Will Graham waits alone by the SUV until he’s told that it’s alright for him to enter the crime scene.
Jack Crawford’s job is to make sure it’s a ‘safe space’ for Will to enter, and no matter how many times Will explains that that makes no fucking sense, the rules remain. Empaths on the scene of a fresh crime have a tendency to vomit, to collapse from the sensations, and no one is going to take a risk with him, no matter how resilient he is. While a normal Seer-empath boasts an ability to see the realities that occur around them, a Feeler can touch and gain impressions from tactile feel, and a Dreamer can recreate, Will Graham is a special blend of all three, the shining star of the Empath-Behavioral-Analysis-Unit. A rare, somewhat mentally stable E-3. They don’t want him tarnished, not when he’s so damn good at what he does.
If he wasn’t so strung out, he’d have felt almost cherished at the thought they gave him, to cradle him like a fragile little teacup meant only for the best of after dinner sit-downs over lady fingers and a cup of French press.
He rubs his palms together, stares down at his familiar, worn pair of standard, FBI-edition leather gloves. They block the sensations of touch, keep the worst of the world at bay. They’ve been his constant companions for the last five years, helped him through the thick of things. There is a fray on one of the seams, and he notes that it’ll need fixed soon. It wouldn’t do for a seam to come undone and accidentally expose him to anything.
When he hears footsteps, he glances to them, then to the hands clenched into fists swaying beside a stiff spine and a taut stance. It’s not a pretty crime scene, and Will can see it before he’s even been inside.
“How many?” he asks.
“Just the wife, but it’s bad. RA and daughter are missing.”
RA and daughter are missing. Will lets those words roll around in his mind, lets them settle. He can imagine the fear, the terror on her face as she’s hauled about, nothing more than the weight of her skin and her bones as she cries. He’s panicked, Will thinks, but he’s not stupid. He’s desperate, but he’ll still have fight in him.
He stands up, adjusts his glasses and heads into the house.
It is bad, just like Jack Crawford promised. Blood trails from the entryway towards the kitchen, and as he walks in he’s given wide, respectful berth. His regular team waits in the entry to the kitchen, and he notes Beverly’s grim smile of encouragement as he steps in and looks around, inhaling the tangy aftertaste of mortal terror and betrayal.
The mother’s there, just like Jack promised. She lies in a pool of blood, throat cut open to expose everything within, and Will stares down at her for a time, studying her. Impressions of her life do not lay in her corpse, but the final moments of her death does. He hunches down, head tilted as he removes his glasses and studies her in sweeping, smooth motions. His gaze pauses on her throat, on her shoulder. He tastes pain, fear, fury, and a longing that claws so deep he wants to cry out with it.
He steadfastly refuses.
Instead, he meticulously removes his gloves and tucks them into his coat pocket, reaching down in order to grasp her shoulder and her neck, the spaces that seem to light up moreso than the rest of her, begging him to just touch.
It is all at once, a rushing, choking, cloying pain, the sensations rippling like the water right before a tidal wave. They twist, curl, red hot and furious, and blood pools around like rivers of hatred, of disdain.
Will ignores the sensations, the feeling of her death. It is a difficult thing to ignore, but he focuses instead on the feelings that surround her, that led to her final moments, the light ethereal that held death with such tender malevolence.
You are nothing, but you will give me time. You will give me time, you will give me an escape, and the many years I’ve endured you, endured your cutting glances, your knowing stares will finally come to an end.
It is time for you to come to an end. You’ve served your purpose. This is my design.
Will jerks back with a hiss of breath, and he stares down at her, pulling hands away quickly. The aftermath of her emotions, of his emotions rings through each pulse of his heart, and he gulps in air as he looks around, trying to ground himself. The sink is a good place, and he stares at it until his breath can come without burning, until he can calm his steady heart.
It doesn’t want to calm, though. Not when it’s found a trail.
He sees it, glowing imprints of the one that no longer remains. Just as the Shrike placed hands upon his wife’s shoulder before he took her life, so too can Will see the glowing imprints of a hand to the edge of the sink, dragging along the counter before making its way to the doorway just across from them, leading outside.
Will knows where to go.
He follows the trail, stumbling over a fallen rain boot before catching himself, hands fumbling with the doorknob until he’s outside, gulping in the fresh afternoon air of fall, cold and rejuvenating in his lungs. He inhales the trail, looks around and spies that same glow, that same light that moves first left than right. He bends down, touches his palm to the footprint, and like a jolt from touching a live wire, he senses purpose, determination. Alongside it, stumbling and whimpering, he senses mortal terror. The daughter is alive.
The daughter is alive.
He isn’t aware that he’s running until he slips down a small incline on fallen leaves and has to catch himself, fingers pressing to the earth. He senses the startled jump of a doe not an hour before, the slither of a snake through underbrush ten minutes ago, and his hands are up again, pumping as he stares at the golden trail, ignoring a shout in the distance, ignoring the sense that something terrible is going to happen.
It’s two miles out before he finds what he’s looking for, and when he does relief is only the mildest of balms. The cabin has the same sense, the same aura, and he opens the door to it, pleased with the way the hinges do not squeak, do not betray him. He steps in, the air within just as fresh as the outside, and he knows this is no place that sits abandoned for too long. He sees the man’s essence on every surface, in every nook and cranny. He is here often, this place he’s made into a fortress.
A creak upstairs distracts him, and he looks up to the sound of scuffling feet. There is a quiet, despairing sob, and he’s up the stairs, feet carrying him fast, breath puffing with a burning need before he rounds the corner and comes face-to-face with the man he’s tracked, the man he so easily found because of course he’d find him when they were one in the same.
“P-please,” the girl whimpers, and Will’s hands find their way to his gun, drawing it up to level at the man before him. His head is bowed, his mouth is moving, and when a hand shifts near her neck, Will Graham does not hesitate.
First one, then two more. The Shrike does not fall back, merely wrenches his arm to the side, and blood spurts from her neck, an arc of color catching in the light from the window with a dazzling array. At the action, another two shots, then five more as he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s been shot, that people that have been shot should fall down and die. At the tenth round hitting his flesh, he finally manages to fall, body hitting the sturdy oak floor with the sound only a dead body can make.
Will rushes to the girl, drops to his knees beside her. Blood gushes from her neck, pooling in a sickening design about her, and without thought he puts his hands to her neck, gripping tightly to try and staunch the flow.
It is the wrong thing to do.
He isn’t aware that he is screaming until the screams stop and his ears burn with the aftermath. Her skin is raw, and his skin is peeling back, blood gushing down his neck as each heartbeat takes them closer and closer to the end, to the place where time is nothing because they’re ultimately nothing. He can’t see, he can’t see, and it isn’t until he’s wrenched away from her body that he realizes anyone else is even in the room.
“Will, Will,” someone urges, and hands pat at his jacket, withdraw his gloves from his pocket. He isn’t aware of the actions though, merely the sensation of what it is to die and die afraid, terrified of the one you love most in the entire world. His breaths choke, are wrenched from him, and it isn’t until gloves are slid onto his shaking hands that he’s able to gain some semblance of control over himself.
He curls into a ball on the floor where he shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and he presses his hands to his eyes as he sobs.
He’s not allowed inside of Abigail Hobbs’ hospital room, so he sits outside. Beside him, Dr. Alana Bloom waits with him, as patient as a tulip bulb in winter.
“You’re not in trouble,” she assures him, not for the first time.
Will says nothing. His throat is hoarse from the screaming.
“Your quick actions saved her life, and no one is going to ignore that. No matter what happens, you saved her life.”
“I felt him die,” Will manages after a prolonged sort of quiet that rubs against his skin wrong. He rubs his neck, studies an ugly black scuff mark on the tiled floor. “I can feel everyone dying inside of this hospital.”
“Do you need your medicine?”
He shakes his head, slumps further in his chair. The medicine quiets things, but it makes him lethargic, too numb to function right. Each blink of his eyelids is a gunshot, each breath a jerk of shoulders as Garrett Jacob Hobbs takes a hit.
“He was a RA, and you did your job,” she says, and Will has to cling to those words. You did your job.
“I did my job,” he says, and there is a bleak, sinister sneer to his lips.
“I know being an empath isn’t easy –I’ll never know what you’re going through,” Alana says kindly. “Just know that you’re supported by everyone on your team, and we’re going to help you through this.”
He wants to snort, to bite back with something snarky, but he can’t bring himself to. No matter what anyone says, from the Seer-empath he shared a room with for all thirteen years of his education to the Feeler-empath he trained with at the academy, Will Graham is utterly and painfully aware of just how not easy it is to be someone like him. Dr. Bloom says it to comfort herself just as much as she’s trying to comfort him. There’s no one in the world like Will Graham, and Will Graham fucking knows it.
Long after Alana leaves, he stands up, shrugs his coat on and heads for the exit, gloves tugged taut over fingertips that still recall the feeling of Abigail Hobbs’ blood.
He’s found a week later at his home in Wolf Trap, blinds closed and dogs roaming restlessly in the front room. He lays sprawled alongside a boat motor, gloves on, and he tinkers with it, fumbling over the feeling of a faulty fan and a piss poor belt.
“I finished the paperwork on the case,” Jack says, sitting down at Will’s desk. He doesn’t ask before he sits, and Will doesn’t offer.
“Despite you not following empath protocol, you’re still in active duty. The director was more than willing to be understanding about an E-3 losing themselves to the sensations and following those rather than the rules. She’s given an informal warning.”
He grunts, puts his shoulder into the turning of a screw, pleased when it loosens and drops into his waiting palm.
“I guess the question is whether or not you want to be back in active duty, Will,” Jack continues when he gets no reply. “No call, no e-mail; you’d might as well have dropped off of the face of the earth. How are you doing out here?”
“Better question is how you’re doing without me,” Will replies, and he won’t look at Jack. He can already sense it in the air, a feeling of need, of words unsaid but wanting to be shared. He doesn’t want to go down that road. It’d been nice to only feel the base, pure needs of the dogs around him that want nothing more than his love. It’s been better therapy than whatever doctor is waiting for him at the bureau to evaluate his psyche, a walnut that cracks under pressure.
“Make no mistake, we need you. I’ve already got another case with your name on it, but that’s nothing if your head’s not in the game.”
Will holds back a smile that’s more of a gritting of teeth. His head’s never been in the game, too lost as it was in the thoughts of another, the ideals of someone just across the room. Jesus, he can’t even look at a person without seeing their heart’s desires, their thoughts laid bare, and Jack thinks he’s at some point been in the saddle, let alone faced the right direction?
“You ever read what it does to a feeler to kill someone, Jack?” he asks.
“I’ve read about it,” Jack says evenly. “I had to pass several courses before I was even considered for my position at the EBAU.”
“They’re both the killer and the killed. It’s in their skin, their cells, their brain; a feeler once dropped dead, heart stopped after they killed someone in self-defense. A thinker has the sensation that they’re the ones being killed, and they can go into a coma. A seer has been said to have visions of their own death in the face of taking another’s life. With me-”
“You got a mix of all three,” Jack finishes for him. “Dr. Bloom said you’re not coping well.”
“I’m not fucking coping at all,” Will retorts. He sounds angry so that he doesn’t sound so god damn afraid. “I’m not…I’m not coping.”
He’s not coping. In his dreams, he’s standing behind Abigail Hobbs, slitting her throat with a devilish hunger and a sadistic smile. When he wakes, he thinks that maybe he should just finish the job after all. He thinks of how his own neck felt, splitting open as hers did, and it quells the thought nicely. Sometimes he wakes and feels as though he’s dead, as though he never were.
“She referred me to a doctor that has worked with empaths and comes highly recommended, Will,” Jack says. “I spoke with him, and he’s willing to talk to you, maybe help with some of the thoughts in your head.”
“No therapists,” Will snaps.
“If you just-”
“Since I was five-years-old I’ve had doctors climbing in and out of my head, Jack,” Will warns him, and he pokes his head out from around the motor to scowl at his pant leg. “No therapists. I’ll come in on Monday.”
Jack wants to argue, and Will glances to his shoulder, noting the tense set of it. This isn’t an easy conversation for Jack any more than it is for Will. Neither one of them share emotions well, let alone conveyed in a way others can wholly understand.
“Thanks for coming,” he adds, to sound congenial. It’s also a dismissal.
“If you’re not in by Monday, I’m sending the doctor to you,” Jack warns.
It’s a fair warning, and Will’s silence shows his compliance. Jack sees himself out, and Will sets his tools down, laying sprawled out beside the motor, chest heaving with the thought of having to go out and look at people after a week of blissful solitude. Buster crawls onto his chest, lays there, and he absentmindedly pets him, still gloved because if there’s one thing he’s learned in this world, it’s that even the pure emotions of a dog against his bare skin is enough to rend his mind in two.
He shows up on Monday because he knows Jack’s threat is real. He’d scrounged through his closet, found his least wrinkled plaid, belt cinched tight because a week of bad eating habits –rather, of no eating habits –has dropped a few pounds off of him. In Jack’s office he accepts a file after he’s signed a form saying that he in no way blames EBAU for what happened, that he takes full responsibility for his actions.
Then he sits in a room with other empaths somewhat like him and listens to them talk.
A Feeler’s gloves ripped at a crime scene and he thought he’d been stabbed, leading to an anxiety attack that took him out of work for a week. Will listens to his bumbling mouth form words, taking them back to that moment, and in their own way everyone in the room is there with him, being stabbed as well. The Seers avoid looking at him, Dreamers try and hear the words and those alone, compartmentalizing their thoughts before they can become nightmares, and Will gnaws on his bottom lip, focusing on the tactile feel of his new gloves, issued to him after he showed Jack the ripped thread. No sense in having what happened to the guy three seats down happen to him. Not after he’d already had his own special blend of breakdowns.
“Agent Graham, you recently returned after something similar,” the director prompts. “Would you like to share?”
Although he doesn’t have to see a doctor, there is a Director of Empath Agents that has full reign of the empath program in the FBI, and he does have to report to her. After a stint like his, there’s a slew of group meetings, sharing, and comforting one another with a special, potent vibe of an organization much like Alcoholics Anonymous, minus the coffee bar in the back. It’s better than a psychoanalysis, though. At least with these, he normally has to just show up and do his time. Most people, other empaths included, give him a wide berth and leave him well enough alone, the way he wants.
Will glances to Director Hansen’s shoes, jaw working furiously. “…I empathize with his struggles,” he says dryly.
Everyone in the group laughs, except for the director.
“This is an exercise meant to make you more comfortable with returning to work. It’s a support system so that you know you’re not alone,” Director Hansen says. She’s not impressed with his joke, and he can feel her displeasure on his skin like muggy Florida humidity. “It’s also a requirement that you participate so that I can sign off and support you back into the field.”
“I’m not feeling well,” he decides, and he stands up, walking out of the room. He’ll get a sign off from someone else later, from someone that isn’t a director of empath agents, someone that’s not in charge of babysitting the lot of them so that some higher-paid neurotypical can keep them all in line and feel good about themselves.
He pauses by the small vending machine, kicks it idly and feeds it a crumpled dollar. He snatches up the bag of trail mix from the bottom, as well as a candy bar long forgotten by someone else, and he paces along a wall displaying the photos of empaths fallen in the line of duty.
Half of them fell due to a potent blend of self-destructive habits and suicide, but they don’t share that part in the FBI tours. He recognizes some of them as the Rogue Agents he aided the FBI in tracking down.
“Lost in your thoughts?” someone asks. Will refuses to look over at them, taking a huge, unsightly bite of the candy bar, a little disappointed that someone abandoned a 100 Grand rather than a 3 Musketeers. Maybe that’s why it was abandoned. No one really enjoyed a 100 Grand candy bar, they simply made due because that’s all that was there.
“I imagine that happens often, given the way a Dreamer thinks.”
Will doesn’t bother to correct him –he’s not a Dreamer, he’s an E-3, something far worse, far less stable than a Dreamer.
“Thoughts lending to a less tasty side of the world, no matter where you point your gaze.”
“I build forts,” he says. The person draws close but leaves a respectable distance, the way everyone does. There are no laws saying you can’t impose on an empath’s personal space, but there’s an unwritten, tacit rule that you just don’t get too close unless you want them knowing your deepest, darkest secrets like it was common knowledge.
“Nightmares rise quickly in your line of work, I’d imagine.”
“So do forts.”
“Forts are not so effective when you incidentally lock the monsters inside, though,” the man says, and Will lets out an unattractive, ugly snort before looking over at him, gaze pinned to his pocket square in a loud shade of yellow. He doesn’t dare look at his face. He doesn’t want to see.
“Are you trying to psychoanalyze me?” he demands, glaring at the offensive color. “Did Director Hansen send you after me? Agent Crawford?”
“Do you feel psychoanalyzed?” the man asks. Out of Will’s peripheral, he sees neatly combed hair in enough shades of blonde to be confusing, a strong jaw and cheekbones sharp enough to cut. His expression is placid, calm in the face of Will’s annoyance.
He takes another bite of the 100 Grand, talks around it in his mouth. “You can ask anyone else here, no one likes to see me psychoanalyzed.”
“You’re speaking as though I should know who you are,” the man says. “I’m merely making conversation.”
“Bull shit,” Will retorts. “Lies are about as easy to see as acne. You know who I am.”
“Can you see my lies?” the man wonders. His clipped, smooth accent dips and lowers as his cadence slows. “If you looked at me now, would you see my lies as a Seer would?”
The taunt is just needling enough that Will glances to his eyes, an easy enough feat when they’re the same height. Eyes reveal all, and Will Graham has seen enough eyes to learn to hate them, resent them for the secrets they hold that he’s never wanted to know. The place the iris meets to the pupil is the ugliest of all because he always feels like he’s falling into them, going to a place where the labyrinth of the mind falls away, leaving him with hands black with tar and a stomach churning from the dark. He always sees a person’s darkness first before he can see the good, and it’s always bad enough, always bleak enough that no matter how much good offsets the evil, he can’t find his way out. He’s trapped, and he can only see the monsters.
How surprising for him, then, when looking into eyes the color of aged blood, he sees nothing at all.
He thinks to look away, eyes watering, but he can’t bring himself to. He’s stunned at the absolute nothing that he sees, the emptiness of a void like there is no person beneath. The man stares back at him, meeting his unsteady, wavering stance with an assurance of someone that knows the thoughts racing through his mind, having probably heard it for a long, long time from many others.
I can’t see him, Will thinks to himself, dazedly. I can’t hear him. It’s like there’s nothing there at all.
“…What are you?” Will says out loud. If the man is offended by the question, he doesn’t show it. He isn’t breaking Will’s dumbfounded, open stare either, staring right back with equal frankness.
“I am Dr. Hannibal Lecter,” he says lightly, extending his hand. “I’d like to have a conversation with you, if at all possible. I think I may be of some help.”
And Will, unable to help himself, spellbound by a face that doesn’t crowd his mind and make the demons crawl inside, reaches out and shakes his hand. He coughs to dispel a pressure building in his chest, something threatening to burst, and he nods dumbly.
“…Alright. Let’s talk.”