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The way Jack ducks his head out of the door to his office, something about his expression seeming world-weary yet also drawn tight with low-burning fury all at once, and crooks two fingers to beckon Will inside instead of just saying his name, tells Will that this is not going to be a good conversation.

“Did something happen?” he asks as he steps in and closes the door behind him.

“Not yet,” says Jack, and yeah, there’s the fury he was talking about, simmering just shy of boiling over underneath the surface.

The man takes a step back to lean against his desk and crosses his arms, moving aside and allowing Will to see that they’re not alone in the room. Seated in the chair in front of Jack’s desk is Kade Prurnell, the investigator from the Inspector General’s office who once wanted to see Will fry for his alleged crimes.

Will clenches his fists at his sides, trying to hold back something ugly and dark that wants to claw its way out through his chest at just the sight of her. He can tell by the way her eyes flicker downward just for a second that it doesn’t escape her notice, but her face could be made of stone for all the expression it shows otherwise. He’d have to give her credit for that if he wasn’t so pissed off at the moment. Even now, several long months after he was exonerated of all charges, people still tend to skirt around him and look away nervously whenever they recognize who he is.

“What is this?” Will asks, not even bothering to keep the hard edge out of his voice.

“Will, just…hang on,” Jack says with a placating wave of his hand. “You need to hear this.” He sighs and turns his attention back to Prurnell. “Tell him what you just told me,” he says to her, his tone now grave.

Prurnell’s eyes flick to meet Jack’s for a moment, before she turns to better face Will and says, “As of last Friday morning, Hannibal Lecter has confessed to the murders of both the bailiff and the judge for your trial.”

Will’s anger dissipates to make room for confusion, followed immediately by sardonic amusement. “He what?” Will asks, unable to keep the laughter or disbelief out of his voice.

Prurnell’s face remains impassive. Jack, on the other hand, sighs and rubs a hand over his eyebrows as though Will’s reaction, while not unexpected, is somehow worse than his hostility from before.

Okay, so this is really happening, Will thinks, check-marking a box under the ‘Not Hallucinating or Victim of a Really Bad Prank’ category.

“Alright. So what does this mean?” he asks.

“It means,” Prurnell begins to explain, dragging the words out in a way that makes Will want to grind his teeth, as though she thinks she’s talking to a child, “that the only charge still standing against Matthew Brown is one count of attempted murder. The prosecution has dropped the other charges.”

Oh. Will blinks. He’s sort of embarrassed to admit he’d forgotten about Brown’s trial altogether. He’s had bigger things on his mind since his own release from the madhouse, him along with the rest of the country. Brown’s crimes were never as highly publicized as the Ripper’s or the Copycat’s, so no one in the justice system ever saw the urgency in pushing his trial date forward, allowing the courts to drag their feet on the issue.

Then Hannibal Lecter’s sins had caught up with him at last, and the world watched in slack-jawed horror and appreciative awe as the Trial of the Century commenced, revealing the identities of the Chesapeake Ripper and the Copycat Killer as one and the same—and thus spawning the birth of a new nickname more tasteless and garish than anything previously created on Freddie Lounds’ blog, Hannibal the Cannibal.

The courts had been rather keen on wrapping that case up with as much pomp and fanfare as possible, not satisfied until every sordid detail of Lecter’s life had been dragged out into the light and ensured that he earned all nine of his consecutive life sentences in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

This had the understandable effect of delaying all other ‘lesser’ trials even further, including the now long overdue one for Will’s former admirer.

“The man really does know how to make arrogance into an art form,” says Will, unimpressed. “Now he’s even going so far as to take credit he doesn’t deserve for work he didn’t do.” How rude, Will thinks, and pulls his lips into a thin line because he’s positive the smile that wants to come out would be wildly inappropriate at best and utterly horrific at worst.

“Unfortunately, it’s not up for you or me to decide what Lecter is found guilty of,” says Prurnell, now rising from her seat to stand. “The courts have accepted his confession almost without question. The only thing left on the table for Brown’s trial is his attempt to kill Lecter.”

“Is that what you came all this way to tell Jack?” asks Will. “Because I’m not really seeing the point here. I don’t care what Brown’s charged with as long as he’s in jail. He’s guilty, and last I checked, attempted murder is still very much a big deal in Maryland, showy cannibals with a weakness for the spotlight aside. They’re going to put him away no matter what,” he says.

Jack is still unusually quiet throughout all this, just takes another deep breath and looks every inch the tired, burnt-out old widower he unfortunately is.

Somehow, after Will’s done speaking, even Prurnell seems wearier, and for once he’s not the one who seems to have trouble maintaining eye contact. The evasion makes something cold and disquieting creep tendrils along his spine.

“What?” he asks. “What am I missing?”

“Will,” Jack says finally, his voice far gentler than Will’s heard it in some time, probably since Bella’s passing. “Brown’s lawyer is going to spin this in any way he can in his client’s favor.”

“Isn’t that what lawyers do?” Will asks, feeling belligerent and wishing he could channel some more of that morbid humor from earlier. “He can’t change the facts.”

“He doesn’t need to change the facts,” Prurnell says as sharply as ever, her momentary lapse into something a little more sympathetic than normal already gone. “He just needs to change the motive.”

“Change the motive?” Will turns to face her again. He feels at sea here and he doesn’t like it.

“The new angle,” she says, her voice dripping with scorn that, for once, isn’t meant for Will but makes him want to cringe all the same, “is that Matthew Brown is a tender-hearted but misguided soul who, after deciding he believed a certain patient’s claims of innocence and feeling ever so protective of this wrongly accused man under his care, took it upon himself to seek justice on his own and end the Ripper’s reign of terror once and for all.”

Will feels something strange swell in his chest and rise like bile up his throat, but he’s not sure what it is until it bursts past his lips—deep, uncontrollable bouts of laughter so rich and thick he can hardly breathe through it and, judging by the looks Jack and Prurnell are now giving him, bordering on just this side of hysteria.

“Are you…” Will stops for a second to catch his breath before he continues. “This is a joke. You’re joking, right?”

Prurnell takes an uneasy step back from him. When he seems to have regained his composure a bit, she says, “Vigilantism, as you know, while still a serious crime is nothing compared to what he’s currently accused of.”

“Being a vicious homicidal psychopath who kills because he can and because it’s fun,” Will says flippantly. It’s not entirely accurate to his own portrait of what the man is, but he thinks it gets his point across.

Prurnell nods her head in acknowledgment. “Frankly, it makes me and anyone else who can see what kind of monster he is sick to our stomachs.”

None of you can see what kind of monster he is, Will thinks. “But…” he trails off expectantly.

“But…it’s already leaked onto the internet and it’s only a matter of time before the press catches on as well. So far, public opinion seems to lean towards Matthew Brown as a righteous figure who is being unjustly punished for having the courage to stand against the Devil himself. They’re treating him like a goddamned unsung folk hero,” she says. “There’s already an outcry for his release. Every law enforcement department with even the thinnest thread of involvement in this, from my office to the presiding judge to the head of the FBI, has been seeing a flood of phone calls, emails, even tweets that say ‘Free Matthew Brown’ or whatever in their twitter feeds since noon yesterday.”

Will turns his head to look over at Jack. “The head of the FBI has a twitter feed?” he asks wryly. Jack just shrugs.

“My point is that you might want to start taking this more seriously, Mr. Graham. I only came to tell you this as a courtesy. I’m not the object of an unhealthy fixation by a serial killer,” she says.

Two of them, Will mentally corrects. He frowns. “Since when has public opinion held sway over a judge’s ruling?” he asks.

The look she gives him manages to appear both scathing and pitying at the same time. “Surely you are not so naïve as that. Probably as we speak, Brown’s lawyer is in Justice Peters’ office requesting that his sentence be reduced to time served. It’s what I would do in his place.” She straightens as she says, “Keeping in mind his constituency, Peters would be a fool not to at least consider it. Do you still find this situation funny, Mr. Graham?”

No, he doesn’t find it funny. Will feels like the world is tilting on its axis, like any moment he’s going to slip and fall off the edge of the earth. Distantly, he hears Jack say, “Well, what if Will testifies—”

“No,” Prurnell interrupts. “The prosecution would never put him on the stand. Unless he has concrete evidence hidden up his sleeve somewhere, his testimony will never hold in a courtroom.”

“Why the hell not? He’s the man who caught the Chesapeake Ripper!”

“I don’t care if he’s the goddamn pope, Agent Crawford. Any testimony your friend here can provide will be information he learned while undergoing psychiatric care in a mental institution.”

They keep arguing like this for Will doesn’t know how long. He doesn’t hear any of it.

It feels as though nothing has changed, as though nothing he’s done since the scales were lifted from his eyes and he faced off against the man who represented his own living nightmares has amounted to anything at all. He clutches unconsciously over his shirt at the jagged scar that runs horizontally over part of his torso and asks, “What does he even get out of all this?”

“Who?” Jack asks confusedly, interrupting Prurnell mid-rant. “Brown?”

“No. Lecter.”

That pulls Jack up short. “You think he saw this coming?”

“Jack,” says Will impatiently. “It’s Hannibal Lecter.”

“Who cares?” Prurnell snaps suddenly. “He’s crazy. You’re crazy. Matthew Brown is crazy. You all deserve each other,” she says.

Jack looks like he’s about to say something very regrettable to this woman who technically outranks him, but she cuts him off before he can speak. “I think I’ll take my leave of you both now. Good day, gentlemen.” With that, she skirts past Will and strides out of Jack’s office, and hopefully out of Will’s life for good.

Now only Will and Jack are left standing together stiffly in the ensuing silence. It’s too loud. Will wants to go home to his dogs.

“I’ll see about getting you a protection detail,” Jack says finally.

“Don’t bother.”

“Will…”

Will shakes his head and sighs. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Brown won’t try to hurt me.”

Jack narrows his eyes at Will. “You’re sure about that?” he asks.

Absolutely not. “Yes.”

Jack clearly doesn’t believe him, but Will doesn’t care. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says awkwardly, and leaves.

When he gets home, he’s tempted to open his laptop and look at what’s being said for himself, or turn on the TV to see if it’s on any news reports yet. He does neither of these things.

Instead he pours himself a stiff drink, downs it all in one go, then whistles for the dogs to come outside with him and runs around with them in the yard until it’s almost too dark to see.

Chapter Text

It’s a few weeks after Prurnell showed up unannounced in Jack’s office, and Will is in Merrillville, Indiana, with Jack and the rest of the team, quietly discussing the few pieces they have so far on the profile of a killer who has been blitz-attacking women in various parking lots at night, arranging them carefully back in their own cars, their valuables still on them, unmolested and unharmed save for a single lethal blow to the back of the head.

One of the local officers is sitting a few desks back from where their little team is gathered, taking a ten-minute break to snack loudly from a bag of potato chips and listen to a local radio talk show on his computer. The show host is giving a brief rundown of news happening throughout the rest of the country, just a thirty-second blurb highlighting the main points from various headlines from other states.

It’s just noise in the background until Will’s ears pick up on a couple of words from it, words like “Maryland” and “Ripper.” He feels himself go very still, abandoning all pretext of paying attention to anything else happening around him as the man casually throws out that Matthew Brown was released earlier that morning around 9:30 am.

For a minute that feels like it goes on longer than it should, he just sits there, close-mouthed and unresponsive, staring blankly ahead at nothing in particular. He hears Zeller clear his throat and looks up—both he and Price are looking intently at Will, as though watching for signs that he’s about to break. Miriam is pointedly not looking at him in an attempt to give him space, picking idly at the fingers of her prosthetic hand the way she does when she’s bothered by something.

Jack is not looking at him either, staring over his shoulder instead at the computer where the announcement came from. After a moment he takes a breath and inclines his head back towards the four of them. “Go on, Will,” he says evenly.

Oh. He had been the one talking just a moment ago, hadn’t he? He has to think back to the last thing he said to pick up the thread of where he left off. “It’s not about power,” he hears himself repeating. “Or even the killing itself. There’s…a very particular message he’s trying to send. We gain a better understanding of that message, we’ll have what we need to catch him.”

Jack nods. “I’m expecting there to be another crime scene tonight,” he says. “I want us to be the first ones on the scene this time, so everyone needs to turn in early to get some rest and be prepared to get up and go on a moment’s notice.” He waits for acknowledgement from all of them before assigning them different tasks and sending them on their way. No one tries to say anything to Will before they all disperse, choosing to ignore the earlier interruption to their debriefing altogether.

Will has never been more grateful than now to work with such amazing people who have come to accept his reticent nature—even if at times it still seems like they understand nothing else about him. He readjusts his glasses so that it’s harder for anyone to make eye contact with him, and sets about completing the task Jack has given him.

*

There is no car in the driveway. It makes things easier. He can’t be turned away on sight if there’s no one home.

He waves at the driver from the steps of the front porch, signaling that it’s okay for him to go and he doesn’t need to wait. As the dark sedan pulls out, he sets his bag down and rifles through it like he’s looking for his keys.

He waits until the car is past the tree line and out of sight before he looks under the doormat for a spare. There isn’t one, which doesn’t surprise him, but he would have felt foolish picking the lock without at least checking first.

A bevy of dogs rush forward to meet him, most of them barking like mad, some of them hanging back warily and growling low in their throats. He makes a pleasant clicking sound against the roof of his mouth with his tongue, stands still but relaxed with palms open, letting them each come up one by one to sniff at his hands and wrists. He allows them as much time as they need, knowing how difficult it can be to get a former stray to trust.

They all calm considerably after they’ve had a chance to get his scent. He thinks he must smell the same as Will did when he first came home from the state hospital himself. The thought brings a smile to his face.

Once they all get bored and settle back into lying around on the floor, a couple of the younger ones rolling about and nipping playfully at each other’s ears, he shuts the door behind him and locks it again before going further into the house.

The place is very tidy despite the number of animals living inside, the furniture old and worn but very comfortable-looking, the walls painted in calm, soothing colors and decorated with bland landscapes and pictures of fruit that probably came with the house. He can definitely see the appeal of a warm and cozy sanctuary like this one, can feel the first stirrings of home begin to rumble deep within his own chest.

Home. He runs his hands along the walls, over the sofa and chairs and knick-knacks he passes near, through a thick coat of fur as one of the dogs follows him curiously and butts its head against his thigh in a silent demand for attention. Will’s presence is everywhere and he can’t soak up enough of it through his pores, not if he spent a lifetime here. It’s almost as good as he imagines grazing his fingertips over soft skin and through thick chocolate curls would feel. Almost.

He hears the crunch of gravel outside just as the dogs start barking again in the front room. The one at his side stiffens a moment before bounding back into the room and joining them.

He walks to one of the windows and peeks through the blinds, unseen as he quietly observes. The car outside is too shiny and new to be anything Will would have bought for himself, and sure enough it’s not him who steps out but a rather petite woman in a bright pink hoodie, about mid to late twenties he’d guess, her blonde hair pulled tight into a high ponytail.

Matthew frowns, sharp flashes of annoyance and possibly jealousy sparking dangerously under his skin, but he doesn’t jump to conclusions just yet. She doesn’t seem like the type of person who could catch Will’s notice that way, but then Matthew supposes, he hardly fits that profile himself. He has the twin advantages of persistence and dedication when it comes to getting what he wants, however, and will not hesitate to burn away anything or anyone that seems at risk of pulling Will’s focus away from him.

He continues to watch for a moment as she puts her keys away and fishes around in her other pocket, pulling out a single key separate from all the rest. He creeps silently up the stairs as she walks up, leans casually just out of sight against the second floor wall as he hears the key slide into the lock. He sets his bag down on the floor next to him, freeing his arms up for better mobility in case it becomes necessary to act quickly.

“Hiya fellas!” comes a high-pitched, overdone cooing that immediately grates on his nerves as the door opens, carrying even over the frantic enthusiastic barking and scrape of paws against the wooden floor.

“Hello there, hello, oh, good to see you too!” she continues to baby-talk them, making him itch to glide something sharp across her throat and puncture her larynx in the process. They’re not children, he thinks, and no doubt every one of Will’s well-trained and cared-for companions is actually a good deal smarter than this bubbly woman nattering away at them mindlessly as she pours food and water into their bowls.

Some of the tension loosens in his muscles as he realizes that’s what she’s here for, looking after the dogs while Will is gone. His boss must have dragged him somewhere farther out than normal for whatever case they’re working on. Meaning he also expects to be gone for at least a day or two, perhaps longer. Matthew tilts his head, considering.

He hears the screen door open—“Come on, outside everybody, let’s go!”—and the dogs rushing out eagerly. Matthew waits until her voice calls out again, muffled by distance and walls now between them, before he picks up his bag and saunters down the hall, opening the first door he comes across.

It’s the master bedroom. He shuts the door behind him softly and toes off his shoes so he can pad across the room without making a sound. The walls are all blank and beige, the only furniture a couple of nightstands on either side of the bed and a chest of drawers and mirror next to the adjoining bathroom door.

He pulls the curtain back on the window just enough to see that Pink Ponytail Girl is still standing outside with the dogs. He’s about to step back when he glances down and notices the nails hammered unevenly into the windowsill, keeping it firmly shut at all times. There’s an interesting story behind that, he’s sure, one he can probably guess at based on the symptoms of illness that were mentioned in Will’s medical file.

The drawers’ contents are decidedly more mundane by comparison, just clothes and a half-empty bottle of Aspirin that’s probably laid there buried and forgotten for some time, judging by how faded the label on it looks. In the closet, he finds an unloaded rifle and a shoebox on the top shelf above the hanging garments.

The shoebox is full of old photographs, most of them instant Polaroids. One of the ones on top features a smiling man with straight greying hair and sharp blue eyes, obviously holding the camera out as far as he can to be in the shot, his other arm slung around a gangly-limbed, smooth-cheeked but very familiar fifteen-year-old wearing an embarrassed grin.

“Mm,” he smiles down at it. “You were a cute kid, Mr. Graham.”

The screen door creaks open again downstairs and the house is once again filled with the slide of paws against the floor and excitable barks before the dogs settle down at last. He hears the girl speak but isn’t interested enough to try and make out what she’s saying. Then the front door shuts, the engine starts, and the gravel crunches under her tires once more as she drives away.

He closes the box and puts it back in the closet where he found it. He could go back downstairs now if he wanted, but instead he walks over to the bed and smoothes one hand over the soft blue comforter.

When that ceases to be enough, he lies back on it, unconcerned about messing up the sheets. Beds are easily remade and he has plenty of time. He could go to sleep here if he wanted.

It feels like heaven after the hard lumpy cot in his old cell. He stretches out languidly and groans, imagining Will having done the same after he got out as well.

He pulls one of the pillows closer to him, buries his face in it and grins. It smells exactly like Will. Even after all this time, even though he never stood all that close for more than a few seconds to slide cuffs over delicate wrists or ease the mask into place, even now he still remembers.

If he lies here long enough, it’ll start to smell like him and Will. Just the thought of it stirs something low in his gut, makes his eyes flutter shut, and elicits another groan.

He clenches the pillow tighter. Oh yes, he thinks. He could definitely get used to this bed.

Chapter Text

The tap of his cane clicks sharply against the concrete floors and echoes down the corridor walls. There’s an odd sort of satisfaction in that, despite the ever-present limp that necessitates it and phantom pains that still twinge on occasion in his abdomen. It gives him some small sense of power to know his presence will never go unnoticed again, the cane a sort of heralding cry that lets others know he’s coming long before his arrival.

Of course, that also means he lacks any element of surprise.

“Hello Frederick,” says the man on the other side of the glass almost before Chilton comes into view.

He comes to a stop in front of the cell, turns to face it, and rests his hands one atop the other on the head of his cane. “Hello Hannibal,” he greets in return.

“What brings you to this part of the hospital so early in the week? You usually visit on Thursdays,” the ex-psychiatrist says pleasantly, as though the administrator is simply a guest who has stopped by his home for a friendly chat, and he ever the gracious host. As usual, Frederick doesn’t know whether he finds that more amusing than galling, or if it is the other way around.

“I find myself with a little more free time than I’m used to this afternoon,” he answers dryly.

“Ah. I take it this would be the time slot you normally had reserved for your former employee?”

“Your deductive skills are impeccable as always.”

Hannibal’s eyebrows raise delicately at the obvious sarcasm in his tone. The corners of his mouth tilt up into the barest smirk, and that is the only hint Chilton has that he should expect something equally mocking to come out of the man’s mouth before he says, “His presence must have been a constant unpleasant reminder for you. At the very least, I trust it taught you to be more stringent in your hiring practices.”

“Screening new hires isn’t the only thing I’m more stringent about these days. I am also more careful in how I choose my friends,” says Frederick, not without bitterness. He need only gaze into a mirror and look at the scar where Miriam Lass’ bullet grazed his cheek to be reminded of the follies of trusting Hannibal Lecter, laying the blame for his disfigurement more at the feet of the one who framed him as the Ripper than at those of the traumatized girl who believed him to be so. He never even pressed charges against Lass, a kindness even he would consider uncharacteristic of himself, simply because he thought Lecter might expect it of him and he didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

Hannibal tips his head in acknowledgement of the statement’s validity. “A wise decision,” he says magnanimously.

Chilton will never understand why Lecter continues to pretend at emotions he doesn’t feel. He sits at last in the folding chair behind him, no longer able to keep resting his weight solely on the cane. “What are you doing, Hannibal?” he asks tiredly.

“To what are you referring?” asks Hannibal.

Chilton sighs. “You know what.” When Lecter continues to stand and look down at him quietly, he prods. “Yesterday I released a man back into the wild that I would sooner have kept in captivity until the end of his days.”

“Frederick, I am shocked at you. Most would consider the rehabilitation of not one patient but two, in a facility previously unknown for its effective reintegration of those in its care back into normal society, to be an overwhelming success.”

Chilton snorts at that. “Much as I would love to take credit for Will Graham’s ‘successful reintegration,’ as you put it, we both know it is you he is truly indebted to for his release…as is Matthew Brown.”  He leans forward slightly and decides he’ll cut right to the chase. He’s weary of Hannibal’s games and he wants a straight answer. “Why did you do it? What exactly do you expect to come of this?”

Lecter gives that slight smile of his again. “I have not decided yet. The results should be interesting, don’t you agree?”

“No, I refuse to believe you only did this because you were bored and curious what would happen, Hannibal. You’re planning something, I know it.”

“You give me far too much credit, Frederick. Would you conflate me with some omnipotent demonic figure, perhaps even the Devil himself, much as the rest of the populace has?”

“It’s the demon I have been forced to unleash back onto said populace that I’m worried about. At least Graham was actually innocent.”

If possible, Lecter’s smile seems to turn sharper and more vivid without widening a millimeter. “There are many ways in which I could describe for you the nature and integrity of Will Graham’s character,” he says. “‘Innocent’ is not a term I would use myself.”

Chilton furrows his brows, not sure what the other man is getting at. “Regardless, he is innocent of the crimes he was accused of. You framed him just as you did me.”

Hannibal sighs in a much put-upon manner, an astonishing and dramatic display of emotion for him, however at least partially fabricated. “Now you are being deliberately obtuse, Frederick. An appallingly obvious tactic. I expected much better of you.”

Chilton grinds his teeth together in irritation. He really doesn’t know what Hannibal’s point is, and he feels worse knowing the man believes him to understand more than he does than he would if Lecter had actually called him stupid. Then again, maybe the man does know and that’s the real reason he says it that way. Even in those ugly coveralls instead of a three-piece suit and with an inch of bulletproof glass between them, Lecter still manages to make Frederick feel like a hamster running around in his little plastic wheel, struggling futilely to keep up.

Something else does occur to him though as he thinks about it, the realization making him straighten in his seat. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” he asks, not quite able to keep the excitement out of his voice at having figured it out. “Will Graham,” he smirks. “You’re starting to sound like a broken record with your fixations, Doctor.”

Lecter says nothing in response to that, his face utterly impassive.

“So what is it you are hoping will happen? I know you aren’t conspiring with Brown,” says Chilton. It’s one of the only things he can be certain of. In all their overlapping time here, they were never once in communication with one another, not a single word or secret note exchanged—the cameras and microphones would have caught it, and long gone are the days when he would have trusted their maintenance and upkeep to one of the orderlies. Another hard lesson he had been forced to learn.

“So you can’t possibly know what the man will do with his freedom,” he continues. “But you must at least think you have some idea.” He leans forward again, feeling triumphant in the progress being made to a better understanding of Lecter’s motives. “Are you hoping he’ll seek vengeance on Graham for his role in getting him caught and leaving him here? Perhaps he can even succeed where you could not in killing the man.”

For the first time, Chilton sees Lecter’s face spark with something truly cold and dangerous. He gulps unconsciously and squirms in his seat, more thankful than ever for the thick layer of glass between them.

“As usual, Frederick,” says Hannibal, his tone sharp and clipped, every syllable dripping with cold disdain, “your attempts to psychoanalyze end only in you fumbling around aimlessly, all thumbs and useless twitching in the dark.”

Chilton’s jaw slackens in amazement, too shocked by the directness of the insult to feel the full force of it or take any real offense just yet. He is still used to the more understated slights of the past, Hannibal really being no less cruel in those days but certainly far more subtle in his approach. It seems, in prison, he truly does revel after all in the fact that he has nothing left to hide.

“You fail, as always, to open your eyes and take in the bigger picture even when it is right before you,” Lecter continues.

“And what exactly is it that I’m not seeing?” asks Chilton waspishly, telling himself that the agitated, jittery feeling creeping in under his skin is anger and affront at the continued barbs, not fear at the display before him that is, for a man of Hannibal Lecter’s temperament, really quite the outburst.

“You were present for every day of Will’s trial. Have you forgotten my testimony so soon? My words are as true now as they were then,” says Lecter. “Will Graham is still, and will always be, my friend.” Lecter’s tensed posture melts away as abruptly as it came as he says this, his face relaxing into a look of mild boredom instead. “I find this discussion tedious, Frederick. You may go now.”

Chilton stands, sputtering and visibly annoyed as though he is not anxious to get away and secretly glad of the dismissal. “You do not get to tell me what to do within the walls of my own hospital, Hannibal,” he says even as he turns to leave.

“Barney,” Chilton says to the attending orderly when the metal doors clang shut behind him, adding another layer of protection and security between himself and his old colleague. “Have Lecter’s books and toilet seat removed from his cell during his next shower break.”

He turns away with a smug smile and limps back up the stairs so he does not have to see the look of contempt on the man’s face. He is not so oblivious to his employees’ attitudes toward him as they believe he is, but as long as they actually do their jobs as they are told, he does not care what they think of him. Let them call him petty all they like. He is entitled to a little pettiness, after all, where Hannibal Lecter is concerned.

He tells himself that this particular spiteful act is punishment for Lecter insulting him and deigning to behave as though Chilton is his subordinate to command—rather than the desperate move it actually is to reclaim some of that sense of power he had lost earlier, as he looked into the unfeeling eyes of one of his own inmates, and felt himself unspeakably afraid.

Chapter Text

Miriam is the one who puts it together in the end, connecting dots even Will had missed as they go over the autopsy report of the last victim. Michelle Raker, the only woman who saw her assailant and fought back, had defensive wounds on her hands and a snapped neck instead of the usual blow to the back of the head. The killer had left her where she lay, taking the time only to close her eyes and cross her arms over her chest before fleeing the scene. There were traces of saline on her shirt.

“He was crying when he killed her,” Will says, his breath catching in his throat as he slips into the killer’s mind and falls into a haze of anguish despair loss fury regret grief…“He didn’t know her but…she was a fighter. She reminded him of someone in a way the others hadn’t.”

“For someone who’s so distressed by what he does, he’s very good at it,” says Miriam. “Look at how clean the break is.” Her lips part in a small gasp, her eyes suddenly brightening as her brain makes an intuitive leap. “He’s had combat training. Guys, I think we’re looking for someone who’s been discharged from the military. They would have called it PTSD but…it would have been more than just that alone. And, and he would have—”

“Would have lost someone fairly recently,” Will finishes. “A wife, or a daughter maybe.”

“Yes!” she exclaims, slapping both her right hand and her prosthetic loudly onto the countertop in her enthusiasm. “That’s it exactly! That’s…uhm…” At Jack’s warning look, she seems to finally become aware of her own volume and the inappropriateness of the excited grin she’s sporting. She clears her throat and says to Will more demurely, “That’s just what I was thinking.”

He can’t fault her enthusiasm, especially not when the leap she makes narrows their leads down considerably. Now that they have a better idea of what to look for, they begin combing the files for police reports on other violent crimes against women in the past year.

“How about this one?” says Zeller, waving a folder in his hand. “Julia Trachenberg, mugging gone wrong. She struggled, hit the pavement too hard and cracked her skull, dead on arrival. They never found the perp.” Price takes the file out of his hand and flips through it as well. “Her uncle raised her,” he says. “He was a vet in the First Gulf War. Guy had a history of delusional behavior since his teens, but the Army didn’t find out about it until much later, at which time they gave him an honorable discharge.”

Jack nods consideringly. “Let’s go talk to Mr. Trachenberg,” he says.

It’s easy after that. As soon as they arrive at the man’s door and tell him who they are, Trachenberg falls to his knees, openly sobbing, “I knew it. I knew there had to be people out there somewhere who wouldn’t give up until they brought justice to those girls.”

He continues talking like a man possessed on the ride to the station. “I told her. I told her this world was too ugly and cruel to little girls like her. I told her not to go out at night, never to go out alone. Look what happens to little girls like her who go out alone,” he says. Jack clenches the wheel tighter.

“But you found me. You found me, and that means you’ll find him too. You will, won’t you?”

Will looks over at Jack. The man slowly breathes out heavily through his nose and says, “That’s right, Mr. Trachenberg. We will.” Later he will, in fact, promise the police chief that he’ll send out another agent to aid in the investigation to find Julia Trachenberg’s mugger, once they get back to Quantico.

“Man, this case,” says Zeller, even later, on the plane ride back. “That was just messed up and depressing on so many levels.”

“I thought it would be a nice break from all the sadists and cannibal doctors and whatnot,” Price agrees almost cheerfully. “But it was actually kind of worse.”

Jack and Miriam are sitting several rows back, quietly discussing something else with their heads bent down. Will ignores everyone and shuts his eyes, determined to get some rest on the flight before the long drive back to Wolf Trap.

It’s dark out by the time they arrive back in Virginia. Jack corners Will once they land to ask him if he’s alright. Will tries to say something reassuring about how he really wasn’t in Trachenberg’s headspace all that long—they had caught him after only a few days spent in Merrillville—and offers up some praise for Jack’s newest recruit in getting it wrapped up so quickly, in hopes that it will distract Jack from what he really wants to talk to Will about.

“I don’t mean about the case, Will.” Ah, no such luck then.

“I’m fine, Jack,” he says. Why does everyone seem to think he shouldn’t be? “And yes, I’m still sure I don’t want any bodyguards following me around everywhere I go.” He hates to imagine some poor fresh-faced recruit straight out of the Academy, being made into a glorified babysitter for him as their first duty. He doesn’t think the dogs would take kindly to having some stranger around either.

Jack nods. “Okay, just making sure. Have a good night,” he says before he turns and walks away. Will lets out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding, thankful that for once Jack doesn’t push him.

On the way out to the car, he pulls out his phone and types, ‘I’m home now so you don’t need to come out tomorrow. Thank you again for looking after my dogs.’ It’s late, but he figures if Natalie isn’t awake now, she’ll get it in the morning anyway.

He’s about ten minutes from home by the time his phone finally buzzes in answer. ‘it’s no trouble at all mr graham. they were very well-behaved. :) i’ll give ur key back 2morrow at hq’ Natalie may not be his brightest or even most diligent former student, but she’s very understanding and good-natured about the short notice he usually gives when he has to leave town on a case. She’s also cheaper than a professional doggie day care service since she only does it to make extra money on the side. Will mentally notes to bring cash with him tomorrow when he goes in.

He pulls into the driveway and walks into the house, exhausted but unable to keep a silly grin off his face as his canine companions rush forward to greet him. “Hey guys,” he says fondly, petting each of them in turn and checking their food and water bowls before dropping his bag onto the desk and heading into the kitchen.

He reaches almost automatically for the bottle of bourbon in the cabinet before he stops himself, frowning. Having hard liquor right before bed is a habit he knows he needs to break himself from, so instead he sighs, puts it back, and compromises with a bottle of beer from the fridge.

Half of it is gone already by the time he reaches the top of the stairs, opens the door to his bedroom, and turns on the light. As always, the room feels a bit more sterile than the rest of the house with its lack of dog hair, knick-knacks, or pictures adorning the walls, though that’s not really a bad thing. If his home is his safe haven from the rest of the world, his room is even more so—a sanctuary he retreats to in the still night, away from all influences both good and bad, a room where he can literally just breathe and sleep and be.

There was a time in Will’s life when he used to wish for pleasant dreams. Now he only prays that when he shuts his eyes, his mindscape will be as blank as these walls. He no longer trusts his good dreams, finds them indistinguishable from his nightmares as his sense of self shifts and alters, his thoughts soaked in darkness and warm blood that he wants to slip into like a calming bath.

He sits on the bed with a soft groan and rolls his shoulders back, toeing his shoes off and kicking them somewhere near the closet. Then he takes another long swig from his beer before setting it and his glasses on the side table next to him. Will turns on the table lamp as well so he can pad silently across the room and flip the light switch off again. The dimmer lighting puts him at better ease, tugging a light smile out of the corners of his lips.

Will showers with the door closed even though he lives alone, a man who likes to put as many barriers between himself and…everything else…as possible. The warm water running rivulets down his back helps loosen some of the lingering tension out of his muscles, and when he steps out of the tub to dry off and pull on a clean shirt and boxers, he feels something almost like serenity for once.

That feeling lasts for approximately the amount of time it takes for him to open the bathroom door, take exactly two steps back into the bedroom, look over at the only source of light left in the room, and realize that he is not alone.

Matthew finishes the sentence he’s on before he looks up from his book. “Hi,” he says, lips pulling up into an easy grin at the sight of Will Graham, stripped down to nothing more than his underthings and his hair still dripping wet.

Will seriously considers the possibility that his encephalitis has returned full-swing unbeknownst to him, and that he is hallucinating right now. If so, he can easily understand his imagination summoning the source of his stress made manifest in the form of Matthew Brown, but has a harder time extrapolating why it would clothe the man in nothing more than black boxer-briefs and a pale blue button-up shirt, only two of the buttons actually done up at his torso, lounging on top of the covers against the bedframe with one ankle crossed over the other, looking up at Will as though he has every right to be there. Surely his subconscious would not be so uninteresting as to visualize his fears into something so Freudian.

“You wear your hair shorter now,” Matthew notes, tilting his head. “I like it. Looks nice.”

Will finds himself stepping back slowly, until his shoulder bumps into the open doorframe of the bathroom. He wonders idly how much force it would take to break down the door if he tried to barricade himself inside. Considers the empty rifle in his closet, the FBI-issued pistol he left downstairs, the cell phone charging beside the alarm clock next to his bed. He forces himself to relax. It’s better to treat this situation calmly. Brown is not here to hurt him. He’s sure of that even if he isn’t so certain where that conviction comes from.

“How did you get into my house?” he asks. He thinks even with the shower on and the doors closed, he would have heard his dogs going crazy at the sign of an intruder.

Matthew bends forward, hands clasped over the book facedown in his lap, head bowed slightly as though in silent apology or supplication. “I was here already before you got home,” he admits. “Heard you drive up and came upstairs to hang out in the spare room for awhile. Sorry I didn’t greet you right away. I figured I’d let you get settled in first.”

“How considerate,” says Will. He means it sarcastically, but Matthew smiles up at him as though genuinely pleased by the compliment. Will rubs a hand over his eyes and sighs.

“Why are you even…” No, he stops himself. He does not want to deal with that right now, and decides to ask what he hopes will be a safer question. “What exactly have you been up to since your release?”

“Not much so far. Still getting used to it really. Turns out my apartment complex wasn’t keen on the idea of keeping my old place vacant for the past eighteen months. I guess they never figured on me getting out and wanting to move back in,” Matthew shrugs. “So I’ve been crashing at a friend’s place for the last few days.”

Will just nods, honestly not caring and thinking more about how he can get Matthew to leave, until it all clicks in his mind. The way the man had said friend, his state of undress and casual disregard for the privacy of Will’s space, of Will’s bed…

“You’ve been staying here.” It’s a statement, not a question. Matthew nods anyway, and that does it for Will. He storms over to the bed, standing right beside it at the opposite side from where Matthew is laying, and clenches his fists at his sides. “Matthew,” he says warningly.

“I’ve got nowhere else to go, Mister Graham,” Matthew says softly. Will feels it like a sucker punch to the gut, guilt clawing up his chest irrationally even though he knows it shouldn’t. Will stands firm against it. The pitiful act will not work on him. Matthew Brown is a killer. He deserves what he got and Will does not owe him anything for it.

Matthew sees that he’s not falling for it—Will knows that by the way the man’s lips quirk up and his eyes darken, crinkling with amusement and far too much self-satisfaction for Will’s liking. From this close, he can see the hint of five o’clock shadow on Matthew’s face, can make out the name ‘Asimov’ on the spine of his book and the dark stain on the cuff of his shirt that looks like it may be dried blood. He wonders idly in the back of his mind if this is the shirt they booked him in after he was arrested.

“You need to leave. Now,” Will says, voice rising slightly.

“No,” says Matthew just as softly as before, and Will feels something close to a frustrated scream tickle at the back of his throat. He forces himself not to step back as the man scoots closer, rising onto his knees as he faces Will so they’re more on eye level. “You’re not going to kick me out, Will,” the man says, dropping all pretense. “And do you know why?”

Will doesn’t say anything. He just stares straight back into hazel eyes, waiting.

“Because I need you. Remember how you needed me once, and I did what I could to help you out?” Matthew asks. He pauses a moment to let that sink in before hammering the final nail. “They put me away a very long time for that,” he says even more quietly.

Will inhales shakily at the implication, eyes darting away to look anywhere but at the man in front of him. “That was a favor, Matthew,” he says, hating how small and uncertain his voice sounds as he reminds the man of his own words from long ago.

Matthew tilts his head again, all sharp smile and dark eyes. “Mister Graham,” he says exactly as he did back then, and Will hears the same cunning to it that he had heard before but had underestimated, foolishly believing himself the better manipulator in the room at the time. “You know as well as I do that nothing in this world is for free.”

The man’s eyes stay firmly on his face as he says it, but Will feels somehow just as exposed as he would if they had been raking over him in his threadbare T-shirt and boxers, wishing suddenly that he had a robe on to pull more tightly around himself.

He picks up his neglected beer on the nightstand, thinking to take a drink to fortify himself, but stops himself before bringing it to his lips. He knows it’s ridiculous and surely the least of his worries, but he can’t bring himself to drink something that’s been sitting out and open with only Matthew in the room for at least several minutes. Seeing his hesitation, Matthew plucks the bottle out of his fingers and takes a long pull from it, finishing it off. “I’ll get you another one,” he says, all guilelessness and friendly charm once more, getting up from his kneeling position on the bed and walking out of the room, empty bottle in hand.

Will stands frozen on the spot, watching him go through the open bedroom door. He could reach for his phone and call Jack or even the local police right now. Hell, he could even load the gun in his closet and point it directly at the man’s chest as soon as he walks back in.

He hears some of the dogs stirring downstairs, but no angry barks. “Hey pal,” Matthew’s voice drifts from below, followed by the sound of a tail thumping loudly against the floor, the way Winston’s does when he sits and Will scratches that spot just behind his ears. He hears Buster’s whine as well, a spoiled demand that he too should be given attention. Will feels more violated than he had seeing Matthew lounging on his sheets and realizing that he had been sleeping there for days.

Will sits down hard on the bed, shifting back so his shoulders are against the headboard just as Matthew’s had been earlier. His thoughts drift back to memories he wishes they wouldn’t at this particular moment. “You and me, we are hawks, Mister Graham.” The same, Matthew had meant. We are the same. His hands don’t even shake at the memory like they would have a year ago, and that is the worst part for him.

Matthew comes back in, two bottles in hand, and uses the edge of the nightstand closest to him to pop the caps off of both. Will doesn’t even protest the abuse of his furniture as he accepts the bottle being handed to him, the movement too familiar to make him anything more than a hypocrite were he to say anything. Even in the most innocuous gestures, he can’t escape it. The same.

Matthew settles back onto ‘his’ side of the bed, and Will takes a long drink to keep from saying anything about that either. He takes some small comfort in the clearly defined inches of space between them, arms, shoulders, and legs nowhere near close to touching. Matthew mirrors Will in taking a long drink of his own, and something about it encourages Will to ask, “So exactly…how long…are you expecting to stay here?”

Matthew looks over at Will and shrugs nonchalantly. “About eighteen months, give or take,” he says, utterly deadpan.

Will stares for a second before laughing, completely caught off-guard. “Okay yeah, sure, why not?” he says, covering his face with his free hand as he continues to laugh without a sign he’ll be able to stop anytime soon. Matthew grins in response to it.

They finish their beers off in strangely companionable silence, until Matthew yawns and says, “I think I’m ready for bed.”

“Couch, you mean,” Will corrects. “You’re not staying in here again.”

Matthew quirks one eyebrow up at him. “You’re banishing me to the couch for the next year and a half?” he asks, obviously trying hard not to laugh.

“I’m banishing you to the couch for the next couple of days, until you find a place of your own,” Will says.

Matthew loses the fight and lets loose a couple of giggles. “You’re adorable,” he says, showing absolutely no sign of leaving. Will feels panic begin to claw at his throat again and almost blurts out that he’ll buy a bed for the spare room and get rid of all the junk cluttering it now, if Matthew will just acquiesce and take the couch for the night. He bites his lip against saying it, not wanting to concede that Matthew will even be staying for that long.

Matthew leans over him suddenly and Will stiffens, not knowing what to expect or how to react to the man invading his personal space all of a sudden.

“Goodnight, Will,” he whispers, face hovering inches from Will’s own. Then he shuts off the lamp at Will’s bedside and pulls back, turning down the covers on his side and promptly settling in beneath them.

Will lets out a shaky breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding and puts his face in both hands. He could just spend the night downstairs himself, with the dogs’ reassuring presence surrounding him, like he used to do before he’d finally gotten over his fears of waking up on the roof again and moved his bed back upstairs. That too, however, would feel like a concession he is unwilling to give. He can be made to put up with a lot, he realizes, but he will not be chased out of his own bedroom.

With a sigh, he slips down under the covers and turns on his side, facing away from the man beside him, and forces himself to shut his eyes.

Unseen in the darkness, Matthew smiles.

Chapter Text

The buzz of the alarm is familiar if unwelcome, coming all too soon and pulling him from a rare and blissfully dreamless sleep. He stretches out a bit unconsciously as he wakes.

His arm comes into contact briefly with an unexpected warmth—a shoulder, he thinks—but he doesn’t startle or flinch away, vaguely remembering even in his groggy state that it’s supposed to be there, even if he isn’t fully aware enough yet to consider why.

At the moment though, it’s a hindrance preventing him from rolling over as he normally would to dart a hand out and end the persistent, aggravating noise coming from his alarm clock. He rolls as close as he can without touching it again, still lying under the comforter and peeking out through half-lidded eyes just enough to see that the damn clock is still out of arm’s reach even from this close. With a soft noise of discontent, he raises himself up on his elbows enough to be able to hook one leg around and partially climb over the obstacle in his way, then reaches out and finally shuts off the stupid buzzing before it can burrow a hole too deeply into his brain.

He sighs with relief into the ringing silence, one hand still gripping the edge of the nightstand while the other grasps tightly against the bedsheets, and lets his eyes slide shut again for a second before looking down.

Matthew looks up at him, far too clear-eyed Will would notice if his own weren’t still bleary from sleep, lips pressed tightly together but slowly unfurling into a lazy grin. “Well, good morning,” he drawls.

“Mm,” Will responds noncommittally. It gradually dawns on him that he’s all but practically straddling the other man and he blinks, suddenly much more awake than he was a moment ago.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” he says and starts to pull back immediately, nearly losing his balance in his haste to get away.

“S’fine,” says Matthew, hands reaching up to grab Will by his hips and keep him from falling over. “Here, I’ve got you,” he says, smirking.

“Stop, I’ve got it. Let go,” Will says sharply, prying Matthew’s surprisingly strong grip away with his own hands and scooting back further to his side of the bed.

“Yes sir,” Matthew says, raising his hands in mock surrender. Will lets out a disgruntled sigh, lying back and slinging one arm over his eyes, unsure if it’s embarrassment for himself or exasperation with the person lying next to him that he feels more keenly at the moment.

“Not really a morning person, are you?” Matthew asks, laughter evident in his tone, and it’s enough to make Will get up and walk into the bathroom just to get away from him, shutting the door a little more loudly than necessary as he does.

By the time he comes out, the bed is made and Matthew has absented himself from the room. Will uses this as an opportunity to get dressed as quickly as possible before heading downstairs.

The dogs are already outside in the yard, running around and nipping at each other playfully in the early morning light. He smells coffee brewing in the kitchen and walks in to the sight of Matthew refreshing the water and kibble in the dogs’ bowls. Will stands there, morning routine effectively stolen and utterly at a loss of what to do about it.

After a few seconds of just watching stupidly, Will mentally shakes himself and grabs the bread loaf off the top of the fridge, dropping two pieces into the toaster and staring avidly at it while he waits so he doesn’t have to look at anything else.

At the sound of the coffee maker beeping, Matthew grabs two mugs from the cabinet and asks, “How do you take yours?”

“I can do that myself,” Will says brusquely, plucking one of the mugs out of his hands and setting it on the counter. He slops a couple of spoonfuls of sugar haphazardly into the empty cup before pouring the coffee over it and adding a splash of milk, pretending all the while that he can’t feel Matthew’s keen stare cataloguing and memorizing every movement.

He wonders apprehensively if this is the last morning he’ll pour his own coffee until Matthew leaves, if tomorrow he will come downstairs and find his cup already made exactly how he likes it. Most people would probably find the gesture sweet and endearing rather than mildly disturbing, but then most people don’t have Will’s fierce desire for self-reliance and personal boundaries.

He’s showing that he can be useful around the house so I won’t feel as compelled to ask him to leave again. That, and he genuinely likes doing it, likes to be helpful and likes seeing Will enjoy something he made for him. Will blocks out these thoughts and others from forming by shutting his eyes and quickly gulping down his coffee. It is too early in the morning to be empathizing with someone already. This is one of the many reasons he prefers living alone.

The toast pops up finally and Will snatches it up immediately to butter it before Matthew can do something godawful, like try to do that for him too. Which doesn’t stop the other man from saying, “I could make something more substantial than that for both of us if you want.”

“Make whatever you want for yourself, I don’t care. I’m more than capable of cooking on my own if I wanted to. I just don’t have the time. I’m kind of in a rush if you hadn’t noticed.” Jesus, Graham, at least he’s trying. Stop being such an asshole, says one corner of his brain, and another answers back just as resolutely, No.

“Some other day then.” Matthew doesn’t seem in the least offended by his tone or his obvious attitude. Will eats quickly to keep from saying anything back to that, not even bothering to sit or put it on a plate, just leaning against the countertop and eating with his hands without a care for good table manners. He hears scratching at the front door and walks back into the living room, still cramming the last bit of toast into his mouth, so he can let the dogs in.

Once he’s counted eight heads brushing past his legs to get inside, he turns around and nearly walks into his unwanted houseguest. He hadn’t even heard the man come up behind him. Will feels uneasy again.

“For the road,” Matthew says. Will looks down to see that he’s holding out a thermos of more rich steaming coffee, but he’s too keyed up to feel properly annoyed about it when he shifts his gaze up again.

Matthew is a juxtaposition of things that shouldn’t make sense together but somehow all fit him perfectly anyway. He is uncommonly kind to Will, not to be manipulative (at least not entirely) or to satisfy some peculiar alien curiosity (like another psychopath he recalls too well) but simply because he wants to be…and yet, looking into his eyes is like looking into those of a shark that smells blood in the water. He has no polite mask here. He is a predator through and through, even in this moment, especially in this moment, one with surprising stealth and strength and animalistic grace.

Will looks into those eyes and fears that he won’t stand a chance on the day Matthew walks up to him with real purpose and bad intent. He wonders if anything as simple as kicking him out and getting a restraining order would even help at this point.

He is so tired of trying to figure out how to keep surviving all the monsters in his life anymore.

“Thanks,” he says, and does not cringe when their fingers brush as he accepts Matthew’s offering. Matthew smiles, and apparently decides that it’s not enough, takes it a step further and reaches up to adjust Will’s glasses even though they hardly need it.

The gesture is about as welcome as the first and last time Jack ever did it, years ago now, but again Will refuses to give power over to the other man by reacting to it. He calmly grabs his keys and his gun and leaves without another word.

He waits until he’s long out of sight of the house before he finally takes a sip from his thermos. It’s perfect, exactly the right ratio of sugar and milk to coffee making it just the right blend of creamy and sweet without overdoing it. Because of course it is.

Bastard.

Will almost misses Hannibal’s coffee for a moment. Like everything else that came out of his kitchen, it was some elegant gourmet blend that probably cost more than Will’s car, and Will had hated it. It was too bitter and too strong, but Will never dared ask for his own cup to be sweetened on any of the few mornings he had reason to show up at the doctor’s house. It would have probably taken half the sugar in the man’s house to make it bearable for Will’s palate anyway.

Truth be told, it was the only example of Hannibal’s cooking that Will truly couldn’t stand, even after learning the truth about the contents of most of his dishes. Will likes to think of it sometimes as a metaphor for their entire friendship.

Most days, he prefers not to think of it at all.

Will turns on the car radio, flipping past morning talk shows that could never hold his attention anyway and stopping at the first actual song he hears. He doesn’t even care what’s playing— it could be pop, country, rock, R&B, anything except fucking classical—as long as it’s distracting enough to drown out his thoughts for the rest of the drive.

And then, for good measure, Will drinks the rest of his coffee.

Chapter Text

It’s midday and Jack still has not showed up at Will’s office or demanded his presence in the lab. That tells Will that the man is probably buried under a mountain of paperwork dealing with the Trachenberg case and has no time to bother with him at the moment. He’s not ungrateful—it gives him the entire morning to complete his own reports and even flip through a few cold case files Jack left in his inbox under the pretense that “it would help keep his mind sharp” and “they could really use the extra set of fresh eyes anyway.” Busy work, in other words.

Will understands the reasoning behind it even if it does feel dull and pointless. He still is not “real FBI,” as Freddie Lounds once so eloquently put it, and Jack has to justify keeping him on the payroll somehow when they’re not currently working on a case.

He’s incredibly fortunate no one at the Academy has said anything about taking back his faculty office either although he no longer teaches for them. He suspects it’s because nobody in the administration wants to be the one who kicks out “the man who caught the Ripper.” Regardless, it means Will has a quiet place to work on his own when it becomes too much to be around the others at the lab, so he doesn’t mention it to anyone, even if secretly he finds the reason for their reluctance to get rid of him cowardly and distasteful.

He takes off his glasses for a moment and sets them on the file in front of him, rubbing his eyes with one hand. Not for the first time, he wonders what he’s actually doing here. He remembers his first day back, Zeller telling him in that brusque but well-meaning way of his, “Y’know, nobody would blame you if you cashed your chips in right now and ran off to go live on a beach for the rest of your life. Hell, I’d go if I could.”

The bureau had handwaved a lot of what Will did while he wasn’t officially under their employ, and covered his medical bills and even back pay as compensation. They also offered him a hefty pension once the Lecter case was over.

Knowing they were only being so generous because they wanted to sweep everything under the rug as quickly as possible and get rid of him without garnering the bad press of actually firing him had been a bitter pill to swallow, and he would be lying if he didn’t admit at least to himself that part of his reason for staying had been out of pride and partly just to spite them.

It’s not the whole reason. Part of it too had been Jack’s honest and tired, “Do whatever you feel you need to, Will. Just know that I can definitely use your help if you decide to stick around.” A mellower job offer than the one he initially opened with in Will’s classroom, before either of them had ever met Hannibal Lecter, but an equally powerful one as Will had found it difficult to tear his eyes away from the thin scar on Jack’s neck. It reminded him too much of Abigail. And so we come full circle.

Still, there are days Will has regrets about turning down the FBI’s retirement package. Days like this where, at best, his unique “talents” are wasted on pictures of sad dead victims who passed long before he was even a cop or in some cases even born…and other days where he’s right in the thick of things, standing over a fresh new corpse and feeling anything but bored.

It isn’t good for him—he knows it isn’t. Just because he isn’t sick anymore, sidetracked by classes, or caught up in a web of deceit and lies with a narcissistic cannibal killer doesn’t mean he’s suddenly okay to be out on the field. If anything it’s possibly worse for him now than ever. He has no more distractions, and no excuses for what he feels as he steps into one killer’s design after another.

He startles when he hears a soft buzzing, and it takes him a moment to place it as his phone vibrating across the surface of his desk. The number on the screen isn’t one he recognizes. With a small frown he picks it up and answers, “Hello?”

“Hey.” How one small word can sound so inordinately pleased is beyond Will, but the familiar voice throws him off even though, really, he should have expected this. “Matthew? What’s going on? Did something happen at the house?” He gets out of his chair and steps around to the other side of his desk, leaning against it for support.

“What? No, no, everything’s fine,” says Matthew, sounding faintly amused by Will’s concern. “You sound a little antsy though. Is this a bad time?”

Will feels oddly torn between lying to get him off the phone—Yes, I’m very busy. Stop wasting my time—and blurting out the truth—God no, I’m bored out of my fucking skull and spiraling into a dark pit of hideous self-reflection. Send help. “How did you get my number?” he settles on asking instead. “For that matter, how are you calling me? Not from the house phone.”

“No, it’s mine. Cheap Wal-Mart phone. Got it and a few other things I needed with my release check before they dropped me at your place.” Will hears a shuffling-like sound on the other end. “Texted it with yours while you were in the shower so I wouldn’t have to ask for the number.”

“I would have preferred you asking.”

“I figured, but I also knew you’d say no.” Matthew’s tone is unmistakably smug and utterly unrepentant. Will restrains himself from saying something short in response and pinches the bridge of his nose.They’re not even twenty-four hours into this “arrangement” yet and already he’s having to navigate which battles he wants to pick. He has the worrying premonition that this isn’t even the last time he’ll be overruled by simple fact of not being consulted first.

Clearly they’re due for a long, frank discussion about this entire situation when Will gets back. Brown needs to understand yesterday that it is not okay for him to just do whatever he pleases without Will’s consent, not if he expects Will to actually consider letting him stay for any length of time.

He’s prepared to say as much to Brown now while he has him on the phone, but he’s distracted by more background noise on the other end. This time it sounds like people talking. He clearly hears Matthew say, “Excuse me, ma’am,” although it’s a bit distant like he’s pulled the phone away from his face for a moment.

“Matthew, are you…where are you?”

“Out,” says Matthew’s voice simply.

“Obviously,” Will snaps. “Out where? Why, and who were you talking to?”

“You know you sound exactly like a jealous lover when you talk like that,” says Matthew in a tone that suggests he doesn’t mind at all. Will refuses to rise to the bait. “Grocery store,” Matthew says after a pause, and for some reason Will has a mental image of him cradling the phone with his shoulder against his ear as he speaks, lightly tapping each finger on one hand with the fingers of his other hand as he lists off the answers. “Taking a quick break from turning in job applications around town. And some lady was standing in front of the barbecue chips I wanted.”

As if to punctuate that statement, Will hears the distinct pop of a cellophane bag being opened. “Did I miss any, or do I get to go on to the lightning round?” Matthew asks.

Will relaxes minutely. He’s not sure why the idea of Matthew out in public would make him so tense. He may be a killer, but he’s not foolish enough to risk his freedom over the thrill of the hunt so soon after his release. Will knows that Matthew doesn’t even really need to kill, not like others of his kind. He simply enjoys it too much to want to stop.

Had he ever even murdered before the bailiff? Will honestly has no idea, and he’s not inclined to ask now. He doesn’t want to consider what his own reaction might be if the answer is yes. He doesn’t even want to think about what he’ll do if Matthew starts again. When. Not if.

The knuckles of his free hand are white from how tightly he’s gripping the edge of his desk. “Okay. So…job applications?” he asks neutrally.

“Mm-hm.” Christ, how can he hear that damn smile in such a small sound over the phone? Will sighs. “I’m no freeloader, Mr. Graham. I fully intend to pay my share of the bills and groceries.”

“No! No, you don’t have to do that.” Will’s not saying it because he feels generous. Panicked would be more apt. The idea of Matthew helping with the bills—it implies a level of permanence to this that genuinely frightens Will. He doesn’t want to encourage the absurd impression Matthew seems to have that he’s more roommate than temporary houseguest. “It’s great that you want to get a job. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be cooped up in the house all day, and you can save up for your own place,” says Will. “But I do perfectly fine on my own. I’m not about to go broke just from having an extra mouth to feed. You don’t owe me anything.”

“I know that, Will. It’s not about you needing the help, it’s about me wanting to do it. So don’t complain.” Will hears the crunch of a chip in Matthew’s mouth, loud and obnoxious against the receiver.

“I’m not complaining. And are you seriously eating in the store?”

“Yeah, so what? I’m gonna pay before I leave. Don’t judge me.” Will snorts. “Hey, need I remind you I just spent the last year and a half dining on what Chilton calls ‘an adequate and nutritionally balanced cuisine?’”

Will bites his lip against the smile that threatens to break free. “Okay fine, fair enough,” he says, remembering the less than stellar quality of the prison fare during his own stint. “Not sure how junk food’s much of an improvement though.”

“Better than your eating habits right after you got out.”

“Wha—oh, fuck you, Brown!” Matthew is laughing now, and to Will’s chagrin he can feel his own smile creeping back in full force and steadily growing at the sound. “Don’t joke about that. It isn’t funny. S-stop.” He stumbles over the last word, breathless from holding back his own laughter for so long that some of it escapes anyway. “Well, fuck,” he says, and hangs up before Matthew can respond.

Not a minute later he receives a text, ‘Obscenities AND hanging up on me? That’s rude Will. What would your pal Lecter have done?’

‘He’s not my pal.’ Will immediately responds. Biting his lip, he then types, ‘Probably made lengua de res’ and hits send before he can rethink what he’s doing.

If he’s going to hell anyway, at least he won’t be alone.

Chapter Text

Look at them. Look at them.

Their lives are so peaceful, so comfortable and plain. They laugh and they play. They accumulate things they don’t need. They buy toys for the cat.

Their lives are so seemingly perfect. Mother, father, son, and daughter. It is not envy he feels, no! Never envy. He hates.

He hates and he loves in equal measure.

They are to be pitied for they are insects. Kindling to the fires of his transformation. Of his Great Becoming.

Soon they will be burned away from the pitiable husks of their empty lives. They will stand in fear and awe of his terrible power, and he will show them mercy as it is his right to give. 

*

It’s strange and perhaps worrying how quickly it stops being weird to have Matthew there.

After a week, Will gets used to the idea of sharing household chores with someone else. He never minded doing them alone before, but it’s surprising how nice it is to not have to worry he may forget something important when he comes home exhausted, to know that it will get done one way or another whether he takes care of it or not.

He even gets used to having decent meals more often than the TV dinners he would have normally forced himself to pick through. It’s almost embarrassing to admit now how uncomfortable and wary he had been the first evening he came home and found Matthew making spaghetti.

“Sorry,” he’d said with a knowing smirk and a gesture to the meat browning in the skillet as Will walked through the door, “but it’s actual beef. I’m sure you miss your buddy’s recipes, but they’re a little too exotic for my tastes.”

Will thinks about how easily the younger man had picked up on the source of his irrational reluctance to let anyone else cook for him and quickly dispelled it without making him feel too awkward. It’s not the only time Matthew gives off the impression that he knows Will and understands him better than nearly anyone else ever has before. He’s not accustomed to others making the effort to be honest.

Against his better judgment, it makes Will want to try harder and be better too. He goes from not caring enough to do more than make sandwiches for himself (assuming he even remembers to eat) to actually preparing real home-cooked meals almost as often as Matt. He remembers now that he actually enjoyed doing this sort of thing before he started consulting for Jack and his life started unraveling at the seams.

Some nights they even cook together. Matthew isn’t the type to patronize or insist that Will should sit back and let him take care of everything, happily setting Will to various tasks whenever he offers to help, or unobtrusively offering his own assistance on evenings Will takes the initiative.

This evening Will is teaching him how to fry fish. Generally he prefers using his own catches, but there hasn’t been enough time lately to go fishing, so he picks up tilapia from the store on his way home. He wonders idly if Matthew would have the patience to learn fishing too, or if that kind of activity would be too quiet and tranquil for the energetic young man.

It’s surprising how naturally they fall into sync with each other like this, getting used to each other’s routines, laughing at each other’s terrible jokes, maneuvering around one another in the kitchen like they’ve been practicing for a lot longer than just days. It’s so…domestic.

Will finds it a little intimidating to be honest. He’s never had domestic with someone before. Even when he’d been forced to live with others during college, between work and classes he and his roommates never really saw each other, and they were certainly never friendly with one another. He’s never been stable enough to keep a girlfriend for long either, much less move in with one.

He should worry what it says about him that his first successful experience with domesticity and a functional live-in relationship of any kind so far is with a man who slaughtered another man in cold blood for him before Will even knew his name. As long as he doesn’t think too deeply about it, however, Will is…surprisingly okay with this.

“I got it,” says Matt when Will tries to reach for a plate with the skillet in his other hand, fingers curled loosely around the crook of Will’s arm to hold him in place, chest brushing along the back of Will’s shoulder as he leans forward to grab the plate for him. Will can’t scoot forward with the stove right in front of him, so he opts instead to go very, very still until the hand drops away from his arm so he can slide the fillets onto the plate. Matthew is still hovering near enough to be almost pressed against him the entire time.

Moments like this remind Will why he shouldn’t get too comfortable around Matthew Brown—brushes of contact and casual invasions of his personal space that haven’t let up at all in frequency since day one. Not once has Matthew ever bothered trying to disguise them as accidental or unintentional in any way. Will feels as though he’s being marked each time. He swears on occasion he can even feel Matt’s fingertips ghost over his sleeves or the back of his shirt like they’re drawing a design over his skin.

Will has yet to broach the subject with him, mostly because he fears bringing attention to it will only make it worse. At least for the moment it’s still fairly innocuous. He doesn’t kid himself that it’ll stay that way forever, but it’s an awkward conversation he’d rather put off and avoid for as long as he can.

At the very least, Matthew is also careful to keep his hands to himself and stick to his side of the bed at night. Will really should get around to reorganizing the spare room soon so he can buy a separate bed for it.

“Mm, this is pretty good,” Matt says after he sits and takes his first bite.

“It is,” Will agrees. “We did a pretty good job.” The two of them share a smile over their plates.

“I got a call this afternoon,” Matthew says. “For a job interview Wednesday morning. Think you could drop me off?”

“Sure,” says Will.

“It won’t make you late for work, will it?”

Will shrugs. If it does, he can come up with an excuse to tell Jack. He still hasn’t told anyone Matthew is staying with him or even mentioned that he’s seen him at all. He doesn’t want to deal with that headache. “What kind of job is it?” he asks.

“Part-time orderly work at a nursing home.”

Will looks up at him in surprise. “You want to be an orderly again?”

“Yeah, why not? I’m good at it,” he says. Will can’t deny the truth of that statement, all else aside. “Besides that, I like the elderly, and helping people who need it.” Matthew looks up and smirks when he sees the way Will is staring at him. “What, you don’t believe me?” he asks.

Will does believe him. That’s the problem. He saw the care and respect Matthew gave the patients at the state hospital, and not just Will alone. He’s also seen pictures of what else Matthew is capable of.

It’s not that Will can’t reconcile these different aspects of Matthew’s personality and understand how they fit together and make him the person that he is. It’s that he can.

It takes Will several long moments to realize he’s still staring without saying anything. Matthew doesn’t comment on it. He just stares straight back into Will’s eyes, wearing that lopsided smile that seems especially reserved for him.

Will forces himself to look back at his plate and doesn’t look up again for the rest of dinner.

Chapter Text

There’s a heavy somberness to the room that even Price and Zeller don’t try to dispel with their usual back-and-forth bantering. It’s certainly not the first time any of them have ever seen a family annihilation, except for Miriam perhaps, but there is an edge of brutality and rage to this particular crime scene that makes everyone in the room fall silent and still.

“Tell me what you see, Will,” Jack’s voice cuts into the quiet.

So, so much. More than he ever wants to see again. He doesn’t want to look anymore. “I…I think I need a moment, Jack,” he says softly, the words pulled almost reluctantly from his mouth. He doesn’t like this. He doesn’t want to be left alone with nothing but this killer’s design and his own thoughts echoing back at him, he doesn’t, but he needs the privacy while he works.

Jack nods and ushers everyone else out of the room. Will closes his eyes.

The pendulum swings only once. Once is all that he needs anymore.

“I enter the house forcefully, making more noise than I intended,” he says. “It’s sloppy, nothing like the plan I meticulously created beforehand, but…something…catches me off guard. Somehow…I…wasn’t as prepared as I thought.” Will can feel himself almost lose the thread of the killer’s thoughts for a moment, his own confusion peeking through that of the killer’s. He shoves it aside quickly, trying to hold onto the feeble connection he has.

“I shoot Mr. Jacobi on the stairs, once through the chest, killing him instantly,” he continues. Again, Will’s thoughts stray as he says this. He can feel something else there, another connection trying to form, but it isn’t useful to the reconstruction he’s trying to build now. He puts it to the back of his mind to be examined more closely later.

“The rest of the house is awake by now as well. Mrs. Jacobi tries to run. I shoot her in the back, aimed precisely to hit her in the spine, paralyzing her but leaving her alive. This is my design.” Again, that buzzing in the back of his brain, recognition filtering through that he has to ignore for the moment.

In his mind, Will is standing on the second floor landing, stepping over Mrs. Jacobi as he walks steadily down the hall, stopping at the first door on the left—the son’s room.

“The children are awake,” he whispers, and he can see them lying huddled under the bed, both crying, twelve-year-old Lisa holding tightly to her little brother Michael and cradling his head to her chest so he doesn’t see. “That was never my intention, but it does not change the outcome. I end their s-suffering quickly.” Bile rises in Will’s throat and he clenches his eyes shut, but the vision is still there, burning at the back of his eyelids, two shots ringing out in quick succession and the crying abruptly stops.

He does not want to linger there, on the image of two bullet holes in the foot of the mattress, twin pools of blood and something else he doesn’t want to think about seeping into the carpet. He moves on, knowing that what follows won’t be any kinder or easier to see. As the killer, he walks through the house, taking his time as he enters each and every room and smashes all of the mirrors he can find one by one, pocketing some of the pieces as he goes.

“I drag all four of them into the master bedroom,” he says. “I…insert shards of mirror into the orbital sockets of Mr. Jacobi and his…his two children.” Will pauses and shakes his head, irritated with himself. He’s getting too hung up on the wrong thing, allowing his attention to keep shifting back to the kids even though he knows they are not the focus of this killer’s design. That “honor” would fall to Mrs. Jacobi.

“I arrange the bodies carefully in a way that gives them the best view of the bed, and of Mrs. Jacobi,” he continues. “I want them to watch while I…while I touch her.”

Will snaps back to himself and opens his eyes. The grisly tableau is still there, of course, though the streaks of blood on the floor are older and a bit dryer, and there are now four lifeless bodies in the room instead of three. “Jack!” he calls out to let the other man know he’s ready.

The door behind him opens again, and Jack waves a hand to signal that the others should follow him back in. Price, Zeller, and Lass go immediately back to examining the crime scene while Jack stands next to Will and asks, “Well?”

“Mrs. Jacobi was the target here, Jack,” Will says. “The rest is…incidental.”

“You call this incidental?” Brian asks with a note of pure disgust, gesturing to the other three bodies propped against the far wall, like puppets cut from their strings.

Will barely holds back a flinch at the man’s tone, even knowing that Zee’s hostility is not actually directed at him. “He needed the audience,” Will clarifies further. Turning back to Jack, he continues, “Mr. Jacobi and the children were put down quickly, but Mrs. Jacobi was shown no such…mercy. She was alive while he assaulted her.”

Jack closes his eyes and shakes his head silently.

“He’s disfigured, or thinks he is. It’s why he smashed the mirrors. He wouldn’t have done that to all of them just to get the shards for their eyes.” Will stops speaking finally. There’s more to this crime than what he’s seeing at the moment, something familiar he thinks, but he wants to wait until he has time to look into it later at Quantico before he mentions anything to Jack.

“Guy was thoughtful enough to leave us some rather unique bite marks to examine later,” says Jimmy. “There’s also something on the wife’s left thigh and face. Looks like it may be talcum powder. I’ll know for sure when I get it back to the lab.”

“Talcum powder…” Miriam says thoughtfully. “He’s obviously thorough and meticulous, so he probably wore disposable gloves. But what if…what if he took them off  to touch her…properly?”

“Good thinking, Lass,” says Jack. “Let’s test that theory. I want Mrs. Jacobi’s body and every nearby object surrounding her checked carefully for prints.”

“Jack, I need some air,” Will says softly. “I’ll be outside if you need me.”

Jack appears for a minute like he’s going to protest, until he sees how pale Will’s face looks. He nods curtly as Will exits the room.

Will passes two uniformed officers on the stairs and a few in the living room on his way to the back door. Outside, he leans back against the side of the house and closes his eyes, enjoying the light breeze. Away from the cloying scent of blood and horrors above, he already feels a little less light-headed and more like himself again. The Jacobis’ home is far from other houses, just on the outskirts of the woods, and reminds him vaguely of Wolf Trap. The association is neither pleasant nor unpleasant; it just is.

They’re lucky the Jacobis were regular church-goers—otherwise it could have been days before they were found instead of just one. A fellow parishioner discovered them early this morning after she realized they were absent from the day’s sermon. Will wonders if their killer chose a Saturday night on purpose so his work could be found sooner, or if the timing is merely happenstance. Either way, he must have been confident enough to know he had plenty of time to put distance between himself and the scene before anyone would think to check in on them.

Will hears an all-too familiar sound, the digital beep and click of a camera going off. He turns his head and looks over his shoulder at Freddie Lounds, now lowering the camera with a smirk on her face as she gazes steadily back at him from the other side of the police lines. “You’re not supposed to be here,” he says, too tired to muster up the anger he should be feeling right now as he reaches into his shirt pocket to retrieve his glasses and put them back on.

“Good to see you again as well, Mr. Graham. Is it true the whole family was slaughtered just last night in their sleep? Tragic.”

Will walks over until they are merely feet apart, the yellow ‘Do Not Cross’ line stretched out tautly between them. “You are not supposed to be here,” he repeats louder, his words coming out clipped as righteous indignation begins to wash over him.

“You still owe me those interviews for your story,” Freddie continues blithely. “I have deadlines, you know. You keep avoiding me like this and I might have to push forward on it soon without getting your side of it after all.”

“Am I supposed to feel threatened by that?” Will asks, a harsh bitter laugh escaping past his lips before he can stop it, not that he would bother. “I don’t care what else you write about me in that asswipe column of yours, Freddie.”

“Says the man who got all worked up over my last article on him,” she answers with a smug glint in her eyes and a patronizing smile as though she thinks she’s made her point.

“You broke into my hospital room. You took pictures without my consent.” His hands clench into fists at his sides as he remembers seeing the photos splashed all over the front page later—stark, lurid images of his own unconscious form lying in bed with wires and tubes sticking out of his body. “That’s not an article, Miss Lounds. That’s an invasion of my privacy. And it is exactly the reason you should be making a point to stay the hell away from me,” he says darkly, stepping even closer until he almost brushes the tape between them.

“Am I supposed to feel threatened by that?” she parrots back, though she can’t seem to help taking a step backwards. A victorious rush of power courses through him to see it, heady and addictive.

“Will?” a voice behind him breaks his train of thought. He turns his head enough to see Jack standing in the open doorway. “Why don’t you come inside? I’ll handle this.” Will obeys, turning his back on Lounds without another word and brushing past his boss to step inside. Part of Will feels grateful for the interruption, but another part—closer now to the surface than he generally allows it to be—quietly rages.

“Miss Lounds, you seem to have trouble understanding how a restraining order works,” he hears Jack’s muffled voice say pleasantly as the door shuts behind him, voice fading as the man presumably walks further away from it. Will shakes his head, knowing that it doesn’t matter what Jack says to her. Lounds will talk her way out of any real form of reprisal for her actions just as she always does. Will can expect Jack to take him aside later for a “chat” explaining why, although Will is within his rights to press charges for this violation it would be “more prudent not to” because Lounds can make things “very complicated” for the FBI with what she chooses to publish, and Will should be “careful not to stir the pot anymore” and risk provoking more ire from higher-ups who are already annoyed that he turned down their retirement package.

More than ever, Will contemplates taking them up on it after all. At least then he wouldn’t have to listen to the same tired excuses anymore. With a deep breath, he turns and heads back upstairs.

*

It takes surprisingly little to convince Jack they should get a flight back to Virginia that evening instead of staying overnight in Birmingham. The man is eager to get the bodies and evidence back to the lab at Quantico as fast as possible so they can analyze it all with their own equipment. There, Will finds the answer to what’s been nagging him since he reconstructed the scene.

“This isn’t his first,” Will says, dropping a file folder full of his old lecture notes on top of Jack’s desk and flipping ahead to what he wants to show him.

‘The Marlowes,’” Jack reads at the top of the page. “Where have I heard this name before?”

“I was giving my students a lecture over this case the first time you pulled me out of my classroom.” Will’s tone is not resentful, merely factual, but something flickers in Jack’s eyes anyway that he thinks might be a shadow of guilt or regret over the memory. Neither man comments on it further, and the look fades after a moment.

Jack clears his throat and says, “I think I remember now. He tapped their phone and knew what password to give the security company.” Jack looks up at him then. “You really think it’s the same perp? This one seems a lot more organized than our guy in Alabama.”

Will nods. “He was organized last night too, he was just thrown off his game a little at first. He adapted quickly though. The way he ended Mr. Jacobi so efficiently but merely disabled Mrs. Jacobi without killing her right away—it’s the same M.O. he used with the Marlowes.”

“Okay, assuming you’re right,” Jack says, “we have to consider the fact that Mrs. Marlowe’s assault was nowhere near as extensive as Mrs. Jacobi’s. Then there’s the kids—says here the Marlowes didn’t have any—and the mirrors.”

“He’s escalating,” Will half-whispers.

Jack nods, agreeing. “Which means we’ve got to catch this one fast. It’s only a matter of time before he does it again.” Jack closes the file and sets it aside on his desk for later perusal. “Thank you for bringing this to me, Will.”

Will waves off the remark and puts a hand over his mouth, stifling a yawn. “That’s just my old notes. I can pull up the official reports as well and start going through them again.”

“I can get a trainee to do that for me. Go home and get some rest, Will. I’ll need you alert tomorrow morning.”

Will wonders sometimes if Jack’s mellower attitude stems more from guilt over how he mismanaged him in the past, or from simple fear that he’ll “break” Will again and for good this time if he doesn’t ease up, but either way it’s an improvement and Will doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. He says good night and leaves before the man has a chance to possibly reconsider.

It’s past eleven by the time he pulls up to his own driveway, but the house lights are still on.

“Hey,” Matthew says simply as he walks in, sitting in one of the armchairs with a now closed book in one hand while the other scratches Applesauce behind the ears, her head resting on his knee. The rest of the pack is asleep except for Winston, who comes up to lick Will’s hand as he quietly shuts the door behind him.

“Hey,” Will answers back, leaning down to pet his furry companion a few times before stripping off his jacket and hanging it on the back of his desk chair. “I texted you this morning that I might not make it back tonight. You waited up for me anyway?”

“Yeah, but I was gonna turn in if you weren’t here by midnight and resign myself to calling a cab in the morning.”

“Shit,” Will mutters, closing his eyes as he remembers that Matthew has a shift at the nursing home tomorrow, and thinks of the car outside that would have still been in the parking lot at work had he not come home tonight. “I didn’t even think. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Matthew reassures, wearing that crooked half-smile he usually gets when Will is being apologetic or awkward or otherwise too adorable for words. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gotten one to come out here.”

“It’s not fine,” Will protests. “Not until you get your own car at least. Next time I think I might be late or…gone awhile, I guess, I’ll just get you to drop me off at HQ.”

“Ooh, scandalous. Somebody might see us together and make assumptions about the nature of our relationship,” Matthew teases. Will is too tired to bother reminding him that they don’t have a relationship for anyone to make assumptions about. “By the way, there’s leftovers in the fridge if you want some,” Matthew adds offhandedly after Will doesn’t respond.

“No, I’m just gonna go straight to bed.”

“Okay,” says Matt, giving Applesauce one last rub before gently encouraging her to move out of the way so he can stand without jostling her. He then turns off the living room lamps and follows Will upstairs.

*

That night, Will dreams.

He is standing in front of a vanity, the antique grandiose kind he’s used to seeing in the bedrooms of glamorous starlets in old black-and-white movies. There is nothing else around, not even a floor or walls, just endless black space surrounding him on all sides. The only bit of light in the void is on this little spot, illuminating it like a stage set.

He senses someone close by, watching him, but does not turn around to look.

Gradually he comes to realize he is not alone in the light. In front of him, Abigail sits facing the vanity mirror, still and pale like a delicate porcelain doll, a wooden control handle hanging against the back of the chair from long marionette wires coming out of her shoulders. Will sees it when he looks down but pays it no mind, continuing to concentrate on lovingly brushing her hair back and tying it into a long braid, humming a tune he doesn’t quite remember but thinks his mother might have sang to him before she left when he was little.

He feels a sharp tug on his own wires coming out of his right shoulder, forcing his hand to jerk back suddenly and pull out long strands of her hair between his fingers. “Oops. Sorry sweetie,” he says, and hears his own voice distantly as though it is not really a part of him, his tone placid and unconcerned.

“It’s okay, Dad,” she says pleasantly to match his even tone. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Will glances up to meet her gaze in the mirror.

Where Abigail’s eyes should be are reflective shards of glass, with bright red rivulets of blood flowing out of her sockets, down her cheeks and into the corners of her sweet smile. Will has similar shards in place of his own eyes and a smile that matches hers. He can barely make out a shape behind him, a towering, familiar silhouette standing in the encroaching darkness, and a large hand clasping his shoulder in a friendly paternal embrace.

He wakes to a horrible noise, a terrified shout followed by low agonized wailing that reverberates through his skull and makes his shoulders shake uncontrollably. “Nooooo, nonononono…”

It takes a painfully long time, though only seconds in reality, for him to realize those awful sounds are coming from him, and by that point he is also slowly becoming aware of strong arms enveloping him, holding him steady against a warm chest while he’s been flailing around, and another voice not his own whispering words he hasn’t been listening to in his ear since almost the moment he awoke.

“Shh, shh, shh, it’s okay,” the voice tells him when he tries to struggle out of its grasp. “It’s only me. You’re safe. I’m here.”

Will sobs openly in relief because the voice is familiar but it’s not that voice, not the one he never wants to hear again even in his nightmares, but a different one he’s gotten used to hearing every day. He doesn’t think about what it means that he finds comfort in that, that in such a short amount of time having Matthew around has come to mean stability and acceptance in his life when he once expected neither. He simply accepts what is being freely given, laying his forehead against the man’s collarbone to hide his face and wrapping an arm around Matthew’s side to hug back because it’s easier now than trying to break away.

“There you go,” Matthew whispers, rubbing soothing circles over Will’s back. The older man remains tense and tightly wound, so Matthew just keeps talking, telling him random things about the dogs, about his day, mindless chatter even he isn’t paying attention to in an effort to distract Will from whatever vision plagues him enough to actually allow Matthew to keep touching him like this.

He continues to pet and gentle him for a long while, and gradually Will loosens his limbs and relaxes against him. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asks.

Will breathes in deeply, contemplating his answer. “No,” he says finally.

“Okay.”

Will starts to pull away, embarrassed now that he feels more or less sane again, and certain that Matt doesn’t want to keep holding onto him longer than necessary when half of his shirt is soaked through with sweat.

Matthew doesn’t let go, only tightening his grip around Will possessively. “Matt,” Will begins to protest.

“Indulge me,” he says, right against Will’s ear so he can feel the playful smile on his lips. It has the desired effect—Will huffs out a laugh and gives up trying to move back to his own side.

“Fine,” Will gives in. He really shouldn’t allow this—this is exactly the wrong kind of behavior to encourage in someone who already does virtually whatever he wants without Will’s expressed consent—but Will is more comfortable being held like this than he wants to admit and is too tired to argue about it any further.

He starts to drift off again, sleep coming back to him easier than he would have expected. The last thing he notices, or more than likely imagines, before it claims him completely is the featherlight touch of lips on his forehead.

Chapter Text

Fool.

What a disaster that nearly was, and all over something so petty and insignificant. A simple locked door. The first stage of his Great Becoming, nearly ruined before it could ever begin because he had been prepared for a padlocked basement door, not a deadbolted one.

He will not make that error again. He will be prepared. He will scout the house beforehand, again and again, and keep himself apprised of any similar developments at the next one. There is still time. He has another month to make himself ready.

In the meantime, he has other indignities to contend with—that woman and her childish, derogatory nickname for him. The Tooth Fairy.

He is not sure which is worse, the deliberate gross misunderstanding of his transformation, or the fact that his own great work is overshadowed by another mere ant, this Will Graham. Yet another charlatan who thinks he can ride on the coattails of greatness by attempting to pull down the cathedra of those far worthier than he.

It will not do, but for now he can allow himself no distractions. He must focus on the masterpiece of his own Becoming, and only then, then, will he be able to scatter the ashes of his enemies to the wind.

*

“Eunice,” Nurse Janine chides in her best disappointed schoolmarm voice, “you put that chocolate back this instant, miss. You know what it does to your blood sugar.”

“It’s sugar-free, you twit.”

Matthew does not look up from the chart he’s filling out or crack so much as a smile. It doesn’t take much to encourage the eighty-seven-year-old firecracker, and as entertaining as her rants are once she gets started, he would like to end his shift on time today.

“Well,” Janine says, voice bubbly and smile overbright without reaching her eyes. “Still. Not before dinner, hm? Don’t want to ruin your appetite,” she says, gently prying the candy out of the old woman’s grasp with little effort and dropping it back into the bowl before putting it away at the receptionist counter.

“What appetite?” asks Eunice, quietly enough that Janine has no problem pretending not to hear, her fire now extinguished. Matthew side-eyes her then, noting the withdrawn look on her face.

“I’ll walk you back to your room, Mrs. Lukas,” he says, ignoring Janine’s approving nod and passing the bowl on his way to Eunice’s chair.

“And here I was wondering how I would ever survive the long journey without an escort,” says Eunice with a bit of her spark back, looking up at him archly for a moment before accepting the hand offered to help her out of her seat.

To her credit, she does no more than blink once in mild surprise when their hands clasp, waiting until they are out of sight and at her door at the other end of the hall before letting go of his hand. The foil wrapper crinkles faintly as she quickly shoves her hand down into her robe pocket. Only then does she smile and say, “You’re one of the good ones, you know.”

“Ugh, I hope not.” She giggles and waves with her free hand as he backs away, winking before turning around and heading back for the main office to sign out.

Will won’t be off for another couple of hours, maybe longer if he has to stay late again. That happens a little more often than usual lately, though probably not as frequently as it might have before Matthew showed up and settled in to stay.

Matthew enjoys the freedom it gives him to roam the streets for awhile. He was a bit of a wanderer even as a kid, always breaking off from the main group during field trips to explore on his own and returning at the last minute without anyone being the wiser, unnoticed and unmissed. The rare few times he did get caught sneaking back and asked where he had been, he would just shrug and say, “Around.”

Aimless, the counselors had called him. No ambition. That would be one area where he and Will actually differ—whereas Will may have found it continually frustrating to be poked and prodded by shrinks who didn’t know what they were doing and kept making wrong assumptions and misdiagnoses about him, Matthew had always found it terribly amusing. He thrived on people not knowing what to make of him. It made it easier to get away with what he wanted. Will might have had an advantage like that too, were it not for the clamor of other voices at his ear making it difficult for him to determine what he actually wanted.

Will. His thoughts always come back around to the older man eventually, not unlike a bird circling its prey. Matthew knows there is more going on with Will than just a heavier workload and later shifts, though the empath won’t admit as much. Since the other night, the dreams have only gotten worse, to the point where Will hardly puts up a fight for his personal space anymore, since Matthew’s nearness is about the only thing that makes him feel secure enough to fall back to sleep after startling them both awake.

Will is awkward and apologetic about it every time the next morning, but Matthew honestly doesn’t mind. He’s always been a light sleeper anyway.

What he doesn’t like is the way Will withdraws from him more in the daylight hours, as if he’s trying to repair whatever cracks may have appeared in the invisible wall between them in the dark. Matthew won’t allow that to happen, no matter how careful and quiet he has to be as he chips away at it and slowly dismantles it again, brick by brick. Too much too fast and he knows Will will catch on and only retreat farther.

Whatever he saw at the last crime scene he went to obviously affected him deeply. Matthew wishes he knew more about it, but Will won’t say anything to him about his job, and even Tattle-Crime has been remarkably unhelpful in filling out the details. He knows from Lounds’ blog that a whole family was slaughtered and that the FBI have no leads, but other than that the reporter hasn’t done much more than speculate on whether or not the “infamous” Will Graham should really be allowed back in the field and how he expects to follow up the “dubious success” of the Ripper case.

Matthew wonders if the FBI really sees what she’s doing. It’s obvious to him that they’re stonewalling her, doing their best to keep everything out of the press and denying her access to the real scoop that she wants. Thus, the broad strokes at best over the actual murders when normally nothing would stop her from sharing all the gory details.

She isn’t writing about Will because she genuinely thinks that will generate more hits on her site—she’s doing it because she hopes attacking their most visible agent on a public forum will be enough to bait someone in the FBI into giving her the real story just to shut her up.

It’s a genius move on her part. Matthew could almost admire her underhanded cleverness if he didn’t know how much it genuinely bothers Will, probably less because of what she says than because he can see why she’s doing it, and knows as well as Matt does that it’s only a matter of time before someone at the bureau gives into her. “Like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum until her parents buy her an ice cream cone,” Will had said disgustedly after the second such ‘article’ had posted.

Matthew’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out, lifting his eyebrows in surprise when he sees the number. Will never calls him first. “Hey, what’s up?” he says as he answers.

“Are you off work yet?”

“Yeah. Is something wrong?”

“No. I don’t know. I just…I need to get out of here,” Will sighs into the phone. “I’m coming to pick you up.”

“Okay,” says Matthew, glancing up at the crossroads sign to see what street he’s on. He has enough time to make it back to the nursing home before Will gets there. “I’ll see you soon.”

He doesn’t have to wait long, left standing in the parking lot for only a few minutes before Will pulls up. Matthew slips into the passenger seat silently, eyes on how tightly Will’s hands are gripping the steering wheel while Will’s eyes never leave the road ahead of them, expression closed off but clearly agitated about something.

“You alright?” he ventures to ask after several minutes pass and Will still has not spoken a word to him.

The other man grips the wheel even tighter, knuckles going white for a moment before he allows his hands to unclench and lets out a long sigh. “No,” he says finally.

Matthew stares quietly at his profile, content to let the silence stretch for as long as Will needs until he’s ready to say more. “Jack…” Will starts to say, then pauses, allowing a brief bitter laugh to escape past his lips before he continues. “For all that he’s been practically handling me with kid’s gloves since I started working for him again, he seems to lack…understanding of what’s acceptable to ask of me.”

They stop at a red light, and Will turns his head more or less in Matthew’s direction, still without looking at him, eyes cast down. “We’re running out of leads in this case we’re on, and he really wants to catch this guy before another family dies. For that he thinks we need…outside help.” The light changes, and Will averts his gaze back to the road, moving on.

Matthew mulls that over in his head, considering. “What kind of outside help?”

Will grinds his teeth together. “He wants me to talk to Lecter.”

Matthew’s immediate thought is that Jack Crawford is both brilliant and much crazier than anyone gives him credit for, but he doesn’t voice this opinion out loud. “What did you say?” he asks.

Will huffs out another laugh. “Some things I probably shouldn’t have,” he admits, though he doesn’t sound like a man who has any regrets about that. “I was rather impolite about it.”

“In other words, nothing the good doctor would approve of if he’d been around to hear it.”

Will finally looks over at him then, sporting one of Matthew’s favorite glares—the one he gets when he’s not sure if he wants to smile at something that Matthew said or hit him for it. One day Matthew might tell him how incredibly sexy that look is just to watch it collapse and fade into a wide-eyed, embarrassed flush of his cheeks, but for now he has too much fun invoking it at every available opportunity that presents itself without Will being any the wiser.

“Don’t. I know what you’re trying to do,” Will says.

“Oh, I seriously doubt that,” says Matthew, grinning cheekily.

“I do. Making light of what happened, turning Hannibal into the butt of your jokes. You’re trying to make him seem less intimidating to have to face again.”

“You know what I think? I think you secretly really want to go visit your bestie so you can exchange all the latest gossip with him.” Ooh, that’s a new expression, his last comment earning him a look that is somehow deeply offended, flustered, and reluctantly entertained all at once.

“You do remember I asked you to kill him for me once?” Matthew just smiles blandly as if that argument is too weak to even deem a response. Will sighs. “Why are you pushing for me to go?”

“I’m not pushing for it. I don’t care if you go or not,” Matthew says. He looks over and catches Will’s eyes with his own. “But you do.”

Will breathes in deeply. “I do,” he says, eyes going back to the road. “That’s why I’m not going.” Calm, final, and without a bit of the self-torture or indecision he was obviously struggling with when he first picked Matthew up.

This is what Will needs most that Matthew is happy to provide, a chance to regain focus and clarity for long enough to make up his own mind without all the other voices whispering their opinions and suggestions into his ear. Will’s empathy may be what first drew Matthew in when they met, but he can see how too much of it has been detrimental to Will’s life in the long run. Sometimes, living with Will, he feels like a gardener, pruning away the worst of the weeds and thorns so the flower in the center can have room to blossom and grow.

Matthew Brown’s counselors were very wrong about him. It’s not that he lacks ambition or focus, but that he channels it into things that don’t make sense to the casual observer. Were they to see him now, they would witness a man driven and motivated by a single goal—be whatever it is that Will Graham needs in his life, and never let go of him no matter what.

*

Will is a lot more at ease the rest of the evening. Since they’re home so early, he decides to take the dogs for a long walk around the property, tossing sticks for them out in the yard and play-wrestling them from their mouths when they pretend not to want to let them go. It’s a joyful, cleansing experience after the grueling day he’s had, and he doesn’t even protest when Matthew comes outside to join them.

Will adores spending time with his dogs, but he can see now, more clearly than ever before, how poor a substitute their company had been for contact with another human being. Before, he had always told himself he was perfectly content being alone, adopting stray after stray until his house was so full he could never let himself imagine trying to squeeze another person in anyway. Now that he’s been left with no choice but to adapt to Matthew’s constant presence, however, he can look back on his old life and see clearly the gaping void there that he had been trying desperately to ignore before.

The dogs have taken a real shine to the other man as well, treating him almost as an extension of Will himself instead of as the outsider. It means a lot to Will considering most of them are strays he rescued right off the streets, shy and wary of strange humans until they have plenty of time to get used to them. They have never been this comfortable and happy around someone who is not Will. Even Alana had gone practically ignored after Will came home, despite having cared for them the entire time he was in prison.

Will swallows past a small lump in his throat at the memory, eyes on Applesauce in the herd of happy canines crowding Matthew as he takes a turn throwing the stick, watching her give chase with the rest of them with a bittersweet smile on his face.

“Need a hand getting up?” Matthew asks, extending his own as Will makes no move to stand yet, having stayed in his low crouch on the ground to watch Matthew play with the dogs.

Will slips the mouse skull fragment he’d bent down to pick up into his pocket, along with the other stray bits of bone and feather found since they came outside, planning to add them to his collection of materials to make lures with. “Thanks,” he says, reaching up to grasp the hand being offered, for once not in the mood to point out that he’s more than capable of standing on his own.

“Ready to go make dinner?” Matt asks without letting go of his hand. Will nods and pretends that he isn’t hyperaware of the prolonged contact.

It would help perhaps if he wasn’t meant to be aware of it. One thing he can count on at least is that out of all the people who have ever insisted on touching him despite his reticence to it, Matthew Brown is the only one who has never tried to pass it off as nothing. Will wonders if that’s why he doesn’t try so hard to pull away from him.

Dinner is a simple enough affair with both of them working on it together, and Will realizes with an odd pang that he had missed this over the last few days, work weighing too heavily on his mind even after coming home for him to contribute much. He bites his lip guiltily at the thought of Matthew picking up all the slack while he’s been distracted, and promises himself to pay better attention to these things from now on.

After eating, Will heads upstairs to shower first. Tomorrow he will tell Jack he needs to be getting home earlier, citing his dogs as the reason if the man puts up a fuss. He will also tell him under no uncertain terms that he is not going to BSHCI to see Lecter. No matter how much urgency Jack puts on this case, Will is done putting up with everything that gets asked of him at the expense of his own sanity.

He heads back downstairs, footsteps creaking at one of the top steps. He knows something is odd when he notices that the desk lamp is on and he can make out the shadow of Matthew standing next to it, but it isn’t until he gets further down that he realizes what’s going on.

“Oops, you were quick up there,” Matthew says nonchalantly, eyes still cast on the bright red file folder open in his hand. “Thought I’d have time to put it away before you came back down.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Will asks even though it’s obvious by this point. He wishes he could at least say he’s surprised by what he finds when he reaches the bottom and sees his work satchel sitting open in the desk chair, but frankly he’s more surprised this didn’t happen a lot sooner.

Matt shrugs. “I was curious,” he says, still skimming through pages in the case file without looking up at him. He doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed at having been caught, and Will half-wonders if he didn’t do it on purpose just to see how he would react.

“Unbelievable,” he says, even though it is in fact very believable, considering who he’s talking to, and he should really be angrier about this instead of feeling so strangely resigned to it, and…something is wrong.

He wouldn’t have seen it if he weren’t staring intently at Matthew’s face, a slight narrowing of the eyes before he flips back to another page closer to the front, perhaps trying to draw a connection with something there.

“What is it?” Will asks, stepping closer. “Go back. I want to see what you were just looking at.”

Matthew’s gaze flicks up at him finally, lips thinning for a moment before he does what’s asked of him and turns it back to the picture from before.

Ah, Will thinks, throat tightening as he is faced once more with a close-up of little Michael and Lisa slumped against the wall.

“Why the kids?” Matthew asks softly, more questioning than upset, trying to make sense of it.

Will feels his lips twist into a sardonic smile he doesn’t mean. “You should see the women in that folder. That’s where he really takes time painting his pictures. The rest is meaningless,” he says, voice deepening in a timbre unlike his own and dragging out every syllable in the last word for greater emphasis.

Because he’s still looking at the picture, he doesn’t see the way Matthew’s eyes flick over to him again at the change in his vocals, lips thinning even further and fingers just barely tightening their grip on the folder. “That’s not entirely true.”

Will blinks, startled. “What?” he asks, voice returned to normal. “How do you mean?”

It’s Matthew’s turn to blink, apparently not expecting the question. “It’s just…” he says, glancing away and clearing his throat, “you don’t go from just targeting couples to entire families if the kids don’t mean anything at all.”

Will’s mouth falls open slightly, ready to argue the point before it abruptly snaps shut. He stares at the younger man for a moment before he trusts himself to speak again. “You’re right. Oh my god, you’re right,” he says, tugging the folder out of Matthew’s hands to look through it some more. Matthew allows it without protest, hands going into his pockets. “How did I miss this? How did I not…feel it?”

Matthew shrugs again half-heartedly. “Maybe he’s not aware of it himself,” he says quietly, turning to walk into the kitchen, leaving Will to lean his hip against the side of the desk as he reads through the files in search of anything else that might leap out at him with this new knowledge.

He barely notices it a few minutes later when Matthew comes back into the room and slides a cup of coffee to where his hand is resting on the desk, mumbling a quick, “Thank you,” as Matthew goes over to the couch with his own mug and picks up the book he’s been reading on the coffee table.

Were Will to pay attention to the sounds of the room or glance up even once before Matthew eventually rises to go shower himself, he would notice that the whole time Matthew has been sitting there, staring pensively at the open book in his lap, that he never once turns a single page.

Chapter Text

“My answer is still no, Jack.”

His tone is final and unwavering, and Jack, realizing this, nods resignedly and says, “Alright. I won’t make you, Will.”

“Won’t?” Will shakes his head, feeling some of his frustration resurge from the day before even though supposedly he’s the one winning this battle. “No, not won’t, Jack. If you try to ‘make me’ or even ask one more time, I—”

“You what?” Jack cuts in sharply. “You’ll walk out? Is that what you’re telling me?” Will lowers his eyes to the floor, his hands closing into fists in his pockets, and Jack takes it as compliance, as Will backing down from whatever he had been about to say. “I’ve already accepted your refusal, Will. Don’t be an ass about it.”

Jack lets himself out, and almost the moment the door is shut Will drops one of his fists down onto the desk in front of him, bitter and angry that even when he gets his own way for once, it doesn’t really go his way, not with Jack’s practically pathological need to have the last word and dismiss anything else Will might have to say.

Will thinks his own reaction may be a bit unfair and even childish. Jack has to be frustrated himself, after all, and threatening to quit certainly wouldn’t help matters.

It can’t keep going on like this, however, the two of them more or less on the same page one day only to butt heads the next. Will had thought he was bothered by Jack’s more careful handling of him of late, but as the pressure mounts for them to find this new killer and find him quickly, he’s been starting to see more of the old Jack peeking through again and he doesn’t like it one bit.

It’s not really Jack you’re mad at though, is it? It’s the work. You hate this. Why are you still doing it?

Great, as if things weren’t bad enough, or as if he didn’t hear enough of it at home, now he has a voice that sounds like Matthew in his head too. He wonders if the younger man would be pleased by that revelation or worried for him. Well, at least it’s better than the alternative.

*

“You sure you’re okay?” Miriam asks him later. It’s just the two of them in the lab, Jack being in a meeting with some of the higher-ups, while Jimmy and Brian had decided to go out for lunch. Miriam had offered to bring sandwiches back for the both of them from the cafeteria, and finding himself unable to think of a single good reason to say no, Will had accepted. Now he wonders if there isn’t some ulterior motive behind it.

“I’m fine. Why do you keep asking?”

Miriam’s eyes widen a bit, caught. “I am asking a lot, aren’t I? Sorry, I just...” She looks away from him, stumbling to find the right words. “I guess I just keeping thinking about...how I would feel,” she says, picking nervously at her false arm. “If it were me. If the Guru had asked me.”

Oh. Graham, you self-centered idiot. Will clears his throat, now finding it difficult to look away from the evidence of the Ripper’s mark on her but forcing himself to do it anyway, certain she already endures more stares at it all the time than she should ever have to. At least his scar is better hidden. Christ, how had he forgotten, even for a moment, who did that to her?

“Do you want him to ask?” He could kick himself as soon as he says it, but the words are already out of his mouth. Jesus, he’s bad at this.

Miriam shakes her head. “No, I’m glad he hasn’t.” She seems to think about it for a moment and huffs, straightening in her seat. “And annoyed. Why didn’t he ask me? Does he think I’m some fragile...little flower?”

That’s not what you wanted to say, Will thinks, feeling vaguely ill.

Occasionally I drop a teacup to watch it shatter onto the floor. Will’s hands clench under the table, where she can’t see them. He remembers his own words as well, seemingly ages ago now. Two years is a long time to have Hannibal Lecter in your head, Jack. But she’s trying. That little slip of the tongue, where she almost said it but didn’t, changing the word at the last minute. She’s still trying to uproot Hannibal out of her head.

Will can certainly empathize with that.

“Jack doesn’t think you’re fragile,” he says. “He just feels too...guilty to ask something like that of you.”

“He shouldn’t feel guilty. What happened to me wasn’t his fault.”

“Guilt’s funny that way,” says Will. “You don’t really get to choose whether you feel it or not. It just sort of...happens. Kind of like forgiveness.”

I forgive you, Will. Will you forgive me? No. Never. Go away.

The look she gives him is strange, enough to make him wonder how much of his own thoughts he’s telegraphing for her—or if she could hear his own slip of the tongue, that small giveaway of someone else’s words nearly coming out of his mouth for only the space of a moment just as he had heard hers.

“Or maybe he just thinks Lecter wouldn’t talk to me the way he would to you.”

Would he? Will doesn’t know enough about Miriam’s time as the Ripper’s “houseguest” to make guesses about what that relationship was like, nor had he ever wished to know. He still doesn’t want to, and hopes to high heaven that she isn’t about to tell him. He doesn’t know which would terrify him more—the places where her story would sound very much like his own, or the places where they would differ.

He remembers the photos Jack had shown him of the dress Miriam had been wearing when he found her—old-fashioned, white, marred only by the dirt of the well he had found her in, trimmed with lace and frills—a doll’s outfit. He remembers his own dream from several nights before as well...remembers the feeling of the marionette wires protruding out of his back and the way they had jerked every time his arms moved. He barely represses a shudder.

“Hey,” she says, and Will can hear the forced joviality behind it, the way she wields her next words like a torch to banish the darkness encroaching upon them, as much for her own sake as for his. “We should form a club, you know, secret handshakes and everything. We could even have T-shirts made. ‘I Survived the Chesapeake Ripper.’ What do you think?”

Will chuckles a bit in spite of himself. “It’s a bit on the nose but...” Nope. Stop. No cannibal jokes here. He has the feeling that what’s okay to share between him and Matthew would still not be okay to say to Miriam. There’s making light of things and then there’s pushing things too far, and he doesn’t know yet where on that spectrum Miriam’s sense of humor lies. Better not to risk it for now. He shrugs. “It would also be a pretty short list,” he finishes lamely.

“Well yeah, of course. Very exclusive membership,” she says.

Will snorts in response. “I think that marks both the first and last time I’ve been offered exclusive membership to anything.”

“You and me, we’ve gotta have each other’s backs even when no one else does. Maybe especially then.” Same lighthearted tone, but now she’s laying her cards out on the table. Friendship. Solidarity. Like Will, she doesn’t make friends often, though it’s mainly by choice in her case rather than the necessary result of her own perceptions and neuroses. She doesn’t trust enough, especially not now, not after everything she’s been through. This is important to her, or she wouldn’t say it otherwise.

Will nods, smiling. “Okay, it’s a deal,” he says, extending his right hand for her to shake. She does so, making the joke that it’s a good thing her left arm is the missing one, startling herself as much as Will with the comment and causing both of them to laugh embarrassedly.

She looks about ready to say something else, but at the last minute decides against it and tucks back into her sandwich. The two of them continue the short lunch break before the rest of their team returns in relaxed, companionable silence.

Chapter Text

“I…thank you. I’ll, um, I’ll think about it and let you know.”

The Academy director and board dismiss him with polite smiles and nods, their looks all similar ones of magnanimity like courtiers throwing scraps at a filthy beggar in the street and congratulating themselves on their benevolence. Will walks out of the room feeling a little irritated, perplexed, and oddly amused by the whole affair.

They had ambushed him with this—he certainly hadn’t expected it, and he’s fairly positive that no one had actually “forgotten” to tell him he was expected to meet with them today. Had he known about it, he might have taken the time to dress a little more appropriately for it this morning, maybe even put on a tie. He might not have. He would like to have been given the option at least.

He thinks they wanted him not to see it coming though—the better perhaps to startle him and make him feel ever so grateful for their generous consideration. He snorts at the thought of it.

Almost before he even realizes it, his phone is out of his pocket and he’s leaning back in his chair, typing, ‘You won’t believe this. The weirdest thing just happened to me.’

Matthew’s response is almost immediate. Will wonders if the man ever just sleeps in on his days off. ‘Let me guess – Crawford’s sending you home early today with a bonus check and a new puppy.’

The reply startles a laugh out of Will, brightening what’s promising to be a very strange morning. ‘I wish. Can you imagine the pack’s reaction though if I bring home a new friend for them to play with?’

His phone buzzes again a minute later. ‘…I’m going to regret putting that idea in your head, aren’t I?’

“Yup,” Will says to himself aloud. He smirks and shakes his head. ‘Maybe. But if you do you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.’

It goes on like this for several minutes, the two of them bantering back and forth until Will is left with a wide, persistent grin on his face.

‘So what were you going to tell me earlier?’ Matthew asks eventually. Will’s smile wilts a bit at the reminder of the original reason he texted. He’s still not sure how to feel about what happened.

‘On second thought I think that’s something we should wait to talk about when I get home.’

The next reply is even faster than the rest, just one word. ‘Tease.’

Will scoffs. ‘Gotta keep you interested somehow, don’t I?’

Matthew’s next response takes a couple of minutes to come in. ‘Not really,’ he says. ‘You could talk about pretty much anything even if it’s boring, you’ll still hold my attention.’

Will’s laughter feels more forced all of a sudden, nervous. He feels his face heat up and realizes to his mortification that he’s blushing. It’s difficult to think of something clever to say after that, so instead he types up some quick excuse about needing to get back to work, hoping it doesn’t sound as clunky and obvious to the other man as it does to him.

He manages to put it out of his mind for the rest of the day, preoccupying himself with poring over their notes on the Jacobis and the Marlowes again and bouncing off different ideas with Miriam. It’s hardly as useful as looking over the next set of bodies is undoubtedly going to be, but no one wants to admit as much aloud.

By the time he gets home, the events of this morning are all but erased from his mind, his thoughts churning over the grim details of the case once more.

Matthew is outside with the dogs when he pulls up the driveway. A few of the lovable mutts try to run up to meet him, recognizing his car, but Matthew calls them back with a whistle before they get too close. It brings a distracted smile to Will’s face to see them obey the other man so readily, something that would have amazed and probably agitated him a couple of months ago.

“No puppy I see,” Matthew says as he gets out of the car.

“Not today,” he responds teasingly, heading inside. Matthew follows, calling the dogs inside and shutting the door behind him as the last one runs in ahead of him.

“So you’ve kept me waiting all day. Gonna cut the suspense finally and tell me what’s up?”

“Oh…that,” Will says, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand and jostling some loose curls in the process. “It’s actually not that big a deal. I, uh…” He drops his hand back to his side. “I got offered my old job back. Teaching,” he clarifies.

“Huh,” says Matthew, eyebrows lifting mildly in surprise. One of the dogs nudges his hand with her nose and he looks down, petting her distractedly. “Well that’s good, right?” he asks neutrally.

“Yeah,” Will says, not sounding too certain. “No, yeah, it’s great. Good offer. I mean…” He breathes in deeply through his nose, thinking about what he’s trying to say. “It’s a good opportunity for me if I…if I want to go back to the way things were…before,” he says carefully, gauging the other man’s reaction.

Matthew doesn’t give him much to go on, his expression open and interested but not particularly swayed in one direction or another. Will wonders how he does it, if the man genuinely has no opinion either way, or if he’s guarding it carefully on purpose for Will’s sake so as not to influence him. Either way, Will finds it oddly warming, confident and reassured that any decision he makes will be entirely his own and that he’ll have at least one person who won’t judge him for it.

“Which is why,” he speaks up again after a moment, “I’m going to turn it down.” He swallows. “I don’t want my old life back. I don’t want anything to do with this job, any of it anymore. I’m done with the FBI. After this case is over, I’m telling Jack I resign.”

“Yeah?” Matthew asks, surprised again.

Will nods jerkily. “Yeah,” he says, smile shaky but sure.

Matthew puts his hand over his mouth in a gesture eerily reminiscent of the first time they spoke in full acknowledgment of each other, after he unlocked the door to Will’s interrogation cage. Like then, he drops it away again to reveal a huge smile. “Okay,” he says, pleased, and reaches over to pull his jacket back on and grab Will’s keys.

“What are you doing?” Will asks.

“We’re going out to celebrate,” Matthew says. “Come on,” he adds, waving Will over. “Get your coat back on, let’s go.”

“We’re celebrating me quitting?” Will asks wryly, shrugging back into his jacket even as he speaks.

“This is what you want, right?”

“Well, yes.”

Matthew reaches out to grasp him by both of his shoulders. “Then yes,” he says firmly. “We’re celebrating you doing something for yourself for once instead of giving a damn what anybody else thinks.”

Will laughs, embarrassed. “Okay, fine. Lead the way.”

*

The place they end up deciding on is one of those clean, forgettable chain bar-and-grill restaurants, the kind that will actually offer decent burgers and fries as well as a reasonable variety of alcohol. It’s more crowded than Will would have liked even on a weeknight, but he had still preferred it over some of the seedier options and the type of people those places are likely to attract.

They opt to sit at the bar instead of getting a table. Despite the crowd present, the only person they have to share it with is a guy sitting a few seats down and watching the soccer game on one of the TVs anchored onto the wall. Occasionally the man lets out a loud cheer and tosses his hands into the air triumphantly; at other times he gestures wildly, yelling and cursing profusely at the screen in Spanish.

A few of the times that happens, Will notices Matt’s eyes dart over in that direction, usually quirking a single eyebrow or letting the corners of his mouth twitch up in amusement. Will wants to ask what’s so funny, but even with how many drinks he’s already had at this point, he’s aware of how rude it would probably be to ask him to translate while the guy’s sitting right there. Maybe if he thinks about it again later, he’ll ask once they get home.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising to realize he’s actually having a good time, but it is. He feels relaxed, laughing at some of the things Matthew says even more than usual. Matthew seems a bit looser limbed as well, though he hasn’t had nearly as much as Will and won’t touch any of the heavier liquor tonight since he’s driving them home, still nursing his half-full second beer by the time Will has knocked back his third tumbler of whiskey.

Will doesn’t even mind the way their knees keep brushing as they talk, though if he cared to scrutinize more deeply he would notice that the distance between Matthew’s barstool and his own is significantly less than all the others spaced out evenly across the rest of the bar. At the very least, he doesn’t call Matthew out on it. It’s not likely the other man would move his own back even if he did.

All in all, this feels like a very satisfying end to a rather peculiar day.

“Hey,” Matthew says, shoulder brushing against Will’s now to call his attention back.

Will turns slightly to look at him. “Hm?”

“Where are you? You were wandering just now,” he says, tone hushed, running his fingers lightly over Will’s temple to demonstrate what he means by the remark, though Will understands him just fine. He allows it anyway.

“This morning,” he answers just as quietly. His eyes flick up to meet Matthew’s. The contact doesn’t bother him so much at the moment. He feels warm. Comfortable. “You should have seen them, Matthew. The way they were all looking at me, like they thought they were doing me a favor. You have no idea how much I wanted to tear their eyes right out of their skulls,” he confesses, the liquor thrumming through his veins making him far more honest than he would normally be under the circumstances.

Because he chooses that moment to glance away and finish the rest of his drink, he doesn’t see the way Matthew’s eyes darken at this little pronouncement. “Yeah?” the younger man asks. It sounds different than when he said it earlier in the evening, voice breathier.

“Mm,” Will grunts into his glass, setting it back on the counter when he’s finished with a little more force than necessary. “Smug pricks,” he says.

Matthew smirks, the strange moment between them broken before Will fully realizes it was there. “Ready to go home?” he asks, running his hand up and down Will’s arm.

“Sure,” he says, only putting up protest when Matthew reaches for the check.

“It was my idea we go out to eat, therefore I pay,” Matthew tells him, and it’s so logical and reasonable-sounding that Will doesn’t try arguing further.

He doesn’t complain when Matthew keeps a steadying hand on the small of his back either as they head out to the car, though he could easily tell him how unnecessary it is since he used to drink way more than this in a night when he lived alone and barely ever felt the effects, and wow, what a sobering thought to have to remind him of how fucking depressing his life used to be.

Matthew opens the passenger door for him and Will slides in, buckling up as Matthew comes around to the other side and gets in.

“This was nice,” Will says a few minutes into the drive. “I’m glad I let you talk me into it.”

Matthew smiles, keeping his eyes on the road ahead of them. “Me too.”

“I can’t believe we haven’t done this before now. I actually had fun.”

Matthew chuckles. “You don’t have to sound so surprised by it.”

“I kinda do. It’s not a feeling that comes around very often for me.”

Matt glances over at him briefly then. “Well, we’ll just have to fix that, won’t we?”

The dogs are all asleep by the time they arrive home. Will almost feels bad about the idea of turning on the lights and waking them. Matthew seems to have the same idea, turning on just the lamp by the couch and bathing it in a warm dim glow that’s just enough for them to see by. Then he comes back to the front entrance where Will is still standing and shrugs out of his jacket and shoes.

“Here, let me help you,” he whispers when Will still hasn’t moved to take off his own coat yet, coming around to stand behind him and wrapping his arms around him loosely to undo the front zipper.

Maybe Will’s drunker than he thought, but he doesn’t mind the invasion of his personal space at all, not after so many other touches and nights practically sleeping in the other man’s arms. Instead of shifting away to keep at least a minimal distance between them, as Matthew probably expects, Will relaxes into the loose embrace and allows his back to rest against the other man’s chest, trusting that Matthew won’t pull away unexpectedly and allow him to fall backwards.

Matthew’s throat clicks as he swallows. He moves slowly to pull the coat down from Will’s shoulders and slide it off of him carefully, and if it’s really to keep his fingers from trembling slightly at this small, for once utterly uncontested intimacy, Will doesn’t need to know.

He lets his hand keep resting against the older man’s back for a moment. “You should go sit down,” he says, still speaking softly to avoid waking the dogs. “I’ll make us some coffee.”

Will sits on the couch since it’s the only place well-illuminated enough to see. He watches the dogs sleep while he waits, wondering idly what Matthew would do if he really did come home with another one day. What else can he do though, leave the next cold, hungry stray he finds out on the street to suffer and starve?

Matthew returns with two mugs and hands one over to him. Will accepts it gratefully, taking a long drink as Matthew sits down beside him.

“Mmm, you’re a smug prick too, you know,” he says conversationally. “Always making the coffee too damn perfect.”

Matthew huffs out a quiet laugh. “Is that right?”

“Mm-hm. If it weren’t for this bribery,” he says, raising the mug in his hand, “I would have kicked you out a long time ago.”

“Uh-huh. Sure, babe, whatever you say.” Matthew pauses briefly in lifting his mug to take a sip as he hears his own slip of the tongue, but if Will caught it as well he doesn’t say anything. Matt tilts his head sideways then as if in a shrug, unconcerned for the moment. The most Will can do is grumble about it anyway.

They sit quietly together for a bit, enjoying the comfortable silence between them, broken only by the occasional quiet whuff of one of the dogs in their sleep.

“It’s not because I empathize with the violence, you know,” Will tells him suddenly. “Well, not entirely,” he amends. He sets his cup down on the coffee table and Matthew does the same, turning to better face him, one arm stretched across the back of the seat behind Will, intrigued.

“The reason I’m quitting,” he clarifies, finding himself turning as well, shifting closer unconsciously. “It’s not my empathy exactly, or at least not in the way Jack thinks it is.” He’s staring at Matthew’s collar as he says it, eyes darting, unsure what’s possessed him with the need to come out with this all of a sudden. “It’s...it’s because it’s...”

“It’s what?” Matthew asks softly when Will seems like he needs the prompting to continue.

The empath’s eyes flick up to meet his then. He swallows heavily. “Boring,” he says finally, eyes widening as though he’s shocked at himself for uttering it out loud. “Absolutely, numbingly unsatisfying,” he breathes.

If Matthew could grip the couch any tighter, he’d probably break it.

“It’s like since everything that’s happened, everything I’ve been through before,” he continues, “there just are no more interesting monsters, Matthew.” Now that he’s started, he isn’t sure how to stop; it’s as if a dam inside of him has been broken. “Instead all I get are either cold cases or these sad, lonely little pretenders,” he all but snarls, voice still quiet but only just, spilling everything out faster, almost manic. “You know the ones I mean. The types that only do it because ‘oh, Mommy never loved me enough, that bitch.’ There’s no Beauty, no design, or at least none worth mentioning. And you know what the worst of it is?” he asks rhetorically. “Some of them aren’t even actually that awful, they just make these stupid fucking mistakes,” he says, giggling hysterically. “Sometimes at a crime scene, I see exactly where they misstepped and I catch myself wanting to reach my hand out and fix it before anybody else sees.”

He realizes that his voice is rising higher, that he needs to calm down before he actually does wake the dogs up, but he can’t stop himself. “I catch myself thinking if they’d just done this one little thing differently, if they’d just used the right tool, if they’d just done it to someone else, someone more deserving or—mmph!”

He’s cut off suddenly by Matthew’s lips crushing forcefully against his own.

Mere seconds later Matthew is pulling away again, but not before sucking Will’s bottom lip into his mouth and nibbling on it with his teeth. “Sorry,” he says as he pulls back, not sounding sorry at all. “You’re just so gorgeous like this, you have no idea what you’re doing to me right now.”

Will knows it has to be the alcohol or the adrenaline talking for him right now, but somehow all he can think to say is, “Fuck, Matt, why’d you stop?”

He has barely a moment to observe the way Matthew’s pupils dilate before his mouth is being taken again and slender fingers are suddenly twining themselves into his curls.

Dimly he notices through the haze that he has somehow wound up in Matthew’s lap, grinding down against a hardness that matches his own and groaning into the mouth latched onto his. The little voice in his head that should be telling him what a terrible idea this is goes suspiciously silent around the time Matthew gets his shirt open and skims his hands over Will’s bared torso, leaning in to nip at his collarbone and tweak one of his nipples between his fingers.

“Ah!” he cries out. So much for not waking the dogs up. He hears them stirring behind him and knows that’s a lost cause now.

He manages to push Matthew back for a second and leans down to capture his mouth for another quick kiss. “Bed,” he breathes against the other’s lips, and Matthew nods.

Before he can move to get out of Matthew’s lap, however, the other wraps his arms firmly around him and lifts him up with him as he stands.

Will scrambles to hold on, feeling wobbly from the unexpected motion and worried he’s going to fall before he manages to get his arms around the other man’s shoulders and wind his legs around his waist. He giggles, feeling ridiculous.

Show-off,” he mutters to the younger man holding him up like he weighs no more than a ragdoll. Matthew grins, pulling Will’s head down briefly to kiss him again, then shifting his arms around him tighter before carrying him up the stairs.

His shirt gets discarded somewhere along the way, and moments later it seems he’s on his back sprawled across the bed. Matthew wastes no time, reaching for Will’s belt to tug off the rest of his clothing. Will in the meantime sits up and pulls up Matthew’s shirt, determined not to be the only one naked right now. Matthew lets him tug it off over his head, and together the two of them work to strip each other of the rest of their clothing as quickly as possible, breathless and giggling at their own haste and the way they’re acting like a pair of horny teenagers.

Once they’re both nude, however, the laughter stops. Matthew pushes Will back down onto the bed, eager to take a good long look now that he finally has the chance to let his eyes roam freely over the expanse of skin now laid bare for him.

Will fights down a blush under the scrutiny, starting to feel more shy and nervous now that they’ve slowed down long enough for his brain to catch up with the rest of his body. He lets his own gaze rake over Matthew’s form to distract himself from it, eyes tracing over the patterns of his tattoos and biting down hard on his lower lip as he takes in the sight of Matthew’s cock, hard and ready for him. It’s a bit longer but thinner than his own, and Will is struck suddenly with the dizzying realization that he has no idea what he’s doing.

Matthew’s fingers have taken to skimming over Will’s body, seeking out the sensitive places that make him squirm and suck in sharp, shaky breaths of air. As they inevitably skate nearer the jagged scar across his abdomen, however, Will wraps his own hand around Matthew’s wrist and drags it further, all the way down to his thigh, hovering near his groin.

Matthew takes the hint and wraps his hand around Will’s dick, knowing that it’s as much a ploy to divert his attention elsewhere as it is genuine eagerness, but happy to let himself be distracted in this manner. He strokes lightly and watches the way Will’s eyes flutter shut and his lips fall open as he lets out a couple of breathless moans.

“You’re beautiful,” Matthew whispers above him, and Will blushes again, embarrassed but too far gone to argue with him right now.

They continue like this for a few minutes before Matthew eventually pauses long enough to reach over and grab a jar of lube out of the bedside table that Will doesn’t remember putting there. He might make some snarky comment about Matthew being cocky enough to buy it or ask how long it’s been sitting in that drawer, if it weren’t for his nerves making a sudden return at the sight of it.

“Matthew,” he says, ashamed of how small his voice sounds but forcing himself to go on. “I know you’ve probably guessed this already but I should tell you before we go any further, I’m not...I mean I haven’t actually done this with another guy before so I don’t, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing right now, I don’t know if—”

“Shhh,” Matthew interrupts softly, cutting off Will’s babbling rather effectively by taking his face gently between both hands and leaning down for a long, soothing kiss. He waits until Will’s breathing seems to slow and his head is tilting upward, trying to deepen the kiss, before he pulls back slightly and says, “You don’t have to do anything, baby. Just relax and let me take care of you.”

He reaches for the jar again where he tossed it onto the bed and unscrews the lid, coating his hand with lube before gripping Will’s cock again. Will groans loudly and tosses his head back, gripping the bedspread tightly between his fingers and bucking up helplessly into Matthew’s hand.

Matthew spreads more of the lubricant onto himself as well and then leans down, covering Will’s body with his own and letting their cocks rub against each other.

Will’s eyes spring open at the new sensation and his hands leave the bed, coming up to wrap around Matthew’s torso instead. “Oh! Oh Jesus, yes,” he groans, aware that he’s starting to babble again but well past caring at this point, except to note vaguely in the back of his mind that it is a bit strange. He’s not usually this vocal during sex, and has to wonder what it is about Matthew that drags this out of him. Later. Much, much later.

For awhile it’s just this, the two of them rutting against each other like animals and groping wherever their hands can reach, making out heavily and messily again the entire time. Will can’t get enough of the taste of Matthew’s mouth, of the way sweat is pouring from both of them and making the friction between their bodies even slicker and more perfect. Matthew’s body is so hard and solid against his own and it’s so different from the softer, smaller forms he’s normally used to, but so good. He bites down on the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming as Matthew’s cock drags across his own again.

“Hnnng, more!” he cries out, not sure if he’s demanding or begging, but either way Matthew obeys, pulling his hand away to slick it up again. Then he’s shifting them slightly, so they’re more side-by-side rather than him being fully on top, and brings a finger to Will’s entrance, circling lightly for just a couple of seconds before pushing just the tip inside.

Will gasps, not really sure what he expected but tightening his grip around Matthew’s biceps all the same. Matthew eases more of it in and starts sliding it in and out of Will, deepening the motion just a little each time. It’s weird at first yet Will finds himself quickly responding to it, pushing back against it and biting his lip to keep from babbling more nonsense again.

“God!” he exclaims as Matthew crooks his finger inside him, brushing against his prostate.

“Yes?” Matthew asks, voice teasing but deliciously rough around the edges.

If Will had more presence of mind, he’d be rolling his eyes. As it is, he’s lucky he can manage to curl his hand into a loose fist and lightly punch the other man on the shoulder for choosing now to make such a terrible clichéd joke.

Matthew’s response is to slide another finger in alongside the first, and Will’s indignation quickly dissolves under the renewed assault. He moans, hole clenching around the intrusion, and feels the stirrings of a craving for something he’s never known before.

“Matt, oh, M-matthew,” he says, voice shaky. “I-I want, hnnng...” He grasps the back of Matthew’s head and pulls him in for a deep kiss, breaking away again and blurting out before he loses all train of thought, “Fuck me.”

Matthew’s hand suddenly stills, causing Will to whine at the lost friction. “I—are you sure? Because we don’t have to,” he says, but Will can feel in the way Matthew’s dick jumps and his voice wavers, how badly he wants this. “We can just take it slow if you want or—”

“Matthew Brown,” Will hisses, and it should be ridiculous how stern he sounds with Matthew’s fingers still buried deep in his ass, but it isn’t. “I swear to god if you don’t shut up and put your dick inside me right now, we’re never doing this again.”

Matthew’s eyes darken and he kisses Will again, hard. “Yes sir, Mr. Graham,” he acquiesces, and pulls his fingers out to push Will onto his back again and kneel between his legs.

“Is this how you want me?” Will asks, letting a smile creep into his voice as he lifts his knees up to accommodate him and trails his hand teasingly over one of Matthew’s tattoos.

Matthew nods, slicking up his cock with more lube before pressing it up against Will’s fluttering hole. “I want to watch your face as you get fucked for the first time,” he admits hotly, and begins pressing inside.

Will’s mouth falls open on another sharp gasp, and even then he’s not sure if he remembers how to breathe properly. His erection flags a little at the expected bit of pain as the tip enters him, and Matthew grasps his hand around it and strokes to coax it back to life. Will concentrates on that, focusing on the pleasure as he’s slowly breached little by little until Matthew is seated fully inside him.

“Oh god,” he says again as Matthew starts to move inside him. Matthew doesn’t tease him about it this time.

“Fuck, baby, you’re so tight,” he says, voice deliciously hoarse. “I don’t think I’m gonna last long.”

Will grabs him by the arms to pull him closer, both of them groaning at the shift in angle as Matthew leans forward enough for them to be touching chest to chest, holding himself up by his elbows just enough to not be smothering. Will wraps his legs around his waist and pulls his head down to kiss him again, moaning into the other’s mouth as the tip of Matthew’s cock drags across his prostate.

“God, Matt, yes,” he croaks out, digging his fingernails into Matthew’s back.

Matthew’s thrusts turn faster, sloppier, though still well-aimed enough to keep hitting that button inside him. Will shouts, coming just like that from the stimulation alone, without another touch to his cock. Matthew follows suit almost immediately after, spilling into the other man as his inner walls clench tightly around him in orgasm.

Matthew rests his head beside Will’s just for a moment, still catching his breath, then carefully pulls out, laying a tender kiss on Will’s throat before standing and going into the bathroom. He comes out a moment later with a damp cloth and wipes them both down, then tosses the rag somewhere near the foot of the bed and climbs back in next to Will, tugging the empath closer to him.

Will rolls languidly to his side and lets his head rest on Matthew’s chest, half-asleep already. He yawns once and slings his arm carelessly over Matthew’s torso, out like a light almost instantly.

Matthew lays there and runs his fingers through Will’s sweaty curls for a few minutes more, before he too gives in to exhaustion and falls asleep with the other man in his arms.

Chapter Text

Will wakes up naked and feeling sticky and sore in places he’s never felt before, with a dull throbbing in his temples to let him know he may have overindulged a bit too much last night, in case the rest wasn’t evidence enough. He covers his still-shut eyes with his arm and groans softly, as if that will be enough to block out the memory of what he did and keep the light streaming in through the window from piercing through his eyelids.

He almost wishes he could have had at least a moment of disorientation, of confusion and oblivion as he gradually returned to consciousness, but the truth is as soon as he awoke he remembered everything. Vividly. Soon he will have to get up and look Matthew in the eye and…remember some more.

He waits for the feeling of regret to come but finds instead only a light blush to his cheeks and a curious resignation at the inevitability of it all. It was only a matter of time before the younger man finally wore Will’s barriers down enough to get what he wanted, wasn’t it?

Matthew is not in the room with him now. Most likely he is downstairs already taking care of both of their morning chores before Will even has a chance to get out of bed to help. With another soft groan, he eases himself out of bed and pads naked and barefooted into the bathroom.

The steam of the shower helps release some of the tension from his headache and stiff limbs. It makes it easier to think clearly, something he didn’t have much opportunity for last night. He and Matthew are due for a long conversation that cannot be avoided no matter how he may wish they could.

He is not too surprised to find the younger man back upstairs by the time he reenters the room, turned away from Will as he makes the bed. He turns around when he hears Will come in, eyes sliding up and down in a long, slow, appreciative gaze as they take in the older man’s form clad in a red towel tied around the waist and nothing else.

Will tries and fails to fight back another blush, this one more clearly visible than ever as it creeps hotly over his bared neck and chest as well. He clears his throat and mutters a quick excuse me as he steps around the other man to get to his clothes in the dresser drawer.

“I brought you coffee,” Matthew says, stepping in closer as he gestures to the steaming mug resting on top of the dresser.

“I see that, thanks,” Will mutters without looking at him. His hands are full with his shirt and boxers when he feels fingernails raking gently up his sides, starting at his hips, and a tender kiss landing on his shoulder close to where it meets his neck. He closes his eyes against it, biting his lip to hold back the quiet whimper that wants to escape at the feeling.

“Matt,” he says warningly, trying to sound admonishing but knowing it doesn’t have quite the desired effect when his voice is so quiet and breathless.

The hands on his sides creep forward until Matt’s arms are snaked around his torso, the other man’s clothed body pressed against his back, and more featherlight kisses climb up the column of his neck and jaw. “Tell me to stop,” he whispers when he reaches Will’s ear.

Will shivers and says nothing, voice stuck somewhere in the back of his throat, at least until the hands drift lower, fingers just skirting the edge of the towel like they’re about to pull it off of him. “St-stop.” His voice sounds so uncertain even to his own ears that he half-expects to be ignored, but instead Matthew pulls his hands away and steps politely back.

The younger man sits on the bed he just made, hands splayed out on either side of him over the smooth sheets, looking up at Will with a laidback smile. Deciding it would be too much to go back into the restroom just to change into his smallclothes, Will shuffles back far enough to be out of arm’s reach, tugs on his shirt, and then has to step carefully into his boxers without dislodging the towel, glaring sharply at Matt as if daring him to laugh at the awkward, jerky movements before stepping over to the closet next.

Matthew doesn’t laugh, but his smile widens just fractionally. Beneath the amusement, his eyes are still hooded and dark, watching Will as he gets dressed with as much interest as he would if the man were disrobing instead. “Stop it,” Will snaps at him when he looks up again after pulling on his jeans.

Matthew continues to look up at him, tilting his head to the side just slightly like a bird. “You’re upset.”

“Am I?” Will asks, a high note to his voice meant to sound like amusement, baring his teeth in a rictus of a smile the way a dog might with its hackles raised. “Let’s talk about that then, shall we? About what happened last night.”

Matthew makes a gesture with his hand as if to say, go ahead.

Will breathes in sharply through his nose and decides to jump straight to the point. “I was drunk last night.”

“You were,” Matthew nods, agreeing.

“You weren’t.”

Matthew leans back a bit on his elbows. “Do you feel like I took advantage of you?” he asks.

“I don’t feel like you did it. That’s literally what happened.”

Matthew tilts his head again as if considering the words, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with them. Then he shrugs. “Fair enough,” is all he finally says.

Will blinks, waiting expectantly for Matthew to say more, only to scoff unamusedly when he realizes that’s the end of it. “You’re not even going to pretend to be sorry, are you?”

“I never pretend anything with you,” Matthew says.

Will clenches his fists at his sides, wondering if he can force an apology from the other man by bloodying his nose, but if he could that would hardly make it any more sincere even through the pain. Really, he shouldn’t be surprised it happened this way, considering how the younger man slinked his way back into Will’s life without permission as soon as he left the hospital in the first place. “You know, for someone who makes a big deal out of it anytime I make my own fucking decision about anything, you certainly don’t mind taking my choices from me yourself whenever it suits you.”

Again, Matthew shrugs. “I never claimed to be a moral or selfless person,” he says. “Particularly when it comes to you.”

“Particularly when it comes to me?” Will asks, slightly incredulous. “What the hell is that supposed to even mean?”

“It means I’m not going to apologize for wanting you.” Matthew stands, and Will automatically takes a step back only for Matt to follow, still not touching but unwilling to let the older man create more distance between them. “Especially not when I know now how much you want me too.” Will looks away at that, lightly blushing once more, which Matt chooses to take as tacit encouragement to carry on. “I don’t think you’re nearly as bothered by how it happened as you are by the fact that you can’t deny that to yourself anymore.”

Will glances up again sharply at that. “You think I can’t tell you’re trying to manipulate me right now? You aren’t exactly subtle.”

Matthew’s expression doesn’t change, but it doesn’t need to when Will can read what he’s thinking in his eyes. They’re saying, I don’t need to be subtle when it’s working anyway. He’s right too, damn him.

“Right. I’m leaving for work now,” Will says abruptly, though his desire for a hasty retreat is sadly delayed by the need to find his shoes and put them on first.

“Aren’t you off today?” Matthew asks as Will grabs a set of boots next to the closet and bends to lace them up. The death glare Will sends him is enough to make him lift his hands up as if in surrender. “Alright, fine. Have fun looking at pictures of dead people or whatever it is that you do.” Will narrows his eyes further and sweeps past him without another word.

Matthew listens to the door slam downstairs, wondering if Will’s chosen method of distraction for the day will actually give the man time to reflect and blow off some steam or just key him up into a worse mood by the time he gets home. He’s not worried he’s about to get kicked out or anything like that. If Will were anywhere near as upset as he wants to be about the whole thing, Matthew would already be feeling the effects of the other man’s wrath. This is just Will trying to get away from the house for a bit while he sorts himself out, which isn’t a problem for Matthew. It just means he’ll be home bored for awhile waiting for the other man to return.

With the barest of sighs, Matthew picks up the neglected coffee cup left cooling on the nightstand and takes a small sip.

*

Will, having forgone grabbing his thermos on the way out because in the moment it had seemed somehow too much like conceding to the other man, has to make do with an overpriced disposable cup of burnt bitter swill from a drive-thru and pretend like he isn’t annoyed with himself, just a little, for that now-admittedly childish decision.

In truth, he has no idea what he’s going to do to occupy himself once he gets to Quantico, Matthew’s snarky parting comment being far too depressingly close to the mark as of late. It’s been a couple of weeks since the Jacobis’ deaths and still not a sign of activity from their killer or any new leads. It should be more of a relief rather than seem so worrying, but with how little they understand the killer’s chosen pattern yet, it’s no wonder all of them have been a little on edge.

Maybe he should skip his office and just head straight to the lab to see if the rest of the team needs anything, since they unlike him are actually scheduled to be in today. It does seem fitting at least to put everything he has into this final case before he quits the bureau for good. He can also formally turn down the faculty board’s offer to reinstate him as a teacher and ask around to see if the other instructors want any of his old lecture notes while he’s at it.

With that plan in mind, he enters the lab and finds Price and Zeller talking animatedly only to abruptly stop as soon as he walks in, the former almost instinctively moving to hide something that looks like his phone behind his back. “Will, hi! You’re…here,” Jimmy says, mildly puzzled and smiling just a little too brightly, even for him.

“No way, did Jack seriously call you in about this?” Brian asks. “We told him he should at least let you enjoy your day off and wait for you to come in before launching into his Disappointed Papa Bear mode.”

“What?” Will asks confusedly, thinking immediately that they must have somehow found out he’s quitting, before realizing that short of there being bugs in his house that’s just not possible. “What are you talking about? Did something happen with the case?” And if it did, where the hell does Jack get off thinking he has a right to be ‘disappointed’ with Will about anything when he’s not even supposed to be in today?

Jimmy and Brian share a silent, meaningful look that has Will’s anxiety level jumping even higher before Jimmy carefully says, “You don’t know, do you? You haven’t seen it yet.”

“Seen what?” Will asks, and in response Jimmy brings his phone around from behind his back and holds it out for Will to take.

The screen is dark but with a swipe of his finger Will brings it back up and looks at the page Jimmy had left it open on. It’s a Tattle Crime article. It’s a Tattle Crime article about him and Matthew.

Will feels a creeping numbness crawl along his spine, starting at the top of his head and working its way steadily down as he looks at the pictures, poorer quality than Lounds’ usual work, obviously zoomed in and obscured in a way that indicates she was careful to make sure no one noticed her taking pictures of two other patrons halfway across the restaurant, yet it is still unmistakably the two of them sitting beside each other at the bar from last night.

God, had they really been sitting so close? And all the touching, Matthew’s hand on his shoulder in one, on his back in another while he himself is leaning in closer to the other man to say something quietly, though from this angle of view and the near-perfect timing of the photograph itself, it looks almost like he might have been leaning in to do something else. If he weren’t so bone-chillingly furious right now he might be blushing at the obvious implications Freddie’s trying to make here. The irony that nothing of that nature had actually happened between him and Matthew until mere hours after the photo was taken is not lost on him.

Will wonders how he could have missed Freddie’s vibrant signature red curls even from across the room and thinks she must have taken some calculated measures to disguise herself so as not to be immediately recognizable. Has she been stalking him then? Has she known about Matthew living with him the whole time? Nothing she’d said when he encountered her at the crime scene had indicated as much, but then again she may have been holding that card up her sleeve all along, waiting for just the right moment to play it when it was least expected. Last night was the first he and Matt had been anywhere out in public together after all, if one doesn’t count all the times Will has dropped him off and picked him up from work, always remaining in the car every time.

His eyes skim over the article itself but the words don’t matter as much and are certainly not as damning as the pictures are. The piece is really just more of the same baseless drivel he’s come to expect from Freddie, formless insinuations and not-quite indictments against ‘the FBI profiler once rumored to be in cahoots with infamous Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter himself’ and ‘supposed vigilante Matthew Brown, once accused of cold-blooded homicide until charges were dropped after Lecter mysteriously came forward on behalf of his own would-be killer and claimed the gruesome scene as his own.’  She can certainly pack a lot into one sentence, he’ll give her that much.

The rest of the article is all over the place, however, ranging from almost-tame catty remarks that suggest Will must ‘have a thing for killers who don’t mind getting their hands bloody for him’ to all but outright accusations that Hannibal and Will were not only lovers apparently, but also master and apprentice in some weird serial killer murder cult, and Will has decided to carry on the tradition now as mentor to new initiate Matthew. What does she think we are, fucking Sith? Will has to hide the inappropriate smirk that comes with that thought behind his hand, thankfully giving off the impression that he’s simply much more distraught over what she has to say than he actually is.

Will realizes only belatedly that Price has been talking to him this entire time and catches the tail end of what he’s saying, “—perfectly respectable crime tabloid turned no better than a celebrity gossip rag, it’s sad really. Our girl must really be desperate to get that subscriber count up.”

“You’ve still got that restraining order against her, right?” Zeller cuts in before Will can try to formulate a reply. “We can nail the bitch on that for sure and probably sue her for libel too while we’re at it,” he adds with relish.

Will supposes he should find it heartening that they’re still trying to be supportive of him at least. Unspoken questions still hang in the air though, making the ensuing silence between them awkward and uneasy. He wonders which of them will find the words to ask first and whether or not it would be kinder to just spit out the answer now before one of them tries.

“Is it true?” a voice finally speaks up. It’s neither Jimmy nor Brian.

“Which part?” Will asks as he hands the phone back to Jimmy before turning to face Miriam. Somehow she had managed to enter the room without him hearing her. His more predatory instincts prickle at that, not liking that someone managed to sneak up on him. He should be more mindful of his surroundings, even if it’s here surrounded by supposed friends.

She gives him an exasperated look, stepping in closer until she’s less than a foot away from him. “You and Brown. You’re on...friendly terms now?”

He supposes he should be glad she doesn’t mean the murder cult or the ‘him and Hannibal as lovers’ part. Of course she would know Lecter well enough herself to recognize how ridiculous those allegations are. He can only hope Jack and the others find it just as absurd.

“I guess you could say that,” Will answers. Then, because it’ll come out soon enough anyway even if he doesn’t say anything and he’d rather get it out of the way now, he also adds, “He moved in with me a little while back.”

The awkward silence behind him is more of a stunned one now, and Miriam stares at him like he just told her he murdered her cat. “Is that some kind of sick joke? You’re joking, right?” She takes his silence as confirmation that he is, in fact, perfectly serious and continues, “I mean, Jesus, Will, it would have been one thing if you just went out for a drink once just to humor the guy, that I could excuse, but—”

“Oh, you could excuse that, hmm?” Will interrupts, finding himself abruptly very annoyed by her attitude. So much for “having each other’s backs” now, he supposes. In his peripheral he sees Zeller and Price both backing away slightly, as if wanting to distance themselves from the argument that’s obviously beginning to brew. “You know, that’s such a relief to hear after I so embarrassingly forgot to ask you if it was okay first.”

“Well, maybe you should have asked,” Miriam rebuts, squaring her shoulders defensively. “Or I don’t know, mentioning anything about it all before now might have been nice,” she snaps. “Forgive me for being worried when my friend tells me he’s shacking up with the same guy that only four months ago made him turn white as a ghost to find out had been let out of jail.”

He knows she means well in her own way, but can’t quite keep the sneer out of his own voice as he says, “You’re forgiven. Now can we drop it please?” He really doesn’t want to drag this out into a needless fight with one of the few people he doesn’t mind socializing with for longer than a few minutes. They’re rare enough for him to find as it is.

Truth be told he’s also become a little distracted with one phrase from her previous statement. Four months ago? Has it really been that much time since Matthew first showed up in his house? It’s never really sunk in before now, but Will isn’t sure whether he’s more astonished by how rapidly things have changed between them, or that it’s taken this long to get to the point they’re at now. When in that time did Matthew shift in his mind from uninvited guest to a staple in Will’s life that he’d be as loath to let go of as one of his dogs?

Miriam’s lips part as if she’s about to say something but she stops, all four of them turning to look as the door opens once again and Jack walks into the room.

The man looks worn out, but the exhaustion on his face clears and is replaced by a look of brisk determination as soon as his gaze flicks up to take all of them in. “My office. Now,” he says, looking directly at Will so there can be no confusion that the order is meant for him and him alone.

Will doesn’t even bother biting back a sigh as the man turns on his heel and walks right back out of the room. “Well. Off to my next flaying then,” he says with forced cheerfulness, and immediately wishes he hadn’t as it brings back to mind the Angel Maker and one of the many other times in the past Jack had been aggravated enough with him to give him a proper dressing down. Ah, the good old days.

Miriam glances down at her own feet and doesn’t say anything while Jimmy just as cheerily wishes him luck and Brian encouragingly adds, “Just hope he’s yelling-til-your-ears-ring mad, not quiet-we-both-know-you’re-better-than-this-son mad, that’s way worse, trust me.”

“Thanks,” Will says wryly and shuffles past Miriam to follow Jack out the door.

*

Neither of them has spoken a word yet since Will entered, Jack only gesturing gruffly for Will to sit before taking his own chair across from him at his desk. The setup lends a vibe to the room that’s eerily reminiscent of a misbehaving schoolboy awaiting punishment in the principal’s office.

Will knows he isn’t helping any by casually slouching back in his seat, with one ankle resting on his knee and an already bored look on his face. Normally he wouldn’t be so quick to antagonize the man on purpose, but he’s tired of being walked on and allowing others to have the impression that whatever he does with his own life is somehow up for debate. Besides, if he’s going to be treated like an unruly teen who’s been acting out, he might as well play the part.

“Care to explain what’s been going on with you lately?” Jack finally asks once it’s clear Will isn’t going to volunteer that information first.

“Not really,” Will answers simply. He can see the vein throbbing in Jack’s temple at that remark, and okay, now he understands why the rest of his peers went through their little rebellious phases in high school, because this should not be as fun as it is. He’d skipped right past that stage growing up since he and his dad actually got along pretty well. He almost wonders if the lack of practice then isn’t part of the reason he’s allowed Jack and so many others to treat him like a doormat for so long.

“Will, I’ve had an exhausting enough morning as it is already. I really don’t need the attitude from you right now.” Alright, so Zeller wasn’t kidding with his warning earlier. The man is really laying the guilt trip on thick right now, isn’t he? Not so long ago, it might have worked on Will too. Now he only waits patiently for Jack to continue and wonders when he will actually get to the point.

“You might even show some gratitude,” Jack carries on. “Want to know why I’m so exhausted? It’s because I’ve been spending most of my morning in meetings with Prurnell and the Inspector General justifying my decision to keep you on instead of letting you go on the spot.”

Will bites his tongue against pointing out that Jack needn’t have bothered—given the man’s current frame of mind it would probably be best to wait a few days now before putting in his notice. As irritating as Jack can be sometimes, the last thing Will wants is to give the poor man an aneurysm. He doesn’t feel as guilty as he could, however, knowing perfectly well that Jack’s reasons aren’t so magnanimous as the man wants him to believe. He knows Jack is less concerned for Will’s career than he is for the valuable asset he would lose if Will were off the team. Maybe the Academy will rescind their offer as well without him even having to bother turning it down.

Rather than say any of this, Will asks instead, “On what grounds would I be let go?”

Jack frowns as though Will is being deliberately obtuse. Technically he’s not wrong. Will knew the answer to that already before Jack even mentioned that his job security was in question. He just wants to hear the man say it. “I know you’re not that naïve, Will,” Jack calls him out. “The bureau has every right to be concerned when one of its employees decides to associate with a known murderer, especially when it makes headlines.”

“Attempted murderer,” Will corrects softly. It’s the first outright lie he has uttered, and the fact that both of them know it makes the temperature in the room seem to drop about twenty degrees. Will keeps going despite the chilly look Jack gives him now that looks like it could be carved from stone. “As you recall, he already served his time for going up against Hannibal and was acquitted of all other charges. That means the bureau has no business telling me who I’m allowed to ‘associate with’ on my own personal time.”

“Will,” the other man says, dragging his words out carefully so there’s no way he can be misheard, “you were the one who told me you believed that Brown killed Andrew Sykes, guilty verdict or no. Why are you defending him now?”

“I was wrong, Jack,” he says, another lie, but this time he tries to make it sound more earnest. “I’m allowed to change my mind when the facts no longer fit what I thought was true before, aren’t I?”

He seems to be at least partially successful, given the way Jack sighs and says, “I’m not so sure you were, but I guess that’s a moot point now. Just…you’d tell me if you were in any trouble, right?” he asks, slipping easily from stiff ire to gruff paternalistic concern. “You’re not feeling…confused again, are you?”

“I don’t have encephalitis anymore, Jack,” Will reminds him. “I’m not ‘confused’ about anything. In fact, I’ve never felt more clear-headed about anyone in my life.” As soon as he says it, the words suddenly ring true. He might consider thanking Jack for helping him put everything into perspective, if he wasn’t dead certain that it’s entirely the wrong perspective from what Jack wants him to have.

Jack breathes out heavily through his nose. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he says.

Taking it as a dismissal, Will gets up out of his chair and goes to the door.

“And Will?” Jack calls out just as he reaches for the doorknob. Will half-turns in profile to look at him sidelong. “If you…if it ever feels like you’re drowning again, know that I’m still here. I’m still your anchor.”

Knowing that he means well, Will chooses not to point that an anchor is the last thing a drowning man needs, and nods once curtly in acknowledgement.

*

Matthew looks surprised to see him when he comes in through the door, even glancing briefly towards the window as if to check that it is, indeed, still daylight outside. “You’re back early.”

“They didn’t need me,” Will says, still striding forward purposefully, then yanks Matthew closer by the collar of his shirt and kisses him hard.

Matthew tenses, surprised by this as well, but recovers quickly and brings his arms around the other man to drag him even closer without breaking off the kiss, wrapping one arm possessively around his waist and using his other hand to grip the back of Will’s neck.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Matthew pants against Will’s lips when they part for breath long enough for him to speak, “but what brought this on all of a sudden?”

“You were just going to keep harassing me until I gave in again anyway,” Will grumbles half-heartedly, allowing his forehead to rest comfortably against Matt’s. “This way, I’ve saved you the trouble,” he says as though the decision were entirely a pragmatic one.

“Aww, but I was looking forward to it.”

Will slaps him playfully on the arm and finally takes a step back. “Maybe I’ll pretend to resist a little longer then, just for you,” he says dryly. He can’t help the small giggle that escapes when Matthew makes another grab for his waist in an attempt to pull him back in. “I didn’t mean now!” he protests, slipping out of the loose grip easily. “I haven’t eaten anything all day. Want to help me make lunch?”

“I had a sandwich earlier, but sure.” Matthew follows him into the kitchen, where his ‘help’ is relegated rather to leaning against the countertop and watching companionably in silence as Will falls into a groove that Matt doesn’t want to interrupt. “Earlier when you said they didn’t need you there...they didn’t discipline you, did they?”

Will pauses in what he’s doing and looks over at him. “You read it,” he says.

Matthew nods. “Saw it this morning, not too long after you left. Thought about texting you a warning, but I figured with how you were feeling about talking to me at the time, you’d probably just ignore it.”

Will hums thoughtfully. He would have. For a moment, he thinks about telling Matthew how he had felt when he read the article—the white-hot rage he had felt bubbling just under the skin, and the desire to grab Lounds by her long red hair and slam her head against the nearest hard surface he could find the next time he saw her, right before cutting out her lying tongue. “No, they didn’t do anything, though that’s not to say they won’t,” he answers finally. “Suffice to say I still have my job for the moment.” He snorts softly. “For what that’s worth.”

Matthew seems to accept this as an answer. “So...I was thinking about some of what she said,” he continues. Will credits himself for not tensing up, though he’s already dreading whatever Matthew is going to say, whatever he might ask, but rather than react he carries on blithely with what he’s doing and opens the fridge door without even looking up.

“...And is it just me, or did she start to rip off from Stars Wars a little there at the end?”

Will doesn’t even notice at first that’s he’s closed the fridge again already without getting anything out, as he leans forward and rests his full weight against the tall, heavy appliance and laughs so hard it brings the dogs running in, eight sets of paws sliding and scurrying across the kitchen floor all at once, to find out where the noise is coming from. 

Chapter Text

At a glance, the letter looks like something official that he might need to forward along to his lawyer later. A plain, crisp white envelope addressed to ‘Mr. Matthew Brown’ on a typed label, with the official seal for the BSHCI at the top corner. More than likely it’s a bill concerning his involuntary stay, because if there is anything bureaucracy loves more than inconveniencing others, it’s sticking the cost for it onto those it has inconvenienced in the first place.

He deposits the rest of the mail on the kitchen table and makes sure the dogs are settled before he sits and opens it. It’s not a bill.

 

                Dear Matthew,   

           

                I hope you do not mind my use of your given name. While you and I were

                never close enough to be considered friends, there is a certain intimacy shared

                in bloodshed, particularly when that blood is spilt in the name of something so fanatic

                and devotional as justice or—dare I say it?—love. It seems appropriate, in this case,

                to dispense with useless formalities. Perhaps I am simply feeling sentimental.

               

                You will give my regards to dear Will, won’t you? I think of him often, though you

                needn’t worry. I am not so lacking in compassion nor so selfish in my regard for others

                as Will would like to pretend he believes. He accused me once of fostering a co-dependency

                between us. I would not insult his understanding, or yours, by denying it, though at

                the time that he said it, he lacked rather pertinent information that might have

                swayed his opinion otherwise. Alas, what is done cannot be undone. History cannot be

                rewritten, as they say, and there is a lot of history between Will and I. Given the choice,

                I do not believe I would change a thing. There is power in the scars that shape us,

                that which is given at the time of their infliction and that which we continue to give them.

                We must move ever onward through the marches of time, but our scars will always

                be there to remind us that the past was real.

               

                What do your scars remind you of, Matthew? I wonder.

               

                I wish you and Will all the best, and hope that you are each able to appreciate and enjoy

                the other to the fullest of his potential. I would hate to see another rare gift wasted.

                Until we may have the chance to speak to one another again, ta.

 

                Hannibal Lecter

 

Matthew reads through it once, at first thinking it might be an elaborate hoax, one of his old co-workers or even Chilton trying to get under his skin. It becomes increasingly evident as he reads, however, that no one could have written it but Lecter.

He has a better understanding now of what Will means when he talks about how the guy likes to mess with people’s heads. And when he said it was difficult sometimes to sort through his bullshit, he thinks with a soft snort. Parts of it Matthew isn’t sure whether to call an apology for what Lecter did to Will, or gloating, or both, and all of it is littered with assertions that are half-damning and half-praise for both of them at once. (“Both of them,” of course, being Matthew and Will. Lecter would never damn himself.)

He goes through it again even though he can practically hear Will’s voice telling him to stop it—(“That’s how he gets to you.”)—reading between the lines to try to glean an understanding of what the man is really telling him. This is not a simple congratulatory note coming out of the blue for no reason. One thing Matthew did pick up on in their short meaning is that nothing the man does is without purpose.

His thoughts keep circling around the passage about scars, his hand tucked pensively over his chin in a manner almost protective as he reads the last line of it again. He sits up straighter in his seat. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters aloud.

Applesauce, who up to that point has been laying quietly at his feet, perks her ears up at the sound and thumps her tail once against the tiles. That not getting her the attention she wants, she lets out a soft whine and leans up to press her cold nose against his knee.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” he points out dryly, patting her affectionately on the head anyway. She whuffs quietly in response, causing a few of the other dogs to perk their ears briefly as well before going back to whatever they were doing before.

“Come on, don’t rile the rest of them up.” He stands, frowning at the letter again for a moment before carefully folding it up and taking it with him as he goes to the back door, with Applesauce hot on his heels.

*

“You know, I’m used to secreters being a lot more disorganized and impatient most of the time, but this guy’s really showing an impressive amount of restraint,” Jimmy says in the middle of a meeting. He crinkles his nose a bit as he plays back what he just said in his head. “Relatively speaking, I mean.”

“He is at the center of a nationwide manhunt now,” Zee contributes. “Maybe he’s just worried he won’t be able to top his last performance now that he has a wider audience.”

“You think it’s stage fright?” Will asks sardonically.

“Well, he is a very shy boy,” Miriam says. Will turns his gaze to her, frowning. They made up some time ago after the Tattle article, returning to the same tentatively friendly rapport they had before, but something about how she says this blips his radar in a way he doesn’t like.

“That’s one way of phrasing it,” he replies cautiously, and sure enough her shoulders hunch and she looks away, unwilling to meet his gaze.

“Will,” Jack says with a gruff warning in his tone. This isn’t the first time he’s done it today either.

“I still can’t believe you sent her, Jack,” Will says, letting his disappointment with the other man color his tone more than he would have before he decided to quit, no longer beholden as he once was.

“What would you have me do instead? We’re fresh out of other options, Will,” Jack says brusquely. “It’s been too damn long since our last lead.”

“I’m still here by the way,” she points out, “if we could not talk as if I’m not in the room, and maybe lower the testosterone levels down a notch please.” Turning back to Will, she says, “Jack’s right. We weren’t going to get anywhere just sitting here looking at the same files over and over again, which is why I asked him if I could go.”

“And did you get anywhere with him?” Will asks, tamping down on the guilt he feels knowing that she went because he wouldn’t. Lass can handle herself just fine without him hovering, and it was her choice.

“Lecter mentioned that we should look into people who have a military background, someone who might have tried to go for facial reconstructive surgery…”

“Which is nothing we didn’t already know about a month ago,” Will finishes for her. Miriam sighs and crosses her arms over her chest, which is the closest she’ll come to conceding the point.

“If we could get back to the meeting at hand now,” Jacks cuts in authoritatively, taking the lead back in the conversation. Will finds himself barely listening, still thinking about Miriam’s visit to Lecter that he hadn’t even been told about until today, after she’d already gone.

“So how did he seem?” he asks her later when it’s just the two of them alone in the break room, meaning to say it sarcastically and grimacing when it comes out sounding genuine instead.

“About like you’d expect really,” she answers, more cryptic than she probably realizes because Will has learned not to expect anything when it comes to Hannibal Lecter, but he doesn’t press further. After a beat, she says, “Mostly he wanted to talk about classical poetry and…reminisce about old times.”

Miriam would likely not appreciate him wincing on her behalf, so he doesn’t, although it’s a near thing. “Do you think you’ll go back?” he asks. He doesn’t say, You don’t have to. He doesn’t say, You shouldn’t. It’s useless to tell her what she already knows.

“I haven’t decided yet,” she admits honestly. “I know he’d love the chance to jerk me around some more and play games but I…I can’t help but think that if I play my cards right and I’m careful enough, I can actually get something useful from him.”

Will chuckles darkly at that. “You can never be ‘careful enough’ around Hannibal Lecter. It’s impossible. He always knows you better than you know him, maybe even better than you know yourself.”

Miriam blinks long at him. “You really don’t trust yourself around him,” she says.

“And you trust yourself too much.” He clears his throat awkwardly. “That wasn’t a dig, by the way.”

Miriam glances down and notices that she’s fidgeting with her false fingers again. She stops. “He said the key to this guy is transformation,” she says suddenly. “Change. He’s becoming something more than a man.”

“That’s always Hannibal’s favorite topic, isn’t it?” Will says, twisting his lips wryly, though he doesn’t refute what she says. “Why haven’t you told Jack?”

“It’s not something concrete enough to use, not yet. I’ll bring it up when we have something more to go on.” When another family dies, she means. Throat clicking, Will nods.

*

Will tells Matthew about it later when he gets home, shooting him a tired smile as he finishes by asking, “So how was your day?”

Matthew does his version of a grimace, chewing his lip thoughtfully and tilting his head sideways with almost a wince as he considers whether or not to tell him. “I got a letter today,” he says finally. “From Lecter.”

“Son of a bitch,” Will swears. His old friend seems to be casting a shadow over the whole day no matter where he goes apparently.

“That’s what I said,” Matthew responds wryly.

“If it weren’t for the fact that there’s no way he could have predicted Miriam’s visit, I’d say he planned it like this on purpose.” He’s not surprised that news of Lounds’ article reached Hannibal even in his prison cell. Will rubs his forehead with an awkward, unamused smile on his lips. “I’m sure he got an extra, secret kick of it when she showed up.”

Matthew hums, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, not wanting to pretend he knows enough about the man to formulate an opinion on what he might be thinking.

“What did it say? Did you keep it?” Will asks, head turning a bit to look around the room as if he expects to see it laying out somewhere.

“I didn’t keep it,” Matthew answers. “I burned it out in the yard.”

“Oh,” Will says quietly after a moment, blinking once. It’s not lost on him that only one of his questions was answered. “You know, if you knew it was something you wouldn’t want to talk to me about, you could have just…not told me,” he says.

“I could have,” Matt says. “I don’t like keeping things from you though.”

“Except when you have to,” Will says with a bitter twist of his lips.

“It was my letter, Will,” Matt says, firm but gentle. “You wouldn’t have liked most of what he said anyway.”

“I’m sure that’s an understatement.” The look on his face is still pensive and ever-so-slightly disappointed when he stands and asks if Matthew wants to help him make dinner.

The light tension eases as they work and gives way to the usual comfort and familiarity of their routine together. They grill steaks on the back porch, away from the dogs’ hopeful stares and eager noses, and eat outside under the stars.

Afterwards, sitting side by side on the porch steps, neither of them up for heading back inside and taking care of the dishes just yet, Matthew looks up and remarks, “Full moon tomorrow night.”

Will hums and turns his gaze upward as well, lets his hand rest atop of Matthew’s. Sensing the younger man isn’t finished, he keeps quiet and lets Matthew continue.

“I had a friend once, long time ago, who was obsessed with the night sky. He traveled a lot when he was younger, used to collect folklore and stories everywhere he went about the moon and the stars.” There is a pensiveness, almost a sadness, to his words that makes Will curl his fingers around the other man’s, but he doesn’t ask what brought this on. He doesn’t want to pry.

Throat clicking, Matthew pulls his gaze downward, back to Will, and continues. “He used to tell me some of them, all these wild tales that usually came back to the same theme, trying to make sense of the human condition by understanding the immutable stars and the ever-changing moon.”

“The stars always looked so cold and remote to me,” Will says finally, still looking up. “It’s weird sometimes to think about them as heat and fire that would burn you away if you could ever get near enough to them. The ones that are really still there anyway. Some of them are already dead, their images just lingering up there like ghosts.”

He turns his head to meet Matthew’s gaze finally. The two of them share a look before leaning in to share more, the taste of lips and soft skin and the warmth of shared breath.

Above them, the light of the dying sun reflects against the white surface of the moon and burns.

Chapter Text

The shrill ringing wakes them both up, less than an hour before the alarm is set to go off. Matthew turns on one of the table lamps while Will fumbles for his phone and answers it, voice still slurred from sleep. “Jack, what’s—”

The voice on the other line cuts him off. Matthew can hear it though he can’t make out the words. He knows what the call has to be about though, even before Will sits up in bed, suddenly much more awake than before.

“Okay. Yeah, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Will says before he hangs up. Matthew is already up and getting dressed by that point.

“Tooth Fairy struck again last night,” Will says, unnecessarily since there could obviously be no other reason Jack would call at six in the morning. Matthew nods in response all the same.

“Could you grab my go bag?” Will asks as he pulls on a shirt and underwear from the dresser. Matthew does one better than that, picking up the bag from the bottom of the closet and dropping it on the bed, then turning right back around and picking a random small assortment of shirts and trousers to pack it with. If they weren’t in a hurry, Will could kiss him in gratitude.

He does kiss him in gratitude when he heads downstairs a few minutes later to find coffee already made, the maker preprogrammed to come on in the morning. The dogs have barely begun to stir yet. Matthew assures him he’ll feed them and let them out as soon as he comes back home from dropping Will off.

“Alabama again?” he asks as Will leans back comfortably in the passenger seat and takes a sip from his thermos.

Will shakes his head. “Buffalo,” he answers. Matthew glances over at him in mild surprise, and Will remembers then that the younger man is from New York. He guesses that’s the reason; people always seem more taken aback when this kind of thing happens in places they’re more familiar with, no matter how desensitized they may be otherwise. It’s always more visceral, more real, when it’s happening in your own backyard, or your hometown, even when you haven’t been in a while. Will still gets that extra sick feeling in his gut sometimes when he hears about a particularly gruesome scene in Louisiana, like the murderer is trying to reach back and taint his childhood as much as they’ve tainted his present. Oddly it only started happening after he left; he never got that feeling when working homicide in New Orleans.

“That’s a lot closer to Virginia than Birmingham,” Matthew points out neutrally.

“Geography isn’t much of a factor when you have a whole month to plan,” Will states grimly. He takes another sip from his drink. “You think that’s on purpose, like he’s trying to taunt the FBI?”

“It’s what I would do if I wasn’t getting the attention I thought I deserved, wouldn’t you?” says Matthew, unknowingly coming so close to saying something Will had said once to Jack when they first started working the Shrike case together—albeit in the other direction, as he had been pointing out how Hobbs would try to bury the motive and make himself less visible—that Will can’t help the small inappropriate smile that tugs at the corner of his lips.

“You’re right. Shy boy or not, this killer wants to be noticed.”

The conversation shifts to more ordinary subjects the rest of the car ride, and it’s one of those odd moments of personal clarity in which Will realizes he’s never had a relationship like this, whether romantic or friendly, where he and the other person can actually switch gears from frank discussions of murder to casual mentions of weekend plans and things that need doing around the house without either side of the conversation feeling forced. He’s so used to it having to be one extreme or the other that it nearly staggers him, and he thinks to himself suddenly that he’d do anything to keep this, and lord have pity on any poor soul that might try to take it from him.

It’s why he doesn’t mind when Matthew leans over to kiss him before he gets out. Never mind that the others are outside and waiting for him so they can all board the plane together. Never mind that they can probably see, if any of them bother to glance over and try to look through the window. Fuck them.

Let them see. Let them stare. He’ll kill them if they say anything.

*

“Look, all I’m saying is maybe you, uh, don’t want to let the lady there see this ’til after it’s been cleaned up a bit,” says the officer with the greying handlebar moustache. The younger officer next to him looks like he’s doing his best not to visibly cringe from embarrassment.

“I appreciate your concern, Officer Boyd,” says Jack with that warm, effervescent charm he seems to reserve for the especially annoying or stupid. “I’ll be sure to keep it in mind. If you would excuse us now, gentlemen.”

“I would have expected this kind of bullshit back in Birmingham,” Miriam says as soon as they’re out of earshot.

“As my grandmother used to say, ‘Wherever you go, there you are, Jimmy. And there the assholes are too.’ Wise woman, my nana.”

“I’m pretty sure you just quoted Buckaroo Banzai. Badly, I might add,” says Zeller.

The conversation continues on behind him for a bit, but Will doesn’t hear any of it, his focus narrowing sharply as they enter the Leeds’ master bedroom. He spots the differences between this scene and the last one right away. So do the others.

“You said he needed an audience, Will,” Jack says to him. “That his focus would be on the mothers, not the rest of the family.”

“We also said he was escalating, Jack,” Miriam points out. “Jesus.”

The ‘special attention’ still was clearly on the mother and her alone. That much had not changed. What had changed was the arrangement of the ‘spectators’ in the room—more specifically, the ones who were not.

Only Mr. Leeds was propped to observe the mutilation and abuse inflicted upon his wife. The Leeds children were all bowed to the floor, facing the wall, arms positioned just-so over their heads or covering their eyes as if in fear or horror of what was happening behind them. There were no mirrors shards placed in their eyes. Their throats have been cut like their father’s, though at least it was done to them posthumously. All of them died quickly of gunshot wounds to the head like the Jacobi children.

It doesn’t stop the brief, blinding mental flash of Abigail bleeding out on the kitchen floor, and Will has to dig his fingernails sharply into his palms to bring himself back to the present, back to the mindset that created this scene rather than the other one.

“Is this remorse?” Jack asks. “Is he feeling regret about what he’s doing, or about the kids being involved if not the rest?”

“Not remorse,” Will says with a shake of his head. He licks his lips. “Disappointment. Anger.”

How dare you, how dare you be blind like all the rest and pray to your false idol. How dare you not look, how dare you turn away from me, how dare you forget, how dare you deny, HOW DARE YOU.

“Anger at who, Will? The media, for not covering his story the way he wants? The FBI for keeping the muzzle on vultures like Lounds in the first place?” Will doesn’t respond. This feels more personal than that, he knows he should say but he can’t, his suspicions not fully formed yet but itching at the back of his mind, making him feel oddly protective and reluctant to correct Jack’s misconception.

“Hey, guess what, I think I just figured out why the Tooth Fairy waited so long to strike again,” Zee interrupts, looking down at his phone in his hand. “I was thinking on the drive over about how this guy pretty much waited exactly a month to kill anybody again, right? So I looked it up and yeah, the night the Jacobis were killed? Full moon. Last night, the night the Leeds died,” Zeller spreads his arms wide, demonstratively. “Full moon.”

“Ooh, does that mean he thinks he’s a werewolf?” Jimmy asks a touch excitedly.

“It means he thinks he’s something, alright, or becoming it,” Miriam agrees. “Transformation is the key, that’s what Lecter said. Maybe to him this transformation syncs up with the phases of the moon.”

“Anything to weigh in on this, Will?” Jack asks.

“Yeah. Ask Lecter, since he seems to have all the answers.” Will excuses himself without another word and barricades himself in the bathroom at the end of the hall.

With any luck, that petty little tactic will be enough to keep anyone from asking why he seems so agitated and distracted now. They’ll assume he’s still bitter about Hannibal being brought up and consulted again, since he just went out of his way to give that impression.

Will couldn’t give two solid fucks about Hannibal Lecter right now.

He uses the time in here to splash cold water on his face, and he thinks. He thinks about why a killer with no previously expressed interest in children would begin targeting families. He thinks about being swallowed up by bitterness and rage and crippling loneliness. He thinks about the immutable stars and the ever-changing moon. He thinks about Matthew’s voice, quiet and pensive, “Full moon tomorrow night.”

He thinks about fresh coffee already made, ready and waiting downstairs when normally he wouldn’t even be out of bed yet.

He steps out of the bathroom a few minutes later to find the rest of the team already processing the scene, much of their work already well underway. Jack glances over at him once he returns wearing a dour expression, but he doesn’t say anything. Neither does Will.

*

“What happened to the dog?” Will asks after noting the empty doghouse and half-full dish in the backyard once he makes his way to the back of the house.

“Don’t worry about the dog,” is Jack’s gruff automatic response, and then he gives his version of an eye roll, really just a hard stare at nothing in particular, as he seems to remember who it is he’s speaking to. “Jimmy, what happened to the dog?” he asks with a flat voice.

Price flips through the files attached to the police report and reads aloud, “Leeds and his son brought the dog to the vet with a puncture wound in its side, most likely caused by an ice pick or similar instrument. That son of a bitch.”

“Somehow I don’t think that last part’s in the report,” Miriam says dryly.

“You sound more upset about the dog than you do about the kids,” Zee chastises.

“Will it be alright?” Will asks.

“More importantly,” Jack interjects, “I think I remember there being signs of the Jacobis having a cat, but no cat around when we were processing the scene. Find out what happened to it if you can. If this is the work of our guy, it could be that he’s attacking the pets to get rid of an early warning system once he’s ready to move on the families.”

“Will do,” says Jimmy. “And yes,” he adds in answer to Will’s question, “it’ll make a full recovery, but without anybody to claim it, the vet’s not sure what to do with the poor thing afterwards.”

“Thanks, Jimmy,” Will tells him quietly.

*

Later, he lies back on his motel room bed, one hand absently petting the new dog who had clambered onto the bed with him as though she belonged there—Maggie, her nametag had read before he took off her collar—and Will doesn’t have the heart to push her off.

His other hand holds his phone, thumb hovering over the call button to dial Matthew’s number. He decides against it, changing it to text message so he can type, ‘Remember how I joked about bringing home a new dog? Well guess what.’ His thumb hovers uncertainly again once he’s finished, however, considering what else he might add, what else between them is still left unsaid. He tries a few times, only to quickly backspace, growing increasingly frustrated with himself, Matthew, and this entire situation they’ve found themselves in.

He ends up deleting the whole thing without sending it.

*

Back at Quantico, it takes a bit of googling to find a taxi service both willing to make the drive out to Wolf Trap and let Maggie sit in the backseat with him in her carrier. He nonetheless thanks whatever bit of luck he has that Matthew is scheduled for a later shift today and not available to pick him up. It gives him time to settle in and get Maggie and the rest of the pack acclimatized to each other before Matthew gets home. It also gives him time to think about what he’s going to say when he sees him again.

Straightforward and direct, he decides, when Matthew comes in through the front door, eyebrows lifted in mild surprise to see Will home without having called ahead, only for the look to fade into one of curious resignation and understanding as soon as their eyes meet across the room.

Will swirls the whiskey and ice around in his glass and watches it intently for a moment, takes a sip after it’s finished sloshing around, closes his eyes against the burn, and then opens them again all before he asks, “How old were you when you met him?”

Matthew has to think about it for a moment. “Twelve, I think.”

Will nods as if he was expecting that answer, or close to it. He takes an even bigger swig this time, voice still a little rough from the burn when he asks, “Were you ever going to tell me? Or if I hadn’t asked, would you have just gone on not saying anything?”

Matthew’s face takes on almost a pinched expression as he leans back against the door, rubbing his hand against the back of his neck as he thinks, until he drops it to his side and shrugs. Will is unused to seeing him like this, closed off and unsure of himself, and it makes him want to reach out to comfort and be comforted almost as much as it makes him want to throw the glass in his hand angrily at the younger man’s head.

“I lied to my boss,” Will whispers hoarsely, licking his lip. “I looked at the scene and I told him...I told him I didn’t learn anything new from it. Jack probably thinks I’m losing my touch.”

“That could turn out to be a good thing,” says Matthew, “if it makes him less likely to try to convince you to stay again.”

Will slams the glass in his hand harder against the table than he means to, loud enough to startle a few of the dogs nearby. Matthew, wary that the emotional tightrope they’re walking means things could get louder between them, straightens up and opens the door, whistling for the dogs to all run outside where the noise won’t bother them. He barely so much as blinks when nine heads rush past him instead of eight, mentally noting it only as a question for later, nothing important right now.

“I lied to my team,” Will repeats. “Withheld information that could be pertinent to the investigation.”

“Thank you,” says Matthew.

“I didn’t do it for you,” Will tells him. “I did it because I’m a selfish asshole. I thought about what could happen if suspicion was on you again, if Jack thought you were holding out on us, if he thought you were involved somehow, I...fuck.” He hides his eyes behind his hand for a moment, blocking out the light of the room. “I can’t lose you over this, I won’t, but don’t think that means I’m not pissed at you right now. You knew the moment you looked at that damn file in my bag and you never said a word. Don’t you dare try to say you didn’t or that you weren’t certain, because I saw the way you were looking at it, even if I didn’t understand what it meant then, I saw.”

“It reminded me of some stuff he used to say,” Matthew admits, “about the kind of things he wished he could do. The older couple mostly, the...Marlowes?”

Will nods in confirmation. “You knew when he would do it again too,” he accuses. “The other day when you were talking about your friend and the moon. Goddammit, Matt, you made coffee fresh and ready for me to go before I even knew I’d be going anywhere that morning! So explain something to me, please, I think I deserve that much at least.” Will swallows and looks away, losing steam as his ire gives way to exhaustion and terrible hurt. “Why did you hide this from me?”

Matthew sighs. “I don’t know, Will. I guess part of me is still thinking like that dumb fucking kid who doesn’t want to be a snitch, especially not against somebody who used to be…I don’t know,” he shrugs. “Something almost like family once, I guess.”

The word family has a sharp, bitter sting for both of them, it would seem. Will has never heard Matthew use it in reference to anyone, not even the negligent mother he was taken from when he was put into the foster care system. To hear it now puts a lump in his throat, especially when he has to tell him, “I kind of wish he knew how much loyalty he still had from you then.”

“That bad, huh?” Matthew asks softly.

“He’s not happy with you, Matthew. That much was clear after what he did to the Leeds kids.” Will gives him a weak smile. “Probably didn’t help your image to be seen in those pictures with me.”

Matthew scoffs. “We parted on bad terms long before that, I can assure you. Sounds like he’s still the same dramatic, oversensitive fucking prick I remember though. Good to know some things don’t fucking change.” This too comes across sounding bitter, the way people sound when there is still a sliver of care in their hearts for someone they wish wasn’t there.

Will is self-aware enough, at least, to be painfully cognizant of why it sounds so familiar to his ears. “Tell me,” he encourages quietly.

“You really want to get into all of this now? Tonight?” Matthew sighs again. “Fine. You’re passing me that bottle first though.”

Will holds it out to him wordlessly. Matthew moves from the entryway finally and takes it. Will starts to slide the now empty glass over as well, but Matthew just waves it off and takes a long drink straight from the bottle. Will knows he shouldn’t find it as oddly endearing as he does, but the two of them share a weak smile over it that eases some of the tension between them, so he can’t feel too bad about it.

“Alright,” Matt says, sitting in the other armchair directly across from him, still holding the bottle. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” Will insists. “What’s his name, Matthew? How long did you know each other?”

“Two years, and I have no idea. I know,” Matthew says, holding a hand up when Will tries to speak again. “I know how that sounds, but he really never told me. He was paranoid that way.” Matthew tilts his head consideringly, a wry expression on his face. “With good reason, I guess it turns out. Anyway, I always called him Dragon Guy. Mr. D for short when I started seeing him around town more often, which he thought was fucking hilarious for some reason. About the only time I ever saw him laugh.”

“I assume there’s a story behind that name,” says Will.

“There is. Okay so, school field trip. Brooklyn Museum,” Matt says, gesturing rigidly with his hands as if to set the scene. “Meaning in other words a bunch of bored seventh graders being asked to stand around quietly and look at old paintings. You can probably imagine how well most of my classmates followed those instructions.”

“All too vividly,” Will quips. “Here, hand me that bottle back if you’re going to keep giving me war flashbacks.” Matt smirks, but passes the bottle over anyway.

“So there’s this guy standing in front of one of the pictures who hasn’t moved, like, the whole time we’ve been there,” Matt continues. “Mid-to-late twenties probably, but he’s really haggard so he looks older than he should. Kind of unkempt, wearing this beat-up, worn-out old army jacket. I mean, it’s obvious from a glance that this guy’s a homeless vet.” Will feels slightly guilty now about the ‘war flashbacks’ joke, but then he sits up straighter, piecing the profile together enough to realize who Matthew is talking about. “And when I say obvious, I mean the rest of my class immediately picked up on it.”

Will winces sympathetically, easily filling in the blanks on his own. “Kids can be cruel,” he says.

“Yeah,” Matthew agrees, voice tight, eyes distant in unpleasant remembrance. “Eventually it became so ‘disruptive’ to the other patrons that a couple of security guards came over, but not to kick us out. Instead they got up in his space and asked him to leave and that...that didn’t sit right with me. So of course, first chance I get I break off from the rest of the group and sneak outside.”

Will snorts once, picturing it. He imagines as a kid it must have been even easier for Matthew to flit by unnoticed under other people’s radar than it is now.

“But first I stop at the gift shop and lift one of their postcards, one that looks exactly like the painting he was staring at.”

“Do you remember which one?” Will interrupts suddenly.

Matthew looks up at him carefully with an unreadable expression for a moment and then nods. Wordlessly he picks up Will’s phone off the coffee table and slides it open. After a few seconds of tapping, he hands it back to Will.

The image on the screen makes him feel almost light-headed, dizzy and breathless with revelation. ‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun,’ the caption reads, part of a series of watercolors done by William Blake.

This is it, Will realizes. This is what he’s Becoming. “Dragon Guy,” he croaks out loud ironically.

Matthew smiles vaguely. “I’m sure he misses that now. He’d probably take it over being called Tooth Fairy at least.”

He can picture it so vividly now, waiting on the front steps of the building for those awful children to leave, maybe they’ll let him back inside once they’ve gone, his head in his hands, aching to go back in, agonized, waiting. Out of nowhere a soft tap on the shoulder, making him jerk back unexpectedly, but the other doesn’t startle at his reaction, merely stands there and holds out a card for him to take. A mere boy, from the same group but this one didn’t laugh or point like the others, he remembers because he noticed, this odd one that stood quiet and stoic in the back, reminding him peculiarly almost of himself at that age before the fools in uniform all but dragged him away...

“You do realize you might be the one person still alive who knows him and sees him for what he is,” Will tells him quietly. I let you know me, see me. God, stop it.

“And that just went swimmingly for both of us in the end, didn’t it?” Matthew chuckles darkly.

“What happened between you?”

“We started bumping into each other sort of accidentally on purpose over the next couple of years. I figured out what places he hung around the most and I’d usually go after school or sneak out to meet him and chill for awhile.” Matt shrugs. “I thought he was cool and we seemed to get each other, you know? I never told anybody about him obviously. I was a kid, but I wasn’t dumb. I knew what kind of conclusions people would draw about a guy whose only friend was some weird barely teen almost twenty years younger than him and I didn’t want to get him in trouble.”

“So what changed all that? What made your friendship go so sour that you had to end it?”

“This did,” Matthew says, skimming his finger lightly over the crescent-shaped scar on his chin. The scar on Will’s stomach twinges tightly for a moment in sympathy, sharp enough that he digs his nails briefly into the arms of his chair before releasing his grip.

“Want to hear how it happened? It’s kind of a funny story actually.” The sharp grin on Matthew’s face and tone of his voice says that it’s really, really not. “I complimented his scar,” Matt tells him. Will breathes in deeply through his nose. “He had, or has, a cleft right up here,” Matt gestures at the upper left corner of his own lip. “I told him it looked badass and that I didn’t get why he was so ashamed of it, you know, the kind of dumb shit you’d expect a teenager to say and think he could get away with.” The smile he wears is now self-effacing and angry all at once, able to acknowledge his own role in what happened but still bitter about the result. “So he said, ‘Well let’s see how you feel about yours,’ and he swung a knife at my face.”

Will closes his eyes and hunches forward, hiding his face in his hands.

“I think he meant to get me up here,” Matt touches his upper lip again. “Same spot as his, but I moved obviously, as people are wont to do when there are sharp objects being brandished near their heads,” he quips wryly. “Still hurt like a bitch, regardless of where he was aiming.”

He looks up, pulled out of his own musings finally when he hears a sharp shuddering gasp instead of a real response, and jumps immediately from his seat, swearing softly, when he notices that Will’s hands are still covering his face and his shoulders have begun shaking.

“Shit, I didn’t even think...shhh, babe, baby, it’s okay. It was a long time ago, it’s all over now.” He kneels in front of Will’s chair and rubs his back, trying to soothe away the quiet sobs still wracking his body. “Babe, look at me please,” he says, pulling Will’s hands away so he can see his eyes, now red-rimmed and wet.

“It’s not, it’s not okay,” Will sobs. “Y-you were so hurt, not, not just...” He takes another shuddering breath and swallows, and that makes it a little easier to speak, though he has to almost whisper to keep his voice from quavering too much. “Not just physically,” he finishes. “And you were so, so scared.”

“I know I was, baby. I was there. I remember.” He hugs Will tighter to him, still rubbing soothingly over his back.

“And he was scared too,” Will whispers. Matthew sighs because he really doesn’t want to talk about any of this anymore, but if it’ll help them to get through it and get it over with, he’ll do it.

“I know he was,” he admits quietly. “Freaked out almost as bad as I did as soon as he realized what he’d done. Tried to tell me he was sorry, that he didn’t mean it, but…” Matthew shakes his head, swallowing. “I didn’t stick around to listen. I ran off and I never looked back. Avoided all the places he used to go,” he shrugs. “Never saw him again.”

“That was smart,” Will tells him, wiping his eyes with his forefinger and thumb, still sniffling a bit.

“Probably. Didn’t make me feel any less shitty about it at the time though,” Matthew says, smiling wryly again.

Will nods understandingly, thankfully dry-eyed and breathing calmly again, though the skin around his eyes is still puffy and red. “I’m sorry I’m…” he trails off, gesturing helplessly at his own face.

“Being you about the whole thing?” Matt finishes, drawing a breathless laugh from the older man. “Don’t ever apologize for that.”

“You shouldn’t be the one comforting me about this,” Will complains.

“Hey, I’m over it.” Matt rolls his eyes at the look Will gives him when he says this. “As over it as anybody can be,” he amends. “But for you this is new, like it just happened. Of course you’re upset. I should have expected it would affect you this way honestly.”

Will bites his lip and looks away, almost overwhelmed again because he’s never had anyone not react badly to this, and honestly he has no idea how he got so lucky now. “Alright, well maybe do us both a favor and never tell me about the time your pet goldfish died when you were eight or whatever, okay?” he jokes weakly.

Matthew snorts. “You got it,” he says, threading his fingers through Will’s curls then and pulling him in for a kiss they both desperately need after the conversation they just had.

They both cling tightly to each other for a few minutes longer until Matthew finally needs to stand and let the circulation flow back to his legs. “Come on, let’s go outside and check on the mutts,” he says, outstretching his hand for Will to take and leading them both out the door.

 

Chapter Text

The two of them are going over the Leeds and Jacobi files side by side, over paper cups of cold coffee and half-eaten sandwiches, when Will remarks again on the Tooth Fairy’s petulant demand for attention and makes an ironic quip about how much the man must really hate him for stealing all the spotlight of late. Jack looks up from the pile of photographs he’s been sifting through and gazes at the other man shrewdly.

“I take it you have something in mind, Will. A way to take care of two birds with one stone?” Will grimaces in obvious distaste, clearly hating himself a little for what he’s about to say.

“Merely giving voice to what I know must have already crossed your mind at least once, Jack,” he answers. “Considering how it worked out so well when we tried it on the Ripper last time,” he adds with a bitter twist of his lips. “Just ask Miriam.”

Jack breathes out slowly with a long weary blink, his version of an almost-guilty wince as Will has come to recognize it. It’s an unfair blow perhaps, as if the daily view of Miriam’s prosthesis peeking out from the end of her jacket sleeve weren’t enough of a regular reminder. Yet still, he remains silent for a few minutes, seeming to consider the idea despite all that.

“In the end it did turn out how I wanted, just not in the way I had hoped,” Jack admits in a perfectly logical, if somewhat confessional, tone. “My only regret is that Lass was caught in the crossfire, but we didn’t know she was alive at the time. It drew him out of hiding, which was the goal all along, Lecter just wasn’t sloppy enough to be provoked into an actual attack.”

“And you think this guy’s more likely to let his high passions get the better of him than Hannibal, Jack?” Will asks. Jack shifts his head and his shoulder in a manner not unlike a shrug, while still conveying more confidence and calculation than such a gesture would normally bely.

“I think it might be our best shot, Will. We need this guy to mess up somehow before he targets his next family.” Will makes no effort to hide his displeasure even if he reluctantly agrees, mood soured as Jack makes the call to Lounds.

*

Later, in the privacy of his car on the drive home, Will thinks about the ease with which even the most astute and self-aware individual can be made to latch onto an idea and run with it as their own, and wonders when it stopped bothering him enough to be able to maneuver a friend where he needs him to go. Behind a shadowed hidden door to one of the deepest rooms of his mind palace which he dares not unlock, another old familiar friend’s lips curl up proudly, and his own grip on the steering wheel tightens as a result.

He tells Matthew about Jack’s decision over dinner, tapping his finger in a steady rhythm over the fork in his hand while he speaks. “Am I doing the right thing?” he asks softly.

“It’s like you said this morning before you left, he’s gotta be prodded into making another move before the month is out.” It’s not exactly an answer and they both know it. Matthew takes his role as the steadying rock in Will’s life more seriously than anyone else who’s ever tried to make the same claim, careful as he can be not to exert influence over decisions that don’t affect him or their life together directly. It makes him indispensable as a point of comparison and a buffer when the tendrils of others’ motives start creeping in, a niche that only he can fill.

“It’s not just my back this will be painting a target on,” Will points out. “You know him better than I do, Matt. You’re really ready to face the consequences of the hell we’re about to unleash?”

“I’m not worried,” Matt smirks. “We’re already targets. I want to see this through with you.”

The next day, Will puts on the best performance he can as he tells the most extravagant and insulting lies he can think of about the so-called “Tooth Fairy,” the worst of them not only accusing him of being a closeted homosexual with deeply rooted internalized homophobia, but also not-so-subtly hinting at an unhealthy fixation on the children and suggesting that the two might be linked. It’s intended as a far deeper and more personal cut than either Lounds or Jack realize, and about the only thing Matt had winced uncomfortably at when Will rehearsed what he was going to say that morning, but even then he had reluctantly agreed that the entire point of the exercise was to provoke the Dragon into lashing out irrationally, not tell the truth. They’re not out to mend bridges here, but rather to set them on fire.

Will still is unsure he isn’t making the wrong decision here, on Matthew’s behalf if not his own, but the younger man had been adamantly insistent he had no interest in renewing that old connection when Will had tentatively asked him about it.

“He can’t be reasoned with,” Matthew had said. “And he’s selfish, too completely absorbed in whatever he’s ‘turning into’ to hold onto anything else. He can’t love a thing without casting it away or destroying it.”

Sounds familiar, Will had tried to say, whether in solidarity or as a morbid way of lightening the mood he’d been uncertain, but Matthew had simply leveled him with the most skeptical frown Will had ever seen on the younger man’s face and asked, “Does it?” Or do you wish it did?

“Speaking of coming out of the closet,” Lounds chirps, pulling Will sharply back into the present and making him want to grind his teeth down in the back of his jaw until there is nothing left but fine dust. “How is the new boyfriend, Will? Not quite as kinky as the last one, I imagine, though I’m wondering if you find that more of a relief or a disappointment.”

“See, Jack, this is our biggest problem,” Will says to his boss, ignoring Lounds for the moment. “Freddie’s so full of shit ninety percent of the time, I’m wondering how our guy’s gonna buy that any of what I just said are my actual words and not the usual misquotes and lies.”

“It might help if you would show some real cooperation,” Freddie responds with false sweetness. “Maybe give an actual smile for the camera at least once.”

“Cooperation and a smile? Alright, fine,” Will says, snatching up her camera from the coffee table before she can react and handing it to Jack.

“What are you doing?” she asks as he takes her arm and pulls her to stand in front of the window beside him.

“Giving you what you want, Freddie,” he answers. “Some credibility for once in your life.” Slinging an arm around her shoulders as though they are old and familiar friends, he faces directly ahead and waits with the patience of a saint while Jack fiddles with the camera.

“Remember to smile, Freddie,” he says when Jack finally brings the camera up to his face. His own lips curl up then into the most charming and relaxed grin he has ever worn outside of the four walls of his house.

*

Two days later, Freddie Lounds’ body is sent careening down an empty parking lot in an antique wheelchair, set aflame and charred beyond recognition. The similarities to Will’s handiwork a couple of years ago, back when he was trying lure Hannibal, are striking and send a clear message. I know what you were trying to accomplish, the message says. You did this. You killed her.

Will has never seen Jack look so old and weary as this. “We can either let this tear us up, or we can learn from it,” he says, and sets Price and Zeller to learning what they can from the remains. The type of accelerant used, swiftness of the act and time of death, and the unique style of wheelchair should all be able to help them narrow in on the killer, so really, their plan worked out perfectly. The Dragon made his first mistake. Will doesn’t say as much aloud, sensing that such an observation would not be welcome in light of the dour mood that has set in. He doesn’t need to see the accusing glances from the closest people he has to friends, so he calls it a day as soon as he’s done his part and heads out.

He thinks about nothing else on the drive home, wondering what he’s going to say to Matt when he sees him later. Useful or not, this isn’t the outcome he had in mind at all when he set out with this plan. Is it?

He focuses for now on running around with the dogs out in the yard and making sure they’re fed, until he and they are all exhausted enough to head back inside. In the distance, because he knows where to look, he can still make out the dark shape of an FBI-issued sedan hiding in the brush. Jack has not yet called off the extra agents stationed at his house as his security detail then.

After a quick shower, he sits at his lure-making table and tries to do something else to keep his mind off of work until it’s time to pick Matthew up, but none of it really helps. The gleam of the sharp hooks makes him think of the spokes of the burnt-out wheelchair.

Finally he ends up leaving almost half an hour before he’s supposed to and hopes maybe the nursing home won’t mind if he picks Matt up a little early.

“Freddie Lounds is dead,” he rasps out as soon as the younger man shuts the passenger door beside him. Matthew turns his head to look at him directly for a second, then turns his head back, buckles his seat belt, and doesn’t say anything as Will pulls back out onto the road.

“He killed her the same way I set up her fake death a few years ago,” Will continues after a few seconds of silence. Still, Matthew says nothing and Will begins to feel anxious, gripping the steering wheel more tightly than normal. “Did you know he would react like this?” he asks softly, glancing once over at his companion.

“Pull over,” Matthew says. Will glances over at him again, surprised by the request. Matthew’s tone and expression are both firm, but not angry. After a moment of internal debate, Will does as told, pulling off onto the shoulder and putting the car in park. There are no other vehicles within sight.

Matthew leans over and turns the key in the ignition, shutting the car off completely so there are no distractions between them and dropping the key into the cupholder beneath it. He cups Will’s face carefully between his hands. “Yes, I knew he would probably do something like this,” Matthew says. “And so did you.”

Will tries to pull back, a soft protesting noise in the back of his throat, but Matthew keeps his hold on him, however gently. “Don’t do this now, baby. Look at me, am I trying to trick you right now, twist you into something you’re not?” he asks.

Will’s vision starts to blur a bit around the edges, but he can still see Matthew looking into his eyes quite clearly. “No,” he says quietly.

“Then why are you trying to pin blame on me for this?”

“I-I’m not!” Will protests, aghast, but he is. He knows he is suddenly, just as surely he knows his own name, because this is what he always does.

This is how he copes with what lives inside him, ever trying to claw its way out, by pointing the finger at something else outside of himself and saying, ‘This is what causes it.’ It has to be some other external influence making him think this way, the killers in his head, Hannibal, Matthew, whatever he can foist culpability on, just not me, not me, it can’t be me. Because the day he accepts that this is really who he is, there’s no going back.

“I’m afraid,” he admits softly, “of what I think I’m becoming.”

“You’re not becoming anything, Will,” says Matthew, sweeping a thumb under Will’s eye. “You’re what you’ve always been. You’re beautiful. You’re perfect.” He lets out a soft laugh, and rests his forehead against his lover’s. “You’re just finally starting to let yourself see.”

Will sighs, about to say something in reply when he hears a car door slam shut behind them. Thinking it must be someone coming to ask if they need roadside assistance, he straightens while Matthew pulls back to return to his own seat—and abruptly freezes halfway there, going very still as he stares out the back windshield. “Babe, where’s your gun?” he asks.

“Back seat, in my bag,” Will answers without wasting time to look back himself or ask why. There can only be one reason. Matthew swiftly unbuckles his seat belt and climbs back to reach it, leaving Will to unbuckle his own and open his door. For most people, the instinct would be to stay inside and hit the lock button before attempting to drive off, but neither of them have any intention of running and Will knows being penned in like this is the biggest disadvantage they could have while Matthew scrambles in search for his weapon.

The door is kicked shut with his hand still on the handle, forcing him back and jamming his shoulder painfully. The window is smashed in not a second later and a vicelike muscular arm snares him around the neck, while another hand smothers a sharply chemical-smelling rag over his face. His senses begin ebbing away even as he struggles and claws at whatever skin he can find.

“Shoot, and I break his neck here and now,” he hears dimly through the fog. “You know I will not hesitate, boy. How about you?”

Will cannot see the expression on Matthew’s face as his vision darkens. The last thing he does see are Matthew’s hands gripping his pistol. They might be shaking, or appear to be as his own vision wavers, he can’t decide which before he passes out.

*

He wakes to the smell of gasoline and a headache that feels as though it could split his mind in two. The rug beneath him is thin and old, doing nothing to keep the cold from the hardwood floor beneath it from seeping into his bones.

“Finally back with us, Mr. Graham?” asks a voice Will doesn’t know, but can easily guess who it belongs to. Rather than acknowledge it, he turns his head instead where he can sense another presence in the room, relief making him feel just a little less painful and stiff as he makes eye contact with Matthew, sitting on an antique couch and digging his fingers into his thighs as if physically restraining himself from going to help Will up, but otherwise fine.

“I asked you a question,” says the Dragon, booted footsteps coming closer like booming claws against the earth. Will hunches himself in slightly, expecting a swift kick to the ribs or some similar act of violence, but all the man does once he comes into view is stand between him and the couch, pointing a gun at Matthew’s head. Matthew looks up at it briefly before sliding his gaze back to Will.

Will sits up finally and takes in their captor’s appearance—tall and strongly built, even with the bits of grey beginning to pepper his hair belying his age, the man is clearly not an opponent who will be taken down easily. “Is this what you plan to do, keep threatening one of us back and forth all night in order to keep the other one in line?”

“What I have planned for you, you have not even begun to imagine yet,” the Dragon says.

“Oh, I might have a few ideas,” Will utters dryly.

“Such an arrogant and self-righteous little man. I am beginning to understand how Matthew and even Doctor Lecter could have been fooled by the likes of you for so long.” Will’s jaw twitches but he says nothing in response to that. “But you are little more than an ant in the afterbirth, and I will prove that by changing you into something more than you are. You will be the kindling that fuels my radian—”

Will has kept his eyes firmly on the Dragon’s face all along, so he could not betray the moment Matthew grabbed for the gun, attempting to wrestle it from the man’s grasp.

They are close to equally matched in strength, but the Dragon has an advantage in that he is still standing. He manages barely to wrest himself free and slams the butt of the pistol swiftly into the back of Matthew’s head to stun him and send him slumping to the floor.

“Look what you made me do!” the Dragon snarls, a choked and frail sound despite all his fury as though he is nearly on the verge of tears. “You were my friend! You understood what no one else could even see!” He turns back to Will again. “You, you turned him against me.”

“You did that yourself a long time ago.”

The Dragon stalks toward him, intent on finishing what he started, and Matthew seizes a second opportunity, grabbing him by the ankles and forcing him to topple to the ground, the pistol falling out of his grip and sliding across the floor. For his troubles, the Dragon kicks him in the face.

Will launches himself at the other man and realizes instantly that he has another weapon up his sleeve, as the Dragon attempts to slash him open with a knife. The two of them struggle on the ground, and Will ends up on his back, holding the knife back from driving into his face, as he turns his head and shouts, “Matthew, the gun!”

His hold breaks for only a second and then, searing pain, as the blade slices into his cheek.

The crack of a shot resounds in his ears a second later, blood and bone spattering over his face as he watches the Dragon’s jaw get shot off.

The Dragon stands with an inhuman roar, leaving the knife in Will’s face to lumber towards his other attacker. Will pulls it out himself, twisting around to bury it into the man’s calf and immediately wrench it free again, sending the man to his knees once more. He moves out of the way quickly then, so he is no longer directly behind the man’s back, as two more reports of gunfire resound through the room, lodging two more bullets into the man’s chest.

The Dragon falls back, one hand lashing out not for Will this time, but to grab the leg of a side table with a single lit candle on it and bring it down with him, where it lands on the gas-soaked rug and sets it immediately aflame.

“Will, come on!” Matthew shouts, blood dripping down his face from his broken nose.

The sight of it ignites something monstrous and ugly in Will. Before he does anything else, he turns to the Dragon again, and with a beastlike snarl, drags the blade across the Dragon’s throat. Even if he might have survived the gunshot wounds and even the fire, he definitely won’t be surviving that.

Strong arms grab Will from behind and drag him away, before the encroaching flames can reach him. It occurs to him only vaguely as they rush outside that his clothes smell like gas where he was lying on that soaked rug just a few minutes ago, and that he would likely have been engulfed himself within seconds if Matt hadn’t pulled him away in time.

“Cavalry’s here,” he mutters aloud, the sound of sirens and bright flashing lights becoming clearer and clearer in the distance. Jack and his team must have only just pieced together all the evidence they needed to lead them to the Tooth Fairy after they were already abducted.

“Took them long enough,” Matthew says. Exhausted, together they lower themselves to sit on the cool grass far away from the burning house, hands entwined and leaning on each other for support as they wait for the first responders to arrive.

Chapter Text

“Well, I suppose congratulations are in order,” Prurnell sneers, sitting in the same chair she used the last time the three of them held a meeting together in Jack’s office. “Once again, Mr. Graham, you’ve managed somehow to come out of this looking like the big damn hero who saved the day.”

Will has certainly never felt heroic about any of this, nor would anyone deem to call him such if they knew half the truth about his motivations or the thoughts currently running through his head. Nonetheless, he smiles widely and tilts his head in Prurnell’s direction just to piss her off more. It tugs at the stitches in his face just a little, not enough to hurt really, just enough to remind him that they are there.

“In light of this, I’ve been authorized to provide you with two offers this time. Option A, we instate you fully on the BSU team. No more ‘Special Agent’ status, you would be a full agent from now on,” she intones through clipped teeth as though each word pains her. “Plus all the benefits that come with. Option B, you retire. The bureau is willing to sweeten the pot on that one. More or less the same deal that was offered before but with a much heftier chunk of change to go with it this time. So...which will it be?” she asks as though dreading the answer.

“As tempting as it sounds to be wedged more firmly under your thumb than ever, I think I’ll take that severance package this time,” he says.

“Thank god,” she mutters, not bothering to hide her opinion on it in the least. “You’ve made a wise decision here today. I’ll inform my superiors of the good news and have my secretary draft up the necessary paperwork. We can discuss the details further then. Until that time,” she straightens her jacket and gets out of her seat. “I’ll leave you to it, gentlemen.”

The two of them sit in silence for a few seconds after she’s gone, until finally Will speaks first. “Not gonna try to talk me out of it this time, Jack?” he asks.

Jack breathes out slowly through his nose, and then finally shakes his head. “I know when I’m beat. No sense trying to convince you when your mind’s already made up.” He looks up at Will again. “And when I’m not so sure you can bend much further anymore without snapping under the weight.”

Oh, Jack, it’s far too late for that now. Since everything else happened so fast, they haven’t had much time to deal with the fallout of Lounds’ death, but Will’s sure it’s been weighing on Jack’s mind ever since. Did Will plan for it to shake out this way, and if so, what does that make Jack for not seeing it…or choosing not to see it? Will certainly isn’t out to give his now former boss an existential crisis as a last parting gift, but it is what it is. And now, while Will thinks it might not be stretching the truth to still call them friends, that friendship is muddled and murkier than it once was.

That’s just fine with Will. He’s used to his friendships being complicated by now. And speaking of….

“I do have one small favor to ask before I turn in my badge for good.”

“And what might that be?” Jack asks, wary, as though he suspects he already knows the answer and knows he won’t like it. He’ll approve it anyway though, of that much Will is certain.

He owes him that much, at least.

*

He signs in and pins his visitor badge onto the front of his jacket. The secretary out front tells him Dr. Chilton is busy at the moment and that he will have to wait to see him before he can be admitted further. Will heads into the lobby to wait for the man to come out and meet him.

He doesn’t have long to wait before someone walks through the double-doors into the waiting area, but it’s not Chilton. It’s Miriam. She stops and stares when she sees him, clearly startled. “Will! I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I could say the same,” he says, standing to greet her properly. “What are you doing here, Miriam?”

She blinks. “I came back to brief Doctor Lecter on the case, just letting him know that everything’s wrapped up.” She tilts her head at him and smiles, a wry, almost embarrassed gesture, and says, “Not strictly necessary, I guess, but you know he would have considered it rude not to.”

Something like premonition comes upon Will as she says this. He sees a new pattern emerging, and for a moment almost wants to give her a warning about not becoming too dependent on Hannibal’s “insights,” knowing all too intimately where that path leads...but ultimately it’s her decision to make, not his, and giving voice to those words, considering where he currently stands, would make a hypocrite out of him now.

“I’m here to see him too,” he says, and watches as revelation alights in her eyes.

“You’re leaving,” she says.

“I put in my resignation this morning,” he tells her.

“That’s not what I meant,” she says, shaking her head, having already known, or at least suspected, for awhile that he was planning to quit after this case. “You’re moving away, aren’t you?”

“Oh...well, yes. Probably.” He and Matthew haven’t really discussed it yet, but he’s been thinking for some time about selling the house and packing up, maybe heading somewhere south once again.

She startles him by using her good arm to pull him into a short hug, one that he returns with an awkward pat on the back before she releases him.

“Well, I’d ask you to keep in touch, but I think I know you better than that.” She looks up at him, smiling wryly. “At least make a minimal effort, y’know, reach out a little bit once in a while. You always know where to find me if you need me.”

He nods and makes some vague promise that he will, one which she likely knows better than to hold him to judging by the way she eyes him shrewdly. She pats him once good-naturedly on the shoulder with her prosthetic hand—she’s been getting better at doing that naturally, he notes—and slips past him without another word through the outer doors.

It’s a few minutes later before he is finally called into Chilton’s office, no doubt some form of petty power play that slides right off of Will’s shoulders without really touching him. Nothing Frederick does or says can distract Will from his goal today.

“Two visitors for Hannibal in one day,” Frederick says. “My, my, mustn’t he be feeling like the belle of the ball of late.” Seeing that gets no reaction from Will, he continues. “You know, I’m surprised you came at all, Will. I know these walls aren’t exactly full of warm, fuzzy memories for you,” he admits with something close to actual contrition, “and I was given the quite clear impression that you had no intention of ever laying eyes on Hannibal Lecter again.”

Will shrugs, not in the mood to be acerbic or trade more words with the man than he needs to. “I need to ask him something,” is all he says.

“And what would that be?” Will smiles thinly and doesn’t say anything. Chilton laughs. “You know I’ll be hearing about it anyway,” he says, not so subtly hinting at the bugs he has wired all over the hospital.

“Then wouldn’t it be to your benefit as well to cut the small talk and let me get to it already?” Will asks. “I’m sure you’re very busy, Frederick. I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your time,” he adds sardonically.

Chilton huffs. “As a matter of fact, I am quite busy most of the time. Very well,” he straightens and pulls himself out of his seat, using his hand on the desk for leverage before picking up his cane. “I’ll walk you, though I’m sure you remember the way,” he sneers. “Come, let’s not keep His Majesty waiting.”

*

Walking down the long corridor, alone now that Chilton has left him to make the climb back upstairs, is an uncomfortably familiar experience, though the last time he was headed in this direction it was with an armed escort and in chains.

He pauses a moment to look at his old cell, empty now, gazing through the bars at the stripped down cot on which he once spent many sleepless nights. He doesn’t linger long. His expression is blank as he makes his way to the very end of the corridor, to the cell that keeps a thick plexiglass wall between the outside world and an old friend.

Hannibal is waiting for him, a patient smile on his face as he stands facing the glass with his hands clasped behind his back. “Hello, Will.”

He’s thinner than he was when Will saw him last. Something buried deep within his breast twinges to see that. “Hello, Hannibal.” He realizes a second after the name passes his lips that this is the first time he’s ever uttered it in front of the other man aloud, though he has been ‘Hannibal’ to Will in the privacy of his own mind for a very long time. Hannibal smiles to hear it.

“I was waiting for you to visit one day once my trial was over, but you never showed. I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come after all.”

“I’ve been busy.” Hannibal’s smile widens at this.

“Yes, so I’ve heard. And how was it, Will, finally getting to meet the Dragon?”

“It was...an eye-opening experience,” he answers carefully, mindful of Chilton no doubt already listening in.

“Of that, I’m certain. You seem to have come out of it rather well, if with a few new scars. And what of our blessed wandering saint, Will, how have he and his scars fared?” There’s an undercurrent to that question, not a malicious one, simply one that conveys more meaning to Will beyond the words themselves and confirms a suspicion that has been niggling at the back of his mind for awhile, though he doesn’t bring it up just yet.

“Matthew? He’s good.” Will thinks back to the last few days, the few words but soft reverent touches and warm smiles between them, and knows that ‘good’ is not good enough to explain how things are between him and Matthew. “Better than good, actually.” Hannibal tilts his head, whether in consideration or agreement Will can’t really say.

“He has proven his devotion to you by his willingness to help you slay the Dragon,” Hannibal says. Will’s eyes flicker over briefly to where he’s sure one of the listening devices is hidden. This is veering dangerously close to a topic Will doesn’t want Chilton to overhear. “Perhaps it would be more apt now to call him a knight rather than a saint,” Hannibal quips. “Did he ever get my note, by chance?” Again, that hidden undertone. Not for the first time, Will wishes again that Matthew had let him read it, though he understands better now why the younger man hadn’t wanted to share it at the time.

“He did, and he also asked me to thank you for it. Thank you for the reminder, by the way, I’d almost forgotten.”

“Something else is on your mind, Will. Is there something you’d like to ask me?”

Will wets his lips and pinches them together softly. “There is something I’ve been thinking about, something that Dolarhyde said.” He looks up again and meets Hannibal’s eyes. “Specifically, he mentioned you. By name.” He tilts his head and offers a dry smile. “Any thoughts on why that might be?”

Hannibal offers another smile of his own to match. “I have been told I’m something of a celebrity these days, dear Will.”

“When did he contact you, Hannibal?” he asks directly this time.

“I think you know the answer already, Will.” Before the letter then, as Will suspected.

“That must have been quite an interesting conversation,” is all he says in reply. He’s not even angry, just satisfied to have one less little mystery to wonder about.

“Was that all you wanted to ask me, Will?” Will almost says yes, his lips part to say it, but then he stops, drawing into himself and looking down at his feet while he thinks about what he cannot ask.

“Or was that perhaps not the real question you came for at all, merely the only one you can bring yourself to voice?” asks Hannibal, astute as always.

Will licks his lips again, looks up, and finally asks the one word that’s been echoing in his mind longer than any other. “Why?” He knows Hannibal can tell by the tonal shift in his voice that they aren’t talking about Francis Dolarhyde anymore.

Hannibal smiles this time with something close to brotherly affection, and Will resists the urge to look away again. “You have sat on that question for quite a few months, Will. I might have thought you would come to me with it much sooner, to spare yourself the potential pain of attachment should you not like my answer.”

“What, you think I would have denied myself that attachment just to spite you?” he asks.

“You are rather like a rebellious child in that regard sometimes, Will, denying yourself pleasure in a gift simply because of who gave it to you.” The analogy, along with Hannibal’s tendency to set himself up as the paterfamilias of any relationship he values, is not lost on Will, but his thoughts hone in most sharply on one word in that sentence: ‘gift.’ Like a few other words between them, that one is a double-edged sword not to be handled lightly.

“And is this another ‘gift’ you intended to yank away from me?” he asks, cold anger lowering his voice to barely more than a whisper.

Hannibal frowns. “No, dear boy, you misunderstand. I never doubted for one moment that you both would survive an encounter with Francis and come out of it stronger than before.” He breathes out slowly and looks away for the first time since Will got here, carefully considering the best words to use next.

Will remembers something he said to Abigail once, or maybe he dreamed it, once upon a time in another world, “Hannibal follows several trains of thought at once without distraction from any,” and he wonders which of those trains Hannibal is following now.

Finally, he looks up again at Will and says, “Consider it, perhaps, an apology for the one that was yanked away before.”

An apology. Will’s fists clench tightly at his sides, cold anger giving way to white-hot outrage. “Matthew Brown is not a consolation prize,” he half-snarls.

“Do you say that because he is more than that to you, or because he is not a suitable replacement for the one which was lost?”

He can’t say her name. Will’s anger deflates as quickly as it came, knocked out of him by the sudden knowledge that the man in front of him is truly human somewhere beneath that person suit, one who handles pain and rejection and loss just as poorly as any other.

He can’t say her name. He doesn’t soften his expression, knowing Hannibal would be offended by pity, but he does erase all traces of ire from it.

“Yes, I think, is the answer to that,” he admits quietly.

“You needed a ballast, Will, one which could weather the tides of your imagination with you without eroding it away. Imagine if I had left you to your own devices, what sort of maddeningly polite lifestyle you might have found clinging to your skin like an ill-fitting suit.”

Will laughs. “I suppose I should thank you then?” he asks dryly.

“There is no need,” Hannibal says, back in good humor it seems. “Family values may have declined over the last century, but we still help our families when we can.” He smiles. “You are family, Will.”

Will swallows, not really sure what to say to that. Then again, he supposes, they’ve already said everything that needs to be said.

He takes a half-step closer then, just far enough that he can rest his hand on the glass, and says softly, “Goodbye, Hannibal.”

“Until we meet again, dear Will,” says Hannibal as Will turns on his heel and walks out.

 

*

 

Six Months Later

The Florida air and sunshine is good for them, Will reckons as he watches the dogs try to outrace each other along the beach, having to shade his eyes with his hand to see them against the backdrop of the setting sun. They’re not close to any swampland so he doesn’t have to keep too close an eye out for gators, though he still always comes outside with them just in case.

He heads inside to finish making dinner before Matthew gets home. The TV is on in the living room, local news droning on in the background to fill the easy silence of the house.

He finishes with enough time to spare that he decides to just get an early start on some of the dishes he used, filling the sink with soapy water and letting everything soak first. He’s standing there at such an angle that he can see the flickering images on the television reflect against the darkened window in front of him, though he doesn’t pay them any mind.

Halfway through scrubbing a pan, his thoughts begin to snag on stray words from the report in the living room, phrases like “serial rapist,” “young girls,” “lack of evidence,” and “charges dropped.” His hand stills, eyes flicking up to the mugshot of a man’s face in the distorted reflection of the window. There they remain affixed until the reporter moves on to something else and the image goes away. Even then he doesn’t return to his scrubbing and just stands there staring at nothing, his thoughts somewhere far away.

“Keep standing there like that, your hands are gonna get all pruny.” Will doesn’t startle, having heard Matthew come in through the front door and registered it distantly at the back of his mind. His eyes flick back to the window again to meet Matthew’s in the reflection there, then down to his own hands.

“Too late for that, I think,” he says, and pulls his hands out of the water, drying them off with a nearby dish towel. He smiles as Matthew comes over to press a light kiss against his temple.

“What’re you thinking about?” Matthew asks against his hair. The mugshot swims up in Will’s mind again.

“Considering taking up a new hobby,” he murmurs. “Or an old one rather, depending on how you look at it.” He turns his head to meet the younger man’s gaze. “Care to join me if I do?”

Matthew’s hands in his hair and lips crashing against his own is the only answer he really needs.

 

Chapter Text

As part of his regular mail, Hannibal receives several periodicals from around the country, generally sometime shortly after lunch. Many of them are esteemed scholarly journals which still publish his submitted works from time to time—pieces which to this day are much read and respected by those circles, much to Director Chilton’s jealous chagrin—but a good number are newspapers from several major cities across the nation and even a few smaller ones. The good Doctor Chilton is surprisingly happy to use hospital expenses to cover the cost of these subscriptions, for the singular reason that keeping Hannibal in the know about current events is a good way to keep his insights “fresh,” and it is Chilton’s dear hope that if Hannibal Lecter continues to remain useful this way in even some minor capacity to the FBI or some other agency, so too does Frederick Chilton.

Of special interest to the former psychiatrist (though it is not material he uses for his psychological and sociological research) are not the lurid, flashy stories splashed across the front pages but the smaller ones, mere footnotes mentioned as an aside in the lower corners—a rise in disappearances of prostitutes and homeless persons suddenly tapering off back down to normal levels, mysterious stalkers appearing to grow bored and lose interest in their targets as all threatening phone calls and cryptic messages cease, violent criminals getting out on bail only to vanish, having presumably gone on the run though investigators scratch their heads as to how they managed it—that sort of thing.

There are, of course, any number of reasons why such things might happen. People move, they grow bored and find new hobbies, they go into hiding, or else they get caught and jailed on other charges. There are also…other possibilities. Alone in the privacy of his own cell, Hannibal reads about yet another such case and smiles.

While it varies greatly from his own preferred style and motivations, Hannibal reads into it a near-imperceptible pattern emerging and feels it as though it were an extension of himself out in the world. He could not be prouder of the hands which shape that pattern than if they were his own.

More than a year ago, he had almost despaired of the little family he had tried to form, and had nearly demolished in the process instead, until after a period of time and much self-reflection he devised a way to recreate it once again. Albeit, some pieces of the teacup could never be salvaged and had to be replaced by others that didn’t quite fit in the same jagged lines, but that simply breathed into it new life and character that hadn’t been present before, the glue holding it all together also stronger this time. Today, his family has grown larger than before, its members on the whole less predictable and all the more fascinating for it—and growing still. Another lost lamb returns to the fold long after her release, a warm and welcome surprise to all of Hannibal’s senses.

Well, as they say—if you love something, set it free. And watch it return, stronger, fiercer, and lovelier than ever before.

Preoccupied with these thoughts, Hannibal flips back to the front page, where in bold black all-capital letters the headline screams out, “BUFFALO BILL SKINS FIFTH.” Far too high-profile a new dragon to warrant action from one branch of the family trying to remain hidden, he supposes, but the other…

Within a short period of time, the security door at the far end of the hall buzzes. Hannibal sets his newspapers aside in favor of a new sketch he has been working on, listening attentively as a pair of sensible heels clicks along the concrete floor. They stop just outside of his cell, a familiar pleasing scent of a particular hand cream wafting to meet his nostrils through the holes in the glass as the figure waits for him to finish. Hannibal smiles privately at her patience and stands, turning now to greet his long-expected visitor.

“Hello again, Doctor Lecter,” she says politely, a thick, clipped-together file folder held in one arm against her chest. She waits for him to return her greeting rather than launch immediately into the reason for her visit, urgent though it undoubtedly is, and he smiles yet again.

“Hello, Miriam,” he answers in kind. “So good to see you again, my dear.”