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Bread and Music

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"Thank you for your hard work, Will. Here's your payment." Dr Hannibal Lecter hands over the white envelope, the cash encased within. "I will see you again on Thursday?"

"Yes." Will Graham manages a half-smile, just a twitch of his lips. "Thank you, Dr Lecter."

"Are you certain you don't want a drink before you go? I have juice," the doctor asks. 

"Thank you, but no. I don't want to, um. I don't want to dirty your nice floor. Sorry." The seventeen-year-old ducks his head, and stares at his dirty boots, hoping his mortification isn't noticed. The boots are hard-wearing and durable, the only thing he ever felt compelled to save for and purchase. It was not an easy task. His father has an unerring ability to sniff out hidden caches and an even more unerring ability to drink the money dry. The boots are a victory hard-won.

But they are out of place in the calm and severe beauty of Dr Lecter's home. Even from the entryway, Will can see that it is worlds apart from everything Will ever experienced, and he has no desire to scar the lovely hardwood floor or smudge the walls with the grime that clings to him or, heavens forbid, break something priceless.

It's almost a ritual by now: from the first time Will trimmed his yard six weeks ago, Dr Lecter has always offered two drinks, and Will always gives the same response. He would accept, however hesitantly, a glass of fruit juice before he starts, but he never takes the second drink. He arrives, knocks on the front door and sometimes pets the stone lions there, because the things are exotic-looking with their curly manes and bulging eyes, and then goes to the back gate to be let in. The tools he needs are there, in a shed. He never enters the house.

*****

Hannibal watches the young man leave, his sturdy work boots caked with mulch and soil. Will Graham has a wild grace to him, as though he is part animal, and yet he is conscientious, polite, and hardworking. The doctor likes him. He doesn't usually find young people that interesting; many are plain obnoxious, too preoccupied with their peers' opinions and too self-absorbed. 

Will is an anomaly. There is a sadness in his eyes that he hides from the doctor's gaze, and an excess of humility that is not cloying self-pity. He came recommended by Jack Crawford, and for that alone Hannibal had treated Jack and his wife to a lavish dinner.

He does wish that Will would be more accepting of treats, however. The young man is far too thin, and the haggardness of his features is due as much to lack of nourishment as it is to stress.

*****

By the time he gets home, Will's dad is already well into today's bottle. Will sighs and picks up the mess of papers and empty containers, tossing them into their respective boxes. He will need to bring them to the collection point soon.

"You're home," Will's father says quietly. Dave Graham is a tired man, and he knows that his son can tell. "Long day?"

"Not too bad," says Will. If his dad is asking, then this is a good day. He relaxes and makes himself smile at his parent. "How was work?"

"Another boat came in today. New money, doesn't know a shit about caring for their things." Dave lets his head rest against the back of his chair and groans as he gets to his feet. The bottle is placed on the coffee table. "Play something, will ya, while I fix dinner? I caught some trout earlier."

Will puts his bag down in his corner of the house and tries not to think about the white envelope of money in it. "Sure."

For all his faults, Dave Graham does love his son. They both know that Will can't continue living with Dave like this, and Dave wishes he could have been a better man. Still, he thinks he has done one thing right by Will: the salvaged piano that stands battered but in working condition, and the ten music lessons he managed to eke out enough money for. After the ten lessons, Will learns to play through his own perseverance, and it comforts Dave that at least he has given his only son something beautiful.

Will plays from memory. He can't afford music scores. The former school librarian sometimes printed sheet music for him, but she's retired and the new one is brusque and unfriendly. Notebooks are too precious to use for copying music, so he finds, reads and memorizes complex scores in his head out of necessity.

Today he chooses Chopin, and his fingers dance over the yellowed keys. He does not wince at the many sour notes - getting a piano for his fifteenth birthday had been worth fifteen years without presents, and fifteen more besides. Keeping it in tune is beyond his father, and Will does not have the know-how yet. He will learn; a music shop in town has promised to hire Will during the holidays, and take him on as an apprentice if he's up to it. Will knows he is. He's smart, he has perfect pitch, he loves fixing things. At the moment, though, he has to finish schooling.

He hears his father opening boxes and heating up some oil, and then the sharp tang of lemons pierce the air. Soon the small house by the river smells of fried fish, and sings of Mazurka in A minor.

*****

*****

Thursday comes again, and Will turns up at 4 o'clock, precisely on time. The doctor is waiting for him at the front door with a small, apologetic smile on his face.

"Will, thank you for being punctual. I fear I have an unexpected appointment elsewhere," says Dr Lecter. "I will not be able to provide you with more than a bottle of chilled water."

It is disconcerting to Will for the doctor to be this humble, and he mumbles about coming back another day.

Dr Lecter brushes that aside. "Nonsense. You have other commitments. I will of course not deduct today's fee from the agreed amount."

"I-I-I can't accept that, you don't have to," Will stammers. He glances up at the older man and is taken aback by his kind eyes. "It's fine."

"Forgive my bluntness, Will, but you do not need to feel obligated. You need the money." Dr Lecter's voice is very gentle but not condescending.

Will feels his cheeks burn. Of course he does. It's obvious, from his worn-out flannel shirts to his frayed collars to his sagging backpack. The young man averts his face, now wishing that the ground would open up and swallow him home. He tugs at his sleeve and worries at his lips. There is something humiliating about charity, even from a nice man like Dr Lecter.

"If... if you don't mind," he finds himself saying, "I could, um, I could do the yard work and then, erm, let m-myself out afterwards. I understand if you, um. I mean, it's up to you."

"Of course! I should have thought of that," Dr Lecter pulls out his keys and detaches two, shoving them into Will's hand. "This is for the back gate, and this is for the house. Do help yourself to anything in the fridge, Will. You need feeding up. Oh, and if I'm not home by the time you have to leave, you can place the keys behind the stone lion with the ball at the front door."

"I won't need the house key-" Will protests feebly, but the psychiatrist's phone rings and he answers it, striding away to his parked car. He waves at Will with his free hand before he goes into the vehicle, phone still cradled to his ear. The keys feel warm by the time the car rolls out of sight, and Will is still at the front door, his free hand resting on the stone lion's head.

*****

He weeds the yard, and then, feeling a strange sense of intrusion, turns to examine the fenced-off kitchen garden that lies just outside the back doors of the house, where the sun is warmest. He doesn't tend to these; the doctor has told Will that he uses the harvest for his cooking, and prefers to tend to them himself. He can't really picture Dr Lecter as a gardener, given that Will has only ever seen him in three-piece suits in patterns that would have been garish on anyone else. Yet the evidence is in front of his eyes. 

Will is used to wild tangled growths - he picks berries and fungi when he strolls along the river with the feral pack that roams the area - but Dr Lecter is very organized. The older man prefers raised beds, apparently, and Will smiles. Perhaps Dr Lecter doesn't like to bend over or squat in the mud. A quarter of the garden is taken up by a cold frame, and Will can see parsley and lettuce growing happily beneath the glass. The rest of the beds are taken up by tomatoes, eggplants, rhubarb and peppers. Will finds the garden almost charming and rustic, a huge contrast to the sophisticated polish that Dr Lecter exudes. 

He sighs and runs a tender hand over a deeply red tomato, wondering what its name is, and then turns to leave. He makes sure to check no one is watching when he leaves the keys exactly where he was told.

*****

His keys are exactly where Hannibal has told Will to place it. The doctor smiles and presses his fingers to them, wishing he knew how to convince Will to keep a set. He is certain that Will has not entered the house at all, despite the opportunity, and a quick sniff confirms that suspicion.

Hannibal sighs. For once he is at a loss. Perhaps he should speak to Dr du Maurier about this.

*****

*****

There is a pecking order in high school that is difficult to navigate. Being a victim is possibly the worst, because everyone will take it upon themselves to prove he or she is not a victim, and turn on the weakest of the lot. Will Graham manages to skirt that label, and chose to be the social pariah instead. it's easier for him. Self-inflicted isolation is not a problem; Will can always escape into the stream in his head, and listen to the rich fullness of water and wood.

His poverty marked him from the day he walked into the classroom, the new boy at age fifteen. Add to that his social anxiety, his reluctance to make eye contact, the glasses too small for his face, and the most damning factor, his keen intelligence. 

The first week, the bullies had got hold of him. The top dog then was Manny Kralik, who choked Will and took pictures of the new kid drooling as he tried to breathe. The next day, in the middle of homeroom, Will revealed with shocking calm how frequently Kralik wet his bed, and with a few well-chosen words and a steady gaze made Kralik pee his pants right on the spot. When the humiliated Kralik came after him with a switchblade, Will broke Kralik's wrist in less than a minute. Kralik was suspended for bringing a weapon, and Will suspended for hurting his classmate.

When he returned, he had fresh bruises across his back and legs that he hid from everyone. Dave was a firm believer in corporal punishment. Will shied away from attention and the others soon had new entertainment and gossip, more interesting than that weird psycho boy who knows your darkest secrets.

The taunts have never stopped, however, but Will has learned from the days of grade school to shrug off the words. 'Freak' is a popular one, and 'psycho' is of course a crude follow-up. Occasionally he gets 'weirdo'. There are days his locker is vandalized. Sometimes, when the jocks are bored, they shove him about in passing, but they don't really lay their hands on him. They know better, even if they don't like it. As much as Will looks like a harmless mouse, the young man can bite hard.

He keeps to himself. After his stunt with Kralik, no one wants to be his friend. They are scared of him, and Will thinks that in some ways his classmates are not stupid.

*****

*****

He knows Abigail Hobbs by sight. She is plain and pretty, with long dark auburn hair and a sweet smile. Will sometimes sees her and her father trudging into the woods with their hunting gear, and sometimes he knows she sees him with his fishing equipment. They don't talk or even exchange glances, but they are aware of each other's existence. She is a year older than he is but looks younger. In school, if they cross paths, there is a barely-there nod to indicate something, an acknowledgement or recognition, perhaps, like two wild animals carefully negotiating their territories. They never talk to each other. 

On Thursday, he sees her waiting outside the school. She is probably waiting for her father, the way she keeps glancing at her watch. It is getting late and it looks as though it is about to rain. He stares at the clouds, and then at the girl in her simple blue-and-white blouse and jeans and flats, and then looks at his own attire. The rain begins just as he walks up to her.

"Here," he says, unfurling his faded old umbrella and passing it to her. "You need it more."

Before she can say anything, he is running down to the next block, hugging his backpack to his chest.

*****

Will wishes he had a cell phone so he can apologize to Dr Lecter. No, not really apologize - it's not as though Will could control the weather - but to reschedule. As it is, Will runs determinedly towards Dr Lecter's place. It is a forty-five-minute jog, which isn't usually a problem for Will. But the storm is heavier than he estimated and he can barely see the road in front of him.

Oddly enough, it is the damage to his notes that he feels more upset about than his drenched state. He has taken shelter under a few awnings, but as he neared the doctor's neighborhood, shelter is more and more scarce. 

He nearly jumps out of his skin when a car pulls up alongside him. The doctor steps out quickly and he hurries over to Will, his umbrella shielding the boy from the downpour.

"Get in the car," Dr Lecter orders. His tone brooks no argument.

Will is not so proud to reject warmth and help, but he feels distinctly apologetic for ruining the leather seat in the Bentley. He stares at his hands in abject embarrassment, keenly aware that Dr Lecter has turned up the heat and he feels a lot better out of the rain and the cold.

*****

Hannibal cannot believe what he is seeing. The wipers clear his windscreen again and he is certain that Will Graham is very possibly suicidally stupid. The young man is running in the heavy rain with no thought of his own health. There are some passers-by and no one offers shelter. Hannibal tamps down the anger and quickly pulls up just ahead of Will, and wades through ankle-deep puddles to the boy.

He laments the state of his car seat's leather and the state of his shoes, but at least Will is no longer being drenched. He is shivering, however, and Hannibal turns up the heat and drives home as fast as he can.

The boy needs taking care of, and Hannibal decides that serendipity has placed Will in Hannibal's care, at least for the evening. No way is he going to allow Will to leave before the young man is warm, dry and fed.

*****

The doctor does not drive Will home, as the young man half-expected. Instead they stop right outside Dr Lecter's mansion. The psychiatrist exits first and then opens the door for Will, who is clutching his ruined backpack against his chest.

"Th-thank you, Dr Lecter," he says through chattering teeth. "I-I can go home from here, t-take the b-b-bus, if you could, um, lend me an umbrella."

"You are going nowhere in that state," Dr Lecter says. He takes Will by an elbow and steers him to the door. Will can't even muster a protest; he is shivering now, the chill seeming to go through his bones, and when the doctor guides him into his foyer, Will can only follow.

He remembers his footwear. "B-b-b-boots," he manages past clenched teeth. "Floor."

"The floor is unimportant," says Dr Lecter. He wrestles the backpack from Will and ignores the squeak about water and hardwood. The boy is made to sit. Will is so mortified about his state of 'drowned rat' completely ruining the doctor's upholstery that he doesn't realize that Dr Lecter has unlaced his boots and removed his socks. "Stay here."

Will is shivering almost violently. His head aches and he tries to clench down on his chattering teeth. He has a vague sense of being wrapped in something large and fluffy, and then being carried to a couch when his legs refuse to support his weight. Dr Lecter strips him of his sodden flannel shirt and tee shirt, and pauses. Then he passes Will another towel to dry his hair with.

"M-my dad." Will rises and stumbles in the same breath. "My dad. He'll b-b-be w-worried."

Pushing Will inexorably back into the cushions, Dr Lecter ignores his words. "Sit down. Put this on. I'll make something hot for you. How do you take your coffee?"

"Wh-what?"

The older man harrumphs, as though in irritation. "Take off the rest of your clothes while I make something warm for you. The robe and pants should keep you dry enough. Don't worry about your father at the moment, Will, you're the one caught in a thunderstorm and possibly coming down with a fever."

*****

Too many scars litter Will Graham's body. Rage blooms deep inside Hannibal, like ink dropped into a bowl of clear water, even as he starts the coffee maker and pulls out various ingredients for a simple broth.

Those on his thin forearms are easily explained. Self-harm is common, unfortunately, but the scars look old and faded. The cluster of bruises on Will's ribs - protruding almost scarily, and Hannibal forces down more anger - and the many marks of fading bruises and a burn on his back. A brief glimpse is sufficient to burn the image into Hannibal's memory.

He wants to tear the culprit from limb to limb. From the way Will responds to him, Hannibal guesses that it is his father who inflicts such pain.

Are there more? Hannibal wants to find out, but it is not something that he can ask outright. This is Will's first visit. The young man is cold, probably hungry, and maybe overwhelmed. The doctor takes a few calming breaths and then starts his stove.

*****

Will sinks into the couch. He feels miserable and hates himself for placing himself in such a state. He puts on the blue robe left next to him and then, feeling unaccountably nervous, pulls off his jeans. He towels at his legs, feeling the chill dissipate just a tad, but a tremor runs up his spine.

Take off the rest of your clothes. Will feels nervousness kick into his gut and swallows back the fear. His boxers are clinging to him uncomfortably. Yet he does not want the doctor to see his underwear, even if it is sodden from the rain.

"Will, you idiot, he's not going to eat you," he tells himself. Besides, Dr Lecter has provided pants - soft gray drawstring pants - so it isn't as though the doctor is up to something nefarious. He strips with remarkable efficiency, considering how much his hands are shaking, and buries his faded gray boxers into the wet lump of denim. Just as rapidly he pulls on the drawstring pants, and feels awkward in them. They are soft and thin, and slightly too long in the leg. 

Of course they're long in the leg, they're Dr Lecter's.  The reprimand also reminds him that he is, for the first time, in the doctor's home.

He looks around, feeling young and stupid as he takes in the rich jewel tones of the walls, the incredible artwork, and the tasteful elegance that breathes opulence instead of overwhelming someone with it. He does not dare move from the couch where he was placed, and soon Dr Lecter emerges with a tray, balancing a bowl, an actual loaf of bread, and a plain white cup that smelled better than any coffee Will has ever drunk.

"I apologize," says Dr Lecter, his brow creasing faintly as he sets the tray down next to Will. "I didn't want to keep you waiting, so I only made a simple soup, and the bread was from this morning so it is cold. I hope it will suffice. Take the coffee first."

Will drinks a little too fast, but moans with how richly bitter the brew is. "This is fantastic coffee, Dr Lecter. Thank you." Then his cheeks color and adds, "I'm sorry. I just wanted to come and reschedule but, um. The rain became heavier than I expected."

"There was no need to come personally," Dr Lecter admonishes gently. "A phone call would have conveyed your message. I believe I gave you my number?"

"Sorry. Y-yes." Will's hands tighten on the cup. "I... I don't have a cell phone." I don't always have a land line either. Depends on if Dad has paid the bills. He does not say the words aloud. 

The doctor sighs gently and says, "I'll put your clothes into the dryer. Finish your soup, and then call your father to tell him where you are. I'll be in the kitchen."

"I really should-"

"I'd rather you have dinner with me before I drive you home, Will. Allow me that."

"Um, thanks, but there's really no need to-"

"Will." Dr Lecter's tone is firm, his eyes still so very kind. "Drink your soup."

*****

At a time when every teenager seems permanently grafted to a cell phone, Will Graham not having one tells Hannibal a lot more than the young man probably realizes. Hannibal is surprised by the strength of his desire to provide Will with one, and to make sure he doesn't go hungry. 

In case he starts saying something maudlin or overly intimate, Hannibal picks up the sodden clothing to throw them into the dryer. The clothes are faded, patched, and repaired often; Will likes to take care of what is his.

As the machine begins to rumble, Hannibal is suddenly struck with the realization that everything Will is wearing right now belongs to Hannibal. The psychiatrist's knees grow a little weak, and he has to shake his head at his own obsession. He is more than two decades Will's senior, old enough to be his father (and a much better one I'd have been than his own, Hannibal thinks darkly), and he isn't even certain if Will likes him as someone more than a client.

*****

No one answers the phone, so Will assumes his dad is probably passed out again. He is a little put out, but also relieved. It is barely five in the evening, and if his dad has drunk enough to be unconscious, then this is a bad day. Rainy days are usually bad. Will doesn't really know why, but he knows how his father is during and after storms.

Dr Lecter is in the kitchen, and Will feels intimidated enough by the spacious house to want someone nearby. He pads into the kitchen in bare feet. The psychiatrist is stirring something in a pot vigorously and brightens when he sees Will peeking from the entryway.

"Have you contacted your father?" he asks.

"Uh, yeah, he's, um... he says it's okay to have dinner." Will looks down at the floor. It's not really a lie, he tells himself. When he gets back, he'll have to cook dinner if he wants any, and he'll wake his dad if he does. That never ends well. At least if he has dinner here, he can hide in his tiny room when he gets home and not risk waking his father. His dad won't mind. "Sorry. I didn't mean to, um, to put you to any trouble."

Dr Lecter smiles. He looks very charming and professional in an apron, and Will finds himself smiling back hesitantly. "It is as easy to cook for two as it is to cook for one."

"I'd like to help," says Will shyly. The kitchen is all polished steel, industrial yet welcoming. Will tries not to stare at the array of cooking implements and appliances. 

"You're a guest." Dr Lecter tuts at him. Then he looks at Will fidgeting with the sleeves of the bathrobe and relents. "Could you cube that block of cheese? Just eight cubes will do."

Will nods eagerly and shuffles over. Then he remembers that he is wearing Dr Lecter's bathrobe. "Um, I don't want to dirty this..."

"There's a spare apron over there," the doctor says, indicating the location with a jerk of his head. He adds something green to the pot, turns down the heat, and covers it as it simmers. "Here."

Will's face grows hot when the older man whisks the apron around his waist, and then nervous when he helped to fold the sleeves so they will not get in the way. He has forgotten about his scars. The doctor does nothing more than pause when he sees the faded, angry lines along Will's forearms, but Will can sense the displeasure that rolls off of Dr Lecter.

"Sorry. I should've, um. I should've... said something." Will gulps and bites his upper lip.

"Do not apologize, Will," says Dr Lecter, touching Will's cheek with a finger. "Come. I will need the cubes for the salad. Dinner is almost ready."

*****

The rain has washed away most of the sweat that usually clings to Will, and Hannibal takes a discreet sniff when he ties the apron around the young man. Will is earthy and delicate, and Hannibal wishes he was ten years younger. He sternly reminds himself that Will is only seventeen, and he is already forty-one. 

Will sets to his assigned task with care and soon sets the cubes aside. He is then told to shred salad greens into a large serving bowl.

"I do wish I have a better spare apron that that one," says Hannibal, his lips curbing in a tease, "but my friend thought I needed to be less formal in the kitchen. It hasn't worked, alas."

Will glances down and then grins broadly. The apron is emblazoned with the words 'Kiss The Cook!' and a set of lips  is placed suggestively where the chef's crotch would be.

"Quite a cliched gag gift, isn't it?" Will remarks, not really heedful of the placement. He is focused on the work Hannibal has given him. 

The doctor sighs inwardly. At the very least, he has the memory of this: a smiling Will Graham, in his clothes, in his kitchen.

*****

"I wasn't expecting company," Dr Lecter admits, "so the fare today is rather plain. Here."

He guides Will to a chair at a large dining table, on which is an extravagant centerpiece of tropical fruit and chrysanthemums. Will is feeling out of his depth - he feels as though he's falling into the Mariana Trench. So overwhelmed by the immense dining room, he doesn't notice the dinner until it is placed in front of him.

"You were lucky I had to rush out to get an ingredient I forgot, otherwise you'd have had to trudge even longer in the rain. As it is, I don't think you'll come down with anything." Dr Lecter adds a serving of salad with the cheese that Will cubed. "I hope you like rabbit."

"I'm not picky," says Will. He risks a quick smile. "Can't afford to be. "

There is that odd disapproval again, and Will shrinks into himself. He has embarrassed himself in front of the doctor already, what with the drenching, and now he has to stick his foot in his mouth. 

"Sorry. I mean, I do like it."

Dr Lecter sighs. "Will, don't apologize for something that is not your fault."

"Sorry." Will is mortified by his apologies now and clenches his fists, his nails cutting into his palms. He swallows dryly and then starts on dinner, not wanting to see the pity in the doctor's kind eyes. The first few mouthfuls are gulped down too fast, but then his tastebuds prompt him to say, "This is delicious!"

"Thank you," says Dr Lecter, a glimmer of genuine pleasure shining from his eyes. "I do enjoy cooking for appreciative appetites. If you want more, please help yourself. I prefer not to have to deal with leftovers."

Will knows the doctor is trying to salvage Will's pride and he is grateful for it. It sounds so much better if he's helping the doctor clear off food he does not need. Dr Lecter is watching him, and Will flushes without quite knowing why. To compensate, he drinks the water a little too quickly and has to cough to clear his throat.

"Thank you," the boy finally says, and finishes his dinner. He has second helpings.

*****

Dr Lecter sends Will home. While Will is not materialistic, he is terribly conscious about the tiny house he lives in. Compared to the grand mansion that the doctor resides in, Will knows his place is like a hovel. No lights are on but Will is welcomed by five furry bodies, flinging themselves at him.

"Are these your dogs?" asks Dr Lecter, staying out of the way of happy canines.

"No, they're feral," says Will, smiling widely. At least something misses him. "I sometimes save scraps for them, and when I go for walks they come with me. I think they consider me part of their pack."

Dr Lecter looks around, taking in the squalor. Will tries not to mind. "Your father doesn't seem to be home, Will."

"He's probably asleep," says the young man. He bobs his head at Dr Lecter and says, very sincerely, "Thank you for your hospitality, Dr Lecter. I'm sorry about ruining your couch and, um, muddying your floor."

"Don't apologize, Will. It was more important to get you dry." The doctor waits until Will has gone up to his door. "I'll see you next Thursday then. Stay for dinner."

He drives off before Will can find a reason to protest.

*****

The conditions Will lives in are appalling. There are broken-down boat motors and a beat-up old car; the external paint on the walls is clearly peeling and Hannibal is half-convinced the entire structure will cave in on Will.

Yet Hannibal can't shake the image of Will smiling at the flea-bitten dogs , smiling as though he does not have a single care in the world. It was breathtaking. The psychiatrist did hold his breath then, afraid to startle the young man out of his joy.

I will give anything to have you smile at me like that, Hannibal's mind whispered, and the doctor forces the thought away. Twenty-four years is far too large an obstacle to surmount, and Hannibal does not like getting his hopes up.

Still, later that evening, he places Will's joyful expression in a crystal globe and decants his scent into a tiny perfume bottle in his memory palace, and sets both in the sunlit greenhouse wild with flowers and herbs. 

*****

On Friday, Abigail returns his umbrella with a thank-you note taped to the handle. He would have found it charming but he, like all the other students, are preoccupied with the news that a sophomore, Cassie Boyle, has been murdered. Rumors fly thick and fast, but Will wonders who Cassie was and what she looks like now. The school holds a special assembly.

The principal drones on about being safe and staying in groups; Will snorts and hunches his shoulders. He thinks about using his meager savings to get new notebooks; all of his are waterlogged and even after drying, nothing is salvageable. But that is not the main issue he thinks about.

For once his belly isn't rumbling with discontent and emptiness. He had eaten very well at Dr Lecter's, and slept very well also. This morning he told his father that the doctor wants him to stay for dinner every Thursday.

"Eh? What's he want?" Dave Graham asked.

That has bothered Will the entire day. By the time the students are dismissed, Will can't remember anything the teachers have said, and he is already jogging towards Dr Lecter's place before he realizes it.

Will the doctor be in? Will doesn't know. He knows there is a likelihood that Dr Lecter is out at his office and that he may have to wait on the stoop, but he has to know before the end of the day.

His father's question nags at him. Will sits next to one of the lions and leans against it. His left hand starts scrubbing absently over the coils of the stone mane, as though it was a dog, and settles in to wait.

*****

Hannibal is half-convinced he is dreaming. Why is Will Graham on his front step? Is Will waiting for him?

In repose, the young man's stress lines are less obvious, but the tension in his brow and jaw does not fade. His hands are lax, open on his lap, and Hannibal wishes he can pick them up and kiss the center of each palm. He settles for watching Will sleep, observing the slow rise and fall of the thin chest. 

It is probably two or three minutes before Hannibal reaches out to touch Will's shoulder.

*****

Will wakes up to Dr Lecter shaking his shoulder. "Will, have you been waiting long?"

The young man blinks and then bolts to his feet, almost bowling the doctor over. He hastily grabs Dr Lecter's arm and keeps him from toppling over. To Will's shock, it is already late in the evening and he will have to rush home if he doesn't want to be walking in the dark.

"I'm sorry," he blurts out, and then backpedaled. Dr Lecter doesn't like him apologizing. "I mean, I-I didn't mean to, um, fall asleep. I was waiting for you."

"That much is obvious," says Dr Lecter with a small smile. "Come in."

"Um, I-I should be going home. I just wanted to, uh..." Will fidgets. "Um. Thank you, for last night."

"You've already thanked me, Will."

"And..." Will inhales deeply and makes himself look at the older man. Eye contact makes him uncomfortable, but he doesn't want to be rude. "I-I can't stay. For dinner. On Thursday. I am, um. I'm really sorry. My dad..." he trails off, not sure how he can phrase his dad's doubt

The disappointment doesn't really show in Dr Lecter's face as it does in his eyes. He nods minutely and says, "Well, I appreciate you coming here to tell me that. Now I should send you home."

Will's eyes widened. His cheeks pinked. "There's no need, sir, I can take the bus."

"Nonsense. I have a car, and it will be really late if you take the bus. Come on." Dr Lecter then smiles, showing some teeth this time. "You were raised in the south?"

"Hmm?" Will is still thinking of reasons to not have Dr Lecter drive his Bentley to his neck of the woods.

"You addressed me as 'sir'. That's not common around here," says the doctor. His hand lands between Will's shoulder blades and gently propels him towards the gleaming car. 

Will licks his lips. A comfortable car versus a hot bus, and a long trek up a dark path. He swallows his pride. "We lived for some time in Louisiana. Dad liked it."

"So why come north? Maryland is vastly different in climate."

"I dunno. Dad never talks about it."

The car purrs into life and Will takes the time to appreciate the interior. The seats are buttery soft leather, and Will runs his palms over his seat, grimacing when he recalls how his sodden state yesterday probably damaged it. He glances sidelong at the doctor who is handling the car like it is an extension of himself.

"I don't wish to be rude," says Dr Lecter, "but how do you manage, traveling to and from school?"

Will shrugs. "I wake at four, take the earliest bus, and wait for the school to open. After school I do some odd jobs - yard work at the moment - for an hour or two before I head home."

"And your meals?"

"Whatever we catch or buy prepackaged." Will shuffles his boots against the carpeting. "Please don't judge."

The doctor sighs. "You're still growing. This isn't healthy."

"My dad's doing what he can."

Dr Lecter looks over at the teenager. "I didn't say anything against him."

"It was implied," says Will, suddenly angry and upset. He pushes away the emotions. "I don't want to talk about it. Please."

The psychiatrist turns onto the freeway and they sit in tense silence. Will tugs at his sleeve. He hates everything about his shabby clothes, his dirty and sturdy boots, his backpack. He hates that he has to rewrite all of his notes from memory, that his locker is vandalized so often that he can't leave anything inside, that he has to use part of his savings to buy something as stupid as notepaper just because he chose to be chivalrous. The resentment builds and gnaws at him, and he chokes down the sob that almost bursts from his throat.

He doesn't hide the sound well enough. Dr Lecter takes one glance and then pulls out of the freeway and slows to a stop in an open-air parking lot of a Walmart. It is a dark part of the lot and Will is grateful for the shelter of the shadows; if the doctor had parked near the entrance, Will knows he will have to quit working for Dr Lecter. He wouldn't be able to swallow the shame. He buries his face in his hands and hunches over his knees. He can feel the tears and he does not want to cry, not in front of this man who has been so kind to him. 

"Will?" The doctor sounds concerned. "Will, was it what I said? I'm sorry, I meant no disrespect-"

"No, no it's not you," says Will, his voice thick with suppressed emotion that is trying to claw out from his chest. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get... um. I don't. I don't want... I can't. Just - just let me, um, let me. I'll be okay. I will. I just. Need some time. Please. I'm sorry."

He feels the doctor's hesitation, and then he feels a firm hand petting him awkwardly on his head. Will almost laughs. It is as though the doctor is trying to soothe a wounded animal and isn't certain how to proceed. Will supposes that the older man isn't wrong. 

"You don't have to be okay, Will. It's all right to not feel okay." Dr Lecter's hand pauses on the back of Will's neck. He then asks, very quietly, "Do you want me here right now?"

Will's breath catches. After an intense internal struggle, he nods tightly. He doesn't trust himself to speak. The doctor resumes stroking Will's hair until the young man gets a hold of himself and straightens from his fetal curl. "Sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to... to worry you."

"Someone should be," says the doctor gravely. He does not start the car. "Please allow me to help."

Will shakes his head vehemently. "I can manage."

"You are hardly more than a child yourself," says Dr Lecter, "and you push yourself too much and don't take care of yourself enough. What kind of doctor am I to ignore such distress?"

"The kind that's not mine," Will snaps, injured pride retaliating with its fangs bared.

Hurt flashes over the doctor's gaze, but he presses on. "Will, all I ask is for you to allow yourself to have a good meal at least once a day. You can come to my place to study, and have dinner, and I can drive you home every night."

"No. I don't want charity, Dr Lecter," Will says. He hates the word, feels it burn like acid on his tongue.

"It is not charity, it is concern." Dr Lecter steels his features. "If you will not listen to reason, then perhaps I can convince your father."

Will does not want his father to meet Dr Lecter. They are as different as a pebble and the sun. His father would become furious that someone else is prying, and he would drink more, and it's never clear whether Dave Graham is in a good mood when he reaches the bottom of a bottle.

"Please don't," Will begs, but Dr Lecter does not answer at all.

*****

Will clings to his pride like it is his only possession, and Hannibal wants to tear apart the man that made Will so frightened and resentful of accepting aid. His fingers are taut on the wheel and he drives a touch too fast, but Will is hurting beside him and refusing much-needed help.

Hannibal has known poverty and starvation. He knows in such extremes how far a person will resist bending, just because to bend means to break. Hannibal has no such desire; he wants Will to flourish, away from this squalor and ugliness. Will appreciates beauty, that much is certain. His continual refusal to enter Hannibal's home just because his boots are for outdoor tramping has told Hannibal much. He also has seen Will marveling at the opulence of his home, his gaze falling on the places where Hannibal spent much of his time on. Will's senses of the aesthetic are keen; burying them beneath all this dirt is a waste of potential.

He wants to see Will well-fed, the hollows of his cheeks filled out; he wants to see Will in comfortable and stylish clothes; he wants to see Will learn to appreciate haute cuisine and fine wine. He wants Will to play with a pack of dogs that are his own, not feral mongrels with various diseases. He wants Will to be free to read everything in Hannibal's library and to ask Hannibal anything.

The desire to see someone else happy is unfamiliar to Hannibal, and he turns sharply down the path towards Will's house. He is not usually bothered by other people's emotions, but unassuming, unappreciated, underfed Will Graham has somehow captured his heart and his mind.

Hannibal grits his teeth. He needs time.

*****

The lights are not on. There are no dogs to welcome Will. 

The silence makes Will nervous. He shifts his backpack and walks towards the screen door. Dr Lecter has turned off his engine and is following him. Will prays that his father is not at home. He does not want his father to get agitated. The last time, his dad threatened to burn the piano, though afterwards he tells Will he didn't mean it.

"Dad?" he calls out tremulously. The doors aren't locked. There isn't anything to steal, not really, other than a few empty cans and bottles, but Dave Graham always locks it. "Dad, I'm home. Sorry I'm so late."

He senses the shape hurling itself at him and turns just in time. A knife swings past him, nicking his cheek.

"Dr Lecter run!" Will shouts, and then someone grabs him from behind.

The knife is at his throat and he hears the attacker shouting. Will struggles, unwilling to submit. He can't hear what the man is yelling and the knife is too close, flashing on his peripheral vision.

Dr Lecter is at the doorway, his form broad and imposing. "Let Will go."

"Oh no," snarls the attacker. "No, he'll steal her. He and all of them, they want her to leave me."

Will has no idea what the crazed man is muttering about. The knife is too close; Will feels trapped and panic surges in his veins. He suddenly bites down on the arm holding him, using all his strength, sinking his teeth down as far as they could go. 

The man yowls and shoves Will away on instinct. Dr Lecter catches him and then shields him when the attacker barrels at them.

*****

Hannibal can recognize that something is off, and discreetly pulls on his leather gloves. Will goes into the house before Hannibal can warn him, and then he hears Will shouting for him to run. Hannibal Lecter strides through the doorway instead, obstructing the escape route.

"How dare you! How dare you try to steal her from me!" The attacker is an average-sized man, thinning hair and crazed eyes. His knife is perilously close to Will's face but Will is fighting back beautifully, a snarling, snapping beast, keeping the blade from his throat.

"Let Will go," Hannibal orders. Rage settles cold along his arms and shoulders when he sees the thin trail of blood on Will's face. Hannibal growls.

"Oh no," the man says viciously, "no, he'll steal her, he and all of them. They want her to leave me." 

Hannibal is about to pounce when Will's teeth flashes and sinks into the attacker's arm. With a howl, the wild man tries to pull his arm away and pushes Will towards Hannibal. The doctor catches him just when he notices the attacker lunge forward.

The blade slices past his shoulder, nearly impaling Will below him. Hannibal roars and whirls around, his hand gripping the other man's wrist, twisting it until the knife fell, the wrist broke, and the doctor hears a satisfying scream uncurl from the man's throat. He smashes the man's nose with a knee and slams him into the floor, straddling his chest to pin him. Hannibal unleashes his rage and punches the man, again and again, each crack of cartilage and bone a payment for hurting Will Graham.

"Dr Lecter!" 

The anguished cry pulls Hannibal back from his ice-cold fury. Will is shaking, kneeling where Hannibal left him sprawled earlier, and he is staring, wide-eyed and horrified at the carnage Hannibal is inflicting. The sight of Will frightened of him sobers Hannibal instantly. The attacker is unconscious, possibly dying; Hannibal did not check his strength earlier, and he doesn't care about this mad man.

"Will, hush, it's okay, I'm here," Hannibal says, getting to his feet and returning to the shell-shocked young man. Impulsively he caresses Will's cheek with its trail of blood, the blood on his gloved knuckles smearing over Will. "Hush, it's okay, it's safe now."

They stand, and Will eyes the knife with a shudder. "Where's my dad?"

*****

Jack Crawford comes along once the local police force is certain the FBI isn't there to steal their case. He spies Hannibal standing to one side, giving his statement; Will Graham is leaning on Hannibal's Bentley, a shock blanket draped over his thin shoulders.

"I heard that you just almost killed a man in self-defense," Jack says without preamble once the officer is finished.

Hannibal works his jaw. "Not precisely self-defense," he says, glancing at Will behind Jack. "The man came at Will with a knife. I had to protect him."

"Who is he?" Jack asks. "He was here for Will?"

"Yes," Will Graham answers unexpectedly. He pulls the blanket around him tightly. 

Hannibal pulls Jack aside, further from Will. "I looked around. Jack, that man slaughtered Will's father."

"You looked- Dr Lecter, you contaminated a crime scene. You know better than that!" Jack barely bothers to keep his voice low. Some of the police officers glance their way.

"It was either me or Will looking. I didn't want him traumatized." Hannibal turns again to observe the young man huddled against the car. Will looks very young then, and lost. "They took his statement, they processed him for evidence, and now they want him at the station, answering more questions. Jack, help me call these vultures off for a night. Let the boy rest; he needs it."

Jack considers. There is something about Hannibal Lecter at that moment that Jack has never seen before, a kind of vulnerability. He looks between Hannibal and Will, and then he understood. He leans in and murmurs, "Hannibal, he is only seventeen."

Hannibal's face twists at the implied accusation. "I'm aware of that," he sputters, as near to losing his temper with Jack as he has ever been. "I am not one to take advantage. But he needs a friend now, and I have guest rooms."

"I apologize. I meant no discourtesy." Jack inclines his head. He goes to the detective in charge and talks to her quietly, all the while keeping an eye on Hannibal and Will. The two converse, neither of them impinging on the other's personal space. The detective finally agrees, though her reluctance shows.

*****

Hannibal does not talk with Will until they are safely ensconced in the doctor's house. Even then, Hannibal mainly talks at Will, guiding him to the guest room and showing him the guest shower. Will thanks him quietly.

The doctor scrounges up some casual wear from the depths of his extensive closet. He will have to take Will shopping tomorrow, he thinks with something nearing giddiness, and he will get to feed Will up with healthy, nutritious food, see that potential grow into being. He takes the clothes to the guest room and almost has a heart attack when he opens the door. 

Will is already stretched out on the bed, face down atop the covers, and he does not have a stitch on. Hannibal places his clothes on the dresser and looks around for Will's dirty laundry; he finds them stuffed into the trash. Unsure if the young man meant to discard them, Hannibal decides to leave the dirty clothes where they are.

He pulls out a spare blanket to cover Will with. The young man stirs and sits up, uncaring of his nudity. His eyes are wet, his lashes glistening with tears. Will whispers, "All I did was lend her an umbrella."

Hannibal blinks. He gestures for Will to slide in under the sheets, and the young man obeys. Hannibal sits on the edge of the bed and brushes damp hair from Will's brow. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I don't know." Will covers his eyes with the back of his hands and a wrecked sob escapes him. Words spill out of him, careless and confused. "I don't understand. All I did was lend her an umbrella, and now my dad is dead. I don't... I don't. God, I don't understand. Is this punishment for a single day of not being hungry? Of being warm, of being cared for? I don't - was it me? Because I hated my dad for everything I didn't have? I loved my dad, it was only for a day, I don't understand-"

Curling to his side, his face buried into Hannibal's thigh, Will weeps as the words tumble out and the doctor lets him. Better to let the river run than to dam it all behind a stoic mask. The young man cried until his voice gave out. Hannibal pets him on the head and waits until the crying is less wretched before he pulls away slightly to look at Will.

"No one understands, Will, but none of this is your fault," says Hannibal as gently as he could. He brushes the stickiness of tears from Will's face. "If I had come home earlier, you might be dead. As it is, you are not, and I am selfishly glad that you are still a part of this world. I'm sorry for your loss; I wish there is something I can do to make up for it."

Will sniffs and tries to smile, but it comes across as a grimace. "Th-thank you. And sorry for, um, getting snot and tears all over your pajamas."

"I've had worse stuff in surgery," says Hannibal, and risks cupping Will's cheek. "Good night. Do try to rest."

"Can you-" Will catches himself and shakes his head. "Good night."

Hannibal cocks his head. "What is it you want, Will?"

He sees Will hesitate, but his heart warms when the young man finally whispers, "Please sit here until I'm asleep, if that isn't too much bother for you."