Hannibal was accustomed to Jack Crawford demanding Will’s attention at all hours, but it was still rude of him to interrupt a therapy session with his demands.
“Good evening, Jack.” Hannibal resisted the urge to fold his arms and glare as he stood at the doorway of his waiting room. He’d told Jack before that this was the patients-only entrance, but he didn’t seem to have taken the hint. “Was there something you needed?”
“Sorry to intrude, Doctor.” Jack did not look sorry, only impatient. “Have you heard from Will today? I can’t seem to get hold of him.”
“Hi, Jack,” Will said from behind Hannibal. He looked exhausted. He often did these days, but he had relaxed in the quiet of Hannibal’s office, meandering about the room as they spoke. That ease was all gone now, his shoulders drawn in tightly, his gaze firmly on the floor. He was also leaning against the doorframe like it was the only thing holding him up.
“You weren’t answering your phone,” Jack snapped.
“Yeah, I turn it off for my appointments.” Will replied, “so people don’t disturb me.”
“Could this not have waited half an hour?” Hannibal asked coolly, not moving to let Jack in.
Jack shifted in place, clearly not willing to push at Hannibal’s boundaries, at least. “Look, I am sorry to interrupt. But we have a case - three bodies showed up a month ago, consecutive nights, in three different towns in Louisiana. They were completely skinned, with organs missing. They’ve just found another one in Alexandria. They’re holding the scene for us - I want you on a plane yesterday.”
Will sighed, nodding. “Who needs weekends anyway. Sorry, Doctor Lecter.”
“Not at all, Will. I’m happy to reschedule, or we can consider tonight’s session complete and I shall see you next week, as usual.”
Will glanced at Jack, then looked back at Hannibal. “Next week’s probably safer, I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
“Unless you’re free this weekend and you’d like to take a trip down South with us?” Jack asked, tone light but… not quite joking.
Hannibal considered. “If that was a genuine invitation, I have nothing pressing on.”
Will looked startled for a moment, and then his expression melted into quiet gratitude.
Jack, on the other hand, looked immensely pleased with himself. “I’m afraid the Bureau will only spring for coach, I hope you don’t mind.”
“I have survived worse. At least I can be sure that the company will be excellent.”
“Alright, wonderful. I’ll text you the flight information, Doctor. Will?”
Will sighed. “I’ll meet you at the airport.”
Hannibal came out of it feeling numb from the over-sanitized recycled air and the constant hum of being surrounded by bodies. Will looked even worse, and he’d spent the entire flight with headphones in, staring resolutely out the window or dozing fitfully. Jack, on Hannibal’s other side, had put on an eye mask and slept with no apparent problems.
Given that it was almost 3am, the airport was nearly empty, an endless series of off-white hallways lit with fluorescent bulbs. Will glanced around, shuddered, and stayed close to Hannibal’s side as they were swept through security in Jack’s wake.
There was a car waiting for them, Bureau-issue and basic black, and it whisked them straight to the crime scene: a warehouse, differentiated from a dozen similar buildings only by the crime-scene tape and the solitary police officer standing guard outside.
Forensics had come and gone, taking the body with them, but the officer on duty had a folder full of photographs for them. He ran down the few details they had for Will, who nodded along as he looked over the pictures.
The owner had come in to open the place for a delivery that morning and found the body - she was being questioned but had no links to any of the previous cases. Jack wasn't expecting much from that line of inquiry. They were waiting on dental records to identify the body, since the lack of skin obviously ruled out both facial recognition and fingerprints.
Jack motioned the officer to stay outside, but Hannibal followed Will in. Will glanced at him once, but rather than insisting that he leave, he gave Hannibal a tight smile and then turned to look at the floor where the body had been.
Jack also gave Hannibal a sharp look, and, when Hannibal raised an eyebrow at him, he gave a meaningful glance in Will’s direction. Hannibal nodded, and Jack accepted this with obvious relief - most likely, he was concerned that Will might lose himself and contaminate a crime scene again.
The door clicked shut, leaving Hannibal and Will alone under the stark industrial lighting.
Will held out the folder of photographs, and Hannibal accepted them, looking them over with real interest.
The body had been lying on the bare concrete floor, curled on one side, and with every inch of skin stripped from its flesh. It hadn’t been displayed with any intent, and from the blood covering the bare floor this was clearly the kill site as well.
Hannibal examined a close-up of the cavity where the heart had been removed. The incisions were messy, unpracticed - no professional training here.
Will paced the room, looking at the dried blood smeared across the floor, scuff marks where the body had been manhandled, coming eventually back to the marker on the floor indicating the absent corpse.
Hannibal stepped to one side to get a better view of Will’s face once he finally stilled. He was staring down at the floor with a blank, distracted frown.
His head slowly canted to one side.
His eyes closed for a moment, opened again; sweat beaded across his forehead and his breathing hitched audibly. Hannibal could make out faint tremors running through him, little twitches of his limbs as if he were dreaming. It was interesting to compare with the way seizures affected his body, and unfortunate that it would be nearly impossible to induce this state in Will while he was in an MRI tube.
With the part of his mind not fully occupied observing, Hannibal considered drawing Will as St Sebastian, in the style of Rubens.
Abruptly Will came back to himself, breathing in shaky gasps as he scrubbed his unsteady hands over his face.
Hannibal waited - Will had permitted him to be here, yes, but that didn’t mean that he would welcome any distractions.
Oddly, the first thing Will did once his breathing had steadied was to crouch down beside the marker, leaning over it carefully and breathing in, scenting the air. His shoulders sagged, as if he had just confirmed something but it was unwelcome, and he rose to his feet again.
When he turned and saw Hannibal, he looked genuinely surprised for a moment.
“Will?” Hannibal wondered if he’d lost time again, and perhaps forgotten he was there.
“Sorry, I just- Not really used to people being around when I’m doing this. Beverley walked in once, I nearly had a heart attack. Coming back is… a complicated process.”
“And what did you see?”
Will shook his head, gesturing to the door. “Can you- I’d rather not do it twice.”
Jack was waiting outside when Hannibal opened the door and stalked in impatiently. “What can you tell me?”
Will’s gaze drifted back to the floor. “She had something he needed. He’s… not enough, incomplete. If he can just get enough, he can make himself whole.”
“Enough… skin?” Jack frowned. “Burn victim? Why the hearts, then?”
Will shook his head. “I don’t think it’s physical, or not… not that directly? He tried something last time and it didn’t work, so he’s trying again. It feels… urgent, rushed. Like there’s a limited window. He’s going to kill again, probably two more like last time.”
Will nodded. “It’s significant. Threes, skin, hearts. It’s symbolic to him, important.”
“Okay. Anything you can tell me about him?”
“He knew her before he killed her. Probably not well, but enough to say hello to, at least. He didn’t realise she was… significant. Not until yesterday. Which means he’s local or he’s got a reason to come here regularly.”
Jack frowned. “Last time, the first two bodies were only twenty miles apart but the third was on the other side of the state. Any idea whether that pattern will be repeated?”
Will shrugged. “It’s possible he’s been planning this a while, and he knows where he can find victims who fit his needs. They’re not random, but… I don’t know that we’d be able to see what links them.”
"He's definitely crazy, then. Just what we needed."
Will glanced back at the bloodstained floor. "Let me look over the files on the previous victims. I'll see what I can tell you."
Jack nodded. "In my briefcase. Take them with you, we've got rooms at a hotel in town. I'll let the locals know we're done with the scene.
Once Will was settled in the motel room, Hannibal made a short shopping trip. The sky was still dark but there were a few shops open. When he returned, he knocked at Will's door and offered him a light supper, just a basic charcuterie board set out as neatly as he could on the small table in Will’s motel room.
Will looked tired, feverish, the ragged edges of somebody else’s madness flickering behind his eyes, but he smiled up at Hannibal gratefully, and made soft pleased noises as he ate the food. After a few minutes, he even stopped glancing over at the folder full of glossy crime scene photographs that he'd tossed onto the bed. "I should probably be trying to sleep," he muttered, picking up a couple of grapes. "There's a very good chance the next body is already out there, just waiting for somebody to stumble over it."
"Eat something first," Hannibal told him firmly, passing him a slice of baguette and some camembert. "You can't rest well if you're hungry
Will took the bread and cheese. When Hannibal offered him the pot of fig jam to go with it, he made a little amused noise, and shook his head. “Where did you find all this in, what, an hour?”
Hannibal leaned in a little, conspiratorial, and murmured, “I looked things up on my phone while you were talking with Jack.”
Will gave a surprised chuckle, pressing one hand to his mouth. “Doctor Lecter! How very… conventional of you.”
Hannibal smiled back at him. “I hope I can trust you not to ruin my reputation.”
Will added some fig jam to his cheese-and-cracker sandwich, the laughter still lingering around his eyes and mouth. “If anyone asks, I’ll tell them that you got a recommendation from a local who you met at an organic produce market.”
Hannibal nodded, mock-seriously. “I knew I could rely on you, Will.”
They lapsed into silence for a while, but it was a companionable silence. Which made it all the more irritating when someone knocked sharply on the door.
Will sighed, getting to his feet. “No rest for the wicked,” he muttered, and his smile flickered back into place briefly at Hannibal’s chuckle.
“Hiya, mongrel,” said an unfamiliar male voice as Will opened the door, and somebody shouldered past Will, knocking him into the wall.
Hannibal started to rise, but Will stepped back and shot him a look, equal parts pleading and resigned. Hannibal sank back down, confused but trusting Will would have let him know if there was any danger.
Turning back to the door, Will said, acidly, “Well, come on in, then.”
“Thank you,” said a second voice, deeper than the first, and two more men stepped inside, making the already small room feel quite crowded.
There was a similarity to them that suggested family, all with light brown hair and a lean, rangy build. The first man, who was now roaming about the room and looking at Will’s things, had the angular sharpness of a teenager still growing into his height, while the third, slouching silently against the wall, looked very similar but stockier. Either brother or close cousin to the first one, Hannibal decided absently, watching them. He mentally revised the age of the younger one down a few years when he wandered into the bathroom with apparent fascination.
The second man, the one who had thanked Will, was heavyset with traces of grey around his temples and very likely old enough to be their father. He, unlike the others, had settled his attention firmly on Will, clearly waiting for something. Will stared determinedly at his chin for a few moments then abruptly turned his head to the side and looked at the floor.
The man relaxed slightly, and asked, “What are you doing in my territory, mongrel?” Despite the words, his tone suggested genuine interest rather than threat.
“My job,” Will replied, easy and unconcerned now.
“Which would be what, exactly?” the older man pressed.
Will tugged a hand through his hair. “I work for the FBI. I’m doing profiling for them at the moment, there’ve been four murders in the area recently. You might have noticed?”
“We’ve noticed.” He frowned thoughtfully, glancing aside momentarily as the boy wandered out of the bathroom and proceeded to open the drawers of the nightstand.
Will ignored this invasion completely. “So, I look at the crime scenes, tell them what I see, they catch the killer, case closed and I’m off your land. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not for us. We’re not overfond of unsolved murders either. Makes everybody edgy.”
Will nodded, and the slouching youth straightened up, clearly preparing to leave.
“Who’s your friend?” the boy enquired, pausing in his restless motion, to circle Hannibal where he sat. He smelled of leaves and grass and dogs, rather like the way Will did when he wasn’t wearing that awful aftershave. He sidled closer and sniffed audibly, eyebrows rising as his gaze flickered over Hannibal, never quite meeting his eyes in a way that was also very familiar. Will, however, had earned a certain amount of leeway regarding manners, largely through being fascinating and surprisingly good company; the boy had not. Hannibal felt irritation bubble up at the blatantly uncouth behaviour.
Although Hannibal was quite sure his expression hadn’t changed, the boy backed off as though he'd drawn a weapon, sidling across the room to settle against the wall with the other one.
“He’s a psychiatrist,” Will said coolly, eying the younger men sidelong. “Also consulting with the FBI.”
“Right. Sure. FBI’s got a pretty weird hiring policy, what are you going to do when you find your murderer, make him a job offer?” The boy sounded angry, very likely as a result of having been scared, and he glared at Will fiercely, until the eldest of the trio made a noise that sounded disturbingly like a growl, inhuman and threatening, and the other young man cuffed the boy sharply across the ear.
The eldest of the three turned back to Will. “My apologies for him, he’s still learning how to behave in public.”
“No harm done.” Will shrugged, unfolding from his slouch as the two younger men slipped out the door, the older one herding the boy along with a mostly-friendly shove.
The older man stopped at the door and gave Will a wry smile. “Good hunting, then. And get some sleep, you look dreadful.”
Will snorted. “Nice to see you too. Have a good night.”
He shut the door behind them and locked it, then dropped back into his chair with a sigh. “Sorry about that. I hope they didn’t offend you.”
Hannibal gave Will a considering look. “Family?” he guessed.
“Yeah.” Will nodded. “My uncle and a couple of my younger cousins, on my mother’s side.”
“You never mention your mother's family. Is there any particular reason you don’t get along?”
“What makes you think we don’t get along?” Will asked drily.
Hannibal arched an eyebrow. “You didn’t feel obliged to introduce us. Should I assume that you would prefer not to be associated with me?”
“Are you fishing for compliments now?”
A Will who was comfortable enough to tease was a pleasant thing, Hannibal decided, smirking. It demonstrated a level of trust he showed very few people.
“I didn’t see the point." Will shook his head, eyes still crinkled at the edges with amusement. "I don't really remember my mother. She went home when I was really young, and I stayed with my dad. She died when I was... about six, I think, I vaguely remember the funeral. Anyway, I’ve never had much to do with them, and I don't hold it against them. I’m a mongrel, not wolf enough to be pack but too much for them to just ignore me when I’m in their territory. They’re a straightforward lot, they like to know where they stand, that’s all. Now that they’ve established why I’m here, I doubt they’ll come back.”
That was... new, and possibly interesting. “Pack?” Hannibal enquired.
“Uh, yeah. Not a lot of wolves where you’re from? I’m guessing somewhere in the Baltics from the accent?”
“Lithuania,” Hannibal answered cautiously. “I… believe there are some wolves, still, though they are not common.”
“Huh.” Will raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know much, my mother didn’t exactly give me history lectures when I was little, but I got the impression that the wolves had all moved out of Eastern Europe or been killed by the end of World War Two, but maybe some of them did go back. From what I understand, wars are particularly bad for them, because they’re territorial, prefer to stay in larger groups, and they tend to get a lot more involved with humans. Anyway, the ones I know said they prefer to settle in places that are entirely too modern and rational to believe in monsters.”
Hannibal blinked a few times, because ‘wolves’ could have been some sort of peculiar gang thing, but that last part had eliminated the possibility quite firmly. Which meant that either Will had been delusional longer than either of them had realised, and this might be in some way related to his mother’s family rejecting him after her death and the unfortunate nickname they had gifted him with, or the aforementioned family were some sort of otherkin group and Will had absorbed enough of their mythology to believe it.
He opened his mouth to ask a tactful question, but he had been silent long enough for Will to take notice, and the man was frowning at him. After a thoughtful pause, he abruptly met Hannibal’s eyes. He only held their shared gaze for a few seconds, but all the colour drained out of his face as he looked away. “Oh. You, uh, you really have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“I think perhaps we should have a lengthy discussion about your mother’s family, when you feel comfortable doing so,” Hannibal hedged. “But first, perhaps you could tell me why you thought I would know about them?”
“Well, I-” He broke off and scrubbed a hand across his mouth, looking shaken. “This is, I mean, if you actually don’t know anything... How can you have no idea? I mean, the food, and the-” he waved a hand at Hannibal’s face, as if that would clarify.
He looked honestly bewildered, and Hannibal said carefully, reassuringly, “Will, if you cannot talk about this either-“ but stopped when Will shook his head.
“It’s fine, I just- need a minute to figure out where to start.” He tangled his fingers in his hair, staring blankly at the tabletop, so Hannibal used the time to clear up the leftover food and utensils, packing them away neatly. After a minute, Will got up and went to sit on the bed, and, when Hannibal would have brought a chair over, he shook his head and gestured at the mattress beside him.
That was new, but Hannibal obligingly sat next to him. Sometimes Will found it easier to discuss a difficult subject if they weren’t facing each other. Will took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Okay, let’s get the hard part out of the way first.”
“And that would be?”
“The part where you humour me because you think I’m a basket case.”
“Will,” Hannibal chided.
“No, it’s fine, I mean, it’ll sound crazy otherwise, so.” Another slow breath, and then he held out his left hand towards Hannibal, and Hannibal felt his mind go completely blank because Will’s hand was... changing. He curled it into a fist, and the fingers seemed to melt into the palm, the skin darkening as Hannibal watched until he was staring at what was unmistakably a paw. It was covered in short, dark brown fur, the same colour as Will’s hair, and when he hesitantly reached out to touch, it was sleek and smooth with thick, blunt claws.
Will let him pull the limb closer, and Hannibal stared in dazed fascination, pushing Will’s sleeve back to see that the fur thinned about halfway up his forearm, merging seamlessly into normal human skin with a light covering of body hair. He ran his fingers over Will’s altered digits, splaying the toes, noting absently that the claws were nonretractile and the pads of his toes were velvety-soft.
“Can you feel that?” he asked softly, looking up at Will as he ran a nail lightly across one pad.
Will twitched. “Of course. It’s still mine.” The paw shifted under Hannibal’s curious fingers, toes stretching out wide, and then Will tugged his arm back. He flexed his paw again, and this time it uncurled, dark hair shedding across his lap as he stretched out his fingers with their pale skin and entirely human nails.
“So,” Will said calmly, dragging Hannibal’s attention back to his face. “I’m, uh, not entirely human. Hence the shapeshifting. I’d keep it longer but it’s actually quite difficult to change just one part, since bodies prefer to be one thing or another; I’m a bit of an oddity to be able to do it at all.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Hannibal said absently. “An in-between state would be extremely vulnerable, and therefore it would be advantageous to change the entire body as quickly as possible.”
Will nodded. “Yeah, and also it itches. So. Do you need a minute to, uhm, ‘freak out’, or should I keep talking?”
“Really, Will. Have I ever given you the impression of someone prone to hysterics?”
Will shrugged a shoulder awkwardly. “Under the circumstances, I think you might be entitled.”
“I am… prepared to accept the possibility of many things which might seem inexplicable, if offered evidence. Please, continue your explanation.”
“I mean, I’m not sure how much explanation I’ve got for you. My mother’s family are shapeshifters, wolves. My dad’s family had… a few things mixed in, but far enough back that nobody’s entirely sure what. Best guess some other kind of shapeshifter, something with an affinity for water. So, I can change shape, but I’m not a wolf, so they didn’t want me.”
“That must have been difficult for you.”
Will shrugged again. “Not really. I like dogs just fine, but shifters are still people, and those I’m not so great at dealing with. My dad raised me okay.” He shook his head. “Anyway, back to how you got this far without knowing any of this… do you have any family?”
“None living. My family were killed when I was a child.” Despite Hannibal’s calm recitation, Will winced, mouth turning down in distress, but he said nothing so Hannibal politely ignored him and continued. “I resided in an orphanage until I was sixteen, when my uncle found me and took me to France. I lived with him and his wife until his death, and my aunt permitted me to stay until I was accepted into medical school. I have lived in America ever since.”
“I’m sorry,” Will said quietly. “I mean, if you don’t want to talk about it, you can just say so.”
“I am an adult, Will, and perfectly capable of refusing to do things. It was a long time ago, and while I seldom speak of my family, it is not so much because it pains me, but rather because I rarely find anyone with whom I would wish to share such information.”
Will looked down at his toes for a long moment, then his gaze flickered briefly to Hannibal’s face. “Well, thank you. For trusting me, then.”
Hannibal smiled. “It is only fair, I suppose, as I have asked about your family.”
Will smiled. “I don’t have a lot of experience with friends, but I’m pretty sure you don’t owe me anything.” The smile faded. “Your family, though. I’m guessing... old money, lived in the one area for a long time, and can probably trace your ancestors back for three hundred years, give or take a few oddities nobody likes to mention?”
Hannibal arched an eyebrow. “Something like that, yes. I do actually hold the title to my family home, although I have not been back there since I left, and have no particular desire to return. My uncle did not speak of our family history, perhaps wishing to avoid causing me distress, which, I admit, it might have done at the time.”
“Okay.” Will frowned thoughtfully, chewing on his lip. “I can maybe see how you didn’t realise, if your uncle figured you already knew. That must have been rough. I'm weird even for a shifter but my dad was always pretty understanding even when he wasn’t sure what I was doing. You wouldn’t have had anybody to tell you what was going on.”
“I assure you, I was fine. And what do you assume was ‘going on’?” Hannibal enquired.
Will snorted, something surprisingly like rueful affection in his tone as he said, “Are you telling me it wouldn’t have made a difference to have somebody there to tell you, ‘Aw, hell, looks like you drew the short straw and took after great-uncle Francis’ when it occurred to you that you wanted to eat people?”
Hannibal went very still. “I’m not entirely sure what you are implying,” he said carefully, measuring the distance between them, wondering if anyone besides Will’s relatives had seen him enter Will’s room, and whether it would be plausible to frame the killer Will was here to investigate.
He was reasonably sure that he could mimic the man’s style, though it would be such a shame to have to rush things after he’d spent so long with Will, and he-
“Really? I may be only half wolf but I can tell the difference between pork and human. You brought me breakfast, remember? ‘Protein scramble’? That godawful aftershave you hate numbs my nose somewhat, which makes it easier to deal with humans, but you showed up before I’d put it on. You definitely brought me people-sausage as an apology. Unless you’re planning to frame your butcher?”
“Ah, no.” Hannibal was beginning to feel slightly dizzy, this conversation forcing him to re-evaluate the situation constantly. “You... don’t seem especially concerned.”
Will shrugged. There was something bitter about the wry twist to his mouth as he said, “I figure it’s not my business unless you decide to make it mine. Besides, explaining how I know what human tastes like would have been awkward for everybody involved, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so.” Hannibal regarded him thoughtfully. “And… how do you know that?”
Will eyed him sidelong, then scrubbed a hand over his face. “It’s a long story. Look, can we just- It’s been a long day, and you don’t have to worry about me calling the cops on you or anything, I’ve known for months, okay?”
Hannibal frowned, then reached out a hand, pausing when Will tensed briefly before relaxing. Hannibal rested the back of his hand against Will’s forehead. “Are you feeling alright?”
Will closed his eyes for a moment, his shoulders sagging, then leaned back, away from Hannibal’s hand. “Just tired. Thanks for the food, Doctor Lecter.”
“Think nothing of it,” Hannibal murmured, rising and gathering the leftovers. There was something off about Will’s tone, but now was not the time, and he had a great deal to think on. “Goodnight, Will. Or good morning, rather. Try to get some sleep.”
Hannibal found it impossible to sleep, his mind too full of confusing new information. Instead he occupied himself by compiling a list of questions he needed to ask Will as he waited until a more reasonable hour to go and knock on his door. Fortunately, this meant that he was fully dressed and had finished his coffee when the phone rang.
It was Jack, his tone the fascinating mix of belligerent concern and underlying guilt which meant that there was something wrong with Will. Jack gave him the address of the crime scene, but would only say that Will was unresponsive.
The address was for a currently-vacant office building. When Hannibal arrived, it contained a number of law enforcement agents, another skinned corpse with its heart missing, and Will Graham, backed up against a wall four feet from the body, shaking like he was going to come apart.
Hannibal acknowledged Jack’s greeting, but his eyes were already on Will.
He was still staring fixedly at the corpse and didn’t seem to notice when Hannibal approached him. His forehead gleamed with sweat, and he radiated heat and the sweet scent of fever as Hannibal drew closer; it was especially noticeable since the reek of his unfortunate cologne was quite absent.
Hannibal stepped into his line of sight, blocking his view of the corpse, but Will didn’t look up. Keeping in mind what Will had said about his sense of smell, Hannibal carefully pressed a hand over his eyes, making sure that his sleeve was covering Will’s nose and mouth. After a few seconds, Will took a deeper breath, and then another, and then said hoarsely, “Doctor Lecter?”
“Yes, Will. Do you think you can move?”
“Uh, yeah. Okay.”
Hannibal tugged him away from the wall gently, coaxing him out the door with a glance at Jack that kept him away, and down the hall to an empty office. Once inside he released Will, who stumbled back until he hit a wall and then sank to the ground, tucking his knees up to his chest. He scrubbed his hands over his face, then tipped his head back to rest against the wall. “Completely off my game today, aren’t I? Thanks, by the way. Sorry if Jack woke you.”
“I am an early riser by habit, and I decided not to bother trying,” Hannibal said mildly, crouching down in front of him and attempting to catch his eye. “I gather you forgot your aftershave?”
“Yeah, Jack basically dragged me out of bed. I’m lucky he let me put pants on.” He eyed Hannibal sidelong. “Quick thinking.”
Hannibal shrugged. “Quite simple if I know what the issue is. Shall we repair to the motel and get your olfactory blocker, or are you finished with the crime scene altogether?”
Will fished out a bottle of aspirin and swallowed a couple dry. “I don’t know that Jack’ll let me go without something to show for my time. I’ll, I’ll just take a minute, I should be okay.”
Hannibal reached out, making sure to telegraph the motion, and Will tensed warily but didn’t move away. He let Hannibal curl a hand around the nape of his neck and tug him forward, tilt his head to the side and rub his own cheek along Will’s jaw. Will’s facial hair rasped over Hannibal’s skin, and he hoped there wouldn’t be obvious abrasions as that could be difficult to explain, but mostly he allowed himself to focus on Will’s scent, the warmth of his skin, the way he was easy and pliant now under Hannibal’s touch as Hannibal turned his chin so that he could rub against the other side of his face. He drew back, and Will blinked at him.
“Will that suffice?” Hannibal asked mildly.
Will took a slow breath, testing the scent of Hannibal’s aftershave left on his skin. “Probably. It won’t block everything out, but it should be enough to keep me grounded. I don’t need to be in there long anyway.”
Hannibal nodded. “A shame that you cannot find something effective with a more pleasant scent.”
“Yeah,” Will sighed. “It actually does give me headaches sometimes, but it works better than anything else I’ve tried.”
“An unfortunate necessity, then.” Hannibal slid to his feet, offered Will a hand. Will took it, let Hannibal tug him upright. Hannibal eyed him for a moment, then took off his suit jacket and held it out.
Will blinked, startled. “I- I should be fine, really.”
“Nevertheless, I would prefer to be over-cautious under the circumstances.”
Will sighed, but took the jacket and slid it on over his own sweater, a faint smile pulling at the edges of his mouth. Hannibal tugged the collar straight and smoothed the lapels for him, waiting until Will’s eyes flicked up to meet his briefly before settling on his ear.
“Why didn’t you wake me to come with you?” Hannibal asked.
“I- Well, to be honest I wasn’t sure where we stood, and I figured it would be awkward with Jack there.”
“Less awkward than this?” Hannibal asked wryly.
Will laughed, ducking his head. “Yeah, probably not. Um, thanks again. If I don’t catch you before you leave, I’ll bring the jacket back at our appointment, if that’s alright?”
Hannibal paused. “Am I going somewhere?”
“I-” Will blinked up at him. “I didn’t think you were serious about staying the whole weekend. I’ll be fine, don’t you have… I don’t know, opera?”
“I think this case is likely to be far more dramatic than a mediocre production of La Traviata, which is my only other option this weekend. I also have quite a lot of questions, which I suspect only you can answer.”
“Oh.” Will frowned. “I- Okay. Well, if you’re sure - I’m going to be here a couple more days at least.”
“You have an idea about the killer, then?”
“Yeah, but it’s not going to help the Bureau. I need to talk to my uncle again.”
“You think this is an... internal matter, then?”
“This victim was part wolf too, not enough to shift. And so is the killer. He picked them during the full moon, when they were most obvious and also his senses were sharpest.”
“And what does he want, this half-wolf?”
“He wants, more than anything, to be part of the pack. He can’t, of course, but he’s delusional enough to believe that he can absorb them and become more.”
“He is... eating the hearts? What about the skin?”
“Skin is… significant. In a lot of the old tales, shifters wore the skin of an animal to take its shape. Swan feathers, seal skins, wolf pelt cloaks…”
Hannibal hummed thoughtfully. “During the Middle Ages it was believed that a werewolf was a man who took off his skin and reversed it. They thought that you could check for lycanthropy by cutting him open while he was human, because the inside of his skin would be furred.”
Will snorted. “Really? As tests go, it’s a bit like the one about witches not being able to drown, isn’t it? If it turns out you’re wrong, too bad for the ‘witch’.”
“I believe the official line was, ‘If you are innocent then your soul will be God’s concern’. He could hardly be crueller to them than the people who flayed them alive.”
“Well, in this case, I’m sure the pack will gladly check whether this guy is hairy on the inside. He won’t be, though. That isn’t how it works.”
Hannibal straightened. “So you don’t intend to arrest this man?”
Will shook his head. “I’ll tell Jack what I can, but... Mad or not, if he’s astute enough to go picking out other half-breeds, he’d never make it to trial anyway; we police our own, for safety reasons. I’ll give the pack all the information I have, and then wait. With any luck they’ll be able to get him before he kills the third one tonight.”
“The third night of the full moon. You said the three might also be significant?”
“Maybe, but it might just be that this is when he can find them. It’s one of the reasons I lost it so badly in there just now - my senses are all turned up to eleven at the moment, and it’s so hard to concentrate.” He pressed his hands to his temples for a moment, digging his fingers into the skin, and Hannibal opened his mouth to offer a soothing platitude, then hesitated.
He had been allowing the encephalitis to run its course because it was interesting, and because he needed Will distracted and pliable. He had been monitoring the inflammation to ensure that Will would not suffer any permanent damage. But… he had been basing his assessments of the encephalitis on the assumption that Will was human.
Will was staring up at him, eyes still hazy. “Doctor Lecter? Is- What’s the matter?”
Hannibal drummed his fingers on his thigh for a moment, then pressed the back of his hand to Will’s forehead, feeling the heat of his skin. “I think, when we return to Baltimore, it might be best if we sought a second opinion about your health.”
Will blinked at him a few times, then focussed abruptly. “Wait. What aren’t you telling me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when you very kindly got your old friend from medical school to do my brain scan, I figured you were covering your bases in case my scans came back weird. Except you had no reason to expect my scans to be anything but normal, did you? So what the hell was that all about?”
“Will,” Hannibal began cautiously.
Will shook his head abruptly, cutting him off, then winced and sagged back against the wall.
“Look, I get it, I’m FBI and you were fucking with me for your own amusement. I just-” He waved a hand vaguely. “Consider this a free pass for whatever shit you’ve done, I don’t care, just tell me if there’s something wrong with my brain or not. I reserve the right to be annoyed about it later when my head doesn’t feel like it’s about to split in half.”
Hannibal shifted restlessly, watching him, feeling a sharp, unfamiliar uncertainty tying his stomach into knots. “You have anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis,” he said at last, his tone clipped.
Will’s eyes widened. “Encephalitis? Is that- it’s an inflammation, right? That’s… the new stuff, sleepwalking, losing time, the hallucinations.” He blew out a long breath. “Okay, is it- is it treatable?”
“Yes. You should recover with no permanent complications.”
Will nodded slowly. “Okay. I’ll- I needed to talk to the pack anyway, they could probably recommend someone here.”
“Not in Baltimore?”
“Makes more sense if I go somewhere here, right? Say my symptoms got worse suddenly. Then it’s nothing to do with your friend.”
"I appreciate your concern for his reputation, Will."
Will shifted awkwardly. "Well, whatever the two of you were doing, he's dead now and there's no point bringing it up. Right." He blew out a breath, braced himself, and then headed back down the hall towards Jack and the crime scene.
Hannibal hovered in the doorway as Will spoke to Jack. The victim this time was probably male, from the pelvis, and had been left on the floor with a similar lack of care. Will was explaining that the kill sites had both been chosen for convenience rather than any particular significance, and that the killer likely had an occupation which required a lot of travel and control over his own schedule. Jack made thoughtful noises, muttered something about long-distance truck drivers, and then told Will to go get some rest.
Hannibal had arrived in a taxi, but he and Will both hitched a ride back to the motel in one of the police cars. Once it drove away, there was an awkward pause. Will took off Hannibal's jacket and held it out. "Thanks again. I need to go see my uncle, and that's going to be enough hassle without bringing a stranger, so, uh."
Hannibal took pity on him. "You don't have to make excuses, Will. I am more than capable of entertaining myself until I am needed for the case."
After a moment’s consideration, Will nodded absently, and disappeared into his motel room.
“Hey, do you want to come with me to the hospital in about half an hour? My uncle gave me the number for the doctor the pack uses, she works at the local ER. She says she can fit me in today.”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow. “And you’d like me to accompany you?”
Will sighed. “I figure you have a better idea of what my symptoms are than I do.”
“Of course.” Hannibal tapped his fingers lightly against his thigh. “If we have a little time, would you like to come in? There are some questions I need to ask you.”
Despite their earlier closeness, Will was clearly on edge. He kept glancing at Hannibal sidelong, and his mouth was turned down at the corners.
He did sit, when Hannibal offered him a chair, but he laced his fingers together in his lap, so tightly that his knuckles paled.
Hannibal settled into the other chair and regarded him thoughtfully. “Have I done something to upset you, Will? I can’t think of anything that’s changed since last night, and last night you seemed entirely unconcerned about both my eating habits, and the fact that I’d shared my food with you.”
Will’s mouth tightened.
Hannibal cocked his head, waited.
Will hunched in on himself a little. “You weren’t, though, were you?” His jaw locked up.
“Will? What wasn’t I doing.”
“It’s not- It doesn’t matter, I just-” Will shook his head. “At the time I was actually quite pleased, but I expect that was my ‘cocktail of personality disorders’ misinterpreting things as usual. You just get a kick out of making people eat other people, right?”
The quotation marks were clearly audible, and Hannibal made a note to ask later who Will was quoting with that bleakly sneering tone in his voice. However, there were more important questions at present. “I’ve offended you,” Hannibal said carefully. “May I ask what you thought I was doing instead, which has so upset you?”
“I’m not upset. I made an assumption, which was wrong. I feel stupid, and disappointed, because clearly you and I have been seeing this entire,” he waved a hand to indicate the two of them and possibly the hotel room, “association quite differently. And I thought you were apologising. By sharing your kill, which is quite a sincere apology to a wolf.” He pressed his hands over his face, hiding from Hannibal.
“Ah. Well.” Hannibal paused. This was... rather an odd situation, but possibly still salvageable, although he needed to drastically change his plans. “Considering the circumstances, I hope you understand why I was... less than honest with you about what I have been feeding you. And while I certainly enjoy the irony of people complimenting me on my cooking when they would be horrified if they knew what they were eating, I also do enjoy cooking for its own sake. If you no longer wish to share meals with me, I shall regret the loss of your company deeply. While I may not have been aware of the significance of our first meal together, my offer of friendship was entirely genuine, and I have grown very fond of you, Will.”
Will sighed, but Hannibal could see the edges of his mouth tick upwards behind the cage of his fingers. “I noticed that. After all, you've been very carefully undermining all my personal and professional relationships so that I become completely dependent on you. I was pretty sure that meant you liked me.”
“You are a very unusual man, Will Graham,” Hannibal said bemusedly. There was an odd feeling like a laugh bubbling at the back of his throat, without any conscious decision on his part. “I beg your pardon, I am afraid I am at something of a loss.”
Will eyed him thoughtfully, lowering his hands. “Sorry. I told you, you don’t need to worry about waking up to a SWAT team, either. I mean, I’ve known you were a killer since you brought me breakfast, and I haven’t said anything.”
“And you are not at all bothered by the fact that I fed you people?”
Will shrugged. “Dead is dead. I’ve never seen the point in being squeamish or sentimental about meat, regardless of the source.” His mouth twitched, self-deprecating, as he went on, “I’m one of the few people who prefers to eat before going to a crime scene, mostly because people start to really wonder about you if a pile of corpses makes your stomach rumble.”
“I can see how that might be awkward,” Hannibal agreed, letting the new information settle. It was... pleasing, that Will didn’t mind, that he had known all along. Especially since it meant that he didn’t need to kill this man to whom he had grown surprisingly attached. Although... “Could I ask you about your mother’s family? The, ah, wolves?”
“Oh, yeah. They're basically werewolves. People-shaped most of the time, wolves occasionally. Usually on the full moon, but not always. And they aren’t cursed or anything, it's genetic." Amusingly, Will had settled into something like the lecturing tone he used when teaching. "They were originally fae, you know, fairies, elves, whatever you want to call them. They had a knack for shapeshifting, and there were groups who favoured different animals, but the wolves are the ones who really stuck and spread. They’re pretty gregarious though, get along a lot better with humans, and they’ve interbred a lot over the years. Most packs in the States have no idea how far back the actual fae are, but the knack for shifting breeds true at least three quarters of the time, so it doesn’t really matter. If you’re a wolf, you’re a wolf. If you aren’t you’re- well, a half-blood mongrel. They don’t leave the half-blood kids out to die in the snow or anything, they just sort of pity them. Which in some ways might be worse, come to think of it.”
Hannibal folded his hands in his lap. “Is that how you felt?”
Will snorted. “I don’t need anybody’s pity, and my dad wasn’t bothered. Beside, I shift fine, I’m just not a wolf.”
“Is that so unusual?”
“Mmm, sort of. Wolves are the most common. There are some families of bears up north, but they don’t like to be near cities. Wolves don’t mind so much, as long as there’s some wilderness close enough. I’ve met a few others, coyotes and foxes mostly. There’s probably an unflattering comparison in there about the kind of animals that can adapt to living near humans.” Will's voice dropped slightly. "They make a big deal over the shape you take being your spirit animal, but I've always figured it was learned. The older stories say the fae folk could change into any shape they wanted, and that a lot of stories about mythical animals were fae mucking about, becoming composite creatures for fun. But if your whole pack are wolves and you know anything else means you're kicked out, well."
Hannibal considered. “I... cannot deny the evidence you’ve presented, so I must accept what you tell me. I’m still not sure how this led you to believe that I am also a werewolf.”
Will's mouth dropped open for a moment. “What? Oh, no, you’re not a wolf, or any other kind of shifter. Believe me, that you’d have noticed. They're not the only kind of magical folk around, and you’ve definitely got court fae somewhere in your family tree. Not too far back either - you’re a lot stronger than usual, especially for someone who lives in a city. You're still mostly human - actual court fae don't come anywhere near human settlements these days. You do see a few of their descendants, though. They’re mostly a bunch of stuck-up assholes and they call themselves ‘Old Blood’ because they think it makes them sound better than the rest of us.”
“How charming. I can see why you took such a shine to me immediately.”
Will snorted. “Look, I told you I made some assumptions. In my defence, you were leaning really hard into the stereotype, that first meeting in Jack’s office.”
“Mhm. And what exactly do ‘Old Blood’ do, since it doesn’t involve changing shape?”
Will shrugged. “Your sense of smell, for one thing. I suppose you might not have noticed, but your other senses are probably a little better than human standard, too. You’re stronger than people expect, you’ll age really well and live longer than most. You’ve also got more than a little glamour, which is probably why nobody notices you’re feeding them people despite the jokes, and given half a chance you could talk your way out of just about anything, right? Also, you have a god complex and you consider most people beneath your notice, except for the part where you think it’s fun to manipulate them. How am I doing?”
Hannibal stared at him. “That... seems fairly accurate, if not precisely flattering. It seems slim evidence on which to declare me inhuman.”
Will sighed. “Which is why I said it would be easier if you’d had family around to suggest it. I’m guessing you just decided you were some kind of sociopath? Psychiatry probably suited you right down to the ground: come for the navel-gazing, stay for the schadenfreude?”
That surprised a chuckle out of Hannibal, and he realised that Will was teasing again, relaxed and easy, and so was he, and he was waiting curiously to see what Will would throw at him next, but without the tense readiness required when he might have to react violently at any moment.
“Is it just these court fae that eat humans, then? Not werewolves?”
“Despite a certain… pragmatic approach to corpses, werewolves tend to think of humans as people. Court fae, not so much. Not all of them eat humans. Some of them pay absolutely no attention to humans at all. And some of them just drink their blood, or suck out their souls, or trick them into drowning in marshes. It’s more of an attitude than a species - court fae are the types who like rules and riddles and playing with their food. I couldn’t give you specifics, it depends on what your family’s land was like, what would have lived there and taken an interest in the local aristocracy. You might have grown up with folktales about creatures that lived under hills or in lakes or in the deep forest, that looked like people right up until you'd gotten too close to get away. But like I said, you’re mostly human. You have the standard complement of limbs and organs and teeth, and the little oddities I listed are what most of the Old Blood folk have. The strongest traits, the ones you still get even when the blood’s diluted this far.”
Hannibal hummed thoughtfully. “Are a great many killers slightly-inhuman?”
“Not all of them, but a lot of the really weird crimes are. Which, I admit, is part of the reason I agreed to work with Jack.”
“You feel responsible for the deeds of other part-fae? That hardly seems fair.”
“Not- Not responsible, exactly? But Jack is very persistent, and it would be bad if he actually found out what we are. Especially if he’s coming at it from the serial-killer angle.”
“Of such things are witch-hunts born,” Hannibal agreed.
Will sighed. “He’s exactly the type, too. Which is why I want the ones who go spectacularly wrong caught as fast as possible. There’s a few others in the Bureau, actually, some Old Blood types like yourself, a coyote shifter in cyber-crime. Probably more that I’ve never met.”
“You police your own, not out of any official duty, but to preserve the safety of your community?”
Will nodded. “Basically. When you tipped me off about Budge, I thought that’s what you were doing - that you’d figured him out and you wanted him dealt with before he attracted the wrong sort of attention. Which... was sort of true? I mean, you recognized him as another killer, at any rate.”
“I confess, I did expect you to kill him.”
“I probably would have, to be honest. I mean, he’d killed those two policemen, who I was responsible for, and that was my fault. I shouldn’t have left them alone with him.”
Hannibal smiled. “Will. I’m fairly certain that Agent Crawford sent the armed policemen along to protect you while you interviewed a potentially-dangerous suspect.”
Will looked down at his hands. “Yeah, but they had no idea what they were dealing with, and I did.”
“So why did you leave? You had to have suspected you were hallucinating.”
“I couldn’t not. The noise an injured cub makes, it’s sort of hardwired into the wolf half, and ignoring it is... I couldn’t concentrate, could barely hear what they were saying. At least if I went out and checked, I could stop worrying about it.”
“Ah. You mentioned that your instincts could be problematic.”
“I normally have them under much better control than this. Like I said, I know what kind of crazy I am, and I’ve been managing it my whole life.” He glanced at his watch. "Ah, damnit. I really do need to get going. Ah-"
He gave Hannibal a questioning look, and Hannibal slid to his feet. "If I am welcome, then I am happy to come along."
Hannibal raised an eyebrow. “Do you often accept self-diagnoses from patients over the phone?”
She frowned. “Weren’t you the one who diagnosed him?”
Will kicked Hannibal’s ankle lightly, and then addressed Dr Redgrave. “He’s only ever worked with normal doctors.”
“Ah.” She eyed Hannibal thoughtfully. “Look, if you say he smells like encephalitis, and that matches his symptoms, then that’s the theory I’m working with. I’m still going to run the tests to confirm, obviously, but you don’t have to talk around it with me.”
“I see. My apologies, it’s usually treated more as a parlour trick than an actual diagnosis.”
She waved away his concern, and told Will that he’d have to wait another two hours before the MRI, and that they’d only managed to fit him in so quickly because there’d been a cancellation. Will thanked her, and they left her office quietly.
Will seemed subdued, and he winced a little at every loud noise, so his head was probably still bothering him. They settled into some uncomfortable plastic chairs in a quiet hallway, and Will turned to Hannibal with a sigh. “I appreciate you coming with me, but you don’t have to stay, you know.”
Hannibal frowned. “Is something wrong?”
Will rubbed a hand over his face. “I was just thinking, if it’s the encephalitis that’s causing all my current issues, I probably don’t need to be seeing a psychiatrist.”
“I see.” Hannibal tapped his fingers lightly against his thigh. “What about your work with Jack?”
“I guess I’ll see how it goes. The Bureau does have a few people on the payroll if I need to get rubber-stamped again.”
“I was under the impression that you had a fairly low opinion of the FBI’s psychiatric staff.”
“Well, they did classify me as too unstable for fieldwork, but they may have had a point there.” He tipped his chin up, actually looked Hannibal in the eye. “Be honest with me, here. Do you actually think I should be in the field, or did you just say that because you wanted to see what would happen?”
Hannibal hesitated, then said reluctantly, “I think the work you do for Jack is extremely taxing for your mental health, and you should have some kind of support. I also think you are not nearly as fragile as you let others think, and your recent difficulties can all be traced back to the encephalitis.”
Will cocked his head to one side. “You didn’t actually answer my question.”
Hannibal smirked. “Yes, I think, is the answer to that question.”
Will groaned, then shook his head gently. “Fine, if you need me to spell it out: don’t take this the wrong way, but if you want me to be your friend, I can’t be your patient anymore. If you think I need to keep seeing a shrink, I’ll take a referral if you know anybody I won’t actually hate.”
Hannibal gnawed at his lower lip gently for a moment. “May I think about it? You are a unique case.”
Will nodded. “No rush. I’m probably going to take some sick leave once the diagnosis comes through. I feel like I could sleep for a month if I didn’t have to worry about waking up on the roof.”
Hannibal made a sympathetic noise. “Hopefully this case resolves itself quickly, or you may find Agent Crawford on your doorstep at the next full moon.”
Will sighed. “I don’t think he’s going to be happy with me either way. The FBI doesn’t have an ID for either of the bodies yet, they’re having trouble finding the dental records. I asked my uncle to check in with any pack-adjacent people in the area, see if anyone’s missing. If they know either of the victims, the pack will take it very personally.”
Hannibal left the hospital once Will was taken in for his scan. He would not be permitted access to Will’s brain this time, unfortunately.
He wandered the local shops until he found a deli which sold acceptable-smelling food and bought dinner for himself and Will. He texted Will to check if he was still at the hospital.
The reply was slow in coming. Will had apparently had a minor seizure after getting out of the MRI tube and had been admitted for observation. He gave Hannibal a room number.
Hannibal found the right floor and asked at the nurse’s desk for directions. Heading down the long hallway, he had to hurriedly step aside to avoid a collision with a young man in scrubs. He was white, average height, light brown hair, and would have been largely unremarkable but for the wad of bloodstained gauze pressed to his face.
Hannibal called after him, to see if he needed help. The man threw a panicked glance over his shoulder, then ducked into a nearby doorway which led to an emergency stairwell.
It could have been a coincidence that he was coming from the direction of Will’s room. The cold unease in Hannibal’s chest said otherwise. He didn’t quite run the rest of the way, but it was close.
The room was wrecked, the bed overturned, and there was a smear of blood on one wall. “Will?” Hannibal called sharply. There was a groan from the other side of the fallen bed.
Will was on the floor, looking dazed. His mouth was smeared red, and he growled a little when Hannibal approached him, then sniffed audibly and relaxed. “Hannibal?”
Hannibal knelt beside him, checking him over. There was a nasty bruise coming up on the side of his head, but the blood didn’t seem to be his. “What happened?”
“I saw him before,” Will informed him earnestly, voice wet and slurred. “Not the first one, the second scene. He was in the crowd, gawking at the police tape like ghouls. I thought maybe he was related to the victim at first. I guess he saw me too.”
Hannibal felt his eyes widen. “You do fit the victim profile.”
Will grinned, wide and scarlet. There was something odd about his teeth, too sharp, too many for a human mouth. “No I don’t. He wanted ones who couldn’t shift.”
“I gather he wasn’t expecting you to bite his face off.” Hannibal found himself grinning back, delighted. “What a lovely monster you are.”
Will flexed his jaw, cleared his throat, and when he said, “I think you’re a bad influence, Doctor Lecter,” his voice was clear, if still a little giddy. He was also having trouble keeping his eyes open. Hannibal hissed out a breath and checked his pulse. It was sluggish, and there was a puncture wound in the crook of his elbow.
Hannibal cursed, and reached up, hitting the call button for the nurse.
He was shuffled out into the hallway during the ensuing flurry of activity, and took the time to call Jack Crawford. Jack’s voice went clipped, eager, as soon as he heard what had happened, and he hung up without saying goodbye. Jack, Hannibal thought, was at least as much of a predator as any of the killers he chased.
The hospital had also called the local police, so Hannibal had to explain what had happened to them as well, but then Jack arrived and took over and he was left in peace.
Eventually Dr Redgrave informed them that Will would be fine, his attacker had been trying to sedate him when Will realised that there was something wrong and fought back. He hadn't gotten the full dose intended, but he would need to sleep it off. She also wasn't happy about his head injury in combination with the sedatives and his confirmed diagnosis of Anti-NMDAR Encephalitis, so she was keeping him overnight for observation.
Jack demanded to speak to Will, but Dr Redgrave flatly told him that Will was unconscious and would be for several hours at least. Jack grumbled, and went off to demand CCTV footage from the hospital security department instead.
Dr Redgrave shook her head and gave Hannibal a commiserating look. "You're welcome to sit with him, if you want. He'll probably wake up faster than I said, he's got quite a fast metabolism, and I think a friendly face will do him good."
Hannibal thanked her, and settled in with a sketchpad while he waited. By the time Will woke he had a passable rendition of the attacker’s face.
Will blinked at it drowsily when he held it out, then his eyes widened. “Oh! Huh, you’re really good.”
“You have seen my work before, Will,” Hannibal said, not sure whether to be flattered or irritated by the surprise.
Will shrugged. “Well, yeah, and it looks great but I’ve never been to Paris, so I have no idea if they’re accurate. But this guy I’ve actually seen and it’s, that’s brilliant. Have you shown Jack?”
“No.” Hannibal regarded him thoughtfully. “Is that what you think I should do with it?”
Will sat up, wincing. “I- Huh. I mean, fair point, the hospital has cameras, right? Jack can- Well, actually, he’s probably got fuck-all chance of catching this guy. Jack will check roads, hospitals, airports, but he’ll go straight into the woods. Cut across the state wilderness, he could wind up anywhere. If- If you’re asking me, I’d rather take it to the local pack. I could ask Dr Redgrave to pass it on, I guess.”
“I would be happy to deliver it myself, if that would be acceptable? Or would your, ah, kinfolk react poorly to my presence?”
“I- If you wouldn’t mind? They might be a bit… tense, but since Reuben is the head of the pack here you shouldn't have any trouble.”
“Yeah, Reuben Lovell. Your best bet is to check the trailer park on the west side of town, closest to the woods. If he’s not there, they should be able to tell you where he is.”
The trailer park was rather noisy - there was a large firepit on one side of it, a safe distance from both the woods and the caravans, and a motley collection of chairs, beanbags and blankets surrounded it. There were clearly several generations of people in the group gathered there, from a baby in arms to an elderly couple, white-haired, with deep lines crumpling their nut-brown skin.
Regardless of age, they all turned with a similar wariness as soon as he approached the camp, gone tense and still. Hannibal noted with interest that several of the pairs of eyes currently focussed on him reflected the firelight brightly, indicating the presence of a tapetum lucidum, common to nocturnal animals but entirely unknown in humans.
He stopped a respectful distance from the edge of the circle, and cleared his throat. “I apologise for interrupting your evening. I am looking for Reuben Lovell. I have a message for him from his nephew. Would it be possible to speak to him?”
There was a long pause, then a heavyset middle-aged woman with long braids straightened up, and nudged a small, scruffy child. “Go fetch Reuben, cub. He’s up at the clearing.”
The child sighed, but rolled to its feet and loped off into the trees.
The woman eyed Hannibal thoughtfully. “You got a name, friend?”
“Hannibal Lecter, at your service.” He inclined his head politely.
The woman returned the nod. “Lucille Graves, at yours. Won’t be a minute.”
Hannibal folded his hands together and waited. The group (was pack the correct term?) around the fire gradually settled, although they continued casting him occasional sidelong glances and keeping their voices lower than they had been before his arrival.
Hannibal was not so impolite as to glance at his watch, but he had waited no more than fifteen minutes when the child reappeared. It was now even scruffier and had leaves stuck in its hair. It was also followed by Will’s uncle. His hair was free of leaves, but his bare feet were muddy.
His eyes settled on Hannibal as soon as he cleared the treeline, and he padded over. The child returned to the circle and flopped down across the lap of one of the men, yawning and stretching its grubby feet towards the fire.
In the harsh artificial light of Will’s motel room, Reuben had looked ordinary enough, a little shabby, perhaps Hannibal’s age. In the shadow of the woods, his eyes gleaming with firelight, he moved with an easy predatory grace that made Hannibal want to back away slowly.
He remained perfectly still. He was not at the mercy of his instincts.
Reuben eyed him, head cocked at a slight angle. “You said you had a message from Will?”
“Yes,” Hannibal agreed, extracting the sketch from his notebook. “The murderer he is currently hunting attacked him in the hospital. He said that this man would continue killing until he was stopped. As he is part wolf, Will thought your folk would likely have better luck tracking him down than the authorities.”
Reuben accepted the sketch with a frown, sniffed it lightly. Hannibal wondered exactly how acute his sense of smell was, and if he could smell Will on the paper as well as Hannibal himself.
“This is him? He looks-” Reuben’s mouth pulled down sharply. “Well shit. I’ve seen him around, think he’s a half-blood cousin of the pack up in Arkansas. Luce!”
The woman who had spoken to Hannibal earlier cocked her head, ambled over from the circle of stones. “Reuben? What’s goin’ on?” She had a slow, soft voiced drawl, but her dark eyes were keen and she circled around so she could look Reuben in the face without putting her back to Hannibal.
He held out the sketch to her. “This man, you know him? He comes through sometimes, I can’t recall his name.”
She looked the drawing over, made a thoughtful noise. “Eddie Miller. Miller is his mama’s name, she runs a bakery in Little Rock. His daddy is Sam Dyer, from the Ouachita pack. He’s a photographer, wildlife and adventure magazines and things. He comes through here every so often, got some friends in the park rangers and he says the light’s nice this time of year or some such.”
Reuben’s eyebrows rose. “That’s a little more than I was expecting. You know him well?”
She eyed him sidelong. “Nope, but he was out here yesterday, asking about that mixed-blood nephew of yours.”
Reuben went still. “Was he.”
“Yup. Tried to play it casual, said he’d seen him in town with the police, was wonderin’ what he had to do with the murders. All we told him was Will’s your sister’s boy, he ain’t a wolf but he is a cop, and that you knew he was in town and he’d be no trouble. That wrong?”
Reuben shook his head. “That’s fine, Luce. Will ain’t the one causing trouble here, but Eddie Miller is. Get hold of everybody, we’re going hunting.” Her head came up sharply, eyes wide, but she turned on her heel and stalked back towards the campfire without another word.
Reuben turned back to Hannibal. “Well, thank you kindly for passing on the message, and you can tell Will it’ll be taken care of.” He lifted his head, made direct eye contact; his eyes were a golden hazel, and intent in a way that made Hannibal want to bristle. “We’ll find him before any of your cop friends do, and he won’t be getting arrested. That a problem?”
Hannibal inclined his head. “So long as he stops killing, I don’t believe Will is particularly concerned about how. He was the one who sent me here, after all.”
“Yeah, alright.” Reuben dipped his head in response. “Much obliged, Mr-” he raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“Lecter. Doctor Hannibal Lecter.”
“Ah.” Reuben’s mouth twisted a little, wryly. “My apologies, Doctor Lecter. You have a good night, now.”
He stared at Hannibal, waiting. Hannibal let his mouth twitch up a little at the corner, but he obligingly murmured, “Mr Lovell,” and turned away. He could feel Reuben’s stare on him all the way back to his car.
He wondered, with increasing curiosity, exactly what about him put them all so on edge.
Having spent most of his adult life cultivating the appearance of a harmless, slightly-eccentric academic, it was… odd, to be followed with wary suspicion. It made him recollect less comfortable times in his life, when he had had to snap and snarl and fight for the space and respect he wanted, but… there was something intriguing about it, too. These days people were rarely afraid of him, and by the time they were it was too late for them to do anything about it.
Hannibal returned to the hospital, where he was told that Will had been taken in for more scans and would not be back for some time.
At a loose end, he settled in another uncomfortable plastic chair, and took a stroll through his mind palace. Will said that he had, perhaps unknowingly, surrounded himself with others of a similar kind.
Hannibal went through his various acquaintances, looking for the sense of recognition he had felt when Tobias Budge had made contact, the little frisson of excitement. Oddly enough, he hadn’t gotten that from Will. He had been intrigued by Will’s reputation and the opportunity to become involved with the BAU, but when meeting him his first impression had been of something brittle and vulnerable trying desperately to protect itself.
Hannibal had been struck with the immediate desire to poke at him more, to see whether he would crumple or lash out if cornered.
Will had not been at his best at the time - being around Jack Crawford always made him jittery and defensive. But even in the relative calm of a cheap motel room, he’d been cautious with Hannibal. It wasn’t until Hannibal had taken advantage of the situation with the Hobbs family and Abigail to humanise himself to Will that he had genuinely relaxed, started to lean towards him rather than away.
So. Tobias. Hannibal considered his many acquaintances. Many of them had sociopathic tendencies - it was much easier to lack empathy when you had a cushion of wealth protecting you from the need to care about others. Many of them were also a little cruel, a little too avid in their enjoyment of the suffering and downfall of their peers. That little spark of something other, though, that was-
He paused, catching a glimpse of a languid figure reclining on a sofa.
His mental image of Bedelia DuMaurier had a glass of red wine in her hand, and tiny spots of blood flecking the shoulder of her white shirt. She smiled up at him.
Hannibal was forced by the demands of his practice to leave Alexandria before Will was released from hospital, but he was confident of Dr Redgrave's competence, and Will did not seem to be in any immediate danger.
The FBI had managed to identify the man on the grainy hospital camera footage as one Edward Miller, and there was a state-wide manhunt underway. He had not yet been apprehended, but Jack seemed confident that it was only a matter of time. Will was less sure, but he told Hannibal that they had at least made him miss his set of three, so if he were going to kill again, it would have to wait a month. Hannibal bid him a fond farewell, and promised to have a referral for him by the time he returned to Wolf Trap.
Bedelia was as elegant and deceptively fragile as ever, but, watching her delicate fingers curled around the stem of her glass, Hannibal found himself consumed with questions. The first, and most obvious: was Will correct in saying that he had unknowingly surrounded himself with others of a similar kind? He’d felt drawn to Bedelia, to a certain similarity in their natures, a capacity for cruelty and a desire for an elegant life. She was the first one that he had thought of, when Will had suggested the idea. However, she had never said anything to indicate her understanding of a shared secret… However, Will had gone on for months believing that their mutual knowledge was too obvious to require mention. Was it possible that Bedelia had done the same? And yet… His relationship with Will was complicated by many external factors. Bedelia could surely not have expected him to feel constrained by the need for caution.
He had been quiet for too long. Bedelia tilted her head, birdlike, sharp-eyed. “There’s something troubling you. Something you’d like to ask me, perhaps. What is it, Hannibal?”
Hannibal set his wineglass down. “I have… an unusual request. And I’m not entirely sure if it is appropriate.”
Bedelia raised an eyebrow. “Well, I suppose there’s no harm in asking. If it is inappropriate, I shall refuse.”
He laced his fingers together. “I have spoken before about Will Graham.”
“Just a little, yes,” she murmured, faint amusement colouring her tone. “And how is your patient and friend?”
“He has encephalitis,” Hannibal replied, “and our relationship has shifted, to a point where it would be best if he were no longer my patient. Will is hopeful that all his recent issues have been caused by the inflammation, and thus he no longer needs a psychiatrist. But I do not wish to leave him entirely bereft of therapy, should he find a need for it.”
He looked at her expectantly.
Bedelia toyed with her glass, took a sip of wine. “You believe that his illness is not the sole cause of his issues?”
“I believe that if he goes on working for Jack Crawford, at the very least it would benefit him to have an objective voice to balance out Jack’s insistence that any damage he sustains is acceptable.”
“And you are no longer capable of being that voice?”
Hannibal felt a slight frown crease his forehead. “I… am certainly no longer objective where Will is concerned.”
“I suspect that you haven’t been objective about Will Graham for some time, possibly ever. Does it disturb you, to feel this strongly about someone you’ve known for such a comparatively short period of your life?”
“It is… unexpected, yes. I am not accustomed to…”
“Feeling emotions without your conscious control?”
Hannibal paused. “I- suppose so, yes.”
“So, lacking control over your own feelings, you would prefer to be able to control as many aspects of his life as possible. Does it bother you that he no longer wishes to confide in you?”
“I understand his need to separate some aspects of his life, and he has a great many negative associations with our profession.”
“I wasn’t asking if it was unreasonable, Hannibal. I was asking how you felt about it.”
Hannibal’s grip on his own hands had tightened until his knuckles were pale. “I… dislike the idea that he would confide in someone other than myself, yes.”
She hummed thoughtfully. “If I were to take him as a patient, I would not discuss the contents of our sessions with you. Nor yours with him.”
“I meant no offense, but I think we can both acknowledge that our arrangement is… unorthodox, as has been yours with Will Graham. However, unlike your friend Jack Crawford, I have quite strong feelings about doctor-patient confidentiality.”
Hannibal stilled for a moment, but Bedelia merely regarded him, still and placid as a frozen lake. After a moment, he said cautiously, “Do I take that to mean that you would be willing to see him?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “I confess to a certain level of curiosity about this man who has so captured your attention. I’m also curious about the request, though. Surely you have other colleagues you might recommend, ones who are not retired?”
“To be perfectly frank, there is only one other colleague I might have considered, and she is already Will’s friend and unwilling to take him as a patient. Will is… entirely unique, and, I think requires a delicacy of understanding which most of our contemporaries lack.”
“Well, how could I refuse so flattering a request?” She tipped her head, faint amusement curling the edges of her mouth. “That said, if he agrees to see me I have an unusual request of my own.”
Hannibal straightened slightly. “Oh?”
“May I borrow your office for our initial meeting?”
Hannibal raised his eyebrows. “That is unusual.”
She smiled. “I’m not entirely comfortable inviting a complete stranger into my house, especially one who is not over-fond of psychiatrists.”
Hannibal blinked. “Ah. I confess, I had not considered that. My apologies.”
She shrugged again. “It is not, I think, something you have ever needed to consider. And I’m sure Will Graham is perfectly lovely, once you get to know him.”
Hannibal laughed softly. “Ah, I would not go that far, but he is a little like a hedgehog, perhaps. Very prickly at first, to keep predators away and protect his soft underbelly.”
He was watching her carefully, so he noticed the faint shift in her posture, the predatory sharpness of her gaze. “I see. Well, I shall do my best to disarm him.”
Introducing Will and Bedelia was an odd experience. She had arrived twenty minutes before Will was due, greeted Hannibal politely, and then proceeded to take a slow, interested survey of his consulting room. She even climbed the ladder, dainty and careful in her heels and pencil skirt, to browse his bookshelves.
Hannibal watched her, testing his own feelings on the matter. He knew that he felt possessive of Bedelia, knew that she was aware of this and had been extremely careful to maintain the boundaries between them. Six months ago, if he had convinced her to visit his office, inspect his decor, perhaps have dinner with him afterwards, he would have been replete with satisfaction at having drawn her closer. Now, he wanted to know what she thought of Will, and he of her. It irritated him that he would not be present for their conversations, to observe how they interacted.
Bedelia climbed back down and arranged herself carefully against his desk shortly before seven-thirty, and Hannibal opened the door to the waiting room. Will was perched on the edge of one of his chairs, not quite a huddle but clearly uncomfortable.
Hannibal opened the door and smiled at him. “Hello Will.”
Will sighed. “Hi Hannibal. Ah-”
“Come in, I’ll introduce you and then show myself out.”
He ushered Will in with a hand between his shoulder blades, gratified when Will leaned against it, relaxing a little.
“Will, this is Dr Bedelia DuMaurier, a colleague of mine. Bedelia, this is Will Graham.”
“Mr Graham. It’s good to meet you, Hannibal has spoken of you quite often of late.”
Will’s shoulders hunched defensively, but he took Bedelia’s hand and shook it politely. “Right. Not sure I want to know what he’s been saying.”
“I’m afraid I can’t discuss that.”
That brought Will’s head up, and he glanced between her and Hannibal for a moment. “Oh. You’re his, ah, unconventional psychiatrist?”
Bedelia smiled wryly. “Perhaps I should be asking what he’s been saying about me?”
Will laughed, startled. “Ah, no details beyond that, don’t worry. You were the appointment before me once, and I asked if it was normal to drink with your patients.”
Bedelia shrugged gracefully. “Hannibal is also a little unconventional as a patient. Besides, I am mostly retired.”
They both glanced at Hannibal, and he raised his hands in surrender. “On that note, I shall leave you to talk about me in peace. Goodnight, Bedelia. Will, shall I expect you for dinner?”
Will nodded. “Thanks. I’ll see you later?”
Bedelia murmured a quiet farewell, and Hannibal left. It was something of an effort to not listen at the door, but he suspected Will, at least, would be able to tell.
Hannibal occupied himself with making dinner.
Will rang his doorbell a little over an hour later. Hannibal let him in, and looked him over. Will looked tired, but he often looked tired; it lacked the wrung-out exhaustion that he often tried to hide after dealing with too much time around people.
“Let me take your coat, and, perhaps, offer you a drink?”
Will huffed out a laugh. “It wasn’t that bad - I can see why you like her, and we agreed that I’d go see her again in a couple of weeks.”
“Not next week?”
“I’d rather give the meds a bit longer to work, see what I’m left with. Apparently my clocks are looking better, and I haven’t woken up on my roof since I got back, so fingers crossed I stop seeing dead people when I’m awake soon.”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow as he ushered Will into the dining room. “Is that still an issue?”
Will sank into the chair Hannibal pulled out for him, then see-sawed a hand in the air. “The way I reconstruct crime scenes is very visual, so it’s not always easy to tell.”
“I distinctly remember you insisting you aren’t psychic.” Hannibal paused for a moment, hand still on the back of the chair, looking down at Will. He really was lovely, especially in Hannibal’s space, letting Hannibal take care of him.
Will laughed again, tipping his head back to look up at Hannibal. “I’m really not. A good forensics tech could walk you through a crime scene and explain what happened and in what order, based on things like blood splatter and footprints and wound patterns. A good psychoanalyst can look at the same evidence, victim profiles and modus operandi, and give you some solid guesses on why the killer’s doing it and what kind of person they are. I just combine the two, with a few advantages like an eidetic memory and that pesky empathy disorder. It’s like maths - it only seems like magic if you can’t see the workings.”
Hannibal smiled. “As someone with some understanding of both sides of that equation, your capacity for synthesising information is still remarkable.”
Will ducked his head slightly, and cleared his throat. “I- Ah. Thanks. So… what are we eating?”
Hannibal stepped back, straightening his cuffs. “Duck à l’Orange, tonight. The sauce is made with bitter oranges, balancing it between sour and sweet and making it a sharp enough flavour to balance the richness of the duck.”
He carved the duck and served it, spooning the sauce onto Will’s plate in delicate swirls.
Will watched him, and his mouth softened into a half-smile.
“Something amusing about my cooking?” Hannibal asked, mostly joking.
Will shook his head. “No, just- I was going to say you don’t have to go to all this trouble for me, but you enjoy it, don’t you? The presentation, the way it looks, setting it all out. And then I wondered if you eat like this when you’re alone, or if you’re sometimes too tired to be bothered and you just microwave leftovers or something, but now I’m trying to picture you eating dry cereal straight out of the box because you’ve gotten home at 2am and you just want to sleep, and it’s… oddly compelling.”
Hannibal poured the wine and sat down. “I do prefer to plate food properly, even when I am alone. Food is… important to me.”
“The ritual of it,” Will agreed.
“Yes. Although I’m sure that you will be delighted to know that I was not always so fastidious. I did spend many years as both a medical student and, later, an emergency room doctor. I have, upon occasion, eaten leftovers straight out of the refrigerator for the reasons you described. I might have done the same with cereal, but I honestly cannot stand most commercial cereal products, and dry muesli is not pleasant.”
Will’s smile curled up. “Never got addicted to that high-fructose corn syrup, huh? Probably a good choice.”
They were quiet for a moment as Will applied himself to his 'duck'.
“Look, about Bedelia. I’m guessing this little tête-à-tête was partly because you suspected she was Old Blood too, but you can’t just ask people that, so you wanted me to check.”
Hannibal tipped his head in acknowledgement, and waited.
Will snorted. “I mean, yeah. She’s not exactly hiding it.”
“I see. Did you speak to her about it?”
Will nodded. “I figured it’d be polite to let her know I was going to tell you, in case she needed to skip town.”
Hannibal paused, set his fork down gently. “And why would she do that?”
Will rolled his eyes. “I don’t know exactly what the relationship between the two of you is, but you’ve clearly got something on her. That’s why she’s still seeing you even though she’s retired, right? She knows what you are, enough to be afraid of you but also fascinated. Especially by the fact that you clearly didn't know, and she had no intention of sharing.”
Hannibal cocked his head thoughtfully. “Were you expecting me to be angry, that she knew and didn’t tell me?”
“I think you’d kill her if she ever did something you construed as a betrayal, and that she’s well aware of that. I also think that you, of all people, would understand the impulse to keep information from someone, just to see what would happen.” Will paused, took a sip of his wine. “I’m less sure of how willing you are to apply that understanding when the experimental subject in question is you.”
Hannibal picked up his fork again. “What did she say, when you informed her of your intentions?”
“To tell you? Uh-” Will looked away.
Hannibal went very still. “Will?”
Will shifted in his seat. “When I told her, the whole," he waved a hand, "‘I know what you are and that you know what he is and didn’t tell him,’ she asked if I was going to pass this information on to you, and I said of course, because I consider you a friend and I don’t keep important information from my friends. Unlike some people. I… may have said that last part with a hint of bitterness. Which she noticed, because she’s actually quite good at her job. And then we talked about you, and how understanding someone’s motivations doesn’t stop you being kinda pissed off about things.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes.
At last, Hannibal said cautiously, “You did agree to come to dinner, though.”
Will sighed. “I said you were a friend, and I meant it, okay? I’m still allowed to be angry that you nearly let my brain melt out my ears.”
“Is that what Bedelia told you?”
“I did not accept the dinner invitation to give you a complete report on my therapy session, Hannibal. And Bedelia said she wasn’t going to either. Does the fact that we had a conversation you weren’t privy to really bother you this much?”
Hannibal finished his mouthful, took a sip of wine. “I had grown accustomed to being your sole confidant. And I find that I dislike the idea of being discussed by two people who arguably know more about me than I do.”
Will blinked. “I wouldn’t say that. We know a few things about your genetics that you weren’t aware of, that doesn’t replace your entire lived experience. I'll admit, I did make some snap judgements about you when we first met, but like I said, you really were playing to type.”
“Have you changed your estimation since?”
“You know I have, or we wouldn’t be here. Yes, alright, I do find you interesting. Happy?” Will sounded exasperated but also fond, and Hannibal found his expression softening without the effort it usually required.
“I’m glad to hear it. I will admit, I was also a little concerned that without our therapeutic relationship, you might not be so inclined to spend time with a psychiatrist.”
Will snorted. “Alright, I do have a certain… wariness, around psychiatrists. But in my experience most of them are only talking to me because they can’t access my ‘remarkable’ brain more directly.” He tipped one eyebrow up, an offer to share the joke, and Hannibal chuckled.
“That would be tragic waste. While I’m sure your brain is fascinating from a neurological perspective, I much prefer our current method of exploration. And the relative intelligence of the previous occupant has no discernable effect upon the taste.”
Will snorted. “Probably for the best. Somebody would eventually have noticed if you were quietly disappearing all the MENSA members in Baltimore.”
Hannibal paused, glass of wine resting against his lips.
Will’s gaze flicked up, startled, and then he also went still.
Hannibal set his wine glass down carefully, and then just watched him, fascinated.
Seeing Will working through a problem was the only time he honestly did wish that he could see inside his brain, watch the neurons flare as he linked facts and impressions, applied and discarded theories, and gradually worked his way around to the right answer. He could see the moment that it hit, the startled widening of Will’s eyes. He tensed, waiting to see what Will would do.
He was not expecting Will to press a hand to his face and groan, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“Will?” he prompted gently.
Will peered between his fingers. “Please tell me I’m way off the mark, and you’re not the Chesapeake Ripper.”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow, delighted.
Will groaned again, sliding his plate aside so he could drop his forehead to the table. “Why is this my life?”
Hannibal braced his elbow on the table, leaning forward to try to see Will’s face. “I would very much like to hear your reasoning.”
Will sighed, rolling his head to the side so that he could look up at Hannibal. “I bet you would, you probably read all those godawful articles Freddy Lounds writes about you, too.”
Hannibal reached out and gently smoothed Will’s hair away from his eyes. “I prefer your analysis, but one takes what one can get.”
Will stilled under the touch, but he didn’t pull away, and that wry amusement lingered in his expression. “Well, far be it from me to deprive you. Remember those misconceptions I had about you when we first met? I knew you ate people, but it didn’t occur to me that you’d make a production of the deaths - you’re too controlled. There’s a certain amount of... anger and isolation to the way the Ripper treats his victims. Like they’re a disappointment. It implies a level of identification with the human race that most of the Old Blood would disdain completely. I thought if you were making a display of anything, it was the cooking.” He gave a little thoughtful hum. “But there is... a world of difference between sharing a meal and an in-joke with a delighted audience, and feeding human flesh to a crowd of unsuspecting fools, who make appreciative noises but understand nothing. Isn’t there?”
It was Hannibal’s turn to go still. He had found himself dreaming of connection, of being understood, but he realised now that he had never truly expected it to happen. He felt a cold prickle of something approaching terror as Will gazed up at him, those clear blue eyes seeing far deeper than he had allowed anyone in years.
“Yes, there is.” His voice came out hoarse, he had to clear his throat before continuing in a more normal tone, “Although it is possible that some of the fools thought we were sharing a joke after all. I wonder, if I hosted a dinner party with all my usual companions, would you be able to pick out which ones were only mostly human?”
Will snorted. “Yeah, I probably could, but they wouldn’t be impressed.”
“They’d figure you were slumming, or you’d acquired a new pet; either way, it’s would be insulting for both of us. You might enjoy causing scandalous gossip, but I really don’t like that sort of thing.”
Hannibal raised his eyebrows. “Ah. You did say that there was no love lost between the Old Blood and the shifter types.”
Will shrugged one shoulder, still careful not to dislodge Hannibal’s hand, which had begun stroking idly through his hair without any conscious consideration on Hannibal’s part. “Not just shifters - there’s plenty of other types of folk who aren’t into the whole court aesthetic. Most of them don’t like cities, either, tend to live in rural areas or off the grid completely. The Old Blood look at the rest of us as somewhere between wild animals and unfortunate backwoods cousins.”
Hannibal smoothed his hand along Will’s jaw, rubbed a thumb across his stubble. “A pity. It would have been amusing, but if I were forced to choose I would much prefer my single guest to a room filled with shallow flatterers.”
“Oh,” Will said, a little unsteadily, and then swallowed hard. After a moment, he curled a hand over Hannibal’s, pressing it to his cheek for a moment, and then tugging it away gently to clasp it in both of his as he sat up.
“Sorry, it’s not that I don't want-” Will shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. “This has been... a lot. Can we just, ah, put a pin in…” he glanced down at Hannibal’s hand, which he was still holding, “whatever this is? For a couple of weeks, until I’m less brain-fevered.”
“Of course,” Hannibal replied, giving Will’s hand a gentle squeeze and then letting go. “I don’t mean to rush you. Perhaps we can have dinner again once you are feeling a little more yourself.”
“Yeah, that’d be, ah, nice.” Will glanced around the room, not really focussing on anything in particular. “I should probably get home. It’s late, and I have to feed my dogs. Uh. I’ll see you… soon?”
“We can arrange a time later, Will. In the meanwhile, perhaps you would keep me updated on your case? I understand that there has been no official progress. Have you heard anything from your uncle?”
Will shook his head. “Apparently Miller lit out of town like his tail was on fire, and nobody’s seen any trace of him since.”
They texted regularly, over the following weeks. Will had agreed to keep him informed about the case, and sent him increasingly-frustrated messages with a total lack of progress.
The FBI had set up road blockades and flagged Miller's passport, but Miller had ditched his car and cut through state forest instead.
The wolves tracked him across country, but lost him when he got to a main road and apparently hitched a ride with a passing car.
Local police found a car with its owner’s body stuffed in the trunk in Jackson, Mississippi. Miller's prints were all the vehicle, so they called the FBI. Jack swore a lot and shifted the focus of the manhunt, but there were far too many places he could have gone from Jackson for them to be able to close the net with any degree of effectiveness.
Reuben had passed the word to all the packs he knew - apparently they had a chat server, for organising events, mostly, but also precisely this sort of thing.
Will never mentioned the Chesapeake Ripper. Hannibal told himself that he understood - Will worked for the FBI, and mobile phones were hardly secure. Will had said that he didn’t care. Will had also left Hannibal’s house without finishing his meal, something he had never done before when Hannibal had offered him food.
Hannibal enjoyed his usual games of cat-and-mouse with law enforcement: involving himself in investigations, leaving them clues he knew they would misunderstand. He’d never let anyone get this close before, though, and he’d certainly never let anyone walk out of his house knowing exactly who and what he was. Every time his phone rang, or there was a knock at the door, he could feel the tension ratchet a little tighter in his spine.
Hannibal called Will, ten days after their last meal together.
“Hannibal? Is everything alright?”
“Of course. I was wondering how you were feeling.”
“Much better, actually. Apparently both hemispheres of my brain are the same size now, and I’m pretty sure I’m not seeing things that aren’t there.”
“Only pretty sure?”
“That’s as good as it gets with me.” Will sounded as though he were smiling.
“If that’s the case, do you feel up to having dinner with me?”
There was a pause, and Hannibal felt that slow tension creep up his spine again.
When Will answered, he seemed almost flustered, but his voice was warm. “I’d like that. Are you free Sunday?”
Will was a bad liar, but he wasn’t always easy to read, and Hannibal had no idea what the odd note in his voice meant. He wished that he’d thought to have this conversation in person, perhaps visit him. He needed to be sure. An idea occurred. “Would it be presumptuous of me to commandeer your kitchen?”
Another pause. “Uh, if you’d like, but- I’m not sure it’ll be up to your standards?”
Hannibal chuckled. “I will cook something simple. You have a working stove, do you not?”
“I do, yes.”
“Then we will have no problems. I thought you might enjoy something a little less... pretentious.”
Will chuckled. “I wouldn’t call your cooking pretentious, Hannibal - that implies it doesn’t live up to the hype. But I’d be delighted to see what you consider ‘simple’.”
“Very well. You’re sure? I won’t be offended if you need a little more time.”
“I’m sure.” Will’s voice turned wry. “Sorry, you surprised me, a bit. I’m not used to people being this eager to see me.”
“With a few rare exceptions, people are dull creatures with no appreciation for quality,” Hannibal informed him drily.
Will gave a startled bark of laughter. “Well, I, ah, I’m extremely flattered that you’ve decided I’m worth your time, then. And I hope your definition of quality includes a lot of dogs.”
There was a short pause, and then Hannibal asked what the odds of Miller being found were.
Will replied simply, “If he doesn’t kill again? Not great. He’s an average-looking white male, and this is a big country.”
“And if he does?”
“His victim profile is specific. If he can only sense them around the full moon, his best chances of finding a half-blood are either to go after people he already knows, or to hang around where he knows there’s a local pack who’d be intermarrying with humans. The packs have all been warned, and they’ll know what to look for this time.”
“So, a waiting game, then.”
“I hate this part. I don’t want him to get away, but our best chance of catching him are if he kills again.”
“You feel as though you are wishing death upon some other innocent.”
There was a long pause, and, “Do you talk like this to all your friends, or am I special?”
“Yes, to both. Is it a problem?”
Will hummed thoughtfully. “Just checking - this was starting to sound like one of our therapy conversations.”
“If you don’t believe me, you are welcome to compare notes with Alana, but I do also enjoy asking my friends difficult questions.”
“You know, I’m really not surprised.”
The night was overcast and a little stormy, excellent weather for a good steak.
Hannibal smiled at Will thoughtfully when the younger man opened his door. “Good evening, Will. I do hope you are hungry.”
Will nodded amiably, stepping back to allow Hannibal entry, and he followed him wordlessly to the kitchen and watched as Hannibal carefully unpacked the entrée and side dishes he had made in advance. Then he paused. “Ah. I left the meat in the car, my apologies.”
Will blinked, and a faintly wary tension settled into his limbs, which would indicate that Hannibal’s casual tone might not have been as effective as he thought. It was disconcerting, being seen, though also somewhat exhilarating; Hannibal was genuinely excited in a way that happened so rarely in his neatly ordered life.
Will padded quietly at Hannibal’s heels as he returned to his car, and watched with cautious attention as Hannibal opened the trunk to reveal the unconscious body of a particularly irritating salesperson by the name of Mark Sanderson. Hannibal smiled at Will. “I thought I might make dinner from scratch. Most cuts of meat are at their best when extremely fresh.”
Will cocked his head to one side and looked from Hannibal to the body, his expression flickering through a number of different emotions before settling into rueful amusement.
Hannibal frowned, because he was sure that he’d caught a faint snarl in the mix somewhere. Perhaps what he’d intended as a gauge of Will’s loyalty and morals had set off another of Will’s tangled bundle of instincts?
But, after a moment’s hesitation, Will stepped forward and said diffidently, “Actually, would you mind if I changed the menu a little?”
Hannibal stepped away from the car. “Oh? If you have a preference, I would be glad to accommodate you.”
Will nodded, then his gaze flicked over Hannibal, taking in his clothes, and he frowned. “You aren’t really dressed for this, though, especially the shoes. Sorry. I have some things that might fit you, if you wanted to change?”
“May I ask what exactly ‘this’ is?” Hannibal enquired, moving out of the way and watching with interest as Will tugged the limp body out of the trunk with ease, settling the man over his shoulder.
“Well, it’ll probably involve some tramping around in the woods, and while it isn’t going to rain until later, it’s still a bit damp. It’s a good night for it, though.”
Hannibal touched his shoulder lightly, and Will paused. “I seem to have offended you again somehow.”
Will sighed. “No, you haven’t. You meant it as a... trust exercise, right?”
“That would be one way to describe it,” Hannibal said, the corners of his mouth twitching.
“So, it’s fine.”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow. Will sighed again, rubbing at his hair with the hand not steadying Mr Sanderson’s limp form over his shoulder. “Wolves bring live prey to cubs who need to learn to hunt for themselves. Implying, in this case, that you’ve been feeding me because you didn’t think I was capable of catching my own food. Which, to a wolf, is... yes, quite offensive. I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you’re looking for a fight.”
“Ah. And yet, you have neither thrown me out of your territory nor attacked me.”
“You’re not a wolf. And, for that matter, neither am I. You weren’t being horrifyingly condescending, or not any more than usual, and... I’m guessing you wanted some assurance that I haven’t changed my mind about you, right? Since I found out you’re Jack’s archnemesis and all.” Will looked uncertain, but hopeful, and Hannibal relaxed.
“Of course. Although I would hardly consider Jack my archnemesis.”
Will’s mouth twitched. “That’s just rude, Hannibal. You’re going to hurt his feelings.”
Will handed him a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, and shrugged. “Sorry, I don’t really have anything else that might fit you. I’ve got some hiking boots that might work, I bought them loose since I like to wear them with thick socks.”
Hannibal accepted them, and stepped into Will’s bathroom to change. Everything was a little tight on him, but not uncomfortably so, and it was… interesting. The clothes smelled of Will’s laundry detergent, and were soft and well-worn.
Hanging his clothes over a chair to keep them clean,he rolled up the sleeves of his borrowed shirt as he followed Will out to the back porch.
The unfortunate Mr Sanderson had been dumped unceremoniously on the porch, where the dogs were milling about impatiently and sniffing him. Will had taken off his shoes, and was removing his socks as Hannibal came through the door.
The look Will gave him was slow and thoughtful. “Huh. You should dress down more often.”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow. “Do you not like my suits? Or do you just prefer me in your clothes?”
Will cleared his throat, half-laughing, but he’d gone a little red. “I’ve got nothing against your suits. But you, ah, you look good. In my clothes.”
Hannibal straightened the shirt, a little smug, and waited to see how Will intended to dispatch their dinner.
Barefoot now, Will padded over to Sanderson. He crouched beside the unconscious man and shook him, slapping his face sharply when that failed to rouse him.
Sanderson groaned, and opened his eyes groggily. “Wha- who’re you?” he demanded, staring at Will with a bewildered frown.
“That’s not really important right now. Do you feel up to running? Decide quickly.”
“Running? Running where?” Sanderson sat up, staring around. He frowned at Hannibal in confused recognition, but Will leaned closer and drew his attention again.
“I think ‘away’ is the usual direction. As fast as possible. Consider the phrase ‘like your life depended on it’ for inspiration.”
Sanderson lurched to his feet, swayed, but stayed upright, and Will rose with him, still a little too close. “What the hell are you talking about? Where am I? I’m calling the police, you-“ He broke off, staring at Will, his eyes going wide with horror, and a shaky whimpering noise escaped his mouth as he staggered backwards, tripping down the porch stairs and landing heavily on his back.
Will stalked towards him, dropped into a crouch at the edge of the porch and said “Run,” his voice a guttural snarl that had Sanderson scrambling to his feet and bolting unsteadily into the night, throwing panicked glances over his shoulder as he fled.
“Will?” Hannibal enquired curiously.
Will angled his head towards Hannibal without turning and rasped out, “Don’t worry if you can’t keep up, I don’t think he’ll get far.” Then he straightened up and peeled off his shirt, undoing and stepping out of his pants a moment later. Completely naked, he stretched until his spine cracked and then stepped lightly off the porch, landing in the dirt. He stretched again, then hunched over, dropping forward until his hands touched the ground as his skin blurred oddly, darkening and shifting and...
Hannibal felt his eyes widen as he watched Will change, and then the thing that Will had become gave a soft hoarse bark, and the dogs, which had been hanging back in the doorway, streamed forward to circle around it, whining.
Hannibal moved closer, trying to see it clearly in the light from the doorway. Will’s other form was roughly wolfish in shape, but it had sleek dark fur that would have looked more at home on an otter or seal, and there was something odd about the shape of its hindquarters. It was also head and shoulders taller than even the largest of Will’s strays, and their easy deference made far more sense now, seeing them clustered about this creature.
Will tipped his head in Hannibal’s direction and made a low huffing sound, tongue lolling out over a double row of jagged shark’s teeth that made Hannibal blink at the incongruity. He watched in fascination as Will started off, running away from the house at an easy, ground-eating lope. The pack of strays followed at his heels, silent save for their eager panting, and Hannibal stared after them for a long moment before he remembered Sanderson and followed.
Hannibal had excellent eyesight, even at night, but with the heavy cloud cover it was almost pitch black, and once he was away from the circle of light thrown by Will’s little house he had to slow down or risk tripping while his eyes adjusted. Perhaps Will was right to disdain city living - there was something intense and atavistic about the absence of any other human for miles.
Well, not quite- Hannibal could hear blundering footsteps, running, and then- a short, panicked scream, cut off with a wet gurgle.
Will had been quite serious about Sanderson’s chances. The man had reached the treeline, but it was barely a hundred yards in that Hannibal found them.
Sanderson was down on the ground and clearly dead, a bloody gaping mess where his throat had been. The dogs circled, whining and intent, drooling as they watched Will tear into the man’s belly with his sharp teeth, soft entrails spilling out.
Then he sat up, and Hannibal watched in fascination as he shifted back to himself, dark fur melting back into pale skin still sticky with blood as he leant forward to grip the corpse with fingers that were still oddly shaped, with claws rather than nails. He shredded the man’s trousers easily, tore open his shirt and then thrust his hand into the body’s chest, the sound of cracking bone audible before he pulled it out with a wrench, holding the dead man’s heart. He slid to his feet easily and padded towards Hannibal, leaving the dogs to set upon the corpse, ripping and biting and swallowing down chunks of meat.
There was something eerie about this Will, utterly unselfconscious even while naked and smeared with blood, and when their eyes met it sent a pang of something indescribable through Hannibal. It could have been awe, or terror, or exhilaration, but was yet unlike any of those.
And then Will was standing before him, so close that the rich coppery scent of blood surrounded Hannibal like a cloud and Will smiled, and his teeth were jagged and sharp and inhuman, and he held up the dead man’s heart, pressing it to Hannibal’s mouth. Hannibal felt his stomach twist, suddenly ravenous. He bit down, pressing hard with his blunt human teeth to tear through the hot, slick muscle, blood running down his chin. Will gave a low pleased hum, his avid gaze fixed on Hannibal’s face while he drew the meat away and took a bite himself. His teeth sank in easily, and he took a polite mouthful and waited until Hannibal was ready before offering again. They traded bites, slowly, almost reverently, until Will swallowed the last morsel and licked his fingers and smiled at Hannibal again, and his teeth were normal now as he leaned in and dragged his tongue across Hannibal’s cheek, lapping up the half-dried blood with careful strokes. When he licked across Hannibal’s mouth, Hannibal wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and held him still, kissed him fiercely, and Will hummed again, low and wordless, as he responded.
It was messy and uncivilised and nothing Hannibal had ever realised he could want, and they were both breathing roughly when Will drew back, turning away and padding over to the dogs.
There wasn’t much left of the corpse. Will’s little pack had torn him apart, eaten all the softer parts, though there was still flesh clinging to his extremities, and his feet in their shoes were intact. Will gathered up the pieces onto the dead man’s shirt, carefully collecting the scattered bones. The dogs, sleepy and full, milled about licking his hands happily, and Will smiled and petted them, then picked up his messy bundle and started back towards his house. Hannibal followed him through the dark, watching the unerring way he moved through the gloom, comfortable in his bloody skin in a way Hannibal had never seen him before.
They emerged into the pool of light surrounding Will’s house. Will dumped the pile of body parts into a bucket by the back porch, apparently entirely unconcerned. Hannibal frowned, and Will glanced at him curiously. Then he smiled, ducking his head slightly. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll go for a run later in the week, dump them somewhere they won’t be found for a while. Having the body mostly-eaten tends to fuck up forensics pretty well. And since it’s going to rain tonight, probably quite heavily a little before dawn, there’s no need to worry about the woods.”
“How far are you planning to run?”
Will shrugged. “I can run a long way quite fast, and it’s much easier with four feet. I’m lucky I’ve never shifted while I was asleep, that would have been a real problem, but the nightmares are a human thing and it doesn’t occur to me.”
“Sorry for messing up your dinner plans, but I thought if you wanted to be sure of me, and yourself, that was the clearest way to settle it.”
“What do you mean, of myself?”
“That whatever your reasons for starting, you’ve kept eating people for reasons that are entirely biological.”
“Like Garret Jacob Hobbs?”
“The opposite, actually. Hobbs was killing them to kill them, and eating them, ‘honouring’ them, was just a sop to his conscience, trying desperately to excuse something he was doing because he felt compelled. With you, on the other hand, they’re food. Your reasons for choosing them, how you kill them, and the way you display the bodies are secondary. You kill people because you want to eat them. Honestly, that makes more sense to me than any other reason I’ve heard.”
Hannibal realized that he was smiling only when Will smiled back, and then it seemed entirely necessary to kiss him, and then do it again, and again, until Will pulled back and said, “Uh, shower?”
Hannibal kissed him once more, slow and thorough, and then let go, and followed him into the house. Will’s shower was far too small, the two of them barely had room to move as they washed off the blood. They left Hannibal’s borrowed clothes in a wet pile in the sink, stumbling into Will’s bedroom still dripping. Hannibal shoved Will against the wall to keep him still for more greedy kisses. When they broke for air Hannibal dragged his teeth down Will’s throat, breathing him in with hungry gasps, and Will flinched oddly, shoved him away.
Hannibal stared in confusion; Will had gone tense, wary, and he wondered which of his tangled instincts had tripped him up this time. After a moment’s pause Hannibal said cautiously, his voice rough, “Will? If you do not wish to continue, we can-“
Will shook his head, and Hannibal waited. He shook it again, then stepped away from the wall and slunk towards Hannibal, leaning in close and sliding a hand up to tangle in his hair. “You’ve stopped hiding,” he rumbled against Hannibal’s cheek. “It’s different, that’s all. Just needed a minute to shift gears, so to speak.”
Hannibal nuzzled his hair, kissed the side of his jaw. “If you’re sure?”
“Very. If you don’t mind, I’d like to come with you sometime, when you go hunting.”
Hannibal’s fingers had been smoothing lightly over Will’s back, luxuriating; they dug in hard as he moaned, “Will,” shaken and desperate, dragging him closer.
Two awkward steps and they were falling onto Will’s bed in a tangle of limbs, and Hannibal rolled Will over and ground into him, sucking bruises into his throat as they rocked together. Will groaned and thrust up against him, bit into his shoulder hard enough to draw blood as he came and the sight of him gasping for air with his slick, scarlet mouth drove Hannibal over the edge as well.
Lying sprawled together, belly full of meat and nerves humming with pleasure, Hannibal felt intensely, physically present, in a way he was not accustomed to. He also felt oddly secure, in Will’s little house in the middle of nowhere, guarded by a pack of loyal hounds and their strange, changeable master.
Will wrestled a blanket out from under their bodies to drape over the two of them, tucking his head under Hannibal’s chin and wrapping an arm around his ribs. Hannibal nuzzled against his hair, and let his body drag his mind down to sleep.
Hannibal drifted up to consciousness slowly, rather than the crisp snap he was accustomed to.
When he had considered seducing Will, he had always pictured doing so slowly: inviting Will to his table and serving him an exquisite meal, teasing him with subtle flirtation, coaxing him upstairs and giving him all the pleasure he never allowed himself, taking him apart until there was nothing in his mind but Hannibal’s touch.
This, this frenzied rutting with the taste of raw meat in his mouth, was not what he had planned. They had been wet from the shower when they fell onto Will’s bed, and they were now covered in a variety of bodily fluids. There was, Hannibal noted with something approaching horror, dog fur adhering to his bare skin in a number of places.
Will sighed and propped himself up on one elbow. He scrutinized Hannibal’s face with growing concern. “Um, are you alright? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Hannibal’s eyes narrowed. His shoulder did ache where Will had bitten it, but there was no cause for Will to fuss at him. “I am fine,” he bit out, and sat up stiffly. He was filthy, and Will’s house was filthy, and he wanted suddenly to be very far away from Will’s house and Will’s dogs and Will himself.
Some of that must have been clear on his face, because Will’s expression went entirely blank, and he rolled to his feet. “I’ll get you a towel, then, since you’ll probably need another shower before you go,” he said flatly, padding out of the room.
Hannibal ignored the faint lethargy in his limbs and got into the shower, turning it on as hot as he could stand, and washed himself quickly. His bitten shoulder stung under the hot water, and started to bleed again.
By the time he got out, there was indeed a fresh towel waiting for him, and a small but adequate first-aid kit. Having dealt with his shoulder, he found that his clothes were neatly folded in a fur-free pile on a chair in Will’s bedroom. He dried himself roughly and dressed, feeling more himself with each layer he put back on. Finally, he straightened his tie, tied his shoes with neat, entirely symmetrical knots, and went out to find Will.
Will had only bothered to put on an undershirt and boxer shorts, and he still smelled of blood and sex, now mixed with the bitter scent of cheap coffee. He was perched on the sofa, mug in his hands, his dogs sprawled on the floor at his feet.
There were fingertip bruises just visible on Will’s upper arm, and some in the shape of Hannibal’s mouth trailing down his pale throat. Hannibal felt an unwelcome flare of heat and ignored it.
Will looked him over, and sighed. “You’re going, then?”
“Yes,” Hannibal said coolly. “I’m afraid I have appointments later, and it is a long drive.”
Will nodded. “Of course. Uh... thank you for dinner? Can I get you coffee or anything, before you go?”
“No. Thank you.” He had left containers full of salad in Will’s fridge, but he could collect those another time.”
Will was staring down into his mug. “Fair enough. And, ah, I’m sorry.”
“Making you uncomfortable. I know you’re still figuring things out, and I didn’t mean to push you into something you weren’t ready for.”
Hannibal frowned. Will looked unhappy and defensive, awkward in his own skin again. He also had a point: securely buttoned back into his cool detachment, Hannibal could acknowledge that he was, perhaps, being impolite. “Ah. Apology accepted, and may I offer one in return, for being inconsiderate of your feelings?”
The slight hunch to Will shoulders eased. “Oh, well. I did derail your plans for the evening pretty thoroughly, which was rude of me.” He glanced up at Hannibal from under his eyelashes. “Hope that doesn’t mean I’m on the menu for next time.”
Hannibal blinked at him, startled into amusement. “I assure you, you would have to do a great deal worse than surprise me for that.”
Will took a sip of his horrible coffee. “Mm, that’s good to know. You’re not always easy to read, even for me.”
A thought surfaced: Will, flinching back from Hannibal’s teeth at his throat. "Are you afraid of me, Will?"
“No. Or, not exactly.” Will shrugged, mouth turning down at the corners. "I told you I had conflicting instincts. It's just that some of them belong to this." He waved a hand vaguely at himself.
"This. A thing with soft skin and blunt teeth. Prey."
"Even as a human, you are hardly defenceless. Surely those instincts you could learn to ignore."
"I can't, though. They're too useful as a counterbalance to the other ones and I need them for camouflage.” Will tapped his fingers thoughtfully against his knee. “For wolves, eye contact is a threat. So when people do it, my first impulse is to threaten in return, growl, maybe even attack them. But while I'm in this skin, I’ve trained myself to remember that I'm a prey animal, not a hunter. It's had the unfortunate side effect of making me very uncomfortable around people, but I've also never bitten anybody for staring at me, which, you have to admit, would be far more difficult to explain."
Hannibal chuckled softly, absorbing this new fact. Will was endlessly fascinating, still, and despite his immediate need for distance, he wanted to see him again. “Is that why you pushed me away when I bit you last night?”
“Uh, yeah.” Will flushed slightly. “I was still settling back into my skin, and you were- Well, you’re basically a large predator, but you normally hide it. I was surprised. It’s not that I didn’t like it.”
Two steps closed the distance between them, and Hannibal tilted Will’s face up and kissed him softly, slowly. “I’m glad,” he murmured, and watched Will’s expression soften. “Come to my house this Friday. Let me make you dinner properly.”
“Yeah, okay. I promise not to make off with the main course this time.”
“I appreciate that.” Will was smiling again, and Hannibal touched his reddened mouth lightly, ran his fingers across Will’s jaw and down his neck to press lightly into a bruise. “And in the absence of any more surprises, I promise I shall retain my manners.”
He kissed Will again, lingering and gentle, and then wished him a good day and left. Will, he concluded as he drove home, had an uncomfortable talent for keeping him off-balance. Still, it meant that he was never dull.
Despite a few awkward missteps, he had enjoyed the evening immensely. And if Will’s request to accompany him on one of his trips was genuine, then he might well have found someone who could see him for all that he was without flinching. A romantic notion, to be sure, but Hannibal was, at heart, an artist, and what was life if one could not believe in such things?
Friday was the first night of the full moon, Hannibal noted, watching Will eat beef carpaccio with evident pleasure.
He wondered how much difference there was to Will's tastebuds, if the pull of whatever strange tides flowed in his blood made eating more intense. Perhaps he could make him the same dish in a few weeks, and see how it compared.
They talked quietly through several courses, and then Will insisted on helping him clear the table before dessert.
He stretched a little as he carried the plates through, shifting lightly on the balls of his feet, and Hannibal smiled at him. "My apologies, was there too much sitting still?"
Will chuckled. "A bit, maybe. I'm always kind of restless with the moon. The dogs give up following me sometimes."
Hannibal hummed, setting out the bowls and arranging syrupy orange slices to their best advantage. "Well, I shall endeavour not to bore you." He held out the spoon. “Try this for me, and tell me what you think.”
Will gave a soft huff of amusement, but obligingly stepped closer and opened his mouth for the spoon, glancing up at Hannibal through his lashes in an entirely unsubtle way. The slightly self-conscious set of his shoulders and the way his mouth kept twitching up at the edges combined to make the whole attempt both endearing and oddly attractive, especially when he closed his lips around the spoon and his eyelids fluttered closed for a moment in surprise, the playacting forgotten in favour of appreciation. “Mmm. I hope you don’t expect any kind of critique, because all I’ve got is ‘delicious’?”
Hannibal tossed the spoon into the sink, smiling. “That will do for now. Although if you’re amenable, I’d be delighted to help you refine your palate.”
Will laughed, leaning back against the counter. “I’d ask if that was a euphemism, but honestly, if it involves me tasting more of your cooking? I’d agree anyway.”
Hannibal regarded him fondly. “Really, Will. I never joke about food." He stepped slowly into Will’s space, herding him backwards until he was up against the counter. He leaned in until they were inches apart, sharing breath. “You left off your aftershave today.”
“I didn’t want it to interfere with my appreciation of your cooking.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, shall I?”
“I don’t think you need me to tell you your food is amazing, Hannibal.”
“You aren’t the first to say it, but I prefer hearing it from you. You aren’t as easily impressed as my usual guests.”
“Is this what you do with your ‘usual guests’? Invite them into your kitchen, let them taste everything?”
“Sometimes, if I know they’ll appreciate the food. They don’t know what they’re eating though.”
“I’m not sure they’d care what you were feeding them if you were like this about it.”
“I can stop if you’d prefer.” He drew back a little, regarded Will thoughtfully.
Will curled a hand around his cheek, thumb rubbing softly just below his eye. “I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” he murmured, and drew Hannibal down into a slow, soft kiss.
Hannibal hummed with pleasure, curling one arm around his back, bracing the other on the counter. Will tasted of cardamom syrup and wine, sweet and heady, and he wrapped his arms around Hannibal, stroked up his spine, tugged him closer. Hannibal hummed with pleasure, tugged at Will’s hip until he hitched himself up onto the counter and spread his thighs so that Hannibal could press them together as he trailed nipping kisses across Will’s jaw and down his throat, biting gently at the soft skin there, right over the great veins in his neck.
Will shivered, one hand tangling in Hannibal’s hair, thighs pressed tightly to Hannibal’s sides. “Mmm, that’s good. You always so careful? With your guests?”
Hannibal bit down harder, and was rewarded with a sharp jerk of Will’s hips, a breathy groan. He slid a hand down Will’s back to grip his ass, rock them both together, feeling the hard, hot press of Will’s erection through too many layers of cloth. He lifted his head to speak, and found himself kissed instead, Will’s fingers tight in his hair, holding him still as Will sucked on his lower lip, licked into his mouth hungrily.
“Bed,” Hannibal managed, pulling back at last. Will was a mess, his lips bitten red, tie pulled askew even though his shirt was still buttoned all the way to his bruised throat.
“Is there a rule about not fucking on the kitchen counter?” Will asked, throaty and amused, sliding to his feet and reaching for Hannibal again.
“Rule is a strong word. It’s unsanitary.” Hannibal caught Will’s hand, kissed his knuckles, and tugged lightly.
“Mmm, alright. Your house.”
Will let himself be pulled out of the kitchen and halfway up the stairs, when he suddenly stopped dead.
Hannibal opened his mouth to ask, but Will held up a finger for silence, cocking his head. Then he leaned in and murmured softly, “someone just opened your back door. Expecting a visitor?”
Hannibal shook his head. Will’s mouth twisted down, eyes flicking from Hannibal’s face to the direction of the door. He tapped Hannibal’s chest, mouthed, “Stay here,” and slipped noiselessly down the stairs and back into the kitchen.
Hannibal waited. He heard the sounds of a scuffle, an odd muffled noise, and a sharp curse - Will’s voice.
He’d sent Will to see Tobias Budge to see what would happen, knowing that the most likely outcome would be one of their deaths. He’d been perfectly sanguine about either possibility - right up until Budge had walked into his office and declared himself the victor. Now, he knew exactly what it felt like, to believe that Will had died at the hands of someone else, and he had no desire to experience it again.
He picked the chef’s knife out of the block as he stepped quietly into the kitchen, but he needn’t have bothered with stealth. The two men grappling on the floor were paying him no attention whatsoever.
The white tiles were already smeared with blood, and he could see that the stranger - Will’s half-wolf killer, Edward Miller, his pleasantly bland features distorted into a snarl of rage, cheek still marred with a messy healing wound - was trying to drag back control of a gun, the barrel fitted with a silencer.
Will was refusing to give ground, one hand locked around the gun with a finger under the trigger to stop it firing, his other arm wrapped around the man’s neck.
Miller made a furious sound, and let go of the gun with one hand to thump his fist hard into Will’s thigh. Will gave a choked gasp, and Hannibal could see the red staining Miller's hand - Will was the one bleeding. The thought had barely crossed his mind before he was moving, darting swiftly across the tiles behind Miller aiming the knife for his spine.
He had good reflexes, must have caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, or perhaps his hearing was inhumanly keen - he thrashed in Will’s loosened grasp, twisting sharply so that Hannibal’s knife cut a glancing wound across his side instead.
Will lost the grip on his neck, but kept hold of the gun, and, when Miller tried to pull away, Will yanked him back and headbutted him in the face.
From the wet crunch, he’d probably broken the man’s nose.
Hannibal stepped back, and said in a conversational tone, “Do you really think you’re going to win this fight?”
“Fuck you,” Miller spat, his voice thick with blood, twisting to shove his knee and his full weight behind it onto Will’s injured leg. Will convulsed, and lost his grip on the gun.
Miller scrambled back so that he could keep Hannibal in sight, but his eyes and the gun were still fixed on Will. “I’m going to kill him, and I’m going to kill you and wear your fucking skin, and I’m going to get so far away from here that nobody’s going to care what lies you told that pack in Alexandria.”
“Actually, that was me,” Hannibal said pleasantly. “And I only told them the truth. You were the one who killed their packmates, after all.”
“They weren’t packmates,” he snapped, eyes flicking over to Hannibal at last. “Weaklings who can’t shift aren’t pack.”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? They certainly seemed concerned enough about your victims. Have you considered that maybe they just didn’t want you?”
Miller's mouth opened, closed, opened again, then he shook his head blinking. “What- What are you- Stop saying-” He shook his head again.
Will was gathering himself again, muscles gone tight under his skin, but the gun was still pointed directly at his face.
“Wolves are excellent judges of character. Maybe they saw right through you, and they didn’t want-”
“Shut UP!” The instant the gun moved, Will threw himself onto the other man, sending them both sprawling across the floor. Hannibal heard the gun go off, but he was so focussed on the fight that it took him a moment to notice the pain.
He set the knife down on the counter, pressed both hands to his side. Chest wound, he noted absently. High up, missed his heart, but the wet sound of his own breathing meant probably lung. Not ideal.
Will was snarling.
“Don’t bite him,” Hannibal managed hoarsely.
Will’s eyes were luminous when he looked up. He took in the blood rapidly soaking Hannibal’s shirt, and then he shut his mouthful of jagged fangs with a decisive click, wrenched Miller's arm up to press the gun under his chin, and pulled the trigger.
“Phone?” Will’s voice was still a little mangled, but his teeth looked almost normal.
“Landline, in the living room. Tell them punctured lung.”
Will paled, and then he was gone. Hannibal carefully lowered himself to the floor, and concentrated on keeping steady pressure on the wound. He could hear Will’s voice, sharp and authoritative, giving his address and asking for an ambulance. Some of his phrasing was odd, and Hannibal recalled that Will used to be a police officer - he was familiar with the codes they used. That was good, he would likely get a faster response.
Between the lack of oxygen and the blood loss, everything went a little hazy after that. He was dimly aware of a warm body pressed to his side, and Will's voice, low and shaky, pleading with him to stay.
Hannibal surfaced from a black, dreamless sleep to find himself flat on his back with a tube stuck down his throat, surrounded by the reassuringly placid beeping of various machines. It took him a moment, but he was fairly sure that he'd been woken by the hushed argument going on in the corner of the room.
Will, of course, and Jack Crawford.
“I don’t know what you want from me, Jack." Will was saying irritably. "I mean, I’m still on sick leave, and three days ago I killed somebody. There’s no way in hell I’m cleared for fieldwork.”
“No, I know, I just- You talked to him. Can you give me anything to go on?” Jack sounded desperate, which was always interesting. Hannibal tried to get his limbs to work. He tilted his head far enough that he could see them. Will was curled in on himself, looking tired and unhappy. Jack was strung taut as a wire, a frustrated hound looking for something to chase.
“I don’t know, Jack. I’m not sure he knows. The man I met was a mess. If he took Chilton it’s because he’s trying to figure out where he ends and the Ripper begins, and Chilton’s the only one he can ask, since-”
Will broke off, then scrubbed a hand over his face.
“Will?” jack prompted.
“Since he can’t ask the Ripper,” Will finished slowly.
Jack stared at him. “What.”
Will shrugged. “If he could find the Ripper, he’d be sure it wasn’t him.”
“Are you honestly saying that an escaped mental patient has any chance of tracking down a killer we’ve been hunting for years?”
“No! I’m not saying he’ll be able to find him, but he might try. Check, I don’t know, previous Ripper kill sites? If he’s checking to see what he remembers versus what was told to him, he might- The observatory.”
“Where we found Miriam Lass’s arm?”
“Yes! It’s the only one that we know for a fact couldn’t have been him.”
Hannibal managed an interrogative noise, and Will immediately turned towards him. "Hey, you're awake! Don't try to talk. Uh. Obviously, you know that."
Hannibal stared up at him. Will, he decided, was very lovely, and it was good to see him. He wanted to tell him that, but his eyelids were starting to droop of their own accord, and the blackness swallowed him again.
He woke and slept and woke again, and then he woke to find that the tube had been removed from his throat, which was a pleasant change.
"Hey," Will said, looking up from his book and smiling. He was sitting in the chair by Hannibal's bed, where he had been more often than not when Hannibal regained consciousness. "How are you feeling?"
Hannibal blinked at him hazily. “Heavily medicated. Yourself?”
Will chuckled. “Much less so. Next time leave the getting shot to me, hey? I heal faster.
“Perhaps neither of us should get shot, in the future.”
Will nodded. “Ideally, yeah. Uh, so. In case you were wondering, the entire internet knows we’re dating, thanks to Tattlecrime. Still, you’d already given me that referral, so the worst thing in there is that I’m apparently your mid-life crisis.”
Hannibal frowned. “Are you?”
“According to ‘sources close to Dr Lecter’.”
Will rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t me, Jack or Alana. So maybe some of your dinner party pals? I told you they wouldn’t approve.”
”I think they are no longer invited to dine at my house,” Hannibal muttered.
Will smirked. “But maybe they’ll show up at dinner anyway?”
”Perhaps. I haven’t read the article.”
”There’s nothing actionable in there, believe me, I checked. Anyway, they say you’re stuck here for at least a couple more weeks. Uh, can I get you anything? Do you want me to go away?”
Hannibal frowned. “Why would I want that?”
Will shifted awkwardly. “Well, you can’t exactly throw me out. I don’t want you to feel cornered.”
Hannibal considered that, but... He didn’t want Will to leave. Having him here had grown to feel comfortable, as if Will had managed to creep his way behind Hannibal’s ‘human veil’ and was curled up beside him there, sleek and deadly and strangey reassuring while he was trapped here, held captive by the failings of his own body. It was also possible that the drugs were affecting his thought processes more than he realised, but nonetheless... “That might be acceptable if I have you in my corner with me.”
Will snorted. “That’s… the most cheesy thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
“I blame the drugs,” Hannibal said loftily.
Will laughed, shaky and rough, and rested his head very gently on the uninjured side of Hannibal's chest. "I am... very glad that you made it."
Hannibal hummed and stretched out his fingers so that he could twine them with Will’s. “So am I.”