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i speak in smoke signals and you answer in code

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It was Alana Bloom who first told him about Will Graham.

"We used to be friends, sort of," she said, with a resigned downturn to the corners of her mouth. "I didn't want to get too close--you know me, you know my reasons for that. But I wish I had, because of what happened."

What happened was that Will Graham got too close to the Minnesota Shrike. He put nine bullets in Garret Jacob Hobbs, but not soon enough to save the wife and daughter. The paramedics arrived to find Abigail Hobbs dead on the kitchen floor, Graham on his knees beside her, up to his elbows in her blood. He spent eight days in a psychiatric hospital, retreated to his house in Wolf Trap, and was, for all intents and purposes, never seen again. He quit his teaching job at the FBI Academy, didn't answer his phone, and refused to open the door to Alana or anyone from the Behavioral Science Unit.

"Maybe I could have prevented it," she said. "Or you. I wish I'd suggested you to Jack Crawford."

"I blame myself," said Jack Crawford, stone-faced, his hands clasped on his desk in front of him. "I pushed him. I won't deny it. Alana asked me not to, but I did it anyway. I had eight dead girls, and I knew he was the one to catch the one who did it. And he did; you can't fault those results. But now he won't be any use to us ever again, and there are worse killers out there than the Minnesota Shrike."

Graham's name came up often in the days after they pulled six bodies out of the river, preserved in resin and silicone like a fisher's prized trophies. It was like hearing the hushed invocations of a deity in the halls of the Behavioral Science Unit. If only Will Graham...Will would know...he would be able to...that thing he did…

And so, after they found Roland Umber, Hannibal Lecter filled a thermos with hot chicken soup and, for good measure, placed it in a thermal bag, so that it would keep for the hour's drive. Upon reflection, he added a ziploc bag of frozen marrow bones. He knew well that the way to a man's heart was frequently through his stomach, and always through his dogs.

-----

Will Graham lived in an old farmhouse, so far outside of the city proper that it was amazing his address said "Wolf Trap" on it at all; Hannibal would not have been surprised if he had an entire zip code to himself. The driveway--if you could be generous enough to call it that--to his house was so pitted with potholes and overgrown with weeds that Hannibal had serious concerns that his Bentley would not survive it. He stopped as soon as the house was in sight and went the rest of the way on foot, the soup in one hand and bag of marrow bones in the other.

A burst of barking began as soon as Hannibal set foot on the front steps. He knocked, and the barking grew even more frenzied, but there was no sound of a human voice. "I brought bones for your dogs," he announced. "And soup for any humans that may be about."

There was no reply, but Hannibal thought he saw a curtain move. The dogs continued to bark.

After a few minutes, Hannibal said, very loudly, "I'm leaving the soup and the bones. I'll be back next week. You can leave the bag and the container out on the porch, if you don't wish to see me." He set the bags on the porch and turned to leave.

Hannibal heard a hiss. He stopped and turned back toward the door. The barking subsided, with a few whines, and the door opened just a crack, enough for Hannibal to see dark, curly hair and a single blue eye, framed by tortoiseshell glasses. A couple of furry snouts poked out from underneath his elbow. "Did Jack send you?"

"I do some consulting for Jack," Hannibal said. "But he did not send me."

The door opened a little wider, so that Hannibal could see two eyes and a scruffy, unshaven face. He was younger than Hannibal had expected, considering the reputation that swirled around him. "Who are you?"

"My name is Hannibal Lecter. I am a colleague of Alana Bloom's. I also do some consulting for the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit."

The door moved two inches toward closed. "You're a profiler. You want me to help you profile someone."

"I would be lying if I said that was not the case. But I was also curious. I have heard a lot about you."

"Of course," Graham said, in the tone of someone whose reputation had always preceded him like a funeral crier.

"We do not have to be professional," Hannibal said. "We can merely share a meal."

"Socialize like adults?" Graham muttered. "God forbid." He opened the door. Half a dozen dogs spilled out, circling Hannibal with their noses in the air. Hannibal picked up his bags and walked into the house.

-----

Graham's home was pleasantly idiosyncratic: Hannibal could draw a great many conclusions from the boat motor propped up in a crate, the dusty upright piano piled with mail, the fishing paraphernalia gathered in one corner, the presence of an aluminum bed frame in the living room, topped by a worn, sagging mattress. Everything smelled strongly of dog; Graham appeared to have seven or eight of them, and they clearly had free reign of the house and all its furniture. The only part of Graham's life that seemed to have any order was the kitchen, which, though small, was tidy and clean. He had several pots of herbs growing on the windowsill, a rice cooker, and a coffee percolator.

"Coffee?" Graham asked, moving toward the percolator. He was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers, but he did not seem self-conscious about it.

"Please," Hannibal replied, though he detested pre-ground coffee that had been passed through an automatic percolator. While the percolator roared, he said, "Do you cook, Mr. Graham? Your kitchen has the look of one that's well-lived in."

"Call me Will." He ran a hand through the tousled rat's nest of his hair, succeeding in making it lie a little flatter. "I like to cook. It's the only part of my life that feels...sane." He nodded at the bags that Hannibal was still carrying. "What've you got in there? Does it need heating?"

Hannibal reached into the bag and laid his hand against the thermos. "It's warm enough; I wouldn't want to inconvenience you."

"No, no, it's okay." Will got a saucepan out of one of the lower cabinets and set it on the stove. Hannibal handed over the thermos, which Will poured into the pan. "What is this? Is this chicken?"

"A traditional Chinese soup, using a black-boned chicken prized for its medicinal qualities. Wolfberries, red dates, ginseng, licorice root, and star anise."

Will leaned close to the soup and sniffed. "Smells great."

By then, the coffee had finished percolating. Will poured one cup for himself and another for Hannibal, handed Hannibal his mug, and took the bag of bones outside; the dogs all rose as one and followed him. Hannibal took the opportunity to take a closer look at Will's kitchen, specifically, his refrigerator.

Eggs. Parsley. Mustard. A very large quantity of what appeared to be ground meat, stored in a glass container. Milk. Celery. Carrots. Broccoli. Hannibal shut the refrigerator and opened the freezer. More meat. Bones. Bread.

"Well, that's rude," Will remarked from behind him.

Hannibal shut the freezer door and gave Will a bland, pleasant smile. "My apologies," Hannibal said. "I was curious."

"That makes two of us," said Will.

-----

They didn't speak of Umber's killer that day, but Hannibal did leave his phone number with Will. Later that night, Will texted, pix? Hannibal did not have to ask pictures of what. He used his phone to take several pictures of the photos spread out over his desk and sent them to Will, along with a brief description of what they knew of the killer's MO. They were poor resolution, but he suspected that that was enough. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Will called.

"It's a color palette," he said. "He's stitching them together into a mural, where each body is a brush stroke. The bodies in the river were imperfect." He trailed off. Hannibal wished that he could see Will's face, watch the way his eyes grew distant as his mind retreated. When Will spoke again, his voice was quite different. "But this last one, Roland Umber...why did I throw you away?" A brief pause. "I didn't; you escaped. And threw yourself into the river rather than get stitched back in. It's too bad. I was very proud of you." Will's voice went back to normal. "He'll need somewhere remote to do his work. A farm, or a warehouse, something like that, somewhere close to the river."

Hannibal cleared his throat. "Thank you. Jack will appreciate this information, I'm certain." He had smelled the corn field on Umber already, but he would allow Will to take the credit for this one. It made no difference to him.

"I'm not doing this for Jack," Will replied, and hung up.

-----

After three days of searching farms upstream they recovered three dozen bodies in the bottom of a silo, stitched into the shape of an eye, at once beautiful and appalling. They apprehended James Grey a day after that. Hannibal sent Will a text: We caught him. Will did not reply. Hannibal waited another three days before packing another leather satchel with goodies and driving out to Wolf Trap, so that a full week had elapsed between visits.

This time, Will opened the door almost immediately. "You caught him, huh?"

"We caught him." Hannibal held up his bag. "May I?"

"As long as there's something for the dogs."

"Of course."

Tidbits of smoked sausage for the dogs; thick wedges of sandwich, on homemade focaccia, for the humans. Hannibal related the details of Grey's capture as he unwrapped the sandwiches and, much to Will's visible amusement, asked for plates.

"Disgusting," Will said in response to Hannibal's description of the human mural on the floor of the silo.

"Horrifying, yes," said Hannibal. "But also beautiful, in its own way. It was a work of art, just as you described. He had a vision. We can only fault his choice of medium."

"You think murder can be beautiful?"

"I think anything can be beautiful."

Will chose to bite into his sandwich instead of replying. "Jesus, what's in this?"

"Brie, tomatoes, lettuce, olives, anchovies, olive oil. Salt and pepper. Pressed overnight, to allow the flavors to meld and soak into the bread."

Will took another generous bite. "I should cook for you sometime. Though I mean, it won't be gourmet or anything. Not like the stuff that you make."

"I would enjoy anything you cook for me," Hannibal said.

They enjoyed their sandwiches in silence for a few moments. One of the dogs snuffled hopefully around their feet.

"I think it's the ugliest thing in the world," Will said, so quietly that Hannibal almost didn't hear it.

Hannibal did not need to ask what Will was talking about. "Is that what you thought, when you killed Garret Jacob Hobbs?"

Will's fingers tensed, digging dimples into the bread of his sandwich, and relaxed again. "It's what I thought, watching Abigail Hobbs die. That this was the ugliest thing that could ever happen to someone."

"Dying, or watching someone die?"

"Both. All of it."

"You are helpless either way." Hannibal watched the muscles of Will's throat work as he chewed and swallowed. "I hope lending your assistance on this case will not have deleterious effects on your mental well being."

Will raised his eyebrows at Hannibal. "Did someone tell you that I have nightmares?"

"I inferred it. You suffered post-traumatic stress after Garret Jacob Hobbs, badly enough that you had to go into psychiatric care for it."

"I did," Will conceded. "But that was a while ago. I don't have nightmares anymore." He finished his sandwich.

----

Hannibal called ahead, the next time, to let Will know that he was on his way. "Great," Will said, "I'll get dinner started." Hannibal brought dried beef for the dogs and, after some reflection, a bottle of wine. He abhorred the idea of showing up empty-handed.

The door was unlocked; the house was redolent of garlic and tomato sauce. "Great timing," said Will. "It's almost done. Is that wine? You didn't have to do that."

"A 2010 Côtes du Rhône," said Hannibal. "We don't have to open it."

"Nah, open it," said Will. He dug a wine key out of a drawer and tossed it to Hannibal. "I know shit about wine. What did you bring for the dogs? You can just dump it on the porch for them."

Hannibal opened the wine and left the bottle to breathe on the counter as he threw handfuls of meat to the dogs. Will plated their dinner, although Will's version of "plating" was merely to slop it on the plate: chicken parmesan, with steamed broccoli and rice on the side. The sides were unremarkable, palatable enough smothered in marinara sauce, but the meat was tender and succulent: pounded to less than half an inch in thickness, and coated thickly with breadcrumbs and cheese.

"Nothing fancy," said Will.

"On the contrary, this is excellent," Hannibal said, after the first bite. "Thank you. Alana didn't tell me that you cooked."

"I kinda took it up recently," said Will. "I had a lot of time, and you know, you are what you eat and all that." He gave an awkward shrug, one shoulder higher than the other. "I make the dogs' food, too."

Hannibal glanced at the dogs, sprawled out in various positions of repose throughout the house after scarfing down their treats. "They look very healthy."

"Thanks. I try."

The week after that, Hannibal brought over Vietnamese sandwiches on crisp baguettes, layered with cold sliced meats and spread thickly with homemade paté. Will retaliated by grilling them a couple of old-fashioned cheeseburgers, with the last of the late-summer corn. Hannibal made osso bucco. Will followed up with shrimp and sausage gumbo, spicy and smoky and thick. Hannibal brought over the ingredients for pasta carbonara and cooked it in Will's kitchen.

He hoped to be able to increase his visits to twice a week. Will did not seem averse to the idea, or at least, he never turned Hannibal away. He seemed to be glad to see him (though he often couched his pleasure by projecting it onto the dogs). Will never came to Hannibal's house in Baltimore, and Hannibal did not ask him to. He liked to watch Will in his kitchen, or standing over his grill; he seemed natural there, at home.

-----

The veterinarian found a dead woman sewn up inside a horse. He called the police. The police called the FBI. The FBI called Jack Crawford. Jack Crawford called Hannibal. Hannibal went. He looked and saw, but he didn't understand. Was it the horse that was important, or the woman? Was this sacrifice, or was it entombment?

He was sorry about the horse; the horse had done nothing to deserve this.

Hannibal called Will from outside the stable. His breath frosted in the air. The cold never seemed to bother Will; last week he'd stood outside with an umbrella over the smoker to shield it from the rain, hat pulled down over his ears, watching the temperature to make sure the ribs didn't dry out.

"Ello?" said Will.

"I have an odd case, here," said Hannibal. "May I send you a picture? Perhaps you can help."

"I'm not going to start profiling again."

"I didn't mean to imply that I'm trying to drag you back into the field," said Hannibal. "It's only, I can't make heads nor tails of this one. I understand killers, but I don't understand this; perhaps the act was not about killing."

Will didn't speak, but he didn't hang up, either. Hannibal waited. Finally, Will said, "Fine. Send me a picture."

Hannibal took several, from different angles, and sent them to Will, along with the facts of the case, which were not much: the woman had been strangled, dead before she'd been sewn into the horse's womb; the horse had been ill. A few minutes later, his phone chirped the arrival of several text messages.

Whoever did this knew the horse and knew the victim. He was familiar with the stables, so he worked there, or used to work there.

He was trying to help her. He was trying to heal her.

Hannibal let the screen go dim and tapped the phone against his chin.

-----

"I'm quite certain that it was not Peter Bernardone," Hannibal said. It was Will's turn to cook; they were having spaghetti and meatballs, with a chunky marinara sauce. Will had a marked proclivity for spiced or cured meat, and food smothered in sauces. "That man would not hurt a fly, much less a woman that he admired. You saw what he did with the victim and the horse. Were those the actions of a psychopathic killer?"

Will swallowed his mouthful of spaghetti and shook his head.

"Precisely." Hannibal twirled noodles around his fork. "But his social worker, Mr. Clark Ingram, now he is a different story."

"What makes you say that?"

"I'm a psychiatrist, Will. I deal with people's minds. Alana is in agreement with me: the man is a psychopath, and probably responsible for the murders of over a dozen women." He related Alana's interview; Alana was very good at being charming, and people underestimated her all the more because she was a woman. "But he'll blame Mr. Bernardone, if he can, now that we've gotten close." Hannibal speared a meatball and brought it to his mouth. It was one of the best meatballs he'd ever eaten in his life: not overmixed, so that it remained tender and juicy; well spiced, and not too salty.

Will's hand tightened around his fork. "You can't let anything happen to Peter."

"That's not up to me," said Hannibal. "But I will try my best."

They ate, their forks clinking against their plates.

"Do you miss it?" said Hannibal. "Working for justice. Defending the innocent."

"No." Will sighed. "Yes. I miss putting bad guys away. But I don't miss having them in my head."

Hannibal cut another meatball in half as he contemplated this statement. "Are they in your head, or are you in theirs?"

"Isn't that the same thing?"

Hannibal made a noncommittal sound. "They appear so from the outside, but in your mind it would be very different. One suggests a certain capability that was already present; the other, an invasion of an innocent mind by outside forces."

Will went to rub the bridge of his nose with his thumb, knocked up against his glasses, and finally ended up taking them off and tossing them on the table. "No psychoanalysis over dinner, please. Actually, make that: no psychoanalysis at all."

"Observing is what we do," said Hannibal. "I can't turn mine off any more than you can turn yours off."

Will glared. It was very different, without the interference of the chunky tortoiseshell frames. "An apology would be nice."

"I'm sorry." Hannibal gave Will a quick, harmless smile. "But it will doubtless happen again, and you will grow tired of my apologies, so I must use them sparingly."

"Just don't. You won't like me when I'm psychoanalyzed."

"On the contrary," Hannibal said. "I find you very interesting."

The next day, they found Peter curled up on the straw next to a dead horse, knees drawn up his chest and arms wrapped around them, his face soaked with tears. His social worker was inside the horse, unconscious but alive. Hannibal and Alana argued that Peter, obviously mentally unwell and psychologically disadvantaged, should not go to prison. The court agreed, and Peter Bernardone went to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

"That's not much better than prison," Will muttered, stabbing sullenly at the poached salmon Hannibal had made for dinner.

"I agree," said Hannibal. "But we have no evidence against Mr. Ingram. He has been very careful, and very clever."

Will said nothing, but Hannibal noted the heavy, taut eyebrows, the tense cast to Will's mouth. He waited.

-----

"You never cook fish," Hannibal commented.

Will did not look up from where he was spreading mashed potatoes over a shepherd's pie. "Did you want me to?"

"I am unconcerned one way or the other. It just seems curious; you're clearly an avid fisherman, judging from these hand-tied flies, and these fishing poles."

"You had the misfortune of getting to know me at the end of summer." Will shoved the dish into the oven and straightened, brushing off his hands. "It's harder to catch trout when the water is really cold. Their metabolisms drop and they're not as hungry. So I don't fish as much during the winter."

"Do you hunt, instead?" Hannibal looked up at the rifle mounted on the wall.

"I prefer fishing," said Will.

"Two sides of the same coin," Hannibal mused. "In one you lure, the other you stalk. You prefer to lure?"

Will favored Hannibal with a mirthless smile. "It requires less work on my part."

"You shouldn't sell yourself short. It requires just as much effort and skill to bring the prey to you." Hannibal bent, hands held carefully behind his back, to examine a fly mounted underneath a magnifying glass.

"Some hunters lure their prey too, though." Will turned around and began running the water. "They use automatic feeders, get the deer used to coming around for food. Then they take their pick." He picked up a spatula and soaped it.

"That seems significantly less challenging. Please, allow me." Hannibal rolled up his sleeves and gently shouldered Will away from the sink.

"It's still a challenge. They're still wild animals." Will relinquished the sponge and picked up a dry dish towel, and the spatula he had just finished rinsing. "You've really never hunted? Or fished?"

"As a child, I had no interest; as an adolescent, I had no opportunity; and as an adult...well, I suppose now I have both interest and opportunity, but I had ceased to consider it." Hannibal handed Will a bowl.

"So you've never killed anything, then. Not a fish or a rabbit or a deer." Will dried the bowl and set it in the cupboard.

"I have never killed a fish or a rabbit or a deer, no." Hannibal handed Will another bowl.

Will took the bowl, but he was slow about drying it, a tiny line forming on his forehead. "But you've killed other things."

Hannibal turned off the water. He left his hands in the sink, covered in foam, and stared out the window at the fields beside Will's house, white with frost under a steel-gray sky. "If I tell you this," he said, "you will not speak of it to anyone."

"Who would I tell?" Will said, quietly.

"There are certain events in my past that I am not proud of," Hannibal said. The words felt rehearsed; he had rehearsed them, many times in his mind, in preparation for the day that he might have to tell something that resembled the truth. "My parents perished, and then I had only my sister. She was the thing that mattered to me the most, but she too was taken from me. Killed. I was the only one left, and because I had nothing to lose, I took everything I could, including the lives of the ones responsible for my loss."

"You killed them."

"Slowly, and brutally, and painfully." Hannibal heard the click of Will finally putting the bowl away. He turned the water back on and stuck his hands under the warm water. "Please don't offer sympathy, or sentiment. I won't stand for it." He ran the sponge over one of the kitchen knives and handed it to Will, handle-first.

Will took the knife and rubbed the towel over it. "Did you like it?"

Hannibal gave Will a sharp look. "What?"

"Killing them. The people who killed your family." Will had to lean around Hannibal to slide the knife back into the block. "Did you like it? Did it feel good?"

Hannibal took his time replying, as he knew he was supposed to. "Yes," he said, and made it sound like an admission.

Will didn't look at Hannibal. He looked at the knife block. His eyes were distant. "Doing bad things to bad people makes us feel good," he said, in almost a whisper.

"Yes," said Hannibal, and something bloomed in him, like a drop of blood unfurling a crimson flower in the snow.

-----

"If you were Clark Ingram, what would you do now?"

Will slowed his chopping. His knife skills had improved; where once he had chopped his parsley and cilantro coarsely, with no regard for size or shape, he could now chiffonade basil and slice onions and tomatoes so thin they were nearly translucent. "Right this moment?"

"Not right this moment," Hannibal replied. "Surely neither of us is capable of that much specificity. But do you think he will kill again?"

Will did not reply; he wiped the the parsley from the flat of the blade with his fingers. "Peter's been in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for a few weeks now," he murmured. "I'm arriving at the end of my mandatory therapy sessions. No one suspects. I'm tempted to start hunting again."

"You wouldn't wait? Move to a different city first?"

"Eventually." Will swept the parsley to the side. "But Peter just went to prison for his crimes. If what you've told me about Mr. Ingram is true, he'll be full of arrogance. He'll take one more, as a farewell gift to the city, and then pull up stakes."

Hannibal made a noise of assent as he judged the amount of cheese he had grated into the bowl to be enough. "Where would a man like him hunt?"

"Somewhere you wouldn't expect." Will braced his hands against the cutting board and looked out the window. His eyes were distant. "Somewhere it's acceptable to strike up conversation with strangers. Somewhere people go alone. Somewhere you wouldn't expect a psychopath to go."

Hannibal picked up a peeler and a potato. "He mentioned that he had a dog."

That Saturday afternoon, Will texted Hannibal to tell him not to come by, for he would not be home. Hannibal replied OK and drove out to Wolf Trap anyhow, in a rented car. A few miles away from Will's house, he pulled onto a different street and waited.

An hour later, Will's station wagon rumbled by, with all seven dogs in the back. Hannibal followed at a respectful distance. It was possible that Will knew he was being followed--he was hardly stupid--but if he did, he did not seem to care.

Their destination was a dog park in Adams-Morgan. Will parked and opened the hatch, whereupon his dogs poured out and shook themselves, tails wagging and tongues lolling. Will picked up a wad of plastic bags, a ball, and a long-plastic ball-thrower, and the dogs followed him en masse. Hannibal parked around the corner to watch.

The park was fenced in, so that Will did not need to concern himself with any of his dogs running into traffic. He threw the ball; the dogs ran after it; Will smiled and looked fresh and healthy and normal. Several people came up to talk to Will, impressed at the number of dogs he had and how well-trained they were.

Clark Ingram was there too, standing next to a pretty blond woman with an empty retractable leash in one hand. How had Will known that he would be here, in this dog park, at this time? Did Will truly extrapolate from data, or was this yet another product of his curious gift? Ingram was smiling; the woman was smiling. She laughed at something he said.

Will's dogs came back from chasing the ball; Chester, the Australian shepherd, had been victorious. Will picked up the ball, twisted to the side, and launched the ball over Ingram's head. The dogs bolted after it. Buster, the little Jack Russell terrier, blundered into Ingram's legs. Ingram yelped in outrage and kicked him.

The dog cried out; so did the woman. Will gave a squawk of unfeigned outrage. He got very close to Ingram; he put his finger on Ingram's chest. Ingram jerked away and yelled back, his face reddening. Hannibal could not hear the words, only that their voices were raised. Meanwhile, the pretty blond woman clipped her leash to her dog's collar and led the dog out of the park, her face a mask of disgust. By the time Will and Ingram finished their shouting match, she was in her car and driving away. Ingram looked around for her, did not see her or her dog, and stormed off. Will called his dogs and and left the park as well.

Hannibal stayed in his car for several minutes, tapping one finger against his wheel and contemplating what he'd just seen. Suddenly, Will's face thrust itself into Hannibal's window. Hannibal jerked, his heart thudding in his chest. It was a new and delicious sensation for him. He rolled the window down.

"You don't have a dog," said Will.

"That's why I was not in the dog park," Hannibal replied.

Will tilted his head. It made him look a little like a curious dog himself, or a wary bird. "What did you see?"

"That Mr. Ingram seems to have forgotten his dog," Hannibal replied.

-----

That night, for the first time in a very long time, Hannibal dreamed.

In the dream, Will stood in the river, casting a line that shone silver-green in the sunlight. Hannibal stood on the shore, in the shade of a maple tree. He did not think Will saw him, but something stirred in his hair and yanked. Pain hissed out between his teeth. He had wide, branching antlers, and Will's fishing line was tangled in one of them, the hook embedded in his ear.

Will came toward him, his fishing rod exchanged for a gun. He stopped. Hannibal lowered his head like an animal about to charge, but he did not move. He was not afraid.

"This thing you do," Hannibal said.

"I interpret the evidence," Will replied.

"It's pure empathy. You can assume my point of view, or Jack's, or the Minnesota Shrike's. What you see and learn, then, touches everything else in your mind. Your values and decency are present, shocked at your associations and appalled at your dreams. No forts in the bone arena of your skull for the things you love."

Will's face did not change. He looked at Hannibal like he was sleepwalking; like Hannibal wasn't really there, crowned with antlers and snared with nylon, blood dripping down the side of his face. "Why not appeal to my better nature?"

"I am," Hannibal replied.

Will looked down at the gun in his hands. He seemed surprised to see it there, as if he'd never seen a gun before. He examined it from all sides, palms open, before finally letting it drop to the ground. He reached up and gently untangled the fishing line from Hannibal's antler. Fresh pain welled up as he pulled the hook out of Hannibal's ear.

Hannibal discovered that he was the one holding the fishing rod, and that the barbed hook had sunk into Will's palm. Will did not seem bothered by it. He reached up and touched the side of Hannibal's face, and Hannibal could not remember the last time someone had touched him so intimately, like they wanted to share his skin.

"This is my design," Will said, and Hannibal woke up.

-----

"I've been to see Peter Bernardone," Hannibal said, the next time they were together. Spring was coming, and Hannibal had thought to celebrate the occasion with lamb. He had Frenched two racks, and was now using looped twine to pull the remaining meat and membrane from the bones.

Will looked up from his chopping. "How's he doing?"

"Not well. Dr. Frederick Chilton, the director of the hospital, is a clumsy butcher of a psychiatrist. He works with all the delicacy of a barber performing brain surgery. Peter says that Dr. Chilton insists on trying to make him remember and understand what he's done."

"But Peter's done nothing," Will said.

"Precisely. It's been very hard on him, all the more so because Clark Ingram remains a free man."

Will swept the little white fragments of minced garlic into a small bowl and threw a handful of parsley down on the cutting board. "Karma will catch up to him eventually."

"Karma!" Hannibal was entertained by the notion. "Do you truly believe that there is some cosmic tally sheet that will come to collect, someday?"

"No," Will admitted. He swept the parsley into the bowl and began on the rosemary. A fragrant cloud of scent blossomed around him. "No, if that were the case, karma would have caught up to him a long time ago."

"Karma did not help Mr. Bernardone, or the women that Mr. Ingram killed and buried." Hannibal shook his head. "No; all that can catch up to him now is the long arm of the law."

"The arm of the law is not all that long, either," Will muttered. He deposited the rosemary in the bowl and pulled a bunch of thyme onto the cutting board.

"Do you wish you could bring him to justice yourself?" Hannibal finished with one rack and began cleaning the bones on the other.

"What, like perform a citizen's arrest?" Will got out a cast iron skillet and set it on the stove. He poured in a generous splash if oil and let it heat. "He'd probably just kill me too."

"I believe he'd try. But you're former law enforcement; I'm certain that you know how to defend yourself. And if he died in the process, well. Certainly the world is no worse for it, with that man out of the picture."

Will finished chopping the thyme in silence and sprinkled it into the bowl. "What are you suggesting, exactly?"

"I am not suggesting anything. Merely playing out a hypothetical scenario."

Will added salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil to the bowl of herbs and mixed it with his hand. "That wouldn't help Peter. He'd still be in prison."

"That's true. We would need to exact some kind of proof that would also set Peter free." Hannibal threw away the twine and rubbed salt and pepper into the lamb.

"‘We'?" Will smiled as he washed his hands. "You're making yourself an accomplice, now?"

Hannibal laid the racks in the pan, which immediately began to sizzle. "I wish to see Clark Ingram brought to justice as much as you do," Hannibal lied; he didn't care what happened to Clark Ingram. "And Peter released from prison." That was slightly more true. While the injustice of Peter's situation did not rankle him, he likened Peter to the horses that Ingram had killed: sacred beasts of burden that did not deserve ignominious fates.

"Everyone's thought about killing someone, at one point or another." Will pulled a roasting pan out of a cupboard. "That's what I used to tell my students. I used to assign them murder fantasies as homework." He jabbed the buttons on the oven with more force than necessary.

Hannibal turned the ribs to sear on the other side. "But not you."

"I've seen enough of the real thing." Will drummed the fingers of one hand against the counter once, twice, thrice. "I've done. The real thing." He took in a deep breath and let it out again, slowly.

Hannibal kept his eyes on the lamb. "You said that doing bad things to bad people makes us feel good."

Will nodded, or it might have been a slight list of his head. He did not look at Hannibal, and Hannibal did not look up from the pan.

"Did killing Hobbs make you feel good?"

"Killing Hobbs felt just," Will said in such a low voice that Hannibal almost didn't hear him.

"But did it feel good?"

"I don't know about ‘good.' I don't have a lot of experience with that. But it felt righteous."

"You felt powerful." Moving quickly, Hannibal fished the racks out of the skillet and onto the roasting pan that Will had prepared. "You felt like God."

Will did not respond right away. Hannibal dug his fingers into the bowl of herbs and slathered the mixture onto the ribs.

"You've never been right, have you," said Will. "The rules that everyone else seemed to play by didn't apply to you. Were your teachers afraid of you? Your parents?"

Hannibal did not reply. He had to press hard with his hands to make sure the herbs stuck. The meat was hot, but Hannibal was used to working with heat.

"But not your sister."

"Mischa adored me," Hannibal said. "And I, her. As soon as she could crawl, she followed me from room to room. I wanted to give her everything." He slid the pan into the oven and rinsed his hands.

"And when she was killed, you smote her murderers with all the fury of a vengeful god," said Will. "And then ever since then, you've been bored, haven't you? Surgery bored you, so you took up psychiatry, but psychiatry bores you, too. Everything bores you. The opera, the FBI, the people that you sleep with. Maybe cooking doesn't bore you, but it will, because everything bores you eventually. Nothing compares to the sprig of zest you get from killing and getting away with it. Nothing makes you feel good like doing bad things to bad people."

Hannibal dried his hands on a dish towel and carefully hung it back in its place. He looked up. Will was facing him now, his hands curled into loose fists.

"It's not chicken you've been feeding me," said Hannibal. "Or beef, or lamb."

Will licked his lips. "No."

"I read the Hobbs profile," Hannibal said. "He consumed his victims because to do otherwise would be murder. He called it honoring every part of them. But there's no honor in your victims, is there? You choose the subhuman: murderers, rapists, child abusers. They don't deserve to live. But you consume them anyway, because they're pigs."

Will blinked. "It doesn't bother you?"

Hannibal shrugged. "Why should it? They're pigs, after all."

-----

"Mr. Ingram."

Clark Ingram stopped and turned, his car keys jingling in his hand. It was late, and his was the only car left in the garage. Hannibal stood by the elevators, his hands in his pockets, the picture of aloof insouciance. Ingram already had that shallow smile fixed to his face; it made something in Hannibal sneer. The man was so bad at what he did that it was an affront to the order of the universe that he had not yet been caught.

"I'm sorry," said Ingram. "Have we met?"

Hannibal took a step forward, and then another, taking his time. "You met my colleague, Alana Bloom."

The faux confusion on Ingram's face cleared. "Oh, that unpleasant nonsense. I've been trying to put it behind me. Is that what this is about?"

"Yes. Peter is not doing very well in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, I'm afraid."

Ingram's lips pursed. He looked sorrowful; any moment now, tears might well up in his eyes and spill over. "Peter didn't deserve that kind of institution. It's too harsh for him. But I hear Dr. Chilton is very well regarded in his field; I'm sure he'll be able to work miracles with Peter."

Hannibal took his hands out of his pockets and put them behind his back. "I think that Peter is not the one Dr. Chilton should be working on."

Ingram's eyes narrowed, but his smile did not waver. "Why, what do you mean?"

"What I mean," said Hannibal, "is that you're a psychopath, Mr. Ingram. You killed all those women, and you framed Peter for it. And you released all his animals. Peter was very upset about that. He still is."

"Has Peter been filling your head with stories?" Ingram heaved a world-weary sigh. "I thought this was resolved. You have my case files, my notes, and might I remind you that Peter nearly killed me? I still have nightma--"

"You must have a small penis," Hannibal said.

Ingram froze. His jaw worked open and shut. "What?"

"Is that why all those women rejected you?" Hannibal kept his tone flat and affectless and polite, as if he were asking Ingram whether or not he thought it would rain. "They knew. They laughed at you behind your back, and they told every other woman in the city. That you were worthless as a lover--"

"Don't," Ingram said in a low, deadly voice. He pointed his hand holding the keys at Hannibal. It was shaking. "I'm warning you--"

"--and you didn't even make a great deal of money as a social worker; no wonder they all sneered at you--"

Ingram lunged. Hannibal stood his ground, hands still behind his back. Will darted out from behind a pillar and slammed into Ingram from the side. Ingram hit the ground hard, his head cracking against the concrete, but he was still conscious; he looked blurrily up at Will, eyes unfocused. Will grabbed him by the hair and smacked his head into the ground again. Ingram's eyes slid shut. Hannibal fished a pair of gloves out of his pocket.

Together, they got Ingram into the trunk of his car. Will laid plastic down on the seat before letting Hannibal in; it was useful that he had worked for law enforcement. Will himself was wearing a PVC rainsuit, of the sort with waterproof pants that buttoned up over his trousers, and a clear jacket with a hood. Functional, but inelegant; it was baggy on Will and made a great deal of noise. Hannibal wondered if he could find something more form-fitting.

They drove out to the stables where Peter Bernardone had once worked; Peter had told Hannibal when were the best hours to approach without being seen, though he hadn't known why. Will carried Ingram into an empty stall and laid him on the floor, and then just kneeled there with his hands on his thighs, looking lost in thought. "I don't like the idea of not eating him," Will muttered.

Hannibal paused to stroke the cheek of a curious horse in the stall next to theirs. "We have to leave a body, or he won't be investigated, and Peter will not be exonerated."

"I know, but." Will ground his teeth. "Then it's just murder."

"We can take some of his organs, if it pleases you. I brought my tools." Hannibal looked around the stable. Halters and bridles hung on the walls. Dark, fluttering ideas like bats crowded into his head. "Would you object to some window dressing?"

"What?" Will looked up; he had his hands on Ingram's throat, thumbs pressing down on his larynx.

Hannibal fingered the bridle hanging on the wall; the leather was soft and supple. Some urge rose up from within him, monstrous and beautiful.

-----

Dawn spread its pale claws across the sky.

The groom arrived to check on and feed the horses; he staggered back from the empty stall that had once contained a bloodied horse. Clark Ingram lay curled on his side, with a saddle cinched around his waist and a bridle looped over his head, and a nosebag strapped on over that. His blood pooled on the straw. The groom's knees shook, and he braced himself against the wall for a moment before sprinting off for a phone.

Meanwhile, Hannibal trimmed the membrane and sinews from Ingram's heart, while Will simmered onions and garlic in butter on the stove. He added a generous pour of white wine as Hannibal used his fingers to scoop the blood clots out of the ventricles.

The police arrived at the barn. They walked around, asked their questions; of course, no one had seen or heard anything. Crime scene photographers took pictures from every conceivable angle. Ingram was missing his heart, liver, and kidneys.

By then, the heart was braising in the oven, stuffed with cornbread and onions and garlic and topped with several strips of bacon. Hannibal and Will were sharing the remainder of the bottle of wine.

"I would prefer to keep the liver," said Hannibal. "We can have it for dinner."

"All right, then the dogs can have the kidneys."

Hannibal pursed his lips. "I don't see why the dogs have to have any."

"They eat what I eat," Will said.

At last, someone unfastened the nosebag. It was filled with torn paper, much of it covered in handwriting. Later, one of the forensics technicians would piece it together and discover that it was photocopies of Ingram's notes on Peter Bernardone.

Hannibal's phone beeped. The battery was quite low; Hannibal had not charged it all night, after all. He turned it off.

"If that's Jack, he's going to want you at the scene," Will said.

"Later," said Hannibal. "The heart won't be ready for another hour yet."

"He's not going to be happy about that."

"When is he happy about anything?"

The police found Ingram's car back at the garage, keys still in the ignition. On the dashboard was a note, written in tidy cursive: Check basement vent.

Will and Hannibal shared the stuffed heart for breakfast, along with some sliced oranges and terrible percolated coffee. Will moaned around the first bite. "Oh my God, I can't believe I've been feeding this to the dogs this whole time."

Hannibal's knife and fork paused. "You've been feeding the hearts to your dogs?"

"Along with the rest of the organs, yeah." Will looked abashed. "I didn't know how to cook them."

The police checked the basement vent. In it they found a shoebox, containing locks of hair from sixteen women. Hannibal had placed it there the day before, but they would not know that.

"You could have been doing this a long time ago," Will said, scraping the last of the stuffing from the bottom of his plate. "You clearly have a natural aptitude for it."

"I value my freedom."

Will snorted and smirked. He looked up and met Hannibal's eyes, and Hannibal relished the frisson that went through him. "Please. Who would suspect you? Dr. Hannibal Lecter, respected psychiatrist and member of the Baltimore social elite, consultant to the FBI. You could get away with anything."

Hannibal took a sip of his coffee to hide how much Will's words had affected him. He resolved to buy Will a French press. "Yes. Well. I hope what you say is true."

"It is." Will sat back in his chair and gazed out the window. "I used to catch guys like you for a living."

"But not just like me," Hannibal replied.

"No," Will said. "Not just like you."

-----

That spring, when the trout rose, Will took Hannibal fishing.

---end---