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To say that Will was catapulted into fatherhood would be putting it mildly.

He had just gotten used to the daily routine that comes with working as a professor at Quantico when he received a message from Joanna. He didn’t have many close, long-lasting relationships, connections being a little hard to maintain when your brain is looking inside killers’ minds. That someone from his past relationship had decided to call him out of the blue meant something important was afoot.

He hates being right.

 

“I have a child?” Will asks, baffled. He probably looks like a deer caught in headlights, judging by the expression on Joanna’s face.

Joanna smiles, her eyes betraying her weary condition. “I’m sorry I had to break it to you like this,” she croaks out, hands twitching on the hospital bed as she stares sadly at Will. “You have to know I have no other choice.”

Will swallows, his mind still processing the fact that he has a daughter. “How… how old are they?”

“She’ll be four this year. I… I have no one else to turn to. My parents are struggling with finance as it is with my treatment, and they can’t afford to take care of Danielle after… well. She has nowhere else to go when I’m gone.”

There’s a long silence as Will digests the information. He doesn’t doubt that she’s telling the truth, but being told he has a daughter only minutes before finding out that said daughter would be entrusted to him after Joanna’s death takes some time getting used to.

He’s a father. An absent father, but a father nonetheless.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he whispers, his hands automatically cradling Joanna’s when she starts to cough. The chemotherapy would only give her so long to live, and she’s at the end of the line; Will can hear and see it in her tired words and the exhausted lines creasing her face.

“Please.” Her voice breaks, eyes wet with tears. “I’m sorry. I just need to know she’ll be in good hands.”

Will sighs wearily, closing his eyes to avoid seeing Joanna’s.

“Will, please,” she whispers, her pleas even more desperate.

Will knows his answer. He was only prolonging the inevitable.

“I’ll do it.”

 

Having a child is a momentous undertaking – he knew this when he accepted his fate, but he still feels unprepared for what’s about to come. And yet he couldn’t refuse Joanna. He didn’t want the child to be thrown into an orphanage or have a lacking childhood. He’s had enough of his own experience to know that those things could have a lasting impact on the rest of a child’s life.

Danielle had looked at him with curious eyes when she met Will for the first time in Joanna’s hospital room. She seemed to have accepted her fate as well, and Will vowed to himself then that he would do all that he could to make sure that their trust in him was not misplaced.

She looked petite for her age, her dark curls tumbling down her shoulders, tied back by a ribbon. Her eyes weren’t judgmental, but Will feels the heavy weight of accusation on his shoulders anyway.

 

When Joanna passes away, Will attends the service, blending in with the other mourners. He feels guilty for something he’s had no hand in.

Joanna’s parents are sobbing quietly while Danielle looks on into her grave, silent and severe. They come to him after, thanking him tearfully for taking on Joanna’s last wish, as if Will could’ve refused it. They make promises that Will can come and see them any time he feels like bringing Danielle for a visit. Danielle is a silent, mournful shadow next to them, sneaking glances at Will as he speaks with her grandparents.

He walks away from the funeral with a daughter in tow.

They’re both silent in the car, Will mostly anxious at the idea of taking his daughter to his house for the first time. They had “socialized” at the hospital most of the time, since Joanna was bedridden and that was the only neutral ground available. They haven’t talked much even in those times, and the silence is awkward and heavy now. The journey to Wolf Trap takes them almost three hours, Danielle falling into a restless sleep as the sceneries pass by.

When they finally make it, Danielle is still keeping her silent vigil, her eyes observant as Will shows her inside the house.

He doesn’t know what kind of impression his house would make on a four-year-old girl. Considering that he had slept in the bed in the middle of the living room throughout his bachelor’s life, he had to refurbish certain parts of the house to make sure that it’s habitable for Danielle, and he hopes it’s enough.

Will is happy to see Danielle’s eyes brightening when she is promptly greeted by five dogs upon entering, the dogs barking happily as they shuffle around them both. He’s further heartened to hear her soft laughter as one of the dogs—Zoe—licks her wandering fingers.

“You have so many dogs!” she exclaims, grinning at him as if she’s seen the sun for the first time.

Will thinks things won't turn out to be so terrible after all.

 

Things were hectic for the first few months, and he had decided to take a leave of absence for a month under some flimsy pretext of a family emergency (which is true enough, but no one needed to know the details). It was just his luck that he has accumulated a lot of leave in the past few years working at Quantico, and his superiors had been accommodating enough to let him go without much comment.  He’s thankful that he was never accepted into the FBI. There was no way he could have handled the workload with what’s required of him with Danielle in his life now.

Will had run into several problems in trying to care for a child in those first few weeks; he had memories of his dad attempting the same with him, and he tried not to think about how well that turned out for him (that is, not at all).

Danielle was not a difficult child, considering the circumstances. She had seemed closed-off and sad when she had first come to live with him, but the dogs had helped her with one of the two things at least. She had learned to slowly accept Will and the pack, and the dogs had no trouble in involving her in their playtimes.

Night times were a different matter, however.

When Danielle came into his life, he had finally overhauled and cleared the unused rooms at the second level of his house. He had moved his bed from the living room to the master bedroom, and he bought a small and sturdy bedpost for Danielle’s bedroom, which is just next to his.

When she first moved in, Will had shown her into the room and hoped that she would be able to feel comfortable in the house, lacking as it may be. She had smiled at him that first night; if the smile seemed forced, he didn’t comment on it. He left her room awkwardly, preparing himself for sleep.

He wasn’t surprised to hear her crying in the dark that first night, her soft sobs sounding forlorn and loud in the silence. He had gotten out of bed and slowly made his way to her room, knocking softly before entering. She had looked at him with tearful eyes, both of them silent and awkward around each other still.

Ultimately, he decided to approach the bed slowly, telegraphing his intention to embrace her. There was a split second of silence where Will feared he would be rejected, but the moment had passed and Danielle had hugged him tearfully, her sobs racking her body as she cried and cried.

By the end of that night, Will had decided to accompany her until she fell asleep in his arms.

The next night, Will had arranged for one of the dogs to sleep with her. By the end of the week, Zoe had an acclaimed spot on her bed, the rest of the dogs relegated back to their beds at the fireplace unless Danielle requested for them.

It was rewarding to see Danielle laughing happily in the second month of her stay in Wolf Trap. Will had coaxed her with piano lessons, hoping it would distract her and give her something to look forward to. He had been out of practice, but they both had fun learning to enjoy their shared activities.

Once he returned to work, he made excuses whenever he can when his superiors requested his involvement in a few cold cases. Even if he was interested in some of them (the Chesapeake Ripper being one of the more interesting and elusive out of the lot, something drawing Will to his evocative “displays”), profiling has never appealed to him after the FBI rejected his application on the grounds of mental instability. Let them suffer for their own incompetence, Will thinks darkly.

He has finally accepted his lot in life, content at the sight of his daughter running around the grounds as the dogs chase her, the girl letting out delighted shrieks every now and then. She’s happy to entertain the dogs, and Will’s happy to let her run out of her energy reserves.

There’s a new addition to the pack at Danielle’s persistent begging: a stray that stumbled onto their porch after a particularly heavy downpour. Will had yielded because he knew he was fighting a lost cause, and Buster had happily joined their little family.

He thinks he could be very happy with just this.

 

That is, until Jack comes calling.

The man practically ambushes him after one of his classes, and there’s a sense of disquiet growing inside him as they talk about nothing at all, Will waiting for Jack’s true purpose in seeking him out.

Jack is acting unrepentantly familiar with him, sussing him out with a few choice words at Will’s insistence on teaching instead of profiling – Will would retort that with the FBI’s evaluation of him being too unstable to join them in the first place, but his heart is not in it, and he truly doesn’t care enough to argue with the other man.

There’s a moment in between their conversation where Jack adjusted Will’s glasses, the presumptuousness behind the action making Will bristle with anger and annoyance, his jaw clenched tightly to avoid saying something he would regret later. Will had never wanted to punch someone so much until now.

Will’s scowl is a permanent fixture on his face these days – a deterrent to keep most people at an arm's length, his students included – but his scowl grows heavier when Jack finally spits out his real intention.

“You can empathize with narcissists and sociopaths,” Jack begins.

“I can empathize with anybody,” Will retorts. “Less to do with personality disorders than an active imagination.”

“Can I borrow your imagination?”

Will sighs. He thinks of his daughter who will be turning five-year-old soon, at how well they’re doing almost a year later, at how he has been keeping silent on her existence (not that there was anyone in his life other than Alana to admit this to, and Will could count on his hands the number of times they’ve had conversations this past year).

He grinds his teeth as he tries to think of an excuse, anything other than admitting outright that he has a daughter and a life he’s actually happy with. He doesn’t want anyone else intruding into the life they had painstakingly constructed together.

“We need your help on a case. Eight girls abducted from eight different Minnesota campuses,” Jack continues, taking Will’s silence as acceptance.

Will’s head snaps up at the information, his thoughts immediately turning dark as he imagines what could have happened to them. It doesn’t take much for him to empathize with the missing girls’ parents these days.   

He huffs in resignation as he signals for Jack to continue.

 

Will wraps a hand around Elise’s throat lovingly, the motion shockingly familiar to him. The girl looks so fragile under him, her slow breathing indicating her deep sleep.  

She startles awake at his touch, her eyes wide with fear at the sudden tightening of his fingers around her throat.

“Daddy—” Danielle chokes out—

“You’re Will Graham.”

Will startles at the voice, his vision breaking and clearing as he comes out of his stupor. He looks at the dark-haired woman who had spoken, her eyes keen as she stares back at him with an intrigued look.

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” Will mutters, only barely aware of what he’s saying as he clears his head from the image of him strangling his own daughter.

He’s clearing his thoughts as he answers the woman’s persistent questions, Jack and two other men entering the fray of their conversation as Will tries to focus on Elise instead of his daughter.

He listens to their speculations, his mind racing even as he continues to argue with Jack the nature of Elise’s death. “Whatever he did to the others, he couldn’t do it to her,” he states, his eyes wandering; Danielle’s corpse on the bed is distracting. Will takes a deep breath and count to ten, slowly opening his eyes to see Elise back on the bed, still very much dead.

“Is this his golden ticket?” Jack asks, resigned.

“No. This is an apology.”

Four pairs of eyes turn to stare at him in disbelief.

Will swallows his thoughts. He needs to go back home. “Does anyone have any aspirins?”

 

When he finally gets back to Wolf Trap, it is close to ten at night. He takes his newly acquired dog out of his car and enters his home with Winston in tow.

“Daddy! You’re back!” Danielle shrieks, both of them laughing as Will kneels down to hug her.

“Hey, pumpkin, sorry I’m late,” Will says, ruffling her hair and kissing her cheeks. “I brought you Winston as an apology.”

Winston barks on cue, Danielle’s eyes lighting up immediately at the greeting. She promptly sits down in front of Winston, holding out her hand for him to sniff; the girl is truly well-versed in how to deal with dogs now. It’s one of the things he’s actually proud of.

“Another one, Will? Really?”

His head snaps to the woman smiling indulgently at them.

Alice was the closest thing he had to a neighbor, their house only ten minutes away by car. There was an occasion when Danielle had suddenly developed a high fever earlier on in his care, and in his panic, he had driven to the nearest neighbor’s house to seek advice. Alice had been sympathetic and helpful, assisting Will in any way she can in the next ensuing days to make sure Danielle would recover.

She had taken a shine to Danielle when they met a few more times afterwards, and had offered to care for her when Will is away, happy to indulge in a child in absence of her own. Alice had been Danielle’s unofficial babysitter and his consistent ally ever since. He has had to rely on her a number of times now, especially when duty calls him away from Wolf Trap.

This was the first time he’s had to travel so far away from Virginia for his work, and he’s already regretting the fact that his work will probably take him away from Danielle more and more if he doesn’t set Jack straight in the future.

He gives her an unapologetic shrug, stretching and groaning as he stands. “He was lost and running around on the side of the road,” he says. “What was I supposed to do?”

“Maybe say something like ‘I already have six dogs and a daughter, but I can take you to the pound instead’?” she teases. “How was work?”

Will groans at the question. “It was… tough,” he cedes. “I’m sorry you had to stay here for so long. I will definitely make it up to you one of these days.”

Alice waves it aside, smiling. “There’s no problem. Dani’s been well-behaved all day.”

“Yes, I have,” Danielle quips from where she was sitting. It seems that Winston’s taken a liking to her, and the rest of the dogs have surrounded them, sniffing each other in curiosity while Will and Alice were talking. “I finished my reading and my piano lessons, and we played with the dogs after lunch. I also took my nap today!”

Alice chuckles. “A heavy lunch and running around with dogs after will do that to you.”

Will grins at Danielle before turning back to Alice. “Do you want a drink before you go?”

Alice shakes her head. “I better get back; I’m getting too old for late night drinks these days. I’ll see you two later.” She moves to Danielle, hugging her briefly before she pets the dogs crowding the girl. “Let me know when you need me again, Will.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he says, his smile weary.

Will sees her to the door and waves goodbye until her car disappears from the driveway. He turns back into the house, smiling at the sight of the dogs still milling about Winston, curious at his presence.

“Daddy, where’d you find him?” Danielle asks. “Why is there a rope around his neck?”

“I found him on the road on the way back,” Will says, calling the other dogs away as he leads Winston outside for a wash. “I think someone’s mistreated him. I’ll cut the rope away now. Want to help me give him a bath?”

“Yes!” Danielle says excitedly, jumping up to get out the dogs’ supplies. They work together for half an hour, Danielle enthusiastic in scrubbing off the dirt from Winston’s furs, although she was content to let Will dry Winston off after.

He tucks her into bed later, once the dogs are settled downstairs.

“Daddy, I want a bedtime story,” Danielle says, yawning softly, snuggling a little under the covers.

“Aren’t you tired, sweetheart?”

“Yes, but I still want a story,” she pouts. “I haven’t seen you all day, and I miss you. Please?”

Will relents—another form of apology—and settles down next to her on the bed. He rests his head on the pillow, comforted by her presence as he reads her favorite tale in soft tones.

He watches her for a long time when she finally falls asleep, his lips curved into a soft smile. He marvels at how much his life has changed since Danielle had come into his life. It wasn’t what he had prepared for, considering his lonely existence for the past few decades. Though she had not come to him in the best circumstances, they had found comfort in each other since. He had never thought he could have this moment.

He kisses her forehead before getting up and makes his way to his bedroom.

Here’s hoping he manages to close the Minnesota Shrike case soon, because he’s not looking forward to finding out what will happen if he doesn’t.

 

Of course, things don’t go as planned.

Jack was unhappy with their lack of progress; it wasn’t enough that Will was profiling for him and going to the crime scenes, he had to drag Will to the autopsies for a second opinion, treating him like a lapdog.

He’s gotten to know Beverly, Price and Zeller after he’s had to spend a few hours with them as they dissect Elise Nichols’ body, looking for more clues. They still stare at him, mistrustful and a little disbelieving whenever he spouts out his observations. Will tells himself it doesn’t matter what they think of him, all that matters is that he solves this as soon as possible to get Jack off his back.

The breaking point was this: Jack’s brought in a psychiatrist to psychoanalyze him. Someone called Dr Hannibal Lecter.

He had stormed out of Jack’s office, furious enough not to call Jack to apologize later. Which was just as well, since Jack dragged him out to Minnesota again to look at a freaking field kabuki, another young girl impaled on the antlers like an offering to the open skies.

Will sees immediately that this is not the Minnesota Shrike. Jack, of course, disagrees. With how much he calls Will for consultations, the man never seemed happy with the words coming out of Will’s mouth.

His mood didn’t fare any better when he wakes up the next day to find Dr Lecter on the other side of the door. He’s barely decent as he answers the door, the knock on the door having woken him up from a nightmare where he had impaled Danielle on a bed of antlers.

“Where’s Crawford?” he asks, frowning.

“He’s deposed in court. I will be accompanying you instead, at least for today. May I come in?”

He lets Lecter in reluctantly, enticed by the smell of food that the doctor has brought with him. He puts on some pants as a courtesy, as much as he doesn’t care for such decorum (and speaking of that, who brings breakfast to a stranger in a motel room anyway?). But he figures some pants are in order.

He remains silent as Lecter spouts his speech on being careful of what he puts inside his body like it’s not a euphemism for something else. The man is actually plating their meals, all prim and proper. Will indulges him and pours coffee for them both. He notes that Hannibal brings his own utensils and that he does not tolerate plastic cups (of course he brought his own china tableware, all of them shined and perfect to a fault).

He’s slightly mollified by the other man’s presumptuous actions when he bites into his breakfast, the flavors from the sausage bursting inside his mouth. He hums appreciatively around his mouthful of food.

“I would apologize for my analytical ambush but I know I will soon be apologizing again and that would lose its meaning in the long run. So I will use my apologies sparingly,” Lecter is saying, finishing his own plating in a flourish and taking a bite of the scrambled eggs.

“Just keep it professional,” Will mutters. He hates the thought of this man knowing anything about him intimately, intuiting and psychoanalyzing his every thought.

“Or we could socialize like adults.” The line delivered with a wry smile.

“I don’t find you that interesting.”

“You will.”

Will pauses at that, his eyes flicking up to meet the doctor’s for a second before he resumes eating. The other man’s expressions are inscrutable, the subtle movement of his mouth and a minute quirk in his brow the only tell-tale signs he’s feeling anything at all. His façade is a solid concrete barrier whereas Will’s forts are made of barbed wires, and Will couldn’t help but be begrudgingly impressed by it.

Lecter made good on his promise on his analytical ambush by pushing for Will’s thoughts on the copycat killer. He’s almost amused at how easy it is to talk to the man. Lecter seems to ignore his biting tone, choosing to focus on his words instead. At least someone seems to believe his claims that the Minnesota Shrike and the Copycat Killer are not one and the same.

There’s a moment of levity when the doctor described Jack seeing Will as a “fragile little teacup”; Will couldn’t help the laugh bursting out of him. He feels like he hasn’t genuinely laughed like this in years with anyone else other than Danielle. The doctor seems pleased by the momentary victory, Will finally seeing a genuine smile on his face.

“I’m curious, doctor. How do you see me?” he asks, grinning still.

Lecter’s stare is disconcerting, his eyes intent. “The mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by.” 

Will is, for once, at a loss at what to say in response.

“Finish your breakfast,” Lecter says, his voice subtly commanding.

Well, Will thinks, something waking inside him at that tone. He’s almost intrigued, despite everything that’s happened.

 

He shouldn’t have accepted Jack’s invitation.

Garrett Jacob Hobbs’ house was a bloodbath born out of Will’s actions. He’s shaking at the sight of Abigail bleeding out onto the kitchen floor, startling when Lecter pushes his hands out of the way. His eyes are unfocused, but he can make out Lecter’s calm features as the other man works to stop Abigail from bleeding to death.

He couldn’t help seeing the intrusive image of Abigail’s blood seeping on the floor, coating every surface, even hours later when he sees Abigail lying on the hospital bed, Lecter fast asleep in the seat next to her.

He takes a deep breath before taking the other chair on Abigail’s side, his gaze falling on both of them. The sounds of machines beeping in the back of his mind lulls him into a transitory calm.

He thinks of Abigail on the kitchen floor, lying in a pool of her own blood, her eyes glassy as she gasps and struggles to live. He thinks of Lecter’s sure, steady hands on Abigail’s throat, the man remaining at Abigail’s side throughout the whole ordeal while Will is falling apart at the thought of Danielle bleeding out from his hands.

He hasn’t seen Danielle in two days.   

Will stares at Hannibal’s hand curled around Abigail’s and his heart aches.