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The Polite Universe

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“Goodbye, Hannibal.”

Will’s words, with their tone of finality undeniable, snapped like a tether cut in two. Hannibal felt himself adrift. He wouldn’t grovel. He wouldn’t throw himself at Will’s feet. The time for that was past, if ever there had been a time.

So instead he picked up his notebook with its intricate and detailed calculations and stepped outside into the snowy bleakness of the Wolf Trap winter.

As he made his way into the woods, he flipped through the notebook one last time, and a numerical value suddenly made itself clear to him.

He had two paths before him, laid out by his own careful figuring.

With one last look back at Will’s little house, Hannibal stepped onto the path he’d never planned on taking.

 

***

 

Franklyn Froideveaux was weeping about his neuroses again. Hannibal offered him a tissue, which he accepted with thanks.

Hannibal bristled, knowing that Franklyn would inevitably deposit the soggy and used tissue onto the nearest flat surface, and knowing that he would have to sweep it into the trash bin later and wipe down his office with disinfectant.

But Franklyn, having sniffled and snorted into the tissue, merely tucked it into his jacket’s breast pocket.

“I hate being this neurotic,” he said.

Hannibal was so stunned, he didn’t know what to say.

 

***

 

The moment Hannibal met Will Graham, he knew instantly just how he could help him.

Will, with his beautiful but overwhelming empathy, merely needed something to better help him see the Minnesota Shrike’s handiwork for what it really was. He needed a contrast of pure art and suffering that would serve as shadow to light. Otherwise, he wouldn’t see the light at all.

Hannibal boarded the train, humming with contentment, knowing it wouldn’t be long before some rude person made herself known to him. He would pluck her from obscurity and craft her into something exquisite.

Ten minutes into his travels, a young woman bumped into him.

“Oh, goodness, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so clumsy! Please pardon me.”

She was dark-haired and ruddy-cheeked, and perfect for Hannibal’s planned palette…but she was terribly polite.

“Cassie!” someone further down the train called out. “I saved you a seat!”

The young woman waved to her traveling companion and glanced back at Hannibal again, her eyes full of sincere regret.

“Sorry, again,” she said.

“Think nothing of it,” he replied.

 

***

 

The Minnesota Shrike case went unsolved for weeks. The killer, an otherwise unremarkable man named Garret Jacob Hobbs, was only caught because he finally killed his own daughter and then himself.

Everyone, including Will Graham, moved on to other cases. There was someone new that Jack Crawford was convinced was the Chesapeake Ripper, but of course he was chasing phantoms.

Hannibal, for his part, tried to occupy himself with his favorite pasttimes. Music, drawing, cooking. The cooking wasn’t quite as satisfactory as it had once been, however, as he hadn’t found any appropriate meat in a ridiculously long time. He’d actually resorted to purchasing take-out from a decent Italian restaurant a few times.

One night, during an intermission between arias from his favorite soprano, he was confronted by an old acquaintance.

“It’s been too long since you’ve properly cooked for us, Hannibal,” said Mrs. Komeda.

“I cannot force a feast,” he tutted her. “A feast must present itself.”

She scoffed daintily. “It’s a dinner party, not a unicorn.”

As rare as his quarry had been lately, they might as well have been unicorns.

Instead he said, “Oh but the feast is life,” and charmed the assembled gathering with small talk.

 

***

 

A man named Andrew Caldwell came to take blood samples and fill out a few insurance forms.

“Finally,” Hannibal thought.

Surely this man would prove rude enough to wind up on his dinner plate. Hannibal had dealt with officious little pencil-pushers like this before, and they could always be counted on for a smorgasbord.

“Any other infections?” Caldwell asked.

“You seem convinced I’m diseased,” Hannibal said.

Caldwell’s mouth fell open. “Oh! Oh, no. No, I’m sorry if that sounded rude of me. We have to pry a little for the paperwork, you know. I’m sure you’re totally fine. I just need to make it official.”

“Oh,” Hannibal said, disappointed.

His stomach grumbled in protest.

 

***

 

When Will didn’t show up for his appointment, Hannibal all but jumped into his car and raced off to Quantico.

He found him hard at work, poring over a desk full of crime scene photographs.

“I have a 24-hour cancellation policy,” Hannibal teased.

“Oh, God, I’m sorry,” Will said, even as he opened another folder full of photographs. “I just keep feeling like I’m on the verge of something. I guess I lost track of time.”

“No need to apologize,” Hannibal said.

“Let me make it up to you,” Will said. Suddenly, his fingers were brushing up against Hannibal’s, and his blue eyes were dark with intent. “Can I take you to dinner?”

Hannibal swallowed hard. “Won’t the Chesapeake Ripper be jealous of your time?”

Will frowned up at him. “The Chesapeake…what?”

Hannibal gestured towards the table. “The Ripper—”

Most of the photographs had vanished. There remained only a few pictures of the current case to which Crawford had assigned Will.

“You’ve never heard of the Chesapeake Ripper?” Hannibal asked, feeling as if an icy hand had gripped his insides and twisted them into a knot.

“No, but it sounds dreadful,” Will said. He touched Hannibal’s hand again, this time more boldly. “Why don’t you tell me about it—or him—over dinner?”

 

***

 

They ended up skipping dinner and going straight to Will’s house, where they promptly tumbled onto the bed in a tangle of arms and legs and clothes that got infuriatingly in the way of skin touching skin.

“I’ve been wanting to do this since we met,” Will said between kisses.

“I thought you hated me when we met,” Hannibal said.

Will laughed against Hannibal’s throat. “Why on earth would you think that?”

“You thought I was rude for psychoanalyzing you,” Hannibal reminded him.

Will pulled back just enough to look at him. “No, I didn’t, you big goof. I thought you were socially awkward and sexy as hell.”

Will moved in for another kiss, but Hannibal scrambled up off the bed away from him.

“Something is wrong,” he said.

“Is it the doctor-patient thing?” Will asked. “Because I’m not actually officially your patient.”

Hannibal’s head swam in a jumble of memories that didn’t seem like his own. There was supposed to be a daughter, a surrogate daughter…someone that he and Will had rescued together. They were supposed to catch Garret Jacob Hobbs…together. They were supposed to be out together right now, hunting down a murderer…a murderer called the Chesapeake…the Chesapeake…somebody.

“I feel like I’m losing myself,” Hannibal said. “I’m losing you, losing what we’re supposed to be together.”

Face etched with worry, Will reached for him, but Hannibal was already pulling his coat back on and trudging outside into the snow. His feet carried him out behind the house, to a gnarled and hollowed-out tree.

Will chased after him. “Hannibal! Where are you going?”

“I put this here before we met,” Hannibal said, reaching into the tree. He pulled out a notebook that had been well-wrapped in a handkerchief. “I think I knew why at the time I did it, because I was still myself, but it’s fading now.”

Will took the notebook from him and flipped through the water-stained pages. “This looks…complicated.”

“They’re calculations for time-travel,” Hannibal said. “Will, I’m sorry.”

Will looked up at him. “Sorry for what?”

“I have to go back,” Hannibal said. “Maybe it will all be clear to us one day, when we’re in the correct timeline.”

He pulled Will in for one last kiss, then slipped the notebook from his hands.

 

***

 

Hannibal, on his knees in the snow, laced his fingers behind his head.

“You finally caught the Chesapeake Ripper, Jack.”

Jack sneered at him, unmoved. “I didn’t catch you. You surrendered.”

“I want you to know exactly where I am,” he said, glancing back at Will, “and where you can always find me.”

Old memories began to fade, sorting themselves out as the calculations sorted into place. The last one to go was the feeling of Will’s lips, warm and tender against his own.

Time ticked forward again.