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Oddbodies

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“May I?” Jack reaches out and adjusts Will’s flash glasses (only legally required for driving, but Will finds them a useful prop) so that the rims are no longer blocking Will’s eyeline. Will huffs miserably through his nose. He does not look at Jack's hand, does not note the calluses of gun and pen and keyboard, the particles and sheens of Jack's morning sitting on his skin.

“Where do you fall on the spectrum?”

Will works his jaw. “My horse is hitched to a post that is closer to Asperger’s and autistics than, uh, narcissists and sociopaths.”

Jack doesn't move his lips as he says, in the barest possible whisper, “You know that’s not the spectrum I mean.” His expression makes it obvious: he knows Will heard him just fine.

Will looks everywhere to avoid the searchlight of Jack’s gaze, but it’s pointless. Jack commanded a record number of sentinels when he was in the army. His wife is a prominent campaigner for Guide Skills International. Finally Will admits, “Four out of five. My sense of smell is baseline.”

"Who's your guide?"

"Don't have one."

“Ninety percent of people with two or more enhanced senses have at least a part-time guide."

"Can't have a majority without a minority.” Will starts stuffing his lecture materials into his bag.

"There's minority and then there's unique. How you interpret your observations has been described as analysis elevated to the level of empathy."

"I'd just call it an active imagination," Will grumbles.

"Ah," says Jack, evenly as a guide, smoothly as a man who knows he’s going to get what he asks for, "can I - borrow your imagination?"

 


 

Will looks down at Elise Nichols. Jack looks at Will.

"When you’re ready to talk, you talk. If you don’t feel like it, you don’t talk. We’ll be downstairs. You let me know when you’re ready for us to come in." Jack is too aggressive to be a guide proper, but his experience with the basics is obvious. His words sweep over Will like a heavy, unwanted blanket. As soon as Jack leaves the room Will steps onto the balcony, closes his eyes, and lets the pendulum swing.

He’s never told anyone what it’s like to reconstruct a crime scene, but if he were trying to explain it to a fellow hypersensitive, he’d describe it as the opposite of a zone. Instead of zooming in on a single detail to the point of paralysis, he zooms out, until he can hold every detail in his mind at once, until he understands where each piece of evidence came from and how it got there, until he knows who put the evidence there so well he can step into their shoes.

Beverly Katz's interruption yanks the rug out from under him. "You're an oddbody," she realizes, and before Will can do more than bristle she goes on to say, "like me." She taps a finger beside her eye. "I saw elk antler velvet in the wounds."

Jack bustles in with Zeller and Price, and pretty soon the ideas bouncing around the room jostle Will into recognizing the killer's apology.

 


 

Will makes little kissy noises and holds out a treat for the lanky, ragged dog he found running down the road. He thinks about oddbodies. In addition to all five senses being enhanced, the complete set of diagnostic criteria for sentinel status includes intense ties to a territory and community. An acreage and a dog pack don't count.

And a good thing, too, he decides, as he washes the dog at home, revealing an interesting brindle coat. It was bad enough being the resident freak at New Orleans PD Homicide. Being a full sentinel, scrutinized and wooed, would be even worse. Feeling compelled to put up with it out of some pervasive sense of tribal duty would be worse still. He isn’t even going to touch the whole 'obligatory guide' issue.

Once dry, the dog - Winston, Will decides, he looks like a Winston - leans heavily into Will's touch, soaking up Will's affection and reflecting it back brighter and simpler. He buries his fingers in Winston's fluff and takes in deep breaths of clean, dry dog-scent. Smell will never zone him, his one safe and comfortable sense.

 


 

The boost Will gets from adding Winston to his pack is all but gone by morning, sweated away during his appalling dreams. The rest he loses in the face of Jack's impatient tirade.

"You know what's good for getting unconfused about which direction you're pointing?"

"Don't say it, Jack. I don't have a guide because I don't want one."

"Just because you don't want one doesn't mean you don't need one. It won't help us catch this guy if you stress yourself into a zone while you're on his trail."

"Not. Happening." Will stalks out. He can hear Jack grinding his teeth halfway back to his classroom. This isn't over.

 


 

“He’s out there,” Jack tells Alana. “I need him out there. Should he get too close, I need you to make sure he’s not out there alone.”

Alana gapes. "Absolutely not! It would be totally unethical for me to be his guide."

"How so?"

"Will has been stable at 80% manifestation for years. If a new stressor - like, oh, say, returning to the field - activated additional traits or otherwise destabilised him, he would be critically vulnerable, maybe even at risk of bonding. He needs someone who can maintain their objectivity in that situation." Alana flushes, but maintains eye contact. "For... personal reasons, I very much doubt that I could maintain my objectivity."

"A qualified guide, willing to work with a high-level hypersensitive who might go full sentinel, who can be trusted not to complete an impulsive bond." Jack scratches his head. "You know who probably knows someone, is my wife."

"Probably," Alana agrees. "Although, now that I think about it, I know someone too."

 


 

Appropriately chastened by his time-out in the waiting room, Agent Crawford makes polite small talk while he explores Hannibal's office. He compliments Hannibal's drawings and in so doing reveals that he read up on Hannibal. Hannibal relaxes at the mention of Alana Bloom's referral.

"Most psychology departments are filled with personality deficients," says Hannibal. "Dr. Bloom would be the exception."

"Yes, she would. Yes, she would. She told me that you mentored her during her residency at Johns Hopkins," says Agent Crawford.

"I learned as much from her as she did from me."

"Well, she also showed me one of your papers. Social Models of Sentinel Traits: Disability, Allergy, and Talent."

"Yes." Had he not invested so much into his reputation, Hannibal would love to write a very different paper, about how it is upbringing, more than breeding, that separates the sheepdog from the wolf.

“Very interesting. Very interesting. My wife would love it.”

“Your wife. That wouldn’t be Bella Crawford, by any chance?”

Agent Crawford’s ingratiating smile warms to a proud grin. “You know her?”

“I know her work, and admire it enormously. Entry-level guide training should be as accessible as that for first aid and CPR. Not only can it save lives directly, but it helps potential guides discover a calling. I must have you both for dinner sometime.”

“I hope you still feel that way after the favour I’m about to ask you.”

 


 

Dr. Lecter peers at Jack’s bulletin board. “Tell me, then, how many confessions?” The sound of his heartbeat is unusually slow and steady. Will wonders if he takes medication for a cardiac condition. It seems unlikely; he doesn’t move like a man who has to restrict his exercise.

“Twelve dozen, the last time I checked,” says Jack. “None of them had any details until this morning. And then they all had details. Some genius in Duluth PD took a photograph of Elise Nichols’ body with his cell phone, shared it with his friends, and then Freddie Lounds posted it on Tattlecrime.com.”

Will mutters, “Tasteless.”

Dr. Lecter turns bright, interested eyes on Will. “Do you have trouble with taste?”

Will rolls his eyes and takes a deep, calming breath. Oh, you gotta be kidding me. A fucking guide, not two days after he told Jack a flat no. “My thoughts are often not tasty,” Will snarks.

“Nor mine. No effective barriers.”

This is some high school counselor bullshit. “I build forts.”

“Associations come quickly.” Dr. Lecter comes over and sits down in front of Jack’s desk, picking up his coffee. Jack goes over to fetch something from a filing cabinet.

“So do forts.”

Dr. Lecter notices how Will looks away. “Not fond of eye contact, are you?”

Despite himself, Will is actually a little impressed at the man’s frankness, and finds himself facing him and speaking in kind. “Eyes are distracting. You see too much, you stop paying attention to the rest of the face and don’t see enough… And-and it’s hard to focus when you’re thinking, um, ‘Oh, those whites are really white’, or, ‘He must have hepatitis’, or, ‘How'd she get that burst vein?’”

Dr. Lecter laughs under his breath and looks at Will like meeting him is the best thing that’s happened to him all week.

Will’s discomfort rises back up from its brief ebb. “So, yeah, I try to avoid eyes whenever possible.” He turns back to the desk. “Jack?”

“Yes.” Jack sits back down, but Dr. Lecter isn’t done.

“I imagine what you see and learn touches everything else in your mind. Your values and decency are present yet shocked at your associations, appalled at your dreams. No forts in the bone arena of your skull for things you love.” His soft voice is sympathetic. Understanding.

Oh, no. It’s even worse than Will thought. Not a guide, or not just a guide. A therapist. “Whose profile are you working on?” He turns to Jack and demands, “Whose profile is he working on?”

“I’m sorry, Will,” says Dr. Lecter. “Observing is what we do. I can’t shut mine off any more than you can shut yours off.”

“Please, don’t psychoanalyze me. You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed.”

Nobody appreciates his Hulk joke. Jack warns, “Will.”

Will gets up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give a lecture - on psychoanalyzing.”

Their voices follow him out the door and down the hall. Maybe they know he can still hear them, but it’s more likely that they forget. Everyone forgets how sharp hyperacusis really is.

Jack says, “Maybe we shouldn’t poke him like that, Doctor. Perhaps a less, uh, direct approach.” Not that Jack himself uses anything but, Will reflects bitterly.

Dr. Lecter says, “What he has is pure empathy. He can assume your point of view, or mine, and maybe some other points of view that scare him. It’s an uncomfortable gift, Jack.” Well, he’s not wrong.

Jack hums thoughtfully. Dr. Lecter continues talking, but Will is getting too far away to continue listening without risking a zone, so he dials his hearing back down and starts thinking about class.

 


 

After the macabre mockery that is Cassie Boyle’s display, Will is relieved to dream only in the abstract about it: giving the stag head a body again, blanketing it with the feathers of the ravens. It certainly beats watching while his brain replays a young woman’s lungs getting cut out while she’s still conscious. The ravenstag brings with it the otherworld chill and stillness of the hour before dawn, the exhilaration of setting off into the wilderness.

 


 

Dr. Lecter is well-versed in sentinel etiquette. Asking to come in would have mitigated any territoriality Will might have had over the hotel room. He doesn’t complain about the darkness inside, only remarks, "Blackout curtains. Did you bring your own?" He cracks them open just enough to see by - considerate of Will’s own sight.

Will struggles into a pair of jeans. "Mmm. Standard sleepaway kit: curtains, blindfold, earplugs. I'm lucky I don't have to bring my own bedsheets." Dr. Lecter is toting a soft cooler. The contents thump and squish when he places it on the little table. "What's that?"

"I’m very careful about what I put into my body, which means I end up preparing most meals myself. A little protein scramble to start the day. Some eggs, some sausage." Dr. Lecter sets one dish in front of Will and the other in front of himself.

Will quails at the sausage, but refusing would be more rudeness than he’s prepared to dispense this early in the morning. Might as well get the worst of it out of the way. He spears one and pops it in his mouth, bracing himself for salty death.

What he tastes instead is so surprising he grunts. There’s next to no salt, just a barely-there mix of seasonings that actually tastes good. It’s so different from any sausage he's had before that he can’t even place the meat - which has to be fresh, with so little salt to preserve it.

“It’s delicious, thank you.” He forks up another one and waves it at Dr. Lecter. "Did you make this yourself, too?"

Dr. Lecter nods, looking pleased. "I find commercial preparations, even the best, to be unbearable." He says this lightly, digging into his own breakfast with careful nonchalance.

Will absorbs the hint while he works his way through some incredible scrambled eggs, creamy and fluffy all at once. "You know, you're the second oddbody I've met this week. What've you got, taste?"

Dr. Lecter looks even more pleased. "Smell, actually. Which as I'm sure you know makes up most of what we think of as taste."

Will nods. From what he’s heard and read, hyperosmia can be more trouble than all four other enhanced senses combined; he’s glad he doesn’t have it. "Is that how you got into guiding? Management techniques for yourself?"

"Yes. I found I had a strong interest and aptitude for the work, and it served me well as a surgeon and now as a psychiatrist. We all need guidance from time to time."

The extension of kinship, the excellent breakfast; Will is aware he’s being manipulated, but that doesn’t stop it from working. He likes the doctor much more than he did at their first meeting.

He covers with a half-hearted prickliness, finally shutting down Dr. Lecter’s suggestion that they become friendly with, “I don’t find you that interesting.”

Dr. Lecter just says, calmly, “You will."

Will drops his guard as they talk about the Shrike and the copycat. Dr. Lecter calls him problem-free and a teacup and a mongoose, and God help him, Will can't remember the last time he enjoyed a meal in company this much.

 


 

In passing a box down to the secretary, Dr. Lecter drops a stack of files onto the ground. Will squats to rescue them, and Dr. Lecter goes back inside the trailer. Will hears him step around the desk and then pause for a long moment, before saying, very quietly, "Will?"

"Yeah?" Will calls back.

For the first time, Will hears Dr. Lecter's heartbeat speed up briefly, which is odd because all he says is, "Which of the remaining boxes did you want?"

“Just the ones by the desk."

Dr. Lecter emerges carrying two boxes. "This is the last of them," he says.

"Good thing. I don't have any more room in my car."

They drive to Garrett Jacob Hobbs' address, Dr. Lecter providing direction with the GPS on his phone. As they approach their destination, Will says, "This could be nothing, but just in case it's something, you need to stay behind me. Okay?" All of his senses are revving up, his body suffused with the potential for danger.

"Of course."

Will parks and gets out of the car, Dr. Lecter's heartbeat steady behind him.

There are three other heartbeats inside the house, and one of them gets faster and faster as he approaches (shit, he should have covered his holster with a coat or something) -

- There's a clatter, and a girl's confused voice saying, "Dad?" And Will breaks into a run -

- And a woman's voice screams, "Abby!" And Will draws his gun and kicks down the door -

- And he's there, it's him, Will has felt this man's desperate, contorted, rending love for his daughter, who he holds at knifepoint while his wife screams, any second now he's going to bring the knife to bear, slit her throat so she can be with him forever -

- And Will dials down his hearing and shoots him once in the shoulder and he loses his grip on his daughter -

- And Will shoots him again and again as he lunges for her, knife upraised, snarling like an animal -

- And Will keeps shooting him until he drops the knife, until he backs into the corner, until he slides to the floor, until Will has no more bullets left in his gun and a fine mist of blood on his face and in his mouth -

- And Hobbs is grinning and hissing, "See? See?" -

- And the daughter and her mother are clinging to each other, screaming and crying -

- And Dr. Lecter is there, his slow heartbeat not altering in the least as he takes in the tableau in the kitchen -

- And he shepherds the women outside, his best guide voice curling around them like smoke -

- And Will calls it in, reciting the details 911 will need on autopilot, shaking almost too hard to hold the phone -

- And Dr. Lecter comes back and steers Will outside with a light touch on his sleeve -

- And when the ambulance arrives Dr. Lecter goes away to speak to the EMTs and Will notices how the sunshine looks through the blood sprayed on his glasses and he zones as far and fast as he ever has in his life.

 


 

"It is 10:57 AM. You are in Bloomington, Minnesota. Your name is Will Graham. It's time to come back now, Will. Listen to my voice." The accented voice is familiar, low and hoarse. It pulls at him like a current.

"Will, feel my hand on the back of your neck." There is a hand on the back of his neck. It's big and warm, not dry, but not soft either - callused. The grip on his neck is firm, heavy. The thumb twitches briefly like it wants to stroke him, then stills. Will takes a deep, shuddering breath, like he just woke up.

"You're doing very well, Will. I know that you can hear me, and feel me. Now I want you to look at me."

Will's eyelids flutter, and he blinks, and he is seeing again. What he sees is Dr. Lecter's placid face, a small smile touching his lips and the corners of his eyes now as he sees Will seeing him. His eyes are a very unusual shade of brown - almost maroon. Will never noticed it before.

"There you are. Welcome back, Will."

Will stares, and his alarm must show on his face because Dr. Lecter explains, "You were gone for no more than thirty minutes. I have been here for ten. I apologize for leaving you alone, and for my presumption - I told the medics that I am your guide. I thought you would prefer that to the attentions of the ambulance crew."

Will opens his mouth, and after a long, frightening moment in which he can't speak, he whispers, "Hobbs?"

"Garrett Jacob Hobbs is dead. He will eat no more girls. His wife and child are unharmed."

"...Good."

"How do you feel?"

Will's adrenaline must all have drained away while he was standing around like a goober. Now he just feels shaky and sick to his stomach. He means to say he's fine, but Dr. Lecter's hand is still on his neck and what comes out instead is, "Tired."

"Can we give custody of the evidence in your car to local police?"

"Yes. Why?"

"It is my professional opinion that you need to go home. I would prefer to accompany you, for my own peace of mind."

Will closes his eyes. There's nothing left to do here that can't be followed up on remotely or taken care of by someone else. The Shrike is dead. He misses his dogs. "Okay."

He feels like he's drifting, tethered to his body by a string: a hairsbreadth away from another zone. Will lets Dr. Lecter take care of the things Will would normally have to either get help with, or wait until he was recovered enough to do himself, after a bad zone: booking the next flight home, driving to the airport, signing the rental car back in. He checked out of his hotel this morning, so that's something. Dr. Lecter handles it all with competence and discretion; he makes it quietly clear that Will is his charge and that is as it should be, and everyone's gazes slide right off Will like he's invisible. It's easy.

He keeps waiting to feel embarrassed.

They continue this way right up to Will's front door. Will drops to his knees among his pack, letting them swarm around him and sniff him, nuzzle him until he's close to tears. He doesn't even try to get up until the last of them have bounded off to play and pee before bed.

"Who feeds them when you're away?" It's the first thing Dr. Lecter has said to him since asking if anyone can cover his classes for a few days (Alana Bloom, and from her tone of voice as Dr. Lecter spoke with her on the phone, she will have some choice words for Jack the next time she sees him).

"Um, I pay a sitter." Catherine is a student living in Wolf Trap proper; she does a good job with the dogs, and doesn't mind coming over on short notice.

"Would I be overstepping my bounds if I made you dinner?"

"You already made me breakfast."

"Not in your kitchen, I didn't."

Will summons the ghost of a smile. "Be my guest."

He doesn't eat any of it, just falls asleep on his bed in the corner amid the good smells and the quiet bustling sounds of Dr. Lecter in his kitchen, the breathing of his dogs by the fireplace, the distant babble of the stream on the edge of his property. He wakes in the night to find a blanket tucked over him, and Dr. Lecter asleep in the armchair. He draws the blanket tighter around his shoulders and closes his eyes again.

Chapter Text

Will stands in Garrett Jacob Hobbs’ antler room. He feels like he emerged too soon from the cocoon of his home, with the uncomplicated comfort of his dogs, fridge bursting with Dr. Lecter’s food. The doctor had stayed the whole first night and most of the following day, cooking up a storm and keeping an eye on Will, retreating in the mid-afternoon. Will is still pondering how the part of all that he is least fine with, is the retreat.

“There’s still seven bodies unaccounted for,” Jack points out.

“Yeah, well, he was eating them.”

“Had to be some parts he wasn’t eating.”

Will raises his eyebrows. “Not necessarily.”

“All right, what if Hobbs wasn’t eating alone? It’s a lot of work: disappearing these girls, butchering them, and then not leaving a shred of anything other than what’s in this room.”

“Someone he hunted with.”

“Someone whose mother has lawyered her up tighter than Fort Knox, who also happens to be someone he hunted with.”

“Abigail Hobbs is a suspect?”

“We’ve been conducting house-to-house interviews at the Hobbs residence, and at this property also. Hobbs spent a lot of time here, spent a lot of time with his daughter here. She would make the ideal bait, wouldn’t she?”

“Hobbs killed alone,” Will says firmly, and he believes it, but he knows all too well Jack is smart enough to realize that doesn’t mean he hunted alone. Still, he’s certain that even if Abigail helped her father somehow, she was coerced. Most kids, especially teenage girls, are given no reason at all to think they’ll be taken seriously by adults. He’s glad that Abigail has her mother to shield her from seven families and Jack, all baying for blood. He hopes it’s enough.

A glint of red that isn’t blood catches Will’s eye. “Ah,” he says, “someone else was here.” It’s a long, curly hair: damnably familiar. At least Freddie Lounds is considerate enough to contaminate crime scenes with very distinctive hairs.

 

 


 

 

“How was class?” asks Jack.

“They applauded. It was inappropriate.” Will came closer than he’ll ever admit to turning tail then and there. The fact that they clapped, indicating his senses still aren’t common knowledge, is small comfort.

“Well, the review board would beg to differ. You’re up for a commendation. And they’ve okayed active return to the field.”

Alana puts in, “The question is, do you want to go back to the field?”

“I want him back in the field," says Jack. "And I’ve told the board I’m recommending a sensory and psych eval.”

The session won’t be with Alana, thank God, but Dr. Lecter is only slightly better. Will is still unsettled about how easily the man slipped past Will’s defenses to take care of him after Will killed Hobbs. Granted, that was the worst zone Will has had in more than a decade, so he was doubly shocky, but still. It’s as if the inflammatory system of his psyche doesn’t even recognize Dr. Lecter as a threat.

 

 


 

 

Dr. Lecter places a sheet of paper on his desk. Will skims it from his perch on the balcony. It declares him to be of sound mind and in control of his senses. Dr. Lecter's signature is as swooping and ostentatious as his office.

"Did you just rubber-stamp me?"

"Yes. Jack Crawford may lay his weary head to rest knowing he didn't break you, and our conversation can proceed unobstructed by paperwork."

"That's some paperwork to sign your name to, Doctor. Considering my zone last week."

"A normal response to an abnormal shock.”

“Might not be such an abnormal shock if I keep going where Jack tells me to.”

“He sends you to dark places. You could use someone to light the way out again.”

“Are you speaking as a therapist or as a guide?”

“There is considerable overlap between the two roles; they reinforce each other. I frequently find myself using therapeutic techniques on my hypersensitive clients, and guiding on my psychiatric clients.”

Will paces. “I find myself squashing a number of knee-jerk responses to the suggestion that I need either.” Will may be rude, but he’s not about to outright insult the entire livelihood of someone who has been very decent to him.

“Understandable. You have coped very well on your own up to now. Tell me, Will: how long do you go between zones?”

“I don’t know. Years?” One year, eight months, ten days: burning his mouth on some too-hot coffee, coming back to his dogs licking his toes and lukewarm coffee.

Dr. Lecter’s posture becomes ever so slightly more ramrod-straight in surprise. “Most four-sense hypersensitives are lucky to achieve a gap of weeks, with the help of daily contact with a guide.”

“It’s not rude to say oddbody if you are one yourself.”

“I beg to differ, but that’s a discussion for another time. What would you say is key to managing your senses?”

Will shrugs. “Routine?” That’s putting it mildly. His life may look slapdash, but it is so carefully constructed. The cozy little house on the most remote outskirts of a small town. The clothes, laundered into battered softness before he ever puts them on his skin. Bland foods with almost no impulsive additions to the menu. He’s not without his joys, but they are small, quiet joys in a small, quiet life, and every so often Will perceives himself becoming so small and quiet that he feels a brief lurch of despair. He can’t help but wonder if he remained on the periphery of profiling for the vicarious thrill of other people’s bloodshed.

“Returning to fieldwork will bring many disruptions to your routine. Your independence is hard-won, but you may need to sacrifice a little bit of it to preserve the rest.”

“It’s easy to call it a little bit when it’s not a bit of yours,” Will gripes. The doctor is right, goddammit, although he is less irritated about leaning on a guide than he is concerned about breaching the solitude of his mind. But Dr. Lecter has already seen him shaking with another man’s blood in his mouth, and zoned out past Pluto, and has taken both in stride. It’s as worth a try with him as it’s ever been with anyone.

At the end of the session Dr. Lecter says, almost impulsively, “Will, the mirrors in your mind can reflect the best of yourself, not the worst of someone else.” And that’s the other reason Will hasn’t shut down this - whatever this is they’re building between them: he can’t remember the last time someone saw so much of him and still wanted to help, to know more.

 

 


 

 

Beverly Katz doesn't know him, not really, and she doesn't pry for more, but she does offer help. Her friendliness is so easygoing that Will doesn't have a chance to get defensive; the artless opposite to Dr. Lecter's calibrated overtures. Certainly she manages to improve his shooting stance with a few light touches.

They both make satisfied noises when the target bursts apart closer to the heart, little smoking flecks of paper caught in the light behind the holes.

"That was better," Will admits.

"Gotta uphold our super-sight street cred."

"Did you come all the way down here just to offer me custom souvenirs and make sure I don't embarrass the oddbodies of the FBI?"

"No, Jack sent me down here to find out what you know about gardening."

 

 


 

 

Singleton hypersensitives are immune to zoning, but Will is still glad that Dr. Lecter is not present at the mushroom farm; the smell is appalling even to someone without hyperosmia. It’s so overpowering that he doesn’t even hear the heartbeat of the not-a-corpse until the scene has been vacated and he is widening his focus. He looks down at the freshest grave, and the sound is weak and thready but definitely there.

“This one’s alive!” Will shouts, and drops to his knees. He nearly jumps out of his skin when a ravaged hand grabs his arm. The eyes roll and the lipless mouth gasps, and then the team is swarming over him and whisking the poor mushroom-covered bastard away.

It takes Will a long time to overcome his urge to just climb the nearest tree and never come down. When he finally pulls together his reconstruction, Garrett Jacob Hobbs is lying in the place of the farmer’s last victim. He more or less flees back to Dr. Lecter’s office after that.

 

 


 

 

"This may have been premature," Will says, slapping the evaluation onto Hannibal's desk.

Hannibal looks at Will. The last time he was in Hannibal's office, Will was uncomfortable, afraid of being seen without being understood. Now he's just afraid.

"What did you see? Out in the field."

“Hobbs,” Will bites out.

"An association?"

"A hallucination. I saw him lying there in someone else's grave." Will's voice quivers with the raw horror of the moment. He battles daily with the intensity of his senses; having to contend now with also doubting their truthfulness must be daunting.

"Did you tell Jack what you saw?"

"No!" Will paces, agitated.

"It's stress," Hannibal reassures him - probably true. "Not worth reporting." A lie. "You displaced the killer's victim with what could arguably be considered your own." The kind of seed Hannibal has been planting everywhere he goes for years.

"I don't consider-" Will cuts himself off and cocks his head. He lowers his voice and says, "Are you - making another patient wait while you see me?"

"No. My next appointment is not for nearly an hour."

"Huh. She's very early, then."

"She?"

"Well, it's more likely to be a small woman than a tiny man in heels." Will twitches. He strides into the corner farthest from the door and beckons for Hannibal to follow, then for Hannibal to lean in close. Will's smell is very distracting like this.

Will whispers, right in Hannibal’s ear (Hannibal represses a shiver), “She just placed some kind of device against the door.”

Hannibal’s lips thin. He whispers back, “She’s new, and she was very insistent on her appointment time. I think she’s here to record you, Will.”

“If she’s not who I think she is, she’s someone just like her.” Will gives Hannibal a conspiratorial smirk. “Shall we give her a show?”

Hannibal finds himself beaming back. “Let’s.”

Will leaves the corner and says, at a conversational volume again, “I don’t mind telling you, that crime scene today was a puzzler, Doctor.”

“Oh? How so?”

“This guy, he’s using dead bodies to fertilize a mushroom garden. And the thing is, he’s a good gardener. There were way too many mushrooms for one person to eat!” Will, acting confused, is far more wide-eyed and less irritable than Will when he actually is confused. It’s terribly cute. He is terribly dangerous.

“Perhaps he’s not eating them.”

“Oh. Oh, God,” Will groans comically, “you don’t think he’s feeding them to other people?”

“Possibly, or selling them. Some restaurants will pay a premium for good specimens of certain types of mushrooms. The imperfect specimens he could return to the compost.”

“So we should be looking at high-end restaurants buying direct from growers, checking out the growers selling mushrooms. I have to call Jack with this. Mind if I do it in the waiting room?”

“Not at all.”

Will strides for the waiting room door. “Thank you, Dr. Lecter!” he says, and flings it open. He turns around. “She’s gone.” He breaks into a dazzling grin. Hannibal’s infatuation is growing by leaps and bounds.

“If that was Freddie Lounds, she’ll put that red herring up on TattleCrime. We’ll look incompetent enough that the killer might feel safe staying put for now.”

“You’re not concerned that news of the garden’s discovery will be enough to make him run?”

“Bodies, mushrooms - if she knew enough to follow me here, she knew that much already and would post it regardless. At least this way we might be able to mitigate the damage with some misdirection.” Will frowns. “I really should call Jack, let him know. He’ll be even more upset if he doesn’t hear about this from me.”

“Considering recording a patient's therapy session is illegal, Jack may actually be pleased. I understand Lounds has long been a thorn in his side.”

“Ah, but I’m not officially your patient, am I? We’re just having conversations.”

Hannibal smiles. “That we are. May I suggest we continue our conversation over dinner, at my house? You can tell me what you really think of the case, without any reporters listening at the doors.”

 

 


 

 

"You know," Will says, "I haven't met someone this compelled to feed me since I left Louisiana."

"Oh?" Hannibal does not look up from chopping the mirepoix - very light on the onions. "Who fed you in Louisiana?"

"Little old ladies, mostly. I was still finishing a growth spurt when I joined the force, and I was living on bulk sacks of rice and beans. I looked like I was made out of twigs. I couldn't get out of a lot of houses without a loaf of something."

"I suspect I would have joined forces with the little old ladies." Will chuckles. Hannibal goes on, "But it is always a pleasure to cook for my friends."

"I can see why," Will remarks, watching Hannibal tip the aromatics into a skillet, already oiled by half-cooked chunks of Hannibal's home-cured bacon (formerly a mediocre baker). "Talent deserves an audience."

"Just so. How are the mushrooms coming?"

"Stem-free. You don't think it's in poor taste, considering what happened today?"

"On the contrary; I'm hoping it will provide inspiration." Hannibal stirs the mirepoix until the onion is translucent, then adds uncooked short-grain rice. "Is your farmer growing mushrooms for consumption?"

"I don't think so? The oldest bodies had about as much growth on them as the latest. And I'm no mycologist, but it looked like a huge variety growing in there - more than I would expect if they were seeded. I think the plots were colonized by wild spores."

"Which means the majority of the crop would be toxic, with no guarantee that even a minority would be edible." Hannibal finishes the thought for him, adding white wine to the pan now that the rice is properly coated in tostatura. When the wine evaporates he adds the seasoning and starts to work in small amounts of heated stock.

"This killer, he worked hard on this setup, replicated it exactly multiple times. He was getting the result he wanted. So, no, I don't think the mushrooms are for eating."

"But it is important they be grown from people, not animal meat or plain beds of compost." Hannibal stirs the risotto meditatively. "The structure of a fungus mirrors that of the human brain: an intricate web of connections."

"So, maybe he admires their ability to connect the way human minds can't."

"Yours can," Hannibal points out.

Will laughs softly. "Yeah, not, um, not physically."

Hannibal slices the mushroom caps and ventures, "What about bonded sentinels and guides? Could he admire them?"

"Uh-uh, no way is this guy a sentinel. The smell of his farm about knocked me over, and my nose is normal. You're lucky you weren't there."

"A guide, then? Or a failed guide? Someone desperate for a connection?" Hannibal adds the mushrooms to the risotto.

"Maybe. He's someone who goes all-out on the things that matter to him; we could look at failed candidates for multiple higher-level training programs." Will nods firmly. "I'll take that to the team in the morning. The more data points we have, the narrower we can make our search. Thank you, Doctor." Still too formal, but the sincerity in his voice warms Hannibal.

He's just stirring in the butter and cheese when Will says, haltingly, "That's, uh, that's getting to be a bit rich for my - routine."

"You can indulge with me, Will. It's perfectly safe." Hannibal plates the risotto. "I've done the Soleil Bleu exams."

Will stares. "That's - that's the highest guide certification there is. Doesn't one section of those exams involve bringing someone out of a coma?"

"Yes." When a zone begins it is analogous to an absence seizure, and the victim can sometimes recover on their own, but left untreated the zone can deepen into a catatonic or even comatose state. The woman Hannibal pulled free had lost two weeks to the sight of large flakes of hoarfrost coating the stubble of a hayfield on a sunny winter's day.

Will takes his plate absently, still looking askance at Hannibal. "You could work at any sentinel institute on the planet. Why are you a psychiatrist and part-time guide in Baltimore?"

"I took the exams for my own gratification. I was never interested in being solely a guide."

Will smiles. "I hear that." He looks down at his dinner. "Indulgence, huh?"

The noise he makes when he tries the risotto makes Hannibal break out in gooseflesh. The indulgence may be more for his benefit than Will's.

Will chews slowly. Hannibal works on his own mouthful and imagines the creaminess of the liquid, the firm yet tender rice, the smoky bacon and earthy mushrooms - everything magnified a dozen times over, except for the smell. No wonder Will's brow is breaking out in a sweat.

Eventually Will sets down his fork and accuses, "You were holding back on me in Minnesota, and at my house."

And now. Will is warming up to him nicely, but is nowhere near ready to know the origin of the meat he's eating. Hannibal spreads his hands. "I can only do so much away from my own kitchen."

Will looks at his plate. "I don't normally push my control like this without a reason."

"Pleasure is a perfectly valid reason. One of the best reasons. Will, this is something I can help you with. Your senses need not always be a burden."

"They're not. I get nice surprises sometimes."

"You can have nice things on purpose, too."

Will swallows and picks up his fork again. “Keep talking.”

“About what?”

“Anything. Mushrooms.” He closes his eyes - Hannibal swears he can see his senses unfolding - and takes another bite of risotto. Hannibal speaks to him softly, anchoring Will with his voice. He starts by talking about his favorite mushroom recipes, and moves into a story about the first time he was alone in his own kitchen with some black truffles and couldn’t decide what to make with them. At some point he slips into French - not surprising on its own, as he always thinks in French when he thinks about cooking. What is surprising is that he doesn’t notice when the transition happens, because he is too busy watching Will sweat and shiver and stifle his moans as he works his way through the food. Hannibal’s own dinner cools untouched, but he feels full to bursting. He’s all but sitting on his hands to keep them to himself.

When he finishes, Will sits for a long time, just breathing, before he opens his eyes on Hannibal’s face. He looks quickly away, and Hannibal schools his avid expression back to calm.

“May I offer you dessert?”

Will laughs shortly and runs a hand through his hair. “Please don’t. I think I would have a heart attack.”

“Perhaps just coffee, then.”

“Coffee sounds perfect,” Will says, relieved. He remains withdrawn, more thoughtful than skittish or embarrassed, through coffee and polite farewells. He pauses in Hannibal’s doorway.

“Thank you,” he says, “for earlier.”

“It was my pleasure, Will.”

Will nods like Hannibal has given him a lot to think about. After Will has gotten into his car and driven off, Hannibal stands in his dining room and savors the smells of the evening, like ghosts suspended in the air.

 

 


 

 

As it turns out, they don't even need the failed-guide data point. The realization that all the victims are diabetic, and that the killer is someone with the means to alter their insulin, leads them right to Eldon Stammets' workstation. They're in time to save Gretchen Speck, but not to apprehend Stammets, whose computer still has TattleCrime pulled up.

Beverly reads the article aloud. "The FBI is cutting costs by hiring oddbodies: off-brand sentinels with mental disorders and partial sets of active senses. The keenest bloodhound in Jack Crawford's raggedy pack is Will Graham, who - Jack, this goes into a lot of detail." She skims the rest of the article silently, wincing. "She outed you. And me. Bitch!" She spins away from the desk and crosses her arms.

Brian Zeller's heart is going triple-time. The way he looks at Will looking at him says he knows Will can hear it.

Jack leans over and looks at the screen for himself. "I don't see word one about your restaurant story, Will. Even Lounds doesn't usually get this personal."

"She's telling us that she's not a mushroom," Will mutters.

"To be kept in the dark and fed bullshit, yeah. Well, I think it's time I shone a little light on Miss Lounds." Jack stomps off, already talking on his phone.

Will shoulder-checks Zeller into the toilet paper aisle as they're leaving. "Been chatting with someone new lately, Agent Zeller?"

Zeller scowls. "She said her name was Francine Kimball."

"It doesn't matter who you thought you were talking to. Blabbing your coworkers' medical information is unprofessional."

Zeller clenches his jaw and looks away. "Yeah, I fucked up. Are you gonna tell Jack?"

Will shoves his glasses up and rubs his eyes. "I don't see much point. The damage is done. Odds are the next guy would be just as prejudiced, and slower at determining cause of death."

Zeller stares at him. "That's some faith in humanity you got there."

Will jerks his head at the exit. "You better catch up with Jack. Wouldn't want him talking to your little girlfriend without you." Zeller curses and runs off.

 

 


 

 

Jack watches the body of the hapless local detective get carted away. Stammets went from drugging people into comas to shooting people in the head as soon as Freddie Lounds got involved. That woman has a reverse Midas touch: she turns everything to shit.

The muckraker herself calls out, “Jack?” from her seat at the back of the ambulance. He straps on a neutral face and walks over.  

“Go ahead and stand down, officer. Miss Lounds, are you alright?”

Freddie’s big blue eyes are darting around nervously; clearly she got a little too close to the violence today for her taste. “Where’s Will Graham?”

“We have an eyewitness to the murder. We don’t need Will Graham.”

“No, that’s not why I’m asking.” Her voice cracks just a little.

Jack turns and shouts, “Someone find me Will Graham!” An agent says, “Right away, sir.”

He turns back to Freddie. “This is about Will?”

“He was talking about people having the same properties of a fungus.”

“Stammets?”

“Thoughts, leaping from brain to brain. They mutate, they evolve.”

“Well, what does he want with Will Graham?”

“He wants to help Will evolve. Trigger him to manifest as a full sentinel so he can bond with him as his guide.”

Jack bends closer. “What did you tell him?” Freddie looks away. Jack enunciates very clearly as he says, “I need to know what you told Eldon Stammets about Will Graham.”

Freddie braces herself while Jack is speaking, takes a deep breath and says, “I told him about Dr. Lecter, his one-stop guide and shrink shop.”

“What. Did. You. Tell. Him.”

“Everything? He wants to eliminate the competition. He wants Will to participate.”

 

 


 

 

Hannibal opens the door to his waiting room, but he does not find Mrs. Jayaraj, who struggles with hyperacute touch and hearing. Instead there is a tall, balding man with a wrinkled face and a gun in his hand. He reeks of pig manure and sawdust.

“Dr. Lecter,” says the man, “we’re going to take a little trip to Wolf Trap, Virginia.”

Hannibal raises his eyebrows. “Not in my car, I hope.”

 

 


 

 

It’s reckless, dialing up while he’s standing in the stream, but at the same time it’s one of the places Will feels most grounded. If his house is the heart of his property, this place is the lungs. He's been wanting to come here since last night, when he dreamed of the stag again. It's always trying to lead him outside.

He hears his dogs, trotting and sniffing and digging along the bank. He hears the breeze in the trees, and a few lingering birds. Squirrels, scrambling to shore up their larders.

He hears his phone in his house, vibrating the way it does every few minutes when he has a message. He hears... a car drive up?

He sighs and starts to dial down, when the car door slams and an unfamiliar voice says, "Get out."

Will keeps his hearing up as he wades out of the stream. There is a knock on his door, and Dr. Lecter says, "Will's not here, Eldon."

Will's handgun is inside the house. He searches the stream bank for a tree branch. He finds a good, heavy one with a knot on one end and starts jogging back up the path, ordering his dogs to stay behind him and quiet.

Stammets says, "His car is here. Where is he?"

"Eldon, I've only been here once before, and then I was mainly in and around the house."

Yeah, and he was allowed to be here, he asked if he could stay. Not like this fuckhead. Abduct Will's guide, drag him to Will's house to do God knows what (but Will can guess. Stammets wants everybody rotting together in the ground, webbed in hyphae and clouded by spores). Will reaches the edge of the trees and looks at his porch. Stammets' back is to Will. Dr. Lecter is facing him with his hands up. If he sees Will, he gives no sign. Good man.

Will stays his dogs and darts for the side of the house. Dr. Lecter says, "Are you going to plant me?"

"Yes. That way he can have you, and I can have him." Will tries not to gag as he creeps closer, hugging the siding.

"And what do you gain, by having him? Someone who understands you?" Dr. Lecter somehow manages to sound sympathetic. Will tightens his grip on the branch.

Stammets blusters, "If he doesn't, I'll help him, and then he will."

Will springs up onto the porch and says, "I don't." Stammets whirls, Will swings, and he connects so hard with Stammets' head that the branch shatters. Stammets drops, the side of his skull sunken and bleeding profusely.

"We have to stop meeting like this," says Dr. Lecter. Despite the joke, he looks shaken, staring at Will with his mouth slightly open.

"Are you okay, Dr. Lecter?" Will looks him over.

Dr. Lecter swallows. "I'm unharmed." He crouches by Stammets and takes the gun from his limp hand, then checks for a pulse. "He's alive, but he will never be conscious again."

"I'll call it in." Will troops into the house. His phone rings as he picks it up. "Jack?"

"Will, I've been trying to reach you for an hour. Where the hell have you been?"

Will grimaces. "Gone fishing."

"Stammets knows about Dr. Lecter. We think he's taken him hostage."

"He did. They came here. I took care of it."

"Will, what did you do?"

"Walked softly and carried a big stick." Will squeezes his eyes shut. "Sorry. This just happened now. I still need to call it in."

"My God. You do that." Jack hangs up.

 

 


 

 

Hannibal leans against his desk, watching Will prowl the perimeter of the office. He's clearly still reining in his breathtaking violent instincts. "There won't be a review panel this time. I wasn't on the FBI's clock."

"There wouldn't be even if you were. Not only was it a textbook legitimate use of protective force, Stammets actively threatened a sentinel's community, on a sentinel's territory."

"I'm not a sentinel."

"You're more one than not. You have all the traits except hyperosmia."

"The diagnostic criteria-"

"The diagnostic criteria are shamefully outdated, influenced by Cold War era propaganda. A territory and a community can be whatever the sentinel feels them to be. My writings on this for Soleil Bleu are being cited in the new edition, whenever it actually gets released."

Will smiles crookedly at the academic lament.

"My point, Will, is not only will no one question your defending us from Stammets, but everyone is extremely impressed by your not killing him outright."

Will stops moving and turns away, hugging his sides. "I thought about it. I’m still not entirely sure that wasn’t my intention when I hit him.”

“If your intention was to kill him, it’s because you understand why he did the things he did.” Or, more likely and more thrillingly, because he already sees Hannibal as his guide, even if he’s not ready to admit it. Hannibal hugs this knowledge to himself and continues, “It’s beautiful in its own way. Giving voice to the unmentionable.”

Hannibal means this. He sympathizes with Stammets to a degree he is careful not to share with Will. Stammets wanted to achieve the ultimate fulfillments of a guide: helping others become their highest selves, and the transcendental connection of a bond with a sentinel. Worthy goals, except for how he tried to skip all the intervening work required to get there. Had Stammets' mind been destroyed for a purpose less important than Will's nascent becoming, Hannibal might almost have thought it a shame that he wound up a vegetable.

Will hunches his shoulders when Hannibal so much as hints at any of this, and Hannibal changes the subject. “Tell me, did you see Hobbs when you struck?”

“No.”

“Then it isn’t Hobbs’ ghost that’s haunting you, is it? It’s the inevitability of there being a man so bad that killing him felt good.”

Will chuckles bitterly. “I should’ve stuck to fixing boat motors in Louisiana.” He throws himself down in one of Hannibal’s chairs.

“A boat engine is a machine, a predictable problem, easy to solve. You fail, there’s a paddle.” Hannibal gets up and moves to the other chair. “Where was your paddle with Hobbs?” It’s a daring question, uncomfortably close to Hannibal’s heart, but he can’t resist.

Will looks right at him and snaps, “You’re supposed to be my paddle.”

Hannibal hides his delight and says quickly, seriously, “I am.” He hesitates, but the moment has aligned too perfectly for him not to ask. He pins Will’s eyes with his own and says, “It wasn’t the act of killing Hobbs that got you down, was it? Did you really feel so bad because killing him felt so good?”

The arrow strikes home. Will is laid bare. He trembles as he whispers, “I liked killing Hobbs.” He holds his breath after he says it, but he doesn’t look away.

Hannibal’s breath catches too. What a remarkable boy to have wandered into his path! He will do anything, anything at all, to keep him. With infinite care he leans forward and says, “Killing must feel good to God too. He does it all the time. And are we not created in His image?”

Will lets his breath out and says, “That depends who you ask.” He drops his eyes as he says it, the instant of resonance slipping away.

Hannibal tries to call it back again, baiting Will with more of his mind. “God’s terrific. He dropped a church roof on 34 of His worshippers last Wednesday night in Texas, while they sang a hymn.”

Will bites, looking up again. “And did God feel good about that?” he asks, incredulous.

“He felt powerful.”

Will just stares at him, astonished at Hannibal’s acceptance. If Hannibal’s wildest fancies come true and he ever finds himself in Will’s position, he wonders if he will be so still.

Chapter Text

Will turns away from the slide of Cassie Boyle on the stag’s head. “Garrett Jacob Hobbs knew he was going to get caught. All it took was a stranger with a gun and badge approaching his house for him to panic and try to kill his daughter. The copycat will be too confident in his own superiority for that kind of reaction.”

He pauses when he sees Dr. Lecter and Jack walking into his classroom, then goes on. “He wanted us to know he wasn’t the Minnesota shrike. He was better than that. He is an intelligent psychopath. He is a sadist. He will never kill like this again. So how do we catch him?”

Dr. Lecter asks Jack, sotto voce, “Giving a lecture on Hobbs’s copycat?”

Jack replies, “Well, we need whatever good minds we can get on this.”

“This copycat is an avid reader of Freddie Lounds and Tattlecrime.com. He had intimate knowledge of Garrett Jacob Hobbs’s murders, motives, patterns - enough to recreate them and, arguably, elevate them to art.” Will notices Dr. Lecter looking up at the slide like he favors that argument. Will wonders what it would take to shock him. “How intimately did he know Garrett Jacob Hobbs? Did he appreciate from afar or did he engage him? Did he ingratiate himself into Hobbs’ life? Did Hobbs know his copycat as he was known?”

He ends the class with the questions still hanging in the air. His students file out, parting around Will’s visitors like water around rocks. “Morning, Jack. Dr. Lecter, what brings you out to Quantico?”

“Coincidentally enough, Hobbs. But not the late Mr. Garrett Jacob; Mrs. Louise Judith, and her daughter Abigail.”

Will’s fingers clench on the strap of his bag. “What happened.”

“They’re fine, Will. Louise began corresponding with me a few days ago, and she made a request that cannot be granted without involving the FBI.”

“Gentlemen,” Jack cuts in, “I think any further discussion should take place in my office.”

 


 

“Where did they go?” Will feels bad, now, that he never asked.

Hannibal says, “They’ve been staying with Louise’s relatives, out of state. They were previously estranged, so the family has encountered minimal harassment.”

Will points out, “Minimal isn’t none.”

Jack says, “One stalker is particularly persistent and has managed to evade police. He fits the description of Cassie Boyle’s older brother, Nicholas, who has recently gone missing.”

“Garrett Jacob Hobbs didn’t kill Cassie Boyle.”

“Which makes his fixation on Abigail - it does appear to be on Abigail, correct?” Jack looks at Dr. Lecter, and continues when Dr. Lecter nods, “- all the more interesting to me. If the copycat was Hobbs’ accomplice, maybe he feels entitled to Abigail.”

“How is Abigail?”

Dr. Lecter says, “Traumatized. She suffers from nightmares, anxiety, depression. She and her mother are both caught between grief for Hobbs and horror at his actions. Louise told me that Abigail wants to go home.”

Will leans back. “Which is why she gave you permission to talk about this to the FBI. Their house is still part of an active investigation.”

Jack leans forward. “Let’s take them home. Maybe they’ll remember something that helps us find the girls’ remains, or catch the copycat.” Or maybe Abigail will suddenly crack and confess to helping her father, is the unspoken addition that hangs in the air.

“I want to be there,” says Will.

“And I want you there. Dr. Lecter, would Louise have any objection to Will accompanying you?”

“No. She was hoping it would be you, Will.”

 


 

“We’re the same four people who left my dad behind in this kitchen,” says Abigail Hobbs, staring at the corner where her father died.

“We are none of us precisely the same from moment to moment,” says Dr. Lecter.

“And I don’t know if we’ll ever really leave Garrett behind,” says Louise Hobbs, “but I want to. You don’t deserve to burn in his place, Abby.”

“Is that why we were allowed to come in here? Is someone putting on a witch hunt?”

“My boss,” says Will. “Jack Crawford. He’s the head of the Behavioural Sciences Unit. He’s the one the families are asking to find... something they can bury.”

“Or better yet, someone they can burn,” says Abigail. Will thinks the bitterness in her voice is understandable. It must be quite a thing, trying to survive someone who’s already dead.

“They can’t have you,” Louise says, hugging her daughter. “My hand to God, heads will roll if they try.”

 


 

Abigail’s friend Marissa arrives while they’re going through some of the boxed-up belongings in the house - not that Louise and Abigal can keep much, just hoping to jog their memories. Marissa comes bearing pizza, and the girls go out back to eat it together.

“Ham, shrimp, pineapple, extra cheese?”

“Yep, just like you texted me, you big weirdo,” Marissa drawls, and then the door shuts.

Louise chuckles. “We’ve been staying with my cousin’s family. They keep kosher.” Will clicks this piece of information into place. He supposes it’s more comfort than nuisance for the moment: the insular community, the flavors of childhood, not to mention the ironclad provenance of the meat. But her haircut is even shorter than it was the day Will killed her husband - almost aggressively shorter, and she insists on leaving her arms bare despite the deepening cold. Will doesn’t think Louise’s cousin needs to worry about their houseguests becoming permanent.

Outside, Marissa calls her neighbours and classmates “whores.” She and Abigail walk closer to the little creek.

“They’re not going to find any remains,” Louise says abruptly. “Garrett was fanatical about not wasting anything. He used to make plumbing putty out of elk’s bones. Whatever bones are left of those poor girls are probably holding pipes together.”

“Where did he make this putty?” Dr. Lecter says.

“At the cabin. I didn’t go up there much, but if she’s up to it Abigail can show you around tomorrow.”

Down by the creek, Marissa says, “I don’t think you did it.”

A new voice, a man’s voice, says, “I do.”

Will jumps up. “A man just approached the girls.” He runs outside while the man asks Abigail if she helped her father cut out his sister’s lungs - it’s Nicholas Boyle. By the time Will has a clear line of sight, Marissa has nailed Boyle in the head with a well-aimed rock, and between that and seeing the approaching adults he flees into the trees.

“It was him, it was him,” Abigail says into her mother’s chest, “the guy who was staring at me in the park.”

Marissa’s mother catches up with them then, and she carefully avoids looking at anyone but her surly daughter as she leads her away.

Boyle’s path is obvious, but the wood is tiny - he came out onto the street on the other side and was gone before Will even started looking. For once, Will wishes he had hyperosmia. Come to think of it… he turns to Dr. Lecter.

“Any chance you could track him?”

“Through a proper forest, perhaps. He is… unwashed. But not on a crowded street, and not if he drove away.”

They walk back to the yard. “He’s gone,” says Will. “You said you’d seen him before?”

Abigail nods.

“Abigail, did you ever see him before your dad died? Especially in the same place as your dad?”

Abigail bites her lip. “I don’t know, I’m not sure. If I did, I don’t remember where.”

“Sleep on it, maybe. Let’s get back to the hotel; we’ll go to the cabin tomorrow.”

 


 

Back at the hotel, Will has everyone pull the curtains and switch rooms. The room registered to the Hobbs women is now empty except for some wadded-up clothes under the bedcovers, they are in the room registered to Will, and Will is sharing Hannibal's room.

“There’s not enough evidence to justify a stakeout by local police,” Will says, “but if Boyle is the copycat, I’m taking no chances.”

Hannibal curses inwardly, but all he says is, "Prudent. Did you have to deal with stalkers as a police officer?"

"Sometimes. It ended badly too often."

Hannibal fixes them both turkey sandwiches - real turkey for once, and extra for Will. When Will finishes, Hannibal suggests, "Shall we sleep in shifts?"

Will hesitates, then nods. "I'll take first watch. Wouldn't sleep the first half of the night anyway with this racket."

It's a half-empty hotel on the edge of town. "Tell me, Will: do you think you spend so much time with your hearing dialed up that it's become your natural state?" Hannibal gets up and moves into the bathroom. He reminds himself firmly that he is subjected to intimate knowledge of others by smell all the time, and it is therefore hypocritical to be uncomfortable knowing Will can hear everything he is doing. He still shuts the door to relieve himself, get changed, and wash up.

Will speaks up a little to be heard through the door. "That's a fair assessment. Dialing down feels like keeping my arms pulled against my chest."

It’s an oddly personal admission for Will; he’s already punchy from the tryptophan in the turkey. Excellent. Hannibal turns the clock radio to the wall and climbs into bed. "I've set my alarm for three hours from now."

"You can sleep for longer than that," Will protests.

"Two cycles is plenty. Many nights that's all I sleep anyway." This has been true for Hannibal since childhood, but he can count on one hand the number of people he has told about it.

"The Renaissance man's secret revealed: extra study time." Will sounds amused.

"Indeed. Talk to you soon, Will."

"Sleep well, Doctor."

Hannibal was once told there were three rules to surviving as a surgeon: "Eat when you can, sleep when you can, and don't fuck with the pancreas." While he feels this unfairly demonizes the delicious pancreas, he has in fact retained the skill of going to sleep almost instantly, almost anywhere. He drops off still thinking of scenarios in which he can ask Will to call him by his first name.

He doesn't need his alarm to wake him three hours later. Will is still in his position by the window, feet propped up on the second chair.

"All quiet?" He whispers, but Will flinches anyway.

"Not exactly the word I would use, but Louise and Abigail are asleep, and the only break-in was a car thief a half-mile north. I called it in an hour ago.”

"Surely listening to everything in such a radius makes it more difficult to focus on the suites to either side of us."

"I don't try to identify everything I hear, just the important things. Though... it helps, to reach past where I am, when where I am is ugly." This last has the shy tone of a long-held secret, a nighttime confession similar to Hannibal's.

"Is it so ugly, to be here with me?"

"No, not at all." Will tips his head back. "I just hate hotels. Almost everyone in them is miserable: lonely, exhausted, using. It helps to know there's a coyote just across the road hunting mice, and a baby nursing down the block, and a bat..." He trails off.

"Will?" Will doesn't respond. Hannibal gets up and looks him over carefully. His head is supported by the wall. His eyes are closed. He looks like he's simply fallen asleep, but Hannibal is able to take off his shoes and tap the soles of his feet without a response. He's zoned, the kind of zone that will shade naturally into sleep over the course of a night, leaving the sleeper poorly-rested despite spending hours insensate. A hypersensitive as powerful as Will, without consistent grounding from a guide, probably experiences such zones fairly regularly without knowing it. No wonder he so often appears fatigued.

Hannibal changes quickly back into his clothes, and slips out of the room. He locks the door behind him. His plastic suit and other tools are still in the trunk of his airport rental car.

He runs his errands and is back in less than three hours. Will is exactly where he left him. Away from prying eyes, Hannibal cannot resist the temptation to run his hand through Will's glossy, unkempt curls. His hair is even softer and silkier than it looks. He palms the side of Will's face, and Will nuzzles sweetly into the touch. Hannibal bites back a gasp of shock and arousal; he hasn't even spoken to the man and he's coming out of the zone, responding to Hannibal like a blossom to the sun.

He pitches his voice as low and soothing as possible. "Will, it's time to get into bed. You don't have to wake up all the way, just enough to stand." Blinking owlishly, Will clambers to his feet, and Hannibal helps him strip down to the undershirt and briefs Hannibal saw him in that first morning in Minnesota. Moving on autopilot, Will fishes a long, soft strip of cloth and a package of earplugs out of his luggage; he hung up the portable blackout curtains earlier. He puts the earplugs in, ties the cloth around his eyes, and crawls under the covers. Hannibal crouches at the bedside, greedily watching Will in this private, intimate state.

"You're going to sleep now, Will. I will keep watch. It's safe."

"Safe as houses," Will mumbles vaguely. His accent sounds different: almost French, but much slower. Cajun, perhaps.

"Certainement."

"Bonne nuit, docteur."

"Bonne nuit, mon cher." If Will remembers this exchange in the morning, which is unlikely, he is sure to dismiss it as a dream without embarrassing himself by asking. When Will's breathing becomes slow and steady, Hannibal leans forward and sniffs deeply at the nape of his neck. It's a mistake, because he doesn't want to stop.

He contents himself instead with washing and dressing for the day, so that as morning approaches he is free to sit and watch Will twitch his way through what must be some truly appalling dreams. He finally awakens, drenched in sweat, and after he removes his blindfold and earplugs he sits at the side of the bed with his head in his hands.

“Nightmares are the mind processing its traumas and concerns,” Hannibal offers. “They don’t create fear; they release it.”

The noise Will makes might charitably be called a laugh. “No wonder I wake up feeling bled out sometimes.” He refuses to discuss his dreams, and punishes himself by yanking the blackout curtain all the way back, flooding the room with light.

Later, at the cabin, Hannibal is careful to wait until after the door has been opened and air has started to circulate before he pulls Will aside and tells him he can smell blood.

 


 

Will regards Marissa Schurr where she hangs. She will never again sneak away from her mother to bring pizza for her friends and throw rocks at stalkers.

Dr. Lecter says, “Nicholas Boyle felt safe threatening the girls when they were alone, and ran away when other adults approached.”

Will says slowly, “His anger sounded, and looked, genuine to me. But maybe he isn’t grieving his sister. Maybe he feels cheated of Hobbs’ daughter.”

A heavy tread comes up the stairs, and Jack says, “You brought Abigail Hobbs back to Minnesota to find out if she was involved in her father’s murders, and another girl dies.”

"Jesus, Jack, did you teleport here?"

"I decided yesterday to swing by. Heard about this when I got off the plane. You said that this copycat was an intelligent psychopath, Will. That there would be no traceable motive, no pattern. He wouldn’t kill again this way. You said it.”

“Evidently I was wrong about that.” Will aims a flashlight at Marissa’s mouth for Jack’s benefit. “Look, he scraped his knuckle on her teeth. There’s foreign tissue, and trace amounts of blood.”

“Garrett Jacob Hobbs never struck his victims. Why would the copycat do it?”

Dr. Lecter puts in, “I think he was provoked. Nicholas Boyle murdered this girl, and his own sister.”

“With or without Abigail Hobbs?”

“Without,” Will says firmly. “We kept a watch at the hotel last night. Louise and Abigail never left their room.” He looks at Dr. Lecter and nods. Dr. Lecter nods back, and they both look at Jack.

“Well, do you think Abigail Hobbs knew Nicholas or Cassie Boyle?”

“She said she might recognize Nicholas from somewhere before he started stalking her, but she can’t place it.”

Jack stalks closer. “Do you believe her, or do you just want to believe her?”

“Agent Crawford.” Dr. Lecter’s voice, always soft and measured, becomes even more so when he’s offended.

“Look, he said he was wrong about the copycat killer. I want to know what else he’s wrong about.”

Will hates it when people talk about him like he isn’t there. “Whoever killed the girl in the field killed this girl, I’m right about that. He knew exactly how to mount the body. Wound patterns are almost identical to Cassie Boyle. Same design, the same - humiliation.”

Dr. Lecter confirms, “Abigail Hobbs is not a killer. But she could be the target of one.”

Jack clenches his jaw, the way he does when he hears information he doesn’t want to hear, but accepts it anyway. This is why Jack Crawford can attract and keep the best people on his team, despite being a bully: he respects expertise.

Finally he says, “I think it’s time Abigail Hobbs left home permanently. Doctor, would you be good enough to collect Abigail and her mother and escort her out of Minnesota, please?” Dr. Lecter looks at Jack for a long moment and turns to go. Will turns to follow him, and Jack adds, “Not you, Will. I want you here.”

Will shakes his head. “I’ve seen everything there is to see here. I’m going with them.”

Jack’s eyebrows shoot up. “Feeling protective, Will?”

Will plants his feet. He shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs off Abigail like a predator off its prey. There’s another predator out there now, a man who harasses young girls and flees from adults. “Yes.”

“Agent Crawford,” Dr. Lecter says, “this is what we talked about the other day.”

Jack glares at Dr. Lecter for a moment, and then turns sideways and lets Will out of the antler room.

“What did you talk about?” Will asks as they descend the stairs together.

“I told him that he cannot push you into being more of a sentinel, and then expect you to act like less of a sentinel.”

"Still not a sentinel." Will is beginning to feel like a broken record on this topic.

 


 

Louise asks to stop at the house before they leave; she and Abigail have gained permission to take a few belongings. Had Will anticipated the gauntlet of press, and police, and Marissa Schurr's mother, and fucking Freddie Lounds that awaited them, he would have kept driving. However, it seems churlish to call the errand off after a shaken Louise and a near-hysterical Abigail have already disappeared into the house. He leads the sobbing Mrs. Schurr back behind the police line, not trusting himself with Freddie.

Dr. Lecter drags Freddie over to the boundary, and she sneers, "I'm not the only one lurking about the Hobbs house, peeking in windows. They really should monitor those police lines more carefully."

Dr. Lecter asks her, "Have you seen a young man, mid-20s, ginger hair? Unwashed." Of course he would include that detail.

"I'll tell you if I saw him if you tell me why it's important," Freddie says immediately.

"He's a suspect in Cassie Boyle's murder," says Will, and the shock that flashes over Freddie's face is genuine. "You're surprised. You have an opinion about him. You've met him. God, have you been helping him stalk Abigail Hobbs?"

"You can't prove anything," she hisses, and Will wants to shake her like his terrier Buster shakes a rat, but inside the house Nicholas Boyle speaks and Abigail wheezes in terror, and Will sprints up the driveway, drawing his gun.

For the second time, Will bangs into this house, shouting, "FBI, freeze!"

Nicholas Boyle has grabbed Abigail by the upper arms and shoved her against the wall.

"I remember you now," she sobs, "St. Cloud State, the campus tour. You were there."

"With my sister!"

"Like my dad was there with me."

"Shut up!" He slams her particularly hard into the wall and reaches for the rear waistband of his jeans.

Will shouts, "I said freeze!" Boyle actually hears him this time and glances at Will, and that is the moment when Louise Hobbs rounds the corner and blows Boyle's head away with her late husband's shotgun.

Will uses a silencer on his handgun, and the reflex of dialing down his hearing goes hand-in-hand with squeezing the trigger. The reflex does not take effect when it's someone else shooting, and the report is much louder than a silenced handgun.

Will crumples into a ball, arms wrapped around his head. He might be screaming; his throat feels like he is, but he can't hear or see anything at all, aside from a ringing blast of agony. It feels like he imagines it would if he were the one to get shot in the head, except it goes on and on. He starts to taste chalk when his mind replays the sight of Nicholas Boyle's skull exploding outward, and Will panics; synesthesia is a sign of a developing sensory storm. He can count the number of storms he's ever had on one hand, and all of them are tied for worst experience of his life. He tries to slow his hyperventilating.

He doesn't have much luck until a familiar, big, warm hand settles itself at the nape of his neck, then slides up to cup the back of his head. This time the thumb does stroke him, rubbing little circles in his hair. The circles slow gradually, and so does Will's breathing.

His guide uses his free hand to gently pry one of Will's hands away from its position clapped over Will's ear. He moves it until Will's fingertips are resting against his guide's throat, feeling the bobbing Adam's apple and the vibrations of his vocal folds. He's talking. Will wonders what he's saying, and in wondering, his brain begins to reassert some semblance of order on his hearing.

"-my utmost to ensure you never return to Bloomington, Minnesota. Anyone who lives an interesting life acquires some cursed places. I daresay this qualifies as one for you, now."

"Agreed," Will manages to croak.

Dr. Lecter’s thumb stills, but he keeps the solid weight of his hand on Will’s head. Will feels him release a huge sigh. “How are you feeling, Will? Did we manage to avert the storm?”

“I think so. Thank you for that.” Will becomes aware that they are not on the floor. They’re on the couch, with Will’s forehead resting on Dr. Lecter’s thigh. It’s a remarkably solid thigh for a psychiatrist. Dr. Lecter must work out. “Did you - lift me onto the couch?”

“Yes. Getting into a more comfortable position can help the sentinel reorient and force a sensory storm to retreat.”

“I’m aware. But - by yourself?”

Dr. Lecter sounds amused. “I have six inches and at least fifty pounds on you, dear Will. It was not difficult, particularly when you were balled-up so tightly.”

“Oh. Right.” Will sometimes forgets about his body as a thing that exists in relation to other bodies.

“Are you ready to expose your eyes? I’ve darkened the room as much as I can.”

“Yeah, okay.” Will removes his hand from Dr. Lecter’s throat, uncoils from his ball, and rolls onto his back. It occurs to him that he is lying with his head in Dr. Lecter’s lap. Dr. Lecter has his hand in Will’s hair, and is looking down at him with mingled affection and concern. They look like… something they’re not. The flashing of police lights in the window and the smell of cordite and gore rather detracts from the image.

“Is Nicholas Boyle’s body still in the room with us?”

“No, they’ve removed it. Louise and Abigail Hobbs will be questioned, again. They have more protection on them now than when Abigail’s stalker was alive.” Dr. Lecter's tone speaks volumes about his opinion on this. 

“He visited campuses with his sister, like Hobbs did with his daughter. He went for a weapon when Abigail remembered.”

“It seems very likely that Boyle was the copycat, and possibly Hobbs’ accomplice. Let us hope Hobbs’ wife and daughter will finally be allowed to find some peace.”

Will drops his voice to a whisper. “I think Abigail probably was forced to help her dad somehow. She’s too scared to not be hiding something. I just don’t think she should be punished for it.”

Dr. Lecter nods seriously. “I agree. Are you going to share these thoughts with Jack?”

“No. I want Jack to let her go. Maybe he will, now that he has Boyle.”

“And some remains. Now that I sit here, I’m quite certain that these pillows are stuffed with human hair.”

Will is not lying on any pillows, but Dr. Lecter is leaning against one. “Seriously?”

Dr. Lecter raises an eyebrow. “Yes.”

“What a hell of a goddamn day.” He heaves himself to his feet. “C’mon, let’s go tell someone. I want to go home.”

 


 

Dr. Lecter drives them back to the airport. It's uncomfortably similar to the last time the two of them were leaving Minnesota: Will in the passenger seat, feeling like the oncoming headlights are illuminating a hollow, man-shaped shell. He is suddenly desperate to break the parallels.

He does so by speaking. "Garrett Jacob Hobbs saw me coming through his kitchen window. He had seconds to decide what to do, so he went for his daughter. If he'd had any more warning at all, I know he would've killed his wife first."

"You know this?"

"I know it. I tried so hard to know him. To see him." Will sees Hobbs now: a shelter become a cage become a trap for a shining girl, and then just a man, oozing blood and madness through the holes Will put in him. "Past the slides and vials, beyond the lines of the police reports, between the pixels of all those printed faces of sad dead girls."

Will turns in his seat to look at Dr. Lecter. "I got so close to him. Sometimes, I felt like we were doing the same things at different times of day, like I was eating or showering or sleeping at the same time he was." He's never dared to share this much of his process with anyone, but something about Dr. Lecter invites it. He's a very good psychiatrist.

"Even after he was dead?"

Will shudders. "No, thankfully. It never happened again after I heard his heart stop. But my point is, even once I knew the Shrike had a daughter, I never considered that the daughter might have a mother. Or what kind of person the mother would have to be, to survive him at all." Even if she was caught off-guard the morning her husband died.

Dr. Lecter muses, "Abigail Hobbs will have a very different future with her mother than without her."

"Yeah," Will says softly.

 


 

Going right up to the brink of a sensory storm is, apparently, just the thing for Will to sleep with all his senses dialed down tight without trying, because what wakes him up is his dogs barking their heads off at the front door. He wanders after them out into his yard, and it’s only then that he notices Alana Bloom.

“Morning!” she calls.

Will squints at his driveway. “I didn’t hear you drive up.”

“Hybrid. Great car for stalking.” One of the many reasons he likes Alana is she doesn't fuss over his senses.

It occurs to Will that he is still in his underwear. “Um, I’m compelled to go cover myself.”

“I have brothers.” She says it warmly, but that's not a sisterly glint in her eye. He also likes Alana for managing to flirt without it becoming awkward.

“Well, I’ll put a robe on just the same. You want a cup of coffee? And more immediately, why are you here?”

“Yes, and Eldon Stammets was taken off life support today.”

They sit at Will’s little kitchen table, half-covered with papers. Alana sips her coffee, and says, “I didn’t get a chance to talk with you about the Stammets case before Jack packed you off to Minnesota.”

“Oh, I packed myself off to Minnesota, for all the good it did.”

“From what I hear, you did a lot of good. Don’t feel sorry for yourself because you saved two lives.”

Will thinks that’s overstating things. Two futures, maybe. He rubs his face. “I don’t. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. I feel, um…” He searches for the word he wants, and just says lamely, “good.”

Alana smiles. “I’m glad that you’ve kept working with Hannibal. I hoped he would be good for you.”

“He is. I’d be…” Will blinks, trying to tabulate how much Dr. Lecter has helped him and eventually just giving up. “With all that’s happened lately, I’d be in pretty rough shape without him.” He drinks some more coffee, then says, “I spent so long pushing back against the implication that I needed a guide, needed to be dependent.”

“I know. That’s why I never pushed.”

“And I appreciate that. But I think I got so caught up in insisting I didn’t need one, that I failed to appreciate the benefits of having one.”

“I’m burgeoning with vicarious professional pride. Somewhere, Hannibal just shed a tear without knowing why.”

Will laughs and gets up. He feels inspired to make biscuits for breakfast.

Chapter Text

"Is this a bad time?"

"Not at all, Will," says Hannibal into the phone, dispatching the upside-down catcaller in front of him with a swift slice of his cleaver through the neck. He had hoped to let him wake up first before bleeding and butchering him, but it isn't worth the risk; Will's hearing is extraordinary, even by sentinel standards. Only the tinny sound quality of the phone prevents him from worrying about Will hearing the faltering pulse. "I was just cutting up dinner. Would you like to join me this evening, after our appointment?" He nudges the body to keep the blood streaming neatly into the bucket below, the heart aiding in cleaning out the body it used to keep alive.

"Actually, that's why I'm calling." Will sounds apologetic. "I'm being called out to Stamford, Connecticut, so I can't make it tonight."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, me too. Ugh, now I have to start calling around for a dog-sitter. Catherine has finals."

"Don't bother. I can do it." Hannibal finishes detaching the head and sets it on his bench to remove the cheeks.

"I can't ask you for that, it's too far out of your way."

"You're not asking, I'm offering. I know how important your dogs are to you, and they know me. It's no trouble."

"Well, if you're sure."

"I am. Just tell me where to find the key." Hannibal peeks into the mouth and removes the tongue also. No future Ripper art installation this; he'll take everything worth taking.

 


 

Hannibal has been to Will’s house twice before, but he’s never explored it. The first time he was too enamored and concerned with Will, who was recovering from a brief but very severe zone after killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Hannibal slept longer than usual himself, and spent the next day filling Will’s fridge with simple meals made from Will’s own ingredients, removing himself before he wore out his welcome. The second time Will had just bludgeoned Eldon Stammets in Hannibal’s defence and was spattered with blood, eyes wide and nostrils flaring as he wrestled with what one of Hannibal’s guiding instructors had called the “Blessed Protector Impulse”, and Hannibal wouldn’t have noticed if they were on the moon.

This is the first time he’s visited the house by himself. He intends to take advantage.

The dogs investigate him politely, calm and balanced even in the absence of their pack leader. A few bits of sausage and they leave him alone. He plays a few notes on the upright piano: as in tune as such a humble model can be. He's certain Will tunes it himself. He has a sudden mental image of playing his harpsichord for Will, at rest with his hearing fully extended, letting the music play over him as Hannibal's fingers play over the keys.

The only other musical device in the room is a record player. Vinyl is much-loved by those with hyperacusis; they tend to find electronic music unpleasant. Hannibal has baseline hearing but very discerning taste, so he sympathizes.

He bypasses the kitchen, already knowing every inch of it by heart. Will keeps a narrow range of very plain foods of marginally-acceptable freshness, except for the first-rate fish which Will probably catches himself. Precious few herbs, spices, or other flavorings. The only salt is in a box for baking. The only alcohol is a half-empty bottle of whiskey.

Dresser and closet: running gear, and a disgraceful array of shabby old clothes. There is a great deal of stretch knit. There are holes. Everything is extremely soft and well-laundered, stored neatly and with care. The newest items are the briefs and undershirts that Hannibal already knows Will sleeps in; he considers how much Will sweats, and concludes that he keeps enough around to change into dry ones whenever he needs them, and discards them when they become too badly stained to meet even Will’s lax standards. Hannibal must ruminate on ways to upgrade the wardrobe of a man hypersensitive to both touch and perceived criticism of his working-poor roots.

The bottom drawer of the dresser yields an unexpected delight: a little bundle of several silk scarves. They’re too small and thin to be of use as blindfolds. Hannibal brings one to his nose, and his groan feels pulled from the base of his spine. While it has been washed since, the faint odors of bleach, salt, and musk are unmistakeable. This is a sex toy. Will lies in this bed, in this room, and touches himself with this scrap of silk until he comes. Not often enough, by how faded the smell is. Hannibal wins a brief debate with his sense of propriety and steals the most pungent scarf, stuffing it into his pocket. Something tells him he’ll be retiring early tonight.

The bathroom is largely unchanged from the last time Hannibal was here: towels as soft and shabby as Will’s clothes; razor, toothbrush, and toothpaste marketed to hypersensitives; cheap, plain soap. This time, Hannibal takes note of some very promising absences. The atrocious aftershave he has not smelled on Will since their second meeting is nowhere to be found. It’s one thing to not wear it on days they will see each other out of consideration for Hannibal’s hyperosmia, but getting rid of it entirely is going above and beyond. Neither can Hannibal find any trace of deodorant or antiperspirant. Born and bred in the humid South, Will may have simply given up on any product being able to withstand his copious sweating and settled for taking frequent showers. Hannibal is beginning to favor another theory.

All surfaces, while old and worn, are spotlessly clean, and whatever products Will cleans with are so mild that Hannibal could live here himself without the least olfactory discomfort. Even the dogs smell like they get regular baths.

Hannibal wonders if this is a little bit what it's like to be Will. Standing in the breathing silence of Will's home, the spaces speak to him with noise and clarity. Will is repressing the full range of his sense of smell, because that would make him a fully-fledged sentinel, and that is something he doesn’t want to be. Hannibal has yet to tease out all the reasons for that, but doubtless the exponential increase in zoning risk and concomitant necessity of a guide is a factor.

Virtually every aspect of Will’s home is chosen to avoid overstimulation, to support his own stability in the absence of a guide, yet he allowed himself to be pulled back into the field where he is wildly overstimulated. He has reduced his living space to a single room, but he bought a two-story house; upstairs are two bedrooms and a second bathroom, all completely empty. Most of the light switches are gathering dust, but all of the lightbulbs are in working order. There is a magnifying glass on Will’s fly-tying table that he clearly doesn’t use himself; it’s there so he can show someone else what he’s working on. 

Hannibal’s theory is this: Will, however unconsciously, has been waiting for a guide. The right guide. A guide who can see him, know him, accept him… bond with him.

Hannibal completed the most stringent guide training in the world on what amounts to a whim. Despite only having hyperosmia himself, his house is fully compatible with five-way hypersensitivity. He scrupulously avoided guiding clients with more than three enhanced senses, until he met Will.

Meeting Will was like being set on fire, and every time Hannibal sees him or thinks of him he glows with renewed fervor. Hannibal believes that Will has been waiting for him, just as he has been waiting for Will.

He moves to the fly-tying table. The lure in progress is a swipe of black and scarlet feathers, reminiscent of a Siamese fighting fish. Hannibal discerns the remaining piece in the design, adds it, ties it off. He picks up the finished lure and quite deliberately pierces his thumb on the hook, then licks away the blood. It tastes like a promise.

 


 

It’s all such a cliché: Mrs. Turner’s forgiveness for her killer upsetting Will, bringing it to Dr. Lecter, Dr. Lecter asking about his mother. “Some lazy psychiatry, Dr. Lecter. Low hanging fruit,” he sneers.

Dr. Lecter responds calmly, “I suspect that fruit is on a high branch. Very difficult to reach.” His calm is an inexhaustible reservoir. Will soaks it up, a balm where the company of most people grates.

He sighs. Some things are clichés because they’re common experiences. “So’s my mother. Never knew her.”

They lob the family ball back and forth. Will confesses his disconnection from the concept, and remembers to thank Dr. Lecter for feeding his dogs. He learns that Dr. Lecter was an orphan, and he shares a bit of his nomadic life with his father.

“Always the new boy at school. Always the stranger,” Dr. Lecter reflects.

Will’s smile is toothy and humorless. “Always.”

“Most children with enhanced senses are tested in school, by staff to determine their needs and by other children to determine their weaknesses. Tell me, Will: did you learn to manage your senses by yourself to avoid repeated rounds of this testing?”

“It was just easier that way.” By the end of junior high, Will was so braced for the sensory shocks of the school day, so adroit at maintaining his isolation (exploiting his empathy, informed by his senses, to more effectively shun everyone), that he could come and go at a school with virtually no one even learning his name, much less that he was an oddbody.

“Coping without a guide became a point of pride for you. Making a virtue of necessity.”

Will nods. “If you can’t have something, better make sure you don’t need it or want it.”

“Am I wrong in my impression that you’ve reconciled yourself to needing a guide now?”

“You’re not wrong.” He admitted it to Alana, who is just his friend. He can admit it to Dr. Lecter, who has done the actual work of helping him.

“You can make a virtue of that too. Enjoy things it was not safe to enjoy before.”

“Is this the point where you produce more mushroom bacon risotto?”

Dr. Lecter chuckles and says, “No, but I’m glad you found it memorable. I had something simpler in mind for the moment.” He gets up and goes to his desk, then comes back with a brown paper bag. He doesn’t sit back down in his chair, though - he moves to the couch. Will turns to watch him.

Dr. Lecter reaches into the bag and comes out with a pomegranate - small, probably organic, plump and perfect like it's only recently off the tree. It probably cost more than its weight in premium steak or cheese. “I couldn’t help but notice the limited amount of fresh fruit in your home.”

“And it couldn’t possibly be because I don’t always keep up with the grocery shopping.”

Dr. Lecter looks unimpressed. “You make all your dog food from scratch, and rotate a two-week supply through your freezer.”

“Okay, you got me. I don’t like to have too much temptation around the house. Isn’t that basic sensory management?”

“The most basic. There are more advanced techniques than simple abstinence.” Dr. Lecter spreads his handkerchief in his lap, then produces a small pocketknife and scores the skin of the pomegranate. He grips it firmly and twists, and the fruit comes apart, revealing neat mounds of bright red arils. He pats the couch. “Come, sit by me.”

Will pads over, gaze fixed on the pomegranate. “This seems risky.”

“On your own it might be, but you’re not on your own anymore, are you? I can help you with the risks.” Dr. Lecter pulls at the membrane beneath one of the mounds, and tips the loose arils into his palm. He holds his open hand out to Will. “I want to help you enjoy yourself, Will.”

Will looks at the fruit. With the white seeds visible and the red pulp, they remind Will of pulled teeth. He takes one and rolls it between his fingertips, feeling its smoothness, mouth already watering as his sense of taste dials up. His eyes flick up to Dr. Lecter’s face, and he puts the aril in his mouth and bites down.

His eyes flutter shut of their own volition and he grunts. The taste explodes across his tongue, acidic juice bursting out of the crisp, fragile flesh, the crunchy little seed almost nutty inside.

"Good?" Dr. Lecter sounds particularly husky.

Will clears his throat. "You can smell how good it is."

"But I can't taste or feel what you can. Can you describe it?"

He licks his lips. "Um, intense."

"Take another one." Dr. Lecter is pressing an aril into his hand. Will takes it. The sensations are even more powerful the second time.

This is worse than the risotto. That was complex, layered, dozens of flavors and textures demanding his full concentration. This is so pure, leaving his concentration in tatters and the pleasure increasingly insistent.

The third aril he eats with shaking hands and a twist of arousal in his gut, followed swiftly by a flash of panic.

"I need to stop, I'm overloading, I-" Dr. Lecter shushes him and holds the next one against Will's lips himself.

"Just let it happen. What do they say? It's a feature, not a bug."

Will's mouth falls open in shock at Dr. Lecter, as old-country a man as Will has ever met, making a software joke, and Dr. Lecter pops the fruit inside. Will breathes hard through his nose, but he doesn't pull away. The pleasure keeps spilling over from his mouth into the rest of his body, he's getting hard and hot and confused about why he's holding back from this, and when he swallows this time he opens his mouth for more.

Dr. Lecter gives him more. He patiently feeds Will the tiny pomegranate arils from his clean, dry fingers. He murmurs encouragement and reassurance when Will starts to gasp and whimper, and when Will falls onto his back on the couch Dr. Lecter follows him down to lean at his side. At some point he gathers up a bunch of arils in one hand, and Will lunges up and licks away several at once, getting a taste of his guide's skin in the process, and that's all she wrote, Will arches and comes with Dr. Lecter's fingers in his mouth and his head full of sweetness.

"Open your eyes, Will," says Dr. Lecter, "look at me." Will can't not do as he asks right now, still dizzy with aftershocks. He looks. Dr. Lecter's expression is warm, his cheeks flushed.

"You did very well. I am so pleased with you." There's more than a little of his particular guide timbre in the words, pushing them firmly into the path of Will's oncoming embarrassment. Will turns his head away enough to slip Dr. Lecter's fingers out of his mouth. The ridges of his fingerprints sliding over Will's bottom lip cause an exhausted twitch.

"Is this a standard guiding service?" His voice is a wreck.

Dr. Lecter breaks into an actual smile. "Not in so intimate a form, but the intent is the same: teaching clients to view their enhanced senses as a pleasure, instead of just a burden."

"That's some teaching." Will feels like Dr. Lecter has created some kind of bubble universe for them, pushing out such uncouth trivialities as shame and hesitation and what to do about the rapidly-cooling mess in Will's briefs. He says, "I wish I could do something to thank you," and knows that Dr. Lecter will see he means exactly that, without any innuendo.

(Although. That is a thought.)

"Your trust is gift enough, but..."

"What?"

"What are you doing over Christmas?"

 


 

Had Will answered, “Nothing,” Hannibal would have invited him to his house - and decorated to make Will the centrepiece in every room. Instead, the answer to Hannibal's question is “Getting drunk and playing with the dogs.” Hannibal is invited. He accepts on the condition that he be allowed to provide a ham (and wine) and dessert (and coffee).

He gets everything ready the day before - feeling a ghost of very national glee at the wickedness of preparing meat on Christmas Eve - and does the cooking Christmas morning. The part of ham will be played by smoked hip of catcaller, baked in a glaze of honey and cloves. He surrounds it on the platter with chunks of honeycomb and fresh blood oranges before sealing it under the locking travel lid. Whole and piping hot, it will keep warm in there for hours, ready to eat whenever the day’s plans allow. It is joined in the trunk of his car by an appropriately fruity red wine, a dark chocolate torte embedded with soft dried figs, and good coffee in the same carafe Hannibal brought to his second meeting with Will. Hannibal considers for a moment, then adds a toothbrush and change of clothes, just in case.

When he gets to Wolf Trap, Will is in the yard, throwing snowballs. He waves at Hannibal and comes up to help him carry the food into the house.

"I should have known you'd bring wine."

"Food is hardly food without it." Hannibal is not sure his body would even know how to digest an evening meal without wine. "And I'm not fond of whiskey."

"Not fond of neat whiskey? What a shocker." Will's loose posture and easy smile - not to mention his breath - suggest he got started on the festivities early. "Luckily for you, Doctor, I made cider." He sets the torte, wine, and coffee on his kitchen table and moves to the stove, where a large pot is emitting a wonderful smell. "By which I mean I bought cider, and heated it up with some bourbon, ginger, lemon, cherries, and black pepper. Turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself." He ladles some into a mug and hands it to Hannibal, and gets himself some more as well.

By the taste, Hannibal suspects it's more like bourbon heated up with cider, but it is still delicious: spicy and fruity, and very warming. It starts to work the instant it hits his stomach. When he exhales he feels like the vapor trailing out his nose ought to be visible. "This is excellent, Will, thank you."

Will buries his nose in his mug to hide his grin. Hannibal is appalled at how cute he is. Someday, he vows, he will see Will this pink and sparkling while entirely sober.

For today, drunks are always better company when one is drunk oneself. In short order, Hannibal finds himself following Will out into the yard to continue the game he was playing when Hannibal arrived: Snow Fetch.

"Also called No Fetch," Will confides, then shows Hannibal why. The dogs leap into the air to catch the snowballs, snapping them into wet chunks. Their confusion when the snowballs vanish has Will clutching his sides with laughter. Hannibal laughs too, but he isn't watching the dogs.

They put more cider in a thermos and take the dogs for a walk down to a stream bordering Will's property. "I was down here when Stammets showed up with you," says Will.

"That explains the waders you were wearing." Waders or no, Will was magnificent that day, silent and swift in his approach and precise in his attack. Hannibal flatters himself that it was as much the threat to his person as the trespass on Will's property that got his sentinel instincts to come roaring to the forefront. He silently toasts the late Eldon Stammets' contribution to their relationship with another cup of cider.

They follow the stream. Several dogs bring Will sticks to throw; he always obliges. Eventually the small white one (with a hideous underbite) puts its paws against Will's leg and whines pitifully, and Will picks it up and zips it into his coat. "Poor old Suzy," he says, patting the scruffy head protruding just under his chin, "You get cold, don't you, girl?"

They pass the thermos back and forth as they walk. Will remains flushed and cheerful. Hannibal may or may not be weaving by the time they start working their way back towards the house.

"Are you doing okay, Doctor?"

Hannibal beams at him. "Dear Will. This is the best Christmas I have had in years."

Will chuckles. "Not gonna be the best day after Christmas if we don't get some water into you before supper. You shouldn't try to match a Graham drink for drink; we can really put it away."

"You don't worry about drinking too much?" Alcoholism is a very common coping mechanism among hypersensitives, being a moderately effective sensory damper.

Will shakes his head. "I'm strict about when I drink. Bedtime and holidays. Wine with a fancy meal." He looks up ahead and stops in his tracks. "Ah, hell. Maybe I spoke too soon."

"What is it?"

"There's an animal from my dreams in my yard."

Hannibal follows his gaze. He sees something too: a hulking, antlered shape. He's about to tell Will so, when the mention of dreams triggers a suspicion. "Describe it to me?"

"It's a stag, with raven feathers instead of fur. My oh-so-helpful brain made it up out of the Cassie Boyle crime scene, ravens all over the stag head. Been dreaming about it ever since. Go! Shoo!" He waves his arms as they get closer.

Hannibal sees it clearly in the failing daylight: a powerful, impossible beast. He is blurrily convinced that it's an amalgamated spirit animal, born of his first gift to Will, the two of them reaching for each other from the moment they met. According to all known accounts such an occurrence is typically the final event in the bonding process, but he and Will are hardly typical. Still, if he's right, it's a tremendously good sign. "Is it really so bad?"

Will's eyebrows pinch together. "In my dreams, it's fine. Frightening, but exciting. But it doesn't belong here. I just finished walking in the woods."

"Is that what it wants you to do? Follow you into the wilderness?" They're very close now. Hannibal can smell its feathers and hot, not-entirely-vegetarian breath.

“So far. None of my dreams last long enough to be sure.”

Hannibal wonders which of them was the raven and which was the stag before they joined. He's inclined to think he was the raven, being dedicated to mischief and beauty; besides, Will is the magnificent one.

He's really very drunk.

He speaks slowly, refusing to allow his words to slur outright. "My professional advice as your psychiatrist is to let it be for tonight. Are you hungry?"

Will cocks his head. "I could eat."

"Then let's eat."

They stop on the porch and clean the dogs' paws before trooping inside. Will parks Hannibal in a chair with a tumbler of water and produces a large casserole dish full of roasted vegetables from the oven. Tightly covered and with the oven never opened, the vegetables have kept warm for hours, not unlike the ham.

"Are you still my psychiatrist?" Will asks. "Psychiatrists don't spend Christmas with their patients. And I'm pretty sure most guides don't feed their clients fruit until the clients come in their pants. Not to mention I've never paid you a dime."

Hannibal sips his water and thinks carefully about what to say. "All my expertise is at your disposal. I will keep everything we say and do together in strictest confidence, and cite confidentiality laws if challenged. But I must admit I have not thought of you as my patient, or my client, in quite some time."

"So what am I, then? Your friend? Your - sentinel?" Will doesn't look up as he slices the ham. This is the first time he's said the word in relation to himself without it being a denial. Hannibal wonders how long it will take to happen again without the help of hot bourbon-cider by the litre.

"Yes, I think is the answer to that. Guiding exists on a spectrum, just as enhanced senses do." Of course, when it comes to sentinel-guide relationships, they are already out on the far end of the spectrum. Certainly the light from professionalism won't reach Hannibal for a million years.

Will sets two filled plates on the table. "This ham looks great. If I weren't half-pickled, I'd need every guide trick in the book not to zone on it."

"Wait until you try the torte," says Hannibal, and bestirs himself to open the wine.

 


 

The other reason Will doesn't worry about drinking too much is the built-in aversion therapy of a hangover when he does over-indulge. He fortifies himself with aspirin, clips on his mic, and takes vicious comfort in the haggard faces of his students when he speaks, knowing the sound of his own voice is at least half as painful to them as it is to himself.

He got so drunk he saw the ravenstag while awake. He got so drunk he told Dr. Lecter about seeing it. Dr. Lecter, wobbling on his feet and bleary-eyed, had remained unfazed and intrigued, as he always seems to be with Will.

He doesn't remember much more about the evening than that. He knows the food was so good that if he'd been sober it might have turned into another game of sensory overload chicken, cheerled by Dr. Lecter, who definitely gets some kind of kick out of scrambling Will's brain with pleasure, even if he has never touched Will below the neck. Food being good is a given when Dr. Lecter is involved, though. His influence even inspires Will to try new things on his own, like that fucking rocket fuel that called itself spiced bourbon cider.

Will cannot remember the last person whose company he so enjoyed, and who gives every indication of enjoying Will's company just as much. Will doesn't recall what they talked about, but their inebriated conversation continued until the both of them more or less passed out. They shuffled painfully through eggs and coffee the next morning, full of regret for the cider, but not for spending the holiday together.

Now Will soldiers grimly through his talking points about biting and sucking and bruises. He wonders if Dr. Lecter is a biter. Anyone who is that much of a gourmand is likely to have one hell of an oral fixation, and no one is that buttoned-up without something wild under the buttons. But Dr. Lecter's waters run very still and very deep indeed - so far all Will has glimpsed is the capacity to not only take Will's darkest secrets in stride, but to appear increasingly fond of Will for them. It's the sort of response that gets Will wondering what would happen if he kissed Dr. Lecter, just grabbed his guide by his ridiculous paisley tie and-

Jack walks into his classroom. Jack bellows at his students to leave. Will feels like his throbbing head may start sprouting hairline cracks at any moment, like creaking tinkles of fault lines in glass before it shatters.

“You’re making it difficult to provide an education, Jack.”

“We found a match to a set of prints we pulled from the Turner home. They belong to a thirteen-year-old boy from Reston, Virgina. His name is Connor Frist.”

“Another kid?”

“Another missing kid. Vanished ten months ago, case was never solved.”

“How many kids in the Frist family?”

“Three, just like the Turner family. We’re ready to go when you are, and you’re ready to go now, so let’s go.”

Will’s stomach turns like it didn’t for his hangover. “You’re expecting a crime scene.”

 


 

Sometimes Will gets lost in his head, instead of in his senses. It isn’t until she asks him a question that he even realizes Beverly Katz is there.

“Hmm?”

“What are you looking at?”

“Both these kids are small, underweight for their age.”

“You think there’s a connection?”

“I’m thinking possible ADHD diagnoses for both boys. Ritalin, Focalin, any medication containing methylphenidate can affect appetite and slow long-term growth in kids.” He remembers being Jesse and Connor’s age, how his sense of taste ricocheted between so suppressed everything tasted like sawdust, to so ramped up everything tasted like a slap in the face. His erratic eating habits probably cost him a good couple of inches off his final adult height. ADHD’s a better bet, though; it’s about ten times more common than being on the hypersensitivity spectrum.

“Another thing about Willard Wigan: he had a lonely childhood. He used his tiny sculptures as an escape.”

Will stares at her. “Who’s Willard Wigan?”

Beverly looks amused and doesn’t answer him, instead telling him how Mrs. Frist was shot with a gun belonging to the mother of a boy named C.J. Lincoln. Isn't this case just the fucking gift that keeps on giving.

 


 

Will blows into Hannibal's office like a little storm, throwing his jacket onto Hannibal's couch. It is a measure of how far gone Hannibal is, that he finds this endearing rather than offensive. Will's back is rigid with tension as he paces around the room. With his hands shoved in his pockets, his slacks are pulled tight over his buttocks. They're lovely, small and round. Hannibal licks his lips and stares; he notices them more now than he did when he saw Will wandering around in just his underwear. He doesn't normally want to bite someone quite like this, but then no one is quite like Will.

"Tell me, why are you so angry?"

"I'm angry about those boys. I'm angry because I know when I find them, I can't help them. I can't give them back what they just gave away," he spits, and here is the resentment, where before there was disconnection and void. Will is not an island because he wants to be.

"Family."

"Yeah. We're calling them the Lost Boys."

"From Peter Pan?" Hannibal is only passingly familiar with the story, but it’s enough to get Will sitting down and talking about the case, coming at it more analytically. Not that it does any good. It sounds like the entire BSU is spinning its collective wheels. Hannibal’s experience of conventional family is reduced to speechless impressions, in rooms of his memory palace he resolutely does not visit; he has no additional insights to offer Will.

 


 

It’s Alana who turns the key for Will in the end. “Brothers looking for a mother. They’re killing the mothers last.” They find convenience store footage of Chris O’Halloran with an unidentified woman, and then they’re all racing for Fayetteville, North Carolina, even Will.

Will shakes with relief at not walking into yet another decaying massacre site. They’re in time to save the O’Hallorans (at the price of C.J. Lincoln), and while there may be no saving Jesse Turner, he’ll get a chance. Chris - Chris is running for the poolhouse, gun in hand. Will chases him.

“Chris, wait.” The kid turns his gun on Will in a blind panic. He can hear a SWAT team member aiming behind him and he lifts a hand, then turns his gun away. “Don’t shoot. It’s okay.” He tries to pull some of Dr. Lecter’s calm and confidence into his voice, but he knows he still sounds too urgent. “You’re home now. Put the gun down, Christopher.”

Chris shifts his weight from one foot to the other, wavering. They almost have him, until a woman slips out of the poolhouse and presses a gun to Chris’s chest. Her other hand strokes down Chris’s face and neck to rest heavy on his little shoulder. “Shoot him, Christopher,” she says, and her voice - oh, God, her voice. If this woman wasn’t a guide, she could have been.

Will drops his gun, drops to his knees, so that his scared, dark-haired face is on a level with Chris’s own. “Christopher,” he whispers. “Please.” For Chris it will be like shooting into a mirror.

It buys them the seconds they need for Beverly Katz to run up alongside and shoot the woman in the neck. Will flinches, but more from the shattering of the woman’s pageant than the report of the gun - he dialed his hearing down hard before they even broke down the front door. Beverly runs up and relieves Chris of his gun, then ushers him away. The would-be mother defeated by a woman who isn’t anyone’s mother. Will walks over to see if she feels the irony of it, but if she does, it’s lost in the noise of her overall pain as she dies.

 


 

Will seeks him out again when the case is over, still unsettled by the emotions it provoked. Hannibal is delighted. He prepares simple comfort food: high life eggs in brioche. He does not want to become predictable in pushing rich or intense foods on Will, however delightful his responses.

(He briefly considers offering Will some psilocybin tea, but he does not need Will making a breakthrough and manifesting a heightened sense of smell while the last of the catcaller is sizzling away in the skillet.)

“She reminded me of you, a little.”

“The woman leading the Lost Boys?” Will’s perceptive leaps are not always flattering. Hannibal’s desire to care for Will is certainly comparable to the mother-love Will never had, but his other desires are as far from parental as can be.

“Her voice. I think she might have had guide aptitude.”

“The ability to influence is only one aspect of guiding potential. She sought to corrupt others from themselves for her own ends. A true guide helps others to more fully become themselves.” Hannibal cuts himself off from a much longer speech, chopping potatoes with vigor.

Will tilts his orange juice in a salute. “I defer to your passion.”

This is a much better train of thought. “Passion’s good. Gets the blood pumping.”

Will quirks an eyebrow. “Does it? You have the slowest, most regular heartbeat I’ve ever heard in a healthy person.”

You could speed it, dear Will. “I’m good at regulation.”

Will grins. “Believe it or not, I had detected that already." He taps his temple. "That's why they pay me the big bucks."

They keep up the banter all through dinner, and Hannibal sends Will home to his little bed and his little family of strays with a smile on his face. Then he goes out and slaughters a woman who didn't tip her waitress last year. He'll make something special for Will from the heart.

Chapter Text

Will walks, pulled along by a guiding tug in his chest. The hot breath of the stag is at his back; he isn't following it this time. He has a destination.

There are twinkling lights on the road. Red, white, and blue. They resolve into a car. Will dials down his hearing. You can’t drive if you can’t get a handle on your hearing.

Two men get out: cops. One shines a flashlight right in Will’s face. Will shuts his eyes tight and covers them with his arm. It's still too bright. Will tries to dim his sight, but he feels slow and thick, like he's still half-asleep.

One of the cops says something. Will wasn't paying attention.

"What?"

"What's your name?"

"Will Graham."

"You know where you are, Mr. Graham?"

"No."

The cops look at each other. "Where do you live?"

"Wolf Trap, Virginia."

"We're in Wolf Trap, so that's good. You're close to home." Finally, finally he takes the flashlight off Will's face. "Is that yours?" He's looking behind Will.

"Oh, hi, Winston." Winston shies away when Will bends to pet him. It isn't until he shifts his weight that he realizes he's in just his underwear, freezing cold and with his bare feet aching from the asphalt. He must have his sense of touch dialed way down. "Can I sit down? My feet hurt."

"How about we take you home?"

Will rubs his arms and nods. "Okay."

They ask him about drugs, medications, alcohol. They ask him if he has a history of sleepwalking. He buries his fingers in Winston's ruff and admits, "I'm not even sure if I'm awake now."

 


 

"I'm sorry it's so early."

"Never apologize for coming to me," says Hannibal, fixing Will a coffee - black, with just the right amount of sugar to complement the roast. "Office hours are for patients. My kitchen is always open to friends."

They both sip silently for a moment, giving the coffee the reverence it is due, then Will blurts out, "Do you think it's a sentinel thing?"

"Only indirectly," Hannibal assures him, "in that without your senses, Jack Crawford might not have gotten your hands so very dirty. I'd argue good old-fashioned post-traumatic stress."

Hannibal is lying through his teeth. Will was found on the road to Baltimore. His subconscious is feeling along the fragile tendrils of their developing bond, seeking closeness to strengthen it. In a simpler time, they would be lovers by now. If Hannibal were a better man - or if this were happening with absolutely anyone other than Will - he would have made a referral and cut off all contact weeks ago.

"I'm not sure if that's better or worse."

“It does present an obvious solution.”

“I can handle it,” Will insists, so stubborn and brave. If Hannibal somehow succeeded at capturing Will entirely within his mind (an impossibility, he can already tell), Will would probably hammer his way out again like Athena.

“Somewhere between denying horrible events and calling them out lies the truth of psychological trauma.”

Will bristles. “So I can’t handle it?”

“Your experiences may be overwhelming ordinary functions that give you a sense of control.” Helped along by Hannibal’s careful campaign of overwhelming Will’s senses.

“If my body is walking around without my permission, you’d say that’s a loss of control?”

Hannibal looks him in the eye and says, “Wouldn’t you?” The coffee tastes especially good this morning; it's probably the company. He wonders if he can talk Will into joining him for breakfast.

 


 

"That is some nose you have there, Doctor," says an amused Bella Crawford.

"He really is quite charming, isn't he?" Jack murmurs to his wife, eyes glinting at Hannibal as he absorbs this new, late bit of information.

"I first noticed my keen sense of smell when I was a boy," says Hannibal as he pours for Jack as well. "I was aware one of my teachers had stomach cancer even before he did." He meets Bella's eyes as he says this, and she drops hers first.

"Ones are the luckiest hypersensitives, I think," says Jack. "Perks of extra information, none of the risks. In the army, we were almost as possessive of our Ones as we were of our sentinels."

"And probably could have retained many more if they weren't reduced to a number," Bella says sweetly. Jack grins and sketches a salute with his empty wine glass.

"Your organization performs a great deal of advocacy for those on the hypersensitivity spectrum, yes?"

"It's the cornerstone of what we do. Accessible guide training is the single best way to improve outcomes. My fondest wish is for basic zone rescue to become something children teach to each other on the playground, like tying their shoes."

"That's a very specific wish." He wouldn't pry even this much if she hadn't dropped such an obvious breadcrumb.

Bella's smile is sad. "Well spotted. I lost a friend, when I was very young. No screenings or referrals, for kids in neighborhoods like ours. I think about Mahara every time I have to make a speech." She shakes her head briskly. "But enough shop talk. May I ask what the next course is?"

After dinner, when Jack is getting their coats, Bella asks for Hannibal's card.

 


 

"I have a coworker with a nose like yours. She was the first to know. Pulled me aside one day and suggested I go see my doctor. But it was already too late for him to do much of anything."

“How often do you see him?”

“Twice a week at first. Now usually just once.”

Hannibal counsels Jack’s dying wife, beautiful in her dignity and resolve. He would save her if he could. He is so moved that he gives her actual good advice: not to hide this from Jack. This despite the additional confusion it would cause Jack to sense his wife’s continued concealment.

 


 

Will hears heartbeats everywhere he goes. Usually he ignores the heartbeats of others as easily as he ignores his own. Dr. Lecter is a curious outlier this way: the slow and steady rhythm is like a grounding drumbeat whenever Will is with him, and Will can hear it from farther away than he can hear most others, even those who are as large and lean as his guide. But most of the time, heartbeats are white noise; to listen too closely would be maddening.

The raised tempo of the white noise at the no-tell motel is Will’s first warning that what he’s about to look at is extra fucked-up, even before Jack advises him to prepare himself. The crime scene doesn't disappoint.

(He gets treated to the sound of Brian Zeller swallowing hard against his churning stomach as he photographs the 'angels', and experiences a rare flicker of sympathy, as opposed to empathy.)

It's one of those times when his senses have nothing extra to offer, and are in fact a hindrance. He gets more insights back at the lab, away from the thunder of distressed hearts, than he does lying on the Angel Maker's bed. He thinks Dr. Lecter was wrong earlier; Jack would have sought him out for his thinking, with or without his senses.

 


 

Standing in Dr. Lecter's office, looking up at Dr. Lecter picking through the books in his loft, Will recalls Zeller's comment: "Kneeling in supplication at the feet of G-dash-D." He doesn't feel like a supplicant; Dr. Lecter is eager enough to help Will with his profiling. And the first time Will was in this office, he was the one up on the second story. But being on the ground gazing up does provoke an admiring frame of mind. Will has lived in towns with smaller public libraries than Dr. Lecter's book collection, and yet he finds the volumes he wants without hesitation.

They lob ideas back and forth: God and brain tumors, fear and abandonment.

"Ever feel abandoned, Will?"

"Abandonment requires expectation." But I'm not bitter.

"What were your expectations of Jack Crawford and the FBI?"

"Jack hasn't abandoned me."

"Not in any discernable way. Perhaps in the way gods abandon their creations."

That's so grandiose Will doesn't even have it in him to be mad. "Oh, this should be interesting." Grinning, he turns up his face to catch the show. "Please, Doctor, proceed."

Straight-faced, Dr. Lecter says, "Jack gave you his word he would protect your headspace, yet he leaves you to your mental devices."

Will shrugs. "Not entirely. He recruited you."

"And has taken that as carte blanche to ill-use you ever since."

"Are you trying to alienate me from Jack Crawford?" Will asks, incredulous.

"As your guide I am charged with helping to keep you stable."

"You can help me by helping me understand how to catch the Angel Maker."

Dr. Lecter drops it and they go back to discussing the case. Will feels equal parts irritated and charmed. It's been a long time since anyone tried to mother-hen him.

The words stay with him, though, itching under his skin: abandoned, ill-used. At the next crime scene he snaps at Jack, and gets bellowed at for his trouble. Left alone with the strung-up body of the security guard, he does something unprecedented: he does not let the pendulum swing. He refuses to experience the Angel Maker's self-castration, not when he wouldn't even gain anything new from putting himself through that.  He has enough insights on the face of it, and the killer's thoughts are too anomalous for him to find his way inside them. He stands and looks at the tableau for a believable length of time, and doesn't have to fake a troubled silence when he leaves.

Unfortunately, all his rebellion gets him is a worried talk from Beverly, and then waking up on his roof to the frantic barking of his dogs at the window.

 


 

Hannibal is beginning to feel genuinely concerned for Will. There's no vicarious thrill in these killings for Will to feel terrible about, for all that the Angel Maker somehow knows on sight that his victims are terrible people. There's only delusion and desperation, and Will suffering under the weight of both. Hannibal is loathe to let their future together be cut short by Will walking off a roof in his sleep and breaking his neck.

Still, he can turn even this to his advantage. He is not surreptitious as he draws near to Will (studying Hannibal’s bronze stag) and takes a deep, indulgent sniff.

“Did you just smell me?” Will demands.

“Yes. I never thanked you for ceasing to wear that appalling aftershave.”

“Seemed like the least I could do,” Will mutters. “So, how do I smell, Doctor?”

“Tired. Dangerously so. Have your headaches gotten any worse lately? More frequent?”

“Yes, actually.”

“Strain on the mind takes its toll on the body as well - quite literally in your case.”

Will winces. “My feet would agree with you.” Yes, no doubt wandering down a freezing highway in his bare feet had some painful consequences. It’s troubling that Will didn’t feel it before he woke up. Hannibal rapidly firms up certain plans.

“May I make a suggestion?’

“What is it?”

“Call your dog-sitter. Come to my house for dinner, and stay the night. If you sleepwalk, I can intervene.”

Will’s eyes widen. “Don’t you think that’s a little above and beyond?”

“Not at all. I’ve already slept at your house twice. Allow me to return the favor.”

“You’re the second person to ask me that recently,” Will remarks.

“To sleep in their house?” Hannibal keeps his voice even, but only with effort as he restrains a sudden swell of jealous outrage. How extraordinary.

“No, to return the favor.”

“Ah.” Mollified, he presses, “Well, will you?”

Will closes his eyes. His face is drawn. At last he sighs and nods. “Not tonight. After the case breaks. We’re all going to be working overtime until we find this guy.” Running on aspirin and coffee; Will is going to be a wreck, but having him in Hannibal’s house by choice is better than forcing him. And a broken-down Will is one who needs building up as Hannibal sees fit.

 


 

They’re almost certain the Angel Maker is Elliot Budish, but Will and Jack don’t tell his wife that. She starts to tell them hesitantly about his withdrawal from his family. Off to Will’s left, Jack’s heartbeat speeds up, and his breathing becomes hitched and constricted. He scrubs a hand across his face. Something has taken his mind a million miles away from his office. Will is going to have to pick up the thread of the interview.

Luckily, she is very forthcoming: plainly still loves her husband, worries for him. She wants to help. She helps Will realize where he’ll go.

Will is pretty sure he knows what they’re going to find, before he drives up to the barn with Jack, before he hears the creaking ropes and sluggish drip of blood (shaken loose as the body sways in the breeze, the heart having stopped hours ago), before he sees the sweet and easy peace on Budish’s face. It doesn’t make it any easier to look.

He tries to tell Jack so, arguing with him until he finally says as plainly as he can, “This is bad for me.”

Jack is frustrated, angry that Will can’t just perform indefinitely. In the end he says, “You wanna quit? Quit.” and stalks off.

Will’s head is spinning, from the scene, from the fight with Jack. Was he bluffing when he said he could go be a mechanic? Could whatever is in him that thrives on the violence he sees go quiet, or would it rise up and take over? He is in no way ready to turn around and see Budish on the ground, lurching for Will, knife in hand.

Budish collapses to his knees and whispers, “I see what you are.”

“What do you see?” Will whispers back. See? See?

“Inside. I can bring it out of you.”

“Not all the way out,” Will says, and despairs at that truth. He can leave this place behind, but what he is will always be with him.

“I can give you,” Budish wheezes, shaking badly, “the majesty, of true becoming.” With that he collapses, and a blink later is back in the rafters again. Will realizes he never heard the man’s heart.

 


 

“I hallucinated again,” Will confesses, sipping the wine Hannibal poured him the instant he entered the kitchen. He’s not really savouring it, but neither does he gulp, so Hannibal holds his tongue.

“Budish?”

“Yeah. He spoke to me. I tried for days to get inside his head, but he was too sick. And now he speaks to me after he’s dead?”

“What did he talk about?” The coquilles St-Jacques are under the broiler; Hannibal removes them just as the Gruyère sauce bubbles and turns brown.

Will hesitates, then says thoughtfully, “What I’m afraid he would have seen in me, probably.”

“Very psychologically astute, Will.”

Will shrugs. “We spend enough time together; something is bound to rub off.” Hannibal manfully suppresses a number of lewd rejoinders to that, in favor of plating the coquilles and gesturing for both of them to move to the dining room.

“What’s this?”

“Our first course is coquilles St-Jacques, a traditional French dish. Scallops poached in white wine, then gratinéed in their shells on a bed of minced mushrooms.” Bursting with butter, cheese, and heavy cream, the recipe is out of favor in restaurants, but Will needs the calories; Hannibal doubts very much that he’s eating anywhere near as well as he should.

Will eats quietly, making appreciative noises now and then; he hasn’t surrendered so completely to his senses as he did on that wondrous day in Hannibal’s office, but he is certainly paying attention. The wine and the food (a salad full of dried fruit and nuts, surf and turf with an obnoxious golfer standing in for the steak, and crème brȗlée), work their magic, and by the time they are sitting with brandies by the fire, he has gone from pale to pink, and from exhausted to relaxed. Hannibal broaches the subject he has been thinking of since yesterday.

“Tell me, Will: when you find yourself outside in the mornings, what wakes you?”

“Last time it was my dogs barking. The time before that it was the lights on the police car.”

“This despite the fact you were unclothed in the winter, barefoot on unforgiving surfaces.”

“Are you suggesting I keep my sense of touch too low, the way I keep my hearing too high?”

“Yes.”

Will sips his brandy, thinking. Finally he says, “You’re not wrong, but aside from this it’s not really a problem.”

“It’s no longer just an aside when it threatens your safety, and you already know my opinion regarding denying yourself sensation.”

“People aren’t exactly lining up to put their hands on me.”

Only because you fend them off so thoroughly, darling. “I have,” Hannibal points out.

Will snorts. “As a rescue tactic, and that’s the most touch I’ve gotten in… God, years.”

“I would be happy to do more, if you would allow me.” This is the understatement of Hannibal’s life.

Will eyes him, sidelong. “What kind of more did you have in mind?”

Careful, careful, not to spook him. “Just a massage. It’s a valuable strategy for releasing tension and improving sleep.”

Will nods slowly. “That would be okay.”

Hannibal shows him to the bathroom upstairs and instructs him to take a hot shower. “I would suggest a bath, but I don’t want you falling asleep just yet.” He sets out towels, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste - the softest available, like Will’s own. “The guest bedroom is across the hall, to the right.”

Hannibal leaves his jacket in his bedroom. Into the guest bedroom, Hannibal carries his supplies: grapeseed oil, more towels, and a blanket he purchased some time ago with Will in mind. He spreads it across the bed, folding the extra material against the wall. He turns up the heat in the room and rolls up his sleeves.

Will arrives, damp and awkward, towel nearly lapping his slim hips twice over. His legs below the towel are hairier than his chest. He studiously avoids looking at Hannibal. His gaze lands on the blanket and turns curious.

“That’s very… grey and fuzzy,” he comments. “Doesn’t quite fit your décor.”

“It’s not a décor item,” says Hannibal. “Touch it.”

Will reaches out and touches the blanket lightly, then immediately slides his whole hand over it. “Oh my God,” he says, “what is this?”

“Qiviut,” says Hannibal, “musk ox underwool. Softer and warmer than cashmere.”

“Sounds expensive.”

“The best things tend to be.” The blanket cost over three thousand dollars, but it’s worth it for the wonder on Will’s face as he strokes it.

“You want me to lie down on this?”

“Yes. Only cover yourself with a towel if you will feel more comfortable that way.” Hannibal turns away, and closes his eyes at the moan that follows the rustles of Will settling onto the bed. He turns to see Will wriggling helplessly, face down against the knit fabric. Supposedly, unspun qiviut fibres are so fine they cannot actually be felt when resting on the skin - skin with baseline sensitivity, anyway. There is a dropped towel near Will’s waist, as if he was going to cover his buttocks and then forgot to. Hannibal drapes him up to the waist with the additional folds of the blanket instead, and Will groans aloud.

“Jesus. It's so warm."

"It's an Arctic animal."

"And soft. It feels like… I don’t know what it feels like. It’s completely unique,” Will babbles. “Uh, touching me would actually be a helpful counterpoint right now, Doctor.”

“Alright, Will.” Hannibal rubs some oil into his hands and lays them on the back of Will’s neck. Will shudders and then sighs. “Better?”

Will nods, slow and exaggerated as he rubs his face into the wool. “I was getting lost there.”

“Lost is not the goal. Good is the goal.” Hannibal works the delicate muscles of Will’s neck with one hand, rubbing his scalp in small circles with the other. There’s only so much he can do for Will’s neck without a proper massage table where Will can face straight down, so he moves on to some light effleurage, gliding up and down the skin of Will’s back. He discovers an unsurprising knot between Will’s shoulder blades, a point which no doubt bears the brunt of Will’s occasional slouching. He kneads it firmly, and when it gives way Will grunts and goes limp, only his fingers still moving in the blanket.

“You’re good at that. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised - surgeon and all.”

“Thank you. When you’re ready, I want you to start letting yourself feel more. If you want me to touch you in a certain place or way, or not, you need only say so.”

“Don’t spin that dial much,” Will comments, voice already blurring.

“Now is a good time to practice.” Hannibal resumes his gentle stroking, moving from Will’s back to his shoulders - discovering an old stab wound, badly scarred, and wouldn't Hannibal just love to meet whoever put it there - and then moving down his arms to his fingertips. When Will’s little fingers slip from his grasp, Will breathes out harshly.

“Tell me.”

“I can feel your fingerprints,” Will says. His voice is thick. He is badly touch-starved. Hannibal uses firm pressure on Will’s feet and toes to avoid tickling him. “That happened last time, at the very end.”

“With the pomegranate?” The sight of Will writhing in overloaded pleasure, finally snatching the fruit from Hannibal’s hand and snaring his fingers in his hot, wet mouth, is writ large in Hannibal’s memory.

Will says, “Yes.” Hannibal moves up Will’s calves to the backs of his knees. Will trembles and adds, “This might end a very similar way.” Sweat is starting to bead on his back.

“I would be similarly gratified if it did. Your pleasure is important.” Will’s hamstrings quiver as Hannibal kneads them - very lean and strong. Runner’s legs. Hannibal pauses at Will's gluteal folds. "May I?"

"Is it only my pleasure? Are you only gratified?" Will asks - begs, nearly. "Please don't lie."

"...No," Hannibal admits, and the gravel in his voice surprises him. "Not only."

"Then yes, please touch me there, Doctor."

Hannibal slides the blanket away to expose Will completely. He splays his fingers over Will's pale, neat buttocks and says, "At this juncture, I think you had better call me Hannibal." He seems to have lost the trick of keeping his voice even, at least while he can see into Will's cleft.

He digs his fingers into the meat of Will's ass, and Will moans, shockingly loud in the small room.

"Hannibal." Hannibal squeezes the muscles, and Will's hips buck down into the blanket, which sets off another round of ecstatic squirming. "Hannibal, don't let me zone."

"You won't. You are here with me, with my hands on you." He skates his hands rapidly along the whole length of Will's body, letting the friction heat his palms. "Tell me what you feel, Will. Tell me."

"Oh, God. Um, hot - so hot, this stuff is like - like a cloud, made out of - of threads of fire. And your hands are hot, fuck, I can feel your pulse in them, in time with the sound of your heart." Will grinds into the bed, his words a breathless rush. "Not so slow now," he adds, and sounds decidedly smug.

"No," Hannibal agrees. It's taking considerable effort to keep touching Will with just his hands, to keep his hands moving, to not spread his ass and work his hole open with mouth and fingers and then fuck Will until he comes screaming Hannibal's name. He wants Will more than he wants sex with Will. This is his mantra as Will shifts fretfully under his touch, caught between the stimulation of skin on skin at his back, and the matchless softness against his front.

"Oh," Will gasps suddenly.

"What is it?"

"I can smell you. God, Hannibal, you smell good."

Hannibal clenches his jaw against the feral rumble that wants to start up in his chest. Of all the times for Will to get a flicker of his true olfactory range! "What do I smell like?" Tell me.

"Herbs," Will says, voice shaking with his body when Hannibal kneads his ass again. "Wine. Burnt sugar. Apocrine sweat, your - I think I would know you anywhere, now, fuck, fuck, Hannibal!" He starts to overload, and Hannibal digs his thumbs into pressure points at the base of Will's spine and Will climaxes with a shout. The exquisite smell of his release fills the air, and Hannibal takes a deep whiff and sighs. Someday, he promises himself, he will get to taste it. If things continue so promisingly, he may not have long to wait at all.

"I think I ruined your blanket," Will murmurs.

"It's entirely washable." Hannibal will spot-clean the deposits. The odor will be detectable to him for a long time to come. He is, he reflects, becoming quite obsessed with Will. "How do you feel?"

"...Melted."

Hannibal chuckles. "Well then, let's pour you into bed so you can get some rest." He helps Will into a spare pair of Hannibal's own pajamas, and more or less rolls him under the bedcovers.

"That's never happened before," Will mumbles, half-asleep already. Good food, alcohol, massage, and an orgasm; Hannibal is surprised he hasn't passed out already. "The smelling."

"It's nothing to worry about," Hannibal assures him. This is a lie. Best practice dictates Will should go for extensive testing at a sentinel hospital, and receive education on how his risks and needs will change if he does fully manifest. "Go to sleep, Will."

Will does not reply. Hannibal musses Will's curls and then heads to bed as well, where he brings himself off faster than he has since he was a teenager. He comes to the memory of his hands spanning Will's hips.

He sleeps longer than his usual three hours, and blinks awake at the shuffling of bare feet in the hall. He rises in silence and opens the door just in time to see Will bump gently into the wall outside Hannibal's room. Apparently, Will's body has forgotten which house it is in.

"Will," he says, as soft as he can, "I'm here." Will turns toward the sound of his voice. The vacant look on his normally expressive face is jarring and unpleasant. Will pads up to Hannibal, and Hannibal's hand settles into its familiar position at the nape of Will's neck. Will, though - Will steps closer and buries his face in Hannibal's chest. Hannibal's eyes close in shock. Will snuffles contentedly, smelling at last what he has been seeking in his wanderings.

At length Hannibal pulls himself together enough to clear his throat and say, "You found me. Well done. Come, you can rest now." He draws Will into his room and tucks Will into his bed. He can always tell Will he woke up to find him there. He pulls Will close, back to Hannibal's front, curling his body protectively around Will's smaller one. With their hips lined up, he can put his chin on top of Will's head; Will's legs are longer relative to his torso than Hannibal's are. Will snuggles back into him with a little sigh, and drops deeper into sleep.

 


 

Shockingly enough, Will feels more charitable after his best sleep in ages. The next day at work, Jack’s sorrow is still so obvious it makes Will’s chest feel tight. He finally slips into Jack’s office when Jack isn’t working, just sitting in an armchair, staring into space.

“What do you want, Will?” Jack’s voice is dull. He doesn’t look up.

Will sits down in the chair beside Jack’s. “I’m going to sit here until you’re ready to talk. You don’t have to say a word until you’re ready, but I’m not leaving until you do.” He feels very awkward, but Jack always waits until Will is ready to talk; he can return the favor.

As he waits, he doesn't say, I sleepwalked into my guide’s bed last night. He let me stay. I don’t remember the last time I slept so well.

He doesn't say, I've never been attracted to a man in my life, but there's a first time for everything. I think he would reciprocate.

He doesn't say these things, but he thinks them, in the waiting silence as he tries to help his friend.

Chapter Text

“What do you see?”

Will chuckles. “Jack asks me that all the time, usually while I’m looking at a body.”

“You’re not looking at a body now. So, what do you see?"

“The sky? The stars? I’m not sure why I’m doing this, Hannibal.” They’re lying on their backs, side by side. Several blankets are layered between them and the snow and stubble of the field, including the furnace-hot fluff of the qiviut blanket Will is probably never going to be able to look at again without blushing.

“Vision is the sharpest human sense. On a night sufficiently clear and dark, properly acclimated, a baseline human eye can see a candle flame fifty kilometres away. The primary practical advantage of sentinel vision is increasing resolution of tiny details at short range.”

“Right, like how Beverly Katz and I don’t need stereo microscopes. I’m not going to suddenly see planets around a star. So why am I here?”

“You already use your sight very well analytically, Will, and have enough control over it to be safe in most circumstances.”

“Still required to drive with flash glasses.” Will is fronting; he would wear the glasses even if he wasn’t required to, as an excuse to still have them on his face when he has to talk to people. And they really do make driving on wet roads in the sun, or at night against jackasses with their high-beams on, less of a trial.

“But you don’t use it nearly often enough in a non-practical manner, to appreciate instead of analyze.”

“Will you ever tire of banging that drum?”

“When you pick up the beat on your own, perhaps.”

Will snorts. “Okay, so. Rural night sky appreciation. Let’s dial up.” He settles his hands on his stomach and breathes out, trying to widen his focus the way he would at a crime scene, but only looking in one direction: up.

“Firstly: what color is the void?”

“Black.”

“Is it? Look again.”

Will blinks. “Well, alright. It’s actually deep blue. The atmosphere doesn’t go away just because the daylight does.”

“Very good. Now look at a space without any stars. Can you dial up until you can see some?”

“I can try.” Will reaches internally and widens his eyes, trying to collect every bit of available light. In the space between two stars, slowly a speck of white becomes visible, and then several. “There.”

“Now look at the rest of the sky again.”

“Oh," Will breathes, “There are so many!” The entire sky is blazing with points of light, like flour spilled on a dark floor.

“You’ve really never done this before?” The warm puff of Hannibal’s breath against his face indicates he’s no longer looking at the sky.

“I’ve lived in a few places remote enough, but I don't think I would have forgotten this."

"I had a tutor who taught me to stargaze. He was likely put up to it to give me something to do while everyone else slept, but he framed it as a math problem. It was my first experience with consciously opening myself to beauty." Will knows without asking that Hannibal is thinking of the time before his parents died. His English becomes slower and more accented when he has to translate his thoughts. Will smiles, imagining a serious little boy wandering under the night sky - probably with a notebook, to record his findings for his next lesson.

"You don't have any art of the stars." Hannibal draws mainly people and buildings, and his art collection runs the gamut, but Will hasn't seen anything with a celestial theme.

"The only piece worth seeing is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York."

"Van Gogh?" Starry Night seems a little... plebeian for Hannibal, who can barely bring himself to serve a dish that can't be described in French.

"One of my first excursions after I emigrated."

Will looks up at the stars and thinks about how his companion always chooses the best, the most rarified. It leads Will to some discomfiting conclusions about how Hannibal sees him. He knows they sailed past all normal guide/client boundaries long ago (guide/sentinel relationships are a much murkier area, but Will is not going there). Hannibal is spending his free time with Will - choosing to spend it with him.

He has to admit, the regard goes both ways. It's one of the reasons he's hesitant to make a move, actually - on top of the tiny detail of Hannibal being a man. There are so few people he likes, who like him. He doesn't want to risk their friendship, Hannibal's cooking and conversation and eagerness to push Will's senses until Will spills over into unprecedented bliss, for a chance at - what, romance? Putting his hands on Hannibal, getting Hannibal's hands on the front of him, sure, that would be a hell of a thing. But what about where they would live, and does Will have to dress quite so much like a lumberjack, and is Will sure he can't see his way clear to adopting out some of his dogs?

(This last is ungenerous. Hannibal indulges his dogs more than Will does. Will is just scared.)

He speaks up to distract himself from his tiresome, roundabout thoughts. "Van Gogh's friends thought that he doomed himself by opening himself to nature so completely. You don't worry about that with me?"

"Van Gogh didn't have me," Hannibal says firmly.

Will grins up into the roaring light of space. "No, he did not."

 


 

The following week, Will finds himself at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where screams are all but baked into the bricks. He thinks about the distinction between attention from people like Hannibal and Alana, which he enjoys, and attention from most other people, which he despises. Will’s friends like spending time with him because he is Will. Most other people would prefer it if he didn't have a name at all. Jack wanders back and forth over the line between the two, but when he is in the latter camp it’s usually because he wants to stop people from dying, so Will tolerates it.

And then there’s this asshole.

"Fours are of course the rarest group of oddbodies to begin with," drawls Frederick Chilton. "Like fluorine, reliably unstable. They manifest into sentinels at the drop of a hat. To still be one at your age is noteworthy on its own, and then there's the rest of your personality disorders and neuroses. A unique cocktail that makes you a highly-skilled profiler."

Even Jack sounds like he’s restraining his distaste. "Mr. Graham isn't here to be analyzed."

"Perhaps he should be," sniffs Chilton. "We are woefully short of material on your sort of thing, Mr. Graham..." Will wants to scream. This odious little man is thrilled that the nurse died, that he might be holding the keys to the Chesapeake Ripper. And yet somehow Chilton gets to prattle on as if Will is the pathological one.

Sometimes he has to remind himself that he hunts people for murder, not ugliness. Ugliness is everywhere.

"Thank you, Dr. Chilton. I'd like to see the crime scene now."

 


 

"Miss Lounds is graceless, but dogged," Hannibal comments. "She knew about the murder at Baltimore State before the FBI did."

"Well, she isn't constrained by ethical standards," Will says.

"Is it true, do you think? Has the Ripper been locked up this whole time?"

Will shakes his head. "I don't think so. It doesn't feel right."

"How so?"

"A few reasons, but the main one is Gideon's a garden-variety psychopath: shallow, impulsive. I've reconstructed so many killers just like him that the nurse felt like... paint-by-numbers. He planned it just enough to get his jollies, and no further."

"You don't think the Ripper's a psychopath?"

Will rubs the back of his neck. "If he is, he's the most intelligent one I've ever heard of. Even moreso than Nicholas Boyle."

"Boyle affected superiority until he couldn't be bothered." It sticks in Hannibal's craw to pass off his gifts to Will as a dead fool's pitiful psychosexual obsession with the girls themselves, but there's nothing for it.

"And the Ripper always bothers. You know, I've never actually seen a Ripper crime scene in person? Just photos, reports. So I could be wrong."

"I doubt it. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts."

"Okay. I think the total lack of remorse or guilt is about the only psychopathic marker he's got. Killing is... his art. Every murder is a complete and original work, and part of the work is that he remains at large."

"A ghost, looming larger than life in the collective unconscious." Hannibal quotes a particularly pleasing op-ed he once read about himself.

"Yes. Compromising his art is anathema to him. He would no more repeat himself or let himself be identified than... than you would suddenly start serving takeout from McDonald's."

Hannibal stops breathing. Clever, clever, clever boy! He grapples with the abrupt urge to kill Will then and there, eat his heart still beating and his brain still warm. Will gives him too much credit when he says the Ripper is not impulsive.

Will mistakes the source of Hannibal's disturbance. "Sorry. But that's how appalled the Ripper would be if some inferior killer took responsibility for his crimes."

"A very effective analogy," Hannibal manages to say at last.

"It's just a theory. I'll get to shore it up, or not, a little more tomorrow. Alana and I are both going to interview Gideon."

"I look forward to hearing how it goes."

 


 

“I don’t even need to ask if Frederick made an ass of himself yesterday,” says Alana on the way to the BSHCI.

Will keeps his eyes on the road. “Am I that obvious?”

“Only to someone who knows you. And who knows Frederick. He… craves distinction, to the point that he sees distinctive people as valuable objects, rather than people.”

“Sounds about right. He’s happy that he might have the Chesapeake Ripper in his collection. Abel Gideon’s going to have to outright chew the scenery to put on a more disturbing performance.”

“Well, I’m glad you agreed to join me in the audience.”

“It comes with the territory. And, hey, it could be worse. He could be chums with Freddie Lounds.”

 


 

"And I'm thinking about other losses too," Jack chokes out.

Hannibal manages not to roll his eyes, but it's a near thing. This is what comes of seeing Will off the books; Jack evidently thinks of Hannibal as a free therapy dispenser now.

He makes the best of it: fortifies his kindly gentleman psychiatrist persona and coaxes a little of Miriam Lass' story out of Jack. He was clearly grooming her to be his prized in-house profiler, just as Will is now. Jack's regret is a fissure running deep in his psyche. Hannibal resolves to widen it.

It's time he made a drive up to his cottage on the coast.

After Jack leaves, Hannibal gathers supplies from his office and home: a cooler and ice, recording equipment, medications, and more surgical tools than he's needed in years. It's not often that he plans to leave someone alive after he takes a piece of them.

 


 

Being right isn't much fun when the things Will is right about are horrible. He told Jack. He said, "If Gideon is a plagiarist, the real Chesapeake Ripper is going to make sure everybody knows it." And now here they are, combing the phone networks for a call from a spectre.

Or maybe not a spectre. Will points out that they never found a body, but Jack shoots the idea down with extreme prejudice.

"Look again," Jack says.

"I did my agains," says Beverly Katz, "and my again and agains."

The team tries, as delicately as possible, to suggest that Jack dreamed the call.

Jack states flatly, "I know when I'm awake."

Will wonders what it's like to feel that certain.

That same day, after his lecture, the stag comes charging into his classroom, blowing and bellowing as it nears Will’s desk. It feels like a portent.

It’s replaced a moment later by Jack and Alana, all afire with a plan to bait the Ripper with a TattleCrime article. He's too drained to express how vigorously he thinks this is a terrible idea.

Maybe he needs another night at Hannibal's house to recharge his batteries. His head’s been so full of uncertainty regarding what he wants from Hannibal that he hasn’t invited himself over in a while, but he knows he’s going to be desperate for his guide’s calming presence after being forced to sit across from Freddie’s smarmy face and play ball.

It’s still early enough that Hannibal should be seeing patients, so he texts him: Mind if I crash at your place tonight?

Hannibal responds a few minutes later: Of course, Will. You know you’re always welcome.

Will can’t hold back a little smile at that. Anything I can bring for dinner?

Just yourself.

“Will Graham,” exclaims Beverly Katz, “are you blushing?”

Will jerks his head up. “What?” The hasty way he stuffs his phone into his pocket doesn’t help matters.

“Oh my God, you are! Who are you texting?”

“Nobody.” Jesus, what is he, twelve?

“That spells somebody.”

“Not that kind of somebody. It’s just dinner.” And a sleepover, but that really would be trying to put out the fire with gasoline.

“That wasn’t a ‘just dinner’ smile a minute ago. Somebody is rescuing you from your destiny as a gloriously scruffy man-spinster!” Her grin is gleeful. He’ll get out of this faster if he plays along.

Will scrubs his chin. “It’s pretty mighty scruff. Too soon to tell if it can be defeated.” He holds his finger to his lips. “So no telling.”

Beverly beams and mimes zipping her mouth shut. Her gaze flicks to behind Will’s shoulder.

“Showtime,” says Jack.

As Will turns to go, Beverly whispers, knowing he can hear her, “Try to get one of Freddie's hairs for a voodoo doll.”

Will’s bubble of embarrassed cheerfulness lasts for a whole five minutes, until he walks into the room where Freddie Lounds is waiting, when it disappears with an almost-audible pop.

 


 

"I don't even know why they wanted me there," Will fumes, venting his anger on the hapless celery. The thock-thock-thock of Hannibal's knife meeting the cutting board is very satisfying. "I hardly said anything."

"Authenticity," Hannibal suggests. "Make it appear as if you agree with the ruse."

"I might as well have agreed with it. They sprang the plan while I was half-asleep and I couldn't convince them not to do it."

"Asleep? In the middle of the day?" Hannibal takes the cutting board and scrapes the minced celery into the pan.

"At my desk. I must have nodded off for a second."

"That's concerning, Will. You should come to me before you reach that level of fatigue." Hannibal refills Will's wine.

"You're probably right."

"Have you had any more problems with sleepwalking?"

"I trained my biggest dogs to lie on top of me and lick my face if I try to get out of bed without talking to them." His sheets are now all over dog hair, but that's better than dying of hypothermia, or being hit by a car, or falling off his fucking roof. Christ. He's such a mess. He doesn't know why Hannibal bothers.

Hannibal leans over his sauté pan and sniffs it critically, then adds a pinch of some minced herbs from the dish beside the elements. "A clever solution. How often do you wake up like that?"

"Maybe every other night." It takes him hours to go back to sleep, even clutching Samson, the Bernese mix, like a teddy bear that narrowly outweighs him.

"And how many settled nights did you have after the last time you stayed here?"

You mean after you gave me one hell of a backrub, and I went to sleep in a guest bed and woke up in yours? He'd felt... weirdly sated after, even though the experience was only tangentially sexual. "Um, three, I think."

"Well then, I suggest we plan to stay together twice a week. Perhaps Tuesdays here, and Fridays in Wolf Trap?"

Will gulps the wine in his mouth instead of spraying it everywhere. "You can't seriously want to stay in Wolf Trap on a regular basis!"

"Why not? I've done it before."

"Sure, drunk, or monitoring me."

"It's a fine little house. You keep it very clean." Hannibal taps his own nose and transfers things between the pan and a dish warming in the oven.

"The whole building is probably worth less than your kitchen."

"Not to you, and therefore not to me."

Will is… not ready to unpack that. “I’ll think about it. What’s for dinner?” Hannibal smiles and starts describing the dish Will just helped prepare.

As they’re sitting down to eat, Hannibal says, “I meant to ask: how did your interview with Dr. Gideon go yesterday?”

“...Strange,” Will decides. “He thinks he’s the Ripper - except when he doesn’t. He knows details of the case that were never released to the press. And the psychiatrist we spoke to, Frederick Chilton: he wants Gideon to be the Ripper. It’s a mess. Or, it was a mess, and now that we’re dropping Freddie Lounds into the mix, it’s going to be a disaster.”

“You expect the Ripper to retaliate?”

“Yes. So does Jack. He just hopes that in doing so, the Ripper will make a mistake and become visible.”

“You think it’s a vain hope? The article will no doubt be very insulting.”

“I think it’s going to backfire, is what I think.”

Hannibal nods his understanding and shifts the conversation to lighter topics.

As the evening winds down, Will finds himself unable to focus on the book he plucked off Hannibal’s shelf, growing tense as he remembers the way Hannibal took him apart before tucking him into bed last time. He doesn’t think he wants to do that tonight. He doesn’t know what he might say or do while losing control.

Finally he skirts the issue entirely by standing, stretching, and saying, “I think I’ll turn in.”

Hannibal gives him a long look and then nods. “Alright.” Will heads up to the guest bathroom and showers. There are already some pajamas laid out for him, and the toothbrush that Will supposes is now his.

When he comes out of the bathroom, Hannibal is waiting outside. He’s clearly washed up himself, and is in his own pajamas. He gestures toward the master bedroom.

“My stairs are rather steep. I thought perhaps you could just begin the night where your feet are likely to carry you anyway, rather than risk a fall.”

Will’s face burns. “I’m sorry. Again.”

“And once again, there is nothing to be sorry for. You can’t be held responsible for unconscious actions. Besides, it’s a large bed; plenty of room.”

Will decides that it would inconvenience Hannibal even more if he tumbled down the stairs, and climbs between Hannibal's sheets. Hannibal slips in behind him, and when Will rolls over they are looking at each other with their heads on the pillows. Will surprises a look of startling warmth on Hannibal's face; quickly shielded, but telling all the same.

"What are you so happy about?"

"Satisfying my instincts. The sentinel protects the tribe, and the guide protects the sentinel. I like knowing exactly where you are, and that you are taken care of."

"By you."

"By me."

None of this is particularly surprising to hear; Hannibal's caretaking compulsions when it comes to Will are not exactly a state secret. However, Will is surprised to realise how much he likes hearing it.

"Still not a sentinel," he grouses, a token objection that is always blithely ignored. This time is no different.

"Sleep well, Will."

"You too."

The bed is certainly large, but Will doesn’t make use of the space for long. When he wakes in the middle of the night, he’s backed up against Hannibal so snugly that the two of them could be sleeping on a sofa. Hannibal’s arm is thrown over Will’s chest, keeping him anchored in place. Clearly Hannibal’s unconscious self wants Will there as much as his conscious self claimed. Despite being overheated, falling back to sleep is as easy as closing his eyes.

 


 

Will’s lifelong distrust of psychiatrists now works in Hannibal’s favor. He is so disinterested in practical psychiatric techniques that he misses the obvious explanation: that Abel Gideon was the victim of psychic driving by an attention-hungry Frederick Chilton. If Will can't see such crude and clumsy mind control, it's no wonder he is responding so beautifully to Hannibal's infinitely subtler manipulations.

For starters, Hannibal doesn't trick Will into doing anything Will doesn't already want. Even when he lets Will retreat and withdraw, it only sharpens Will's instinctive need to be close to Hannibal. The rewards for Hannibal's patience have been rolling in steadily for some time now. Last night was a new milestone: Will lying down in Hannibal's bed, fully conscious, falling asleep with Hannibal watching beside him.

The implicit trust was as thrilling as learning what Will's face looks like as he crosses the threshold of consciousness, as sweet as gathering his limp body into his arms. Hannibal passed the entire night that way, only tearing himself free just before dawn to give the impression he rose and busied himself after finishing his usual three hours of sleep.

He's just putting the finishing touches on breakfast when Will shuffles into the kitchen, squinting and frowning, with his hand blocking the overhead light. His hair sticks up in all directions, and Hannibal's pajamas are too large on his frame. He looks rumpled and fragile and like everything Hannibal never knew he was missing from his life.

Hannibal is proud of himself for restraining his suggestion of scheduled sleepovers to two nights a week. He would move one of them permanently into the other's house today if he could. He would move to Wolf Trap, that's how far gone he is.

For now, he pours Will some coffee and adds sugar before giving it to him. Will takes it with a grateful-sounding grunt. Hannibal can see the tiny pause as he dials down his sense of touch (and heat) before taking a sip. Which means he slept dialed up, absorbing the comfort of Hannibal's bed.

Hannibal is such a good guide.

As his higher brain functions flicker back on, Will asks, "What do you do with your extra hours awake?"

Watch you sleep. "Whatever I like. Reading, writing, menu planning. I'm having some fellow psychiatrists over for dinner tonight, so I went to Auguste Escoffier for inspiration." Only half a lie. He chose his dish of 'lamb' tongues for Frederick and Alana immediately upon hearing Will's findings from interviewing Gideon.

(He could not have half this much fun in a country where people still eat offal regularly. Real lamb tongues look nothing like human ones.)

Will grimaces. "Ugh, networking. I'll be thinking of you as I eat trout with my dogs."

The memory of the morning stays with Hannibal throughout the day. It’s there as he suffers the indignity of the TattleCrime article trumpeting Abel Gideon as the Chesapeake Ripper. Even in the photo for his own puff piece the man hides behind the bars of his cell, clutching them, like a child hiding behind coats in a closet. Hannibal fancies Gideon can sense his own implacable, however deferred, fate.

As he steps patiently through the dance of a dinner with colleagues, Hannibal thinks about Will, eating trout in his house; it would be a quiet meal were it not for the dogs clamoring for bits of fish. It sweetens the sour note of Chilton at his table during what would otherwise be an enjoyable meal with Alana, his former student. It can't be avoided; Hannibal wants to confirm his suspicions of Chilton's ham-handed manipulation of Gideon. If Hannibal's play with Jack doesn't bear fruit (and it probably won't - it's an impulsive long shot, though one worth taking), Chilton is continually improving himself as Hannibal's ideal patsy.

 


 

Sometimes, Will feels like a fly on the wall when Jack’s forensics team is working. With their tools, they cover and exceed the capacity of Will’s own senses, and together they voice a significant fraction of his own thoughts.

Even Brian Zeller: "I can't imagine the Chesapeake Ripper would start leaving prints at a crime scene now." And the print isn't the Ripper; it's Miriam Lass.

Will turns to Jack. "Did Miriam Lass know where you live?"

Jack's brows draw together. "If she wanted to know, she was smart enough to find out." Tension makes his voice loud, forceful. He's not coping well with the invasion of his home, especially with the hair and the fingerprint reinforcing the upsetting possibility Will raised three days ago; that Lass could be alive.

Will placates him by framing his reply as, "Could've told the Chesapeake Ripper before he killed her. Did you know you were sending her after him?"

"I sent her after information."

Will has one insight to offer. "Whoever made that phone call thinks you were close to Miriam Lass, and feel responsible for her death."

Jack looks like his mind is a million miles away, or maybe just two years in the past. His anguish stings Will's own eyes. Whoever made that phone call is right.

 


 

It's funny: Will's very first thought is to wonder if it's Jack.

When the last call comes, and they trace it to the observatory, and they find the ringing phone in the grasp of what has to be Miriam Lass' severed arm beside a note, the note makes him think of Jack.

Because the note reads: what do you see? And Jack asks Will that all the time.

But that's insane. Jack's hatred for the Ripper, his pain over the loss of his trainee: those things are real. And Jack is... he's just too brusque to be the Ripper. He's not civilized enough to think himself so far above the pigs the Ripper slaughters. Will has a feel for the Ripper, however imperfect it may be without seeing a complete tableau in person, and Jack is all wrong for it.

The note has to be for Jack, a knockout blow to follow the suckerpunch of the arm. Jack probably asked Miriam Lass that, just like he asks Will. The framing piece of the observatory: look all you want, you won't find me.

Will remembers the sound of his own voice, saying, "Jack asks me that all the time." Crisp winter air on his face, soft blankets under his back, Hannibal solid and warm beside him, staring up at the stars.

No.

Will's sight dials up, not entirely by choice. He zooms in on the note, sees the little tails on the letters, like someone who normally writes in flowing cursive making their letters printed and round instead. The fancy cardstock. The thin lines of the blood - probably pipetted into an honest-to-God fountain pen, judging by the stray drops at the end.

No. No.

He somehow manages to keep his face impassive, but his heart hammers in his chest. The smells that faded normally when he walked in: plastic sheeting, a hint of blood (just a hint - he's willing to bet the arm was frozen and then thawed, to disguise how long ago it was severed) become stronger and stronger in his awareness, and then it's like what happened when Hannibal touched him all over. Will

can

smell

more.

Jack: wool and silk, sweat, tears shed and wiped away, the remnants of deodorant applied in the morning but long-vaporized now. His breakfast, something cheesy out of a microwave.

Beverly: leather and gunsmoke from her coat, unscented toiletries that won't cause testing errors in the lab, sesame oil and bell peppers in her lunch.

Will himself: dogs, fish, soap, more sweat than Jack, an acrid tang that he thinks must represent the chasm of fear yawning open inside him now, as he helplessly keeps cataloguing:

The arm: blood - bitter, drug-laden. Cold, raw meat, and stale water - melted ice - it was frozen. Disinfectant. Fresh flowers?

And someone else was here. Compared to the living presence of the others, the smell is like a shadow suspended on dust, but Will clamps his jaw shut on a whine of agony because he knows this smell.

Fresh herbs.

Wine.

The same premium coffee Will was drinking just yesterday morning, swaddled in the protective warmth and utter safety of Hannibal's house.

That wordless scent that must be Hannibal's skin, his apocrine sweat, subtle but unique to every human being. Stamped in Will's lizard brain as trustworthy, as special and important.

No, please, God, no.

"Will?" Jack looks concerned. "You gonna zone on me? Do I need to call Dr. Lecter?"

Will represses a hysterical laugh, then squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, hard. The hyperosmia vanishes again, but the knowledge it brought sits like a cannonball in Will's stomach. "No. Just-" he rubs the back of his neck, "here we go, you know?"

Jack's expression clears. He thinks Will is just shaken by his first unequivocal Ripper crime scene. He nods tiredly. "I know. See anything?"

Yes. "Nothing that isn't obvious. I'm - I need to get home."

"You do that," Jack says vaguely, waving Will off. Already lost again to his reverie, thrown off-balance by the Ripper's - by Hannibal's - manipulation.

Will feels pretty off-balance himself. He nearly causes a crash when he starts to turn off to Hannibal's house, then catches himself and swerves wildly to head for Wolf Trap instead. A chorus of furious honks follows him onto the freeway. He passes the rest of the drive in a numb daze. He's not worried about zoning; his senses are all dialed down, pulled in tight like a shellfish.

When he gets home, his pack doesn't go far, despite being cooped up all day. They pee and return, milling around him with dark, worried eyes. When he tries to get up from the porch steps, Winston puts his paws on his thighs and starts licking his face as if to wake him up. Will buries his face in his ruff and cries: not for long, just a few ugly, shocking sobs. He would have felt better if there were more, honestly. But the storm passes as swiftly as it came on, and Will is left contemplating the wreckage.

Is he sure? Yes. Oh, yes. A final, gasping sob rips its way out of his chest.

So, why didn't he say anything? That, he's less sure of.

Would anyone believe him? Frederick Chilton's words echo in his head: "Fours are of course the rarest group of oddbodies... reliably unstable..." It would sound like a wild accusation by a panicked, late-manifesting sentinel. God, with smell coming online he's five by fucking five, isn't he? Christ. That's just what he needs to deal with right now.

Jack might take him seriously enough to investigate, but would it do any good? The Chesapeake Ripper is so careful, so thorough in his compositions, that Will has been furtively, guiltily appreciating him for years. There is a very real possibility that the FBI could look right at Hannibal Lecter and find nothing. Miriam Lass found something, but whatever mistake Hannibal made with her, he'll be careful not to make again.

The very fact that he's still thinking of him as Hannibal is so very damning in itself. He doesn't want to say anything.

Well then, what does he want?

Will sits on the porch for a long time, trying to think of an answer to that.

Chapter Text

Will is not in the habit of allowing himself illusions. Having had such a massive illusion forced upon him, he is now particularly vicious with himself as he dispels it. This lecture is as much for himself as his students.

“The Chesapeake Ripper murders in sounders of three,” he says, flicking the slides as he speaks. “He did his first victims in nine days: Annapolis, Essex, and Baltimore. He didn’t kill again for eighteen months, then there was another sounder of three, all of them in Baltimore.” He turns and forces himself to look at the images: slumped, posed, mutilated, humiliated in death. Tongues and organs on a cutting board, beside a knife.

The sentinel protects the tribe. Are these people not his tribe?

“I use the term ‘sounders’ because it refers to a small group of pigs. That’s how he sees his victims: not as people, not as prey.” A man with his arms resting on his desk, but the arms are no longer attached. “Pigs.”

This is who he let in. Closer than his meager handful of lovers, for all that Will has never touched him with intent - though he was considering it.

'Was'? Try 'am'.  

He hurries on with the lecture. “Eleven months after the sixth victim there was a seventh. Two days later, the eighth was killed in his workshop. Every tool on the pegboard where they hung was used against him, and as with previous murders, organs were removed.” He follows the image of Jeremy Olmstead with the obvious reference used for the tableau: a Wound Man illustration.

“The removal of organs and abdominal mutilations means someone with anatomical or surgical know-how.” Like a former surgeon, practicing quietly in a different field for years before the murders even began. “There is a distinctive brutality…” He falters when he hears Jack’s heavy tread in the entrance to the lecture hall. Jack stays in the shadows, eyes on the projector screen, grim-faced. Will isn’t the only one who knows how to be vicious with himself.

“An FBI trainee named Miriam Lass was investigating private medical records of all the known victims when she disappeared. She is believed to be the Ripper’s ninth, but no trace of her was found, until recently, when her severed arm was discovered.” He looks right at Jack. “Only because he wanted it to be.”

Will sums up. “True to his established pattern, the Chesapeake Ripper has remained consistently theatrical.” Jack’s sigh is voiceless and pained. Old grief dug up and piled on top of new grief.

No wonder Hannibal takes Will’s monstrousness in stride. He is a far greater monster himself, sowing horror (and beauty, part of Will traitorously insists) everywhere he goes.

 


 

Hannibal is so glad he chose to come out to the opera tonight. The soprano is exquisite, the orchestra in fine form. For a few moments, he is able to lose himself in the music, and forget his worries about Will.

As delightful as it was to put on a Ripper performance for him, Will has been troubled ever since, diving back into his research on the previous murders, working late. Some of it at Jack’s behest, no doubt, but also driven by his own need to understand. He has not gotten back to Hannibal about his suggestion that they start spending regular nights at each other’s houses in an effort to improve Will’s sleep. In fact, if Will’s weary face and voice are any indication, his sleep is deteriorating even further.

No matter. If Will shatters, Hannibal will be there to put the pieces back together. For now, the final note of ‘Tacea la notte placinda’ trembles in the air, piercing Hannibal until his tears threaten to spill over. When the singer falls silent, he leaps to his feet to applaud her.

Funny how inspiration works. Mrs. Komeda daring him to throw a dinner party; the unbearable banality of Franklyn Froideveaux intruding into the glittering milieu of the opera (although his friend Tobias is surprising, quite the cold fish); Hannibal's lingering thoughts of Will, focused all-unknowing on Hannibal's true and secret self... Hannibal scarcely thinks about it before he's looking around and asking, "Who's hungry?" It seems he's not done performing for his sentinel after all.

 


 

Jack wakes Will out of a (for once) sound sleep. "We've got a possible Ripper kill. I'm on my way to pick you up." Jack is a model participant in the Bureau's carpooling initiative; it gives him more time to pick his agents' brains.

He tells Will about the case on the drive: man in bathtub, minus one kidney. It sounds more like an urban legend to Will, and he says as much.

Jack ignores this completely. "I’ve had the room sealed. You'll get it fresh."

"Fresh? Fresh as a daisy?" Will is still stuck in dream-thinking. He needs to pull himself together fast, or he'll slip up and trade his current set of choices (for Will to make) for a different, worse subset (for others to make and Will to suffer).

"Fresh enough for you to tell me whether or not it's the Ripper. Then you can go back to class."

Will scoffs, “Oh, you don’t want me in a classroom.” He rolls his head into the back of the seat. “You want me to wrap my head so tight around the Ripper I won’t go back to class until he’s caught.” He’s way ahead of Jack on the head-wrapping bit; he feels like he can’t make a decision until he understands everything about Hannibal, or at least more than he does now.

He understands this much, at any rate, and deems it safe to share with Jack: "Don't let the Ripper stir you up. The reason he left you Miriam Lass' arm is so he could poke you with it."

 


 

The incompetent organ harvester's desperation leaves Will drained instead of traumatized. He sits on the toilet lid, feeling like a marionette with its strings cut. This is all a bit much without breakfast or even coffee. He feels a sharp pang of longing for Hannibal's incredible coffee, brewed in a contraption that's as much objet d’art as coffeemaker, and hates himself.

"Tell me how you see the Ripper, Will." For all his tone is measured, Jack’s bloodlust batters at Will’s skull.

Will thinks back to the observatory, Hannibal's scent hanging in the air when Will's sense of smell spiked. He tries to answer as he would have if he had never experienced that terrible moment. It's all still perfectly true; he's just having trouble reconciling it with the subtly warm, funny, fussy man who rocketed to the top of Will's list of favorite people shortly after they met.

"I see him as one of those... pitiful things, sometimes born in hospitals. They feed it, keep it warm, but they don't put it on the machines. They let it die. But he doesn't die. He looks... normal. And nobody can tell what he is."

Except me. I can tell, now. Will prays to a God he doesn't believe in for help he will not receive.

 


 

It’s an uncomfortable sensation, feeling a kinship with Franklyn. When Hannibal defends himself against Bedelia’s suggestion of loneliness with, “You and I are friendly,” he winces internally even before she responds.

"You are my patient, and my colleague, not my friend.” He feels sure she would laugh if she ever saw him with his own patients, realizing how many of her mannerisms he affected for his clinical persona.

“At the end of your hour, I will pour you a glass of wine. Nevertheless, you will be drinking it on the other side of the veil.” She is such a lovely woman, as brilliant and cool as winter sunshine. His regard for her outstrips the threat of her perceptiveness, a microcosm of his feelings for Will.

“Why do you bother?” he asks curiously. That the stakes are so much lower with Bedelia allows him to ask questions of her that he does not dare ask of Will, who also seeks out the company of a far more genuine version of Hannibal than the rest of humanity is privy to. Or, at least, he was seeking it out, until Hannibal deprived himself of Will’s company by reviving the Chesapeake Ripper. But that is temporary, and necessary; better for Will to experience some Ripper crime scenes firsthand, give his empathy a taste of the serene and wicked delight that could be his, before he puts all the pieces together.

Bedelia smiles. “I see enough of you to see the truth of you,” she checks her watch, “and I like you. Red or white?” She stands before Hannibal can answer.

He twists in his chair to watch her. “I think something pink, don’t you?”

 


 

Will has been largely avoiding Hannibal since he found out, pleading overwork by Jack now that the Ripper has resurfaced. As excuses go, it has the major benefit of being true. But he doesn’t think he can get away with missing his scheduled therapy session at Hannibal’s office. Honestly, he doesn’t think he should miss it; Hannibal’s influence as Will’s guide and psychiatrist is as grounding as ever.

In fact, it’s disturbingly easy to slip back into their usual conversational give-and-take. Will looks and listens with all his might, and Hannibal gives him the same sense of muted but real pleasure in Will’s company that he always does. Considering what else he conceals, it’s no wonder his emotions come off as highly restrained. Hannibal gives him a glass of pale rosé wine, and Will takes a grateful gulp. He moves to set the glass on the side table, and then the wonderful flavour catches up with him and he keeps the glass in his hand, swirling the wine thoughtfully.

Hannibal breaks the sudden silence. “I read the Freddie Lounds article. Chesapeake Ripper has struck again.”

Oh, you brazen fucker. Will almost laughs. “No, no, no. No, it’s not the same guy.” He gets up and turns away.

“Maybe it’s never been the same guy.”

“Oh, what, now he has a friend?” But he does, doesn’t he? Isn’t that the foundation of Will’s paralysis, and all the other excuses just embroidery?

“Any variations in the murders that suggest there could be more than one Ripper?”

“Some variations.” Variations on a theme. Will gives the appearance of considering this sudden and ridiculous new suggestion. He supposes that when one is a legendary and prolific serial killer, one must always be on the lookout for new ways to muddy the waters.

Hannibal takes a long swallow of wine. “The victims were all brutalized. What was the brutalization hiding?”

Abruptly, Will remembers how eager Hannibal was to hear his reasons for Abel Gideon not being the Ripper. What better mirror to admire himself in than the mind of his very own oddbody profiler? “The careful surgical removal and preservation of vital organs.” He can’t resist the little dig on the ‘surgical’.

Hannibal spreads his hands. “Valuable organs,” he says mildly.

“Organ harvesters?” What game is Hannibal playing now? Suggesting the real use of his ‘trophies’, or another misdirection? Will leans toward misdirection; everything Hannibal wears and owns is steeped in the kind of entrenched good taste that only really comes with old money. Not the type of wealth that must be supplemented with back-alley deals for stolen kidneys.

“Jack’s looking for a serial killer he can’t seem to catch. It’s a brilliant diversion.” Hannibal leans back.

Oh, isn’t it just? “That’s an interesting theory. I'll keep it in mind if another body drops.” Will tosses back the rest of the wine.

Hannibal smiles. “Please do.” Through his wine glass, Will sees Hannibal’s smile linger, and Hannibal's tongue flicker out to lick his lips as he watches Will.

Huh. Put another point in favor of the backburnered 'would probably reciprocate romantic overtures' theory.

It occurs to Will that Hannibal’s insistence that Will needs to have more fun is completely sincere; Hannibal himself is never not having fun, in one way or another.

 


 

Hannibal's first choice for his new series of Ripper tableaus proper is the appalling man who examined Hannibal for his health insurance. All medical professionals become cynics in time, but it doesn't do to reveal that to one's clients.

He incapacitates Andrew Caldwell by slamming his head briskly against his own car. He collapses, and Hannibal bundles him into the plastic-lined trunk of the Bentley. He's on his way to the bus yard less than sixty seconds after stopping.

Plastic-suited, he waits in the school bus for Caldwell to revive. The elements of the composition, random as they always seem at first, begin to come together in his mind:

The school bus, a literal transport to knowledge. I am learning new things about myself every day.

The victim, a man who assumed Hannibal must surely be infected with something. I am infected now: sick with love.

Caldwell stirs with a weak groan, escalating to a bubbling shriek as Hannibal slices him open and takes his kidneys. A nod to his most recent obfuscation, piggybacking on the profiteering of some crude thief of flesh. 

The noise is irritating, but ends with a croak when Hannibal bisects Caldwell at the waist. He moves the top half across the aisle from the lower, leaving a single length of bowel connecting them. I am divided from myself in the eyes of my beloved.

Caldwell is unconscious, nearly dead, even before Hannibal takes his heart. A little trite, perhaps, but he does in fact need one for his chosen recipe. Come to think of it, he's been eating considerably more heart ever since he met Will. How sentimental. How amazing, what Will brings out in him.

 


 

Like any good diversion, the organ harvester theory has legs; turns out that as far as anyone can tell, when the Ripper takes organs he's been taking the associated blood vessels with them all along. Was Hannibal hoping the whole time that someone would theorize the Ripper was an organ harvester?

Or could he really be selling the organs after all? He doesn't need the money, but Will can see Hannibal enjoying the idea of his trophies living on, stored in the bodies of other people.

It still feels off to Will. "The Chesapeake Ripper wants to perform. Every brutal choice has... elegance. Grace. His mutilations hide the true nature of his crimes." He's lucky the team is used to him saying and doing bizarre things. He wishes he didn't admire the artistry of the Ripper's kills as much as ever.

 


 

Will is an exception to Hannibal's general rule of liking women more than men. They tend to be smarter, smell better, have nicer manners. Alana Bloom is a prime example. With Will unable to get time away from the Ripper case, Hannibal's former student is fine consolation as sous-chef, a charming presence in his kitchen.

He plies her with beer (clarified with human collagen - difficult to add any more interesting elements without compromising the flavor) and wonders if he hasn't had too much wine himself when he cannot avoid turning the conversation to the subject of Will. He recovers by asking why he and Alana never had an affair.   

"You were already having an affair," she says, amused. She raises an eyebrow. "Will does that too, you know?"

"What, have affairs?" Hannibal has detected no trace of any rivals for Will's affection. Aside from Alana herself, that is. Will does have good taste, when he chooses to exercise it, but he is far too shy, and Alana too careful, for Hannibal to consider her a threat. A relief; he's quite fond of her.

"Flirtatiously change the subject. You have that pathology in common."

"Or we just have you in common. I recall even before I met Will, you never spoke about him." He hopes his little nugget of resentment is well-hidden. Nearly two years Will was at Quantico, friends with Alana, and Hannibal had had no idea. Might never have met him were it not for Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Hannibal really should have found a way to give Hobbs the courtesy call he had considered and then decided against due to Will's hearing. Perhaps an anonymous scholarship for his daughter instead...

"Probably because I just want everyone to leave him alone." Alana sighs. "It's not even about Will. Jack's obsessed with the Chesapeake Ripper and he's grooming Will to catch him."

"And I sincerely hope he does." In bed. And everywhere else, for that matter. The fantasy of Will taking Hannibal, or being taken by Hannibal, in full knowledge of who Hannibal is, is surpassed only by the fantasy of the two of them killing together.

For the second time that day, he feels an unpleasant echo of his session with Franklyn: "I just get to touch greatness." Hannibal and Will would experience their mutual greatness together, but the longing is the same.

 


 

Will doesn't see or hear from Hannibal for three days. It's not surprising; not only is he planning some kind of fancy dinner party, he's also murdering everyone.

There's still no evidence. Will is leery of trying to force an olfactory spike, especially when scent alone would be too flimsy to move on. He's stuck at the same impasse he's been at since the observatory, just in an ever more crowded morgue.

Jimmy Price would be yanking out his hair if he had hair enough to grab. "At first we were looking at waiting lists for a heart or a kidney. Now we’re looking at hearts, kidneys, livers, stomachs, pancreases, lungs... this guy is missing a spleen. A spleen! Who the hell gets a spleen transplant?"

Will looks down at the latest victim. "Intestines were the only organ missing from this body?"

"Yes, right," says Brian Zeller, "so we’re either looking for someone with short bowels, or Ripper's making sausage."

Will freezes.

What was it Will was thinking earlier? He could see Hannibal enjoying the idea of his trophies living on in other people's bodies?

I was half right. Oh, God.

When was the last time Will ate Hannibal's cooking and could actually recognize the meat by taste, without asking? Aside from fish or seafood? He doesn't even know. It's all so elaborately seasoned he can't tell.

That's on purpose. It's people. It's all people.

Will gradually becomes aware that Zeller and Price are bickering about the black market for organs in China. Jack shuts them down and pins Will with a stare.

"How many killers?"

"Two." The carnage around them is a good reason for Will to look and sound sickened.

"You're confident one of them is the Chesapeake Ripper?"

"At least one of them, yep." He feels bad letting the organ harvester theory continue to fly, but at least it might help the team catch the other guy.

 


 

Will goes back to his classroom in a daze. Somehow he gets through his midday lecture on autopilot, and then he takes out his Ripper file and spreads the photos across the desk, too drained to even go back to his office. He sits heavily in a chair at the far end of the desk.

Hannibal serves a lot more meat than can be accounted for by a half-dozen organs every year or two. Clearly there are other victims who are never found - probably used up as thoroughly as Garrett Jacob Hobbs' girls. The Ripper displays are... art, a statement. Intended to communicate something, and humiliate the victims in death.

He flashes on Marissa Schurr in Hobbs' antler room, and his own voice saying, "Whoever killed the girl in the field killed this girl, I'm right about that... same design, the same - humiliation."

Telling Hannibal about Cassie Boyle, "It was like the killer needed to show me the negative so I could see the positive." Hannibal's rapt expression.

The desk and the classroom fade away, and Will is back in the field, looking at Cassie Boyle, impaled on the stag head. "This girl's killer thought that she was a pig." A teaching tool. A gift. Will had felt like it was intended just for him, to help him understand the Shrike. It was.

Behind him, the ravenstag blows its hot breath in his ear.

In front of him, Nicholas Boyle's headless body lies crumpled at the base of the stag head. Or maybe it's at the feet of Louise Hobbs, standing hand-in-hand with Abigail.

"You killed an innocent man," Will tells Louise.

"Innocent of killing my friend and his sister," says Abigail.

"Not innocent of trying to harm my child," Louise points out. The shotgun is slung over her shoulder. She balances the strap with her free hand.

"I learned nothing from the death of your friend," Will says to Abigail. "She only died to strengthen his frame job."

"Then she died to buy my freedom," says Abigail. "Please never tell me so." She walks away, still holding hands with her mother. Will lets them go.

He sits with the body of Cassie Boyle. It's quiet in the field, now that all the ravens are covering the living stag instead of flapping around and cawing. The deep, slow thunder of the stag's heart is comforting. It stands watch with him, no need to lead him anywhere.

He'd wanted to understand Hannibal. He sure got his wish. The only mystery left is what on earth he thinks he's doing, befriending Will of all people. Is it a game? Playing with fire? He's at least a little attracted to Will, but that can't be all of it; virtually anyone would be safer for Hannibal to get close to than Will.

Will?

“Yes?” Will’s first reaction to the voice is a quiet sense of pleased recognition.

“Will?” The field is gone; Will is back in his classroom. He shakes himself and looks toward the door. Hannibal is walking toward him. “I have a 24-hour cancellation policy.”

“What time is it?”

“Nearly nine o’clock.” Hannibal stops by the chair and peers at Will carefully.

“Oh, God, I’m sorry.” He rubs his face.

“No apology necessary.”

“Was I zoned?” He knows he wasn’t zoned; zones are a blank, a hole in time. What just happened was more like a lucid dream.

“I doubt it; you came out of it easily enough. I suspect you fell asleep.”

“Was I sleepwalking?”

“Your eyes were open, but you were not present, as in sleepwalking. However, you were sitting still.”

“Jeez. I need to stop sleeping altogether. Best way to avoid bad dreams.”

Hannibal finally turns and catches sight of the photos on the desk. “Well, I can see why you have bad dreams.”

Oh, this should be good. Will feels the urge to get his own back, just a little - put Hannibal on the spot, make him do some fancy footwork. He gestures to the images with an open hand, offering them. “What do you see, Doctor?”

Hannibal straightens his back and steps closer to the desk, then bends over it. “Sum up the Ripper in so many words?”

“Choose them wisely.”

“Oh, I always do. Words are living things; they have personality, point of view…” He picks up the close-up of an outstretched hand impaled on a stake. “Agenda.”

“They’re pack hunters.” Will smirks.

Hannibal begins to dissemble, “Displaying one’s enemies after death has its appeal in many cultures.”

Will cuts him off. “These aren’t the Ripper’s enemies; these are pests he’s swatted.” He may not be ready to confront Hannibal, or anyone else, with the full extent of his knowledge, but neither will he allow Hannibal to spin more outright lies to his face. Not when Will has been forced to understand so much.

“Their reward for their cruelty.”

“Oh, he doesn’t have a problem with cruelty. Their reward is for undignified behaviour. These dissections are to disgrace them. It’s a public shaming.”

Hannibal nods slowly, looking at Will with respect. “Takes their organs away because in his mind they don’t deserve them.” That has the ring of truth.

Will acknowledges, “In some way,” as if surprised at the insight.

Hannibal steps back into the safety of his feigned ignorance. He picks up the photo of Miriam Lass’ arm. “Who’s this?”

Will has to play along. “Jack Crawford’s trainee. She’s not like the other victims. The Ripper had no reason to humiliate Miriam Lass.”

“Seems to me he was humiliating someone.”

“Yeah, he was humiliating Jack.”

Hannibal doesn’t look up as he asks, “Did it work?”

Will stifles the urge to roll his eyes. I’ve barely left Quantico in almost two weeks. I’m having dream visions in my classroom. What do you think? “I’d say it worked really well.”

 


 

Hannibal is already more than compensated for Will missing his appointment, getting to look at the beautiful photos of his work and listen to Will’s insights into each kill. Even his most recent are there, the same pigs whose meat is resting in his refrigerator at this very moment, all prepared for cooking tomorrow night.

It just gets better when Jack Crawford marches into the room, trailed by a woman. She exudes intelligence and confidence; Hannibal is willing to bet this is Beverly Katz.

Jack says, “Will, there you are. And Dr. Lecter, what a surprise.” Hannibal smiles. “We have a lead. Would you care to help us catch the Ripper?”

Hannibal is being watched by two people with hyperacute vision. He must restrain his glee. “How could I refuse?” His face still twitches like an inappropriate grin is going to break loose.

They are, of course, not chasing Hannibal, but the organ harvester: an EMT who wants to go to medical school. Hannibal gets to watch Will on the chase, sharp-faced and serious, and learns a great deal about GPS systems in vehicles.

He’s having an absolutely wonderful time.

They are required to hang back as the tactical team approaches the missing ambulance.

“Can you hear what they’re going to find?” Hannibal asks Will.

Will closes his eyes. “One heartbeat, rapid - scared. A lot of, um, squishing. Oh, hell, he made the same mistake again. Why does he think internal cardiac massage is going to do any good without a trauma team around?”

“He would have made a very poor doctor.”

The ambulance door creaks open, and Will flinches and covers his ears while he dials down. Hannibal can hear a muffled conversation, then Jack shouts, “Dr. Lecter!”

The evening concludes with Hannibal’s hands inside some unfortunate with one mangled kidney. He gets to show off the more conventional side of his surgical skill set while Will looks on, a thoughtful expression on his lovely face.

All in all, it’s the best evening he’s had in he doesn’t know how long. His dinner party the next day is going to feel like an anticlimax at this point.

 


 

Will has more experience deliberately pushing his senses in Hannibal’s company than he does anywhere else lately. He borrows the irrational security of his guide’s heartbeat and tries consciously to smell more than just the warm, enticing fragrances of Hannibal’s kitchen.

It’s only confirming what he’s already certain of, but his heart still sinks when under the fresh-cut vegetables, herbs, spices, wine, baking bread, roasting meat, and all the other good smells, the blood and the remaining uncooked tissue smells exactly like the morgue at the Behavioral Science Unit. If he’d taken a good whiff of each victim, he could probably place each dish to one.

“I have a butcher who carries sow’s blood,” Hannibal says, carrying the canister from his food processor over to his kitchen island. No doubt the ‘sow’ in question is Michelle Vocalson, a customer service agent for a tailoring business. “Centrifugate, separate the matter from the water, creates a transparent liquid. Serve with tomatoes in suspension and everybody will love the sweet taste.” He looks up from his tomatoes. “Are you sure you can’t stay?”

Will clutches his wine bottle. “Uh, I don’t think I would be good company.”

“I disagree.” Hannibal’s voice is soft and warm. He looks at Will with unguarded affection before catching himself and returning his gaze to the food. “But, before you go, what became of Mr. Silvestri’s donor?”

Will raises an eyebrow. “You saved his life.” He wonders if saving lives is nearly as gratifying as ending them - for Hannibal.

“Been a long time since I used a scalpel on anything but a pencil.” Liar.

“Why’d you stop being a surgeon?” Hannibal is clever enough to have hidden himself even if he stayed in surgery, and he could have had yet more blood and guts in his life.

“I killed someone. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t save someone. But it felt like killing them.”

No it didn’t; that’s why it wasn’t any fun. “You were an emergency room surgeon. It has to happen from time to time.”

“It happened one time too many. I transferred my passion for anatomy into the culinary arts.”

Oh, you did not just say that.

“I fix minds instead of bodies, and no one’s died as a result of my therapy.”

Will was right to keep his mouth shut about Hannibal being the Chesapeake Ripper. To joke like that, he has to be either stupendously confident, or utterly out of his gourd. And if it was the latter, he would have been caught by now.

He chuckles weakly. “I have to go.” He sets the wine on the island. “I have a date with the Chesapeake Ripper.” He’s not imagining the sudden racing of Hannibal’s heart, a more pronounced reaction than he’s heard from his guide before, even when he had his hands on Will’s ass.

Oh. My God. Is he… in love with me?

Hannibal calms himself quickly. Will doesn’t know if he realizes how constantly Will listens to heartbeats, especially Hannibal’s, or if it’s just part and parcel of his prodigious control. “Or, is that Rippers?”

“Devon Silvestri was harvesting organs, but not with the Ripper. There’s no connection between them.”

“Jack must be devastated.” There’s the sadism. He covers it well, but Hannibal really doesn’t like Jack.

“I imagine he is. Enjoy the wine.” Will leaves Hannibal in the kitchen, surrounded by caterers and exquisitely prepared human flesh.

What am I going to do with you?

He needs to deal with Hannibal, and his feelings about Hannibal. Lay out all his reasons for keeping his silence, and decide whether they’re good enough reasons, and most of all decide what to do next. Just… not tonight.

He doesn’t go to Quantico. He goes home. He puts on his sweats and trail shoes, and takes his dogs for a run. They pass through the trees and over the fields, eight animals that can see in the dark.

Chapter Text

Will's holding pattern is starting to break down on him.

He hears an animal crying in the fields, but when he invites Alana over to help him look for it, he can't find so much as a paw.

"Can you really hear this far from your house?"

"Oh, sure. If it was quiet enough, you could probably hear this far."

She raises her eyebrow. "Thanks."

"No, I just meant sound carries really well across the fields and-" he sees her grin. "Oh. You're messing with me."

"You make it so easy, it's hard to resist," she teases.

He smiles at his feet, rather than escalate the flirting. He clears his throat. "Anyway, from what I heard, this is as far out as it could have been. Whatever it was. But I'm not even seeing any tracks."

"Maybe the wind altered the apparent position?" Alana trained as a guide; she has to know the other possibility is a sensory spike. Still, she's the one who recommended Hannibal as Will's guide. She's going to assume his stability is well in hand.

And it really could have been the wind throwing the noise. Will wants it to have been the wind.

"Maybe. Well, if that was the case we could hear it from here, and I don't hear anything. You want some coffee?"

"I could use a warm-up, sure." They head back to Will's house.

(Two fields and one stand of trees farther out, Will's neighbor Magda comes across a scattered patch of fur and bloodied mud. She shakes her head. Coyotes are so vicious this time of year.)

 


 

Then, of course, because Will just can't catch a break, there's a new murder tableau right in the middle of Baltimore. A man tied to a chair, head thrown back and throat opened to make him into an improvised cello.

Or, not improvised. The team will confirm for him back at the lab, but the tissue stretched over the bridge doesn’t exactly look raw to Will. This is a planned display.

And a functional one, he learns in the reconstruction, drawing the bow across the ‘strings’ and listening to the deep, tortured chords. As if the trombonist’s death inhabits and colors the notes.

The musician's swaggering contempt sits uneasily in Will's psyche, making him snap and mutter at Douglas Wilson's body in the morgue, and disturbing the rest of the team. Horribly, he misses the calm and satisfaction of the Ripper's - of Hannibal's - kills.

Not that he will ever tell Hannibal that. His guide might not survive the surge in ego.

 


 

Outside of an active hunt where Will might get to kill someone, Hannibal really doesn't like Will studying killers other than Hannibal. They take up space in Will's mind that should belong to Hannibal, leave Will troubled where Hannibal wants Will to feel pleased. When Will mentions that he can hear this new killer's song behind closed eyes, Hannibal's jealousy is startling.

"Persistent, unwanted sensory memories can wreak havoc on sensory control," he lies. They're just an ordinary nuisance like most other intrusive thoughts. "Considering how sensitive you keep your hearing, I'm concerned about your risk for sensory spikes, or even a zone."

Will looks troubled. Could he already be experiencing sensory spikes? Surely he would tell Hannibal. "What do you suggest?"

"I suggest we attempt to overload your hearing as a way to reset it."

Will blinks. "Overload my hearing? With what?"

"Well, I have a harpsichord just in the corner, there. I could play for you."

"I'd just... sit and listen?"

"Listen to the best of your considerable ability. Ideally, we shore up your resilience a little more. At worst, you spend a few minutes listening to music."

Will hesitates, then nods. "Seems like a safe enough experiment."

Hannibal gets Will situated in his desk chair, wheeled to the side of the harpsichord. He pours Will a glass of wine to drink while he rifles through his sheet music. If he were susceptible to performance anxiety, he would be feeling it now.

He chooses two pieces and sits down on the little bench. Will has finished his wine and set down the empty glass. "Will, I want you to close your eyes. Focus on your breathing; be aware of it without controlling it. With every breath out, another part of your body becomes relaxed. Your face, your neck, your shoulders, your arms and hands, then moving down your back, until even your toes are relaxed. Then you will be ready to listen."

Hannibal does not often use the full force of his guide voice; no true guide does. Theirs is an obscure, niche profession, usually secondary to some other career, and very few people are aware of the full extent of a true guide's power. It's better that way; they would be as exploited and policed as sentinels otherwise.

Combined with long-acting sedatives and hypnotics, Hannibal's guide voice at full strength has kept Miriam Lass catatonic for more than two years, obediently eating and sleeping away the weeks between his visits. Will Graham requires a much lighter touch. Hannibal speaks to him softly, calibrating the command in his voice just until Will visibly relaxes.

"Are you ready, Will?"

"Yes." The weary peace in his face is so beautiful. Hannibal really must arrange for Will to sleep in his bed again soon; it's been too long.

"Once I am playing, I would like you to dial up your hearing as high as is comfortable. Let the music wash through you. Anything you feel in response is natural and welcome; allow yourself to feel it."

Hannibal turns to the keyboard and begins to play. The first piece is a light, clever tune, chosen to engage Will and draw him in, the sort of thing he would play at a party. Soon enough, Will is humming along under his breath. It's tuneless and inconsistent; he's not even aware he's doing it. Excellent.

Hannibal improvises a segue from the ending of that piece to the beginning of the next, which has a considerably different tone: yearning, aching, pulsing with devotion and desire. Hannibal pours himself into the notes. The keys pluck the strings as Hannibal wishes to caress Will’s skin, his hair, the intimate, hidden parts of his body. To look into Will’s eyes and be known, just as he knows Will. To kiss him. To see Will’s face every day, forever.

To Hannibal’s right, Will’s breath is hitched and shaky. He glances out the corner of his eye, and sees that Will’s cheeks are wet with tears. He quickly returns his attention to the music, lest he be overcome by his impulse to taste them.

Gently, he brings the music to a circling close, rounding off the piercing need of it into a wistful, subdued conclusion. When the echo of the last soft note dies away, Hannibal turns back to Will. He’s no longer actively crying, but he hasn’t opened his eyes. Hannibal moves as quietly as he can to fetch the box of tissues, then crouches in front of the chair.

It’s several minutes before Will opens his eyes. When he does, he makes eye contact with Hannibal for a long, wondering moment before averting his gaze and reaching for the proffered tissues. “Thank you,” he says, and his voice is rough and wet as he mops his face.

“You’re welcome,” says Hannibal. “How do you feel?”

Will laughs weakly. “Um. Wrung out? I don’t listen to a lot of live performances.”

“I imagine you wouldn’t.” Even a small crowd would sap much of the sensual enjoyment from such an experience, and most crowds large enough to exceed Will’s vigilance would be listening to music electronically amplified if not generated, and thus laden with interference inaudible to those without hyperacusis. “You may ask me to play for you at any time. Most music for the harpsichord is not so… intense, as what I chose today. More like the first piece.”

Will stands and walks closer to the instrument, peering inside it. “It doesn’t sound like a piano at all, even though it looks like one.”

“I prefer it to the piano. Because the strings are plucked instead of struck, it is not possible to control the volume. More alive, the music arrives like experience, sudden and entire.”

Will grins crookedly. “I was just going to call it cranky and organic, but what you said sounds better.” He looks at Hannibal again, face going serious. “I think the killer wanted to do this, wanted to play for someone.”

“It’s a serenade.”

“Mm, but this isn’t how he kills. Normally, he doesn’t kill for an audience.”

“You believe he risked getting caught for a serenade?” Hannibal can relate to that. In a way, he’s been serenading Will ever since he heaved Cassie Boyle onto the antlers of the stag.

“I believe he wants to show someone how well he plays.”

 


 

The very next day, Franklyn delivers a message to Hannibal from his friend Tobias, identifying him as the man who killed the trombonist and planted his song in Will’s head. If it were only the former, Hannibal would remain content to spectate from a distance, but the latter demands a visit. It’s not difficult to track Tobias down; it’s not meant to be.

He certainly can play the violin, well enough that Hannibal stops the bell on the door from ringing in hopes he’ll play longer. Hannibal wonders if the haunting, lonely melody is the same one played on the vocal chords of Douglas Wilson. From Will’s description of the tableau, the notes produced would have been almost grindingly deep, like something issuing forth from the bowels of the earth.

Bowels. Another puzzle piece clicks into place for Hannibal when he notices the preponderance of gut strings in the shop. No doubt it’s a boon to Tobias’ business, never having to pay wholesalers or import duties. How many instruments in the Baltimore Metropolitan Orchestra are strung with Tobias’ victims?

Tobias is much as Hannibal remembers him from the opera. In many ways, he reminds Hannibal of himself, nearly twenty years younger: wide gaps in his person suit. Caught between delight in performing humanity so successfully, isolation, and the reckless urge to throw caution to the wind and revel in his own superiority. Hannibal mastered that urge; somehow he thinks Tobias lacks the discipline to do so. He invites Tobias over for dinner.

 


 

It’s one thing to make a realization off the brief acceleration of an unusually steady heart. It’s quite another to sit and listen as that heart bares itself and pours out its longing into Will’s ears. A whole day later and Will still feels shocky with it, battered by the river of emotion Hannibal unleashed on him without saying a word.

Will has never been desired like that, not ever in his life. Not by someone who knows who he really is; hell, Hannibal also knows more about that, too, than anyone ever has. It’s… dangerously flattering, verging on intoxicating, and Will is avoiding examining himself for a response in kind. Fly-tying is an appropriately meticulous task to distract himself with, until he gets distracted from that by the scratching and chittering of a trapped raccoon. It sounds like it’s coming from his chimney.

He’s just broken through the wall with his sledgehammer when the noises fade out. He can’t see or smell anything but soot inside the chimney.

He’s almost pathetically grateful when Alana Bloom chooses that moment to show up on his doorstep.

“Thought I’d make some noise, shoo away any predators at your door,” she says. “Looks like you‘re making plenty of noise all by yourself.”

She’s so nice, so normal, and her caring and attraction are conceivable, survivable things.

He sets the hammer on his mantle. “You avoided being alone in a room with me essentially since you met me. You were smooth about it.”

“Evidently not smooth enough,” she says ruefully.

“And now you’re making house calls?” Will steps into her space. She doesn’t step away.

“Just a drive-by on my way home. Since you’re not my patient.” She turns her face up as he draws closer.

“No. I’m not.”

Will reaches out and kisses her. She puts her hand on the back of Will’s neck and kisses him back. For one quivering moment everything is warm and secure.

In the next moment it all falls apart. Alana makes noises about how they wouldn’t work and slips out, embarrassed. Will is left alone in his living room, a frightened man with dirty hands.

No sooner has her hybrid pulled away than he hears the raccoon chittering again, followed by the loud clonk of something metal falling over and hitting another something metal. His shovel, knocked over and hitting his freezer, out in the barn. He just had an undeniable sensory spike.

His turmoil propels him into his car and onto the road to Baltimore. By the time he calms down enough to question the wisdom of fleeing to Hannibal’s house, the only thing worse than continuing forward is turning around.

 


 

Will rings Hannibal’s doorbell and pushes inside, briefly concerned by the fact that Hannibal has it unlocked at this time of night. Then he remembers who Hannibal is. If some poor bastard decides to burgle Hannibal Lecter, that’s not a problem; that’s delivery.

All these thoughts grind to a halt when he sees Hannibal walk into the foyer. “I kissed Alana Bloom,” he blurts out, shaking the snow off his coat and tossing it on a bench.

“Well,” says Hannibal, as Will stalks past him, “come in.”

In the dining room, the table is set for two, and the door to the yard is hanging open. “You have a guest?”

“A colleague. You just missed him.”

“Didn’t finish his dinner.” Even knowing what kind of meat is on the table, the smell is so good Will’s mouth waters.

“An urgent call of some sort,” says Hannibal, shutting the door. “Had to leave suddenly.” He continues into the kitchen, and Will follows. “This benefits you, because I have dessert for two.”

Dessert is bread pudding. Will can handle bread pudding. He can’t think of any way to incorporate people into it without compromising on flavor, something he knows Hannibal wouldn’t do. Besides, he skipped supper, and it smells great. They talk about Alana while Hannibal fusses over toppings. Hannibal manages, very smoothly, to inquire why Will is so distressed by this very grade-school series of events.

“I had a spike in my hearing,” Will admits, “I thought I heard a raccoon trapped in my chimney, when really it was shuffling around in my barn. I didn’t figure it out until after I broke through the wall and made a fool of myself.” He put the kitchen island between them on purpose, but now he draws as close as he can. “I sleepwalk, I get headaches, I’m losing control of my senses… I feel unstable.”

“That’s why you kissed her. A clutch for balance.”

Will would find acknowledging using someone like that uncomfortable no matter what. Hearing it from a - monster is probably the best word - who wants Will desperately but is too respectful to say so, it’s all Will can do to remain in the room.

Hannibal says, kind but ruthless, “You said yourself what you do is not good for you.”

“Well, unfortunately, I am good for it.” Will is not ready to have this argument again.

Hannibal seems to sense this, and changes the subject. “Are you still hearing this killer’s serenade behind your eyes?”

Off and on. Sharing time with this killer’s serenade. He laughs weakly. “Well, it’s our song.”

Hannibal hands him a plate of something that was once bread pudding, and now looks like something Will just barely understands how to eat. There’s a spoon nearby. He’ll wing it.

One bite in, he realizes how much Hannibal usually alters his recipes for Will. It's so sweet he has to dial down his sense of taste, when dialling up in anticipation has become the norm. Still, it's warm and moist and soft, and probably has more calories than everything else he's eaten today combined, so he presses on.

Hannibal watches him, taking a few bites of dessert himself. Will feels like he should mark the occasion somehow: Hannibal Lecter, eating standing up.

When Will is scraping up the last of the raspberry syrup and whipped cream, Hannibal says, "I hesitate to tell you this, as it borders on a violation of doctor-patient confidentiality."

Will whimpers inwardly. Hannibal may be right; the work is grinding him down. He gestures for Hannibal to continue.

"A patient told me today he suspects a friend of his may be involved in the murder at the symphony."

"What did he say about his friend?"

"He owns a music store in Baltimore, specializing in string instruments. Perhaps you should interview him."

Will nods. "I'll take it to Jack in the morning." He rubs his eyes. "God, I'm going to be a zombie tomorrow."

Hannibal says firmly, "You are in no condition to drive, and the roads are in no condition to be driven on, especially in the dark. Call your sitter and ask her to see to your dogs in the morning. Stay over."  

Will reflects on the fact that Hannibal was the Chesapeake Ripper, and a cannibal, and in love with him, the other times he slept at Hannibal's house. Who Hannibal is hasn't changed; only what Will knows has changed. And it's true that Will wouldn't let a friend drive right now, like this. "Okay." He shrugs. "I should accept the inevitable and just stash some clothes here. Including extra sleep clothes so I don't have to keep borrowing your pajamas."

"It's no trouble at all," Hannibal insists, and - yes, by God, that is the very faintest possible flush of pink in his cheeks. He likes Will wearing Hannibal's pajamas. It occurs to Will that while Hannibal has seen and touched Will’s naked back (and backside), Will has never seen Hannibal any more unclothed than having his shirtsleeves rolled up to mid-forearm. His imagination helpfully conjures up a picture of Hannibal’s broad chest with one of Will’s skimpy t-shirts stretched over it.

He forces himself to think instead about how to discourage raccoons from nesting in his barn. The dogs all have their rabies shots, but it’s still not good; an ambitious raccoon could probably take Suzy, and maybe Momo too (Buster is smaller than Momo, but he would think a chance to fight a raccoon was his lucky day). Thoughts of metal mesh and doing a big clean around the fish freezer keep him occupied until he’s curled up in Hannibal’s bed, under Hannibal’s intent gaze. Will supposes it’s not really so strange to feel so safe there; certainly it’s one time he doesn’t feel the responsibility of being the most dangerous thing in the room.

 


 

Tobias Budge is shady as hell. He straps on a placid mask, but it's a sloppy construct compared to Hannibal's. Budge is excited to see Will and the two police officers. Will is just trying to talk him around to saying something worth arresting him for, when there is a screech of brakes, a thump, and a pitiful howl outside.

"Did you hear that?"

Budge's eyes widen with genuine surprise. "Hear what?"

The cops shrug. "I didn't hear anything," says one of them.

The dog's pain claws at the inside of Will's head. He can't take it. "Excuse me."

He rushes out into the street, but there's nothing there. He dodges honking vehicles, and tries to pinpoint the direction his spiking hearing is feeding him the sound from.

The dog yelps again, and then a woman's voice says, "Oh my God, you poor thing! I'm so sorry! Here, just let me-" the dog snarls and whimpers, and the woman grunts, and then a car door slams and Will can't hear the dog anymore. The whole thing must have played out several blocks away. There's nothing he can do; it sounds like there's nothing he needs to do.

He troops back into Chordophone, saying, "Sorry about that," and shuts up when he smells the blood.

He calls ERT for the officer with the sharpened conductor's baton through the neck, for all the good it will do. He can only hear one heartbeat somewhere under his feet.

The thick darkness of the basement confirms Will's suspicion: Budge has hypersensitive hearing at least, and possibly vision as well. He's hoping to gain an additional advantage over Will, on top of knowing where everything is in his tiny workspace.

Will's advantage is that Budge doesn't know he can see. Will moves slowly, as if feeling his way with his feet. He takes in the jars of coiled bowel, the racks with strips of tissue in various stages of processing, the faint, indelible smell of effluvia in the air.

Imported from Italy, my ass.

Budge is lurking by the staircase. The second officer is sprawled over a sink. No heartbeat. Will edges over to the sink, ostensibly to check on him, really to get enough distance for a clean shot.

But Budge is even more eager than Will guessed, and rushes him before Will can spin around. He tries to garrote Will with loops of piano wire, and Will's hands are caught between the wire and his throat. He damps his hearing hard, and brings his gun up between their ears. Even with the silencer, it’s not meant to be fired that close.

Zone, zone, zone, he prays, and fires. His own hearing shorts out into shrill ringing, but he can feel Budge's bellow of pain. So, not zoned. Budge shoves him away and charges up the stairs. Will fires after him, but between the cuts to his hands, and his hearing affecting his balance, he misses badly.

It isn't until ERT has arrived on the scene and started taking his statement that he remembers why he's here: because of concerns expressed by Budge's friend. Budge's friend, who is a patient of Hannibal's. He knows where Budge is going.

His first thought is that it’s Hannibal. He’ll probably be fine.

His second thought is to realize that ‘probably’ is emphatically not good enough, and oh, this is what it feels like when a member of Will’s tribe is threatened. He only just refrains from running out the door and through downtown Baltimore on foot.

At no point does he think it will solve a lot of problems for him if Hannibal is not fine.

 


 

Hannibal was having such a good day. He fed breakfast to a well-rested Will (a cheese omelette, by special request), then sent him off to eliminate the impulsive, dangerously well-informed, and offensively-forward Tobias Budge (really, he was much like Franklyn in his graceless demands for friendship). He saw Bedelia and talked with her about his singular connection with Will, and how even someone with whom he has more in common on the surface just doesn't compare. He is just rounding off his good day by cutting Franklyn loose, when Tobias charges in with a bleeding ear.

Tobias says, "I've just killed two men," and Hannibal is no longer having a good day. His stomach clenches with a sick horror he has not felt since early childhood, since a time he does not think about.

No, no! Not Will! No!

Franklyn bleats at Tobias like he's a regular person who panicked and made a mistake. Tobias' mistake was coming back into Hannibal's line of sight. He interrupts by breaking Franklyn's neck.

"I was looking forward to that," Tobias complains.

Not as much as I am looking forward to killing you. "I saved you the trouble."

Tobias tosses his coat aside and starts to spin a weighted length of piano wire. Hannibal backs up into the more obstacle-laden part of his office, and then they are fighting for their lives.

Tobias is younger, probably pound-for-pound stronger, and armed with his weapon of choice. Hannibal is on his home territory, with nearly twenty more years of fighting experience, and is suffused with rage. Hannibal won't go so far as to call it a near thing - he collects several blows on purpose for authenticity - but it's a harder fight than he's had in years. He could have done without the stab wound to his leg.

Two kills in ten minutes, and all he feels is a frozen grief that he can truly voice to no one. He limps over to his harpsichord and taps out one of the loveliest melodies he knows: the aria to the Goldberg Variations. There is so much he never got to share with Will.

When his leg heals, he is going to kill everyone.

He's giving Jack Crawford a halfhearted rendition of 'traumatized psychiatrist' when Will walks in, alive, alive, alive.

 


 

Jack is there, taking a statement from Hannibal or some shit. Will doesn't care. Hannibal has blood on his face, bruises and cuts. He's looking at Will like he's seeing the face of God. Will's feet carry him closer until they're facing each other.

"I was worried you were dead," Hannibal says softly.

Will finds he can't say anything back. He closes the gap and grabs Hannibal's shoulders in his shaking hands. He buries his face in the crook of Hannibal's neck and smells him: hurt, bloodied, surprised, happy.

"Uh, Will?" Jack asks behind him. Will pulls back enough to look Hannibal in the eye.

"Budge?"

"Dead."

"Good." Those are all the words Will has left in him. He leans in and kisses Hannibal full on the mouth. Gently, in light of the beating Hannibal's taken, but unequivocal. Claiming.

"Oh, hell," says Jack.

Hannibal stiffens in shock for an instant, then groans and pulls Will against him, deepening the kiss until they're all but crushed together, opening his mouth to Will and licking for Will to do the same. Will's whole body lurches forward when his tongue surges into Hannibal's mouth, tasting him for the very first time. He tastes like he smells: unmistakeable. Will's.

Jack clears his throat. Will growls and rakes his fingers through Hannibal's hair, destroying the remaining hold of whatever stupid, not-Hannibal-smelling stuff he puts in it to make it lie flat.

"Gentlemen."

Hannibal winds his fingers up behind Will's upper back and then tugs lightly on his shirt collar, until Will breaks away and whirls to glare at Jack for interrupting.

Jack holds up placating hands. "May I suggest you get a room?"

Hannibal sniffs, "You may not. But I would like to go home. Come, Will. Take me home." He leads Will by the hand past a half-dozen police officers and FBI agents, variously gawking and smirking. Will ignores them all completely, in favor of trying to reach under the hem of Hannibal's jacket and vest and shirt and why the hell does Hannibal wear so many clothes?

Hannibal deposits Will in the passenger seat of his Bentley and admonishes him, "Just for a few minutes, you must keep your hands to yourself, dear Will. It wouldn't do to come so far only for us to die in a crash, now would it?"

This makes sense. It's torturous, but Will does what his guide asks until they're parked again at Hannibal's house. Then he leaps from the car and all but drags Hannibal into the house.

The soundproofing closes in all around them, and he slams Hannibal up against the wall and kisses him again, deeper, rubbing his tongue against Hannibal's when Hannibal isn't sucking on it. They are both furiously hard; Will can feel his erection rubbing up against Hannibal's, and he slides a knee between Hannibal's legs and pushes one sideways to get in closer, bring Hannibal down a couple of inches so they can grind together.

Only, Hannibal jerks at the contact with his thigh, and gasps in pain. "Bedroom," Hannibal says, and Will nods and helps him limp up the stairs. On the way, he helps Hannibal remove his jacket, his vest, and his belt. He's just tugging Hannibal's shirt out of the waistband of his pants when they reach the door of Hannibal's bedroom. They all but topple through it.

Hannibal starts to fumble with the buttons of his shirt, but he hisses when doing so aggravates a wound on his wrist, and Will rips the offending garment off in a rage, scattering buttons everywhere. Hannibal gapes at him.

"Will, take your clothes off," he orders, and unbuttons his pants. Yes; Will is also wearing too many clothes. It takes him seconds to shuck them all in a heap, because he is a sensible man who wears loose, comfortable things, unlike some people in the room. Hannibal is sitting on the bed to finish pulling off his pants and socks. Will helps him, with a foot, and then pushes Hannibal down onto his back and looks.

Objectively, Hannibal is very good-looking: leaner than the bulky suits make him appear, hard musculature that only comes from a lifetime of discipline, liberally dusted with greying hair. Thick, ruddy, uncut dick that intimidates Will not at all in his present mood, because subjectively? Will just wants him so bad he quakes with it.

Judging by the open-mouthed stare Hannibal gives Will for all of five seconds before yanking him down into another kiss, the feeling is mutual.

When their chests touch, Will rubs ecstatically against all that warm skin and crinkly hair. He nuzzles just behind Hannibal's ear and sniffs deep. His guide smells less hurt now, more happy, and steadily more aroused. Good, good. He licks where he’s smelled, and Hannibal starts to pant. Will can hear Hannibal’s heart racing, and feel it against his own chest.

Hannibal’s hands were roaming all over Will’s back, but now he slides one hand down to cup Will’s hip, and the other between them to enclose both their cocks in his big, hot grip. Will needs both his hands to hold himself up, and still nearly collapses when Hannibal starts to stroke them. Will is leaking so much precome that Hannibal’s grip becomes slippery and gliding in short order.

“Messy boy,” Hannibal teases breathlessly. Will shuts him up with a kiss, hips starting to work in tandem with Hannibal’s hand. Hannibal encourages him by tugging on his hip. On a hard thrust from Will, Hannibal grunts and shifts his hand from Will’s hip to Will’s ass, digging his fingers into the muscle.

Will’s rhythm starts to stutter, and he breaks the kiss to press his forehead to Hannibal’s, breathing in ragged gasps.

“Open your eyes, Will,” Hannibal pleads, “let me see you.”

Will obeys. He feels like he’s going to drown in the raw want on Hannibal’s face. Hannibal licks his lips and urges him, “Come now, Will. Mark me. Make me yours.”

Yes. Will’s mouth falls open and a guttural cry rips out of him, his hips snap forward and he’s coming, all over Hannibal’s hand and belly, his guide, his.

Hannibal strokes him through it, watching Will avidly, rumbling his pleasure in his chest. When Will has finished and fallen onto his elbows, heaving for air, Hannibal clutches Will’s ass bruisingly tight and jerks himself.

“Will,” he rasps, “oh, give me - let me taste -”

It doesn’t take an empathy disorder to know what Hannibal wants. Will shifts his weight onto one arm, and with his other hand he gathers up some of his still-warm release off Hannibal’s stomach. He slips his fingers into Hannibal’s mouth, and Hannibal hums and sucks them eagerly. Will rubs the pads of his fingers against Hannibal’s tongue, and Hannibal groans and spurts between them. Will moans with him, feeling Hannibal’s pleasure echo through him like a second orgasm of his own.

Will has a bright idea, and tugs his fingers out of Hannibal’s mouth (released reluctantly, followed weakly) to scoop up some of their mingled come. He tastes it himself, and Hannibal wheezes, watching him through slitted eyes. They taste good together. Hannibal grabs his hand and licks it clean, uncoordinated and extravagant. Will snuggles against Hannibal’s chest, sticky and sweaty and, he suspects, only briefly sated.

After Hannibal returns Will’s hand, he strokes Will’s back up and down, slow and aimless.

“Can you speak yet?”

Will opens his mouth, then shuts it and shakes his head. He must start to tense up, because Hannibal makes a shushing noise and rubs his back harder.

“It’s alright. I know what's happening: you’re manifesting. I’m flattered that a single threat to me did what months of trauma could not.” He drops a kiss onto the top of Will’s head. “We should remove to Wolf Trap while you still have some control over your hearing. The soundproofing in my house is adequate under normal circumstances, but it won’t be soon. And it will be better to be near your pack.”

Will sighs and starts to lever himself up, grimacing at the tacky mess gluing them together. Not so exciting now the moment has passed.

“Perhaps a shower, first,” Hannibal amends.

Will is half-expecting Hannibal to throw on a robe for the trip to the bathroom, but it seems his buttoned-up guide actually has two modes: overdressed, and blithely naked as the day he was born. He sits heavily on the marble bench in the steam shower, looking on as Will fiddles with the water and squeezes what he hopes is liquid soap onto a fluffy washcloth.

“One of many firsts I imagined differently,” Hannibal mourns. Will abruptly envisions himself spread over the bench, shaking apart while Hannibal eats out his ass. His dick twitches.

Hannibal notices. He reaches for Will without getting up. Will steps between Hannibal’s spread legs and offers him the washcloth. Hannibal spreads foam all over Will’s front, then enfolds Will’s limp, tender cock. Will can feel every soap bubble and every fibre of the cloth; he whimpers as he slowly grows hard again.

When Hannibal moves the cloth Will tries to pull away, but Hannibal lifts his uninjured leg and traps Will with his calf behind Will’s hamstrings. He moves the cloth again and Will squeezes his eyes shut.

“Too much?” Hannibal asks. Will jerks his head in a nod.

“But you’re always taking too much for me. You can do it now. Hold on to me.” Will puts his hands on Hannibal’s shoulders, leaning heavily when Hannibal sets up a gentle, merciless rhythm that turns Will’s knees to jelly.

“Ah-ah,” Hannibal admonishes when Will bites his lip, “I want to hear you. You don’t need words to tell me what I’m doing to you.” He tightens his grip and twists the cloth.

The high-pitched gasp Will makes is embarrassing, but unimportant next to Hannibal’s soft words of praise, and the painful twists of overstimulated pleasure lashing through him. He starts to move into it, whines escaping him every time Hannibal skims the head of his cock.

“That’s it. You’re so beautiful like this. Come for me, sweet Will.” Hannibal cups Will’s balls in his free hand, then strokes behind them to rub his perineum. There might be a bit of guide voice at work there, because while Will hadn’t thought he was close, he abruptly clenches up as he shudders out a second release. It feels like he loses something vital along with it: blood, maybe, or some liquefied part of his brain.

He sags against Hannibal when it’s over, and Hannibal kisses him lavishly while he finishes cleaning them both with the lightest touch he can manage.

Back in the bedroom, Will finds he can barely look at his crumpled clothes without curling his lip in a silent snarl. They reek of gunsmoke, blood, the moist, fecal air of Tobias Budge’s basement, and worst of all Budge himself. The smell of Budge on Hannibal’s clothes is even worse.

Hannibal sees the disgust on his face and bundles all their clothes into a hamper, holding back only the contents of Will’s jacket. For Will he retrieves the same pajamas Will slept in last night.

“The only thing I own with a drawstring,” he explains. “We are not stopping on our way to Wolf Trap; no one will see.” Once Will is dressed, Hannibal drapes the qiviut blanket over Will’s shoulders, then puts on some shockingly-casual slacks and a red sweater, folding more clothes into a large cloth tote bag.

Downstairs, Hannibal adds sensory emergency supplies to the tote bag: a pair of ‘soundproof’ earmuffs, dark goggles, and a surgical mask. “The drive will be difficult,” he says, “use these if you need them.” He pauses, and slips into the kitchen to add a paper sack of coffee beans. “Alright. Now we’re ready to go.”

Outside, the daylight is piercingly bright. Hannibal’s Bentley has one of the quietest engines Will has ever heard, but the purr still sounds like a roar right now. Will was briefly concerned about smelling Budge on the interior, but all he smells is gasoline and leather and Hannibal - too strong, but nothing that will drive his instincts around the bend. He huddles in the blanket in the passenger seat and tries to dial everything down, but his senses are slow to respond, and then only minimally, and they keep trying to creep back up.  

Hannibal spends much of the drive on speakerphone, calling his clients and cancelling every appointment he has for the next week, and Will’s classes too. “It’s times like this I regret allowing my secretary to follow her girlfriend to the United Kingdom,” he says ruefully. Will thinks she probably really did leave; Hannibal is too careful to eat an employee.

Will gives in and puts on the earmuffs about twenty minutes out from Wolf Trap. They help a little. It helps more when they finally arrive and Will can get out of the fucking car. How could he have ever thought it was quiet? He leaves the blanket and the earmuffs on the seat in his hurry to reunite with his dogs. They’re excited to see him several hours earlier than usual. Most of their ears and necks smell faintly of a woman’s hands; Will’s never had active hyperosmia around her before, but he supposes it must be Catherine.

Safe on his land, his senses break free of his shredded control and spiral up, up, up until he can hear everything for what feels like miles, smell thousands of things all around him. His eyes are so sensitive he can't even bear to open them. Overwhelming is putting it mildly.

Hannibal is there, the booming of his heart more critical to Will’s sense of the world right now than the sound of his own. He guides Will inside his little house and sits him down on the bed; the springs squeal when Hannibal climbs gingerly onto it as well. Will crawls up to lie against his chest, letting his guide’s heartbeat fill his ears and push everything else to the periphery: the gentle patter of seven doggy hearts and all their varied snuffling and scratching, the breeze in the naked trees, the scrapes of mice and squirrels snacking in between stretches of torpor, the gurgle of the stream. The smell of Hannibal’s skin is the smell of home, even more so than the smells of Will’s house.

Hannibal has brought the blanket from the car - it smells less like what must be musk ox than it does Will’s semen - and pulls it over them both. Later the space heater will have to be switched on for the dogs’ sake, but for the moment they have this blessed quiet and warmth. Will floats in it, not zoning, but scarcely thinking, either.

He does have one thought, eventually, the same one he did a few days ago: What am I going to do with you? Just the thought of Hannibal at risk tipped Will over an edge that, to be honest, he’s been skirting most of his life. The thought of losing him is anathema, now.

I guess I’d better keep you.

Chapter Text

Will’s speech comes back two days after he manifests, when Hannibal finally gets to suck him for the first time. He would have done it sooner, laid back and encouraged Will to just fuck his mouth, but he finds he wants to savor Will. So he waits until he feels strong enough to spread Will out like a feast beneath him, kiss his mouth red and swollen, taste his skin all over.

He discovered yesterday, to his unending delight, that his theory about Will not bothering with deodorant is correct. Not only that; for all his chest is nearly smooth, Will has adorable tufts of long, fluffy armpit hair. Will is so clean that he has little body odor from afar, but when Hannibal sticks his face under his arms the smell is pure Will, so delicious it leaves Hannibal reeling. He spends an inordinate amount of time there, just breathing him in and getting more and more aroused, until Will tugs at him to get him moving again.

Will has taken his temporary muteness very much in stride, probably due in part to Hannibal’s confidence that it is temporary. Hannibal misses his clever insights, but Will still communicates very well with just his face and hands. And his loud, wordless vocalizations when Hannibal makes love to him. Those are very special.

He makes one, a frustrated huff, when Hannibal skips over his cock (surprisingly large, and a lovely deep rose-pink when hard - such a shame that some troglodyte circumcised him) in favor of sucking and biting at his inner thighs. They’re so creamy-pale, the skin so soft, the little hairs so dark and scattered. Paler still are the backs of Will’s knees; Will giggles when Hannibal licks them, and when Hannibal tongues them firmly he bites his fist.

Hannibal would continue on to worship Will’s fine-boned feet, but they have both been padding around the house all morning, and Hannibal’s hunger for Will does not extend to ingesting dog hair. Instead he settles between Will’s spread legs, and thoroughly licks his scrotum and the sharp creases of his hips before heeding Will’s increasingly pitiful whines and swallowing as much of his cock as he can in one go.

“Aahhaa-aaohh, fuck!” Will half-shouts. “Hey!” he says, pleased, but then Hannibal hums his congratulations with the head of Will’s cock somewhere near his tonsils. Will buries his fingers in Hannibal’s hair and chants, “Oh my God, Jesus fuck that’s so good, Hannibal, shit, I cannot even fucking believe, fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

Clever insights may have to wait a few minutes.

Hannibal swallows Will deeper into his throat and Will makes one of his now-familiar deep, shaky grunts, as if the pleasure has sucker-punched him.

“Oh,” he pants, “my God, Hannibal, your mouth, your fucking throat, Christ it’s so hot.”

Will is the one who feels hot to Hannibal, burning like a brand as Hannibal gluts himself on flesh he could suck forever, but would never bite. Although he might graze the head with his teeth sometime, when Will is watching. Perhaps sitting or standing in the kitchen, with Hannibal kneeling at his feet. Hannibal grunts around his mouthful at this mental image, and presses a hand into his own hardness, encouraging it to wait its turn.

This tactic is not always successful; so far Hannibal has about a thirty percent chance of coming just because he made Will come. This is probably going to be another one, actually; Will’s smell, the feel of his rigid cock sliding in and out of Hannibal’s throat, the taste of the precome he leaks so copiously, all conspire to leave Hannibal’s control in tatters.

Soon enough Will is twisting against the sheets, making little “Ah, ah, ah!” noises, his cock stiffening and swelling still further in Hannibal’s mouth, and then he nearly bows off the bed as he comes with a long, extravagant sigh. As suspected, Hannibal’s abdomen clenches as his own orgasm overtakes him, the experience of Will losing control as pleasurable to Hannibal as any direct stimulation.

This is certainly an easier way for Hannibal to enjoy the beast inside of Will than waiting for an opportunity for Will to kill someone.

He swallows every last drop of Will’s come, swirling it over his tongue like wine. A part of Will he can eat without harming him. He would live on it if he could. He only lets go of Will’s softening cock when Will cringes at one of his swallows.

He clambers up the bed for more sloppy, sleepy kisses.

“Should’ve known the way to get me talking again was to shut you up,” Will mutters.

“If you can call that talking.”

“My past is equal parts boatyards and law enforcement. Fuck is pretty much a whole language on its own.”

“How… monochrome.”

“Heaven forfend,” Will drawls, but there’s a smile in his voice. He sniffs the air. “Did you go off with me again?”

“You’re very compelling in your ecstasy.”

“Usually I go first on purpose, so I can piggyback on all the rest.”

“All the rest?”

Will shrugs. “I’ve only ever slept with women before.”

Hannibal is on the wrong side of forty to get hard again so soon, but his body gives it an earnest try nonetheless. Some of it is the evocative mental image of a younger Will, eagerly servicing some lucky (undeserving) woman with his pink mouth and delicate fingers until she’s had her fill of orgasms, but to be honest the most exciting part is the knowledge that Hannibal is Will’s first male lover. And his last lover, period, he vows to himself.

Will rolls his eyes at the blatant arousal on Hannibal’s face. “Of course you like that."

“Does it please you that I’ve never been guide to a sentinel before?”

“Really? Never?”

“It’s not the same as emergency assistance, or routine grounding exercises for lower-level hypersensitives. The relationship demands a level of commitment I was never interested in incurring before.” Not that all, or even most, guides have sex with their sentinels. That’s just part and parcel of the way Hannibal wants to share everything with Will.

“What changed?”

“I met you.”

Will muses, “You’re right. I do like it.” Certainly his cock does. It’s already swelling again, pressing into Hannibal’s hip. Between Will’s quickening instincts and the end of what Hannibal has quietly hypothesized to be a very long dry spell, Will is virtually insatiable. Hannibal is only too happy to satiate him. Will’s feeble groan when Hannibal takes him tenderly in hand is music to Hannibal’s ears.

 


 

He didn’t know that he was doing it, but Will was right to hold himself back from manifesting for so long. This whole sentinel business would be unbearable without Hannibal. And his land, and his dogs. But mostly Hannibal.

A lot of it is pure fucking bullshit no matter what. His sensory control, impressive all his adult life, is a shambles. His constant low-grade headache is gone, but for the first three days they hole up in Wolf Trap he winds up with a migraine by late afternoon, and has to blindfold himself while Hannibal tries to coax him into nibbling fresh-baked treats. His beloved whiskey tastes like oven cleaner now; he has to wear the surgical mask and goggles to pour it down the sink (maybe it will scour his pipes a little). Will used to think he had to stick to foods that were fairly bland, but he was so wrong; he has the palate of an infant now, and even the plainest foods taste so complex that eating exhausts him. He used to go years between zones, and now almost every day he comes to at least once with Hannibal’s hand on the back of his neck and Hannibal’s soft voice pulling at Will’s awareness. Hannibal has a distinctive, insistent timbre when he’s using his guide skills that makes him even more impossible to ignore than usual.

And the instincts. Like the senses, they’re not exactly new, but Will never had to acknowledge his instincts directly before. Now they’re jacked up to a ludicrous degree. Will can barely let Hannibal out of his sight. He has to consciously relax his dominance over his dogs enough to let them roam freely outside instead of following him around like so many big, furry ducklings. At one point, Hannibal broaches the subject of a grocery run, and Will tackles Hannibal onto his bed and humps against him until he comes on Hannibal’s chest. Will is embarrassed enough about that to allow a grocery delivery, dropped off at the end of his driveway. Later he realizes Hannibal played him to get that precise result, probably including the spunk on his chest.

Because Hannibal? Is fucking loving every minute. He happily admitted, weeks ago, that he likes taking care of Will, but now Will finally gets that he really, really likes it. The look on his face when Will eats his cooking is the same look he gets when he touches Will, which is the same as when Will wakes up in his arms: satisfaction, exhilaration.

That’s another thing: whatever Hannibal gets up to in the night - being stuck in Wolf Trap having curtailed butchering people - he always slips back into bed before morning. And he’s almost always there if Will wakes in the night. Will is beginning to suspect Hannibal spends many nights just holding him and staring at him. Possibly sketching him sometimes while he sleeps. He is well and truly obsessed with Will.

It should be terrifying, especially given that Will knows what Hannibal is. Instead, it’s… comforting, maybe even exciting. Being wanted - loved, even - is a hell of a drug.

He still hasn’t told Hannibal that he knows. The right moment never seems to arrive.

One of Will’s instincts he can satisfy easily enough is patrolling the perimeter of his property every day. The dogs are thrilled to get so many long walks. Hannibal goes with him, of course, and they reconstruct Will’s dials more or less from scratch.

“How many leaves remaining on that tree?” Hannibal points across the stream.

“Seventeen.”

“Can you see the veins on them?”

“Yeah.”

“Dial down until you can’t.”

Scattering his dogs in the woods, tracking each one’s position with his eyes closed, then dialing down until it’s a surprise which directions they come running from when he whistles. Finding the partially-scavenged corpses of wildlife by smell, and trying to determine time of death that way too, rather than surveying the insects.

“Miss Katz told me you wrote the standard monograph on determining time of death by insect activity.”

“My master’s thesis. I’ll never get free of the damn thing, even though Addams and Glicker wrote a much better one.”

“Yours is more concise, and approachable to those with minimal entomological experience,” Hannibal says loyally.

“And it’s less precise for it.”

Hannibal spreads his hands. “The precision of a tool doesn’t matter if no one uses it. There are killers being dragged out into the light because of your work, lives being saved, without you ever being directly involved.”

Will shoves his hands in his pockets. “That’s true.” It just doesn’t mean as much to him as it probably should.

Hannibal notices, and tilts his head slightly. “Profiling taxes you severely, yet you continue to do it. You must receive some benefit in return. Tell me, Will: is it saving lives that you enjoy, or the hunt?”

“I prefer to think of myself as a fisherman,” Will mutters.

“They’re not so different.” Hannibal backs Will up against a tree, then leans in to sniff and nibble at Will’s neck. “One you stalk, the other you lure.” He palms the growing bulge in Will’s jeans. Will’s dick is developing a Pavlovian association with Hannibal’s… everything. “When you set out to capture a killer in your mind’s eye, are you hunting or fishing?”

“Uhn,” Will grunts as Hannibal slips a hand inside his jeans. Of course Hannibal would consider this topic dirty talk. “Both? I let the details come to me at first, but it’s all in the service of chasing the killer down. I guess it’s more hunting.”

“It’s a savage pleasure, isn’t it?” Hannibal fists Will’s cock. “Problem-solving. I find it most stimulating, even secondhand.”

Will yanks Hannibal close by the lapels of his wool coat and moans his reply into Hannibal’s mouth. Everything smells like outdoors and winter and dogs and Hannibal, and for a moment he actually feels really happy. Then Hannibal’s hand speeds up and Will mostly just feels desperately horny.

 


 

Like all good things, their idyll in Wolf Trap comes to an end. Will’s control over his newly-heightened senses and instincts grows by leaps and bounds, and after a successful grocery run to the town of Wolf Trap proper, Hannibal pronounces Will safe to return to work.

“Do you think I’m okay to drive?” Will glances out the window at his green station wagon. Two FBI trainees, hoping to curry Jack’s favor (and, Hannibal judges, meet the legendary Professor Graham, whose classes are always booked solid within minutes of registration opening up), were dispatched to pick up Will’s keys, drive into Baltimore, drive separately back to Wolf Trap, and then finally drive away again. It took them the better part of a day.

“I would prefer to drive you, at least for another week or so, and for you to ride with others during the day if you are called out of class.”

“You’d really keep staying out here?”

“There are two nights when I have early morning appointments the next day, and so would rather you stay with me in Baltimore, but otherwise yes, of course.” A week of unfettered access to Will - his home, his diet, his bed, his mind - has only left Hannibal craving more.

Although he does miss his kitchen. And his special freezer.

 


 

Will is beginning to see why Hannibal turned to a life of murder. Everything stinks. From the scorched dust and dead flies trapped in the overhead lights, to the goaty bodies of the students, to the rancid frying grease in the air of the cafeteria, Will’s stomach is permanently clenched with disgust for once, instead of anxiety.

Even Alana’s delicate, powdery perfume, applied so lightly it was barely detectable before, is now so strong that Will has to stay on the other side of his office. She’s mortified, of course.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think,” she says, scrubbing ineffectually at her neck. “God, I worked with Hannibal for years and he never said anything.”

“I’m sure Hannibal has a better handle on that dial than I do,” Will assures her, “I’ve only been spinning it for a week.”

Alana’s embarrassment is overtaken by anger and concern. “I heard. I’m sorry, Will. I know you didn’t want this. Does Jack know?”

“Jack saw me sniff Hannibal before macking on him and then disappearing with him for a week, so yeah, I’m pretty sure he knows.”

“And you’re… okay, with this development between you and Hannibal?” Alana sounds like she’s none too pleased with her former mentor’s behaviour, but doesn’t want to take that out on Will.

Will looks at her ear and says, “Yeah. In retrospect, it was… developing, for a while.”

It’s the wrong thing to say. She blurts out, “By rights he should have referred you to someone else as soon as he realized the attraction.”

“Officially, I’m neither Hannibal’s patient, nor his client.”

“Which is why he won’t lose his license over this, but he’s still my friend and colleague, and he is going to get a piece of my mind.” She shakes herself and says briskly, “But that’s not why I came in here. I was wondering if you wanted to eat lunch in the atrium? I guarantee it smells better than this office wing.”

The picture of Hannibal affecting to be chastened by a lecture on ethics from tiny Alana, when there are human body parts on his property somewhere (Will is betting on a secret basement), is so comical that he snickers out loud and agrees to go eat with her.

 


 

His second morning back at work, Hannibal gets a call from Will.

“Hey,” Will says, and it doesn’t have the easy warmth it had when Will said it less than two hours ago in Hannibal’s kitchen, arms wrapped around Hannibal’s waist and cheek pressed against his back while Hannibal made strawberry crepes. Reunited with the opportunity, Hannibal hesitates to cook with human flesh around Will, lest he recognize the smell from his work.

“Hello, Will. How are you?”

“Been better. Jack wants to take me to a crime scene in Grafton, West Virginia.”

“I advise against it.”

“There are no more insults to my senses there than here - fewer, actually, since it sounds like it’s outdoors.”

“What about the insult to your psyche?”

“What if I can stop this one?”

“There will always be another, and another after that. You don’t have to consume yourself to catch them.”

“I won’t. I’m just calling because it’s a three-and-a-half hour drive, so I might be getting back late.”

Hannibal sighs minutely. “If it’s after eight, come to my house. Before, come to my office.”

Four interminable hours later, he gets another call, this time from Jack Crawford.

“Will zoned at the crime scene. I think it was some blood that dripped onto his face.”

“Did any get into his eyes or mouth?” Hannibal demands, because declaring his wish to see Jack roasted whole with an apple in his mouth would be counterproductive.

“No, just his cheek, and we cleaned it up. The problem, Doctor, is he’s still zoned. I have basic rescue skills but they’re getting me nowhere. Do you want me to take him to a hospital or to you?”

Hannibal’s fingers tighten until the phone creaks. “Bring him to my office, please.”

He’s an automaton during his last two appointments for the day. Luckily he’s almost always an automaton with all his clients that aren’t Will, so they don’t notice anything amiss.

Jack marches in with Will slung over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. “I believe this belongs to you, Doctor?”

“Lay him down on the couch, here.” The two of them get Will situated. He stares into space, barely blinking.

“Leave us.”

“He still hasn’t told me anything about the crime scene.”

“Then you may wait in the waiting room. Leave us.” It’s as much for Jack’s safety as Will’s privacy. Hannibal can’t even bring himself to look at the man right now.

When they’re alone, Hannibal sits on the couch with Will. He removes Will’s hat and scarf, unzips his jacket, and unbuttons his flannel shirt. He shifts Will until they’re lying on their sides, facing each other. He places one hand in its customary position at the nape of Will’s neck, and the other over Will’s heart. He touches his forehead to Will’s, and starts talking.

He begins with his usual zone recovery script. “It is 7:30 PM. You’re in Baltimore, Maryland. Your name is Will Graham. My name is Hannibal Lecter. You are here with me. We are here together. It’s time to come back now, Will. Listen to my voice, and follow it back.” But Will is very far gone this time; this zone is almost as severe as the one he had after killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and has been allowed to last for much longer. Hannibal finds his one-sided conversation wandering.

“I should have been there with you, darling. Had I known Jack would return you to the field so soon, I would have insisted on accompanying you to work. Certainly I will make it very clear to him that I will be present at all crime scenes in the future. I almost hope he tries to protest; I should like to observe his wife’s reaction when she got wind of it.”

He keeps going, slipping into Italian as he describes Will’s beauty. He would not embarrass Will by saying it to him in English, but Will’s face and form are in the first order of beautiful things Hannibal loves, second only to Will’s mind. He confides to Will all the sexual acts he yet hopes to engage in: getting Will to penetrate him, and penetrating him in kind, with tongue and fingers and cock. Blindfolding Will, stopping his ears, attuning him so closely to Hannibal’s touch he can play him with the heat of his hand. Marking every surface in every room of both their houses with memories of pleasurable encounters, even - Hannibal shivers at the wickedness of it - the kitchens.

(If Jack Crawford, who once served in Italy, is listening at the door, it serves him right.)

In Lithuanian, he whispers his most secret hopes: that someday he might see Will kill again. That he and Will might kill together. That they might partake of the flesh of a shared kill.

“What language is that?” Will murmurs.

Hannibal smiles in relief. “Lithuanian, the language of my childhood. Though Italian is my literal mother tongue.”

“And you wander in and out of French when you cook.”

“Only in your company, mon cher.” It occurs to Hannibal that they are no longer lying down. In fact, they are no longer in Hannibal’s office. They are standing on a beach. The moisture in the air gives a vicious bite to the cold.

There is a drop of blood on Will’s cheek. He appears not to notice it, looking at Hannibal fondly. “How many other languages do you speak?”

“Enough Japanese to please my aunt, and enough Russian to satisfy Soviet officials,” Hannibal says absently, turning around.

It’s a totem pole of bodies. There must be more than a dozen of them, but it’s difficult to count them exactly because they are dismembered and rearranged, a patchwork of limbs and torsos and heads, with six outstretched… appendages two-thirds of the way up. There is a loose temporal progression, the lowest parts skeletal or mummified, the upper ones pale and decaying. Topmost is a freshly-killed man, folded into a neat package with his feet beside his head. It’s his blood dripping down in icy, gelid rivulets. His blood that zoned Will, though he was doubtless primed for it by the rest of the - it seems flippant to call this a tableau.

“This is someone’s life’s work,” Hannibal says. “Their magnum opus.” Though his total kill count is much higher, all Hannibal’s displays are improvisations by comparison. He feels humbled in the presence of the glacial patience this piece required.

There are open graves around them, but no marks suggesting a support frame. “How on earth did he assemble it without a scaffolding?”

“I’m - he’s good with rope. I - he put it all together on the ground and then pulled it up with a truck.”

This is unacceptable. Hannibal forgets his admiration. He turns back to Will.

“Will. Your name is Will Graham.”

“I know,” Will says, too quickly.

“You imagined yourself as this man to catch him, but now you have learned what you can, and may leave this place. He deserves only as much room in your mind as you need to bring him down.”

“How did you get here, anyway?”

Hannibal takes Will’s hands in his. “I came looking for you. Come with me now. It's time to go.”

Will smiles sweetly and leans up on his toes for a kiss. Hannibal gives it to him. He would give Will everything.

When they part, they are standing in Hannibal's warm office. Gone are the waves, and the reek of the totem pole, though a slight trace of the latter clings to Will’s coat. Will blinks, and his posture goes rigid. “What the hell just happened?”

“I believe that what you saw distressed you to the point that you started to disassociate. While your mind was trying to escape, the sensation of the blood hitting you was disproportionately shocking, and you zoned.”

“Oh, Jesus.” Will rubs his eyes. “Okay, but how did we get from there to here?”

“Jack brought you. It was the least he could do.” Hannibal bites back a scathing list of ways in which this falls short of the bare minimum of acceptable behaviour from Jack. Now is not the time.

“What? But… you were there.”

“In your mind. It’s been known to happen, between sentinels and guides: joint spiritual experiences. Dream-sharing is the most common type, but visions are another reported occurrence.”

Will blanches. “I am so fucking sorry in advance, if you end up in any of my nightmares.”

“Likewise.” The thought of Will visiting the winter when Hannibal happened freezes his blood in his veins.

Will looks around. “You said Jack brought me?”

“Yes.”

“Is he still here?”

“I put him in the waiting room.”

Will stares. “You put Jack Crawford in time-out?”

“High time someone did. He’s too careless with you.”

Will crosses his arms. “I’m responsible for myself.”

“By using your unique abilities, Jack takes on a responsibility regarding your unique vulnerabilities.”

Will frowns. “We’ll talk about this more later. I need to tell him what I learned in Grafton.”

Jack is not so deferential as the last time Hannibal made him cool his heels in the waiting room. Perhaps the fact that he has been in there nearly an hour has something to do with it. He interrogates Will’s insights curtly, and leaves when there is nothing more Will can tell him.

“Will.” Will turns to look at Hannibal. “When I asked you how the killer erected the totem pole, you started to say “I” in your answer, then changed it to “he”. Do you always identify so completely with the killers in your reconstructions?”

Will bites his lip and nods.

“That worries me. Saving lives is not worth losing your own, losing yourself.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time. I always come back to myself.”

“Not always. So far. And you’ve been through a major transition recently. I think you should have a formal neurological exam.”

Will shakes his head violently. “No way. It’s bad enough that my going full sentinel is an open secret at work. I don’t need it spelled out on paper.”

As Hannibal expected. He falls back to his actual goal: “Then I want to start coming with you to crime scenes.”

Will raises his eyebrows. “That’s not really compatible with your 24-hour cancellation policy.”

“I will explain to my clients that I’m consulting for the FBI, and refer any who are unwilling to accept the change.” It goes without saying that he will not charge his clients for appointments he misses on short notice; that would be unthinkably gauche.

Will is entirely too pale. Hannibal realizes he probably hasn’t eaten since breakfast. He represses a snarl. The FBI is lucky he doesn’t persuade Will to quit here and now.

“Come,” he says, “let’s go home. I’ll make you dinner.”

Will swallows queasily. “No meat, okay? I can still smell the people-jerky.”

Were Hannibal ever to make a person into jerky for some unfathomable reason, the result would be far more palatable than the mummified remains just above the base of the totem pole. But he can understand why Will would make the association. “Can’t say I blame you. At this hour, I was planning on sandwiches.”

“Sounds perfect.”

 


 

One perk of having an entrenched reputation as a freak, Will reflects, is people take his freakish behaviour in stride. Zoned at a crime scene and had to be carried away like a sack of potatoes? Big deal; a week and a half ago he started making out with a murder witness. There’s no one left for Will to shock. He doesn’t even get any sidelong stares when he walks into the lab the next day.

He watches a mummified torso roll by, reunited with one arm and one leg, and considers the additional fact that he works in a field where the bar for freakish behaviour is set very, very high.

Someone has printed out two large posters of the totem pole: as facing the ocean, and as facing the woods. Identification labels are being affixed to the posters as heads are identified. The bodies that weren’t buried on the beach were robbed from graves. No foul play is suspected for any of the stolen bodies.

“They’re all murders,” says Will. Just another day at the office.

 


 

Hannibal’s insistence that Will can hunt killers without losing himself to them leads him to try a new tack: cobbling the known facts into a slideshow like he would for a class. It’s trivial to visualize an audience and start presenting, as if this is a cold case and he’s challenging his students to see something new. Only this time, he’s challenging himself.

“This killer’s design was to remain unnoticed - a ghost. That is what excited him.” Both like and unlike Hannibal, who wants to be very much noticed but remain uncaught, unidentified. A fairy tale monster. Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.

“Until now. Why is he coming into the light?” Hannibal is risking everything for love of Will. Will still doesn’t know what his endgame is, or if he even has one. This killer also wants to be known, to make public his deeds. For someone? For everyone?

“Will?” Alana’s voice jars him out of his reverie. “I don’t want to interrupt if you’re rehearsing…”

“No, no, it’s fine. Come on in.” He shuts down the slideshow and brings up the lights.

“I heard about yesterday.” Alana’s tone is kind. Alana is always kind. Why couldn’t Will have fallen for her? “How are you doing?”

“Hannibal plans to start chaperoning me as well as chauffeuring me, so, peachy.” He tries to keep the whine out of his voice, and doesn’t really succeed.

“Good. He should. Nobody should have to face the kinds of things you do alone.”

Hannibal is one of the things I have to face. Even in his own head, his heart’s not in it. The Ripper never felt like other killers to Will; he always took a covert enjoyment in reviewing the evidence. And now he belongs to Will, in some intangible but bone-deep way. That does take some facing.

 


 

The next day, Skeleton Number One is identified as Fletcher Marshall, an unsolved beating death from 1973. Marshall is where the killer began, and Joel Summers is where the killer ended. Will is just starting to think about that when Jack pulls him into his office.

Hannibal is there too. Will takes a seat beside him, facing Jack’s desk.

Jack opens a cabinet and pulls out a small photo album. “I want to show you boys something.” He sits down across from them and opens the album.

The first photo is of Jack, younger and thinner, in army fatigues, surrounded by soldiers. It’s a candid photo; tired smiles on dirty faces, arms slung over shoulders. Two men have their arms around each other’s waists instead. One of them is wearing very familiar dark goggles.

Jack points to these two men. “Blackwood and Majeed. Majeed enlisted as a three-sense hypersensitive, went full sentinel in a foxhole. Blackwood stepped up as his guide, turned out to be good at it, and they were bonded in less than a week.”

Next page. Same type of photo, different men, and now some women, including one in noise-reducing earmuffs, sitting on the shoulders of the biggest man in the company. “Remington and Pace. Remington was a four-sense hypersensitive and a medic; Pace was one of her nurses. Remington’s hearing came online sometime during an eight-hour trauma surgery. Pace already had guide training. Bonded within a month.”

It goes on like that, men and women manifesting as sentinels under stress, finding guides among their comrades. The same quick-and-dirty zone rescue techniques that Bella Crawford popularizes today owe much of their origins to what Jack Crawford and his people hammered out through trial and error.

“By the time I left the service, I had a nickname. I bet you can guess what it was.” Jack turns the page. A number of the sentinels and guides from the previous photos are gathered around a seated Jack, all of them in civvies. Pace is kneeling, and kissing Jack’s wedding ring.

“The Bondfather,” Will says.

“Very good.”

“It’s an interesting retrospective, Jack, but I don’t quite understand the point,” says Hannibal.

“The point, gentlemen, is don’t bullshit a bullshitter. I ran interference for enough bonded pairs to know one when I see one. Dr. Lecter, why did you let your newly-bonded sentinel go out into a high-risk situation alone?”

Will and Hannibal look at each other. Will clenches his jaw and looks at Jack. “Because I asked him to. You know I’ve been having a tough time adjusting to my change in status. I wanted to prove I could hack it on my own.”

Jack sighs heavily. “None of us hack it on our own, Will. The only thing you have to prove to me is that you have a modicum of self-preservation in you. From now on, I want Dr. Lecter to accompany you to crime scenes. Is that going to be a problem, Doctor?”

Hannibal shakes his head. “No. In fact, I was planning to ask that very thing the next time I saw you. You beat me to it.”

“Then we’re all on the same page. Glad to hear it. See you tomorrow.” They’re dismissed. Over his shoulder as they leave, Will sees Jack turning to the final pages in the album. They’re all baby photos.

The door closes and Will grabs Hannibal’s sleeve. “I’d rather have this talk in your office than at home,” he hisses.

Hannibal licks his lips. “I agree.”

 


 

It’s an uncomfortable sensation, having one’s manipulations brought to light. Hannibal has been wondering lately, what it would be like for Will to discover he is the Chesapeake Ripper; now he thinks he would be content to wait a long time to find out.

Will is icily silent on the ride to Hannibal’s office. Once there, Will goes to the window and looks out at the falling snow. Hannibal stands beside him.

“Did you know?” Will says at last.

“I knew it was possible when I saw the stag at Christmas. I knew it had happened when I saw the totem pole in your mind.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? And before that, why didn’t you warn me?”

He steels himself and gives a rare thing: an unvarnished truth about himself. “I wanted it. I can think of no fate I would like better than to be bound to you. And I couldn’t risk the possibility that you might retreat.”

Will finally turns and pins Hannibal with his eyes. “Retreat? Retreat from what? From us, from you and me?”

“Yes, but even more so from who and what you are meant to be. Who else could guide your becoming?”

“Explain.”

“No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them. By that love we see potential in our beloved. Through that love we allow our beloved to see their potential. Expressing that love, our beloved's potential comes true.” Hannibal learned these words at his final initiation ceremony at Soleil Bleu, after passing the last of his guide exams. He never grasped their full import until he met Will.

Will stalks forward, and Hannibal gives ground (luring) until he backs into his desk. “You’re saying that you tricked me into a - a metaphysical, biochemical marriage because you love me?”

“It was no trick; bonds can only form if both parties are compatible. And… yes.”

“That was - rude, Hannibal. To do that without my consent.” Will flattens his hands on Hannibal’s chest.

“It was much more than rude. You would be well within your rights to file criminal charges. Tell me, why did you choose instead to lie for me?”

“Because I’m not angry that it happened; I’m angry that you didn’t tell me it was happening.” Will reaches behind Hannibal and sweeps everything on the desk to the floor with a crash. He shoves Hannibal down and back.

“Would you like me to help you with your anger, Will?” Hannibal breathes.

Will climbs onto the desk and leans in until Hannibal can feel the heat of Will’s lips near his own. “Yes.” He crushes their mouths together. Hannibal moans into the kiss, opening for it eagerly.

Will starts grinding into Hannibal, aggressive little rolls of his hips, as up above he grabs Hannibal’s hair and crudely thrusts his tongue into Hannibal’s mouth. Hannibal tries his best to suck on Will’s tongue, to part his legs and thrust up against Will, to communicate without words his contrition (false - this is an unbelievably gratifying outcome) and submission (true - Will is astounding in his sudden dominance).

Will pulls his head up enough to say, “Tell me you have something I can fuck you with.”

Hannibal reaches into the top drawer of his desk and produces a small bottle of odorless lubricant. It’s still sealed; he stored it there his first day back from their week in Wolf Trap, in hopes of just such an opportunity as this.

Will kneels up and yanks Hannibal’s trousers to his knees, then shoves Hannibal’s legs against his chest. He wastes no time slicking his fingers and jabbing them into Hannibal, one then two, sliding them in and out just enough to get Hannibal stretched and coated. The brisk preparation has Hannibal clutching the sides of the desk as if he might float away on his spiralling pleasure.

“You like that?” Will pants, and the earlier note of dangerous displeasure in his voice is growing hot and vague. “You wanna be fucking used?”

“Yes,” Hannibal groans. Will shoves in a third finger, and Hannibal’s cry echoes in his office. “Oh! Yes, Will, do it.”

Will shoves his pants down and coats his erection, then lines himself up and works into Hannibal’s ass in jagged thrusts that feel like they’re squeezing the air from Hannibal’s lungs. Will shoulders Hannibal’s calves and sets up a fast, hard rhythm. It may be intended as punishing, but it’s wonderful.

“Fuckin’ saw the stag at Christmas - ‘oh, just ignore it’ - fuck you,” Will mutters. His pounding threatens to send Hannibal skidding right off the desk.

“It was magnificent, Will.”

“What is it? What the hell does it mean? Christ, you’re so tight.” Hannibal feels tight, like Will is forcing open a new place for himself in Hannibal’s body just as he has in Hannibal’s heart.

“It’s- ah! It’s us. You and me,” Hannibal echoes Will’s earlier phrasing. He can almost see it: Will crowned with horns, enrobed by Hannibal’s black wings. “Two becoming one.”

“And you want that? With me?” Will demands, and now they’re getting somewhere, scraping through the annoyance and frustration to the fear. Will is not a man used to being wanted for who he is, as opposed to how he looks or what he can do.

Hannibal huffs out a breathless laugh as Will bottoms out with a smack of skin on skin. “Dear Will. I’ve forgotten how to want anything else.”

“Why?” Will begs as much as asks.

Hannibal could say something philosophical at this juncture, about how Love pays you a visit or He doesn’t. He could say that, and his flippancy would probably earn him the irritated reaming of his life. But instead, he looks right at Will, and consciously shrugs off his person suit, and says, “Because you and I are just alike.”

Will flinches and his eyes widen, as if Hannibal struck him. His rhythm slows but doesn't stop. “No,” he says feebly.

“Yes.” Hannibal reaches up with one hand and presses it over Will’s heart. He can’t hear it, but he can feel when it stutters, skips, and then starts pounding along in perfect synchronicity with Hannibal’s own.

Will can hear it and feel it. He gasps. His hips twitch of their own accord.

Hannibal doesn’t have to reach for his guide voice. It’s right there in his mouth. “As I am yours, you are mine, Will. My sentinel.”

Will keens, and brings Hannibal’s hand from his chest to his face, kissing and nuzzling his palm. He’s still looking at Hannibal; his eyes are as wet as Hannibal’s feel. He leans down, folding Hannibal nearly in two.

“Say it again.” Will’s voice cracks.

Hannibal buries his fingers in Will’s curls and grips tightly. “Mine,” he growls, love dripping from fang and claw.

Will's hips snap forward, and he throws his head back and comes with a long, shuddering, voiceless sigh. He only sags in the cradle of Hannibal’s legs for a moment before gingerly pulling out, and sliding his fingers into the wet mess of Hannibal’s ass.

Hannibal loses his grip on Will’s hair and claps his hand to the desk again. Will’s fingers are not so harsh as when they were prepping him, but no less firm. They twist and glide, stroke and press. They find Hannibal’s now-tender prostate and pulse against it until Hannibal is damp with sweat and seeing stars.

“Tell me, Will,” he says raggedly.

“Tell you what?” Will whispers. “Tell you how you feel with my come leaking out of you? How you cling to my fingers like you want my cock back?”

Hannibal moans and nods. It’s true, he wants that hot length inside him again, although the precision of Will’s fingers is devastating as well.

“Tell you how I didn’t even have enough mad in me to get through a single proper hatefuck? Even though you fucking bonded us without telling me?” He prods particularly deep at this last, and Hannibal grunts. The coiling tension of arousal low in his belly pulls tighter and tighter.

“Tell you that I can still hear our hearts beating as one?” Will gulps, and confesses, “Or how about I tell you that you smell like home, and that I’ve never belonged anywhere like I belong with you?”

That does it. Hannibal clamps down around Will’s fingers and comes so hard his vision disintegrates into black glitter.

When he returns to himself, Will is rummaging in the same desk drawer Hannibal produced the lube from. He pulls out a package of wet wipes with a pleased noise.

“I figured if you had lube, you’d have these.”

“You know me so well,” Hannibal says, beaming. Will wipes down Hannibal’s skin; his clothes are something of a lost cause. He will be sure to tip his dry cleaner extra. He eases himself off the desk with a wince.

“How are you doing?”

“That was entirely worth any minor soreness I sustained,” Hannibal assures him. “How do you feel?”

Will blushes. “Well, I’m not angry anymore.”

Hannibal pauses, then asks thoughtfully, “Do you think you could pretend to be angry enough to do that again sometime?”

Will narrows his eyes. “I have faith in your ability to annoy me into doing it again for real.”

 


 

There isn’t much point being angry at Hannibal for being Hannibal. If Will is prepared to overlook the minor detail of Hannibal being a cannibalistic serial killer, it seems silly to hold a grudge over him being a manipulative shit.

And the fact that he apologized for manipulating you by letting you fuck him into next week, on his desk, has nothing to do with it. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

Still, like the bond, the forgiveness happens without any conscious decision on Will’s part. Speaking of the bond, now that Will knows he swears he can feel it, a constant subaudible awareness of Hannibal’s pulse that must be how people with baseline hearing perceive their own heartbeats, even as Will rides with Jack all the way to Grafton to arrest Laurence Wells. Another decent thing about Jack: he understands that with all the work Will puts into profiling, he wants to be there for the collar even though he’s not needed.

Face to face with the totem pole maker, smug old lizard propped up in a La-Z-Boy, Will stumbles onto a new (or maybe very old) vein of anger. He struggles with it for a second, then decides the hell with it. He lets the lash fly, uncoiling with a crack.

“He was your son. Joel Summers.”

“What?” rasps Wells. Jack shoots Will a surprised glance, but doesn’t interfere.

Will crouches next to the chair to watch the bite of his words. Wells shrinks away from him. “You thought the woman you loved was having Fletcher Marshall’s baby when she should’ve been having yours, but you got it the wrong way around. Eleanor chose to raise him as Fletcher Marshall’s child rather than yours, so maybe she saw what’s in your heart.”

Jack adds, in a heavy, righteous tone, “You didn’t secure your legacy, Mr. Wells; you murdered it.”

Will stands up to deliver the coup de grace. “In fact, your one act as a father was to destroy your son.”

Wells looks into the distance and says nothing more, just weakly pounds the arm of his chair a couple of times.

It’s a bitter knowledge Will has acquired, that psychopaths can still have a fault line of love. He could have used this knowledge to bring down Hannibal, if Hannibal had not cracked Will in kind.

On the drive back, Jack works his way around to saying, “So, you pretty much snapped that old guy over your knee. You think he’ll live until his trial?”

Will looks out the window. “No.”

“Never seen you do that before.”

“Maybe I was just mad about losing most of a day, zoned on what turned out to be a mean old man’s monument to that one time a woman turned him down.”

Jack chuckles. “Fair enough. So everything’s okay, then?”

Will smiles weakly. “Everything’s fine.” He settles back into the seat and closes his eyes, letting Jack drive Will back toward the homing beacon of Hannibal’s monstrous heart.

Chapter Text

Will’s hands and feet are freezing, but he has a bounce in his step as he returns to the house. Three big fish is quite a haul for this time of year. He stows the fish in the sink and then hangs his waders and the rest of his gear to dry. When he comes back to the kitchen, there's a steaming mug of coffee on the table. He smiles at it and starts gutting the first fish.

Hannibal’s arms wrap around Will’s middle from behind. He props his chin on Will’s shoulder. “Your knife skills are much better than your knife.”

“Hey, this knife has history,” Will retorts. “I’ve been cutting up my catches with it since I was a kid.”

“And now you are a man, and it is time to put away childish things, especially when those things hurt your guide on a spiritual level.”

“Do you really want me getting scales and fish guts all over one of your hand-tempered Japanese art pieces?”

“They’re made to be used.” Hannibal spreads one big hand low on Will’s abdomen, and gropes Will’s chest with the other, making his double entendre very clear.

“Does the filleting knife in the set come with a plastic sheath, so it can be safely stored in the odds-and-ends drawer?” Will grins when he feels Hannibal’s full-body wince. “There you go. I’ll keep cleaning them with this knife, and we can get them ready for cooking with your knives.”

“Such as I have here,” Hannibal sighs. “Why ever did I decide to have the kitchen renovated after the upstairs bedroom and bathroom?”

“Ahem: ‘Having no kitchen at all will be much more survivable with the diversions of a large bed and bathtub than without.’ Your exact words.”

Hannibal kisses his neck. “So they were.” He watches Will relieve the three fish of their sharp bones (garbage), and innards and heads (dog food). “You don’t save the cheeks?”

“Fish don’t have cheeks.”

“Au contraire. Les meilleurs morceaux du poisson sont les joues.” Hannibal fetches one of his own knives, which have replaced Will’s meager, mismatched collection, and a skewer. Hardly seeming to touch the fish heads with the knife, he flicks the six ‘cheeks’ free and threads them onto the skewer. “I shall serve them en brochette before the main course tonight.”

Will wonders if Hannibal ever feels the strangeness of it, trying to graft small, ragged Will and his small, ragged life onto Hannibal’s own life, which is all about making everything as grand and operatic as humanly possible. Or maybe Hannibal is like one of Tolkien’s hobbits, so devoted to excess and quality precisely because he can go without, and has. The heyday of the Soviet Union was probably not a good time to be a Lithuanian orphan.

“What are you thinking about?”

“...Fitting together.”

Hannibal gives him a sly smile. “Finish cleaning those, and your hands, and then maybe we can practice fitting together some more.”

Will rolls his eyes and steals a slurp of Hannibal’s coffee, getting fish blood all over the mug.

 


 

There’s a crime scene in Greenwood, Delaware. Hannibal goes with Will, but Will gets to drive. Will is so pleased with this he finds himself humming snatches of music and drumming on the wheel.

“I didn’t realize driving was so important to you,” Hannibal comments.

Will chuckles. “What, you couldn’t see how grumpy I was about that, on top of all my other layers of grumpiness?” A little more seriously, he says, “Yeah, it was a big deal for me to get a handle on my hearing around engines - riding with my dad, riding the bus to school. And then later, getting to help my dad at his work and earn a little extra money, or do the same with a job somewhere else - I needed to be able to drive to do any of that. And sometimes it was nice just to get away for a bit.” Out to beaches or riversides, whatever body of water drew the boaters his dad worked for, letting himself be soothed by the rushing of waves or currents - too big and complex to zone on.

“Driving is a symbol of your control over your senses.”

“More than a symbol - a functional sign. Honest signalling.”

“Like peacocks. There is no way for a peacock to fake a healthy tail; he just has to be good enough at being a peacock to have a healthy tail.”

“Pretty much, although the sign was mostly for myself. There were never many peahens in the picture.”

“And no fellow peacocks, either?”

“Not until you.”

“Were your classmates all blind?”

Will flushes. “Thanks. But, um, most of those who would have agreed with you I kept at a distance, I guess. I wasn’t above using my senses and empathy to make myself more or less invisible in school.” He remembers collecting academic prizes at the end of the school year, having to walk up to the front of the auditorium (his dad would’ve had a fit if Will let that much money slip away out of shyness) and listen to the other kids - and some of the teachers - ask each other who he was, as if they’d never seen his face before even though he’d been there for months. In those moments, he was always torn between self-congratulation at his own successful ghosthood, and a wistful longing for someone who would storm his forts and know him anyway.

Well, he sure has that at last, and how. Hannibal looks at him, affectionately curious, and says, “Is that why you so often have a defiant edge to you? You are no longer interested in being invisible?”

Will nods slowly. “I suppose. I’ve built a life I chose for myself, and I won’t have to drop it at a moment’s notice, so, people can learn to deal with me or not.” He’s here, he’s weird (and queer, as it turns out), get used to it? And they have. His coworkers barely remarked on his manifesting as a sentinel and bonding with his guide, beyond Alana’s careful inquiries into Will’s wellbeing and Beverly’s cheerful congratulations. Beverly’s helping him move a Hannibal-approved bed into the upstairs bedroom tomorrow, actually.

The turnoff comes up for Greenwood. Will puts away his comfortable domestic planning. It’s go time.

 


 

The murdered woman’s bedroom is very small, papered in grandmotherly roses, and girlishly decorated with photographs of horses and what might have been friends and family before the killer scratched their faces out. The woman herself dominates the room, face split in a Glasgow smile, lying in a pool of blood.

“Her name was Beth LeBeau,” says Brian Zeller. “I’ll know for sure after you’re done and I can check her out, but it looks like she drowned on her own blood.” Hannibal concurs, but he doesn’t give Zeller the satisfaction of saying so out loud; Will has intimated that the two of them frequently butt heads.

“Okay,” says Jack, “everybody out.”

Everyone files out except Hannibal, who looks at Will. “Does it disturb your process to be watched?” He finds he is loathe to shut Will away.

“Indoors, generally. The bigger problem is people talking. If they’re not in the room, they can’t talk.”

“If I promise to keep silent, may I stay?”

Will purses his lips and nods. Hannibal retreats into the corner of the room farthest from all the blood. He tries to broadcast invisibility. No doubt Will was better at it as a youth.

Will does in fact ignore Hannibal after a sidelong glance. He looks all around the room, breathing deeply - through his nose, Hannibal is pleased to note, incorporating his newly sharpened sense of smell. At length his eyes close.

Will is neither silent nor still as he walks in his mind through the reconstruction. He mumbles things under his breath, and twitches constantly, especially his hands. Hannibal feels fascinated and privileged, as if he is watching a great artist or composer in the act of creation. Will is creating a vision of the past, viewable only to himself, dedicated to the victim.

He really must take Will to an art gallery sometime.

He begins to worry when Will whimpers. He knows for sure something is wrong when Will moves - drifts, as in a dream - to stand so he can look at Beth Lebeau’s face from the front. When Will starts to sink to his knees, reaching out as if to grab the dead woman, Hannibal acts.

He darts forward and catches Will’s shoulders just before he makes contact with the body. Will jerks violently and looks up at Hannibal with a chilling lack of recognition.

“Have you seen Beth?” The borrowed desolation in Will’s voice makes Hannibal’s skin crawl.

Hannibal nods slowly and points at the corpse.

Will’s face crumples. “That’s not her. I can’t find her. I can’t find anyone.” Hannibal pulls Will to his feet, away from the nearly-contaminated crime scene. Will buries his face in Hannibal’s chest and sobs silently, once, twice. When he sucks in a breath, the pained tension leaves his body, replaced entirely by confused tension.

“Hannibal?”

Hannibal sighs with relief. “Will.”

“Did I zone?”

“No. It seemed… like you got lost for a moment. I thought it best to pull you away before you touched anything.”

“Good call.” From the way Will’s voice warms, he notices that Hannibal also kept his promise not to speak.

“Your projection of the killer seemed… terribly sad.”

“She was. She-” Will’s voice hitches. “God, I thought I had some lonely times in my life.”

“What makes you sure it’s a woman?”

Will hesitates. “If it’s a man, he wasn’t… attracted to Beth LeBeau. The killer came looking for their friend. But it feels like a woman to me.”

“Did you smell her?”

“Maybe.” Will furrows his brow and closes his eyes again as he sniffs. He opens them again, and squats down next to Beth LeBeau without touching her. He sniffs again. “I smell something - sickness, I think. Will you try? Maybe you can tell what kind.”

Hannibal crouches next to Will and sniffs the dead woman. Blood. Urine - she soiled herself as she died. And… yes. A putrid smell, parts of a body rotting while the whole remains nominally alive, and the cloying, overheated sweetness of a fever. (Beth LeBeau looks quite healthy, aside from the obvious; Hannibal spares a moment’s regret for the waste of quality food.)

“The killer has a very severe infection.”

There’s a knock on the bedroom door. “Will? I can hear you and Dr. Lecter talking in there. You ready for us to come in?”

Oh. Yes. Specialists who can actually touch the body would be helpful at this juncture.

Jimmy Price finds diseased skin tissue on the knife the victim was cut with. Beverly Katz finds fragments of the same skin all over the victim, and notes that it’s bloodless. “Whatever the killer’s sick with, it’s so severe that she has skin slippage.”

Will adds, “And she either doesn’t feel it, or doesn’t care.”

Brian Zeller says, “After she carved her face, it looks like she was trying to pull the victim’s skin back.”

“Like she was removing a mask?” Will asks.

Hannibal offers, “Fever can cause delirium, which often presents with psychotic symptoms. She might not even know she killed her.”

“It was like she was searching for her friend. She hid under the bed like she was playing hide-and-seek. She grabbed Beth’s ankles because they used to scare each other that way.” Will swallows like he’s still fighting down the killer’s despair and confusion.

“Greenwood is tiny,” says Jack. “A sick woman, of an age to be friends with the victim - we’ll ask around.”

 


 

They drove to Delaware from Wolf Trap, so Will drops Hannibal off in Baltimore for those of his appointments that he didn’t have to cancel. He wouldn’t even arrive in Quantico before he would have to turn right around and go meet Hannibal again, so instead he walks around Baltimore, thinking about the case.

Will’s phone rings. It’s Beverly Katz.

“I did a search for missing persons in the area, and I got a hit. Georgia Madchen, history of mental illness, reported to be physically very ill as well. Her mother’s coming in tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Beverly.”

He shows up in Hannibal’s office for his usual appointment time. It’s a tradition they’ve continued, the associations of the space giving them somewhere to discuss Will’s work, and then leave it behind.

Mostly. Just as they still sometimes talk about work over dinner, sometimes they don’t just talk in Hannibal’s office.

Will backs into the ladder leading up to the second level. He leans against it, gripping the rungs. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous of some poor girl who belongs in a hospital two or three times over.”

Hannibal leans forward into Will’s space. “It cannot have escaped your notice that I am possessive, and value your mind very highly. I resent the power all these killers have to trouble you.” He closes the gap and kisses Will. Possessive is an understatement. Will tightens his grasp on the ladder rungs to avoid clutching at Hannibal’s jacket like a movie heroine. He gives in and does just that when Hannibal switches to sucking and biting at Will’s neck.

“But when y-you trouble me, it’s just the- uh- the natural order?” Hannibal has memorized all of Will’s sensitive spots, and just how much pressure he likes.

“Naturally,” Hannibal purrs. He rucks up Will’s shirt to fondle his nipples. Will is pitching a tent in his pants so fast he worries vaguely about ripping them. “And unlike the others, I offer compensatory benefits.”

Will wonders how weird he would think Hannibal was if he didn’t recognize all the cheesy in-jokes Hannibal tells for his own amusement. He knows and he still thinks Hannibal’s pretty weird. He needs to find a way to tell him he knows so he can start ribbing him back in kind.

Speaking of ribs, Hannibal skims his fingers over Will’s, front and back, then dips under the waistband of Will’s pants and into the crack of his ass. Will’s hips buck in surprise. Up to now, Hannibal has avoided doing much of anything with Will’s hole, likely out of some combination of respect for Will’s inexperience, and a lack of motivation to discuss it when there is so much else to enjoy.

Maybe Hannibal took Will fucking him as a sign that Will’s okay with butt stuff in general. Which he is; he’s been with a couple of women who liked it up the ass, and one who was fond of fingering Will while she blew him. It’s all just a bit more… loaded, with another man. Will is also guilty of skipping the conversation in favor of doing other things.

Hannibal, though, is nothing if not courteous. He pauses with his fingers in Will’s crack and asks, “May I?”

Will shuffles his legs apart and nods slightly. Hannibal smirks at him and drops to his knees, opening Will’s pants and pulling them halfway down his thighs. He gazes up at Will through his eyelashes as he licks two of his fingers, and then reaches around behind Will just as he takes Will’s cock in his mouth.

Will thumps the back of his head against the ladder. Wet, warm, enthusiastic licking, and tight suction; Hannibal’s mouth is one of Will’s dick’s favorite places in the world. When Hannibal presses a wet fingertip against Will’s hole, he is torn between thrusting deeper into Hannibal’s mouth and pressing back against it. Hannibal solves the dilemma for him by surging closer in front just as he slips his finger into Will’s ass.

Will groans his pleasure, already starting to become overloaded. When Hannibal turns this kind of attention on him, Will’s senses start to dial up more or less involuntarily, trusting him to both anchor Will and push him to new heights all at once. Hannibal’s tongue feels like velvet, the insides of his cheeks like silk; Will can feel the ridges and creases of Hannibal’s finger as it works in his ass, twisting and sliding, crooking just enough to stretch his rim a little. Hannibal’s free hand is braced on Will’s hip, firm and grounding. Guiding. Will closes his eyes and gives himself over to the flood of touch.

It can’t be very much time before Will comes, long and blissful down Hannibal’s eager throat. He always pulls back just a little at the end, greedy to taste Will’s come on his tongue. With a last little flourish that makes Will twitch and whimper, he removes his finger from Will’s ass. He cleans Will, and his hand, with a tissue (pulled from his pocket - the smooth fucker planned this) and puts Will away with a fond gentleness that makes Will have to swallow hard.

“Get up here,” Will says, when he can talk. He tugs on Hannibal’s jacket until he complies. Will is getting better at unfastening Hannibal’s tailored pants, and at jacking a dick that isn’t his own. Hannibal likes a lot more twisting and rubbing at the head, sliding the foreskin around. He kneads Will’s shoulders like a happy cat, sniffing Will’s hair and moaning continuously.

“I need to go first sometime,” Will complains, “so I have enough brain cells to get my mouth on you.” Hannibal’s cock jumps in Will’s hand. “Yeah? Would you like that?”

Hannibal, predictably half-gone just from getting his hands and mouth on Will, grinds his forehead into Will’s and breathes, “Sì, caro.”

Will speeds his hand. “I wonder which you’d get a bigger kick out of: watching me do that, or feeling it?”

Hannibal’s only rejoinder is an “Mmf!” into Will’s mouth as he comes. He sags against Will. The ladder creaks.

Will wiggles his slippery fingers where they’re still nestled against Hannibal’s crotch. “Got any more tissues?”

 


 

Beverly surveys the large flat-packed packages with some dismay. “Why couldn’t the delivery guys take it up?”

“Oh, they could have. But then we’d have to smell strangers in our house. Hannibal thinks it would be a bad idea.”

“I can’t help but notice Hannibal isn’t here to haul these up the stairs and put them together.” Beverly takes one end of the box holding the headboard, and Will takes the other. They shuffle into the house.

“He was all for making the contractors do it - he’s paying this renovation company that specializes in leaving a low olfactory footprint. But they make world-class escorts look cheap. It’s not worth paying them just to bring in and assemble a bed.” Will falls silent as they maneuver the headboard around the angle between the top of the stairs and the doorway of the bedroom. “And with his hours, it was either get it done in the dark, or let the pieces sit until the weekend, or bribe a friend.”

“If I throw my back out, I’m going to need a bigger bribe than beer.” But the headboard is the biggest piece, aside from the mattress, which was professionally delivered. Hannibal ordered it online, and wouldn’t let Will even see the price, but the delivery people wore the same odor-restricting suits as the contractors. All the other parts of the bed are pretty easy to get up the stairs by comparison.

Beer in hand, Beverly watches while Will muddles through the assembly instructions. It’s a little more complicated than Ikea furniture, but Will can fix an obsolete boat motor with no documents at all.

“So, how about that interview with Georgia Madchen’s mom? Sad story, huh?”

Will tightens a screw. “Yeah. Georgia definitely has more than her fair share of problems.”

“Being a hypersensitive might be a pain in the ass sometimes, but I never thought about how much better it is than the opposite.” Will notices that Beverly used the blanket term instead of her preferred ‘oddbody’ to keep Will included, and feels warmed.

“Touch-based hyposensitives don’t usually live long enough for other people to even hear about them. Without pain, injuries and infections go untreated.”

“Well, she wasn’t always that bad. She got worse while her mom was trying to get her treatment for the Cotard’s syndrome, and then the hyposensitivity just fed into it.” Beverly finishes her beer and fetches another one. “Imagine being so convinced you’re dead, that it makes sense to you when your skin starts rotting off.”

Will lines up another part of the bedframe. “Can you hold that for me?” Beverly braces it with her free hand. “Thanks. Was Georgia seeing any doctor in particular when she really started to go downhill? Especially when the face-blindness kicked in?”

“Funnily enough, a neurologist in Baltimore: Donald Sutcliffe. But his office didn’t return any of our calls.”

“Well, they don’t have to. Doctor-patient confidentiality.” Will screws the last piece into place and gives the frame a hard shove. It neither squeaks nor skids.

“Damn,” says Beverly, “you get what you pay for.”

They haul the mattress into place, and Will makes the bed with the new, king-size sheets and duvet. Barely keeping a straight face, he folds the qiviut blanket at the foot.

“This is a pretty big deal, Will,” Beverly points out. “I think your man-spinster destiny has been averted.”

“It kinda looks that way.” They make their way downstairs. “I’ll have to replace the bed down here with a couch or something.”

“Call it a daybed. They’re fashionable. I think.”

“I might do that, just to see Hannibal’s eye twitch.”

Beverly snorts and gets beer up her nose. “Oh, you bastard!”

They switch to coffee after that, Beverly because she has to drive home, Will to keep her company.

Beverly looks into her mug and asks, “Hey, Will. If you thought you were dead, and couldn’t see faces, and ran away from your mother’s house to look for your best friend, would you move on right away if you couldn’t find her?”

Will shakes his head. “You think Georgia’s still hanging around Beth LeBeau’s house?”

“It’s only a two-hour drive from here. Wanna go back and take an enhanced look around?” Now that she’s raised the possibility, Will does want to. He texts Hannibal (Hannibal’s reply: Be careful)  and they roll out.

“I always think houses look sadder after the occupants are dead,” Beverly muses when they pull up. “Guess that’s, what, my amygdala working overtime?”

“Been reading up on Cotard’s?”

“It’s creepy. It sounds fictional.” They get out of Beverly’s SUV and walk up to the house. Nobody with baseline vision in the party, so they don’t need flashlights. Beverly lets Will in and then they both go still. There’s a quiet patter and scrape upstairs. It sounds like it’s coming from Beth’s room.

“Did you hear that?” Will whispers. Beverly nods.

Coming up the stairs and going down the hall to Beth’s room, Will can make out labored breathing and a rapid heartbeat. Standing in the doorway, the smell of decay is a much stronger version of what Will smelled on Beth’s body yesterday.

“Georgia?” He says softly. “I know you’re in here. My name’s Will Graham, and this is Beverly Katz.”

“Hi, Georgia,” says Beverly at Will’s shoulder.

There is a tiny whimper from under the bed.

Will walks slowly into the room. “There are a lot of people looking for you, Georgia. They want to help you, because you’re alive. Do you understand? You’re alive.” He crouches down next to the bed. He catches a glimpse of a jaundiced, bloody-eyed face grimacing at him in terror, and then he… takes a flying bed to the face.

“Whoa, hey!” exclaims Beverly, closer to the door, and then, “Georgia, wait!” and, “Oh, God… You okay, Will?”

“Fine,” wheezes Will. “The mattress knocked the wind out of me, but the frame just got tipped over.” He heaves the mattress off his chest, and looks at Beverly. “What happened to Georgia?”

“I grabbed her arm.” Beverly lifts up her hand. She’s holding a huge strip of greying, tattered skin. Beverly looks a little grey herself. “This peeled right off her. What the hell was she doing back under the bed?”

“Trying to convince herself she didn’t kill Beth? She’s… beyond confused. Deranged, terrified.” Will blinks. “It probably didn’t help that we aren’t using flashlights.”

“Oh, shit. Yeah.”

“Where did she go?”

“Out the front door.”

Distantly, Will can hear a car engine start. “She has a car.”

“Guess it’s okay for the dead to drive. Who knew?”

On the way back to Wolf Trap, Will says, “You said she was seeing a neurologist in Baltimore?”

“Donald Sutcliffe, yeah.”

“I never did get around to the traditional ‘congratulations on being a manifested sentinel above the poverty line!’ brain scan. I wonder if Dr. Sutcliffe could squeeze me in.”

 


 

“He will if I ask it as a personal favor,” says Hannibal, shining a penlight in Will’s eyes to check the reaction of his pupils. “We were residents together at Hopkins.”

Will bats the penlight away. “Would you stop that? I didn’t hit my head. I got a saggy old single mattress tossed in my general direction. It weighed less than Samson. Beverly’s the one who ended up holding a skin sleeve in her bare hands.”

“It’s nothing less than she deserves, letting a consultant walk into the room first,” Hannibal snipes.

Will rolls his eyes. “Be nice. She helped me get the bed set up sooner.”

Hannibal relents with a small smile. “I saw that.” The sight of the bed, an inviting nest in the centre of the refurbished bedroom, had been unaccountably moving.

Will waggles his eyebrows. “Wanna go break it in?”

Hannibal is certainly not one to refuse such an invitation. He promises himself that he will be present for Will’s appointment, and follows Will up the stairs to bed.

 


 

“Was there a triggering event?” Donald Sutcliffe asks. He’s looking well, in his private practice at the Noble Hills Health Care Centre. It would be hard not to look better than he and Hannibal did as residents, perpetually on the brink of exhaustion. Hannibal was barely able to get his three hours of sleep a night.

“Returning to the field, a few months ago. More recently, Hannibal - Dr. Lecter’s life was threatened.” Will begins his reply tentatively, but ends it on a near-growl.

“That’ll do it. Any spirit animal sightings?”

Will nods. “Um, a hybrid.” He glances at Hannibal. “We’ve both seen it.”

Donald raises his eyebrows. “Mazel tov.” He makes a note on his clipboard, then asks, “Zones?”

“Before all - this, they were very infrequent. I recovered on my own, or with the help of bystanders or my dogs. When I returned to the field they became more of a problem, and they were really bad for a couple of weeks after I manifested, but they seem to have settled down again.”

Hannibal coughs quietly. “I have reason to believe you were also zoning in your sleep on a regular basis.”

Will shoots a surprised look at Hannibal. “You never said anything.”

“It’s only a theory, based mainly on how much less sleep-deprived you appear lately. I suspect my presence curtails them.”

“Alriiight…” Donald makes another note, then looks up again. “What about sensory storms?”

Will swallows. “Three in my life. And a near miss shortly after I met Dr. Lecter, when a shotgun was fired indoors and I was in the room.”

Donald purses his lips. “Glad Dr. Lecter was available to make it a near miss.”

The interview goes on for the better part of an hour in total, and then Will (looking thin and cold in a hospital gown, and sporting both earplugs and all-plastic earmuffs) slides into the MRI machine.

“Never thought I’d see you end up as a bonded guide,” Donald comments.

“Neither did I, until I met Will, at which point I now believe it was inevitable.”

Donald chuckles. “Sounds like a dressed-up way of saying it was love at first sight.” Hannibal won’t dignify that with a reply, but he inclines his head. “So what’s it like, consulting for the FBI?”

“Interesting enough to be worth canceling appointments on short notice. Our current case concerns a former patient of yours: one Georgia Madchen.”

“Oh? The name doesn’t ring a bell.” The false lightness in Donald’s voice has Hannibal pricking up his ears.

“Touch-based hyposensitivity, comorbid with Cotard’s syndrome. Both are now quite severe.”

“Ah, yes, now I remember. Poor girl. There was very little I could do for her.”

“She’s still at large, and smells very ill indeed. I just hope they catch her before she harms herself or anyone else.” Donald looks sidelong at Hannibal at the very deliberate choice of ‘they’ instead of ‘we’. “Would you care to discuss her case over dinner? I can promise to obscure the source of any useful insights.”

Donald says, “How could I refuse an invitation to your table?”

“Excellent. Seven o’clock?”

“I'll be there.” Donald turns back to his computer screen, where the first images are starting to appear. Hannibal's breath catches at the intimacy of it: seeing directly into Will’s brain.

Donald taps the temporal lobe. “Your young man says hearing is his most elevated sense, and I believe it. Look at the development and excitation in his primary auditory cortex. He’s been coping with this since early childhood.”

“Diagnostic imaging settled one great debate on hypersensitivity: whether the additional information comes from the sensory organs themselves, or how the information is processed in the brain.”

“That’s right. Theoretically, anyone with normal sensory organs could be a sentinel.”

“And yet the manifestation process remains poorly understood.”

“Regrettably so, although we are learning more all the time.” Donald’s pen dances over several brightly-lit portions of Will’s brain, including the olfactory bulbs. “Even ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you that this is an olfactory complex with old potentiation and new excitation.”

“I suspect that Will repressed his sense of smell to avoid manifestation.”

Donald nods. “He grow up poor?”

“Yes.”

“God bless America,” Donald mutters.

They’re both well aware that poor youths with advanced hypersensitivity generally end up in the army, on the street, or in the ground. Public school screenings eliminate liability by advising parents to engage the services of a guide. No advice is provided as to how to afford such services. Class resentment for the entire discipline of guiding is not uncommon; Will has done very well overcoming his, but was nevertheless in his mid-thirties before he agreed to work with a guide for the first time.

Donald shakes off whatever bitter version of Hannibal’s thoughts he was entertaining, and zooms in on a section of the inferior frontal cortex. “Now here’s something interesting. Look at all these mirror neurons. I would expect this configuration in a small child.”

“Supposed to help us socialize, then melt away.”

“But Will here held onto his. Does he ever start to unconsciously copy accents?”

“I would only notice if it was very pronounced.”

“Oh. Right. Fourth language.”

“Yes. But Will does much more than mimic speech patterns. His empathy is so powerful he can imagine a killer’s thoughts and feelings just by observing their crime scene.” Hannibal is bragging now. Donald gives him an amused look and zooms out again.

“You’ll be pleased to hear that his limbic system is lit up like a Christmas tree, indicating a healthy bond.” Donald pauses. “Too healthy to be less than a month old. You sly dog!”

“It escaped my notice as well as his for a time,” Hannibal demurs.

Donald smirks. “Somehow I think you knew for longer than he did.”  

“I really can’t say.” Hannibal has already decided to kill Donald for seeing so much of Will, but he still cannot bear to discuss their bond. Of all the knowledge Donald doesn’t deserve, that he deserves the least.

 


 

That afternoon, Jack calls Will into his office. “How was your appointment?”

“Aside from my empathy disorder, I am a typical, if late-manifesting, sentinel.” Will has to retreat into a slow, deliberate diction to get the words out; he’s never stated any of this so baldly before.

“And your name and diagnosis won’t find their way onto any registries? I don’t want headhunters darkening your door any more than you do.”

“My understanding is recruiters always seem to find out, one way or another. They pay well for the information, and refuse to tell who they got it from.” Will smiles humorlessly. “Not to worry. Seven dogs do occasionally come in handy.” Only two of them look even remotely intimidating, and all of them are big dumb furballs regardless of size, but they can still set up enough of a racket en masse to make people feel unwelcome.

“What about the real reason you went in for the scan?”

“Hannibal’s going to wine and dine Dr. Sutcliffe tonight. He’ll let me know what, if anything, he can get out of him.”

Jack clenches his jaw. “Jocelyn Madchen can’t pay her daughter’s medical bills as it is. An offer to see Georgia free of charge - she couldn’t afford to turn it down. If Beth LeBeau died because Georgia was chosen to be a lab rat, we’re going to make an example of every professional involved.”

“And every professional involved is going to cover their tracks if they see the FBI coming.”

“Let’s hope Dr. Lecter doesn’t come off as representing the FBI.”

 


 

Hannibal slices more paper-thin strips of cured ‘ham’. It’s one of his more elaborate hoaxes, the haunch of a yoga instructor (three years ago she snubbed a small child who thought she looked like a comic book character in her tights - two and a half years ago Hannibal started air-curing her hips) sealed in golden fat to obscure the sculpted narrowing of the leg down to a true pig’s proportions, complete with black wax trotter.

He is still in a holding pattern vis-à-vis feeding Will human flesh. It would be a shame for Will’s newly-enhanced sense of smell to bring him revelations he is not ready for. As a result, Hannibal has languished without creative opportunities. The ‘jamón ibérico’ is a welcome return to his old tricks.

“Is the pig, once fattened and slaughtered and air-cured, really superior to any other pig, or is it simply a matter of reputation preceding product?” Hannibal muses.

Donald shrugs. “It’s irrelevant. If the meat-eater believes it’s superior, then belief determines value.” He takes a forkful of meat, crinkling his eyes at Hannibal as he chews.

Hannibal takes a bite himself. He knows the meat is superior: vegetarian diet, with heavy notes of fruit and spiced chai. The only flaw was the lack of marbling everywhere but the hips - the rest of the pig was too lean for curing.

“So, we know how Ibérico chooses his pigs,” Hannibal says. “How did you choose yours?”

Donald sets his fork down. “You’re referring to Georgia Madchen.”

“Cotard’s syndrome is rare, but not so rare that there is not a standard treatment course of antidepressants and antipsychotics. Electroconvulsive therapy in more advanced cases.” If Miss Madchen can be caught alive, and successfully treated for the infection that has large sections of skin degloving at a touch, she’ll likely need electroshock at some point. “Why did you not treat her that way?”

Donald leans toward Hannibal. “Because of the hyposensitivity. It wasn’t just touch; she had hyposmia, hypogeusia… even some indications of gradual decline in her vision and hearing.”

“A reverse sentinel.” Progressive sensory deprivation. Hannibal’s most inspired efforts fall far short of the breathtaking cruelty of Nature herself.

“Yes. I wanted to see if I could trigger a return to baseline. No doubt her senses were aggravating the Cotard’s.”

“What kind of trigger were you using?”

“Transcranial magnetic stimulation.”

“Surely her neurological problems are more complex than a migraine.”

“...A lot of it. At first she showed improvement, but it was transient, so I used more…”

If Hannibal were not already committed to killing Donald for seeing inside Will’s skull, he would be now, for being such an idiot. “You used too much, caused lesions. She got worse instead of better.”

“I could have passed the lesions off as organic, but she took off into the woods before her next appointment. Who knew she would survive out there for so long, while so acutely psychotic?”

And now she is so desperately alone in her madness, that she cut her friend’s face open and let her drown in her own blood, Hannibal does not say. “Thank you for telling me the truth, Donald. The information about the lesions may be helpful; I will direct the hospital staff’s attention that way if she is captured.”

When Hannibal tells Will what he learned, his disgust is audible over the phone. “Fucking prick,” he snarls, “saw someone who couldn’t afford to say no and ran experiments on her.”

“I don’t disagree. We should ask for a second scan tomorrow. I will slip into his office and look for any documentation he has. Donald fancies himself a scientific explorer; he will have kept records of his experiments, and will only destroy them if he feels himself threatened.” Hannibal returns the remaining ‘jamón ibérico’ to its place hanging in his pantry. It turned out perfectly; he will enjoy it in place of prosciutto for months. “I trust your dinner company was more congenial?”

Will hums agreement. “But not big conversationalists. And they shed. And beg for scraps - far more shamelessly than they used to, I might add. I wonder what could possibly have changed.” There’s a smile in his voice.

“Just greasing the wheels, as the newest addition to the household. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather I come over?”

“This late? No. I’ll be okay for one night by myself. I’ll see you tomorrow, at Noble Hills?”

“Until then. Sleep well, Will.” Hannibal knows just what he is going to fill his sleepless hours with tonight: assembling his murder kit, and then a spot of forgery.

 


 

Will’s already feeling off-kilter before he even arrives at the hospital. It was a weird night, his first in almost a month where he wasn’t sharing a bed with Hannibal. He tried to sleep in their new bed, then gave up and moved back downstairs with the dogs. He was almost asleep when he heard a car approaching. At first he thought it was Hannibal, driving out to Wolf Trap just in time to sleep for three hours before getting up to make breakfast (sweet, but kind of dangerous with it snowing in the middle of the night), but the engine sounded all wrong. Will threw on his boots and a jacket and went outside to check it out, but the car had already moved on. His sleep the rest of the night was fitful; he kept jerking awake to the sound of soft footfalls, which faded every time he got up and looked out his windows at the treeline. Georgia Madchen haunting his dreams, the way she was haunting her friend’s house?

Dr. Sutcliffe looks uneasy about leaving Hannibal alone while he preps Will for another MRI. Will is just about to enter the machine when he glances up and sees that Dr. Sutcliffe has left the room, presumably to let the scan run on its own.

Will is not about to sustain that much radiation for no medical reason if it’s not even going to keep Dr. Sutcliffe out of his office. He hops out of the machine and looks around for an emergency stop button, but the machine appears to sense that it’s empty, and goes still on its own. Will hurriedly gets dressed and goes looking for his doctors.

 


 

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! Hannibal!”

Hannibal nearly drops the scissors. “Will. You’re supposed to be in the MRI.” This is the most inane thing Hannibal has ever said as himself. Clearly Will is not in the MRI; he is here, in Donald’s office, where Hannibal is leaning over Donald and was, until a moment ago, sawing industriously through Donald’s temporomandibular joints. Now, however, Hannibal is frozen, staring at Will, who is glaring furiously at Hannibal.

Will stalks up to the desk. “Sutcliffe couldn’t even wait to slide me all the way into the microwave before he skittered out of the room. This is a hospital, Hannibal! It never sleeps! And this is a DI floor - a trauma or emergent patient could be brought in at any time!” He flings out his arms for emphasis. “What in the blue fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Hannibal would not have survived this long if he could not recover quickly. “I should think that was obvious.”

Will snorts. “Is this-” he gestures at Hannibal’s plastic oversuit, “-how you’ve been avoiding leaving trace evidence? But you won’t spring for a hairnet, oh no, that might cramp your style. God in heaven, how have you not been caught yet?”

Hannibal’s mouth is hanging open. He drags it shut with some difficulty. “You know.”

“Of course I know, you ridiculous man! I smelled you in the goddamn fucking observatory!”

“You’ve… known for that long.” Hannibal has the strangest sensation of his memories being rearranged around this fact, clacking like tiles falling into a new configuration. So that was why he… Which casts that conversation in a very different light… And no wonder he’s been… Good grief, did I really… Did he really... Oh, Will.

Will.

Will clutches his hair. “You’re supposed to be smarter than this.”

A foolish, besotted smile begins to tug at Hannibal’s mouth. “Lost in admiration of your brilliance, darling.”

Will glowers. “Admire later. Explain now.”

Hannibal looks down at Donald’s gaping face. He brings up the scissors and slices him a little more neatly in half. He’s very nearly decapitated at the jaw, his entire palate bared to the ceiling. Just as he exposed Will’s brain. The blood pooled in his trachea and esophagus quivers with the last dying beats of Donald’s heart. “This is Georgia Madchen’s second victim. She came looking for the doctor she thought was helping her, and either couldn’t find him just as she couldn’t find Beth LeBeau, or now understands that he exacerbated her conditions by experimenting on her without her consent.” He inclines his head to indicate a stack of folders sitting on the edge of the shredding machine. “The proof of which is right over there. She can’t see faces, but she can read.”

Will crosses his arms. “Where’s all the diseased skin she usually sheds?”

“It’s the middle of winter and she’s homeless. Without gloves she wouldn’t have hands at all by now. I got several of her hairs off your jacket the other night.” Said hairs are now draped artfully over the shoulders of Donald’s white coat.

“You asshole.”

“You know very well that’s an understatement.” Hannibal’s chest feels as if it contains a miniature sun. Any minute now he will crack and peel and burst with light.

Will rolls his eyes, then goes stock-still and cocks his head, listening. “I can do you one better. I think she’s here.”

“Really?”

“She has a very distinctive tread. I thought I dreamed her lurking in Wolf Trap last night, but I guess she’s been following me.”

Hannibal opens the office door just enough to hang the scissors on the handle, and leaves it that way. He carefully doffs his plastic suit and rolls it up inside out, stowing it in his briefcase, and crouches behind the overstuffed leather couch. Will has already hunkered down behind the black one on the other side of the office.

Moments later, the door swings open, and Georgia Madchen shuffles into the office, holding the scissors. The smell of her in person is eye-watering. Hannibal and Will creep silently out behind her into the hall.

Will watches Georgia through the doorway, but Hannibal is watching Will. Will’s jaw clenches when Georgia rasps, “Dr. Sutcliffe?” and when there is more shuffling and then a moist sound - Georgia trying to peel back the mask in search of her doctor - Will closes his eyes and swallows hard, looking sick. They are framing an innocent here. Hannibal would rather have spared Will from being complicit in this, but not at the expense of being known.

Will knows. Hannibal has not yet fully processed this fact.

“That’s enough,” Will whispers, and walks back into the room. “Georgia?” he says softly.

Georgia whirls, dropping the scissors, a jaundiced, unsteady revenant with bloody hands.

“It’s me, Will Graham. I was looking for you in Greenwood.” Will moves closer, hands up. “Do you remember what I said?”

Georgia tilts her head, squinting at Will. Her sclera are black with blood. “Am… I alive?”

Will sags with relief. “Yes,” he says. “It’s 8:45 PM. You’re in Baltimore, Maryland. Your name is Georgia Madchen. You’re not alone. We are here together.” He extends his hand, and slowly Georgia moves closer, reaches out and touches it.

 


 

Beverly scans both Will and Hannibal, visually and with her UV lamp. “Their hands are marked where they caught Georgia when she fell, but otherwise they’re clean,” she tells Jack.

Jack looks at Hannibal, eyebrows raised. “Alright, just so we’re clear, you brought Will back here strictly for a second brain scan?”

“It’s valuable to compare a morning and evening scan.” Hannibal says, keeping himself turned away from Dr. Sutcliffe’s body like it disturbs him.

As if he wasn’t the one to cut him, Will thinks. He still can’t quite believe Hannibal took such an insane risk. Maybe he’s getting antsy, cooped up with Will so often. Will still doesn’t know what his true and complete murder routine is usually like.

“But Dr. Sutcliffe was agitated,” Will puts in. “He didn’t even get the MRI started properly before he left me alone. After about half an hour, I got dressed and went looking for whatever the holdup was.”

“And the two of you caught Georgia Madchen in the act?”

“Holding those, anyway.” Will indicates the scissors, coated with gore and festooned with more of Georgia’s skin, being bagged and tagged by Jimmy Price. Georgia collapsed almost the instant she decided to accept help; Hannibal cut directly to the chase and called a code team to Dr. Sutcliffe’s office. The team was making noise about taking her to the burn unit when they left.

“Jack,” says Brian Zeller, “it looks like she caught Dr. Sutcliffe in the act, too.” He’s over by the shredder, paging through the files. “These files are all on her.” His voice is grim. “She was a research subject, but I’m not seeing any consent forms.”

Jack looks at Will. “So was she taking her revenge, or just looking for her doctor?”

Will shakes his head. “It’s like that time with the Angel Maker. I can’t get into her head; she’s too sick. You can ask her yourself, when she wakes up, if she remembers.”

“Ho-lyyy shit.” Zeller waves a sheet of paper. “You’re never gonna guess who referred Georgia Madchen to Dr. Sutcliffe.”

Jack pinches the bridge of his nose. “It’s late, Zee. Who made the referral?”

“Our pal Frederick Chilton.”

 


 

“Did you plant that referral letter?”

Hannibal keeps his eyes on the road. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because Frederick convinced Abel Gideon he was the Chesapeake Ripper.”

“You want to keep him on the FBI’s radar.” Will stares at Hannibal’s profile. “Are you planning to frame him?”

“He’s very obliging about it. Practically frames himself.”

“And then what?”

“And then the story of the Chesapeake Ripper comes to an end.”

“And when you get bored? Do you start telling a new story?”

“Not in Baltimore. And I am far less bored now than I can ever remember being, dear Will.” Hannibal spares Will a fond glance.

Will can’t seem to stop himself asking questions. Now that the seal has been broken and there are no more secrets between them, he finds he wants to know everything. “How much meat do you serve from actual animals?”

Hannibal smirks. “Hmm, perhaps half?”

“That much?” Will says faintly.

"Invertebrates, and all the smaller fish and fowl, cannot be replicated. The larger fish elude me. I’ve been experimenting for years with treatments to pass off long pig as various fish. I’d like to be able to serve it as sashimi.”

As much as he loves fish, Will feels vaguely ill at the idea of red meat being so heavily processed it can pass as such. “You just - you get really, really bored, then.”

“On the contrary; I ensure that I am rarely bored for long.”

Will digests that the rest of the way back to Wolf Trap, through feeding the dogs and showering off the remains of the day together. Hannibal has seen fit to install an enormous claw-foot bathtub with an old-fashioned freestanding shower curtain frame in the upstairs bathroom.

When Hannibal is towelling him off, looking at him with shining eyes (he usually looks at Will like that, but moreso tonight than ever), Will asks, “Why did you kill Donald Sutcliffe?”

“I would have killed him for his disgraceful treatment of that young woman alone.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“I killed him because he saw inside your skull.” Hannibal pulls Will against him with the towel. “Why haven’t you turned me in?”

“I already told you. You belong to me.”

Hannibal looks down into Will’s face, his eyes depthless, the brown glinting nearly red in the dim light. “And you. You belong to me. Truly. Knowing what you know.”

Will draws in a deep, unsteady breath. “Yes.”

Hannibal closes his eyes briefly, as if this answer pains him. He cups Will’s face in both hands and kisses him like he is drinking something from Will’s mouth. Whatever it is, Will tries to pour it out, and drinks up Hannibal’s devotion in turn.

Hannibal drastically overestimates both Will’s goodness and the number of people who make Will feel like he isn’t alone, if he thinks Will had any chance of resisting the headlong assault of his love. Maybe if he’d decided to play one of his absurd, Byzantine, sadistic games with Will instead, maybe Will could have held out. But this? No. There was never any chance this would end any way but with Will in Hannibal’s arms, opening himself body and soul to the only person he can imagine wanting such openness.

Hannibal sucks in a harsh breath and slides one hand down Will’s body, until he grips Will’s asscheek and pulls Will tighter against him. Will moans and grinds into him, and Hannibal breaks the kiss to say, “Let me make love to you, Will. Let me have you.”

Will shudders. “Yes.”

Somehow they make it to the bedroom, and Hannibal arranges Will on his stomach, legs sprawled wide across the mattress. He kneels behind Will, stroking the muscles of his back, the knobs of his spine, his ribs, his hips, as if trying to learn the shape of him by feel. “Stay dialed up as far as you can, my dear. For me.” With that, he parts Will’s buttocks and starts licking his asshole.

“Ah!” At first, Will’s mind just whites out with shock. Then he wonders why he’s surprised; Hannibal’s oral fixation isn’t exactly an unknown factor here. Then the melting, sweet-hot pleasure starts to spread through him, and while he isn’t the least bit surprised that Hannibal is good at this, Will is surprised at how much he, Will, loves it.

Staying dialed up is no problem at all. By the time Hannibal adjusts his grip on Will’s asscheeks and starts to tongue-fuck him in earnest, Will is arching up against him with thin little cries that would be mortifying if he had any room left in him for anything but this gut-twisting, liquefying need splashing against the inside of his skin, the inside of his head. He splays his fingers against the sheets and tries to spread his legs wider. Hannibal’s tongue is thick and muscular, curling and probing in Will’s ass, the tastebuds rasping softly.

Will is really not tracking, he didn’t notice it happening, but at some point Hannibal must have grabbed the massage oil, because Hannibal’s fingers are slick with more than saliva when he slips two of them into Will’s ass and spreads him wider to get his tongue in deeper. He grazes Will’s rim just slightly with his teeth on one pass, and all at once Will's back ripples and he comes on the sheets, just like that. Hannibal doesn’t even miss a beat, just reaches under Will and gathers up as much come as he can and rubs it in Will’s crack, pushing it into his hole with his fingers and licking it up with his tongue, and that is so filthy it sends a bolt through Will like he would come again this very instant if he could.

Unseen at Will’s back, Hannibal seems like he could be content to just eat Will’s ass indefinitely, but all the pushing and sliding and stretching of fingers is starting to stoke a new hunger in Will. He tilts his hips up and musters a word: “More.”

And okay, maybe Hannibal was just holding himself well in check, because at that he makes some kind of feral basso rumble in his chest and plunges three fingers deep while he nips at the meat of Will’s ass. Will is so slippery and open he barely feels the stretch, but when Hannibal’s touch goes deep enough, he reaches a spot that feels so good the air leaves Will’s lungs in a wheeze. That must be his prostate. He’s scarcely sucked in half a breath before Hannibal strokes the gland firmly, and Will’s voice cracks on a whine. He starts to bring his knees up, and Hannibal helps him with his free hand, arranging Will’s knees under him.

He drapes himself over Will’s back, a curved wall of heat. His fingers slide out of Will’s ass, and Will scarcely has time to register the loss before Hannibal’s cock is there instead, slick and blunt, thick and solid. He slides inside and it doesn’t hurt at all, just fills Will up, deep and unyielding and perfect. Will’s shout is exultant, satisfaction of a need he didn’t know he had, and an astonishment and adoration that...

...That aren’t entirely his. Will is picking up on the emotions rolling off Hannibal, not so much via his empathy as through their bond. Hannibal’s need for Will is subverbal, bottomless, a heaving underground ocean. It would frighten Hannibal if he confronted it directly; instead he hopes only to survive it by moving with it. And move with it he does, surging into Will over and over, front flush to Will’s back, bottoming out in Will’s ass.

Will isn’t sure how much exchange there is along the bond, and it seems unlikely Hannibal is as adept as Will at interpreting another person’s emotions being felt as if they were his own. So he tries to communicate his acceptance with his body as well, bracing his arms on the bed and rocking back to meet Hannibal’s thrusts, crying out unrestrained (not that he could hold back if he wanted to) and joyful at the rightness of becoming one in this way.

“Yes,” he groans in between shouts. “Yes, Hannibal, yes.”

One way or another the message must get through, because there is a ripple of surprise and echoing joy from Hannibal. “Will,” his voice is a gravelly ruin, “Will, what-”

Will feels similarly incredulous. They’ve stumbled inside a feeling so huge it’s endless, all around them. Sweet and vicious, swallowing them whole together, serene in its inevitability. Two becoming one. Abruptly he wishes he were facing Hannibal.

No sooner does he think it than Hannibal pulls out, takes Will’s hips firmly in an oily grip, and flips him as neatly as a wrestling opponent. Will gapes up at Hannibal’s shadowed form as he lines himself up and resumes fucking Will. “Did you just-”

“So it would seem.”

Will tucks his knees up against his chest and arches his back as the new angle throws sparks in his body. “Hannibal.” Now that he can see Hannibal’s face, he’s drowning in the longing there, the disbelief and awe. He reaches up, imploring. Hannibal leans down until he’s supporting himself on his elbows. He can only thrust shallowly like this, but he might as well be slamming in and out full-length; he feels huge inside Will, and burning hot.

Will takes his face in his hands, as Hannibal did when he kissed Will earlier. “Yours,” he insists, and slides his fingers into Hannibal’s hair and makes a fist. “Mine,” he hisses, and then pulls Hannibal down and bites the side of his neck, hard.

The huge wave of arousal that crashes over them both is impossible to separate. Hannibal cries out into Will's hair as he comes inside Will, and Will’s cock spurts between them, untouched.

They lie together, panting loud in the sudden silence now that they are not filling the air with their voices. When Hannibal’s softened cock slips from Will’s ass, he heaves himself up on all fours again and crawls backwards down Will’s body. He stops at Will’s belly and cleans his come meticulously with his tongue, gentle with Will’s oversensitive dick but not leaving a single drop behind.

When he eases Will’s legs apart and returns to licking Will’s ass, Will moans pitifully, but he doesn’t pull away or bring his thighs together. He stays, sprawled, and tries to keep breathing as Hannibal tongues his tender asshole, opening him again with a fingertip so more of Hannibal’s come trickles out, and then lapping it up with deep groans and hums of pleasure.

When he can’t get any more come that way, Hannibal pries Will’s cheeks apart with his hands and licks deeper and deeper until he’s tongue-fucking Will all over again. Will is so sore and sensitized, Hannibal’s tongue is harder to take than his cock was. He writhes and squirms and whimpers, futile attempts to escape the inexorable rise of a third orgasm coiling ominously at the base of his spine.

At some point Hannibal catches sight of Will’s exhausted hardon. He withdraws his tongue from Will’s ass, and says, “That’s going to hurt.”

“Yes, it will,” Will complains.

Hannibal slips a pair of fingers into Will’s hole and rises up. “Let it?” he pleads. “For me?”

Will bites his lip and nods quickly, and Hannibal takes his cock into his mouth, right to the hilt. Not sucking (Will might just burn away to ash if he sucked right now), just holding him in wet, warm softness.

He rubs Will’s prostate with his fingertips, not entirely kindly, and Will tries to twist up and away, but that only drives the head of his cock into Hannibal's throat, and Hannibal’s fingers move with him, sliding out a little and then thrusting in again. Stroking Will’s aching, come-slick inner walls, pressing into his prostate with precise, greedy, tender cruelty. Insatiable. Milking Will of every possible response, every drop of tired, pained pleasure he can wring from Will’s body.

Will has never, ever been pushed like this. No one has ever craved him like this; no one but Hannibal. His desire for Will is so desperate, so all-consuming, and Will gives and gives and gives what no one else has ever been there to take. He gives Hannibal the twitches of his body and the small, hurt, scraped-raw noises Hannibal provokes, fingering his ass and now, yes, suckling his cock with unbearable gentleness. The lapping waves of pleasure rise like a tide, drowning conscious thought, until Will’s abdomen cramps and his cock jerks as that one last orgasm unspools, and Will makes an unearthly, warbling cry and blacks out.

When he comes to, Hannibal is wiping Will down with a warm, damp towel, cleaning up the sweat and other fluids that soak him, and then drying him with another towel, limb by limb (presumably he cleaned Will’s genitals while he was passed out). He smiles at Will when he sees that he’s regained consciousness, but says nothing, and Will watches him in silence. When Hannibal has finishes cleaning and drying Will’s face - the salt there as much tears as sweat - he drops the towels on the floor and rolls with Will to the clean, dry half of the bed. (Perks of a king-size mattress: the wet spot’s a non-issue since it’s practically in another county.)

Hannibal tangles their legs together and hugs Will to his chest, and whispers, “You realize I will never ever let you go.”

“Good,” Will whispers back. “Don’t.”

Chapter Text

Will is reading, wrapped in a blanket on the downstairs bed (Hannibal will die before he will refer to it as a daybed) when Hannibal gets home. He puts down his book and turns on the lamp, then looks up at Hannibal.

“How was dinner with your sacrificial lamb?”

“Predictable. Funny you should call him that; I told Chilton the curried intestines were from sheep.”

Will makes a disgusted face. “How many years have you been pulling the same prank, and still finding it funny?”

“Oh, decades. Though every dish is unique, so I would argue it’s variations on a theme.” Unlikely to catch on the way the Goldberg Variations did, Hannibal has to admit. “And Frederick is hardly an innocent. He has never taken a life directly, but as an incompetent psychiatrist he has done incalculable damage, and not just to the criminally insane.”

Hannibal takes in the way Will has the blanket wrapped tightly around his shoulders, despite the space heater. “I don’t expect you to wait up for me at any time, but especially not if you are not feeling well.”

“I can’t sleep up there by myself.” There’s a petulant edge to the words. Hannibal regards his contrary little love, and decides that Will wants to be coddled but can’t admit to it. He is finding his intuition is generally correct about these things, very possibly helped along by their bond.

He tugs Will to his feet. “You won’t be by yourself now.” He kisses him, and Will kisses back eagerly enough, but Hannibal is distracted all over again. “You’re very warm.”

“I don’t feel warm,” Will grumbles.

Hannibal sniffs Will, and notes the distinctive sweet-hot odor of a fever, as delicious on Will as everything else. “You have a fever. Let’s get you into a bath,” he decides.

Once the bath is drawn, Will steps in and looks surprised. “It’s warm,” he says, “I thought you were going to make it cold.”

“Never cold; that would only make a fever worse. And there is no need to bring your temperature down with a lukewarm bath at this point. Best just to relax and let it run its course.” Hannibal strips and slides into the tub behind Will, who reclines against his chest with a pleased hum.

Hannibal runs the sponge over as much of Will as he can reach, then squeezes it out over Will’s hair and picks up the shampoo. Will groans happily when Hannibal starts to massage his scalp.

“Now I know why that feels indecent when I get a haircut,” Will mumbles.

Hannibal prefers not to know who cuts Will’s hair. They do a good job with it, displaying his curls to their best advantage while understanding that Will generally can’t be bothered with styling. Better for everyone if Hannibal’s jealousy remains undirected.

“Rinse,” he instructs softly, pushing at Will’s shoulders, and Will closes his eyes and sinks beneath the water while Hannibal tousles his hair clean and the water murky. When he surfaces, Hannibal spreads conditioner on his hands and starts massaging Will all over again. By the time his hair is rinsed a second time, Will is lolling boneless in the water.

Really, he’s more than relaxed enough to sleep well, but Hannibal’s motto when it comes to Will is excess in all things. And Will’s pliancy is… inspiring.

Maneuvering carefully to avoid soaking the floor (although with the new tile and drain it’s more about slipperiness than damaging the house), Hannibal switches their positions so Will is against the wall of the tub and Hannibal is facing him.

Will squints at him when Hannibal starts fondling him under the water. “I thought you said I should relax.”

“And this will relax you.” Not yet erect, Will’s cock can be contained in Hannibal’s hand, along with his balls. It twitches and moves like a sleepy little animal under Hannibal’s touch, coming slowly to life. Hannibal needs to do this on dry land sometime, so he can feel this happening in his mouth, feel the currents of Will’s blood rushing along under his skin to swell and harden the flesh.

They spend almost every night together now, but somehow Hannibal’s sexual to-do list keeps getting longer.

For the moment, he contents himself with slowly stroking and rubbing Will to hardness. He uses his other hand to tilt Will’s head up for kisses, and then back so he can suck and nibble on all the sensitive spots on Will’s throat.

Will doesn’t stay passive for long, twisting and then bucking under Hannibal, sloshing water over the edges of the tub.

“I love how you quicken for me,” Hannibal breathes in Will's ear, then sucks his earlobe. He rubs just behind Will’s balls, savoring Will’s gasp.

“Uhn, th-that’s good, because this-this is gonna be quick,” Will stammers, clutching the rim of the bathtub, already starting to shake as he ruts uncontrollably into Hannibal’s fist.

Hannibal grins and takes a deep breath, then slips under the water and slurps Will into his mouth. Will’s shout echoes in his chest through the water, and through the murk (traces of them both floating in the water, mingling like soup, and Hannibal allows that it is a little peculiar of him to want to drink it) he can see Will reach up to yank at his own hair. Beside himself with pleasure.

Hannibal swallows contentedly around the head of Will’s cock and rolls his balls in his fingers. He imagines himself as some undersea creature, lavishing attention on a poor shipwrecked sailor drifting in the waves. Soon he will pull Will under to keep him in a bubble home, safe among the coral and bright fishes, sunbeams from the surface flickering over his face.

The fanciful thought dissolves in the face of Will’s cock thickening and his balls drawing up. Hannibal swallows once more and Will comes, thick and salty on Hannibal’s tongue, rich with Will’s unique proteins and esters. He holds Will in his mouth until he’s limp again, ignoring the growing burn in his lungs in favor of ensuring he doesn’t miss a single drop.

When he surfaces again, Will is panting almost as hard as Hannibal, floating in the bath, looking utterly wrecked. His face is pink and beaded with sweat.

“That may have been impulsive.”

Will gives him an owlish blink. “I hope you’re not expecting me to reciprocate. I’ve become a liquid.”

Hannibal chuckles. “That you let me at all is reciprocation enough.”

He has to prop Will up while they towel off, and half-carries him to bed. Will buries his hot face gratefully in the cool pillow and declines all but a sheet. However, less than an hour later he becomes chilled and clings to Hannibal in his sleep, muttering dark gibberish.

 


 

Abel Gideon had a wonderful time escaping the transport van and hanging the staff’s organs from the tree, on two different levels: as what he thinks the Chesapeake Ripper is like, based on the descriptions forced on him by Frederick Chilton; and as the patchy ghost of his own original self. Will, experiencing both as the only person alive who knows who the Chesapeake Ripper is (and with said Ripper standing watchfully at his back in the event of a zone), is so disoriented he can feel his headache getting worse with every blink of his eyes.

“He hung the organs from the branches with vein from the victims,” says Beverly Katz.

“He even tied little bows with some of them,” points out Jimmy Price.

“Yeah, it’s pretty impressive,” admits Brian Zeller.

“I have to agree,” says Hannibal, peering closely at a securely-netted kidney. “Veins have all the durability of cooked pasta.”

Will is not going to yell at Hannibal in public.

Hannibal continues, “It takes considerable skill to harvest a useable amount even in an equipped operating room, much less with a - what did he use?”

Zeller waves the oil dipstick from the van. Hannibal raises his eyebrows. Will is positive he’s restraining himself from doing a golf clap and maybe jotting down some notes.

“The Chesapeake Ripper would not have left the organs behind,” Will says. It feels like he’s stating the blindingly obvious, but Jack nods like he’s said something profound.

“Well, if Gideon isn’t the Chesapeake Ripper, he’s certainly trying to get his attention.”

Will looks at Hannibal, surveying the gory scene, happy as a clam and maybe a little jealous, and thinks, Mission fucking accomplished.

 


 

Hannibal goes back to his practice. Will meets Alana at the BSHCI.

“I’m expecting this to be a waste of time,” she sighs. “Thank you for coming out anyway.”

At least Chilton’s oily acquisitiveness toward Will is missing today. Maybe the rumors have reached him that Will is no longer a rarified ‘Four’, but rather a garden-variety sentinel. Or, he simply feels the ground under his feet shifting too much to be thinking expansionist thoughts. Will thinks the latter is more likely, judging by the smell of Chilton’s flop-sweat and his defensive sneering, heaping blame on everyone but himself, especially Alana.

When even Alana’s patience wears thin and she snaps at Chilton, Will tries to salvage something useful from the meeting.

“What does Gideon want?”

“Last thing Abel Gideon said to me was he intended to tell everyone he’s the Chesapeake Ripper.” Chilton’s already-racing heart speeds up yet more - he’s lying even as they’re trying to recapture a killer who has it in for him.

Is there a word for prioritizing one’s reputation even above one’s survival?

 


 

“I’m sure there is, but I’m more concerned about your own stoicism, Will. How much help can you be in bringing Gideon to ground if you are hallucinating a thicket of antlers in the briefing room? Why not just go home sick?”

Will laughs shortly. “Pretty sure Jack would push me to crime scenes in a wheelchair if he had to. Besides, I wanted to go to the briefing, to see if they’d found out anything new.”

“And have they?”

“No. It was just general information for all the extra warm bodies being brought in on the hunt.”

“You see? The FBI does not expect you to catch Gideon alone.”

“But you’d like it if we did, wouldn’t you?” Will looks steadily at Hannibal. “Gideon took credit for your work; that’s rude. And what was done to him is a pillar of your plan to frame Chilton. What you do with Gideon could be another pillar, if you play your cards right.”

“I am all for opportunism, but not at the price of being reckless with your health, Will.”

Will steps into Hannibal’s space, and is at once embraced. He butts Hannibal’s forehead gently and says, “I’ll rest after Gideon’s caught, I promise.”

Hannibal feels Will’s forehead and makes an unhappy noise. “I’d rather you rest now. Come, up to bed with you.”

Getting into bed does feel wonderful. Just as Will is drifting off, Hannibal asks, “Earlier, when you said Gideon was rude. Will, did you mean…”

Will won’t let himself pretend Hannibal isn’t - what he is. He’s already admitted he isn’t going to stop Hannibal by turning him in. Asking Hannibal to stop doesn’t even occur to him - might as well ask a shark to stop swimming. It just feels like time to shit or get off the pot. “I mean I know you want to eat him. Am I wrong?”

“No,” Hannibal says, “but I’m surprised it doesn’t bother you more.”

“I spent weeks being plenty bothered.”

“And now?”

Will yawns. “Fish is getting a little old, don’t you think?” It seems silly to tolerate murder and balk at cannibalism.

Hannibal is silent for a long time. Will is almost asleep when Hannibal rasps, “Remarkable boy.” He might say something else, but he starts stroking Will’s hair, which puts Will out like a light, so he doesn’t hear it.

 


 

Hannibal has grave misgivings about taking Will to Quantico in the morning, but while his illness makes Will delightfully needy at home, it makes him more mulish than ever about work. If Hannibal doesn’t give him a ride, he will just stagger into his own car and drive himself, risking a zone and a wreck.

Will calls him that evening. “I’m in Baltimore,” he says, “the office of a Dr. Carruthers.”

“I know it,” says Hannibal. Dr. Carruthers, bloodless and festooned with a Colombian necktie, is on the front page of TattleCrime. “I’ll pick you up shortly.”

Will is greyish, damp, and coughing when Hannibal arrives. Beverly Katz is waiting with him at the curb, and after Will has gotten into the car she pulls Hannibal aside and hisses, “For God’s sake, keep him home tomorrow. I don’t care if you have to sit on him. He’s a walking biohazard!”

“I heard that!” Will yells from inside the Bentley, then coughs some more.

“So listen!” Beverly retorts.

Hannibal agrees wholeheartedly, and will argue as such when the time comes. As they pull away from the curb, he says, “I saw the TattleCrime article.”

“When we got there, the blood was packed in ice with a note to deliver it to the Red Cross.” Will’s cadence is flat, exhausted. “Gideon’s peacocking for you, like flowers and chocolate before a first date.” Oh. Will’s tone is also annoyed.

With effort, Hannibal ignores his flutter of pleasure at Will’s jealousy and considers the information. “The blood was still hanging in the photo.”

“Yeah. He has Freddie Lounds.”

“That complicates any plan to collect him.”

“I can’t imagine he’ll just drag her around like his girl Friday. He’ll stash her somewhere.”

“The article contained several blatant hints.” Blatant to Hannibal, anyway. “She’ll be at the observatory. He could easily contain her there while he ran errands.”

“What kind of errands?”

“What might the Chesapeake Ripper be pleased to find in that place, that Abel Gideon would know about?”

Will says, quietly but with great feeling, “Fucking shit. Chilton. He disrespected both your identities; Gideon will make a present of him.”

“He’ll wait to collect him until fewer people are out and about.” Hannibal pauses while Will has a violent coughing fit, then goes on, “Which gives us time to go to my house and put you to bed.”

“I can handle it.”

“Any more hallucinations today, Will?”

“Just some water in the morgue. Tame after the antlers. I think I’m on the mend.” Hannibal can feel the heat pouring off Will from where he’s sitting. The smell of his sickly sweat is no longer a novelty; it’s just a concern.

Back at Hannibal’s house, Will chugs nearly a litre of water before Hannibal stops him, fearing he will throw it all back up. His fever is 103.

“Have you been taking anything?” Will produces an entire bottle of aspirin from his pocket and shakes it, in the least encouraging manner possible. Hannibal takes the bottle away from him.

“You’re lucky you haven’t burnt a hole in your stomach lining, or started hemorrhaging. In four hours if you are still feverish you may have two tylenol, and only two.” Hannibal is reminded of the ER nurses he used to work with, giving withering lectures on elementary self-care to adults who should know better.

Will rolls his eyes. “Pitfalls of bonding with a doctor.”

“Indeed.” Hannibal steers Will up the stairs and into another bath - lukewarm this time, much to Will’s displeasure. His teeth are chattering by the time Hannibal lets him dry off. He crawls into bed and glares balefully at Hannibal from under the blankets.

Despite his worry, Hannibal can’t hold back a chuckle. “You look like a wet cat.”

Will huffs. “I feel about as mad as one. Get over here and rub my back.” He groans when Hannibal complies, arching under his hands.

“Are your muscles sore, Will?”

“Yeah, like I went for a really hard run.”

“When was the last time you got a flu shot?”

“I don’t know. Back when I was a cop, I guess. Lot of germs in lockup and waiting rooms, not to mention the emergency department.”

“Classrooms are also notorious, especially if you are already under stress. If it is influenza, you’ll recover in another few days with rest and fluids.”

“Gideon-”

“I will handle Gideon tonight, and you are going to sleep.” Hannibal pushes his guide voice as far as he dares, and Will drops off with a sigh. Hannibal stays with him until he’s quite sure Will is deeply under, then gets up and drives to Frederick Chilton’s house.

He discreetly assures himself that Frederick is still safe at home, which he is, puttering anxiously around his white-and-silver nightmare of a house (mildly notable as an art piece, but totally unsuited as a habitat for a human being) and then parks within sight of the most concealed approach.

He waits less than three hours before an SUV slowly circles the block and then parks in the spot Hannibal has been watching. He pulls up alongside it and rolls down his window. Abel Gideon does the same.

“Dr. Gideon, I presume?”

Gideon nods cautiously and asks, “Are you the Chesapeake Ripper?”

“Please, get in the car.”

Gideon does so, but glances up at the house after he sits down. “Frederick’s not just a gift for you; I deserve to get inside his belly the way he got inside my head.”

“Were you going to kill him?”

Gideon smiles crookedly. “Only if his doctors failed him. I wanted to remove all his non-essential organs and leave them in his hands, like a gift basket.”

Hannibal has to admit: he likes that. If it hadn’t been Hannibal Gideon claimed to be, Hannibal would find this man very amusing.

 


 

Will jerks awake, heart pounding like he had a nightmare, but it’s something in the waking world that’s disturbed him. There’s somebody here, somebody who doesn’t belong. He lurches out of the bed and almost falls over, putting his hands on his knees and hanging his head until the dizziness passes. Then he stumbles out into the hall.

“Hannibal?” he croaks through his aching throat, “There’s someone here-” someone tries to rush him from behind, and he only just ducks in time.

Spinning as he skids to a stop, Abel Gideon blinks at him. “Why, Mr. Graham. Fancy meeting you here!” he purrs. He looks Will up and down saucily. “I don’t know which is your biggest problem: how ill you look, who your doctor is, or that you appear to be fucking him.”

“Where’s Hannibal?” Will growls.

Gideon shrugs. “Downstairs.” Will can smell Hannibal on him, there are some of Hannibal’s hairs on the sleeves of Gideon’s jacket, and Hannibal’s heart is beating somewhere downstairs. Will drops from incipient panic back down to fucking pissed.

Will widens and lowers his stance and turns toward Gideon. He knows exactly how dangerous this stocky, middle-aged man is, how he managed to kill three trained professionals while shackled and handcuffed. Will is smaller, skinnier, sick as a dog, and naked. He has his work cut out for him.

“How did you get the drop on him?”

Gideon raises his eyebrows. “He’s one of those guides, did you know that? Tried to whammy me with his voice, but I guess the furniture in my head got moved around too much for that to work quite right.”

More likely because the guide voice works best when the listener already wants to do what the guide is suggesting. Will can’t imagine what Hannibal asked Gideon to do. “So you played along until he got close. But why’d you run upstairs?”

Gideon smirks. “See if I could find anything useful.” He rushes Will again, and Will steps to the side and grabs his arm. Gideon’s momentum pivots him around that suddenly-fixed point, and he crashes face-first into the doorjamb with a resounding knock.

Gideon’s up and moving again before Will can put him in a headlock, but now he’s streaming blood from a gash on his forehead (it’s in his eyes - good), and looking almost as wobbly as Will feels.

“I see,” he croons, still in the same nonchalant tone; save Will from psychopaths and their narrow fucking ranges of emotion. “So your biggest problem is being ill, then.”

“No,” Will mutters, “my biggest problem is some fucking prick waking me up at fuck-off o’clock.”

Gideon chuckles and starts circling Will. Will backs away, out into the hall. “Who are you to him? The him I thought I was doesn’t have a place for you.”

“You mean who Chilton thought you were? Smeared into your brain with an ink roller?”

Gideon’s face flickers with real distress for a moment. “That’s the one.”

Will sees his opening and rushes Gideon in turn, and gets a good grip around his middle. He propels Gideon backward, heaves with his thighs, and flips him over the banister. He lands badly on the first few steps up from the ground floor. “I’m his fucking sentinel.”

“You are a menace to carpets everywhere, is what you are,” Hannibal says dryly, having only just sidestepped Gideon’s descent.

Will sags against the railing, dizzy again, this time with relief and adrenaline. “Glad to see you up and about.”

Hannibal climbs the stairs two at a time. “I’m sorry he woke you, but glad he didn’t hurt you.” He’s badly disheveled, and there’s a spot of blood on his temple.

“What did he do to you?”

“He tried to do several things, and I will be cleaning and repairing my kitchen for some time as a result. He eventually succeeded in hitting me with a cast-iron frying pan.” He reaches Will and looks at him with mingled pride and concern.

Will grinds his teeth and spits, “Fucker. I’d like to drag him up here and drop him againnnn-” He can’t seem to unclench his teeth, and his heart is accelerating wildly.

“Will? Will!” Hannibal’s voice is frantic, and then everything washes away into static.

 


 

“Dr. Lecter, is Will with you? He didn’t show up for work this morning, and he’s not answering his cell phone. I know he’s sick, but it’s not like him not to be in touch.” Jack sounds more worried than irritated. Hannibal doesn’t care.

“Will is in the sentinel wing of Johns Hopkins,” he says. “He had a seizure last night. His fever is 105, and his white blood cell count is twice normal.”

“Jesus. They figure out what’s wrong?”

“Influenza, which progressed into viral pneumonia.” Hannibal has taken the time to pace through his mind palace, throwing deadbolts and dragging furniture in front of certain doors. He can’t afford to think about why pneumonia bothers him so much. He can’t afford to think about - what he can’t afford to think about. Not with Will in the hospital and Abel Gideon, broken but alive, in his basement. “Were you only calling to find out where Will is?”

“I was going to tell him to stay home in any case. Freddie Lounds put up a message on TattleCrime asking someone to come get her at the observatory where we found Miriam Lass’s arm. Gideon went out on errands and never came back. Until another body drops, there’s nothing for Will to look at.”

“I would have insisted he stay home even if there were more bodies, fearing the exact outcome that has now occurred. Will already pushes himself too hard, Jack. It’s a mistake to push him harder.”

“You’re not wrong,” Jack says heavily. “But I can’t not use the best tools at my disposal.”

“A tool is no longer useable if you break it.”

Hannibal can hear Jack blowing out an irritated breath over the phone. “Gideon’s still at large, and I’ve got my people spread thin between trying to track him down and protective details on the people he’s most likely to go after. If you need to go home, get hospital security to put a guard on Will’s room, at least until he regains consciousness. I’ll send a notification over to their desk to that effect.”

“Alright.” Hannibal ends the call, and goes back to holding Will’s hand, feeling his pulse. It's heavily silent in the room, soundproofed like all the suites in the sentinel wing; above the hiss of the oxygen mask, he can hear Will’s every bubbling breath.

Chapter Text

Will understands the necessity of sentinel hospitals, and wings of hospitals: the soundproofed rooms, dimmest possible lighting, low-odor cleaning products, ultra-flavorless food, and staff with extensive guide training must all be a godsend to those hypersensitives trapped in the hospital for an extended stay. If he were stuck on the regular side he would be half-mad by now with misery both secondhand and firsthand. But he isn’t stuck there, and he finds himself growing bored in his room alone. So he tells the ward staff where he’s going and wanders onto the bright, loud, stinky side of the hospital to see what he can see.

His IV pole squeaking alongside him, plaid bathrobe, and lack of urgency all mark him as a patient taking a stroll. Several nurses give him pleased looks, approving him seeking the exercise many of their patients are gradually deconditioning without.

Eventually he finds the oxygen chamber where Georgia Madchen is growing back her skin. She smiles when she sees him and hits the intercom.

“You’re Will Graham.”

Will smiles back. “You can see my face?”

She nods. “Apparently it’s easier to adapt to brain lesions when you don’t have sepsis. Who’da thunk it?” She has the scratchy voice of a smoker twice her age; Will wonders if she spent some time intubated. “They showed me your picture a couple of days ago. Maybe I would’ve come in sooner if I could’ve seen what a cutie you are.”

“Well, don’t let my boyfriend hear you say that.” Will is proud of not tripping over the term. He’s not used to thinking of Hannibal as anything... normal. ”Anyway, you’re looking pretty cute yourself.”

She brushes her hair away from her face. “Must be all the oxygen… So what are you in for?”

“I got the flu, then kept working until I fell on my face with pneumonia.”

Georgia clicks her tongue. “Bet your boyfriend has a thing or two to say about that.”

“No kidding. He only took a break to go see his shrink and make a pot of soup.”

“Hope his shrink is better than any of mine,” she says bitterly.

Actually, Will knows almost nothing about Hannibal’s psychiatrist, other than that she’s a woman. Hannibal’s been seeing her the entire time he’s been practicing, so he must be satisfied with her. Will feels a sudden urge to be a fly on the wall for those conversations; they must be quite the performance.

He and Georgia chat a little more. She doesn’t want to get better if it means the memory of killing Beth LeBeau is stripped of its dreamlike distance. Will can’t blame her; he has plenty of memories he would keep wrapped up if he could.

Not your memories of dealing out violence though, ain’t that right? His inner voice drawls, smooth and merciless. Those you like to take out and look at alll the damn time, like jewels. How appropriate that your soulmate brought you two out of three.

 


 

As promised, Hannibal returns with soup.

“Silkie chicken in a broth. A black-boned bird prized in China for its medicinal value since the 7th century. With wolfberries, ginseng, ginger, red dates, and star anise.”

Will smiles helplessly. “You made me chicken soup.”

Hannibal gives him a slow, annoyed blink. “Yes.”

It smells amazing and tastes even better. Will is growing spoiled by Hannibal’s cooking, full of complex flavours delicately calibrated to Will’s sense of taste and smell. The food in the hospital tastes like flour paste by comparison.

Hannibal sniffs in disapproval when Will mentions this. “Taste and smell are essential elements of food,” he declares, “one cannot be nourished without them.”

“Especially in this wing, the food has to be as plain and simple as possible, like cooking for someone with dozens of unknown allergies. I don’t like it, but I understand it.”

“All the more reason to have you discharged as soon as possible.”

Will savors a mouthful of disconcerting black chicken. “You don’t like me being around so many guides,” he realizes.

Hannibal has the grace to look embarrassed, and retaliates with, “Would you be pleased if I was surrounded by sentinels?”

Will is not in control of the growl he makes at that. Hannibal smirks.

Will glances at the door to make sure it’s closed, and changes the subject. “How is our houseguest?” he asks, as quietly as he can.

Hannibal responds at the same volume.“Stable. Hidden, restrained, sedated, and hypnotized.”

“Are you sure? He threw off your influence once already.”

“Not with that many tranquilizers on board, he didn’t.”

Will wrinkles his nose. “Isn’t that going to interfere with your - menu planning?” Eating a person is one thing, different from any other meat only in significance. But meat bursting with drugs doesn’t sound very appetizing.

Hannibal shrugs. “I already took the parts I want to use. Anything that comes off or out later will be strictly for effect.”

Will works his way through more soup, then says, “It’s funny. I know what I should be saying and thinking about this, but it all feels like a token protest. Like it only occurs to me to say it or think it because I know that’s what a normal person would do.”

Hannibal smiles. “But you don’t have to be normal with me.”

Will grins and shakes his head. “No. No, I don’t.” He slurps up the last of the broth. “This soup really is delicious.”

 


 

“Miss Lounds,” Jack says, “Please, have a seat. Can I offer you a coffee?”

“Cream and sugar, thank you,” she says, like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Both of them seated with coffee, Jack says, “I trust you’re recovered from your ordeal?”

“To be frank, there wasn’t much to recover from,” she says. There’s no one here to impress; she has to know Jack will never see her as anything but a cockroach. “Abel Gideon didn’t want anything from me except publicity. It was one of the most congenial interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

“Discounting being abducted at gunpoint from the scene of a recent murder, of course.”

Freddie goes ever so slightly more pale. “Yes, discounting that.”

“Before Abel Gideon left the observatory and didn’t come back, did he tell you where he was going?”

She tightens her hands around her coffee mug and says, “He said he wanted to give the Chesapeake Ripper something. Considering what the Ripper does, I’m sure that something was going to be a person.”

“Did he tell you which person?”

“No, but I have my theories.”

“Care to share them?”

“Have you found my car yet?”

“Yes, in an impound lot.” Her eyes light up. Jack takes pleasure in adding, “It’s waiting for you outside. Not fair to make you pay a fine incurred while you were a hostage.”

Freddie’s glare could curdle fresh cream. “I deserve to know where it was towed from.”

“Miss Lounds, you very much do not. Your publicity has helped murderers escape in the past, costing who knows how many lives. The Chesapeake Ripper has enough points in his favor; for once this piece of information is a point in ours.”

“It’s Frederick Chilton, isn’t it?” she blurts out. “That’s where Gideon disappeared from.”

Jack schools his features to blankness. She’s fishing for a reaction. “What makes you say that?”

“Gideon didn’t know much more about the details of the Ripper case than anyone else. He went to the observatory because it was a place the Ripper went. The easiest person he could get to who he knew was close to the Ripper case was Chilton. Only it was so easy the Ripper knew it too, and grabbed him.”

“You don’t think Gideon disappeared of his own free will?”

“If he was still free, the bodies would still be piling up.”

“I can’t comment on an active investigation,” Jack says at last. “Thank you, Miss Lounds, that will be all.”

Freddie flounces out. Jack expects an article proclaiming the Ripper to have Gideon within the hour. It’s a toss-up whether Dr. Chilton’s name appears or not.

 


 

“Hey, calm down,” Will laughs, trying to reassure seven dogs at once. “I’m fine!”

“You will be once you recuperate. For now they are right to be concerned.” Will is no longer feverish and his lungs are clear (for which Hannibal is profoundly grateful) but he still looks exhausted, and smells of the carefully-blank environment of the sentinel wing at Johns Hopkins; one of the finest hypersensitive-specialized medical facilities in the country, but still a hospital all the same.

“Alright, alright, you guys, out for a bit.” Will whistles and opens the door, and the dogs stream out. He blows out a tired breath as he closes the door.

“Lie down while I make us some lunch,” Hannibal orders. Will raises an eyebrow, but settles on the bed in the corner.

Soup remains the order of the day. He won’t repeat himself with more silkie chicken, but he does have most of a nice fatty duck.

(Hannibal does not consider his favorite meat appropriate for the sick. The contaminants of modern life are no challenge for a healthy liver, but may be taxing for a system already otherwise burdened.)

When the duck and vegetables are simmering and the dry ingredients for dumpling batter are mixed, just waiting to be moistened and dropped in, he looks over at Will, who pats beside himself on the bed. “You have some time now, right?”

“I do,” Hannibal concedes, lying down flush against Will’s side, as he has sorely missed being able to do the last two nights with Will in hospital. He rubs Will’s chest. “How are you feeling?”

Will arches slightly into the touch. “Glad to be home. You spoil me.”

“You could do with more spoiling.” Hannibal slips his hand under Will’s shirt and runs his palm over Will’s pectorals, feeling the crinkle of the sparse, dark hairs around his nipples - the only hair he grows on his chest. Will’s nipples are already hardening into little points. He leans over and pushes Will’s shirt up. He licks, then sucks at the nipple closest to him, and when Will grunts softly he catches it between the tip of his tongue and his upper teeth. Will’s hands come up to cradle Hannibal’s head, and then urge him to the other side of Will’s chest. He gives the same treatment to the nipple there, lightly pinching and rolling the first in his fingers.

Will gives him a deep, pleased hum, and Hannibal shifts to kneel between Will’s legs. His hand roams down Will’s belly - following the fine trail of hair - and into Will’s pants, to hold Will’s rapidly hardening cock. He pushes Will’s arm up with one hand so he can smell Will’s armpit.

No sterile hospital odors here. Will smells: aroused, like a man used to orgasming daily at least, suddenly denied for more than two days. Weakened, but far from sapped of his vitality. Hannibal reminds himself that Will overpowered and half-killed Abel Gideon minutes before seizing. Sweaty, likely to want a shower or bath after this. Hannibal warms to the image of Will, damp-haired and sleepy-eyed, bundled into a thick bathrobe and enjoying Hannibal’s soup. A more pleasing version of their earlier meal in the hospital.

But now, Hannibal is hungry for something else. He starts to kiss his way down Will’s chest, but Will stops him. “I missed your voice,” he says. “I thought maybe, if you wanted, you could talk and - um, ride me.”

Hannibal swallows. “Certainly.” Abruptly that’s what he wants, too. He reaches into the little side table for the lubricant and wastes no time shedding his slacks, and pulling down Will’s. He sits astride Will’s thighs and rubs their cocks together, hands-free, aimless, and friendly, while he slicks up his fingers and reaches behind himself.

Will reaches behind Hannibal as well. “Talk,” he reminds Hannibal, borrowing lubricant from Hannibal’s fingers and rubbing a small circle around Hannibal’s hole.

Hannibal licks his lips. “Even knowing how intelligent you are, it surprised me how quickly you mastered- mm!” Will dips a fingertip inside, rotating as he goes deeper to spread the lube evenly. “Mastered this particular skill,” Hannibal continues, a little more breathless than before.

Will smirks. “I had some prior experience with this particular skill,” he admits, “not a lot, but some.”

“Still, every body is unique, requiring just the right touch to - oh - unlock.”

“And what unlocks you, Hannibal?” Will adds another finger.

Hannibal groans. “Just this.” Will’s fingers are sure and confident, twisting and scissoring inside Hannibal. “A promise that soon I’ll get to stretch around your splendid cock, darling.”

This startles a laugh out of Will. “Splendid? Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Hannibal echoes, pushing back into Will’s hand. Growing impatient, he adds one of his own fingers after all, and grunts as his body adjusts to the stretch. “Alright, that’s enough,” he decides. He drizzles more lubricant on Will’s erection - as flushed as Will’s cheeks, bobbing eagerly against Will’s belly. As always, Hannibal’s mouth waters to look at it, but Will made a request.

Hannibal clambers forward until he can position Will at his opening, and starts to sink back. He isn’t really ready, but he wants it this way.

“Jesus, you should see your face,” Will mutters, stroking Hannibal’s sides as he pants through the burn.

“Do I look like I’m- oh!- having a religious experience?” Hannibal gasps, riding slowly up and down, taking more and more of Will’s cock on each pass.

“You look like you’re getting fucked,” Will assures him.

“Splendidly.” His buttocks brush Will’s thighs, then rest on them, and Hannibal groans happily. “Oh, Will, you feel exquisite.”

“I guess it makes sense that you love having part of me inside you, any way you can get it.”

Hannibal chuckles and starts to slowly roll his hips, savoring how long and thick and hot Will feels. “Using my mouth on you is my, mmm, my favorite. The weight and salt of you in my mouth, or how you open so sweet and wanton for my tongue.”

“Shit!” Will’s hips jerk.

“But this is good too.” Hannibal starts to ride Will faster and harder, lifting up and pushing down. “Ah, Will, so good. Very… visceral.”

“I don’t know which is my favorite.” Will sounds dazed. “This is right up there, though.” His hips are starting to twitch up to meet Hannibal on the downstroke. The force of the collision makes Hannibal moan loudly.

“I think,” Will pants, surprisingly lucid all things considered, “I think I just like- ungh!- knowing how controlled you normally are, and-and then seeing you lose it with me. Ah! Exactly how is less important.” He lets go of Hannibal’s waist and starts stripping Hannibal’s cock. “Go on, lose it for me now.”

As Hannibal convulses, clenching lusciously around Will, marking Will’s chest with his come, he wonders distantly if Will has any idea of the power he wields over Hannibal. He literally cannot think of a request, short of killing Will but not himself, that he would not do his utmost to fulfill.

Will manages a few sharp thrusts up, and then he comes too, open-mouthed, staring directly into Hannibal’s eyes.

 


 

The day after getting home from the hospital, Will is napping downstairs when he wakes to the sound of Jack's car coming up the driveway.

“How you feeling, Will?” Jack stands like a pillar of rock among the swarming dogs, until their initial frenzy dies down and he extends a hand for the taller ones to sniff.

“I’ll try not to breathe on you. Come on in.” Will washes his hands and puts some coffee on. Jack does it for Will and the others when they’re hard at work in his office.

“I won’t take up too much of your time,” Jack says. “I just wanted to hear your thoughts on something.”

“Could hear my thoughts over the phone.”

“And apologize. I let you keep working sick because I wanted you on the case, and you wound up in the hospital. That lack of leadership on my part, that’s my responsibility.”

“The Gideon case is Ripper-adjacent; it’s understandable.” Will is uncomfortable. He’s a grown man; he put himself in the hospital by death-marching around like an idiot.

“Maybe, but not excusable. And - not effective, either. When it comes to the Ripper, I need to cool off, stay smart.”

No, no, stay impulsive. That’s part of the plan. “Any word on Gideon?”

“No. It’s like he vanished into thin air. But before he did, he parked Freddie Lounds’ car not far from Frederick Chilton’s house.”

“Did he tell Freddie that’s where he was going?”

“No, but she guessed. And if she could guess, the Chesapeake Ripper could absolutely guess.”

“So you think the Ripper has Gideon.”

“I do.”

Will sips his coffee and looks at Jack, who looks like he’s bursting with an idea. “There’s more to it than that.”

“I need to check something with you. Georgia Madchen: did you see her cutting on Dr. Sutcliffe?”

“Not directly. She had the scissors in her hands, and she was bloody like she’d tried to peel back his face, the same way she did to Beth LeBeau.”

“But you didn’t see her actually cutting.”

“No.”

“And did any of the three of you go back out into the hall?”

“She left on a stretcher. We waited with the body until you arrived.”

“There was blood on the door handle.”

Will shakes his head. “I’m sorry. The door was open, I was looking inside the office, I wasn’t in observer mode at the time. Was there?”

“Yeah. Somebody who touched Dr. Sutcliffe left the room, and touched the door handle when they did it. Somebody other than Georgia, you, or Dr. Lecter.”

“I didn’t smell anybody else there.”

“You’re still learning to use that sense, and you just said yourself you weren’t in observer mode at the time.”

“That’s true. What are you thinking, Jack?”

“I’m wondering if somebody wanted Dr. Sutcliffe dead, and made it look like Georgia Madchen did it, and then got interrupted when the real thing showed up.”

Will gets up to refill his coffee. “Someone was interrupted before they could shred Sutcliffe’s records on Georgia. Maybe it wasn’t Sutcliffe.”

“Sutcliffe’s staff didn’t know what he was doing. There’s only one interesting name in that file.”

“...Chilton?” Will is pretty sure he hits the right note of incredulity.

Jack leans forward, knuckles paling where he clutches his mug. “He consulted on the Ripper case. His patient Abel Gideon claimed to be the Ripper, and then claimed Chilton influenced him to think he was the Ripper. He referred Georgia Madchen to Dr. Sutcliffe, but I checked Chilton’s private practice records and no record exists of him seeing her.”

“Anymore.”

“Anymore,” Jack says grimly. “And now Abel Gideon has vanished near his house.”

“Jesus, Jack.”

“I’m taking my time on this one, getting all my ducks in a row. If it’s him, I don’t want him getting away.”

“There’s another duck: Hannibal knows him. He’s had dinner at Hannibal’s house more than once. Maybe they talked about the Gideon case.”

“I’m headed to his office next.” Jack gives Will a hard look. “Will, I want you to keep your distance on this one, as much as you can. Chilton looked at you like he wanted you in that goddamn zoo he’s running.”

“Jack Crawford, alias The Bondfather: how much distance do you think I can keep if there’s a potential threat to my guide?”

“About as much as I expect Dr. Lecter to keep if there’s a potential threat to you. But you’re going to do it anyway: get a handle on those instincts, hole up together while you convalesce, and let the FBI crush this particular threat like the fist of God. Got it?”

Will makes a show of clenching his jaw and nodding. Acquiescing to the chief of the tribe.

 


 

“Jack Crawford came to see me yesterday,” Hannibal says conversationally. “He asked me whether Frederick Chilton ever discussed you with me, Abel.”

Will adds, “He had a lot more questions for me, on the same topic. He’s certain the Chesapeake Ripper has you, and you disappeared outside Chilton’s house.”

Abel Gideon takes his time chewing another bite of his own thigh. After he swallows, he says, “I usurp the title of the Chesapeake Ripper, and end up with a broken back, eating my own legs. The man who helped me usurp it, gets the title to keep? Very uneven, Doctor.”

“Not really. Frederick would rather die than be disgraced. He will end up in the same position you occupied: caged, drugged, and studied for the personal advancement of second-rate academics like himself.”

Abel cuts another piece of meat. “I’d be surprised if it sticks. My lawyer did some digging on Frederick. He was an incompetent surgeon; fled to psychiatry to avoid embarrassment.”

Will points out, “You don’t have to be a competent surgeon if you don’t intend the people you remove organs from to live.” Hannibal shoots him a look, and Will assures him, “Although I’m sure they would have, if you’d wanted them to.” Mollified, Hannibal has a sip of wine. The Côtes du Rhône is such a nice pairing with the roast, stuffed as it is with dried fruit. The flavours mingle together on his palate, a symphony just like the events he has orchestrated around them.

“Tell me, Will: how do you find the meat?” He would have liked Will to stick to an invalid's diet for another day, but of course the instant Will caught wind of it he insisted that Hannibal stop with the poultry soups. 

Will gives him a tiny eye roll. “I’ve eaten enough times with you in the past that it just tastes familiar. Good home cooking.”

Hannibal beams at him. He is so in love. Will gives him a weary squint and takes another bite, and Hannibal can’t restrain a sigh of utter contentment.

“I thought I was someone who shouldn’t be in a relationship,” reflects Abel, “but maybe I just should’ve been looking for someone more like myself.”

“You very well might have looked forever and been unsuccessful,” says Hannibal, gazing at Will. “Certainly I never expected such a turn of events myself.”

Will swallows and says, “He’s going to try and slash one of his arteries with his steak knife if you say one more sappy thing, Hannibal.”

Abel hisses, “Traitor.” Hannibal gets up to fetch the sedatives.

 


 

Will feels slow and thick in the head, like he’s drunk, but not exactly like it. He oozes toward consciousness like mud sliding downhill.

The remnants of his last conversation echo through his confused, semi-lucid dreamscape.

“Oh, you… fucker.”

“Authenticity, darling.”

“...gonna kill you, Hannibal,” Will mumbles aloud, and the feeling of his lips moving pulls him closer to awake. “Hannibal!”

“Who’s Hannibal?” It’s a woman’s voice, cracked and hoarse. Will realizes he can hear a second heartbeat in the room with him, and unsteady, nervous breathing.

Will pries open gluey eyelids. His head feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. He finally manages to see something besides ceiling, and immediately wishes he were still unconscious.

He’s looking into the terrified face of Miriam Lass.

Chapter Text

 

“Wha-uhhh…”

Frederick doesn’t wake up enough to open his eyes before the injection takes effect. He’s even smaller than Will; Hannibal hopes the dosage is calibrated correctly for him to wake up at the appropriate time.

Regardless, there is no turning back or second-guessing now. The show is well underway. Briskly, Hannibal slips a tube down Frederick’s esophagus and deposits Abel Gideon’s ear in his stomach, and moves on to the rest of the house less than five minutes after he walked into the master bedroom.

Bless Frederick and his ostentatious home. (If Will were awake to call him on this thought, Hannibal would freely admit that he has no room to talk.) Hannibal finds the perfect room for his arrangement downstairs. He settles Will and Miriam Lass carefully. Both are several hours from waking.

He strokes Will’s curls. If this pageant plays out as he hopes, Will is going to be gloriously furious with him. Hannibal is looking forward to apologizing as much as he is to any other part of this.

Three unconscious people dealt with, one to go. When Hannibal finishes his set dressing and gets back into his stolen van (license plate swapped with an identical model), Abel Gideon is in a bad way. Likely he won’t live to regain consciousness. Pity; Hannibal had hoped to make Abel witness the conclusion to his own role.

Even though he still has a great deal of work to do tonight, Hannibal is careful to remain under the speed limit on his way to Virginia. It would not do to be pulled over while wearing a hairnet and clear plastic oversuit, with a one-eared, one-armed, legless man dying in his backseat.

 


 

Will’s thoughts are hideously sluggish.  “Miriam, my name is Will.”

She starts. “How do you know who I am?”

“I work for Jack Crawford.”

“But how can you see my face? I can’t see anything.” Her right hand comes up to her face, and the stump of her left arm twitches like it’s trying to do the same. “Oh God, am I blind? Did he take my eyes too?” Her voice gets more shrill with every word.

“No, no. I’m a sentinel. I can see in the dark,” Will assures her.

“Oh.” She sags with relief, then brightens. “Jack Crawford sent you? He’s looking for me?”

“He didn’t exactly send me, but I think he’s going to find us both soon. We are - we were - getting very close to catching the Chesapeake Ripper.”

“So was I, I guess,” she says mournfully.

“What do you remember?” Will is genuinely curious about this. Hannibal has to be confident she doesn’t remember finding him; her being alive at all is proof of that much.

“Being awake, and not awake. Being myself, and not myself.” Her voice is flat.

“You seem awake and yourself now.”

“His voice was as powerful as the drugs. It pulled at me like a current, bringing me in or sending me away.”

“Where are you now?”

“I don’t know. The same place, I think; the flowers are the same.” Will really isn’t tracking yet; it’s only now that he registers the heavy perfume of flowers in the air. “Can you see… is there a table? A bathroom?”

Will lifts his head a little more - it’s getting easier - and looks around. He’s in an armchair, facing Miriam sitting on a bed. There is a closed door behind him, and an open door through which he can see a sink and part of a toilet. There is a small table, where the flowers are sitting in a vase, and a cardboard box. “Yeah. There’s some kind of food bars on the table.”

Hannibal probably feels worse about making her eat those than he does about amputating her arm.

“That makes sense. I think I’ve spent… a lot of time, in here, just eating and sleeping. As much time as he told me to. How long have I been missing?”

“Two years.”  

“Two years,” she echoes, and rubs her mouth. “You could say twenty, or two months, and I’d believe you.”

“In all that time, were you ever as clear as you are now?”

“No.”

“Then obviously something’s changed. We have an opportunity to help ourselves.” Will lurches upright, then falls back again. “Just as soon as I can get out of this chair.”

 


 

Jack shuts off the ringing phone before he’s even entirely awake. The phone is lucky he doesn’t smash it to keep it from waking up Bella. “‘Lo?” he mutters, stumbling out into the hall.

“Special Agent Jack Crawford?”

“Speaking.”

“This is Officer Kalil Hara, Baltimore PD. Sorry to wake you at this hour, sir, but we received a 911 call from a phone belonging to a Dr. Hannibal Lecter. There were sounds of a struggle, and the call was cut short, but your name could be heard clearly…”

Jack swears profusely. He’d been hoping to speed up getting a warrant on Dr. Chilton, but not like this.

Not again.

 


 

As daybreak approaches, the ambient light in the room increases until Miriam Lass tells Will she can see. Unfortunately what she sees is: a room she’s never been lucid enough to recognize-

-nor lucid enough to realize she’s never been in this room before, yes, well done Hannibal-

-and Will, having a harder time coping with whatever Hannibal injected him with, than he did coping with a fever of 105.

“It's not uncommon for sentinels to react oddly to drugs,” she says, watching with concern as Will staggers to his feet, holding onto the back of the chair for support.

“I’m also just getting over the flu.”

“Well, there you go. Look, why don’t you - use your senses, and I’ll do the moving around for a bit.”

Will flops back into the chair. “Okay. The door: hinges on the outside. Locked?”

She turns the knob. “Yes.”

“Can you give it a shake?”

She rattles the door hard. Will listens carefully.

“There are three deadbolts, and a bar across the door. I don’t think we could break it down even if both of us were in top shape.”

Miriam looks down at herself: clearly emaciated even in her modest dress (actually a really fucking weird dress, Hannibal), and of course, short an arm. “Right. And that little window’s too high to reach.”

“Not if you stand on the table.” Will heaves himself to his feet again. “I’ll help you move it.”

The table is small, but heavy; it takes both of them to haul it across the little room. Will wonders if Hannibal put it in here himself or if it was his good luck Chilton furnished his guest room this way. Maybe he’ll ask Hannibal, after he’s done tearing him a new asshole over this unilateral fuckery.

Will leans against the wall while Miriam clambers cautiously onto the table. She peers out the window. “It looks like it opens.”

“Can you fit through it?”

“Definitely. But I don’t know if I can lift myself up.”

“I’ll boost you. Me and the wall have got a good thing going here.” Miriam regards him doubtfully, but steadies him as he joins her on the table. When Will braces himself against the wall and makes a stirrup of his interlaced fingers, she steps into it and reaches quickly for the catches on the window. She kicks off from his hands (and Will very nearly does fall off the table then) and squirms through.

“I made it,” she says. “I don’t think your shoulders will fit, though.”

“I’ll be okay, just go get help.”

“No way. He’ll either put you on display like the others, or keep you in a cage like me. I can see a garden shed - I’m going to break in the back and come get you out.”

“Miriam!” It’s no use. She’s drunk with freedom, giddily cursing the cold and the approaching dawn (now much too bright for her eyes) as she shuffles across Chilton’s lawn and thumps around in the garden shed. Will reminds himself this is the same woman who attracted Jack Crawford’s attention while she was still in trainee hell, and managed to find the Chesapeake Ripper while keeping so few notes no one had the first clue where she went.

Eventually Miriam makes a satisfied noise and comes back toward the house, dragging something on the grass, several more somethings clanking under her arm. Two loud bangs (and Miriam grunting with effort) and a crash of breaking glass, and then she’s letting herself in the back door. Probably found a shovel.

It can’t be more than two minutes before he hears her footsteps outside the door, but it feels like an eternity. She removes the bar, and clicks the three deadbolts, then pauses. “Will?”

“Yeah?”

“The doorknob is locked with a key. I think I’m just going to unscrew the hinges instead of looking for it.”

“Where did you find a screwdriver?”

“In the garden shed.” She drops the screwdriver several times. Her pulse and respirations are rising; she’s tiring rapidly.

Finally the door sags. “Are you clear?” Will calls.

“I’m clear.”

He shoves, and the door pivots around the locked knob as it falls out of its frame. Will jumps clear, but it still barks his shins. “Shit!”

“Are you okay?” Miriam is pale and shaky, but already looking a bit less scared. The garden fork she’s clutching like a talisman probably helps.

“Yeah.” Will forces several deep breaths through his nose and dials down the pain. “Let’s go.”

Their luck runs out in the kitchen. Frederick Chilton is leaning on the island with a gun in his hand. The smell of vomit emanates from the sink. Chilton is grey-faced and sweating. He looks about how Will felt when he first woke up.

“Mr. Graham?” he exclaims when he sees them, and then does a double-take. “Oh my God. You’re Miriam Lass.”

“No thanks to you,” she quavers, exhaustion papered over with fresh terror.

Chilton squints, obviously not thinking clearly yet. “What is the FBI doing here? I thought I heard a burglar.”

“No burglar, Frederick. Just two of your prisoners taking their leave.” Will speaks as gently as he dares with Miriam watching. Chilton would have loved to stick Will in a box, but Will has no stomach for the same. Still, he’s as screwed as Hannibal if he doesn’t play this out now. “Where’s Hannibal? What have you done with him?”

“Who is Hannibal?” Miriam says under her breath, not looking away from Chilton.

“My guide,” Will says back, also not looking away.

“Oh.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” mutters Chilton.

“You’re lying,” Miriam says frantically.

Chilton does the worst thing possible: pulls himself up to his full height, sticks out his chin, and says condescendingly, “Miss, you need to calm down.” In a moment of pitiless objectivity, Will is forced to acknowledge that Chilton really does have a beautiful voice: smooth, musical, attention-grabbing. He probably has guide aptitude. It works against him now, though.

“You are clearly upset, but there’s no need for-” He’s cut off by Miriam’s hoarse scream as she lunges at him with the gardening fork and stabs him in the abdomen. The tines are wickedly sharp, and sink into him as easily as they would into butter.

Chilton’s eyes go huge, and he slumps to the floor, leaning against the island, agony making him gape soundlessly like a fish.

“There’s an ear in this sink,” says Miriam, in a still, small voice from the outer reaches of panic.

Jack Crawford chooses that moment to break down the front door and charge in, shotgun at the ready. Said shotgun falls to dangle uselessly in one limp hand when he sees Miriam.

If Hannibal were here, he would probably be hearing the final notes of a symphony right now.

 


 

Will looks like hell, moving slower and less steadily than on the day he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He lets Brian Zeller take a blood sample, but declines to be taken away in an ambulance like Chilton, saying he’s shaking off whatever he was dosed with.

“I don’t - remember being taken,” he says. “I had dinner with Hannibal, and then I was waking up here, in the same room as Miriam.”

“The pleasant room,” Miriam says dully. “That's what he always said: ‘You’re waking in a pleasant room. Safe. Calm.’” She’s pale and shocky, clutching a blanket around her with her one hand. Traumatized, but alive.

“Will- Agent-” she looks at Will, “I’m sorry, I know he said it, but I didn't catch your last name.”

“It’s Graham. And I’m not really an agent; I teach at the Academy. I just moonlight as a profiler for Jack.” He looks embarrassed. “I thought it would be more reassuring if I left all that out, earlier.”

“Will Graham.” Her eyes, always wide, widen a little more. “Did you write a monograph on determining time of death by insect activity?”

This surprises a laugh out of Beverly Katz. “You, I like,” she says to Miriam. “You want to come be Igor instead of getting recycled, I’ll vouch for you.”

“Beverly,” sighs Jimmy Price, “there is a time and a place to recruit lab interns, and even I know this is neither.”

“I don’t mind,” says Miriam, “I appreciate the vote of confidence that I’ll be good for anything more than f-fingerpainting.” She’s hovering on the edge of tears.

“You broke out of a basement window, then broke right back into the house to let me out by the door. I’d hardly call that fingerpainting,” Will points out. “Listen, you’ve had a lot more mystery drugs on board than me; you should probably get going. But I’ll come check on you, okay?”

She nods. “Good luck finding your guide. I hope he’s okay.”

“I know he’s alive; I can feel it.” He shrugs. “Plus I’m, you know, still talking to people, so.”

When the ambulance with Miriam Lass in it drives off, Will rounds on Jack, mask of brave, tired calm falling away. “Where is he, Jack?” he grinds out. Blessed Protector Syndrome in full effect. Will is ready to kill every single person between himself and Dr. Lecter.

“He’s not at his house, and I’m told there’s no sign he was ever here. Paramedics think the trauma team will be sewing Frederick Chilton up until tonight, if he lives through the day, and who knows how long until he regains consciousness and can answer questions.” If he cooperates at all. This is the Chesapeake Ripper they’ve finally caught. Jack expects he’ll be no less of a pain in the ass in captivity than he was at large.

“I know where he is, or which way, at least.” Will points southwest. “Give me a car and I’ll track him down.”

“You’re in no condition to drive. You said yourself you could barely lift your head just a few hours ago.”

“So let me ride shotgun with somebody, but Jack, I have to do something.” He looks at Jack, pleading. “C’mon, if it was Mrs. Crawford…”

If it was Bella Jack would have stolen a vehicle an hour ago, knocking bitches down like bowling pins if they were stupid enough to get in his way. “Fair enough. Let’s go.”

 


 

The subaudible awareness of Hannibal’s heartbeat is like a homing signal in Will’s chest. It leads him onto the I-95, and then the I-495, and then the I-95 again, until they’re out in a rural area near Somerville, Virginia. As they get closer it becomes an agony of choosing one small gravel road, then backtracking when it veers off in the wrong direction and trying another.

At last they come to a condemned cabin, made of greying, rotting wood, and Will can hear Hannibal’s heartbeat properly again. He leaps from the SUV before Jack has even finished parking, and sprints for the door.

The main floor is deserted, but the basement is an abattoir. There is flesh everywhere: a thigh and what looks like a slab of fatty back meat hanging from the ceiling, an arm covered in live snails in one shady corner, a calf and foot half cut into steaks on a bandsaw.

The whole space is so intimately, intensely, insanely Hannibal that for a moment, Will is not precisely sure where the man himself is physically located in the room, though his heartbeat and scent are very near.

“God Almighty,” says Jack behind him. “Another cannibal. I may in fact be getting too old for this.”

Most of it smells like Abel Gideon, but not all. Also, there are a few too many parts to all be from Gideon.

Hannibal must have cleaned out his freezer for this.

God, he’d better have really cleaned it before the house was searched last night.

There are a pair of cisterns in the floor. Will eases the lid of the first aside and is greeted by the eviscerated, dangling torso of Abel Gideon. He smells like he’s been dead for a surprisingly short time, considering the number of pieces of him strewn around the cabin. “He’s dead.”

“I would have figured that out, I think,” Jack says drily over his shoulder.

Hannibal’s in the other cistern, strung up much the same way, but in one piece, and with his limbs bound. He squints groggily up at them, a beautiful smile breaking out on his face. “Will.”

“I see a winch,” Jack says, but Will’s already shimmying down the cat’s cradle of ropes. He needs to ‘cut Hannibal free’ before Jack notices the restraints on his arms and legs are more artistic than functional. He gets out his Leatherman and starts sawing through the loops of rope.

“I knew you’d find me,” Hannibal murmurs through chattering teeth. It’s not quite as cold down here as it is out in the wind, but it’s still damn cold, and damp; Hannibal will be lucky not to come down with something himself.

The ropes come loose, and Hannibal slumps into Will’s embrace. The fear and tension of the day melts away, and there is nothing left but a kind of baffling, tender fury.

“I am going to kill you,” he croons in Hannibal’s ear. “How dare you endanger yourself like that, like this, without even telling me your plan.”

“Authenticity, Will.”

“I am going to, to strangle you until your eyes pop like champagne corks.”

“Oh, Will.”

“Beat you until you look more like a side of beef that fell off a truck than the most annoying man in the world.”

“Yes, please, don’t stop.”

“Hannibal,” Will declares, still just above a whisper, “I will dig my way into your ribcage with my nails, like a dog, and eat your heart raw.”

“Dearest Will, mano mylimasis,” Hannibal sighs ecstatically, “do you promise?”

“Ugh.”

Luckily the winch Jack spotted has a large sling attached. The webbing of rope Hannibal was ‘trapped’ in (although getting free on his own would have taken some doing - he was definitely counting on being found) was not necessary to get them out. They ride up together, and Will helps Hannibal to his feet, one arm slung over his shoulders.

“Glad to see you alive, Doctor.” Hannibal nods, not having to fake his weariness.

“Jack?” says Will, “I quit.”

 


 

Will appears to have recovered well from his dose of sedative. That was one of the things Hannibal was most worried about: sentinels often have idiosyncratic reactions to drugs. Hannibal himself took only enough of the same for the level in his blood to be consistent with a much larger dose delivered last night, and still feels somewhat off-balance. 

After Hannibal has successfully declined an ambulance and been cleared to leave the crime scene, Jack insists on giving them a ride back to Wolf Trap, which naturally limits the conversation. Still, Hannibal learns that Frederick is likely to survive Miriam Lass’ carefully-primed moment of ‘recognition’, minus a few organs. Pity Hannibal couldn’t have found a way for her to stumble across a gun.

“I’ll have some trainees drop off your car again, Will.” Jack clearly doesn’t want to accept Will’s resignation, but is too smart to press the issue. Will just nods, committed to his role of ‘bonded sentinel whose guide just had an unacceptably close call’.

When Jack has left them alone at last, Will and Hannibal regard each other. The dogs inside the house can see them through the window, so are only shuffling and clicking their claws on the floor instead of barking. The wind over the fields is louder.

“I’m still very angry with you,” Will says.

“You have a right to be. I violated and manipulated you for my own benefit.” Will despises lying; only total honesty will help Hannibal now. “Let me make it up to you?”

Will shakes his head. “That’s not what’s going to happen. Let’s go inside.”

It’s only early afternoon, but the dogs are pleased to be let out anyway. Will leads Hannibal upstairs, to the bathroom.

They shower off the smells of Chilton’s house and the cistern, of drugs and stale blood, and then Will fills the tub and they float in the heat. Hannibal is the one in front of Will, getting sponged off.

“They wouldn’t put you in a prison if they caught you,” Will says quietly. “You’d be committed. Straitjackets and padded walls and chemical lobotomies.”

“I’m not insane,” Hannibal protests, mildly offended.

“Not in and of yourself, but you’re different enough from the rest of humanity that the pressure to study you would be stronger than the pressure to punish you.”

“And in the process, subjecting me to far worse punishment than I would encounter in prison. I am aware.” Will’s rubbing of Hannibal’s arms is becoming compulsive. Hannibal takes the sponge from him. “What about you?”

“I was attracting professional curiosity long before I met you.” The bitterness in Will’s voice is old, tired. “I’d be in a padded cell of my own, no question.”

“Perhaps we could share one. It’s illegal to separate bonded pairs indefinitely.”

“I’d rather just not get caught.”

“Well, yes.”

They dry off and move to the bedroom. Hannibal hasn’t forgotten the heavy intent on Will’s face before they came inside the house. “What did you have in mind?”

“Lie down,” Will instructs, “eyes on me.”

Hannibal has to fight to keep looking when Will settles himself between Hannibal’s legs and starts licking his cock. He’s unpracticed; Will gets few opportunities to do this, as Hannibal is so ravenous for Will that the entire category of ‘doing things to Will’ frequently results in him coming untouched. The sight of Will’s pretty pink mouth and tongue, licking and mouthing and nuzzling at him, has Hannibal’s cock furiously erect so fast it leaves him light-headed.

“Oh, Will,” he sighs, “I don’t think I can last.”

Will lifts his head enough to say, “Go ahead and come whenever you want. I’m only going to stop if you tell me to.”

“Never,” Hannibal swears. Will quirks a smile and starts going down on him in earnest, slurping at the head of his cock, firmly jacking the base, running the tip of his tongue inside Hannibal’s foreskin when he comes up for air. One time he grazes the foreskin with his teeth, and Hannibal is shocked by the groan that rips out of him. Will raises an eyebrow and oh-so-gently sets his teeth in it and gives it a tiny tug, like he would Hannibal’s lower lip. Hannibal whimpers.

“I’m getting close,” he warns, and Will hums contentedly and lets Hannibal thrust up into his mouth, taut-lipped and hollow-cheeked. It doesn’t take long for Hannibal to come, and when he does Will pops off and lets Hannibal’s semen spurt onto his face - only then does Will briefly close his eyes. He crawls up Hannibal’s body and presents his face for Hannibal to lick clean. Hannibal’s cock twitches.

“You know me so well,” he murmurs, and laves Will’s cheeks with his tongue, carefully cleaning Will’s stubble.

“Yes, I do.” Face clean, Will reaches for the lubricant and heads back down Hannibal’s body, urging Hannibal to bend his knees and spread as wide as he can. “That was the other reason for not including me in the final phase of your plan, wasn’t it? It wasn’t all about authenticity. You wanted me to see the worst of what you do. It was a test.”

“Cunning boy,” Hannibal mutters, eyes darting away. Will notices immediately and grips Hannibal’s chin until he looks at Will again.

“I see you, Hannibal. Now see me.” He breaches Hannibal’s body with one slick finger, and Hannibal feels as if Will is pushing at him with their bond, as well. He feels more through it than Hannibal does, or at least is more adept at interpreting what it tells him.

Hannibal tries to open himself to the bond, using the physical sensation of Will opening his body as a kind of reference. It must do something, because Will gives him an approving look, but it doesn’t feel like he’s accomplished much until Will eases inside him.

Hannibal gasps, and moisture he didn’t feel building up trickles from his eyes. Will is - Will is everywhere. He’s moving under Hannibal’s skin, filling every corner. It’s an acceptance and a closeness Hannibal can’t grasp even as it happens to him.

“That’s right,” Will says, “I see you. Nothing I saw today disgusted me. Some of it annoyed me, or worried me because I think it was a bad idea, especially going off and doing everything yourself.” He braces his hands beside Hannibal’s ears, and Hannibal strokes his forearms and wraps his legs around Will’s waist.

Hannibal feels the truth of all this in his bones. “I didn’t need to do that.”

“You didn’t, but you didn’t know. Now you do. I’m involved, Hannibal-” and dear God, surely that is the understatement of Will’s life, this inextricable entanglement, “-so involve me. From now on, we do what we do together.” He’s thrusting slow, steady, controlled, pushing his words into Hannibal as he pushes his body. Hannibal is growing hard again under Will’s surprising strength, his ruthless affection. 

“You want to kill with me?” Hannibal would know if Will was lying, like this. He isn’t lying.

“I do, although I propose a change in criteria. I have no interest in slaughtering pigs." 

“Yes, Will, anything,” Hannibal moans. He knows they will argue about the details later, but he means this now with all he is.

“Okay. Good.” Will rears up and starts jacking Hannibal’s cock in time with his thrusts. “Together, now.”

“Together,” agrees Hannibal, and when Will comes he feels it as much as his own orgasm, or more.

 


 

“You don’t have to do this,” Will says.

“Sure we do,” says Alana. “Friends help you move.” Her face is obscured behind a box of Will’s office things.

Best friends help you move bodies,” Beverly quips. Hannibal shoots Will a look of pure glee (Hannibal-style, which means a barely-perceptible crinkling of the eyes); Will tries not to choke.

“Actually, I’m here as much as a buffer between you and Jack as anything,” admits Alana. “I think you’re making the right choice here, Will. And that’s not just loyalty to my favorite teacher talking,” she adds with a wink at Hannibal. “I’m all turned around behind this - which way to your car?” Hannibal guides her out with a light touch to her back.

Will and Beverly are left alone in Will’s office: even more of a sad, dusty little room without his stacks of folders everywhere and case files for half-planned lectures pinned to the walls.

“I can see how it’s easy to leave all this behind,” Beverly says drily, waving her arms around. “I’m getting flashbacks to trainee hell just being in here. But the real work is out there, and in the morgue. Can you really tell me you don’t love it?”

"I really can. I always hated it, but I felt like it was worth the cost," Will says. “This time the cost was almost too high. I’m getting out while the getting’s good.”

“What if I promised to leave you to your teaching?” Jack says, appearing in Will’s doorway. There are so many feet in the halls right now Will didn’t make him out.

“C’mon, Jack, we both know you couldn’t help yourself. It’s in your nature to use every tool within reach.” Will hefts a box. “There’s always going to be just one more you really need help catching.”

“Have you ever considered simply hiring a profiler directly?” asks Hannibal. Beside him, Alana has crossed her arms and is throwing a chilling glare at Jack.

Jack mutters darkly about budgetary constraints and Will makes his escape.

As he and Beverly head down the hall, he can hear Jack say to Hannibal, “I brought you on board to support my profiler, and instead you’re marrying him out from under my nose.”

Will would bury his face in his palms if his hands were free. Bonded sentinel/guide pairs have most of the rights and privileges of married couples already, but Hannibal lives to put on a show; Will had been hoping no one would point this opportunity out to him.

Sure enough, Hannibal muses, “Now, there is a thought,” in the tone of someone struck with a terrible, wonderful idea.

“Oh!” Alana does not quite squeal.

“Ugh,” Jack groans.

“What are they talking about?” asks Beverly.

“How do you know they’re talking?”

“You get this look on your face when you overhear something you’d rather not, like you have a bad taste in your mouth.”

“Just Jack handing out more bad ideas.”

“He’s good at that.” They stow their boxes.

When they get back Jack asks, “I actually came down to see if you’d sorted your stuff into what’s yours and what’s the Bureau’s, but I’m guessing those-” he indicates the untouched stack of boxes on the other side of the office, “-are the confidential files?”

“That’s right.”

“Want some cold cases? I could keep you on retainer as a consultant.”

“Are you - offering to pay me to take confidential material home?”

“Recuitment and Retention is going to crucify me for driving you off. I need a consolation prize.”

“Jack,” Alana says in a warning tone. Jack throws up his hands in surrender.

“If you get bored, my door’s always open.” He holds out his hand. Will shakes it. He doesn’t blame Jack for being Jack, any more than he blames Hannibal for being Hannibal.

Alana hugs him, and Beverly claps him on his good shoulder. Both promise to drop by for beer sometimes. Hannibal promises to keep it in stock.

When they’re in Will’s car and on the road, Hannibal asks, “Did you truly leave all the cold case files behind?”

Will snorts. “The originals, sure. But lecturers scan and photocopy things all the time. Half of what's on the backseat is people ripe for a little vigilantism.”

"Serpents for my mongoose," Hannibal jokes.

"I was gonna say your new menu," Will shoots back.

Will can feel Hannibal's fond gaze on his face, and his voice is even softer than usual when he says, “You really are extraordinary."

“Careful; if you keep saying that, I might start to believe it.”

“Then I shall have to keep saying it. Extraordinary, unprecedented, beautiful…”

“Are you trying to get me to pull over and give you something better to do with your mouth?” Will growls.

“I am now.” Hannibal’s already reaching for Will’s fly. “May I?”

Will breathes hard through his nose and looks for a place to park.