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as if drowning at the heart (or collapsing from skin to soul)

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I don't want to go on being a root in the dark, insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep, alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses, half frozen, dying of grief.

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails and my hair and my shadow. It so happens I am sick of being a man.

(Pablo Neruda, Walking Around)

 

 

But monsters are always hungry, darling, and they’re only a few steps behind you, finding the flaw, the poor weld, the place where we weren’t stitched up quite right, the place they could almost slip right into through if the skin wasn’t trying to keep them out, to keep them here, on the other side of the theater where the curtain keeps rising.

(Richard Siken, Crush)

 

 

 

*

Will Graham is used to being afraid.

Hannibal Lecter doesn't seem afraid of anything.

 

 

*

Sugar, spice, everything nice. Wilhelmina (Will to the few she calls acquaintance, there is no such thing as friend) (weirdo, freak, Will is a boy's name, freak freak freak on the playgrounds and sterile hallways) knows what she's made of. Imagination, observation, a live wire frayed electric beneath her skin.

Fear, most of all.

She and fear go far back, since monsters under the bed and lights under the closet door. It motivates, clears a hazy world. She's not strengthened, the most basic of learned impulses muddle - speech, eyesight, balance. Sometimes she's rude. Most times. She's tried to improve, get the officials off her back, stop the stares and the text messages and the hastily snapped grainy photos, the hissed whisperings altogether too reminiscent of elementary, junior, high school, the wrong corners of college.

The pointed fingers, already. All she needs is a sign and a cage.

Honestly, though. On her list of priorities, it's not very high.

The two things that matter most –

One: catch the monsters.

Two: go on through the fear.

One is usually easier than the other.

 

 

*

Wilhelmina Graham is afraid of Hannibal Lecter. She's bristling and growling from the moment Jack springs him on her without warning, before she's awake enough to even attempt courtesy (because after two conversations and a flight to a dead girl's house in Duluth, Crawford knows she has cracks, and hunts).

She's occupying the opposite corner, hunched shoulders and fisted hands, when he arrives, wearing metal-proud his visitor's badge on a suit better tailored than most. An easy tallness; comfortably fit. He glides like a man assured of the solidity of his earth. Born of that, perhaps, his almost breathless disdain. Even the atoms in the air are a sprung below – but it's not merely arrogance.

Detachment. Looking down, from a great height.

Introductions, explanations, Lecter offers his hand with a voice softer than she imagined for such effortless power. A pleasure, Ms. Graham. Not soft, no, deceptive, check again – roughened by a European heritage sneaking innocuous between vowels and consonants.

She refuses, citing I'm not really...good with. Physical contact, while counting the fabric weaves in his sweater.

“Am I suddenly not good enough?” she snaps at Jack's torso. Old anger, scarred into bitter lines and oh, does she pluck the scab incessant.

“I took your advice,” Jack says in his Authority voice, calm and slow and deliberately pointed. She expects she'll hear it often. She hopes desperately she won't. “A fresh pair of eyes. Dr. Lecter is considered one of the finest minds in his field.”

The man has the deference to look humble. It suits ill his bone structure. “Enthusiastic colleagues prone to flattery,” he says. He smiles, a face you'd never see anywhere of note.

Will wonders how many women that smile's claimed.

They're bulwarking her, enormous and looming and most of the time she's used to her height, looks up on instinct and doesn't think of imbalances and inadequacies.

She won't win this, but she still gives them her back.

“If he can help,” she mutters and seizes the closest chair.

She catches the glance because she's looking for it – Crawford to Lecter, humor her; she's special; I warned you; and Will's hands clench the armrests and she burns.

 

 

*

Facts, if you asked nicely:

Wilhelmina Graham grew up poor. Not enough to earn pity, not too little to starve, the same frayed pair of whitewashed jeans and t-shirts too big by half for hollow bones that never grew. Louisiana to Georgia to New Orleans, dragged from life to life and school to school and trailer park to trailer park by a father who didn't know and a mother who couldn't care. Scraping by on hard-earned sympathy and harder work, nails dulled and hands soaked in boat oil long before they were soaked in blood.

The Masters in forensic science from George Washington University looks impressive on paper (Valedictorian, going back for the PHD, she assures, one day, so she's more than just “Ms Graham”), very impressive, enough for Quantico to hire her as an instructor despite the abominable failure known thereafter as her field interview (special investigator stings every fucking time – their favorite inside joke, remember that one gal).

Impressive enough to hide the sleepless nights and unpaid loans, hoarding funds at any service job willing to accept her past a first meeting, uncomprehending why case files on serial murderers stroked a fire in her synapses and tending customers left her holding her head under water in the bathroom sink and screaming.

Home never existed. Home is a word, a concept, void and meaningless, not applicable to run-down apartments and motel rooms without running water, where the carpet's caked with years of vomit and mud.

Home creates; home forms; home is what killers blame, what good men thank.

Home is a physical construction of wood and metal and iron, isolated from society, in the still of the woods by the lake that's as close as she can fake the sea – beams, floorboards, paneling, scattered haphazard with furniture, a dozen dog hairs wafting in the air.

 

 

*

 She's afraid of him. In basic ways –

– she does not wear heels and must crane her neck;

– the outline of thick arm muscles coiled beneath silk and plaid;

– hands huge enormous wide to span her waist crack a bone spread her high on antlers;

– a man, men hurt, men kill, men rape and pillage and destroy and burn and do not want and she has spent too long inside their heads to trust;

and elemental ways –

– irises a chill winter morning;

– his eyes slice a room and instantly know but choose to linger on the taut line of her neck, the anxious tap of her index finger, the unbuttoned collar of her blouse because it gets so hard to breathe;

– he looks at her like the unfortunate metaphorical bug under a microscope, pokes and picks and triggers just to watch. Tries to look her in the eyes but it's not just to mock or shame or bully, this woman made of glass shards and sticky restless nights, too many bruises and prescription glasses three years old, crushed into pockets and jackets and tossed discarded on nightstands, who lets monsters into her home and never lets herself leave, shivering like a readily exposed nerve;

Hannibal Lecter tries to look in her eyes because he wants to see her.

Will knows sociopaths and murders, and because of this barely knows herself, so really, it doesn't seem fair for someone else to.

 

 

*

Facts, seen on a sheet:

Wilhelmina Harriet Graham, thirty-two, 5'2 and ½, 115 soaking wet.

Emotional instabilities detected.

You can fucking say that again.

 

 

*

Dr. Lecter makes her itch, beneath her skin, at an angle she has to twist to reach and can't. Maybe it's his perfectly pressed three-piece suits and thick embroidered ties. She's always had a half-buried grudge against the rich.

Maybe it's how every action holds purpose. A minute section of the rehearsed performance, the clashing din as the orchestra warms up. And the waiting silence, stretched thin to a knife-point, before the white noise.

The filled grandeur of his lifestyle; the etiquette born of another century. Something that is not like the others, something on the edge of her mind like the memory of a dream, receding the more she tries – something that doesn't quite belong.

Maybe it's how every edge is sculpted and she never touches him in fear she'll bleed, quick and invisible like a paper cut; how his face, resting in impassive repose like some ancient Greek marble of wisdom, is a masterpiece of restraint and disaffection and then there is Will, Will in her tattered tawdry hand-me-downs and off-brand sweatervests, uncombed curls down her back and body weighted with the screams of the voiceless dead.

She wonders if she disgusts him. He is everything cultured and refined and would like women like him, like Alana, sweet and charming and effervescent and soft curves, easy to the gaze. Not hard angles, wrinkled trousers, yesterday's blouse, not jittery and raw and broken to pieces and reassembled in the dark.

“God forbid we become friendly,” he says, statement tossed off like a worn sock, at the same time he watches her jaw work through cooked meat with a still determination Will cannot place.

 

 

*

They're offering her a commendation for putting a man down like a dog and the secret is: she didn't want field duty again. Not after six years with a badge, not after brittle monochrome scarring her ribs where a knife once sunk; not after realizing she's not just the only one to hear, translate, speak for the dead, she's the one who answers back.

 

 

*

She needn't sear her mind in half with golden light, crack wide his skull and know.

She isn't interested. She knows enough (elegant, aesthetic, elite, dull, that polite type of insulting that stings so much worse), and what's more refuses to turn her “gift,” her “specialty,” her “curse,” upon those she encounters in daily life, those only guilty of the crimes of the social, those she needs to remind her not all humans are monsters from her storybooks.

Are worse.

He knocks on her door a day after they met in a rush of assumptions and distrust, of forts and defenses and masculine power plays behind her back. The sunrise halos behind his fair hair, his edges shimmering as she blinks against the bright morning, and he stands on the doorstep, practically demanding and what's more expecting to be let in.

Will comes so close, fingers tightening on the door handle, nearly locks it and returns to a sweat-stained bed.

Even though he's waiting, Will lets Hannibal in.

This is significant.

 

 

*

“That's an impressive collection,” Alana says as the dogs swarm and pant and wag.

“You should see the rest of my place,” Will doesn't joke.

 

 

*

Jack likes to think he's persuasive enough, charming enough, dominant enough, and Wilhelmina Graham, tiny fragile girl forged of fragmented crystal, warps in his heat. Steps away from her safe isolated teaching post into the wild to catch the killer of seven (eight) sweet-faced teenage girls because Jack Crawford, Head of the Quantico Behavioral Science Unit, the Guru, Her Boss in all but title, said so.

She's content to let him go on believing that.

It's her second look at the eight photos dotting the evidence wall, photocopier colors and faded inked lines, smiling brown eyes that used to have breath, movement, friends, hobbies, fears, insecurities, secret romances, dreams stashed beneath their pillows and behind closed eyes, and are now seen as discarded, two-dimensional puzzle pieces for the finding of a man.

A man who slaughtered them. A man who took them, and trapped them, and killed them – a man that men like Jack Crawford are hunting.

(Men. Men. Men.

Girls.

Girls with brown hair not a shade too far from Will's own, slim and small and shattered crystal too weak to fight, warping in male heat.)

Fuck this,” Will says and slams her briefcase on the floor.

 

 

*

Wandering beaches. Barefoot through the woods. Sand in her nails, dirt on the pads, blood from thorns and misplaced steps.

Gathering the discarded things no one has use for, seashells, quarters, rocks, arrowheads, clovers, the scrawny hungry cat with teeth down the road. Sometimes a shoe, frayed laces. A moth-eaten sock.

Lost.

Dad (the man who gave his sperm to an egg to an embryo to a fetus and presto, science behold) sits her up high on the river docks as she tells the men (his buddies, rough men in rough places in a rough time) every one of their secrets. He never quite knows what to do with her, probably hoped for a boy, but he puts a screwdriver in her hands and teaches her what he knows best.

He tilts his ear to her air, because Wilhelmina Graham makes the wind follow.

 

 

*

The rage burns thick and vile in her throat. A rage she knows, every time she sees (and she sees so often, the most) the corpse of a mutilated girl, woman, all ages and races and hair colors and clothes, sometimes Converse, sometimes a broken heel, sometimes bare toes with chipped paint. Six years in homicide taught her to not necessarily suppress as much as control, fuel her body with anger, power her mind.

She's out of practice.

“Our cannibal loves women. He doesn't want to destroy them, he wants to consume them, keep some part of them inside. This girl's killer thought she was a pig!

The scream bounces back to her on the open field, pig, pig, piiiiig.

Jack winces, the investigators stare, pig, pig, piiiiig, a dying gasp fainter each time, and in this moment Will has never hated any living human more than the Minnesota Shrike Copycat.

 

 

*

Dr. Lecter brings her homemade breakfast, scrambled eggs and sausage and hot black coffee. It's good enough after months of shitty Quantico decaf and store-bought microwave disasters she attempts a charitable mood, decides to chalk the gesture up to genuine kindness and not poor little girl can't take care of herself, hush Will let me save/protect/rescue you.

She's always hazy after nightmares, head thick, terror swelling her tongue.

“You know, Wilhelmina,” Lecter says, and she's already tired of him and preps her patience accordingly. “I think Uncle Jack sees you as a fragile little tea cup. The finest china used only for special guests.”

Will looks at him through a fish-eye lens. Checks the shape of his lips.

And she falls back laughing with a mouth full of half-chewed protein scramble.

She likes him. For that, blunt and piercing and eschewing bullshit, she likes him.

Will swallows and fiddles the collar of her cardigan (grabbed before she hit the door and tied tight after, paired with office pants, she was not letting a man all but a stranger peruse her like display meat in tank top and boxer shorts). “How do you see me?” she asks.

Test and curiosity.

Lecter actually takes the time to think before answering.

“The mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by," he says in a tone revealing nothing save what he wants to reveal.

Whatever Will expected, it wasn't this.

 

 

*

Rough men in rough places in a rough time make little Wilhelmina rough. She cusses blue the same she wins the school's spelling bee. Her father converts her tongue to favor whiskey with ice over two dollar soda. She nearly drowns before she learns to swim, lithe and vipor-quick. Dad calls her a mermaid, a witch - powerful, siren things, misassumed martyrs burned at the stake.

She squirms elbow-deep in oil and knows all the names of every boat engine and model, takes them apart and puts them back together better than the teenage boys. One day she'll equal the men.

Wilhelmina boasts freckles and a farmer's tan and 20/40 vision and the stride of a newborn colt. She wears her dad's shirts as jackets and tries not to flinch. Words, smacks, voices loud loud angry, beer and smoke and fuck what I'd do to her, look at that tight ass

Early on, she learns the ways men act and think.

Better too early than too late.

 

 

*

She never does learn to hide the flinch.

 

 

*

Her glasses slide down her nose as she's huddled on the floor of Crawford's office surrounded by paperwork, the eye in a storm of evidence, legs and neck cramping, hair strands creeping free from her hastily tugged ponytail.

After watching for longer than he thinks she's noticed, Jack says, “You're my girl, Graham,” and it sounds like it belongs in another room, in another time, for another person. Distanced, like water in her ears.

Jack kneels down, adjusts her glasses for the second time in two days and she mimes gratitude. His smile is (almost) fond.

 

 

*

Some official calls her, she asks directions and no details, she drives in her fuel-efficient SUV and tosses her messenger bag over her shoulder: driver's license, expiring credentials, spare change, two pens, credit card, tampons, painkillers of three different strengths not prescribed by any doctor in one all-purpose bottle, and does her thing.

Back and forth. Swing, slide. Metal, hiss, scrape. Gritting, her teeth chipped.

A nameless cop hits her shoulder on his way out, mutters loud enough to hear, “Psycho bitch.”

Will knows him in seconds (one-bedroom apartment and empty beer cases and TV dinners and lonely, lonely, fuck what I'd do to her) and doesn't grant him even a twitch.

 

 

*

That night she dreams she splits him throat to navel and changes the bedsheets twice.

 

 

*

Dad didn't earn enough for regular medical care, but Will was in and out of hospitals most of her adolescence. Scrapes, headaches, panic attacks, a parade of misdiagnoses and pills that didn't help shit. Social anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, split personality disorder, Asperger's, ADD. Will nodded her head and did what she was told, waiting until she was alone to punch the walls and throw chairs.

It's a long time before they have a name.

Even then, it doesn't help.

 

 

*

Dr. Lecter follows to her car and doesn't offer to drive. She half-expects him to open her door, but he doesn't do that, either, and Will pulls out of the motel parking lot with her version of grace.

They're several miles gone when he says, “So you prefer Will?”

“Most of the time it doesn't matter, since I'm either talking at students or colleagues. But yeah.”

“Wilhelmina's a lovely name. All the more interesting for its rarity.”

“Never fit me,” she says, eyes on the double lines. “Too regal. It was either that or Mina, and then I couldn't read Dracula without having nightmares.”

Lecter smiles, in the corner of her gaze and reflected in the left-hand window.

“You don't exactly hear Hannibal every day,” she says, both a return poke and she finds she likes the sound of his voice, to her surprise.

He's heard this before, but she suspects he also doesn't defer to verbal gauntlets.

“My ancestor Hannibal the Grim,” he says. “He built the family castle in the 1400s. He was known as a military mastermind, a brilliant warrior, and a quality provender.” He glances over, mouth just barely quirked. “My parents had high hopes.”

Will laughs a second time. Not as boisterous, but as genuine.

“Do you know the meaning behind your name?” Lecter asks, still looking at her, but he's not expecting her to return it.

“Protector, I think. Read it on one of those baby name sites.”

“Very appropriate, wouldn't you say?”

She looks at him, again, checks if he's joking.

And again: honesty.

Something like kindness in his unremarkable brown eyes.

Will chooses not to answer and counts the passing cars.

 

 

*

All through college and most of homicide Will Graham rocked the short hair, bob cuts or close shears (she'd be rich if she had a dime for all the dyke remarks), but it becomes too much a hassle. She lets it grow and trims at home, though sometimes a fifteen dollar cut makes for a nice change. She's “blessed” with natural curls, letting the big lazy mind-of-their-own things do as they wish.

Once she's accustomed Will likes long hair. It's fun to roll the window down on the highway. Her skeleton feels heavier. She variates between ponytails, buns, and a single braid down her back for lectures and professional meetings, plus plenty of pins to hold back the strays that aren't artful or strategic.

Loose is default. It's good for easy retreats. Tilt your head and you can hide behind your own curtains.

 

 

*

In the moment, she sees a pathetic man savaging and twisting until her nine bullets burst his flesh like air bubbles, riddle his organs through and he bleeds out with a death's-head smile.

Later, in the hospital, she sees nine faces, one by one, first to last to Abigail, a bullet for each, and she sees herself, and she sees the dozens she was too late for, and her index finger continues to twitch.

In her dreams she sees a snake, riling and hissing and contorting before it eats itself, and the stag, invasive and silent, watches from a nearby clearing.

 

 

*

It was fear, at first. And now it's a long-held breath slowly, at last, released – she sits in the chair opposite Abigail Hobbs's hospital bed, she and this man she hardly knows, met less than forty-eight hours ago in an office where they drank from the same coffee dispenser and she refused to meet his eyes. They flank Abigail, a pair by accident.

She watches him, then she watches her, chest rising and breath fogging the clear ventilation tube.

And she watches him.

Sleeping. Head tilted forward, jacket hung on the chair back, hands clean except for specks of crimson embedded deep beneath his nails (instinctively she conceals her own, a reflection, except raw from scrubbing). His hand so large over a slender, pale, still wrist that would've be the ninth morgue tag, except.

Will leans back. Her chair creaks. The weights fall, her muscles unravel, one by one, her eyes slip shut, she's rocking on her boat in the middle of the lake at night, watching the lights of her house, and –

 

 

*

“A surrogate daughter?” Hannibal says, not sharp never sharp but brutal in its confrontation, and Will flinches, the whole top layer of her skin stretched three sizes too small.

 

 

*

She remembers every name – tucks them quietly away in a reserved, sacred corner of her head, one she'd visit often even if it didn't rattle her bones with every step.

God doesn't exist, so she prays to them.

I'm sorry, she whispers, crushing windpipes, shattering ribs, gorging organs, blood pouring over her hands, I'm so sorry.

 

 

*

“Jack thinks I'm too...emotional.

“The ability to engage emotionally with another person is the foundation of all empathy,” Hannibal says, clinical and efficient. Probably recited from some textbook with a long pompous title.

Will shakes a hand. “Yes, yes,” she snaps, “but I'm too emotional. Supposedly they cloud my judgment. Make me a weaker agent. And not just because of Abigail Hobbs.”

“This isn't the first time you've been accused of weakness, is it?”

A statement ever so politely phrased as a question.

Will scratches the back of her neck. Twirls the thin hairs around her finger. Vacillates between the urge to hide, to protect, and to open, to pour forth.

He saw her kill a man; she was ordered to go to him; she needs his approval to do her job; he actually seems to listen, and more than that, absorb and answer.

He saw her kill a man. There's no point in concealing the rest. And the temptation is too great after years of nothing but the hum of her own silence.

“Got my share of it on the force,” she says. “And here, before they took me out of the field.”

“It's why they took you out of the field.”

“Well, obviously,” she snarls. “I'm a woman. Women are always too emotional. They'd take a man out of the field, but for his own good. Not blame it on him because he can't stay calm and rational. Teaching is-is, is safe. Good place for a woman, instructing, care-giving.”

Dr. Lecter glances down at his folded hands and grants her a moment to breath.

“Your emotions don't weaken you, Will,” he says. “They're your strength. Your ability to care for victims, to enter the headspace of their killers – it's what motivates your passion.”

He eyes focus just off the side of hers. Keen and calculating. Curious.

“That sounds like a good agent to me,” he says.

In the resting curve of his mouth, something like kindness.

 

 

*

Kindness whispering in her ear how good and right and good it is to play God, to contract a muscle and pull a trigger and condemn the unworthy because she said so, and Jack would fire her and Alana would fear her and doctors would lock her in a cell but Hannibal Lecter says it's okay, Will, you're okay.

 

 

*

This time she's not the victim, this time she's the killer, the powerful, the one to be feared.

 

 

*

I'm sorry, Abigail, her hands aren't steady, soaked through with sweat, tears, out loud, “I'm so sorry, I'll make it all go away,” I love you, cold clean steel to throat, and rip

 

 

*

She thought she'd be an actress. So good at impersonations, that little Graham cracker.

 

 

*

Two minutes before class, nearly lost in the midst of students rushing in, he sits in the back row of the lecture hall and listens. Legs crossed, hands folded in his lap, an extraordinary stillness, until her passion begins to rise and he leans his chin in his hand.

He waits until the trainees disperse then slips panther-like down. There's a bag in one hand and the deep maroon-brown of his paisley tie makes his eyes leap out, and Will looks up over the rim of her glasses and flicks an awkward smile.

“Hey,” she says tentatively.

“Hello, Will,” he says, her name warm syllables in his mouth.

She clicks shut her briefcase and gestures to the bag. “What's it today?”

Dr. Lecter pulls out a plain tupperware container. “Something healthy. I doubt you could pronounce the name.”

“You're trying to make me cultured,” she accuses.

The smile's in his eyes, as coordinated as the rest of him.

“One step at a time,” he says, popping the lid.

 

 

*

Vera Crane. Homicide, rookie, her first, asked by the case lead, we've seen your reports Ms. Graham. Raped, strangled with her bra, spread-eagled in blood. College kid. Good grades. Nice boyfriend. Small-town parents. They wept from morgue to funeral and Will couldn't look. She watched the chill fall wind swirl the hem of her black dress and listened to the priest's empty intonations.

That night, Vera was waiting. Half-naked and blood-soaked to bone beneath the bedroom lights, throat garrotted in dull fleshy lines, pupils burst.

"Help me," she choked.

There was a tectonic shift in Will's mind about what men can do.

She solved the perp. After a full two weeks of insomnia the station shrink gave her Ambien. Will tossed the bottle and shred the prescription days later.

Better sleepless than the nightmares.

She found the perp. Sick twisted fuck hiding in his hovel of an apartment, self-taken commemorative photos of his accomplishments plastered on the walls. He pulled a gun on them but Will couldn't shoot – didn't. Another officer took him out, one clean head shot.

She put nine into Hobbs, didn't stop until both he and bullets littered the floor.

Nowadays, she chooses sleep.

 

 

*

“You chose a highly male-dominated profession. Was that intentional?”

“I guess. It was what I wanted. Didn't give it that much thought, honestly.”

“Do you ever feel overlooked by your male colleagues? Underappreciated, perhaps? Objectified?”

“Oh, just every damn day of the week,” Will growls. “It's twenty-fucking-twelve and I'm still beating myself half to death on the glass ceiling.” She pauses, shifts her body to defense. “Not that you've ever had that problem.”

“No,” Lecter acknowledges, so smooth and knowing she wants to snap. “I won't deny the power and privileges my gender provides in society.” He tilts his head forward minutely. “Nor the unfairness of your own oppression.”

“Oh, good for you. You acknowledge your misogyny. Want a cookie?”

His lips twitch. A hovering shark.

“I'm not your enemy, Wilhelmina,” Lecter says. Does he use her given female name to reassure or disempower?  “I hold nothing except admiration for the women in my life.”

“You appreciate us,” Will says. She slips into her monotone, reciting with perfect enunciation. “Our beauty. Our strength. The pleasing magic of our laughs. Soft breasts and hard ankles. Whispers in silk. The small of our backs.”

“I appreciate you as an individual. As much as I would any man. You feel male eyes following you, do you not?” His own eyes, piercing. “Moving over your body? Imagining scenarios and exchanges?”

The monotone shatters along with her voice.

“I've seen exactly what they imagine doing to me,” she whispers.

“Does that frighten you?”

Forcing the words out before she chokes on them. “More than anything.

“So you assumed the role of protector. Not just for the faces that haunt your dreams, but for yourself.”

“I don't – want – to be powerless.”

Dr. Lecter leans forward with his elbows on his knees, fingers aligned straight ahead in an arrow.

“You don't have to be. You are a warrior, Will. You cannot be crushed by petty egos and broad hands. You will smile in the sun and eat their hearts in the dark.”

She snaps back, only slightly shaken. “Well, that's nothing short of morbid.”

“Metaphors carry power. We see ourselves in the grandness of myth.”

“H-how did we start this conversation again?”

An almost-smile ripples the surface of his face. “Feeling lost, Will?” he pricks, not unkindly.

She stammers on a laugh. “Nearly always. But that's what you're here for, right?”

“To help you find your way.” Lecter nods, once. “If you wish me to.”

In the silence, Will exhales.

 

 

*

They laid Vera to rest in the ground in her Sunday best, and Will laid her to rest in her mind in sneakers, jogging shorts, a sports sweater and a sweaty grin.

This is what she could do.

(She thought about keeping the case file, a convenient lie about misplacing or losing. At least a photograph. But that's the thing with imagination - it remains vivid.)

 

 

*

“You have an assault charge on your record.”

“Have you been checking up on me?”

“Merely reading statistics in a file. According to the review board, it was dismissed as self-defense.”

Lecter's glance to the balcony would be shy, if it weren't.

“I'd rather hear what you say.”

“He'd been coming on to me for weeks. Called me up drunk in the middle of the night and asked if I wanted to suck his dick. Amazingly, I wasn't interested. When he cornered me in the hallway he tried to grab...acting like he owned me, my body was there for his entertainment. He shoved me against the wall. So I broke his wrist.”

Will leans her chin against the bannister. Her legs swing over the balcony edge.

“It's a daily fight. Trying to make people see you as a person with a soul – a subject, when they reduce me to nothing but an object.”

Tits, ass, cunt. All that matters.

Lecter moves to stand beneath her, head canted up, hands in his trouser pockets. He almost looks small from above.

“You begin to feel valued only for what your body can offer,” he says, gently.

Will chucks a shrug. “Even the men I work with. The one time Zeller complimented how much better I looked in skinny jeans than baggy trousers Katz had his head.”

Lecter doesn't look away at the vulgarity; doesn't seem the slightest dismissive.

What are ya gonna do about it? That's life. Boys will be boys. Get back to work.

“So you aren't alone,” he says. “You have allies.”

“Other women, mostly. Never been a man-eater,” she says wryly.

“Do you think Jack Crawford supports you?”

Will rolls back her head and groans. “Here we go. Now's the part where you ask if he's offered me a promotion in exchange for fucking him in the bathroom.”

“Well. Has he?”

Will kneads her forehead with two fingers, still breathing little noises. “Look, he's a touchy guy. But it's a show of power. I know the difference.”

“Nevertheless, he doesn't hesitate to utilize your empathy at your expense.”

“You're saying he's taking advantage of me.”

“What do you think?”

“I think – Jack is a man who does his job. Regardless of the costs.”

Will crosses her legs at the ankles. Tan socks, worn-in white sneakers. Hannibal's eyes flick to the motion, then back.

“As long as you don't try anything, I think I can manage it,” she says.

“I assure you, Will, our relationship is purely professional.”

She nods once. “I'd be disappointed if you...turned out like the rest.”

Hannibal pauses for a stretched, silent moment. His expression is an object lesson in inscrutable.

Finally, no change of inflection whatsoever, “I would hate to disappoint you, Will.”

 

 

*

After thirty-two years she's tired of codifiers and disclaimers.

Of course her dad hit her. Old-fashioned Southern family values. Not often, she didn't make rebelling a point. But she knew the feel of a leather belt and bore the welts without special treatment.

It wasn't abuse. It wasn't.

And if she didn't turn out okay, that's not the reason.

 

 

*

He never forces eye contact. He never touches her, not like Jack with a belligerent clap on the shoulder or Katz demonstrating how to calm recoil.

Hannibal never touches her because she has shrapnel running along her bones. He will push her and toss her and drag her out of the sea like Jonah, but he won't touch.

Because she doesn't like to be touched.

Because she doesn't want him to.

Because respect and courtesy and empathy: these are the things Hannibal Lecter is made of.

 

 

*

The phrase you look smaller in person holds true of Freddie Lounds, but she more than makes up for it in style and steel, each equally honed. Will has nothing to make up for it, except maybe her quote-unquote talent. She'd be smaller than Will if it weren't for her heels, probably weighs even less, bones sharp and thin like a bird's. Hollow, meant for flight.

She's the kind to shatter the lock and consume.

Will can almost admire.

“Wilhelmina Graham catches insane men because she can think like them,” Lounds tells Abigail as she slides off the bed. Rounds to face Will and Hannibal but only has eyes for her, scanning. Wary.

“She has a special talent,” Lounds adds, though, strangely, her tone lacks full conviction.

Will brushes past. Dad was wrong when he said ignore them and they'll go away, but old habits. “Abigail, I'm Special Agent Wilhelmina Graham – ”

“By 'special agent,' she means 'not really an agent. Didn't get past the screening process.” Lounds pauses, coal sparks in her eyes. “But she's qualified, in her own way.”

Will never read the whole article. What Katz recited was more of a backhanded ode to genius, hyping her empathy to nigh-supernatural proportions but cautious enough to plant seeds of a salacious potential breakdown in her readers' craniums.

Freddie Lounds is fascinated.

The supposition holds when she's all handshakes and smiling politeness outside Hannibal's car.

“Here to see if I'll suddenly start running around screaming and babbling nonsense?” Will mutters, rejecting the gesture.

Freddie isn't phased, takes and runs with clearest goals. “That's what other people think,” she says. “I'd like to set the record straight.”

“How so?”

“You're a brilliant agent, Ms. Graham. Maybe a little unorthodox, I won't deny that – and I'd like to apologize if what I wrote came on too strong.”

Her voice can be sweet.

“An interview,” Will intones.

Freddie smiles sharp. “The true face of Wilhelmina Graham. You can speak for yourself. I know it's difficult to find your voice, especially in a field run by men.” She steps closer, smile softened – they both have green eyes. “I can make people listen.”

Will's never truly tempted, even if something in her stomach curls outward.

Hannibal's presence centers at her shoulder. “Ms. Lounds,” he says. “Now is not the time.”

Fuck off, Hannibal. I can handle this.

Freddie hesitates, well fuck you twice, Hannibal, steers on. “I know more about the Shrike than anyone else alive. I could help you. We could help each other,” she assures. “It'd be good for you to have a friend in journalism.”

“So you help Abigail see me as more than her father's killer, and I help you with...online ad sales?”

“Look. We may have different reasons for being here, but I think we both genuinely care about what happens to Abigail Hobbs.”

“If you're capable of caring about anything besides yourself, which I doubt, it's certainly not the welfare of another human being,” Will spits like acid.

“I could undo the public's image of you,” Freddie insists. Her gentle tone never wavers. “I could also make it a lot worse.”

When Will advances, they stand nose-to-nose.

“Ms. Lounds. It's not very smart to piss of a woman who thinks about killing people for a living.

Behind bright eyes Lounds steeples her fingers.

 

 

*

Will feels like a goddamn child trapped between Doctors Bloom and Lecter, sitting in front of Crawford as the man touches her quick. She focuses on the color of his aging desk and strives to block out the noise, sullen, crouched, spikes out.

“You know what else isn't very smart? You were there with her, and you let those words come out of her mouth.”

Translation: irrational. Unpredictable. Cue the joke about her period.

Alana picks her battles and stays quiet, even as Will's right side chars from simmering anger.

Hannibal says, “I trust Will to speak for herself,” and the room goes blank.

She has to replay it in her head from every angle.

It starts tight in her chest, a soap bubble rising to burst, and when she looks at him in his fancy ridiculous plaid jacket the rest of the day her heart does something like soaring.

 

 

*

She doesn't thank him for it. Should. The words, and for going with her, retracing her steps, staying in a separate motel room. A second shadow standing close at her side, something solid and unshakeable to cling to when they stare at Marissa Schurr's impossibly pale body and she's failed and Jack knows and it feels like Will killed her she might as well. Murmuring a subtle rebuke at Jack's raised voice and eyeing the line of her shoulders.

She forgets two simple words, in the chill of Minnesota, and he probably knows anyway.

 

 

*

“I'm going home,” she murmurs to Jack, I'm going, not I want or may I.

Every home has a history, an inherent soul bleeding from the walls, and Will's had enough of the Hobbs's haunted mortuary.

In Will's case, she purchased the land and moved in. Simple as that. The owners were a remarkably nice elderly couple, he a motorcross champion in the '60s, she a painter. Will and the husband talked engine types for hours, and she left unlooking but sure of his reinvigorated spark.

Repainting was the highlight. The blue/green walls remind her of the ocean. The couple left some of their furniture, paintings, books – donated, no need or room wherever they relocated. The rest Will collected here and there, an unpretentious, unmatching hodgepodge of whatever she liked. Or whatever did its job best.

She doesn't own a computer, or a television. She never brings work over the threshold.

It's so quiet.

 

 

*

Why don't you just quit? and she's considered, wanted, packing up boxes and leaving it all behind and starting over, but every time her eyes unfocus she sees them, fixed frozen blue faces beneath plastic, putrefied, decayed, and they may not be alive to care, but someone has to.

 

 

*

Buried forgotten in a closet, the doll Dad bought. Guaranteed chaser-away of bad dreams.

It sat on her bed for a while, until one of the dogs chewed off an arm.

 

 

*

(What were Marissa Schurr's hopes? Cassie Boyle's? Vera Crane's? Where did she apply to college? Will her parents feed her pets? What was her favorite color? Food? Right handed or left? Sports? How of a thousand and one ways had society made her insecure, doubtful, fierce, fighting with fists? What did she want to do? Did she even know at barely eighteen?)

 

 

*

(Will dreams futures for them. Scientifically impossible alternate universes. Even if she doesn't remember come morning, she knows from the tear stains.)

 

 

*

The thing about Dr. Alana Bloom, though, from the moment of introductions: you hear her heels, first. They announce. They know.

Will wishes she could hold a room like that.

And she's beautiful. Comfortably, light dresses in muted earth tones but a kick and a clack of knee-high boots. A dichotomy of a woman, astounding warmth yet woven to bone with iced steel.

She stands across from Dr. Bloom and thinks, this is the woman I wish I could be. This is the woman I will never be. There's no point to envy. Will never resents for differences and diversity.

Not long after their first meeting Alana brought “extremely casual, extremely low-stress coffee” to Will's crowded lecture hall, two black mugs and a pitcher big enough for a refill.

“Don't worry, I'm not going to poke and prod you,” Alana assured. She could've used more sophisticated jargon. “You won't have to deal with any of that from me.”

Will grimaced and focused on the students filing out. “I should be offended,” she said. Too gruff. “Do I not intrigue your professional curiosity?”

Alana half-smiled. “Obviously,” and Will appreciated, filed away the honesty. “But that's not why I'm here. I want you to feel comfortable around me. As a person and as a co-worker.” She tipped her mug and hushed her voice playfully. “I bring coffee, not hostility.”

“I have no reason to dislike you,” Will said unfiltered. She blew on her coffee, too hot at first taste. “I make a habit of not mistrusting people until they give me a reason to.”

Amusement twinkled in Alana's eyes.

“Well, then,” she said, red mouth leaving lipstick marks on the mug's rim, “I'll make sure not to give you a reason.”

They second time they trade words, at some tedious Bureau dinner, Will compliments her starfish necklace. “There's a miniature fishing boat on your desk, too. I'm guessing it's not a great leap to assume you like the ocean?”

She's making small talk.

Wilhelmina Graham does not make small talk.

Both her therapists acquaintances would chalk up the draw to lack of motherly affection. Will couldn't care less. Minds and urges are simply driven things. And simply, she wants Alana Bloom in her life. To be around her. Letting her resolve fortify the cracks in Will's armor. Her smile warming deep in her bones, overcoming, until the panic dissipates.

They could be friends.

Would be, if.

The closet she gets to confessing as much is, “So you have brothers?”

Alana smirks fondly over her desk. This time, Will has ventured to her. “Yup, two. I'm the middle.”

“Suits you. What's it...like having siblings?”

“Loud. Stressful. Lots of climbing trees and mud wrestling. A couple broken noses. Never a dull moment.” Alana pulls her hair back over one shoulderblade. “I was a defiant tomboy for quite a while. Until college rolled around.”

Will thinks of boat motors and a closet full of button-downs and pull-overs. “I always sort of...” She begins, struggles. “...wanted a brother. Or sister.”

This is not what they are - neither friends nor faux-siblings, a nebulous in between space. But Will speaks in metaphors easier than naked truths.

And when Alana smiles, it's radiant.

 

 

*

Hannibal's smile is a strange thing. Close-lipped, slightest pull of muscle, blink and miss. Something earned, rare in the wild.

She thought it would be cold.

 

 

*

Progress made, learning how to share, but the fact she couldn't remember the last time someone made her laugh without cracks is off the table.

 

 

*

(Weeks ago, breakfast, Minnesota motel room.)

 

 

*

Just so you know: Dad didn't physically abandon her. But no one talks about emotional abandonment, three-word sentences and one, maybe two trips a year to the college campus if she was lucky, because how do you solve a problem like Wilhelmina Graham, a problem, a mystery, an unknown unrelatable entity in a daughter's body.

Abandonment requires expectation, so Will ensured (ensures) no expectations.

 

 

*

Virginia, near home, a local cop, “I know you. You're that Will Graham, you're on Tattlecrime," and when she tries to step around him and do her goddamn job a shove to her arm, "Get this lunatic out of my crime scene,” and Beverly shouts, “Hey!  You, out. Now.”

That goes over about as well as one would expect.

“Clear the scene,” Katz yells and the authority rings clear as a bell. Assurance and compassion and vengeance. Zeller and Price exchange looks, raise eyebrows, and split. The cop goes, too, hateful glances, vicious mutters.

Stupid cunt should know her place.

“Don't listen to them,” Beverly says, the kind of expectant disgust Will recognizes. “You know these kind of assholes can't handle when a woman knows more.”

Will wipes the smudges off her glasses with her shirt. “I got used to that a long time ago.”

Beverly tilts her head, scanning, but it doesn't weigh heavy.

Will isn't used to a gaze wanting nothing.

“Once I drop this off at the lab, we got a while 'till it processes,” she says. “Buy you a giant Starbucks?” Her smile emerges so natural, and sly. “I'd offer actual drinks with alcoholic content, but duty calls.”

Will's glasses fumble back on.

“Only if we don't sit next to anyone.”

Beverly bumps her shoulder. “You got it. Extra shot of expresso's on me.”

 

 

*

“Look, I know you're not the 'come over and hang out' type. But the offer's there. And some six-packs. You've got my number.”

Will does. It's third on her speed dial.

 

 

*

She stops going to Hannibal's office because she's required but because she wants to, needs someone to understand why she bought suspected killer and confirmed victim Abigail Hobbs a gift and wrapped it with her own hands, white and ribboned and untainted.

“Feeling maternal, Will?” he asks casually, and she bristles, hackles raised and defenses sprung with the lightest poke. She's almost accustomed to the fact Hannibal catches her off guard as easily and often as breathing, but she's still learning to ready herself, just as she does before every crime scene.

“Aren't you?” she bites back, hoping it riles him hot under the collar, just a little, something, anything to crack that genteel composure, he's seen her put down Hobbs like a rabid beast and women mounted like art on antlers, seen Abigail bleeding out on the kitchen linoleum and he keeps on functioning, doesn't dream, she can't understand how and the half of her that doesn't long for that comfort wants to shake him, hate him for the easy peace denied her.

(Even if resorting to a gendered insult is below her, never.)

Hannibal regards her steadily. “The proper term would be paternal,” he says, “but yes.”

Her taut muscles ease.

She doesn't joke about family (what a terrible one we'd make). Not yet. It's too close, and sometimes Will Graham is smart enough not to tread too close.

 

 

*

She wonders, more than once, if she's his version of a stray dog on the side of the road.

 

 

*

The coffee tastes so strong and the food is heaven compared to the same three variations of fish, what she manages to scrounge together when she remembers to eat and what's more, bothers. Sleeping and eating, the basic necessities at life, and she fails at both.

The bathing and the floor to sleep are metaphorical, thank god, but he's so good to her without expectation of repay Will can't find it in herself to care.

Much.

 

 

*

Even with her rail-thin spine hunched Abigail stands a good three inches taller, and it's all so wrong.

“I know I'm – probably the last person you want to see,” Will says in the quiet of the surrounding woods. Hannibal suggested a walk would do them all good, after Nick Boyle. Will was worried, the girl's mental and physical safety, doesn't trust her with condemning Jack or invasive doctors. He offered to go with her, and she was grateful she didn't need to ask.

She wants to make sure Abigail's all right. She doesn't want to be alone with her.

Now Hannibal's measured beside her, still as the nonexistent wind. It's a cold, dead morning.

“I'm sorry I had to put you through that,” Will says. It sounds insufficient.

Abigail watches the ground with arms crossed. Stirring the dirt, crunching leaves and spreading the colors with her toes. Long dark hair, Snow White face, pretty patterned scarf in blue and gray, all thin frail lines and starkly young.

“It's fine,” she says without looking up. “You were doing your job.”

Will mouths the inside of her gums.

“Any bad dreams?” she asks.

Abigail lifts her chin high. “Yeah.” She turns her head owl-like without breaking her stride. “You were in the last one.”

It's like swallowing broken glass. Will hopes her wince isn't visual and knows it is.

“My dad tried to kill you, too,” Abigail continues, the kind of strong that has been tested too long. “Just like the others.”

Shouldn't ask. Fuck it.

“Did he?”

Abigail reaches onto the tips of her toes to pluck a brown leaf off a low-hanging branch. She follows the veins with her middle finger, careful not to tear.

“I don't know,” she confesses. “I woke up before it was over.”

Her bones thin as twigs, crunch, snap.

In the car ride back Will mutters, “She likes you better than me,” eyes out the passenger window.

Why the fuck did you say that, Graham.

“It's easy to forget she's still a teenage girl,” he reminds. “Don't dwell on it. Given her traumatic experiences, it's natural for her to gravitate toward a father figure.”

It hits Will, then, more of a slow seeping through the fissures of her skull.

“I feel like I know everything about Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and I don't even remember his wife's name. She never talks about her.”

“The pain of losing both parents is too great. Perhaps she resents her mother for failing to protect and save her from her father.”

Will leans her forehead against the glass and closes her eyes. “Alana will help her.”

“Why Alana? Why not yourself?”

“You're saying Abigail lacks a strong female figure in her life, right?”

Hannibal taps a finger against the steering wheel.

“I wouldn't say that,” he muses.

 

 

*

He asks about her mother and she cuts him with words and tone. Offended he suddenly sounds the same as every other therapist.

He hasn't earned the right to that knowledge.

“Have you given thought to the possibility of your own motherhood?” he presses.

There it is.

She sighs heavily and drums both hands on her knees, refusing to hide her impatience for his comfort. Petulant, she thinks, like their lost boys, before she can crush the thought.

“Only to dismiss it,” she says.

“Why? Do you fear repeating the mistakes of your own mother?”

“I never said she made mistakes.”

“You said she was distant. No mother should deny her child affection.”

“Oh, and you're an expert on the subject, I take it?”

Hannibal's indulgent half-smile could be at anything at all.

(Probably it should frighten her, his lack of transparency. But he feels real, surprising, opaque. A relief, somehow.)

“You say you don't desire children of your own,” he continues unaffected, always unaffected, “yet you've innately taken on responsibility for Abigail Hobbs's welfare.”

“What was I supposed to do? Leave her orphaned?”

“You took her father's life, so you step in as her mother.”

Will breaks apart laughing.

“Look at me.” She gestures fiercely up and down, jagged lines. “I would be a terrible mother. Laughable. I can...barely keep hold of myself, how could I possibly be trusted with a child's life? Let alone raise them into a decent, functioning human being? I don't have even one iota of maternal instinct. And what makes you think I'm automatically going to assume that role, or that Abigail would even let me?”

This time Hannibal is the one to sigh, exquisitely lightly. Not agitated; halted. “I could cite psychological studies documenting women's natural tendencies to nurture and protect,” he says smoothly. “But I suspect you will thoroughly refute me.”

“If you think a woman's proper place is in the kitchen, I'm finding another therapist.”

“Of course not. I'm very particular about who I have in my kitchen.”

She laughs despite herself.

 

 

*

Getting her tubes tied was/is too expensive. College or surgery, not both.

Will never misses her birth control, even when she's single.

 

 

*

Which is most of the time.

 

 

*

No, yes, he really did smell her long and deep and invading, if Will didn't know Lecter better she'd think it a pathetically strange come on.

“I really must introduce you to a finer perfume. That smells like something from a celebrity gossip magazine.”

“I keep getting it for Christmas. My aunt's very persistent.”

“A pleasing scent to attract a man,” he muses.

Will snorts as she pivots from the statue. “I'd like there to be more than that,” she drawls.

Directly above her left eye, the headache grows.

 

 

*

Dr. Frederick Chilton greets her with a once-over and sharp teeth and he is everything Will loathes in the title, men with beautiful suits over wicked souls in small confined rooms with their pencils and notepads and greedy eyes.

“Dr. Bloom just called me about you, Ms. Graham. I must say, we get many visiting doctors up here, but I can't remember one as attractive.”

“I'm not a doctor.”

“You're not FBI, either, that's a temporary identification.”

Jack extends his hand and opens his mouth and Will barrels over him.

“I'm a teacher at the Academy.”

“Ah, a teacher?”

Chilton likes to think himself predatory, the curl at the side of his mouth. Chilton likes to think himself many things.

Will's glad her blouse buttons to the neck.

“Please, my dear, sit down. Agent Crawford,” he adds.

It's less than a minute before Chilton veers the conversation backward – her and that thing she does. Perhaps she should be examined, would you mind speaking to some of the staff, Ms. Graham, may I call you Wilhelmina? Beautiful name. Are you staying in Baltimore long? This can be quite the fun town if you have the right guide.

At her full height she barely reaches his collarbone.

“I graduated from George Washington University, Doctor,” she says, acerbic and sharp. “It's not a charm school.”

Will sees the lightswitch-quick shift and click in Chilton's mind.

“No,” he says coolly. “Clearly not.”

She shoves in the nurse's eyeballs and impales her on spikes and wonders what Chilton would say of her then.

 

 

*

Over the years her aunt's calls grew less frequent and less lengthy. It's almost a comfort, in the way we learn to tiredly accept the unchangeable, they end the same.

when are you going to settle down, dear, you're not getting any younger you know

It's true. In less than a year Wilhelmina Graham will be thirty-three. The age of Jesus when he died.

She doesn't know why that stuck out of everything drilled into her ringing ears by screaming Southern preachers on early mornings in her black dress. That, and how enormous and terrifying the cross replica in the corner seemed.

Will decided a long time ago God didn't exist, and if he did he certainly didn't give a shit.

 

 

*

He's growing in her mind. The Ripper. In her worst moments she wishes he/she* would replace Hobbs for the relief of difference.

(*Concedes Zeller's logic, the irritating shit – women serial killers, that beautiful elusive breed. Aileen Wuornos, Delphine Lalaurie, Jauna Barraza, Cathy Wood; the subject of Will's dissertation. Split into easily categorized stereotypes courtesy of the Kelleher Typology: Black Widows, Angels of Death, Sexual Predators, Revenge Killers, Profit Killers. Overwhelmingly they favor poison and guns, power over sadism.

(Rarely convicted, even fewer discovered. Media sensations.

(Statistics aren't in the feminine favor.

(Part of Will almost wishes, almost almost just for the expressions, but the Ripper's whimsy boasts the distinct cruelty found in male privilege.)

“Ms. Graaaaaaham,” Abel Gideon hums. He hovers close to the bars and Will's reminded of a mosquito. “You are a surprise. A lovely one, though, don't get me wrong. One doesn't get the opportunity to interact with members of the opposite gender very often, in here.”

“And when you do, you butcher them,” Will says instantly.

Gideon drums steepled fingers.

“Sorry,” he faux-whispers. “Old habits and all that.”

Will leans back against the opposite wall. “So if we were alone, would you kill me like you did the nurse?”

“Oh, Ms. Graham, please. I'm not that kind of guy.”

“At least not on the first date.”

He looks at her and she stares past the sockets into the white beyond.

“You really are very cute,” he says, bland, and no.

“That's not the Ripper,” she informs Jack. “I see him, but I don't feel him. This is plagiarism.”

“And you're so sure because?”

Will rolls her eyes to the ceiling. “What, Jack, don't you trust my feminine intuition?”

 

 

*

The Ripper is Jack's fight, not hers.

 

 

*

Her world and everything in it tilts in some slight, monumental way when she adds the photo of Miriam Lass's severed arm to the evidence pile.

She includes her ID photo because it's what she does, looks at it no longer than she needs to. Only says her name when she needs to, calls the dead woman Crawford's trainee because she has to keep her head with this one, this one could be her.

 

 

*

“It bothers you. Knowing he killed the last woman sent after him.”

“I feel like...I'm assuming her mantel.” Will manages a weak smile. “She was my predecessor.”

“And despite the known danger, Agent Crawford is grooming you to catch the Ripper. He's deliberately choosing to place you at the exact same risk.”

Will rubs her palms up and down her jeans. She's surprised they're moist. “Someone has to catch him.”

Hannibal thins his lips. To the unknown, he might seem angry.

“Why must it be you?” he asks.

 

 

*

No one bothers to answer that question.

 

 

*

Free hours she fills with benign tasks. The motor collection started as a relaxing hobby during her grad years – traveling to sales and buying for dirt cheap what no one wanted. (Hawking prices is her secret talent.)

One day she'll build her own boat out of the broken parts, christen it something suitably eloquent and drive it to the coast. She'll float with the tide.

Until then, she snatches time wherever she can. She cleans dust and tweaks gears so she won't think about the rest.

 

 

*

“Hey.”

Will looks up, blinks the world into focus to see Alana treading measured into the lecture hall. Another wrap dress today, rich tones of sewn red. Black boots. Maroon eyeshadow. Light hint of mascara, just enough to add dimension and imbue her eyes with power. As if they needed power.

Every piece in place. She holds, owns herself effortless. Will wonders how hard and long Alana fought for it.

Distracted by crime reports, it takes Will a moment to produce a clumsy smile. “Hi,” she manages.

Alana props one hip against Will's desk. “Everything good?” she asks.

Just that. A human being to another.

Will drums her fingers on the desk. “Things are looking up. No corpses today. You?” she adds suddenly as she remembers to ask in return.

Alana purses her lips. “Not bad,” she says. “Truth be told, I'm avoiding my homework.”

“Homework?”

“Grading papers.” Alana hugs her torso with a smirk. “I had my students turn in an essay on female serial killers. Don't know if I dread more the improper grammar and punctuation, or the subject matter.”

Will tremors from a startled chuckle. It is not the first time she's realized the two people capable of making her genuinely laugh. Against her will. (But it's there, beneath the surface, awaiting the prod.)

“What's on your mind?” Will asks as she slides off her glasses. They're pinching her temples. “Don't tell me you're here just to small talk.”

There's a moment of silence, and, in her casually direct way, Alana glances at the desk and says, “I hear Jack Crawford's made you lead on the Chesapeake Ripper investigation.”

“Made me,” Will repeats. “Implying I didn't want it.”

Alana's eyes fill with that natural warmth she wields as weapon or balm. “Well,” she says, smiling playful. “Did you?”

“Someone has to do the dirty work.” Will imitates back Alana's smile. “Who's better at doing the dirty work? We know I'm the FBI's favorite sniffer dog.”

Alana pauses, choosing each word carefully. “Before you took up the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case, Jack asked me how I thought you would do in the field. I was honest. I told him not to let you get too close. I'm...concerned he doesn't realize your limits.”

“You're saying I can't handle the Ripper?”

“I'm saying Jack's behavior is dangerously close to exploitation. He'll do whatever necessary to accomplish his job. Catch the killers, save the victims. I don't want you to become a victim. Like Miriam.”

She leans forward until the movement catches Will's eyeline. Will focuses on her cheekbones, the small dots of light freckles.

“Don't be afraid to erect barriers where you need to,” she says quietly. “If you feel Jack's taking emotional advantage of you – protect yourself.”

Alana pushes off the desk. She looks regretful even as she confesses, “Sometimes the safest life is one lived behind carefully built walls.”

 

 

*

Every weekend, 6AM. Coat and hat and gloves, line and lure. Her breath takes shape in the air, the creamer in her coffee ripples to the bottom. The waves wink and the fish bite. Will Graham's heart beats at an average eighty a minute. The sun gets in her eyes, sometimes.

Every weekend is a lie – killers pay no mind to routines. Neither does Jack. She stops storing the line in the closet and keeps it ready on the kitchen counter. Whenever she can snatch the time and hold it fast with both hands.

She thinks about inviting Hannibal out to the lake. But it wouldn't be his thing.

 

 

*

(He's not just the paddle, he's the ocean itself, all-surrounding and soothing to rest and a storm that never comes.)

 

 

*

There's a stag prowling behind her temples, impaling its antlers through her skull. Every morning she tastes blood on her tongue and a weighted blade in her hands. Scents mix in her mind, decomposition and Hannibal's cologne.

“I don't know,” she begins, “if I like that I can still be surprised by the violence I see.”

“You aren't entirely desensitized,” he says. “It means you're still human.”

Or it means there's no end to what people are capable of.”

That Hannibal cannot refute.

 

 

*

The scene's unpleasant. A husband and wife killed during the full moon. The latter violated postmortem, the former made a witness, face turned toward the sight.

Will takes it in, the earth beneath her feet relatively still.

Until she examines the woman closer.

They're wearing the same seashell necklace.

Will stutters a hand. “Excuse me, I have to...”

Acid burning bubbling in her stomach, stumbling away, the hand over her mouth, everyone staring and that magnifies it a thousand times, and she vomits before she makes it out the door. It smears her chin and cheeks, ranks rancid on her tongue, spills out between her fingers.

When lucidity staggers back in fits and starts, someone's kneeling next to her, holding up her hair and soothing a slow hand across her back.

She recognizes the brown jacket and not the touch.

“It's all right, champ,” Beverly whispers, as if she might spook. “We've got you.”

Will's nigh-convulsing, sweat stinging into her eyes and burning the nape of her neck.

“Something I ate,” she whispers hoarsely.

Beverly strokes her wet hair.

The scene's cleared, just two women on the hardwood floor.

Jack asks from under a hat and a veiled expression, “What was that about?” and Will cannot explain. The taste is still wedged down her throat. (He wouldn't understand, anyway. He.) Jack puts his cell phone to his ear and turns away, muttering something to the other line.

While they wait, Beverly soaks Will's neck with a damp towel and brings her water. Will clenches the bottle, listening to the satisfying crunch of brittle plastic and counting her breaths.

She's tucked beneath a blanket on the victim's porch when Dr. Lecter arrives, the gentle purr of his car and measured strides in the grass.

“My knight in shining armor,” Will quips wearily.

He pauses, both feet planted on the soil. Will thinks in metaphors. Lighthouses. Ports. Satellites. Newton's law of immovable objects.

“Are you a damsel needing rescue?” he asks.

His face and voice betray nothing, leaving the hint for her to discover.

“Depends who you ask,” Will says.

If he was debating, final arguments are concluded. Hannibal extends his hand.

“Let me take you home,” he says. “My home.” The corners of his eyes crinkle. It ages him. 47, born 1965. Unmarried. No children. “I'll fix you something to settle your stomach.”

Will huffs a laugh. “I could use some settling,” she says on an exhale.

She slides her palm against his and Hannibal's fingers enclose one by one.

 

 

*

She passes out, once. (Fucking refuses to say fainted.) After what's been officially termed her latest incident, Hannibal insisted on accompanying her to the next scene and she's standing away, Hannibal and Jack behind each shoulder, one stare cautious and the other avid, and then she's waking in a hotel bed, Hannibal propped in a chair directly nearby, his hand enclosed over her wrist, and she remembers Abigail Hobbs in the hospital room, and oh.

She and Jack were arguing, that she remembers. Viciously, heatedly, burning a swath around them. You don't understand what looking at this every day and every night does, the thinking is shutting down. Face in her hands, creeping headache blinding.

Price and Beverly fill in the rest.

Hannibal, physically making himself a barrier between her and Jack. Agent Crawford, an cool and evenly voiced order, You are risking the health and well-being of my patient. I'm afraid I must ask you to leave.

When Will's legs buckle beneath her, Hannibal is a wound spring – he snaps forward instantly, fast as a striking cobra, catching her and lowering her ever so gently to the ground. He cradles her head in his lap and smooths the hair from her face while Beverly checks her pulse. Jack hovers, insisting if she's all right, repeating, urgent, all the anger vanished and suddenly he's a father. She'll be fine, Hannibal assures. She needs to rest.

“Then – best part – not missing a beat, he swept you up into his arms and carried you away. It belonged on the cover of a romance novel.”

And she woke nestled in a bed, tended to and watched over.

Will cherishes the image, and how the remembrance prickles her skin with a pleasant, deep warmth.

“He didn't let us see you until the next night,” Price adds. “Said you needed to rest without any outside stimulus. And eat.”

Zeller arches an eyebrow. “So you two did it, right? All that time alone...has the doctor been making sweet, tender love to you?”

Will stammers and feels herself flush vermillion. Then sends Beverly a meager smile when Katz punches Zeller in the shoulder and calls him an asshole.

She shares that last observation with Hannibal (the romance novel, not the lovemaking) to see how he'll take it. He smiles almost bashfully, if it weren't for the amused curl she's begun to recognize dancing at the corner of his lips.

“I hardly envision myself as a romantic hero,” he says.

“Well, maybe I bring it out in you,” Will counters.

His mouth curls wider.

“Perhaps,” he concedes.

 

 

*

Someone slips a pamphlet on eating disorders into her briefcase. (Would they even notice if she weren't a woman?)

 

 

*

The dream is bad, so very very bad – she wakes up on the floor screaming, tangled paralyzed in sheets and camisole soaked through, the dogs circling. It's all she can manage to strip one shirt for another, the closest atop a laundry basket, and she's out the door and bumming her way to Baltimore on the metro with the spare change in her back pocket next to the gum wrapper.

She's shivering in the summer night when Hannibal opens the front door. He's tucked slim and elegant into a black dressing gown paired with slippers, slippers, Will can't even take in how strange and normal it is, before he says her name, Will; soft and urgent, follows it with a hand on the bare skin of her arm and Will shivers again.

“What is it?” he asks, and oh, this was the right choice, Hannibal's voice is cooler than a shower and warmer than wool blankets and she wants to burrow herself down where it's deep and dark, fold him like armor. Smooth, impenetrable, not hastily erected and unskillfully used.

“Dream,” she mutters out, and the wrinkles crowing Hannibal's eyes soothe into understanding.

He ushers her inside. Meticulously sets her on the leather couch and tucks a thick wool blanket over her shoulders. Will sits silent and still, letting him tend her as he sees fit. He presses a warm mug between her hands and it's nearly 3:00 AM and Hannibal Lecter is in robe and slippers, ashen hair limp across his eyes, but he had a light on and the tea kettle out as if he were waiting.

“Tell me,” he says, beautifully wonderfully commanding but below a whisper, after he sits next to her and after Will's drained half the mug.

And Will does. And Hannibal listens, and listens, and it's only when reality solidifies Will realizes he's been holding her hand, thumb at an angle over her knuckles, the lightest pressure.

She realizes...

And she realizes...

“What's your diagnosis, Doctor?” she mutters, shoes off and toes in his carpet.

(she doesn't mind)

“My diagnosis,” he says, voice a caress, “is you're to rest here for the night. The guest room is yours.”

The comfort flees instantaneous, never truly present. Will ducks her gaze down and away, head angled low so her mop of unwashed curls conceals her face. The only thing she knows with certainty to do.

(other than kill; pressure, timing, heartbeat, blood, insane)

“I've already wasted too much of your time,” she says.

Hannibal tucks her hair back behind her ear, so careful and slow she could almost pretend she imagined the act.

(because no one loves Will Graham, reality says)

“You are never a waste of my time, dear Will,” he says.

Will looks at him.

 

 

*

Breakfast is a feast of Belgian waffles, sweet chocolate syrup, fresh strawberries and blueberries and apricots plucked from a garden, and Hannibal's hand is far too large and far too warm against the small of her back.

 

 

*

“You two have gotten close,” Jack says, and Will snarls, viciously, “Don't sound so surprised.”

 

 

*

Will doesn't make friends. Alana was a pleasant accident through sympathy, Jack is – well, Jack, not father and not mentor and not exactly employer and they stare at mutilated bodies, sometimes share coffee and soda, never have dinner in the same room. She knows she likes Katz, really does, but words are difficult and Beverly wields them with breathless ease.

Abandonment requires expectation, so Will ensures no expectations.

Too late she realizes if Hannibal Lecter were to leave her, Will Graham as she is known would break apart.

 

 

*

Sometimes (sometimes), she thinks she would not mind to be broken apart and remade beneath his hands.

 

 

*

Someone will likely ask her, later, When was the first time he touched you?, and Will will just laugh.

Funny, the tainted condition of the word. How humanity's essential nature craves touch, the assurance and the intimacy, longs for the comfort. The primitive inborn wish for companionship.

Actually, to be truthful, to admit a lack of observation, a failure of skill, Will can't remember. She didn't notice.

It's three fingers, index, middle, fourth, resting in the crook of her elbow, thumb pressing onto the ball joint as if to trigger reflex action. Steadying her into the ground with a palm on her knee, calm down Will calm down breathe in and out. Her spine, guiding away, guiding to, from crime and to solace and his long lean side.

 

 

*

The sound of heels, and Will looks up from scribbling lecture notes, glasses low on her nose.

“More coffee?” she greets. She winces at her voice, rough from disuse.

Alana smiles as she steps into the light. Both hands bring matching oval mugs painted with a seascape.

“Thought I'd try you on some new flavors. Hazelnut caramel.” She extends the right. “Perfect for long days spent cramped away from all human contact,” she teases.

Will accepts a mug gratefully. “You sound like Dr. Lecter,” she mutters, warming her hands. He's trying to improve my palette.”

“Speaking of,” Alana says. “How are you getting along with him?”

Will blows on the coffee and shrugs. “He's...not what I expected.”

“In a good way?”

“He's...surprisingly kind. He listens, which makes for a nice change.” She hesitates before rushing out, a test framed as an afterthought, “Very charming.”

(A test of what, her trust in Alana or Alana's of him?)

Alana raises both slender eyebrows. “Charming? Well, now.”

“Do you disagree?”

“No, that he is in spades.” She swirls the coffee in her mug. “I'm about to broach a seriously invasive personal subject, but...”

“No, I knew it was inevitable.”

“I'm not going to ask anything. Whatever passes between you and Hannibal is strictly your own business. I just...want you to be careful, that's all.”

“What, is he dangerous now?”

“Absolutely not. But it's – exceedingly common to grow attached to someone who understands us. Especially if it's an older figure, someone naturally compelling. A man like Hannibal has the power to pull people in without realizing.”

“A weak girl, warping in his heat.”

“You're not weak. But I don't want to see you accidentally hurt.”

“I appreciate the concern, but I think I can defend myself against the charms of Hannibal Lecter. This is delicious, by the way.”

“Something told me you might have a sweet tooth. I'll make you some more.”

“If you brought me a beer, then we could talk.”

Alana beams. “Girl after my own heart,” she says.

They toast.

 

 

*

“You realize everyone assumes we're having a love affair,” Hannibal says, somehow both offhand and pointed.

“People think a lot of things,” Will answers immediately from his desk chair. Everything in his office has a place, even patients, except Will. He permits her the privilege to roam uncaged. “I've learned the hard way not to pay attention to them.”

Hannibal nods once, fingers linked over his thigh in repose. “A very wise philosophy,” he approves.

Will bites down on the pad of her thumb. Not too hard, knows Hannibal watches keenly. Knows he probably disapproves of her jiggling foot, legs curled to her chest, but something is pressing needle-sharp and he's a damn psychiatrist, physical manifestations of internal anxiety, he's seen worse.

She hopes.

Everyone?” she repeats.

Hannibal's smile is blinding as a winter morning. “Our friend Agent Crawford took me aside yesterday. He wanted to ensure I had your best interests at heart.”

He did not.”

Hannibal fixes her with a gaze from beneath his eyelashes, bangs falling across the sweep of his forehead. There is no other word to describe his eyes except twinkling.

“Oh my god,” Will says.

“He was concerned the nature of our relationship could mean a power imbalance. That I was, in effect, taking emotional advantage of you.”

“Would you?” Will demands.

For the second time Hannibal looks up at her in his slow, certain way. Something far richer and heated in his pupils, whispering, centered.

“Take advantage of you?” His mouth curves suggestively. “Only if you asked.”

Will laughs out loud and the tension evaporates, a snapped string.

“So to be clear – you, Dr. Lecter, are not seducing me,” she pushes, daring.

“Not at this moment,” he says gracefully. “That would be highly unethical.”

“Not if it was mutually consensual. Not if we respected each other as equals.”

“Then I would be free to take physical advantage.”

“If I asked.”

Hannibal rises and moves to refill their glasses. Red wine sings offtone against crystal. “If you asked, dear Will, I would happily oblige.”

“I'll keep that in mind if I find myself in need of a good seducing.”

“Please do,” he says. Absolutely reasonable. “Why deny ourselves the pleasure?”

Their fingers brush when Hannibal passes back her decanter. The touch crackles in his eyes.

Will laughs again, softer, leaving the comment unanswered.

“Nice to know Jack cares, at least,” she says through a long sigh.

“Not enough to believe you capable of making your own decisions.”

“He thinks I need to be coddled. That's why he had you holding my hand with the...” She can't, won't say Hobbs, won't give demons vocalization unless forced. “I'm too fragile to take care of myself. Alana thinks the same thing. They all do.” She pauses. “Who knows. Maybe they're right.”

“They're not. You have strength inside you, Will. You only need to recognize it.”

Will goes very, very still; still as sleep.

The reason she won't look up, when she hears the soft clink as Hannibal sets down his wineglass, the shuffle of clothing, the squeak of leather as he uncrosses his legs and leans forward into the hospitable distance between them, is not due to an aversion to eye contact, but because she refuses to allow him the sight of the growing moistness there.

“I hope you don't think I'm babysitting you for them,” Hannibal says in softest tones. She could fall asleep to the cadence. “I'm here in whatever way you need me, as a professional and as a friend. Independent of Jack Crawford, or anyone.”

“No, no. You...” Will flings a useless hand. “Everyone talks about supporting me, but so far you seem to be the only one who actually does.

Still not looking, Will finishes her drink. Hannibal watches the line of her throat.

 

 

*

His lips are thin and pale but defined. Sharp, when made so. He purses them when drinking wine, parts them when speaking revelations and sins, slips a tongue over when he tilts his head and gazes at her as though he means to spread her out and slice her into easily managed sections, and Will nearly leaps from her skin when she imagines, during one of their seemingly endless conversations, after she cracks a self-deprecating joke and he smirks all subtle secrecy, how those lips would feel against her own. Cool, warm, chafed, soft as a newborn babe; thinks about his active, precise, searing mouth on her throat, her shoulder, her spine, sliding slow and deliberate up between her legs and suddenly the room is far too warm, her fair skin is flushing vermillion and there's something in Hannibal's eyes, a momentary spark, before he changes the subject.

 

 

*

Tall fluttering candles line the length of the table; a bouquet of slender full-bloom white roses rests before her in a crystal glass so sheer Will sees the reflection of her eyes; classical music plays, something calm and soothing and piano-heavy, she half-considers asking him for the sheet music even though she hasn't touched piano keys in years; the lights are dim, not enough Will needs squint but enough to make Hannibal emerge from the shadows, blend with them, his footsteps her only warning.

“A very Southern meal,” she says, eying the plate. “Especially popular in Louisiana.”

One of his small hidden smirks, where he alone understands the joke. Graciously, no trouble at all, an honor, he tips his head. “I thought you might appreciate it.”

“I do. I also don't know which fork to start with.”

He expertly uncorks a bottle of red wine and crosses to her side. “Start on the outside, work your way in,” he says.

He leans over her shoulder as he pours the liquid into her glass, hand on the back of her chair, fingers curled against the wood. Will swallows and stares fixed at her plate, feverish heat skittering over the back of her neck. Suddenly she's very, very small indeed, and her blouse is too tight against her chest, and the line of her throat is exposed and vulnerable and trembling, she shouldn't have left the top buttons undone. And she's so aware of him, the width of his shoulders and the trim fit of his vest, hands designed to craft and hold the finest things.

“That's a new shampoo,” Hannibal says. “Rosemary and lavender, with a hint of citrus.” He pauses, merely breathing. “It’s incredibly becoming.”

Will blinks, once, twice, half-laughing. She twists around to look at him, head angled up, and Hannibal flicks his eyes over, stares down from high above.

“Are you flirting with me, Dr. Lecter?” she demands.

Here they are again, brushing the edges of propriety.

His smile is patently innocent. “Only complimenting what deserves compliment,” he says. He circles back around and takes his seat. “Any man would do the same."

Will snorts. “Not many men do." He's seen her at her worst and now she's starting to let him see, so she indulges the twinge of bitterness.

It takes several moments of humming silence (Brahms? Mozart?) for her to realize Hannibal's staring, eyes locked and expression shuttered.

“Their loss,” he says at last. “A pity they can't see you now.”

He sips his wine, savoring the taste on his tongue, the heat of his lips leaving an already fading imprint of steam. He turns the glass under his careful inspection as if checking for imperfections.

“But not a pity for me,” Hannibal says, words sliding in quiet alongside the music: lyrics, perfectly accompanied.

Will's heart shivers like a candle in an open field.

 

 

*

At first she clutches the dogs closer, urging as many as can fit onto her queen-sized bed. The small ones fit beneath her chin, the larger ones surround her back.

After a while she pushes them onto the floor, tosses and twitches and strains herself to fill the empty space.

Waking up to cold and shivers and hollow bones in the middle of the night instead of sweat and heat and bones stiff with knowing is a new experience.

 

 

*

He sliced the body into dozens of pieces, every limb severed at the joint. Tucked into bed, naked, she could be sleeping if not for...

Hannibal takes one look at her, red-eyed and yawning, hunched over on the waiting room couch, and sweeps the door open wide. They didn't have an appointment.

“You look tired,” he greets inflection-less.

Will's snort morphs into a groan on its way past her throat. She pinches her eyes as she stumbles past. “Are you trying to be funny?”

The door closes behind them with a soft hush.

Followed, unconventionally, by the click of a lock.

“More tired than usual,” Hannibal amends. His voice is louder; he's closer.

A touch of unseen hands to her shoulders. Will jumps, but Hannibal's grip is hardly there, the lightest of pressures.

“My apologies,” he demurs. “I didn't mean to frighten you. Let me take your coat.”

She eases and acquiesces in silent gratitude. Hannibal tells her to sit, opens the wine cabinet and presses a glass into her waiting hand.

Will informs him about the body, then: “The only thing missing was her heart. Jack suspects the Ripper, as usual, but this...”

She drags a hand through her loose hair – a veritable mane, she really should have it cut.

“This isn't the Ripper's MO. It's different. The incisions aren't clean. He had to saw through the skin and bone with a knife, he didn't have experience. It's...inefficient. And he left the rest of her organs. The one thing he wanted was her heart.”

Hannibal perches ready on the edge of his desk. “How long was she missing?”

“Four days, from when the friend filed the report.”

“A crime of this intensity requires dedication. Your man spent days on her. She wasn't merely a sheep for the slaughter.”

“It's messy,” she says. “It's sloppy. It's emotional.”

Will takes an unsteady drink. Hannibal slides one finger against the other.

“Crime of passion,” he says quietly.

The blur begins to solidify; the pieces slide.

A middle-aged white male of reasonable income, dignified and aesthetic, who loved a woman so much the only outcome was to possess her. Own her, consume her, every single part, down to the joints. She didn't know his name.

Her heart was preserved in fluids, floating in a tall glass tube.

 

 

*

“Love is highly overrated.”

“Why makes you say that?”

“It's not logical. Love is...complicated. Expectations. Dissatisfaction. Betrayal. When you know too much of the other person, they always disappoint you.”

“You're afraid of it.”

“Excuse me?”

“You believe accepting or giving affection will hurt you. Better to never feel it than be ruined. When viewed in that light, running away makes sense.”

“I'm not running away. What I am is sensible. I'm perfectly capable of loving someone, Dr. Lecter.”

“I never said you weren't, dear Will.”

 

 

*

She lost her virginity at twenty-one (loathes the term lost she did not lose anything, she simply became a sexual being but that's a social delineation for another day). A boy in one of her classes, probably psychology. He listened and smiled and said she was pretty, and his eyes were beautiful. Being wanted for herself was a novel sensation. It was disappointing, over fast and a dull pain but not more than she could handle. They didn't fuck again, or talk very much.

It left her disillusioned, especially after avoiding sex so long. There were opportunities, and hell, she could've picked up strangers at a bar. But that's not how Will functions.

Hard enough to trust with a mind, let alone a body.

She tried it again, this guy older than her, and he knew what he doing, and goddamn she liked it. The second time he got her off with his mouth beforehand and yeah, she could get used to orgasms. It never became more, and Will was content.

There are scattered others, here and there. By societal standards, she has a perfectly normal libido. She's just careful.

When she starts investigating murders, she's even more so.

 

 

*

“Ever been in love, Will?”

“I'm not nearly drunk enough to talk about that.”

Hannibal lifts the decanter with a look fliting at coy. Will chuckles and passes over her empty glass.

“You know enough about me already. I have to retain some secrets.” She rolls the word, mocking as she forms syllables.

A thought. Eyes him intrigued. The definition of a bachelor, alone in his great grand mansion of a house. “What about you? Hannibal Lecter must have someone in his life.”

“Law enforcement and psychiatry are both lonely professions by their nature.” He holds the pause and watches as Will shifts uncomfortably. “I have yet to meet someone who inspires the right kind of passion. The majority of people I see day-to-day are my patients, who are certainly in no state of mind to carry on a healthy, reciprocal relationship. Not to mention the moral ethics involved.”

“Psychiatrists have ethics?”

“Please, don't tell anyone."

They share a drink, breathe in the silence.

“Can you imagine – feeling so strongly for someone you'd take a life for them?” She tests each word as they rattle unchecked in her tonsils. “Or to be so...consumed by their existence you'd kill them just to have them?”

Thoughts spilling from a reservoir, and as always, Hannibal listens unjudging. “I imagine anything is possible, with the right stimulus. People kill for many reasons. Love can be as strong a motivator as hate. And who can say what motivates the human heart?”

She knows the mind too well, and too little of the other, so Will dares not muse.

“What if someone committed murder for you?” Hannibal asks. “To help or protect you?”

Once all her sensibilities would recoil at such morbid philosophy. Will's laugh rings delicate, charmed at the notion.

“I suppose I'd have to be flattered. Though I can't see why anyone in their right mind would feel that kind of passion for me.”

Hannibal says very little until goodbye.

 

 

*

The only one she had to talk to about these things, growing breasts and blood sticking to her thighs and that clenching flutter in her stomach at certain men, was her aunt, Dad's sister, and the most she did was give her money for tampons.

Will worked her way through it alone, like everything else.

 

 

*

No crime this week, an hour to waste before she's home, and maybe it's the wine hitting her empty stomach or the high of a good mood, but either way: “Do you like movies?”

Hannibal's eyes flick over before his head follows. “Most average people do,” he says coolly, one finger holding a place in his notebook.

“Well, you're not most people.”

He raises high both light eyebrows. “Neither are you," he returns conspiratorially.

Will giggles. She outright giggles. The last time she acted this idiotic she was fifteen.

“What I'm trying to ask,” she says, “and apparently failing – there's this, ah. Tiny theater on the edge of town. Only shows classic movies, black and whites, that kind of thing.” Her feet swing off the edge of his desk. “There's a special showing tomorrow, if, maybe...I'm going to take my mind off things, and...it sounded like it might be something you would enjoy."

She thinks she sees Hannibal's lips make a half-moon smile, she knows the shape of such a thing now, but she lacks incontrovertible evidence. A trick of the light.

“I had no other plans for the evening,” he says as he closes the notebook and lays it flat on the desk at a perfect right angle. “I think we would both benefit from the distraction.”

A blink and there it is: in his eyes, so bright and so brilliant and it twists hard and aching in Will's stomach.

She arrives on time and he's already waiting, snow in his hair, bundled up in a gorgeous brown coat and matching gloves that probably cost more than her monthly mortgage.

He's beautiful with snow in his hair.

“Hey,” she says on a breath. “You have trouble finding the place?”

“Not at all.” Hannibal gestures ahead gallantly. “Shall we?”

There's ice on the sidewalk from the latest storm. Hannibal holds Will lightly by the elbow as she side-steps through. She feels branded, wincing in pain, but the leather doesn't chaff her skin.

“I'm surprised you came,” she says as they claim aisle seats.

“How so?”

Will gathers her loose hair into a bun. “I figured you'd say it was unethical. Patients shouldn't see therapists outside of their professional relationship.”

“Would you classify this as seeing each other?”

He crosses one elegant leg, folds his hands in his lap and fixes her with his probing stare. It's unsettling even outside the office. The first day they met, I can't shut mine off any more than you can yours. He carries it with him.

“Why?” Will demands. “Did you think this was a date?”

“To be honest,” he says, “it never crossed my mind.”

“Why not?”

He gives a one-sided shrug. “You said it yourself. You aren't someone who seeks relationships.”

So tactful, her psychiatrist associates.

Will faux-gasps to cover the bristling sting. “What?” She presses a hand over her heart. “Too broken to date?”

It earns her a full smile. “You're not too broken to be fixed,” Hannibal assures. “Although,” he adds, leaning close to her ear, his breath warm on her skin, “this may give us new things to talk about next week.”

The lights dim and Will laughs loud enough for people to stare.

 

 

*

“When was the last time you had a satisfying sexual relationship?” he asks as diplomatically as red or white wine.

Stammering, Will scrambles to conceal it with a laugh. “Isn't that a little...much?”

“You know as well as I how many psychological ailments stem from frustrated sexual desires. If nothing else, it serves as an excellent source of stress relief. An intimate partner could bring you comfort. Provide an outlet, as it were.”

“Are you offering?” she taunts.

 

 

*

She knows she's a certain type of pretty, plain but not unpleasant. She supposes she can see the appeal, slenderness paired with a youthful face.

She knows eyes move over her body, coveting, lusting, envisioning. She ignores, shudders, appreciates, depending on who.

She can't ignore Hannibal, which leaves only two.

 

 

*

She has thought about it, once or twice, deliberately, not counting the moments of shocked lust attacking like a burglar in an alleyway and leaving her breathless and unsure and stripped to veins. She's thought about it, about Hannibal and with him, because he is an attractive man in his cultured, unattainable, slightly exotic way. The Bureau aren't the only ones wondering if something else runs beneath his dedicated attentions, the way he looks and touches, unearned devotion and morning coffee and speed dial and a smile just for her she's incapable of reconstructing when why and how, so yes, she's indulged herself in a fantasy about Hannibal Fucking Lecter with only the dogs for witness. Wondered if he wants her, wants to kiss her and touch her and take her into his bed until his desires are sated, if Hannibal even does that kind of thing, it seems so, just – beneath him. Wanting to fuck her would be disrespectful. Immoral. Incongruous. Endless impossibilities. But if he did, but but but if, he would a considerate lover, wouldn't he – attentive – assured – surely his care would extend into the physical. But she swallows it down, chokes on it, suppresses it to a dim burn behind her lungs like she does everything, she's not made for this it's not possible it's a miracle she and Hannibal have even progressed this far and there are no forts in the bone-arena of her skull for the things she loves and she will not ruin him. One thing must stay pure, just one, this normal man with normal fears who she will only taint beyond repair, this good man, please just this one.

 

 

*

It's a simple equation, Will muses – it's so much easier to make it on your own.

 

 

*

It isn't just trapped dying dogs she hears.

A scratching at the door. She drops the dog bowl and calls, “Who's there?”

Nothing comes back except her own echo.

The next night, again, surely an animal trying to get in, and then a beating, someone trying to break through. She snatches her gun from the mantel with shaking hands. She sucks in her breath for the recoil before knocking the door open, and there's nothing, no one, no trace.

She rounds the woods outside and checks every door in the house, metal pressing hard against her thigh.

For the first time, Will hopes she isn't alone.

 

 

*

She changes her locks when she's woken by a woman's scream.

 

 

*

Calling Alana makes sense – something helpful but not quite a friend, chaser away of bad things and absolutely very much not her therapist. Will can't imagine Hannibal trudging out in the snow and muck to help her haul a dead body.

She makes awful slumber party jokes and Alana smiles patiently.

“I stopped painting my nails years ago,” she says. The wind blows the fringe of her scarf into her curls. “Too much effort. Plus frowned upon in professional circles of psychiatry.”

It takes most of Will's strength not to assess her own fingernails, roughed to the enamel and, later, smeared with oil and grit.

Alana sees them, sees the whites of Will's eyes, sees the messy hole in the wall and, somehow, Will knows that she knows.

And what.

She makes her hasty inept excuses and flees.

“I tore a hole in my chimney,” she snaps out, beating the snow from her coat and rushing past Hannibal into the lighted warmth of his kitchen without even so much as an invitation.

At his command she tells him, the ghost in the yard, the trapped phantasm in the chimney, Alana come to rescue a lost keening wounded animal and her face, and…and…

She’s shaking. Hands, knees, head. She grinds her clenched fist into the granite countertop to keep herself contained, to keep from rupturing.

(in the end, Will Graham died of her own heart)

“I feel unstable,” she whispers. Choking on what everyone knows and what she can tell no one else.

“I’m wondering, then, why you felt compelled to drive an hour in the snow to tell me about it.”

Will watches him apply cream with a flourish.

“I need…”

Hannibal keeps working. Does not look up.

“What do you need, Will?”

Hands, applying cream, hands holding in a man’s intestines, hands holding her arm, hands holding back Abigail’s blood, hands holding Abigail’s wrist, the hands of the man who makes edges bleed and lines blur, and Will feels herself tearing apart.

“I need you.”

Hannibal stops.

She can’t look at his eyes. Can look at his mouth, the rest of him, does, the angles of his body stiff marble. She’s moved herself to the other side of the counter, she’s standing next to him, Hannibal’s gazing down at her with harsh jaw and eyes of a rumbling thunderstorm she can project imagine wish anything upon, and Will kisses him. Shifts onto the tips of her toes, slides her mouth over his.

It’s so frightfully easy.

 

 

*

She waits for the rejection.

It never comes.

Hannibal relaxes. The simmering tension seeps swift as running water - muscles ease, mouth opens, he leans down to meet her so she need not strain to reach. And then his muscles bunch in the act of gathering her close, an altogether different kind of tension. Surrounding, possessing, Will not only fully registers but feels through sensory touch the wiry strength running like pistons through his body, the width of his chest, the thickness of his arms, he could snap her bones with no effort whatsoever but he –

– he cradles her. Turns her expertly into his body so they align with breathless frailty, all that relentless controlled restraint directed into the single-minded loving of her and Will bleeds from the tenderness, flesh a minefield of shivers. She slips a hand into the hair at the back of his head and takes hold, fingers winding through, withdrawing and turning her head only to kiss him a second time, more insistent, seeking and hoping.

Will isn't a skilled kisser. Her limited experience equals swift and messy, snatching desperate at connection, sating an urge – her lips are sloppy against his, desire making her uncouth.

So Hannibal teaches. He clasps her face between his massive hands and assumes control, guiding her mouth into smooth, breathless movements with a harrowing clarity of purpose. His lips are like his voice: soft, warm, enveloping, only slightly frightening. He tastes salty, meat and white wine and a tang of bitterness.

Will wonders what she tastes like – the cheap hamburger she had for lunch, maybe, the shot of whiskey before she drove. Whatever it is makes Hannibal insatiable. He probes and samples, sucking her lips, running his tongue inside the contours of her mouth, over her gums, the front of her teeth, gorging on every taste she has to offer. Not like some hapless boy, she remembers sticky tedious fumblings but this is a man and he knows how to kiss.

And how to touch – one arm locks firm along the spread of her back, leaving a hand still warm from the oven free to roam; he smooths his palm open and wide and slow over the curve of her hip. Counts the bones in her ribcage with his fingertips, investigating, moving beneath her cardigan to skim a curious thumb against the side of her breast through her shirt and when Will shivers from a surge of pleasant warmth Hannibal pauses, takes note, repeats the motion just to feel the tremor again.

He's precise, and careful, and gentle, just as he is in all ways of life. But between the harsh wine and the boiled meat Will tastes the first hints of passion – repressed and denied, stirring toward outlet.

So, finally, Will lets go.

Hooking her arms around his neck by the elbow she matches him kiss for kiss, presses her body flush against his and earns the softest low sound, dragged up from the hollow of his chest. Not quite a growl, not fully a hum, attesting pleasure in her and oh, oh it melts her fragile bones to water. Will doesn't think about hallucinations, doesn't think about dead men in her audience, doesn't think about open throats and bones for strings, doesn't think about the Ripper lingering unseen – everything is Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal kissing her, Hannibal's hands on her.

They could stand in his kitchen and kiss until dawn comes for all Will cares. But that isn't the end of her wants. Will wants the heat of his flesh; the ravished beat of his heart; his sweat on her tongue. She wants to bury herself in the security of him and there rest. She wants to be crushed into satin sheets until nothing exists except hands and mouths and limbs and them. She wants exposed and vulnerable and fearless.

She wants Hannibal's body on hers, in the most elemental, terrifying, filthy way. She wants to be loved and ruined and restored and only by him, only him.

It's lust of the heart.

If it were lust of merely the flesh it would not hurt this much, feel this good, make her tremble like a high note sustained.

Hannibal's the one to draw back, slowly, clinging to her bottom lip with his incisors. Just the space necessary to meet her eyes. Just. And god he looks a feral animal, prowling and scratching at his cage and she wants nothing more than for Hannibal Lecter to snap and maul her alive.

“Don't,” she whispers, reaching up to touch his face. “Don't say anything. I just – ”

And then someone kisses the other, it's her impulse but she's running high on courage and Hannibal's mouth is so hungry. She clings to him for dear life, her anchor, her lifeline, her paddle, her guardian angel, her savior and now this, level with his eyes, his mouth, his ever-searching devastating wonderful mouth.

Which moves to her throat, parted lips pressing against her pulsepoint, hot breath spreading outward from the source – and he smells her, all the way from clavicle to ear, so excruciatingly intimate and a rough moan escapes Will on a breath.

Something about the sound makes Hannibal cease his attentions. He holds her, just holds, soaking in the smell and feel of her, limp, quivering, upheld in his arms. He draws away, locks eyes and the pupils have cooled, even as he keeps close enough their noses brush.

“Will,” he begins, quiet as a whisper.

Will rushes her fingertips over his open lips.

“Will,” Hannibal repeats, and this is lost. “You know I can't.”

“You can,” she urges, voice cracked and tremulous. “I don't care that I'm your patient.”

“That isn't why. You're frightened.”

Will's scrambling to keep up, as if she'd stumbled over her desire in the dark. “I know,” she says. “But I've been wanting to kiss you for a while. You're very kissable.”

He smiles that barely there smile, so fond. “You've waited a long time,” he says, altogether too clinical and professional. “Which suggests you're kissing me for a reason, in addition to wanting to.”

His fingers stroke small, soothing patterns at her waist.

“A clutch for balance,” he prescribes.

“You have to stop thinking so much.”

She tries to kiss him. Hannibal ducks the advance.

It stings worse than a slap.

He must see it slide through her eyes, Hannibal always sees, because he lifts his hands up to cup her face as gentle as any touch she's ever felt.

“Sweet Wilhelmina,” he murmurs, voice a balm. She leans into his palms, soaking in the rhythmic heat of blood. “Your desires are very much reciprocated. But if our relationship is to change, it mustn't be due to duress. I want you to enter into this with a clear mind.” He runs his thumb beneath her eye. “And an open heart.”

Will swallows around a thickness lodged tight in her throat. “So that's a no, then.”

She aims for a hit and misfires, voice breaking on the no with a bitter hiss.

“Not a no. A not yet.

Supposing hallucinations, madness, breaking apart at the fringes of her existence, it's the best Will can hope for.

She drops her forehead hard against his chest, breathing thin and fast. Hannibal rubs his hand up and down the length of her back.

“You've said yourself what you do is not good for you.”

“Unfortunately, I am good for it.”

“Are you still hearing this killer's serenade behind your eyes?”

“Well, it's our song.”

He adjusts her enough to tuck the top of her head beneath his chin.

Hannibal holds her in the silence of the snow.

Until he tells her about a patient, a string shop in Baltimore. She rubs her face with both hands, the first time she lets go since she reached, shake it off shake it off. Hannibal's grip shifts to her waist.

“Will.”

She looks up between her fingers.

“Be careful.”

 

 

*

She is, but not nearly as much as she should be – and, apparently, neither was Hannibal, both of them marked with blood on their souls.

She ran to her car when Jack called. Knocked over a violin and tripped on the curb and shoved past living bodies, ran as if her speed would save him and slowed only when she had to enter a room where others existed.

He's never looked frail before. Frightened, broken apart by fists and the taking of a life, hunched in his chair and clutching at control in the form of his layered hands over the wound in his knee.

But even bruised and terrible and red, Will knows the look on his face, in his eyes – the barely parted fall of his mouth as she creeps into their defiled place, because she sees it when she looks in a mirror and thinks of Hannibal Lecter.

She too has been broken apart and watched for him, quivering on the slender precipice of hope.

“I was worried you were dead,” Hannibal says, accent thickened.

Will nods. Cannot give such private things utterance in a public room, not before last night and certainly not after.

After they stitch him up and the room clears, after Hannibal's reiterated his account to the sixth person, after he cancels the rest of the week's appointments with a steady voice and an unsteady hand on the telephone, Will mutters, “If you need anything...just...” She gestures helplessly. “Whatever I can do.”

She yearns to touch but does not touch because she is Will Graham and she knows.

Hannibal catches himself pressing a fascinated finger to the cut on his mouth and lowers his hand. Blinks swift as a bird, and for the briefest fraction of a moment, rests his thumb and forefinger on the tender skin of her inner wrist.

“Thank you, Will,” he enunciates clearly.

 

 

*

They are a kind of equals, now, in fear and action and damnation.

Will wonders if he sees Tobias Budge in his dreams.

 

 

*

“Do you feel unstable?” Alana asks, after discovering Wilhelmina Graham labyrinthed alone in her mind. Yesterday's wrinkled blouse and corduroy blazer, sickly white skin, sweat-curled hair in a lopsided bun, minutes, hours lost.

Vulnerable and stabbed to the quick, Will flings deflections with blind aim but cannot hide from Alana anymore she can from Hannibal. She fumbles apologies (sorry I raced out on you) and promises (won't happen again), and I kissed Hannibal tumbles out in a rush, he kissed me back. And basically said he was in love with me.

And Alana agrees, You wouldn't be good for each other. At least not right now. / Why? I can stop being his patient. / Because I think you're unstable, Will.

And Will curls into herself.

Hiding, after all, is the one thing she knows best.

“Well. Thank you for being honest.”

Alana cups her cheek and asks, “Do you feel unstable?”

Will nods.

Alana's hair, beneath her nose, along her mouth, smells like lilacs.

 

 

*

They don't talk about it. They talk about anything except, which is, Will supposes, a kind of admittance.

They also don't talk about the kiss. Will attempts and Hannibal smiles mindfully and brushes past and they leave it unattended at the wayside.

Not a no. A not yet.

Will has a problem. She can't talk to her therapist and confidant about it, because her therapist and confidant is the problem.

This isn't simple. She can't take apart and rebuild like everything else.

Hannibal isn't everyone. She only has one Hannibal.

 

 

*

It was just supposed to be words. It was only ever just supposed to be words.

 

 

*

The earth these days does not seem still beneath her feet.

Even in her subconscious wanderings she runs to Hannibal, but there's no offered comfort. You're sick, Will, you're so very, very sick screams beneath his concern and she's in the sandbox crying over dead birds, she's shoved and tripped and her textbooks go flying in the hallways, she's in the high school therapist's office with his beady eyes and judging tone and his empty pathetic life she can smell on him like ranking, she's standing in front of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where Chilton has a room saved just for her, waiting.

Waiting until someone decides, and signs, and leaves her.

“I'm worried about you, Will,” Hannibal says. But it doesn't sound like her father, or her professors, or Jack. “I don't you to wake up to a totem of your own making.”

“So you finally believe I'm insane?” she asks, voice cracking and breaking and straining.

Hannibal's mouth twitches like she'd struck him.

“No. But the work you do is fragmenting the walls of your unconscious. Your stability, your identity...”

Hannibal pauses. He flicks his gaze to the floor and thins his lips white. In this singular moment Will sees him split open, at the atom's core – racing to stitch friend and doctor back into a single, controllable unit. (His lips, his ribcage, before the truth pours out.)

“I don't want to lose you,” he says, so very, very soft.

If it looks and sounds and acts and feels like love, all evidence points...

Will spins. She stabs her fingers together at the joints and pushes until it hurts, as if working muscles could exert control, shove the glass shards of herself together but they'd only split apart upon re-entry with hands as riddled as hers.

“Are you just my friend, or...do you...have you...?”

A heartbeat of empty air.

Hannibal rests his hand on her shoulder and grips this side of too hard.

“I care for you very deeply, Will,” he murmurs. “Beyond friendship.”

Tears. Cold and stinging, she blinks, heaving in a shuddering breath.

When Hannibal sits next to her on the couch, their knees touch.

“Will,” he says, so gentle she could weep, and Will drops against him like weights released. His arms fold around her firm and forgiving and endless. He is her gravity: not the kind that keeps upright, but the kind that crushes to earth.

“I'm so scared, Hannibal,” she whispers.

“I know.” The words vibrate against her ear. “I know. I'm here, Will. I won't leave you alone with the monsters.”

Will buries her face in his chest. Her hands make tiny, angry fists at his clothes. He smells of musk and leather, and when his hand strokes the back of her head she trembles.

 

 

*

She looks at the hardening lines of her face and doesn't recognize the reflection.

In truth, she hasn't recognized it in a long time.

 

 

*

“Just because you want to replace my mother doesn't mean you are her,” Abigail bites. “And you can never be my dad.”

“Abigail,” Hannibal reprimands, but the damage is done and Will knows when a fight is over, when a thing is lost.

 

 

*

For the minutes she thought she'd lost him, Will had never been so frightened in her life.

“We're her parents now. Her father and mother. We have to serve her better than Garrett Jacob Hobbs.”

Will Graham never had a family. Will Graham never understood family.

You protect your family.

Hannibal touches her shoulder, first, a grip hard as iron, forcing her down. Then his hand moves across the angle of her back, notching at the slender curve of her hip; the tug is almost imperceptible, but Will obeys the pull. Hannibal draws her against him, into him, as if the strength of his arms alone could protect her from the world.

“What we are doing is the right thing,” he whispers. He runs his hand through her hair, ever so carefully winding soft strands at her nape. “Soon this will be the only story any of us cares to tell.”

She doesn't cry. Lacks the will. So tired, so sick, so numb, so weak and helpless and powerless because the things she loves are tainted, the very air they breathe stenched with death rattles and she couldn't protect them, she can't save them, she was responsible and she failed just like she's failed dozens of girls who no longer know the taste of innocence, and Will stands still and listens to the steady, measured beat of Hannibal's heart.

She loses time by choice.

 

 

*

He asks her to come home with him. What Will says in her mind and what her lips form are opposite.

Hannibal takes her coat in the doorway and Will doesn't understand anything, except the trembling low knowing in her stomach.

But Hannibal never lays a hand to her. He fetches an extra pillow for the guest bed and she falls asleep on the couch waiting, feet curled beneath her, head turned into the patterned cushion.

She wakes to find a wool blanket tucked against her shoulders.

They drink coffee in the morning and don't talk about it.

 

 

*

(They know every last thing of each other, now, including the taste of mouths.)

 

 

*

“You canceled our last appointment.”

“Like I said on the phone, I needed – time to think. Just, absorb everything. I hope you didn't take it the wrong way.”

Hannibal gives that small acknowledging smile. “I didn't take it as anything except you wanting to be alone. Would you like to discuss why you needed that time?”

“Actually, no. I'd like to discuss this – thing.

“Thing,” he repeats blandly.

Will gestures haplessly at the suddenly insurmountable distance between the parallel chairs. “Between us.”

“The nature of our relationship.”

“You could say that.” Will shifts uneasy, remembering the practiced words. “We've kissed. We almost slept together, the night...” She doesn't need and doesn't want to finish the sentence. “You said you cared about me as more than just a friend.”

“I recall quite clearly.”

“So that's true?”

“Of course it's true. I wouldn't lie to you, Will.” He immediately realizes the misstep and lowers his voice to add, “Not about this. The only reason I wasn't honest about Abigail was the need to protect her welfare overruled my desire to remain completely truthful with you.”

Will lets that chew in her skull before answering. “Do you ever feel we're at this infuriating standstill? We kiss, we obviously want the same thing, but we don't address it. Don't move past it. Nothing.”

“We're adults who share a mutual desire. And we could become intimate, but everything I am as a physician and as a human being demands against it. I would be taking advantage of you, Will. And I respect you too much to do that.”

“Is that why you didn't seduce me when I spent the night?”

“Exactly why.”

“I would have said yes,” Will says. It's a pathetic attempt to demonstrate control.

It pains her, his kind smile. “I know. Believe me, Will, there is nothing I would have enjoyed more that night than making love to you. Or any night.”

Maybe it's the way he says it, soft and secretive, or the thought of fantasy becoming future certain fact, but Will physically feels her body temperature change like match to wick, infusing her cheeks, rippling down her breastbone, bottoming out in the pit of her stomach. She averts her eyes and manages, “Um. Well, that's. Very flattering, I guess. Thanks?”

Hannibal studies her, head tilted. “You blush very beautifully, Will,” he says, as if she's surprised him.

As if he wants to discover in detail what else makes her blush; as if he's pleased with himself.

 

 

*

Turns out Alana likes fishing. And shitty action movies. Will hasn't owned a television since she stopped watching the news, so they settle for the former, followed by the expensive beer Will's had in her fridge since she first learned of Alana's winery preferences. Untouched - unasked.

“What's your dream life?” Her fingers are curled knuckle-to-knuckle around the metal bottle. “As in, after this. What's Alana Bloom's happily ever after?”

Alana crosses her ankles, feet swinging just off the floor. “Somewhere quiet,” she says, each word a precise thought. “Peaceful. A cabin by the coast, maybe. So I can walk with the sand between my toes and watch the ocean come in.”

Will sighs at the indulgence of dreams and leans her head back. “I always wanted to visit the mountains. Sometimes you get sick of the same flat land.”

“You should,” Alana says, checking a glance. “Change might be good for you. Take your mind off...”

“Everything?” Will offers wryly.

There's not much for Alana to say in return. Which isn't fair on Will's part, but.

She's good at watching. She watches Alana Bloom. The muscles running beneath her arms. Her fingers tucking hair. The knobs of her knees, the bend of them, hair coming to rest along her collarbone. The dip of Will's bed pressing their sides together. The warmth of a human body, living. Things Will Graham is not accustomed to.

“Do you think I'm dangerous?”

Carefully, lowering her eyes to secure her movements, Alana tucks both legs beneath her and smooths out her skirt. “I think all of us have the capacity for violence. Depending on the circumstances, and the situation. We'd like to think we're incapable. Above it. But hardly any of us can predict what we would do until we're confronted with the choice.”

She touches Will's wrist. Three fingers and a thumb, the sensitive underbelly of skin, and Will turns her face away but does not flinch.

“So yes,” Alana says to her profile. “I think you could be very dangerous, Will.”

 

 

*

“Do you think I'm dangerous?”

Flushed, chills, violent with self-hatred: and somehow, a silent mind, hollowed out from clarity.

And, the far worse question:

“Are you afraid of me?”

Hannibal looks at her a very long time.

“Yes,” he tells her. “You have within you the potential to be dangerous. You hold the power to create life as easily as destroy.”

He leans forward, elbows on his knees and each fingertip pressed together.

“I'm not frightened,” Hannibal says.

 

 

*

This is where they exist, now, in the empty spaces between words. Will feels it scraping at the edges of their vowels, tearing with longing.

“I meant it. When I told Abigail I was accounting the important things in my life.”

She hovers near the chairs, arms tucked tight beneath her breasts, spine crippled over. Defensive for attack even now (will she ever open, is this the one chance?). Directly opposite Hannibal sits at his desk regal as a king, hands folded on the mahogany and never looking away.

The scream shreds at her closed throat. She wants to free it, rip apart her own skin to cease the torment, transform into a new creature capable of loving him without fault.

“You're important to me. You – ”

Suck in a breath. Look at the ceiling, the floor. Gesture inarticulate with a wild hand. Fear is supposed to make her think clearer, speak better, not betray same as a dying breath.

“I may not know who I am anymore. But I know what I want, Hannibal.”

She forces herself to look him pin-point in his pupils, extend the stare. Drop her arms, clench her fists to strangle the fear. Channel your power. Suppress. Go on.

One step at a time, across the carpet to him. On cue, linked to her body, Hannibal rises and steps out from behind the desk.

Will stops a hair's breadth away.

“That's you,” she says. “If you could...if you truly want my mess. Because it's all of me, or none. I can't give you just the good parts, what little there are.”

He doesn't interrupt and Will could kiss him then, so glad of it. Slowly, to a feral cat, Will sets his hands on either side of her waist. If he cannot be moved, she will move in his stead - isn't that the essence of what they are, reciprocal care, forward motion, usurping burdens?

“I don't know how much time I have left. Whatever is left,” she says clear and strong, “I want to spend with you.”

Of two things has Will only ever been certain - protecting the damaged, and the man who has never once called himself her protector.

The silence trembles to a knife's edge.

Then.

Hannibal digs his fingers into her hipbones and approaches so they're chest-to-chest. He makes her feel so small. She retreats automatically at the physics of his approach until her back bumps gently against the desk.

There's nowhere else for them to go. Except to each other. Except under clothes, defense mechanisms, reflexes.

If Hannibal is the fixed point in her universe, Will Graham will orbit him until she burns in atmosphere.

There's tension building in Hannibal's muscles, a diver preparing to jump. Urging she slides her hand to the nape of his neck, teasing the hair there, basking in the smallest of pleasures. Hannibal barely reacts to the strangely intimate touch, though his skin's hot against the pads of her fingers. His eyes glide an assessing path from her lips to her throat, watching her heartbeat jump.

Come on come on, you have to feel this, you can't be a machine, I've seen blood on your mouth and beneath your nails, I'll tear that composure off you, I'll ruin you, I'll drag you down to raw and primal make you wild-eyed and panting, make you feel so much you think your mind will shatter

She nudges him, it's okay, I'm here, you won't break me, shifts onto the balls of her toes as he leans down and they meet somewhere uncharted in the middle, lips sliding warm and light. One of her arms has wrapped around Hannibal's shoulders, the other clasps the front of his jacket.

Let me in let me in, I'll climb your fucking walls, I'll dig beneath the ground and come up the other side

Finding her willing, Hannibal tilts her chin up with a finger and deepens the kiss, licking across her bottom lip, gently sucking, hands moving to cup her head. She exhales a silent breath and drinks him in, heat and height and breadth and power. The most assured movements, Hannibal's long fingers sliding down to clasp the length of her throat, thumb over her pulse as if to measure her excitement. Mouth blissfully detailed as he kisses her like a starved man, searching out the crevices, raiding corners for affection; he's famished and Will knows he can feel her shaking, the heady thrum of desire twisting dark in her stomach. It frightens her, how little effort he needs exert to unbalance the whole of her.

And just like that she's furious, frenzied, she blindly scrambles for the front of his jacket in a desperate need to be closer to him, close.

Will gets the buttons undone and is trying to shove it off his shoulders when Hannibal chuckles softly.

“We have all the time in the world,” he murmurs oh so rich and deep and sweet and he sounds like this with her, she makes him, “even though your case is somewhat complicated.”

Will huffs out a breath. “You've been playing hard to get for long enough,” she grumbles.

He ghosts his fingertips up and down her sides, calculating how and when Will shivers, the appropriate amount of pressure to apply – skims them around to hover lightly at the front of her jeans, her pelvis. “That feeling is shared, sweet Will,” he says, the my implicit.

Spurred on, she keeps tugging the jacket down, meeting the pressure of his closed arms. He doesn't relent. “Hannibal, just – touch me before I lose my mind.”

Hannibal turns his face into the open collar of her shirt and inhales deep and long, eyes closed, a rumble of pleasure echoing. “Where?” he breathes into her skin, rippling goosebumps and it's sinful, pooling lust sharp and hot in her lungs, between her legs.

Shit I don't know, I don't – fuck, I don't care, anywhere, please, I can't stand it anymore – ”

When his mouth silences hers Will's so grateful she could cry. Hannibal lifts her up with unmentionable ease onto the desk and Will automatically shifts to make room for his slender waist, hooking both thighs around and jutting him in as close as physically possible and it's still not enough. Arms encircled firm around her, shoulders to waist, Hannibal presses his open mouth to her carotid artery, biting soft with lips, so soft, fucking torturous and Will exhales noisily, squirming back to grant him better access.

“Stay still,” he instructs calmly.

He scrapes the lightest run of teeth over her taut tendons, sliding a smooth path up her ear. It demands every ounce of resolve for Will not to twist close, her skin fever-blooming beneath his touch. If only she knew Hannibal's tendency to command would feel so glorious when used this way, but there was no conceiving any element of this, this, was there?

It's a revelation, sliding into her mind's eye smooth as needles, when she willingly surrenders the control she clutches tight as a lifeline.

While every sense, smell sight receptive touch is focused on his mouth roaming into her hair, Hannibal slipes a hand up beneath the open hem of her shirt and Jesus fuck oh god Hannibal's touching her really truly, warm, dry hand caressing the soft down of her stomach and scratching nails faintly over her sharp hipbone. Will shudders all over, incapacitating heat pulsing straight through. She's faint, sickly. This is not the tentative exploration of Will's fingertips at his shoulders - Hannibal is bold and certain, knowing what he wants and taking with absolute consent. The hand morphs to a gentle, reverent stroke, as if to reassure her, but what good is it when she can barely breathe through the sense-numbing arousal.

Hannibal finds her scar through touch and stops, tracing the length and width with thumb and forefinger. His closeness is agonizing, every nerve ending aware and screaming. It's been so long since she's let anyone touch her like this. So long. Hardly touches herself these days, the urge waned through time and fatigue. And even when she permitted people into her bed, it was only sex, it didn't feel new and strange and empowering and perfect. It wasn't Hannibal's mouth on her jaw, her chin, the base of her throat, and there's a sharp prick of teeth, sinking ever so lightly into her tender skin, enough to hurt but not terribly so, he works it between his teeth and tongue, sucks and plies with thorough determination and Will whines, arching her head back, exposing her chest, digging her fingernails into his shoulders. Hannibal pauses, all his attention diverted, then kisses a second time just to hear that sound again, her echo more reminiscent of a wounded animal. He hums in appreciation and it's the most exquisite thing Will's ever heard.

His mouth lifts. His hand strays to the waistband of her jeans and he's pulling away. Panicked, Will seizes hold of the nearest part and she's rambling, fit to weeping, “No, no, don't, please, no – ”

Hannibal shushes her easy. “I'm not leaving,” he assures, hand stroking her side once more, and the fear coils back around into almost unbearable tension. Will's nails are white against his jacket and bunching the fabric. She can't even imagine how she looks to him, flushed and wild and bewildered, delighted, unafraid.

Good enough to eat.

Composing himself, Hannibal glances to the side and clears his throat. She's never seen him shaken, composure disrupted, except by Tobias Budge - except by her. She cannot yet realize the power she wields.

“We should relocate to somewhere more suitable," he says.

Will nods dumbly, can't speak, so desperate she'd beg him to have her there on the desk.

Hannibal passes his thumb slow over her cheek, grounding her attention. “My home is closest,” he says softly.

Mouth full, tongue thick. “Closest is good. I'm...not exactly at my most patient right now.”

Hannibal's smile is the rising sun and it makes her ache, but it's a good ache this time. Rightness. He carefully helps her down from the desk like a gentleman.

“Your house,” Will repeats under her breath. Repetition, memory, assuring reality. “Your house. Your bed.”

“Let's get there first,” Hannibal says. One arm beneath her elbow, he reaches for their coats. “Then we can discuss what you'd like to do in my bed.”

It startles a laugh out of her, eases some of the terrifying tension but none of the desire.

He takes her by the hand and Will knows it's all been for this.

 

 

*

He fucks her like he means to break her. Will doesn't know what she expected, tenderness and delicacy and touching her like spun glass, but no. It's rough and frenzied, a meal for the starved, pressed against lush silk sheets and smothered helpless beneath the weight of him.

Hannibal hung their coats and poured them drinks in the dining room and god, this fucking man is going to kill her. Nothing else in this world is more important than getting his hands his mouth his body back on hers, her survival dependent, if she doesn't have him naked sweating spread out inhuman overwhelmed, reduced to want and need and mine mine mine and Will wets her lips with wine and slams down her glass.

When she leans up to kiss him he snaps for her lips like a cobra, missing when she withdraws in surprise, shaking, he's so close, eyes fixated on her mouth, his own parted in wait, he waits for her, and Will surges and Hannibal's there to meet her, a collision of anatomy.

Suddenly there's no time to waste. No discretion or restraint, no excuses, nothing except private rooms and lust denied, and with one hurried motion Hannibal shoves her against the wall so hard it slams the breath from Will's lungs, a breath he drags into his own like oxygen. Dark red wine spreads over the table and trails down to the neutral carpet below, blending with the brown, she knocked over the glass it's shattered in shards at their feet.

Hannibal doesn't even pause.

They're in harmony, words utterly unnecessary – she jerks open his vest, Hannibal swiftly undoes the buttons of her plaid shirt, snapping it off her shoulders. One hand still locking her in place between him and the wall, he presses all five fingers of his right in an even spread across her ribcage. Trails them, up to her breastbone, to the sides and down over her soft belly. Will's breath rips frantic and staccato in her throat. Hannibal takes note, the barest head cant.

And with that she knows he wants to learn her and take her apart and see how she works, rebuild her and please her and she's incapable of decorum. She seizes his hair with both hands and drags his mouth, devours, biting his lips in her urgency and mumbling out incoherent half-hearted apologies.

There's nothing to fear here, for Hannibal returns with equal ardency, mouth hungry and demanding as he reaches behind her back and deftly unhooks her bra - a plain black comfortable and completely unerotic thing, but he doesn't seem to care. He doesn't even look, so single-minded is his goal. He tosses it aside carelessly and oh god his hands, enormous and hot and rough calloused skin used to scalpels and blades and cleansing soaps and fresh meat and hot water, cupping and massaging slowly within his palms and Will whimpers, pathetically, curving toward him like a drawn bow while he drags open-mouthed kisses down her sternum, unhurried. Until he fastens his mouth over her left breast and Will, finally, cries out, the sound breaking apart in her lungs. She feels Hannibal's lips curve into a smile against her skin, and he proceeds to suckle like a child, skimming lips and teeth and closing down without fully biting, quivering tension in his jaw, and she's undone as quickly as a spool of thread. Cradling the back of his head in her hands, head thrown back and wood pressing into her bare skin, Hannibal's knee digging up hard between her thighs and she's moaning and twisting urgently to find relief.

It's no surprise she's so responsive, this reactive and susceptible to overwhelming physical stimulation, she should be embarrassed, he's probably making a mental case study of her even in this moment, and Will doesn't care.

Once he's apparently satisfied, he turns his attention to her other breast, heavy and taut and aching. Practically convulsing, she breathes free her only clear thought, Hannibal, chokes on the last syllable when he sweeps his tongue over her hardened nipple and when she clenches shut her eyes they are moist. “Hannibal,” she whispers as much as sobs, desperate for purchase, and again, urgent, pleading, wonder turned affection turned broken lust. His name three syllables in the musty air, the way her voice hitches the crescendo of an opera.

She never knew it was possible to feel alive in the skin which she was born.

And that's when Hannibal draws back to stare down at her, lips open, breath audible and fast, sharp cheeks flushed, immaculate hair a ruin from her hands, and he sees it in her eyes, he sees – and Will sees, he opens up before her and months and years and decades of longing pours from his eyes and the pulsing vein in his temple and she never knew, he wanted so much and he wanted her, he's as starved a stray as she, torn between twin reflective desires to devour her and to worship her and suddenly, Hannibal Lecter, elegant aesthetic in his three-piece suits and detached empathy and meticulously preserved anonymity and surgical precision, his exotic mansion made for one and dinner parties for dozens, the way every word is chosen and every movement a performance, loneliness his magnum opus, and suddenly he makes sense it all makes sense and Will is overcome by the certainty of his affection, the depth and the width and the height. She needed him and let him in but he needed her and let her in and she frames his cheeks between both hands, her priceless thing. It's acknowledgment, acceptance, a protection of their fragile trust, and Hannibal turns his face into her palm, inhaling a breath, exhaling.

And, decision made, he lifts her off her feet and into his arms and carries her up the staircase.

Now, literally, the only power holding her together.

Will's never been here, Hannibal's bedroom, never had cause to be and of course it's obscenely wealthy, elegant four poster-bed in a high arching frame, thick velvet curtains, antique floorboards, walk-in closet, walls a rich checkered blue disrupted by Japanese murals, vaulted ceilings giving the illusion of greater mass. Will feels off-kilter. A swoon of vertigo.

Or it's the effect of Hannibal lowering her to the bed ever so gently, spreading her out like she's a sacrifice before an altar. He nudges her legs apart so he can kneel between and tower above. The mattress is firm at her back, the silk maroon duvet cover slick beneath her hands. Likewise, Hannibal's fingers are efficient as they snap the button of her jeans and slide the zipper, tug them swiftly over the swell of her hips and down her slender thighs, they're discarded somewhere on his floor and Will doesn't try to help, lets him do as he sees fit. He makes it easy, even elegant, and with a surge of irrational jealousy Will wonders how experienced the much older man is, how accustomed is he to having soft, broken, dependent women at his mercy.

That task finished, he angles back upright to observe, eyes unapologetically skimming the whole of her body, admiring every vulnerable and aroused and nearly-naked curve and angle and mole. It's a clinical gaze, except for the embers that spark his irises red. She knows this. She knows men. Hannibal Lecter just happens to be a good one. So Will blushes deep and hot, but she's not modest, not after she's bared her mind to him. She's doesn't feel embarrassed, or ashamed. She just feels wanted.

What a strange, unquantifiable, wonderful sensation.

In some sort of answer, Hannibal leans down until their foreheads touch and brushes the hair from her face with utmost tenderness. In the silence, Will's forgotten how to breathe.

“Beautiful,” he whispers. He waits for her smile, echoes it vibrantly, the barest flash of too sharp teeth in dim light and Hannibal kisses her until Will feels she's the only woman in the world. She's not merely shaking, she's giddy – he worries her bottom lip between his teeth and she giggles, and Hannibal smiles fully against her mouth, tilting her head at an angle to better sweep his tongue along the insides of her mouth. She yanks loose and flings away his tie, hurries through the top buttons of his shirt.

Too desperate for the heart of him to finish, Will presses her mouth just below his collarbone, sprawling a messy pattern of kisses across the skin she's bared, tastes his heat and sweat on her tongue and inhales a dark musky aftershave, and Hannibal releases a deep breath, tilting his cheek encouraging against hers. She smooths her palms from ribs to spine, reveling how the tight muscles in his shoulders bunch at her touch. They're nothing but hands and mouths and limbs and nerves, pressed heart-to-heart, her pulse thundering wild beneath his hand, blood beating against skin.

Will has waited for this. She has earned it. She is going to enjoy it with everything she has, as if it were her last breath.

Keeping her pinned by his weight, Hannibal shifts his mouth to her jaw – her throat – her collarbone – a very deliberate trail, down, counting the bones in her ribcage with his lips. The prick of a canine there, the clinging suckle of a tongue tip here. Will sinks her fingers hook-like first to his back, his shoulders, then his hair and sighs out delicate gasps, breathless little whines, body and heart bending to his will. He mouths her scar as if to reopen the wound, a pain long vanished.

The color of her underwear doesn't match her discarded bra, blue and frayed at the edges, but something in Hannibal's eyes gleam with a contained lust Will instantly, desperately wants to suffer from. He noses her ever so gently like a purring cat, suggesting, teasing, promising, and Will shudders out a breath, shifting anxiously in anticipation. Hannibal smiles at that, smugly. She's a four-coarse meal spread out for the tasting and the taking – she doesn't know why she thinks that, why the sight of him licking his lips as he stares at her is everything she never realized she wanted, she's never been so aroused in her life.

Hannibal wastes no time. He isn't one to deny himself. He hooks two fingers into the waistband of the cotton, gently bites her hipbone as he slides it off. Will has enough coherency of mind to think how unfair the situation is, she's completely exposed while he's still practically fully dressed, and then fairness doesn't enter into it at all when Hannibal urges her legs apart and kisses the instep of her foot; turns to the opposite leg, licks slow over the arch of her ankle; he kisses higher and higher, alternating her calves, her knees, just as slow and methodical as Will imagined by herself alone in the dark, she's already so, so wet. He leaves the most careful bite mark in the tender flesh of one inner thigh, like a branding, Will can already feel a bruise blossoming - shifts minutely to repeat the action further down and she moans in frustration, toes clenching into the mattress. If she retained the power of mind she'd snap her legs shut and capture him there forever.

“Patience, sweet Will,” Hannibal chastises quietly.

Will's only possible answer is a sobbing breath. Of every witnessed act and imagined horror, here, now, willingly helpless in Hannibal Lecter's bed, may finally make her insane. He finds her hand clenched rigor mortis in the duvet and slides his fingers between the gaps in hers. He runs his thumb across her forefinger, back and forth. As if he'd grant her this without due earning.

More kisses, tasting every skin cell until the tension thrums her taut as harp strings, and he adjusts position enough to hover near the junction of her sex. He breathes in the scent, tilts his head and closes his eyes in ecstasy. They snap open, meet Will directly and yes, I'm going to give you this, yes, I'm going to enjoy it, yes, I have you, and Will trembles so frantically it feels a night terror but this is real, so very very real, Hannibal Lecter can feel the heat and smell the scent of her arousal and he's going to eat her out until she's undone by pleasure, and then, only then is he going to fuck her, fuck her until she falls to pieces in his arms because Hannibal Lecter does nothing by halves and there is no coming back from this.

He waits, breathing into her, and Will whispers, “Please.

He mouths at her gently, a first taste, the sip of a good spirit, stubble scratching coarse against her skin as his hands stroke both her legs with feather-light touches. Will leans her head back into the cool silk, massages her fingers through the hair at the back of his head – she feels as much as she hears Hannibal's pleased hum when she runs nails. He rewards her good behavior by easing his tongue inside, soothes her into a rhythm with slow, steady, blissful thrusts. He waits, testing her reactions to various stimuli, before skimming his teeth over her clitoris and Will keens long and high, a breathless, dying sound, her body turned limp and pliant. She can't stop the sounds, doesn't want to, why should she hold back, she's so tired of holding back – her legs spread farther apart in a silent plea, and Hannibal answers, begins to eagerly explore. He's attentive to sounds and movement and the speed of her heart, experimenting until he discovers what makes his Will cry out – the glorious breaking of his name in her throat, right there – raising her pulse, rerouting the neurons in her skull, directing the nerves in her body just the way he wants. He proves a quick study and digs deep and greedy, her pale knee propped over his shoulder. He's savoring her, diligent and focused and precise and all the weapons of lips teeth and tongue at his disposal, her hips pinned down hard against the bed with powerful hands, ripped from the barest brink of orgasm and it's torture. Will cannot restrain herself couldn't stop him even if she wanted to he's reducing her to nothing more than a writhing mindless mass of sensation, throat raw from gasping his name like a prayer.

A prayer that descends into helpless begging, Hannibal, Hannibal please, I need, she doesn't know what she needs, she's broken by want, she aches to be filled by him and when her pleas hit a fever-pitch Hannibal withdraws and rears up to seize her mouth with scathing savagery. Will tastes herself on his tongue, it's sick and glorious and she locks her arms around Hannibal with all her strength, chest to chest, heart to heart, forbidding him to leave, never ever leave me.

She listens with half an ear as Hannibal snakes a hand down between them to unbuckle his trousers, the click of metal and hush of fabric, then another fierce kiss, shoving her flat on the mattress, hands opening her thighs to him. She obligingly makes room, and he sinks inside her in one swift motion and Will can't breathe, heaving in shallow gasps of air like drowning. Hannibal shushes her firmly, gently, strokes her sides to soothe her. The stretch hurts, it's been so long but oh it's a good hurt, such a sweet delight.

He's slow, and deep, and so controlled. Push and slide and spread. The cutting press of his hipbones against her vulnerable thighs, her ankle digging into the flexing muscles of his back, she can practically hear him slipping in and out, holding the contact between each stroke impossibly long, agonizing. Staring down at her with the look of a predator, hair falling into his eyes, pupils black with triumph as though he had overcome her even though she gave herself willingly, this is his claiming.

But this isn't one-sided, it never has been, she's not the only one being claimed. Will clenches her muscles tight around him and treasures the low, rough groan, for a second she glimpses the whites of his eyes. It merits her a harder thrust, a warning and she loves it, wants more and crueler but Hannibal is merciless in his slow, deliberate rhythm, giving and denying pleasure as he chooses.

So she twists up beneath, claws strong at his shoulders and spine, spills wordless nonsense sounds. Hannibal remains silent save for heavy breaths, so intent is his determination, how blind his relentlessness, the muscles in his forearms straining from pressure and effort. Why hasn't she always had Hannibal inside her, they were made for this, it feels so good, so right. Will wants to bury herself in him, as deep as he is within her but that's literal, he's made her think in philosophical terms and she wants to hide herself away inside his skin, nestle herself between his bones. All that's left her is seizing her legs around his waist, hiding her face in his throat – hands, clinging, holding.

And then, he's swift and hard, tenderness overruled by passion. Hannibal Lecter, careful and composed, thrusting rough and unrelenting, sinking his teeth too hard into her lips and Will gasps in pain, flinching back, but Hannibal seizes her by the chin and kisses her brutal until she tastes copper sliding down her throat. He laps her blood onto his tongue.

When Will rears upright and bites hard into his throat in revenge, Hannibal grins, teeth bared and smeared red.

Seeing it, Will melts. She smiles.

Their understanding.

Fragile little teacup. Porcelain doll. Broken girl.

If the world could see her now.

Hannibal snaps her neck back by the hair, holding her fingerlength to fingerlength from her eye to her pulse, looks unblinking into her eyes – forces her to look back, utterly and wholly and she can feel her soul peeling free and sinking somewhere behind brown orbs.

 

 

*

“What are you thinking about?”

Near her ear, not quite a whisper.

Will, curled on her side, raises her head. Hannibal's watching her, spread luxuriously on his back. Except for his bruised lips, disheveled hair, and rumpled shirt lending him a semi-debauched air, he looks hardly disturbed.

“Nothing,” Will says. She rolls boneless onto her stomach and sighs – deep, heavy. Relaxed. The boat at sea. “Absolutely nothing.”

She's grinning like an idiot. Huge, hurting her cheeks, stars in her eyes. Fuck, she's probably glowing.

However she looks Hannibal approves, his smile...Will would say adoring, but she has no comparison. He reaches out to trail the line of her nose with one finger. Will brushes a kiss to his forearm and Hannibal takes that as the invitation it is, shifting to gather her up in his embrace.

“What are you thinking about?” she challenges.

“How beautiful you are,” Hannibal says without pause. His lips twitch. “And how I prefer my bed with you in it.”

Will has plenty of answers for that. She chooses none.

His skin made braille, she touches and strokes and marvels - the bones in his cheeks, his jaw, the terrain of forehead and eyes. Hannibal lets her, neither moving or dictating, no judgment or confusion. Just acceptance.

“This is real,” she says.

Hannibal covers her forehead with the width of his palm. “Yes.”

 

 

*

She winces as she applies antiseptic to her lip. Jack stares at her mouth for a solid two minutes before asking, and Will has practiced, says, “Breakfast. Bit down too hard.”

 

 

*

She presses at the band-aid until it stings.

 

 

*

She's prepared herself for awkwardness, for avoidance, for distance – she's earned it, her exit almost comical in its pathetic predictability, scrambling for clothes and fleeing the house and refusing his invitation to stay the night. The inevitable morning after is the part she hates most, she doesn't know how to handle looking and talking after fucking to screams hours before.

But when she shuffles into his office, hands shoved in her pockets and glasses askew, cheeks slightly pinked and gaze drifting, Hannibal looks, and smiles, and surrounds her name with warm syllables and soft vowels, and brushes the hair from her eyes, and Will is so, so, so grateful.

 

 

*

So grateful, and she kisses him, tentative at first, barely there, mouths hushing over cheeks and lips, the only sound their hesitant labored breathing, and just like that she grabs the lapels of his jacket and in seconds it's laid elegant over the chair, Hannibal strips her sweater up her arms, glides to his knees in front of her to pull off her pants and help her step tremulous out, she's shaking, again, so soon, he drags his open mouth over her stomach as he rises and his hands slide up the backs of her calves, her thighs, gently cupping and massaging her ass, then he's practically throwing her down on the couch she knew he had this kind of passion locked away she always knew – a blunt hand closes tight over her throat, his mouth means to devour her whole, everywhere, every corner of her flesh will bear his name in marks the color of lust, she's shuddering beneath him, clawing his head down into kisses, oh christ oh fuck do that again, make me bleed make me see stars, and, and, and –

When Hannibal comes it's with something delicate as a sigh, but there's hoarseness. His eyes slide to her face and he smiles down at her. For her. Such pure happiness she's never seen. He holds her close and lets Will hold onto him as their heartbeats even. He traces his fingertips over her skin, lightly, in wonder of her.

 

 

*

They've cleaned up and Hannibal's doubling his coat over his arm and dimming the office lights when, “I want to do this again,” she spins in a rush, desire fleeing too fast for her lips to form.

It is quite possible that Hannibal's smile in this moment has never been kinder.

“Good,” he says. “So do I.”

“You...you're sure.”

“Of course.” His lips quirk sharper and his voice is his therapist tone, calm and nonjudgmental. “Has anything in my actions or behavior toward you indicated I was unsure?”

“No, ah. I guess I can't argue with you there. I'm just...not good at this. I'm sorry.”

“On the contrary. You were, and are, quite extraordinary.”

Will blushes just as he planned. She palms the back of her neck to occupy her empty hands somehow.

“I'm not used to people wanting to stick around, I guess.”

Hannibal pauses for a brief second while straightening his tie before finishing in two swift moves. “I had hoped my feelings were clear by now. I owe you an apology if they weren't.”

“You could – apologize to me over dinner?”

Hannibal beams.

“How I love your mind, my dear Will.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

Her body thrums tight and hard with the want to do something, touch, kiss, does not even know how to broach this. Hannibal takes pity and bestows the kiss, soft and lingering.

He walks her to her car, says he expects her tomorrow promptly at eight o'clock, and Will drives back to Wolf Trap with headlights in her eyes.

 

 

*

She returns to a quiet dark house. She lets the eager dogs swarm her and curls with them on the rug without blankets.

She's more hazed than usual during lecture, impossibly distracted, an itch up along her bones insatiable. She passes time preparing the next day's slideshow and doesn't think even once about the Ripper.

She drives to Baltimore with the setting sun in her eyes, and she counts seven heartbeats between the time she stabs the doorbell and Hannibal answers, jacket off, vest and shirt and tie, that deep blue she loves so well.

“Hello, Will,” he says warmly. Her name sounds a symphony in his mouth.

“Hello, Doctor,” she says. One hand in her pocket, the other clutching the Chardonnay '57 she had stuffed in the back of her fridge for a special occasion.

If he were anyone less than Hannibal Lecter, he'd roll his eyes. As it stands, he levels Will a beautifully reproachful stare.

“Please,” he insists. “We're beyond that. It's Hannibal.”

Will smirks. “All right, then. Hello, Hannibal.”

“Hello, Will. Please come in.”

 

 

*

She does, on his floor so hard it's painful, rough and blinding. She rakes her nails in desperate lines over Hannibal's arched back, feels hot wet warmth beneath her fingers and he makes a sound so glorious, so wounded, so ecstatic, and he sinks his teeth into her shoulder, springing blood and cutting into epidermis until Will strangles down a scream.

When he graciously disentangles himself he lies on his side, a twinge at the corners of his eyes, and Will whispers, “I'm sorry...I...”

She reaches out to him but dare not, frightened of what she's capable.

Hannibal dips his face into her outstretched hand. Something in his eyes like yearning, the dying gold of the fire reflected back.

This is the first time he's fully naked before her, and it's not just fear to touch him but knowledge he shouldn't be touched – but her hands are spanning the width of his torso, skittering down taut brute musculature, feeling out the lean stomach just to feel. She's not startled by the powerful, broad physique better suited to a brawler than a therapist, merely perplexed, and, frankly, grateful.

She laid him bare before her, in every way, and he let her.

In response he gently raises Will's hand to his lips, kissing every one of her fingers in turn. There's fresh blood crusting beneath her nails.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” he soothes in a hush.

Assuring, Hannibal dabs a cloth at Will's shoulder. Presses his lips to the wound in something that isn't regretful, but is healing, uses long-lost surgeon hands to treat and bandage. Will cleans the places on his spine he can't reach and watches for invisible winces.

Necessities concluded, he refills their wine glasses from earlier and leaves the living room only to return with a blanket. It's heavy and soft and warm to contrast Hannibal's cool skin, hand, chest, arm, thigh.

“What is this?” she asks as she huddles close.

“Fox fur.”

Behind her, Hannibal slinks his arms – one at her waist, one at shoulder, careful there. He nuzzles his face in her hair, inhales, exhales. They have yet to indulge themselves in the afterglow, synapses diffusing and limbs tingling.

She watches the fire burn out, memorizing every leap and twist. Focus. Focus. If she burned her hand, would that keep her here? Would that ground her? Or is the feeling of Hannibal's skin enough?

“I don't want to forget this,” she says. “I'm afraid I'll miss...everything.”

“Then we make the most of the time we have,” he says. Simple as that.

Will leans back against him, holding the moment, holding.

 

 

*

“The way I am, it isn't – compatible,” she tries, struggles, fails, can't find the words when she needs them most, fear makes her fast and sharp and rude and this was a mistake like all the relationships before and she's waking up soaked in sweat and gasping for breath because she sees a future.

Hannibal runs a slow thumb over the outline of her lips, committing shape and dimension to memory.

“We'll see about that,” he murmurs.

 

 

*

During an out-of-town case they get a hotel room like normal people. Before Hannibal can finish disarming her, peeling off her coat and removing her shoes, Will drags him to the bed, acting purely on animalistic instinct.

She needs a warm body unharmed and unharming; she needs comfort, safety, distraction, simple frenzied sex to quiet her mind.

As always, Hannibal seems happy to oblige.

She lies curled against him afterward, head resting in the crook between his neck and shoulder as he plays idly with her hair. These are the only times they don't speak, and Will doesn't want to. There's nothing to discuss except Hannibal's breathing, how the gray in his hair seems more prominent this close. How in general, really.

He lets her fall asleep in his arms, exhausted and replete, his long athletic limbs winding firm; the press of bristled chest hair to her back, his breath skimming the nape of her neck; wakes her early the next morning with soft murmurs and curious hands and insistent lips. He investigates her as a scientist his new experiment, the collector his priceless discovery – takes his time, careful not to rush, and when he finally enters her it's measured and slow, quiet moans of pleasure pushing out on echoed breaths. This is the opposite of mindless frenzy, a shared gift he's choosing to impart. Hannibal shifts her beneath him with his hands to thrust deeper – cradles her with one arm and moves the other between them, slipping fingers inside to rub her clit just so. Will knows he's watching her expressions, cataloging every shift: the heat in her cheeks, the arched tendons in her throat, the flutter of her eyes, the way she squirms and pushes to urge them even closer closer please. Panting, the bedsheets twisting and bunching, as delicate on her skin as his hands. He whispers in languages known and unknown how beautiful she is, how special, how she is desired and adored, and she is his, now, they belong to each other, it's all for you, Will.

It's everything the act of intimacy can and could and should be – intimate, and vulnerable, and terrifying, and revelatory, and ecstasy, and what Will imagines love must feel like, quiet and brilliant and incalculable and unpredictable and eye-to-eye, and, and, and. There are tears and Hannibal soothes her with hands stroking her wet hair – how she must seem to him, a tiny trembling thing cradled in his arms.

But they aren't all fearful tears Hannibal thumbs away; they're good, this is good; she aligns her glass shards with newfound hope and smiles up at him, and she knows, she knows as deeply as she knows death and madness. She clasps his resting head to her breast like a babe, no intention except to adore; she lets her awe at learning to feel like this slip from her brushing lips to his.

Hannibal cups her face between his hands.

“I love you,” he whispers.

If Will closed her eyes, she could almost pretend it was an awkward breath, a slither of blankets, the buzz of a fly, lost in the cacophony of early morning city outside their door.

Will doesn't close her eyes.

She leaves the room with color-changing bruises and half a dozen missed calls on her phone and the buttons of her plaid shirt matched up wrong, and Hannibal's hand resting between her shoulder-blades. He drives her home, Will slides the key into the lock but turns around, not ready to let go, and he smiles deep and pleased; eyes more the ocean than a storm.

Do you want to come in? she mumbles because she's adrift, and his smile grows. Yes, but not now, because she's overwhelmed. You'll be all right, and it's a statement, the assured future. For now, she agrees.

Hannibal kisses her forehead, loses his mouth in her hair, holding her as if he's measuring the feel of her into his body, etching the moment of her happiness into charcoal but all art is an imitation without soul. Will breathes in the scent of dried sweat mixed with perfume, moss and cinnamon and incense, something sweet and ancient.

 

 

*

“We've got a body in Virginia,” Jack says, and the leash tugs and Will nods, waiting until he leaves the room to call Hannibal and admit secretive, “I can't...make it tonight,” and his affirmation of “I love you” leaves Will dazed, spinning from the earth, testing the fit of the words in her cranium.

 

 

*

On principle she detests surprises, but Hannibal striding into her office with a modest bouquet of flowers could serve to change her mind.

“What on earth is that for?” she exclaims, rising hurriedly from her desk to come around and meet him.

“You can't see me,” Hannibal says, “but there's no reason I can't see you.”

He offers the flowers with a flourish and a slight bow. Will leans into a passing curtsey while muffling her giggle behind her hand.

“They're...they're lovely, really. Thank you.”

Hannibal rises with a smile. “Violet roses,” he explains, pointing, “for the first bloom of love. And orange lilies represent passion.”

This time she chuckles into the flowers. They're fresh and cool, reminding her of dewy mornings in the forest.

“You,” she says more to herself, wondering, “are absolutely unreal.”

After double-checking they're alone, she hooks an arm around his neck and shifts to the balls of her toes to steal a kiss. She thrills to the curve of his smirk and shivers at his hands framing her waist.

He stays with her through the night, examining crime scene photos and talking and rubbing a gentle hand over her arm.

(He brought dinner, of course. He'd probably break-up with her over Chinese takeout.)

 

 

*

“Well, hello hello,” Price leers the instant she hobbles into the lab twenty minutes late, hair disheveled and shirt wrinkled. “Been enjoying yourself?”

“Show me the body,” she grunts.

Zeller arches both eyebrows. “Defensive much?”

“Someone's being naughty. I hope getting laid makes your mood better.”

“Hey, Price,” Beverly drawls, “I've got a sample for you. It's labeled fuck off.”

“Hey, all I'm saying is certain people need to pay up.”

“We had bets going,” Zeller explains to her bewildered face. “Whether you were or weren't. With Dr. Lecter. Or when you'd start.” He grimaces. “I just lost.”

“Is my sex life really that popular a topic of discussion?”

“Well, duh. What else are we going to do all day?”

Will drops her face into her hand.

 

 

*

Hours later, Beverly artfully corners her and “I'd apologize for them, but then I'd spend my entire life doing nothing else” – and, “Look, I'm not asking if you don't want to share. But for a while now you've looked...happy. Whatever the reason is. And I'm really, really glad”; and “If it is a guy, I'll buy him a round” complete with arched smirk, and Will lets Beverly ruffle her hair.

Days later, Alana delivers a long, calculating look, gestures to her throat and says, “Is that what I think it is?”

“Is what?” Will asks dumbly, then remembers just how ardently Hannibal bid her farewell that morning and blushes absurd, scrambling to button the open collar of her blouse. “Just, uh, bruise, hit myself. Repairing the, um. The plumbing.”

“The plumbing?” Hannibal echoes. He leans back against his desk and laughs, long lithe body brimming over with humor and providing her an absolutely amazing view of his neck she should get a medal for resisting.

“Oh, sure, you asshole, it's hysterical,” Will mutters sullenly, “you're the one who gave me a hickey, Dr. Lecter,” but he only laughs deeper.

 

 

*

She wants bruises she can admire in a mirror, touch and tend to and hide for days. He gives them with ease.

 

 

*

Whimpering with worry, Winston paces the bed in an urgent half-circle. Will chuckles and hangs her arm over the edge.

“I'm all right, silly,” she murmurs. He bops her fingers with his nose before bathing them with his wet tongue. “C'mere, boy,” and she scratches him lazily behind the ears, on her stomach with her free arm folded beneath her chin.

Hannibal shifts onto an elbow and slinks a wide palm over the small of her back.

“Not you,” Will laughs. “You had your turn.”

He hums fondly, fingertips gliding up her spine with seemingly no real purpose. “I wouldn't limit the extent of my desire,” he purrs in that rough, spent-from-fantastic-sex voice she's starting to love so well.

“Not even you can come back from it that fast.”

Hannibal deigns not to answer. Instead he slides her hair aside to trace the outline of her bones.

It's the first time they've made love in her bed, a lazy Saturday afternoon. Will woke to the rumble of his Bentley and his knuckles rapping the door. Once he became the unofficial dog-sitter she'd made cleaning a priority with remarkable speed: wipe the dust, vacuum, shove engines and oil bottles into corners in anticipation. This was a surprise. But after he observed the state of her living room, the state of her, sleep-mussed hair and shining eyes, the disdainful tension melted frost-like from Hannibal's frame. He indulged the swarming dogs with sausage bits and a swift scratch behind the ears, if earned, and Will's heart felt fit to burst.

She clumsily apologized her way into the shower and emerged to find hot breakfast and a beautiful man waiting. Hannibal had drawn the sidetables into a make-shift platter for placemats, plates, utensils, coffee mugs, and an artfully placed vase of fresh peonies. They ate and talked and Lila sat her chin on Hannibal's knee all throughout, begging with brown eyes and faint whistles.

After the coffee turned cold, Will cordoned the dogs in another room accordingly so she and Hannibal could enjoy themselves undisturbed.

Sex is different after the hotel. Different, but just as good. Better.

Will thinks she'll show him the grounds, later. Maybe sunset. Let the dogs out for a run and hold Hannibal's hand. Have him chase her through the woods, see how fast he catches her in the cold. They'll kiss heat into each other's mouths. She'll start the fireplace in bare feet. They'll wind every limb around another, huddled beneath blankets.

He'll call her tesoro again, cara mia dolce.

“You have freckles,” Hannibal says, after a moment. He sounds surprised.

“And?”

He spreads his palm flat. “I hadn't noticed.”

And Hannibal proceeds to kiss every one of those freckles into a treasured discovery, shoulders down to her waist and past, mouth never lifting from. Will closes her eyes and basks in the attention. This must be what a goddess feels like, worshiped in temples, Hannibal prostrate before her. Except he's above, and Will turns her head into the pillow, muffling her sighs so as to not disturb the dogs.

 

 

*

He's watching her wrestle with them on the hard snowy ground, Will laughing and spilling out sunlight. Him bundled in his thick coat, arms straight at his sides, standing apart.

“What?” she demands, scratching Winston behind the ears.

“You're an exquisite creature, Wilhelmina. Beautiful. There's only one of you.”

Hannibal draws her up into his embrace, powerful arm encircling her from shoulders to waist. The leather of his glove's ice on her cheek.

“And you're mine,” he says like he'd say good morning, Will and the sky is blue.

Fact.

 

 

*

In his bed beneath the duvet, Will stretched on top of him, her hips moving slow and tender, he tries to pull her closer and she twists away. Avoiding his kisses and staying where she is because it's too much, sometimes, his ardency and her desperation. She wants a modicum of detachment.

Hannibal tries to pull her close and she puts space between them. He tries to kiss her and she doesn't let him, and Hannibal growls, lunging and pinning her flat on her back and claiming every part, movements hard and ruthless as if punishment for daring to deny him.

 

 

*

“Will?”

Far away, on the edge of a dream.

“Will. Will.

A hand on her shoulder and everything breaks apart, reforms. Colors shapes and sounds and she's standing not in the victim's hallway, but Hannibal's kitchen in the dark.

She blinks frantically, the world swaying unfocused in a very certain way and again, god not again. She seizes the front of Hannibal's robe and he holds her upright if not steady.

“You lost time again. Stay calm,” he says patiently. “You're in my home. You're safe.”

He shifts her under one arm and sets down something metal. She's always slow at first. She rubs the mucus from her eyes. She looks. Dinner knife. Clean.

“What was I...?” she whispers, headache pounding in her temples as she fumbles to retrace her steps and strikes walls of blackness.

“You broke in,” Hannibal says. “I thought you were a burglar.”

Her mouth's dry.

“Did I do anything?” she asks numbly.

“Just scratch my locks. I think they'll recover. Although I may need CPR,” he teases, thumb chucking under her chin.

He sets her on the couch and fixes her a glass of water. Will hears the running sink and the clink of a stirring spoon. There's a lemon on the edge.

"Got any whiskey in your fridge?” she asks, and coughs to clear her voice.

“Not until you've rested.”

He looks vaguely sleepy. Squinted eyes, hair tousled, robe loosely tied, which shifts everything even further off. Hannibal Lecter's always prepared. Instead, a layer's peeled back.

“I'm sorry,” she mumbles, watching the water bubble. “This is your house, and – ”

“My home, where you are welcome. I'm grateful your subconscious chose to wander here, instead of somewhere less forgiving.”

There's no way to communicate everything. Will settles for dropping her head against the back of the couch and draping her legs over his thigh. “Thanks.” She's already fading.

Hannibal tucks her hair behind an ear. “Maybe I should give you a key.”

 

 

*

The look on his face when she crosses the length between their chairs and climbs into his seated lap is beautiful. The look on his face when she twists herself on his cock is even better, mouth parted and eyes foggy, all the converging lines soothed into pleasure. He grasps her thighs and gently rocks her, altering the angle to hear those sweet sounds and yes, god yes like that, Hannibal, oh.

Will clenches her eyes and arches back, willingly lost to seconds and heartbeats, and when her eyelids flutter open the stag crouches behind Hannibal, nostrils flared, tearing up the ground with hooves. It's rearing, it's coming for her, it's charging, antlers already blood-stained. It's not real, this great beast with its terrible look but she can't help it and Will yanks away in terror.

Will,” and Hannibal's stunned, reaching for her instantly and following her to the floor. “What's wrong? Will, tell me.

It's directly behind him, snorting, insane with lust.

She clutches Hannibal to her with sweating hands. “Tell me you're real. Tell me.”

“I'm real, Will. We're here together. Anything else you see is an illusion.”

It's sniffing his neck, blood dripping onto his clothes from sharp curved bone.

She begs Hannibal not to stop. She locks her limbs around him and yes, yes, please, until her senses know nothing but him, every corner and crevice and hidden memory.

When she finally opens her eyes again, the stag's gone. It's only Hannibal, caressing her cheek.

 

 

*

“You sure you know what you're doing?” Jack asks quietly, and Will's mouth twitches, she plucks off her glasses and cleans them on the edge of her cardigan and adjusts them back on her nose, confesses, “When have I ever known what I'm doing?”

 

 

*

In a world of death and hate and sickness and madness and darkness constantly skimming the edges of her heels with every breath waking or not, where peace is a long-forgotten tasteless dream, Hannibal Lecter and the constancy of his affection is the only thing of which Will is certain.

 

 

*

The first time she spends the night is, like them, a delightful accident. She is a prickly, flighty thing, prone to balking and biting. Early morning, late night, repeated bullshit. Hannibal just towels his hair dry from the shower, says her company was wonderful (always), kisses her on the cheek and opens the door.

Tonight he opens the door in pink shirt and gray vest, shirt collar undone, sleeves rolled past the elbow, apron at the waist. He beams readily and Will prickles hot with joy.

“Good evening, Will,” he says, then furrows his brow, smile turned charmed. “You look beautiful.”

All Will can offer is an aimless shrug, hands bouncing twice off her sides. “You always look so nice, I figured the least I could do was make an effort.”

That's the better of her two pencil skirts, a green tunic matching her eyes, rarely used pearl earrings, and her hair pulled into a lazy French braid.

Hannibal likes it. He likes it very much indeed, the twitch of his mouth positively filthy.

“What's on the menu tonight?” she asks upon entering the kitchen. Mozart spins on the old recordplayer.

Hannibal raises a finger to his lips. “You never ask. It spoils the surprise.”

He moves through his domain like a general through his war room, a priest in his sanctum scriptorium. It's a special privilege to see Hannibal Lecter at work instead of exquisite meals appearing by magic. Will's permitted a peak behind the curtain, to see the mystique fall away into something so very simple and human. Hannibal without a tie, dirtying his hands with sauces and juices.

To her surprise Will feels safer in this house than anywhere. He's carved a place for her among his books and furniture and paintings.

“Before we proceed,” Hannibal says, “you'll need this,” and extends a second white apron, this one folded, smaller, and looped at the neck.

“You want me to help you cook?”

“I insist upon having able-bodied workers in my kitchen. No idle hands.”

“All right,” she agrees around a click of her tongue. “But only on one condition.”

Hannibal barely raises his eyebrows. “What condition?” he asks, accent thick with suspicion.

“You haven't kissed me yet.”

And Hannibal smiles, how he smiles, wicked and delighted and Will shivers at what those lips and the teeth concealed are capable of.

“You're right,” he agrees perfectly amiably as he places the apron on open counter space. “How terribly discourteous of me.”

There's little distance between them regardless, but Hannibal eliminates it ruthless. Every nerve in Will's body sings when he draws her firm against him and holds her there with the resting strength in his arms. He pulls apart only to reclaim her mouth with new purpose, kisses here and there and lingering.

“No offense to your cooking,” she says against his chin, “but can we skip to that instead?”

“I maintain a firm policy.” He leans in until their noses brush tip-to-tip. “Save the sweetest course for last,” he murmurs.

She laughs weightless and he winks before slipping past her to the oven.

“We'll start,” he says, “with those carrots. If you'd be good enough to slice them?”

Will purses her lips. “Slicing carrots. That I can do.”

“I have every confidence in your abilities. Hold your hand steady. Thin, small, slow strokes,” and Will marvels that anyone can make the act of carrot slicing sound sexy.

Dinner is the full-out spectacle, candles and music and enough wine to make Will's head magnificently hazy. They talk about nothing at all, and it's one of the best conversations they've ever had – the last time she smiled this easily and this much, how loose the entirety of Hannibal. Whether from delirium or alcohol everything's almost hyper-sweet.

Will offers to help Hannibal clean but he insists she remain at the table. He clears the silverware, folds up the napkins, sets them in precise rows in the kitchen. When he returns it's with empty hands and a look of cool resolve.

“So what's next?” Will asks from her chair.

“Something exquisite, I assure you.”

With that Hannibal drops soundlessly to his knees before her. He pushes her skirt up around her hips and is sliding off her underwear when Will flusters out, “What the hell...what are you doing?”

“I told you, Will.”

Every line in his body converges to form a terrifying assurance.

“We save the best course for last,” and Hannibal lowers his sleek dark head.

It's naked limbs on the dining room floor after that, and again later, in his bed, because Will is buzzing and humming and has never felt this keyed up in her life. She playfully wrestles him into submission and proceeds to enjoy at her leisure every inch of his toned muscles and tanned skin. He's glorious beneath her, ardent eyes and roaming fingertips and quiet sighs she morphs with determined attention into harsh gasps and soft groans of her name, Will sounds pained on his tongue. But she isn't cruel, taking him at a pace so sweet, his hands on her hips as he lets her guide him. Doesn't stop until Hannibal's eyes are clenched shut, two brilliant points of color on his high cheeks, spilling broken English into the still air.

In a surge of horror he reminds her of a drowning man when his hand squeezes the side of her neck, imparting matching sets of nail marks she'll wear for weeks like the regalia of a queen, but god if she were to die she'd want it this instant.

Happy, loved, fucking Hannibal Lecter mindless in his own bed.

It leaves her astonishingly exhausted, sore in all the right places, and perfectly content, not to mention Hannibal's blissfully sated smile – a fat, smug cat lying with twitching tail. They're both unnaturally affectionate in the aftermath, snuggling close and relishing. Maybe it is natural – they just needed to find it.

“What time is it?” she mutters just this side of coherent, stirred from a doze she wasn't aware of.

Hannibal answers close to her shoulder. “Just past one.”

Sometime while she slept Hannibal lowered the lights to their dimmest and drew the covers around them. Will levers upright, passing a hand through her thoroughly mangled hair.

“I have a...bag. In my car,” she manages. She focuses on the fine mahogany floorboards. “Do you mind if...?”

She hears both hearts breathing in the silence.

“Of course not." The surprise lilts his voice higher than normal. “Please.”

Will snatches the hastily prepared duffle from the passenger seat. Bathroom's the first door past the bedroom, and she brushes her teeth, cleans her face, the essentials. He's propped on one forearm when she returns, hair falling uncombed across his brow.

“Thank you,” Will says. She avoids the eyes, reverting to old cowardly habits in the face of uncharted territory.

“My pleasure," Hannibal says.

She crawls into bed and stretches out limp-limbed beneath the mound of sheets and blankets. Once she's settled Hannibal leans over and flicks off the lights entirely. He lies down next to her, not too close but not distanced.

He stares like she's the most beautiful oddity, a mismatched puzzle. The joy lies in the slow-burning discovery of her; the rewards of waiting.

“Goodnight, Will.” He lays a hand upon her cheek. “Pleasant dreams.”

 

 

*

She has, in fact, no dreams, sleeps very well indeed and wakes to the sight of Hannibal leaning over her, eyes open. For all she knows he hasn't ceased watching her since last night.

“Good morning,” he says quietly, pupils and lips affectionate mirrors.

Will groans in response. “What time is it?” she croaks. Her vision's blurred without her glasses – there, on the bedside table.

“Do you have to be anywhere?”

“No.”

“Then it doesn't matter."

Strangely, after all they've done, Will's first instinct is shyness. She's never had a lover who wants her sleeping in his bed overnight, who looks at her like this in the morning, or afternoon, or whenever. Riding on the fumes of last night's courage, she tugs him down into a kiss. They have rarely been in the practice of easy and unhurried, soft instead of passion.

For once Hannibal's the one to pull away, mouth curved; she'd kissed a smile. “You slept well, I trust?”

“No, not really,” Will says. She leans thoroughly into the warmth of him, feeding off it, saturating herself with it. Hannibal slips his upper arm beneath her head and she turns her face into his chest. “I was up half the night. Barely slept a wink.”

“How strange. Neither did I.”

He traces her lips with his thumb, top and then the bottom, outline and inside. Smirks proud when Will draws the skin into her mouth and graces with a gentle bite.

“Hmm,” she sighs. “Very odd, that, very odd.”

“Then you should continue to rest. Stay here. I'll make breakfast.”

He stands and kisses her hand, front and back, smiling into her palm.

Will watches him go fearing happiness might rupture her from the inside out.

Less than thirty minutes later Hannibal returns with a tray of coffee, orange juice, eggs Florentine, and grapefruit topped with vanilla crème. She's also never had a lover who makes her breakfast.

Hannibal knows this.

After they've had their fill, “Don't you have patients?” she asks as he opens her arms and she scurries back, having longed for the contact.

Hannibal kisses her forehead while adjusting her to his torso. “I rescheduled all my appointments.” His hand strokes the back of her head; Will skims a foot light against his calf. “We can afford a little time.”

“You would do that for me?” she marvels.

Hannibal stares. It scalds her skin.

“You know there's nothing I would not do for you, Wilhelmina.”

After that she has to kiss him, and Hannibal wraps her in his arms and rolls her onto her back, and they realize they haven't had their fill of each other just yet.

 

 

*

It's almost fun, keeping the secret. They have nothing to hide, but they're private people and it's no one's business. Especially not anyone who would mock and cock an eyebrow and psychoanalyze. Father figure, they'd say, emotional exploitation, power imbalance, surely this is no kind of ethical.

Will Graham may not know herself, but she knows what she wants, and that is to love and be loved by Hannibal Lecter. Wants to bring him to bed and take him home, teach him how to gut fish and messy his shirts with motor oil. To revel in the anchor of his words and the tenderness of his smile, the iron grip of his hands and the sturdy heat of his being. She keeps crafting of him metaphors, a blanket, armor (a straight jacket), doubtless and constant.

On the surface they contend for the world's unlikeliest pair, but something in their bodies aches and does not cease until they are together. Like calling to like, Hannibal would say, a cosmic pull. No one meets by accident, he told her, and she snorted disdainfully and said So are you saying we're destined by God? He shrugged – Perhaps, he allowed, then traced the path of her veins down her inner arm and philosophized offhand, Every man is his own god.

She's still not used to Hannibal's touch, but it never bothers her. How deft it is, how efficient, the way he reroutes her senses and runs her pulse agonizing, her body a wonder of biology. Sex is a delight, is sacred, enjoyed as often as time and situation permits, and sometimes in defiance, like the weekend Hannibal whisked her away like a stolen princess to an isolated cabin in the Virginia woods, turned off her phone and locked the doors and they didn't bother to leave for days. Will's never had a lover who makes her breakfast in bed, and she's never had a lover so committed to her physical wants, so skilled in the giving of her pleasure.

It's Hannibal Lecter – of course he'd turn sex into an art.

They never cease being desperate for each other (Will jokes she's reverted into a hormonal sex-crazed teenager – Hannibal pointedly reminds her physical intimacy is a normal component of most healthy relationships), but the pained frenzy eases with the knowledge of satisfaction – this isn't the first, an only, a maybe. This will last.

And now that it's happened, it's such an easy thing. The way I am isn't compatible, but Hannibal pressing his chest flush against her back, trailing slow lips over her throat and murmuring endearments into her hair. Or Will linking her arms around his neck and stealing kisses, behind turned backs and closed doors, interrupting meticulously prepared dinners. He never seems to mind the offense.

(Or he exacts his revenge and something shifts, clicks, settles quiet in Will's psyche at roped wrists to the bedpost and the power of begging.

(In the end, she'll always let him win.)

Unfailing he showers her with affection, buys her unneeded gifts, literally and figuratively sweeps her off her feet. He's devoted and attentive and tender in every way, not just in bed.

Sometimes he sketches and Will glimpses herself in the graphite.

A prized collection to be revered.

It hurts when they're apart, measured either in road miles or the carpeted inches of a room filled with other able bodies. She longs for him to touch her, to touch him, and Hannibal must feel the same because despite watching eyes he silently wraps his fingers around her elbow. Steers her with a hand on the curve of her waist, whispers to her ear, and it's enough.

It's not sexual, despite the evolution of their relationship to include such enjoyments. That does not factor in. What Will Graham has discovered is the joy of gentle touches, affectionate caresses, a soft kiss. And when they are alone, her house or his house or hotel rooms, for two such reserved and isolated people, small and tiny and long and large and smooth and sharp, so utterly mismatched and yet when they press together it knives Will's breath. She could weep at how right it is, arms and hands and mouths and fingertips, legs and toes and lungs find some way to connect, mesh and twist and embrace and curve and blur into something resembling love.

Since Hannibal began holding her while she sleeps, Will no longer dreams of devils.

 

 

*

They still keep the appointments, for nostalgia or necessity.

“Officially, I can no longer be your psychiatrist,” Hannibal says. It's 7:30 PM on the mark. He closes the office door and hangs up her coat, ever the gentleman.

“And unofficially?”

A dare. He narrows his eyes, cautious, but with a wholly dangerous smile.

“You don't need to be my patient for us to talk. I still want you to come to me.”

“Well, I'm certainly not here to see someone else,” she teases.

His smile grows, softens. Hannibal leans their foreheads together, swaying their bodies closer, almost a waltz.

“I will always do everything in my power to help you, Will.”

Since Hannibal began kissing her, Will smiles without cracks.

 

 

*

The phone rings; Jack, Chicago, massacred corpses because they never call for chalk outlines.

“I'm kind of...busy right now,” she manages.

If busy counts for lying sprawled on top of her boyfriend (boyfriend ?) on his therapy couch, her shirt on the floor and her hair in his face.

“Well, now you're busy with this,” Jack says. “There's a plane ticket with your name on it. I expect you by dinner. Graham, are you even listening to me? Graham?”

“Hang up,” Hannibal breathes in her ear before worrying his teeth at the lobe.

“C-can't...” Will clears her throat. “Can't you get somebody else?”

Of course he could, but he won't, and of course Will could ignore, and she doesn't.

“I'm sorry." So often she says this, but to him it's like choking on broken glass. She's never been more irrationally angry at Jack than now.

Hannibal nudges his nose against her cheek. “You're not to blame.”

“I'll call you,” she assures, sitting upright and the separation throbs. “As soon as I'm back. Or...” She pauses while reaching for her shirt. “You could come with me?”

Hannibal flips his shirt collar and winds his tie around his neck. “I have a responsibility to my patients.”

It stings.

Will's used to that.

Shake it off, shake it off.

“Wish me luck,” she says at the door, not without a touch of bitterness.

 

 

*

Their first couples' fight and she can't sleep even on three fingers of whiskey. She estimates the time difference in Baltimore and calls anyway.

His greeting is husky and slurred. She woke him.

“Hey, hot lips,” she says.

Will imagines Hannibal blinking in sleepy consternation four hours away and grins. He probably went to bed shirtless as normal. Or, her favorite, no clothes whatsoever.

“Sorry to call this late. I'm a jerk.”

“I'm confident you wouldn't unless you needed to,” Hannibal says. Dimmed on the other line, there's a tell-tale bed creak as he rises. “Tell me.”

“I just wanted to talk.”

“About the case?”

“Yeah.” Will scratches the back of her head. “Yeah, of course. But...not right now. Can we bullshit first?”

Another pause, and Will sees him thinning his flat mouth. She thinks of biting that protruding upper lip and calm down, Graham. “Ordinarily I'd be insulted,” he says, “but we're both aware of my exceptional bullshitting skills.”

Will laughs too loud and muffles with her hand for the sake of her next door neighbor.

“I miss you,” she says. “So much.”

“And I miss you, dear Will.”

“It's fucking cold here.”

“Language,” he chides instinctively.

“And lonely.”

“Why is it lonely?”

“Uh, well, maybe it has something to do with the fact you're not here.”

“Well, then the reverse is also true for me.”

“Catch a plane. Help me make this cold bed a little less lonely.”

“Are you calling me for sex, Wilhelmina Graham?”

She shrugs. “Criminal discussion that could double as a booty call. Why not.”

“Or we could simply take care of the problem now. You wore a shirt to bed?”

“One of yours. Super sexy, huh?”

“Actually, I find the image rather appealing.”

“Well, hold that thought till I get back. If I have to suffer from sexual frustration, so do you.”

“Will,” he says, in the stern silencing way. “Tell me what happened.”

She tells him and they talk for another fifteen minutes. Then another five trying to say goodbye.

“How do you feel?” Hannibal asks.

“Better,” she sighs. “The head's...clearer. Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

Will holds the silence. If she listens hard enough, she can hear his breath crackling static over the speaker.

“Will.”

“Mm-hmm?”

“Look at your window.”

She rolls to her side and lifts the blinds enough to glimpse the night sky.

“I'm looking.”

“Take comfort. Some of our stars are the same.”

Hold.

“I love you, Will.”

Will swallows hard.

“Yeah,” she says softly.

 

 

*

There's no one to confess to, except Hannibal, so when he opens the door Will's so fucking grateful and undone at the sight, three-piece suit with loosened tie and expectant eyes, she jumps into his arms. He catches her easily.

“Well,” Hannibal says. “Hello.”

“Hello.” Will smirks. “Missed you.”

She moves in for a kiss. Hannibal lifts her up beneath the elbows and spins her inside the house. Will squeaks in shock, arms instinctively snapping around his neck and legs his waist, and Hannibal's smile as he kicks shut the door is a little bit wicked.

 

 

*

The banal hours fast become her favorite. Quiet afternoons fixing dinner, distracted with kissing and hands and apron strings untied and laughing all over themselves trying to find the least messy way to fuck in a kitchen. Quiet evenings huddled on the couch with wine, music, and the fireplace. Lazy mornings spooning that become lazy morning sex before they shower together and dress together. There's very little they do apart.

After nothing but thoughts of death for company in her empty life, Will loves breakfast at the counter and ruffled hair and mugs of coffee and voices hoarse from disuse. She loves picking out ties and fastening his cufflinks, and Hannibal watching as she brushes her hair in the bathroom mirror. She loves kissing him goodbye in the doorway, light and quick or long and thorough, especially when it becomes more and she ventures careful to lecture with the proof of his ardency etched palm-sized into her skin.

She loves sitting at her desk and counting the clock till home (home).

 

 

*

“Do you dance, dear Will?”

“If you consider shuffling around the room dancing.”

“Not technically, but we must start somewhere.”

Hannibal switches out the finished record, the needle hovered precise. Every time she visits something different plays, sometimes classical, always grandiose. He tells her the composition's history but lets her judge the quality for herself.

Their dates have settled into this, indoor affairs and Hannibal sharing his passions in a way Will is comfortable with.

She listens to the first few notes with attentive ear. “Sounds like Chopin,” she says.

“Nocturne Op. 9, number two,” he declares as he turns from the bureau. Will knows her growing recognition pleases him. “One of his earlier compositions.”

He offers his hands. Grinning, Will lets him lift her to her feet.

“This isn't going to end well,” she warns.

“Nonsense. You only need a skilled teacher. One foot and then the other.”

“Well, that just sounds too complicated.”

“Follow my lead.”

He eases her into a waltz, matching the leisurely tempo of piano keys.

“See? No harm done.”

Not caring where they move or if her feet slide correctly, Will twines her arms around his neck in a grip lazy. “Why am I not surprised you're also an exceptional dancer?”

His playful smile. “I make it a priority to work toward exceptionalism.”

He gracefully twirls her out and under his arm and back just to hear her laugh.

“How did you know I needed this now?” Will asks without expecting an answer.

“Call it luck. I wanted to adore you tonight.”

“Ooohh. Well played, Dr. Lecter, very well played.”

She bounces onto the tips of her toes, the signal, and Hannibal meets her halfway for a gentle, lengthy kiss.

“Let's stay like this," she sighs into his cheek.

He kisses the tip of her ear. Strokes his nimble fingers between her shoulder-blades. Presses his face into the hollow of her throat and inhales deep.

“Happily,” he murmurs across her skin.

Will squeezes him tight.

Hannibal's taught her the art of savoring, pleasures and moments.

 

 

*

“I haven't lost time for weeks.” She's rehearsed this, flickering smile and doe eyes.

“What about hallucinations? Headaches?”

“No. Everything's sort of...faded. Like the edges of a half-remembered dream.” She twitches her fingers. “I still have headaches, but they're nothing a handful of aspirin can't handle.”

“It's possible whatever triggers your delusions has subsided through lack of stimuli. You haven't taken a case for several weeks.”

“You haven't let me. You've been taking me instead.”

Hannibal cleans the wine glass until he sees his reflection, his back half-turned.

“So maybe I'm okay after all."

She ventures a broader smile. Hannibal doesn't return it.

“You can't delude yourself, Will. Periods of lucidity followed by relapse are entirely normal in most cases of mental disorder. We mustn’t cling to false hope.”

 

 

*

Things she remembers: glasses of water with lemons and tasteless additions, mercifully dispensed Xanax, Prozac, pills lacking prescriptions and the blissful numbness of feeling.

(Things she doesn't remember: needles slipped into her veins, the soothing voice, hypnotics to forget and just enough antibiotics to keep her going.)

 

 

*

“I get my own drawer?” Will flashes him a smirk, one hand on the dresser and the other holding pajamas. “That's a big step,” she says wryly. “You sure you ready for this kind of commitment, Dr. Lecter?”

“My dear Wilhelmina, you already know the answer to that.” Hannibal pats the bed. “Now, come here. I've missed you.”

 

 

*

He had to enter her dreams eventually. Everyone does, it's free range invasion in Will's head.

Except he dies. Each and every time. She stabs him, each and every time, like Abigail to Nick Boyle, blade sliding in easy as a gutted fish intestines spilling blood pouring over her wrists and she holds him, hushes him and rocks him as his heartbeat slows and finally stills.

“I'm sorry,” she whispers, “I'm so sorry, just hold still, I'll make it all go away, I'm so sorry...”

All the while, the stag watches.

 

 

*

“How can you be involved with me if you fear that I'll...” The words don't exist. “...go crazy? What if I lose time and hurt you?”

Behind her, the pads of his fingers graze over her neck, thumb anchoring on the side. He'd just have to squeeze.

“Because I know you, Will. I trust you. Others, perhaps – but me you'll never harm.”

He brushes her hair aside to kiss the back of her neck.

“You and I,” his whisper raising goosebumps, “we have nothing to fear from each other.”

 

 

*

It's one of those moments, silent and still and nothing, where Will blinks at the walls and reminds herself this is real. She's able to hear Hannibal brush his teeth and change clothes. Little joys she's denied.

“I have to go away for a few days,” Hannibal says as he moves beneath the covers. Another joy, sharing his massive regal bed.

“Really?” Will rolls onto her side. “What for?”

“A conference in Washington. I promised I'd attend months in advance.”

“Hmm. So no backing out at the last minute.”

“Far too rude.”

She fakes a pout and bumps his leg with her foot. “What am I supposed to do while you're gone?”

“I trust you'll find a way to stay occupied.”

He leans in for a kiss and Will accepts. She grips the curve of his skull a little too hard. She's become proprietary, selfish; he's made her so.

She huffs a disappointed noise when he pulls away, only to grin crooked when he lifts the hem of her shirt.

“It won't be long,” he assures. He nudges beneath her elbows and Will obediently lifts her arms. The cotton slides off in a hush. “A day or two.”

“Why can't I go with you?” she baits, plucking at his pajama strings.

Hannibal smirks. He cups her naked breast in his palm, a gentle massage, and Will sighs.

“I wouldn't take my worst enemies to a psychology conference. All that endless analyzing, not to mention the plethora of egos.” Hannibal's other hand slides deliberate inside the waistband of her shorts. “It would be cruel to ask of you.”

“Hmmmm.” Will closes her eyes, digs her toes into the back of his thigh. “I don't believe you,” she says only half-teasing. “You're keeping secrets from me, Hannibal Lecter.”

She keeps her eyes closed to heighten the sensations – the thick weight of him pressing full on her, warm wet mouth applying a pattern of kisses and fingers flirting with her sex. She seeks him out, tilting her asking hips into the touch. Indulgent, Hannibal eases a slow finger inside and Will hums high in her throat.

“If I were,” he spells out against her skin, “would you discover them?”

Two fingers, scissoring. Will fists her fingers in his hair, straining and utterly failing for any sort of objectivity.

“I'd want to,” she whines, waits for enough breath before he steals it again. “I want all of you.”

She feels the pause running all along his body and opens her eyes.

“One day,” Hannibal says, a promise in his kiss.

 

 

*

“Stop hunting the Ripper,” he says.

It could be any night. A warm lit fire, an open bottle of wine corked in her birth year. Her head on Hannibal's shoulder, his fingers draped upon her thigh.

The answering sound is mangled somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. “Tell that to Jack,” Will says archly. She sips her wine and lets it sit on her tongue before swallowing.

“I will. I'll give him my psychological recommendation you be immediately removed from the case.”

“He won't listen.”

Hannibal stares into the fire. He swirls the wine in its glass.

“I'll make him,” he says.

The back of Will's neck rushes with a thousand knives.

“Hannibal,” she says, as soft as her voice is capable. “You and Jack, you're friends. I'd hate to be the – don't do anything on my account that would jeopardize your relationship.”

“I'll do whatever's necessary to take care of you.”

When Hannibal turns to look at her, half of his face rests in shadow.

“I don't want to lose you, Will," he says, every word even and sheathed.

He makes her feel loved, and it's an ugly, horrible, tearing feeling, so much goodness shattering through the gray of her stormclouds.

“And I don't want to lose you. Am I going to lose you, Hannibal? Is it you or the Ripper?”

“It would be ridiculous to ask you to make such a choice. And unfair.”

“But it's what you're asking. This is my job, Hannibal. If I stop the Ripper, then I save lives. What if he came after you? What if there was another Tobias, or another Nicholas Boyle...Hannibal, if you...died...I couldn't. I just. I couldn't live with myself.

Tears, unwanted and furious. Hannibal tugs her into his arms, mollifying and cradling like she's a child.

“My dear little Wilhelmina," he sighs. "Forgive me. I didn't mean to upset you.”

“It's my job, Hannibal. I have to protect you and Abigail. You have to let me do my fucking job.”

“We both know your job hurts you.” Another sigh ripples through his ribcage. Not quite a surrender, but an admission. “I'm protective of you. I want you safe. And happy, with me. If that makes me selfish, so be it.”

“Then it makes me selfish, too,” Will admits below a whisper.

 

 

*

Her phone sounds close to four AM. By the hiccup of silence between the second and third ring Will's trained body has rolled and answered.

After forty seconds of listening she ends the call. Will pivots onto her back to see Hannibal very awake and watching.

“It's Jack,” she says wearily. He knows, but for courtesy's sake.

They make eye contact in the pre-dawn dark. Will gestures helplessly with the hand still clutching the phone, biting her finger rather than reach out, even now.

“I'll get the car,” Hannibal murmurs sleep-husked.

Will shuts her eyes, nods once, nods again speechless. Hannibal strokes strands of hair from her face, skims the backs of his knuckles up and down her cheek. She melts. She nuzzles her face in the hollow of his chest and listens to the pulsebeat thrumming steady until she is ready, until she is clear, until Hannibal knows he is wanted and she knows he will follow, he will share in her despairs and lows and, in the present, whatever mutilated corpse lies by the side of the road.

The tenderness is so exquisite she could bleed to death from the ache of it.

There are more than a few stares when they arrive at the crime scene together, in the dead of night, Hannibal altogether more composed-looking than Will. It's all but confirmation, especially when Will turns from the disemboweled body and into Hannibal's embrace.

They have a few hours before Quantico. Hannibal drives her to Wolf Trap because she needs her porch, her dogs, her paintings of the ocean and her rusty boat parts.

 

 

*

He lies next to her in her bed because Will needs him, too.

 

 

*

Will is in love.

It doesn’t matter they’ve spoken as something resembling human beings for less than ten minutes, total. Less than seven. They’ve seen beneath the mask and touched under epidermis.

Georgia Madchen’s smile is every girl Will’s saved. The could-have for each one she lost. And she has a name. And she is alive. And she is hope personified.

And they are both just as lost.

About five to six months ago. / Around the time Wilhelmina went back into the field. Which is when I met her.

The entire session with Dr. Sutcliff, Hannibal held her hand tight as iron. Will in turn left nail marks in his skin, tiny pale indents.

I know what kind of crazy I am, and this isn't that kind. This could be seizures. This could be a tumor...a blood clot...

“I imagined I slit a girl's face open. I was certain, in my bones.” Will's voice is muffled by the pillow. Better, so he won't hear the cracks. “You can still get out of this. I won't blame you. Or...try to keep you.”

I feel like I'm fading.

Will.”  The whip-crack of his voice makes her jump. “Stop this. I won't allow you to think such things.”

Why can't he make this easy. Why did he have to fall for her. Why did Alana recommend him, of everyone.

“Why do you care so much?”

“Because I love you. That fact won't change no matter how ill you become.”

Have I broken you?

“What if I keep losing myself? I won't be the girl you love anymore.”

“I'll remember the Will I know. And I'll bring you back.”

It's 10:15 PM. I'm in Baltimore, Maryland. My name is Wilhelmina Graham.

“You wouldn't publish anything on me, would you, Hannibal?”

A morbid thought, but Will indulges those of late.

Hannibal pulls her down and tugs her across his torso, their arms wound around each other's shoulders. “Emotionally, I'm afraid I'm too close to your case to be objective. Scientifically, if there were ever anything of therapeutic value to others, I'd abstract it in a form that would be totally unrecognizable.”

“Just do me a favor and publish it posthumously.”

“After your death or mine?”

Will closes her eyes. “Whichever comes first.”

 

 

*

“I think the work you do here has created a sense of stability for you. Stability is good for you, Will.”

“Stability requires strong foundations, Jack.” Will fumbles off her glasses, shaken and shaking. “My moorings are built on sand.”

“I'm not sand. Wilhelmina, I am bedrock.

She prepares herself for the strong gripping of her shoulder yet still flinches, forever. The sadness skitters across Jack's eyes.

“When you doubt yourself,” he says, “you don't have to doubt me, too.”

She believes him.

She wishes it were enough.

 

 

*

Time vanishes too fast even in her most lucid moments. It's the crisp-aired dark-skied start of a new month, and Hannibal insists on treating her to the Baltimore symphony. It'd be good for them, a distraction from recent events.

Will has drawn into the hollow of herself since a blank brain scan and an explanation she didn't want. Locked in her house, ignoring Alana's calls and Hannibal's gestures. It's better for everyone.

“I don't think I have – no, I know for a fact I don't have anything suitable to wear.”

The king of thin-lipped smiles, Hannibal flashes his long teeth. “A problem easily solved.”

He pivots toward his closet, continuing to speak as he opens the floor-length doors and removes a black suit bag. “I bought you a gift with tonight in mind. I hope it suits.” He stretches the bag flat on the bed and smooths out the wrinkles.

He's shoved her off-balance. And not the usual kind she can ignore.

“Hannibal, you – you didn't need to do that.”

“But wanted. It pleases me to see you smile, sweet Will.”

Afraid she'll ruin it just by being herself, Will carefully unzips the bag. It's a silk floor-length dress in crème boasting a low open back and forearms. Glamorous but modest, within the bounds of respectable propriety.

It feels like a test. He intensely watches her face, head tilted.

“Oh my god. Hannibal, I can't – this is stunning.

Passed. He smiles, deep and satisfied. “I'd love to see you in it.”

She showers promptly and opens one of the inordinately expensive lotions he gave her, then dabs hasty spots of perfume on an afterthought, because this night is different. Her hair she leaves as is, down her back and curling.

The gown's an unsurprising perfect fit. Despite being unaccustomed to it, Will doesn't feel uncomfortable. Strange, more like. She checks the mirror for hitches or wrinkles and likes what she sees. Under Hannibal's careful eye, she becomes desirable.

She longs to impress.

Will enters the living room to confident harpsichord strands. When Hannibal glances to the doorway his breathing and fingers cease in time and absolute. Harpsichord carries no echo, and in the empty silence both hear his next breath.

For the first time he seems reluctant to lay hands on her. An ancient artifact, exposed to light and pressure and disintegrating to dust. So fragile.

“If I saw you every day, forever,” Hannibal says, “I'd remember this moment. You are, truly, beautiful.”

Will doesn't squirm under his ardent gaze anymore. She welcomes it, encourages it, hungers for a man she holds so close she can reduce.

She feels powerful. She feels more.

“Looks are an accident,” she says with her former archness.

“If comeliness were earned, you would still be lovely.”

“Only because of you.” Now Will does avoid, sliding her hands over the silk almost hypnotic. “Thank you. For this.”

Hannibal brings his face close to hers. His hand brands to the back of her neck, thumb pressing the carotid artery.

“Before we leave, I want you to look at yourself a second time. This is who you are, Wilhelmina Graham. All your life you have possessed the qualities you need to become free, yet been hindered and denied by the forces of this world. Remember the sound of silk on your body as you walk. Remember the way you feel tonight. Remember the way I look at you. No more hiding. The world is now yours.”

When they arrive he plucks her from the car and escorts her inside to turned heads and appreciative murmurs. Will has never known such things. He stays her hands when she fidgets from boredom, and when she clings to his arm in self-conscious terror he repeats how beautiful she looks, the envy of the room, don't be nervous my bella – ever so lightly presses his lips to her throat so he can feel her pulse flutter.

She does her best impression of charm in the company of his elite friends, answering questions and letting the women fawn (Hannibal, who is this delightful creature, how dare you keep her hidden, why didn't you tell us?). Every time she quivers, Hannibal's thumb finds the small of her back and rubs slow, calming circles – and then the width of his hand, huge and hot, over her naked spine, and Will quivers for other reasons entirely.

There's a moment, when the lights fall and the orchestra strikes and the curtain dances back, Hannibal's hand possessive on her crossed knees, that the planet ceases its orbit. Here, this, now, who they are and what and the paths of living, the centripetal forces of the universe, base desperate longing, the filled lack of solitude and the answered ease.

Hands, touching.

It vibrates between them, attuned as they are to the slightest change - heat, pressure, lung capacity. Strings cry out on stage, but Hannibal only has eyes for her, gaze wrought with terrifying possibility.

“I should buy you dresses more often,” he murmurs. He ghosts one fingertip over where the fabric splits to hint skin. “You have exquisite legs.”

Flushed with wine and desire, Will shifts restless against the chair. “I have no use for them,” she hisses in frustration. “Dresses aren't suitable attire for crime scenes.”

A chorus of violins, solo and shrieking.

Hannibal slips a seeking hand beneath the hem of her dress, bunching the fabric at her waist and moving between her thighs.

“But incredibly suitable,” he purrs against her ear, “for situations like this.”

Will can't argue with that.

In the dark Hannibal Lecter's eyes glow pinpricks of red and Will growls into his cheek, “Unless you get me home in the next ten minutes, I swear to every fucking power on this earth I'll rip your precious clothes to shreds and have you right here with everyone watching.”

And he laughs, laughs soundless and scalding over her shoulder.

He gets them home in seven.

Whether it's the dead planet or the dress or her third glass of wine, or the fear of losing what time they have, everything's just a little hazy and too fast and overwhelming but perfect in that way drunk sex manages and she wants to lie in sheets that smell like him and slowly burn to ash underneath his hands. She grunts a little, words suddenly far too complicated, “roll over” she manages, too distracted for polite requests.

Hannibal smirks keen and cruel.

“Feeling impatient, tesoro?” he says so quiet and innocent like he hadn't just pulled off her underwear with his teeth and it's not fair.

She shoves at his immovable chest, weight and arms bracketing her down. “Come on,” she insists.

“You’re a grown woman, Wilhelmina. You’re capable of asking for what you want.”

“I'm drunk and we could die tomorrow and I want you to fuck me,” she seethes. “Right now.

Hannibal tsks his tongue. “There's no need for that sort of language.”

“Goddammit - please, Hannibal, give me this time with you, I need it, I need you, let me cherish it please...”

And he's stripping his clothes as methodical as preparing for sleep, Will's reaching for him and he goes into her arms. She begs him for gentleness, to keep a slow pace, and he does, telling her how much he loves her again and again, over and over.

It doesn't take much effort on his part later to convince Will into a warm scented bath. The alcohol's fading but she's drunk on bliss. Everything's blurred. Everything's soft. If she dares, and she does, everything's beautiful.

“Is my Will pleased?” Hannibal hums.

Propped against his chest, Will runs her hand over the muscles there.

“You have no idea.”

She basks in the feel of him, the heat of the water, the faint smell of almond and lavender.

“You realize we missed all of that concert, though,” she adds, because she's suspicious.

When Hannibal chuckles altogether too smugly, this stubborn devoted infuriating unreadable devastatingly beautiful man who planned and calculated and knew how to ensure she stumble into him exactly the way she did tonight, it doesn't terrify. Something unnamed she always knew, at last making sense.

Will clutches it like a talisman, durable in the dark.

 

 

*

Lying awake listening to his breathing, Will dares even more to think maybe everything will be okay after all.

 

 

*

Killing him and this is who she is blood on her palms and she is dangerous and he should have been afraid, he should have feared her so –

She wakes screaming with Hannibal twined round her like a vine round a dying oak. Pinning her down by the wrists, her name an incantation. There's a fresh hot scratch on his cheek.

She tries to leave for a new shirt, towel on the sheets, run into the dark void and die alone but Hannibal won't let go, he won't he won't.

 

 

*

It wasn't supposed to be anything. It's so banal, Hannibal picking her up and stopping for gas. Will props open the car door for fresh air. She shivers in the chill wind, legs bare in the fitted gray sweaterdress she bought last week. Spring's coming, soon. She smiles at Hannibal though the side window, watching him fill the tank. His eyes crinkle in beautiful age lines.

Cleaning fluid hits the windshield from a spray nozzle, spreading like blood spatter. Will glances over instinctively.

The male attendant's staring at her through the glass, smirk wide and crooked.

It takes her a moment. She's not prepared. Will Graham blushes from rage, snapping her legs together. Spreading the hem of her dress down to tight knees, fumbling fast with the door handle and lock, clenching shaking fingertips in her lap. She can't look at him. She refuses.

The man's sly grin grows. He moves to the passenger window and he wipes and wipes, eyes making her feel like filth.

Hannibal glances up from his wallet and catches him.

Hannibal's face closes off. It reminds her of the gathering clouds before a storm, thick and black and terrible, the canopy of ash in the air.

Will blinks and he's around the car in an instant.

“The hell's your problem?” the attendant demands. He was about Hannibal's height and weight, but nowhere near the muscle.

“Apologize,” Hannibal says.

“Excuse me?”

“Apologize,” Hannibal repeats evenly, “to her.”

His voice turns her blood to ice.

“C'mon, man,” the attendant says, swapping out the bottle of cleaning fluid for an oil spout. “I was just lookin'.”

Will's hand goes to the door handle. She doesn't open.

Hannibal stands too close. In an instant, Will sees him tear the spout from his hand and plunge the sharp end into his chest, draining his heart. Her mouth opens in a soundless scream and she snaps back, ears ringing head pounding. Hannibal hasn't moved, but there's something in his eyes she's never seen before, anywhere.

The attendant sees it, too, stumbling back a halted step.

“What the fuck's wrong with you?” he whispers.

Hannibal removes exact change from his wallet and holds it out between them. His mouth moves and she can't hear, shifting frantically to read his lips.

“If you run,” he says with absolute calm, “I will catch you.”

 

 

*

She's only slipped inside his head once before.

Making dinner, instructing her how to slice the meat just so. Guiding her hands with the knife and watching her work with avid eyes. She feels a paper-thin kiss pressed onto her shoulder-blade and unthinkingly lulls her head to the side. His hands fix over her hips and Will stops, but his grip tightens and he orders, “Keep working.”

She does, trying not to cut herself from inexperience and distraction, but Hannibal's undoing her shirt and touching her skin and eager against her, and when he pins her against the counter his skull cracks wide and she slips inside his skin.

soon, so soon you'll be mine and we will feast together, revel together, I will guide you and we will be gods together

It makes no sense. Those thoughts are not her Hannibal. Ruthless, scheming, violent.

She buries them away and forgets. She can lose faith in herself, but she cannot lose faith in him.

Three nights after the incident at the gas station, Will recognizes the attendant's face in the morning paper under a headline proclaiming suicide.

She tells Hannibal about it, unsure what to feel.

“Are you happy?” he asks.

Months ago, the question would have appalled her every sensibility.

“I'm very happy,” she says softly.

After they share a particularity exquisite meal (“venison,” he says with flat eyes matched erroneous to a broad smile, like miswired connections, “fresh”), Hannibal gets her flat on the dining room table until he's had his fill. He continues to lick with devoted thoroughness once she's calmed to savor the wetness, even when she weakly tries to nudge him away.

“I love you,” he breaths against her oversensitive skin, warm breath raising goosebumps.

 

 

*

She's used to letting the monsters in, but Will rests content in the knowledge whatever this is, she invited willingly.

 

 

*

“We've yet to discuss the most important part of my moving in.”

“Which would be?”

“I'm not giving up my dogs.”

It's not often she makes him fully laugh, so she treasures the moment.

“I won't ask you to.” He squeezes her hand as they leisurely walk the length of the park, breath nipping on the cold front. People are few, a scattered family here and there, a jogger.

“But you don't like dogs,” Will teases. “They're messy and disruptive.”

“I appreciate their loyalty. In some circumstances they can provide great therapeutic value.”

“Hannibal Lecter, you are so full of shit.”

Hannibal drops her hand to sneak his arm around her waist. “Wilhelmina Graham,” his faux-scolds, “if you're incapable of polite thanks, then I see no reason to give your dogs a room of their own.”

“You are actually serious.”

“We'll clean out the storage room on the ground floor. Give them room to run and anything else they might need.”

Will nuzzles into his coat. “You know the way to my heart.”

Hannibal brings her hand to his curved lips.

 

 

*

“So,” Alana says after Hannibal leaves the room, eyes sparking with sly suggestion. “It's official?”

Will blushes, hands in pockets and gaze averted.

“Don't you think that would require more social acuity than I have?” she mutters.

The smirk flows, heartbreakingly kind, into a smile, and Alana takes her hand.

“Not if it's the right guy,” Alana says.

 

 

*

Perfectly painted white-picket fence, 2.5 kids, mowed lawn and welcome home, dear, how was your day at the office? - Will laughs. This is not their future. This is not their life. She and Hannibal are not those kind of people.

They aren't.

 

 

*

It happens when her defenses are down and her forts are shattered, no forts in the bone-arena of your skull for the things you love – the opera, this week, this night, a wine-red silk dress – a chain of priceless diamonds around her neck, stones harsh as fire. It's a good, good night, comfortable and easy and shivering with coiled tension, everything about Hannibal in a tuxedo is designed to cut and Will wants to shred herself.

They maintain decorum long enough for Hannibal to lock the door and Will to place her handbag on the mantel, and then Hannibal attacks like a savaging lion, seizing her face between his hands and devouring her mouth with tongue and teeth and Will knew he chose this dress for a reason.

They're shedding clothes on their way to his room as fast as hands and limbs can work, Will tripping out of her heels and heedlessly rushing through the buttons of his shirt, desperately seeking bare skin, Hannibal snatching for the ties of her gown as if his next breath depended on the action.

They coordinate their efforts and make it to the bed with little left, an altogether impressive feat, her dress a bloodied pool on the carpet. Hannibal forces his tongue past her teeth and Will moans wantonly, knows Hannibal loves the sound, would do anything to hear that sound, and she snaps off his belt with swift determined motions, she will not be denied – Hannibal yanks her upright and she sinks slowly onto him and he grunts breathless and fast against her cheek. She takes her time settling herself, listening to the hitches in his chest when she shifts, reveling how she can turn his body into a quivering strung arrow. It's an elemental power, and it's hers. When she doesn't move he makes an impatient noise, and Will swells and unfolds like a fire. Unplanned instinct takes over, niping his jaw with teeth, seizing his face and locking their eyes by force, kissing him trying to join their souls. She barely realizes and doesn't care when Hannibal shoves her onto her back like an animal claiming its mate, her mouth stained with blood and she doesn't know whose.

As if in apology, if she believed either of them regretted it, Hannibal's as tender as a newborn babe. He cleans them up and Will instinctively curls against his chest with long sighs and stretches. Hannibal kisses her lips once more, lightly.

It's then that Will says, with complete honesty and no sense of fear, the fear won't hit until the morning, right now she's peaceful, safe, drifting on the lake outside her house –

– she breathes earnest and glad into his skin, “I love you.”

For the space of a second Hannibal ceases to breathe – and then, cord severed, chains locked, he releases it on a hum, his smile the most satisfied she's ever seen.

“And I love you,” he murmurs in return, almost lost in the journey from throat to air.

Will falls asleep to the sound of his heartbeat and the feel of his fingertips stroking her hair.

 

 

*

She wants to go to Sugarloaf Key. She's insistent. Hannibal wonders, could ask, doesn't. It's a late Friday afternoon, and they pack two small bags into the truck of the Bentley and pull out onto the interstate. Legs extended, legs crossed, layered beneath, bare feet on the dash – Will can't settle. Hannibal rolls down the windows, hair tossing in glorious disarray.

They talk very little. That's one of intimacy's greatest gifts, the privilege to sit in silence.

Will's asleep when they reach the island. She sits upright and watches the towns and coastlines pass. Up and up a hill onto a gravel driveway, and Hannibal guides the steering wheel hand over hand, switches off the engine, and removes the key.

They spend what's left of the day outside. Reclining on the patches of soft grass in the yard, walking hand-in-hand barefoot through the sand, sitting on the dock in cool water up to their knees. Hannibal watches how the breeze makes her unbound hair dance. He leans over and kisses her bare shoulder, resting his lips longer than need be.

“I planned on moving here after my grandfather died. I still think about it, sometimes. Taking my very early retirement, fixing boat motors and watching the tide.”

Hannibal strokes his fingers over the whorl of her ear where her head lies in his lap. “What stops you?”

“What doesn't stop me is more the question. I can't get away, so why even try? What good does putting seven hundred miles between me and Quantico do?”

“Between you and Jack Crawford.”

“If it wasn't Jack pulling me into cases, it'd be someone else. You know it would. I'm made this way, Hannibal, and I'm fucking sick of it.”

She falters upright. Hannibal's hand falls away.

“You think I want to be alone? I'm tired of being alone. I thought that was the way it needed to be, I had no choice, but – there's you, and so many people die every fucking day, I forget why I even bother and – all of this, it's made me realize how precious life is and I want to enjoy every moment. With you. You're the best and most unexpected thing that's happened to me in my very, very fucked-up life, Hannibal. I'm terrified of being with you, but I'm terrified of...losing you."

She hasn't turned around. Will talks to the ocean and the palm trees.

Hannibal sits upright and speaks to the tight line of her back.

“You won't lose me, Will. But such a commitment goes both ways. You must promise me the same.”

“What are you asking of me?”

She knows. Some emotions Will likens to scents, so strong she can't help but absorb.

“Make a life with me. Don't run because you're afraid. What we have is precious, Will, and should be nurtured. Let me make you happy, and you do the same.”

When he kisses her shoulder strands of hair catch in his mouth.

“I'm very lonely without you, Will,” he murmurs. “Please don't leave me.”

 

 

*

When he asks, sliding to one knee before her, Will says yes.

 

 

*

She says yes, looking down at him unblinking, because how, how could she say otherwise?

 

 

*

Inside the black velvet box, his mother's ring. Purple amethyst set in silver, a crest of half-open claws. Some rustic Germanic antique.

It's a little tight on her finger, but Hannibal promises they'll resize.

 

 

*

This is Wilhelmina Graham's life now: shoes on the doormat, dinner on the table, kisses to her cheek, magazines on her lap and Hannibal at her side.

“I was never one of those girls who dreamed about her wedding,” she says, paging swift through dresses and veils and jewelry and christ, this is complicated. Too complicated. The first thing she likes, she'll choose. “So you can do whatever you want. I really won't care.”

Will replays that in her mind and scrambles back, “I mean, I do care, of course I care. I just won't be a bridezilla about the color of the flower arrangements.”

Hannibal's mouth quirks at bridezilla. Has Hannibal Lecter actually watched reality shows, she wants to ensure this occasion just to see the glorious disdain on his face.

“Something small, I should think,” he says as his fingertips stroke the side of her neck. “An intimate affair.”

“Please, yes. The fewer people the better.” She thumbs a page edge until it's wrinkled. “It's not like I have anyone to invite.”

His hand slows but does not stop. “Neither do I,” he says. Unsettingly calm.

“Not even your uncle and his wife?”

“Are you planning to invite your secondary family?”

“Well. That's all you need to say.”

Hannibal waits a beat, then, deadpan, “Jack Crawford's not invited.”

Will's laugh is full-body, uncrossing her legs and leaning back against him. She needn't look but does for the satisfaction of seeing the toothless smile only she is privileged to see.

“Or we could elope,” she offers. “Less planning, no hassle.”

He lifts his wine glass for a sip. His considering look, weighing pros and cons. “It'd be remarkably efficient.”

“I can find a substitute to cover for a day or two.” He passes his glass when she reaches. “When's a good time for you, with your practice?”

“Accounting for the time needed to make arrangements, two weekends from now should serve.”

Will nearly chokes on her drink.

“Well,” she says, shaken. It didn't feel real until this moment, a set date, less than fourteen days.“You certainly do move fast.”

“Why wait? The decision's been made. There's no reason to deny ourselves happiness.”

In measures, she rests her head against his sternum.

“No,” she muses. “I guess there isn't.” The magazine falls limp on her thighs. “We can figure it out. We have time.”

Just like that Hannibal snaps his complete attention to her, eyes focused and penetrating. God, she loves the way he looks at her. Like she's treasured.

We have time?” His eyebrow arches. “Trying for optimism, dear Will?”

“Trying,” she admits on an exhale, somehow ashamed.

He won't tell.

 

 

*

A week later she's slicing onions in the kitchen and Hannibal pauses mid-step at her back. The whole smelling thing she'll never understand, everyone has their quirks, but he's usually more subtle than this - hovering, dipping his head close to her and inhaling deep.

“Don't tell me I smell that bad,” she says archly, half-pivoting from the waist.

He withdraws. He darts his eyes across the whole of her, and just as fast his expression smooths to stone as he erases.

Will lays down the knife. “What's wrong?” Turning to him, senses alert, low rumble of fear shocking though her limbs.

“Your internal body temperature is higher.” Hannibal presses his palm to her forehead, cheek. “Have you felt ill at all recently? Headaches, fatigue, dizziness?”

“Ah...I guess more tired than usual. A little queasy. I assumed it was the work...”

It's such a small, quick silence, but it's endless.

And, then, Hannibal's lips quirk into a smile.

He looks – proud.

“Probably a low-grade fever.” He cups her hips in his hands. “Nothing to be concerned about.”

 

 

*

Dizzy, short of breath, intermittent nausea. She winces putting on her bra, leans against the wall and holds her breast. Heavy, too unbearably tender even for Hannibal's touch.

She doesn't trust her knowledge of time, so she checks the calendar.

 

 

*

The nearest drug store's a good ten minutes. Will burns rubber and doubles-back down the aisles to snatch a candy bar, chips, some gum. Less obvious. She hides her face in her sweatshirt and pulls $11.50 from her wallet and mumbles at the cashier and slams the door running.

 

 

*

It's very, very cold in the bathroom, t-shirt and sleep shorts and bare feet on tile, and it's a very, very long wait, pacing and shivering, rubbing her arms.

 

 

*

They know something's wrong before she staggers trembling to the floor, knees curled to her chin. They huddle and lick and gently whine and wag plaintive tails.

Winston noses her arm. She buries her face in his fur.

 

 

*

“You're certain?”

Will swallows. Sharp and tight. “Twice. Different days. There really wasn't...any room for error.”

Hannibal lowers an unwashed plate to the counter and turns from the sink. Still as a marble statue and fuck, fuck fuck fuck.

“I was taking – you know I was. I don't understand how...”

Out of aspirin, no sleep, wine on an empty stomach, she's unraveling at the seams and tastes her heart in her mouth and can't even think.

Hannibal adjusts the plate with one finger. “Such methods are not entirely foolproof,” he says, clinical and methodical.

Will breaths through her mouth. “Apparently,” she hisses, “not.”

How must he see her, small and sickly, eyes red-rimmed and glittering moist in the light. She hasn't allowed herself the privilege of weeping. She has to keep her head.

“I'm sorry,” she shudders. “This isn't...” Slams both hands over her face and digs to keep them from shaking. “I'm a little terrified right now,” she whispers.

Hannibal closes the distance between them at a measured pace, one sudden gesture and she could flee. A frightened, cornered animal.

“Don't be,” he says, ever so softly.

And she shatters.

Strangled sounds, dying gasps. He opens his arms and Will runs, burrows her face into his shirt and permits the tears.

“I wouldn't be a good mother,” she whispers. “I shouldn't be one.”

Hannibal sways her gently, side-to-side.

“This is no kind of world to bring a child into. And I'm not...stable. I don't know if I'll ever be. How can I raise a son or a daughter if I'm fucking insane...

Hannibal shushes her quietly. “Don't think that way.” He smooths his hand up and down the line of her back, up and down. “There's no reason you can't have a family as much as anyone else.”

“Maybe we should...it would be better if...”

This is it. The moment.

“It's your choice,” Hannibal says without the slightest change in tone. “Whatever you decide, I'll support you.”

He ducks his head until she looks at him, and he's smiling, soft and adoring and the candles reflect in his eyes. He glides the backs of his knuckles across her cheek, a caress and attending her tears at the same time.

“You shouldn't have been afraid to tell me,” he murmurs. “I never considered having a child. Not until I met you. But with you, dear, sweet Wilhelmina...” A kiss, each hand. “I would gladly make a family.”

 

 

*

Several visits later to the finest doctors Maryland can offer, Will Graham is declared relatively healthy and undoubtedly pregnant. The doctor prescribes her to rest, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and adhere to a strict vitamin regime, not necessarily in that order.

She looks between them, Will upright on the bed gripping Hannibal's hand with white knuckles, ring fitted to her left fourth finger, and Hannibal standing pressed to her side, arm nestled around her waist, thumb slowly stroking her side.

“First one, I take it?” she asks with a smile.

Hannibal chuckles. “How could you tell?”

“Call me if you have any questions, day or night. Dr. Lecter, Ms. Graham – you're on your way to having a very healthy baby.”

She never lets go of his hand.

Once they're home he carries her over the threshold to her surprised giggling. He plans out suitable meals. He plays her favorite records and dances her above his toes. He runs her a long, hot bath, scented like roses. He slips off her nightgown and holds her beneath him so careful. He uses mouth and hands until her toes curl and her limbs melt to water, the whole of her thrumming with pleasant shivers. Love bleeds from his pores.

The mother is presupposed to glow, but she's never seen him so happy.

 

 

*

When he's gone, Will lies down on her back with open eyes. She runs both hands over her bare stomach, bumped with what could be normal fat or could be. Holding, feeling for a combination of cells no larger than a grapefruit.

They'll be more pain. More vomiting. She'll have to buy different clothes.

They'll be sleepless nights filled with high-pitched cries. Even before then, the drug-dulled ache of birth. A cradle. Hannibal remodeling the guest room in warm, deep sea colors.

She'll have to learn how to change diapers.

They'll be lying on a bed together, a newborn between them. This perilously small thing they made together, helpless and fragile and blinking bright at the strange world. She sees as clear as life: the bemused smile on Hannibal's face, the way he whispers I love you when he leans over to kiss her. He holds out a giant finger and their tiny baby, theirs, reaches out and grabs hold of its father's thumb, and Will's frail tired heart seizures with joy.

 

 

*

“I should...probably request a leave of absence. With everything.”

“I insist on it.” Hannibal looks up from the frying pan where two omelets simmer. “Can't have you anything except perfectly healthy.”

“Lectures would be fine,” she says while adding a second scoop of sugar to her morning coffee. “I can waddle while I talk at the kids.”

“I'd like to see that.”

“What, cause I'm gonna be so gorgeous and irresistible when I'm the size of a beach ball?”

“You are always irresistible to me, Wilhelmina,” he says, half-winking.

She's discovered he uses her full name when most serious. Or flirting.

Will sighs and shucks through her hair haphazard. “Of all the reasons I could resign, this is probably the last one Jack'll expect.”

Hannibal flips the omelets. “He has no grounds to protest. There are too many dangers in the field.”

Will knows her fair share of horror stories. Women shoved to the ground by perps, tripping as they scale stairs, miscarrying from stress. And worse. Dread panic suffocates like some demonic beast on her chest.

“He's fair,” she says. “He'll understand.”

Sizzle, spit.

“Should we have him for dinner?” Hannibal asks lightly.

“Why not. Couldn't be any worse.”

They toast to diplomacy.

 

 

*

Until then, back to work.

She packs for the day and Hannibal has coffee and a kiss waiting for her outside the main Quantico doors. She accepts both. He helps her into her coat and, before buttoning the front, presses his hand to her belly. Perfectly careful, fingers spread – it's protective, almost proprietary.

And...fascinated. The orphaned man and the homeless woman. How very strange. How very fitting.

“We are a family now,” Hannibal says. A promise.

As fast as gossip spreads, by the next morning no one needs to tell Jack anything.

 

 

*

Hospitals. Maternity clothes. Baby clothes. Names. Hannibal kissing her stomach through her shirt and breathing in, as if he could absorb what's growing inside, his and hers, our perfect creation.

This is Will Graham's life, now.

 

 

*

One uneventful weeknight after work, they walk to the Baltimore courthouse hand-in-hand. There's no one there except the typing secretary and it takes them less than ten minutes. Once all the proper documents are signed, they walk out hand-in-hand into the cold.

Will keeps waking up in the night to feel for her wedding band. It's still there.

 

 

*

“I'll take you to Florence,” he murmurs into her cheek. “We'll walk the streets, visit the gardens and the museums, the wineries – anything you want. We can stay in our villa for days. I'll make love to you in a bed of silk.” He feathers a kiss to her nose. “We won't leave until we wish to.”

Will notches a leg over his hip. “What if I never want to leave?” she asks.

Hannibal smiles.

 

 

*

(The point of everything, thus far, is such:

Wilhelmina Graham isn't afraid anymore.)

 

 

*

(She should be.)

 

 

*

 

In his arms, my lady lay asleep, wrapped in a veil. He woke her then, and trembling and obedient, she ate his burning heart out of his hand.

(Dante, La Vite Nuova, First Sonnet)