seen too many like his erstwhile companion, and while he couldn't help them all, he would do what he could. Pulling out two ten-dollar bills, he passed them over.
'Bless you, padre,' the man mumbled, looking up. 'Your generosity…will not go unrewarded.'
Magill was startled to find himself looking into a pair of sparkling blue eyes that weren't in the least bit inebriated.
'Now, if you'll look over my shoulder, padre,' the man said softly but clearly, 'you'll see the source of this surprise.'
Magill's eyes scanned the area near the outside wall of the terminal. Seated at the shoe-shine booth, a young man was waving at him discreetly. Light blond hair and a grin like no other told him who it was.
'Templeton!' the bishop breathed. He looked back at the 'drunk'. 'Are you… Hannibal?'
The other man nodded.
'Take care of him.'
'I'll do my best,' Hannibal told him. 'I have to go now. Merry Christmas, padre! I'll make sure this,' he flourished the $20, 'gets where it belongs!'
Hannibal shuffled off, muttering to himself. Magill watched him go, a bemused grin on his face, before leaving himself.
Hannibal hadn't gone more than a few feet when he was accosted by a policeman. He looked up from his hunched posture to find the officer frowning down at him.
'I thought I told you there was to be no panhandling inside the terminal,' he said tiredly. 'We can't have you bothering people.'
'Shorry, shir; shorry,' Hannibal mumbled, touching the brim of his hat. 'Won't happen again, I promish you, shir.'
'See that it doesn't,' the officer huffed, then he mellowed. 'Now, do you have a place to sleep tonight?'
'Uh…' Hannibal hesitated, as if unwilling to admit to such straitened circumstances. 'No, shir, I don't,' he sighed at last.
'Here,' the policeman said, holding out a business card. 'There's a shelter for homeless vets a few blocks from here. Give them this, and tell them Officer Padgett sent you.'
Hannibal's eyes widened in surprise.
'Thank you, shir,' he muttered, shuffling off. 'Merry Christmas, shir!'
'You, too, fella,' Padgett replied. 'And I hope the New Year treats you better than the old one did,' he sighed before resuming his patrol.
Face pushed open the door to the men's room to find Hannibal at the sink, scrubbing the make-up and liquid latex off his face.
'Hannibal, what were you trying to pull?!' he hissed. 'I thought I was going to have to come to your rescue! That would be great – to come all this way, only to wind up in the local lock-up on Christmas Eve!'
'Not a chance, kid!' Hannibal grinned at his lover. 'Bums, unfortunately, are a dime a dozen, which works in my favor. The cops can't memorize all the faces. Besides, I got a referral to the local men's shelter, as well as $20 from the good Father!'
''You've already got a place to sleep,' Face said, exasperated. 'Next to me. In our bed, remember?'
'Sounds delightful!' Hannibal winked, then gave Face a gentle backhanded slap on the chest as he turned away. 'C'mon, kid; let's get out of here. We've still got a lot to do.'
Hannibal shrugged on a brown jacket Face had retrieved from a locker. With the hat, wig, and putty nose shoved into a capacious pocket, no one recognized the tall, dapper man as the scruffy panhandler of just a few minutes before. Not even Officer Padgett, who they passed on his rounds.
On their way to the parking lot, they passed a man in faded fatigues seated next to a card table on which was placed an old jug from a water cooler. A home-made sign propped against the jug read:
SPARE CHANGE FOR HOMELESS VETS
Hannibal folded the bishop's ten-dollar bills lengthwise and slid them into the jug. Turning to the man in charge of it, he passed along the shelter's business card.
'Give this to someone who really needs it,' he said. 'Courtesy of Officer Padgett.'
'Thanks, mister!' the man said, favoring them with a smile that was missing a couple of teeth. 'I know just the fella who could use this! Merry Christmas!'
Face and Hannibal replied in kind before continuing the walk to their car.
'I'm so glad we're out of there,' Face sighed as he slipped into the passenger seat of their repainted Chevy Malibu, which had been supercharged courtesy of B.A. – just in case. 'That was more than a little nerve-wracking back there, y'know.'
'Aw, you loved it, and you know it, kid,' the older man teased. 'Besides, it was good to see Father Magill again, wasn't it?'
'Yeah, it was. But I can't wait 'til we get home and you can shave off that stubble, Hannibal,' Face said, smiling. 'I'm not kissing you again until you do!'
Hannibal just laughed as he pulled into traffic.
Nurse Margaret Evans had finished her conversation with a staff psychiatrist and was just putting away some files when Hannibal and Face approached the desk. She smiled, as she always did at their monthly visits. Her curiosity was piqued when they placed a large box on the reception desk.
'Good afternoon, Mr. Smith,' she said brightly. 'It's good to see you and Arthur here today. You just missed Dr. Richter. He's going to be taking over your nephew's case.'
Hannibal nodded, while Face looked down the hall in time to see the white-coated figure round the corner out of sight.
'Well, that's interesting,' Hannibal said. 'I've heard good things about him.'
'Oh, yes. He's got a very good reputation. He's taken on some of the hardest cases we've had, and his patients have all made excellent progress.' The nurse leaned forward. 'I probably shouldn't be saying this, but since you're Captain Murdock's only visitors, I thought you should know,' she continued quietly. 'Already his outbursts have dropped in intensity, and Dr. Richter's only been seeing him for a couple of weeks.'
'Well, that is mighty good news,' Hannibal drawled, keeping up the 'Kentucky Colonel' persona he'd adopted on their first visit. 'We've been deeply concerned for him, especially since Arthur's misguided visit last July. However, that was my fault. I should never have kept him in the dark about how bad Henry had gotten.' Face shot him a glare.
'Now, Nurse Evans, we have a little gift for you and the rest of the staff,' Hannibal continued, indicating the box she'd noted earlier. 'We appreciate all you and the others have done for Henry, and we thought we'd offer a tangible expression of that appreciation.' Face pushed the box closer.
Margaret Evans opened the box and gasped with delight.
'Cookies!' she said happily. 'And home-made ones!' She looked up at Hannibal and Face. 'We rarely get anything from the families of our patients, and never anything as nice as this! Thank you so much! I'll put these in the break-room when I go to lunch!'
'Please do,' Face added. 'We know it's not easy working in a psych ward, and you all deserve a lot of credit.'
'You're very welcome,' Hannibal said. 'Now, do you think it will be all right if we give Henry some as well?' He placed a smaller box on the desk and opened it so that she could inspect the contents for contraband items. 'Since tomorrow is Christmas, after all.'
'I don't think that would be a problem,' the nurse said. 'Just let me see how he's doing.'
A few minutes later, she was letting them into Murdock's room.
The room was still spartan in its furnishings, but there was a different feel to it now. Murdock had taken many of the t-shirts he'd received and draped them everywhere he could. The wild variety of colors gave the room a cheeriness it had so sorely lacked on their first visit six months before.
Once the door was closed, Murdock sat up on the bed. Face was pleased to see that he was no longer wearing the hospital gown of their first visit. In fact, he was wearing blue slacks and the Marx-Lennon t-shirt they'd sent the month before.
When Murdock looked up, there was a confused look in his eyes. Hannibal and Face waited patiently.
'Hannibal?' he said at last. 'Facey?'
When he was sure Murdock knew them, Hannibal let Face get closer to his friend, smiling as he sat next to Murdock and hugged him. It was good to see the two young men together, chatting quietly. He knew how distressed his lover had been over the last several months, and he was glad to know that their friendship had not suffered. Still, he didn't let down his guard for a moment, just in case.
'So, how have they been treating you?' Face was asking.
'Okay, I guess,' Murdock sighed. 'I mean, I really don't remember all that much. But I seem to be okay. The food's not bad, and there's plenty of it, and they're letting me go down to the rec area lately, to watch TV and play some of the video games. And I haven't had a violent episode in a couple o' months. At least, I don't think I have. Don't know if I'd remember them, really. But I haven't woken up in a straitjacket recently.' He gave his friends a goofy grin, and they smiled back.
'Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that, Captain,' Hannibal said. 'We've really missed you.'
'Aw, gee, Colonel,' Murdock said. 'I've missed you guys, too. Even the mud-sucker.'
'Oh, and we brought something for you, Murdock,' Face said gently, handing him the box the nurse had inspected.
Murdock snatched it eagerly.
'Whatever it is, it's gotta be good,' he said happily as he opened it. 'Cookies?!'
'Yup,' his friend replied. 'Hannibal and I made them. I hope you like them.'
'Like them?!' Murdock said as he eagerly pulled out nine reindeer, one with a cinnamon drop for a nose. 'I love them!' He hopped the red-nosed one through the air for a few moments before returning it to the box, coming up with a star-shaped one that he popped into his mouth. 'Man, these are good!' he enthused, spraying crumbs that Face tried unsuccessfully to deflect, much to Hannibal's amusement.
Suddenly, Murdock stilled, slowly drawing out another cookie.
'Airplanes?' he asked wonderingly. 'You made airplanes for me?'
Face nodded nervously, and Hannibal tensed.
'Uh, yeah,' Face told him. 'We couldn't find a cookie cutter for them, so B.A. made one.'
'The mud-sucker did that for me? Wow! You guys are the greatest!' Murdock finally said, tears in his eyes, and he hugged each of his friends enthusiastically. Without another word, he spun on his heel, and ran out the door, holding an airplane cookie aloft.
'Let's go, Hannibal,' Face said quietly. 'I want to remember him like this for Christmas.' Hannibal nodded.
Gently, they stopped Murdock, telling him they had to go.
'But you will come back?' the pilot begged quietly, fear suddenly apparent in his soft brown eyes.
'As often as we can, Captain,' Hannibal assured him.
'And if we can't come, we'll send you something, just to let you know we're all right,' Face added. 'You were always there for us. We'll do the same for you.' At that, Murdock hugged him again.
Quite a change from the first time we were here, Hannibal thought, satisfied. He knew it would be a long, long time before his pilot would be able to leave the VA for any extended period, but he was now confident that Murdock's hold on sanity was moving in the right direction.
They left him happily zooming the airplane cookie up and down the hallway. As they went, Nurse Evans stopped them briefly.
'Thank you so much for all you've done for him,' she said. 'He's one of my favorite patients, and your visits have really made a difference in his progress. He looks forward to them so much.'
'We're only too glad to help,' Hannibal said. 'He saved a lot of lives in Viet Nam. He deserves the best care the government has to offer.'
At last, they wished her a pleasant holiday, and headed for the elevator.
Face turned from the window after watching B.A. drive away. They'd had a wonderful time together, exchanging inexpensive presents, more symbolic than anything else, and sharing a home-cooked meal courtesy of Hannibal. It hadn't been anything fancy, but that wasn't necessary. After all they'd been through, being together to celebrate was the important thing.
Hannibal returned to the living room with two mugs of cocoa, and he waved Face over to join him sitting on the rug in front of their Christmas tree. It was a small tree, and most of the ornaments were Hannibal's cookies, hung by means of ribbon loops threaded through holes made with a straw. Scattered among them were white stars dotted with silver dragees.
He looked lovingly at his partner, truly realizing for the first time that Hannibal's hair was almost completely silver-white. Oddly enough, it didn't make Hannibal look old; it just made him love his Colonel all the more.
They sat quietly for a long time, snuggling together and enjoying the cocoa Hannibal had made from scratch. Face sighed contentedly.
'No matter what happens, John,' he whispered, 'I'll always remember this as the best Christmas I've ever had.'
'So will I, Tem,' Hannibal replied, pulling the younger man close and kissing him deeply. 'So will I.'
And to all, a good night!
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