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"You said that Alphas frequently have a problem with you. Why is that?"

"Can't you tell?" Will ran his fingers along the spines of the books. Dr. Lecter had a surprising number of true crime and unsolved mysteries: Jack the Ripper; In Cold Blood; The Money Changers. "I'm too small. Too sensitive. Too empathetic." He spat out the last word, but the vitriol was not his own; it was from the mouths of all the Alphas who'd ever lashed him with fists and tongues, burrowed deep until it formed a crater of resentment.

"They bully you," Dr. Lecter's voice floated up from below. Will couldn't see him. He was safe up here on the loft level of Dr. Lecter's ridiculous office, freed from the burden of eye contact and away from the chairs where the real "work" would be done. Dr. Lecter had not spoken up, when Will laid his hand on the polished wood of the loft ladder, and still had not remarked on it. Will was very conscious that he saw it and drew conclusions from it; that it would doubtless end up in his file.

"They try. Sometimes they succeed." Will flattened his hand against the books and sighed.

"Does Jack bully you?"

Jack Crawford was the quintessential Alpha: loud-voiced, authoritative, assertive to the point of aggression. Most people in leadership positions were Alphas. Almost every serial killer was an Alpha, too. Some were Betas. The occasional Omega serial killer was an anomaly, usually driven by malformed feelings of nurturing and secretive in their methods of killing: poisoners, angels of death, black widows. Will had yet to profile one.

"He can be quite forceful," Dr. Lecter said, when Will did not reply. "He was not so with me, when he asked me to profile you. But I am an Omega, so he was more diplomatic."

"He wasn't with me either," Will said. "He didn't need to be," he added, more quietly.

"Because he knew you would bend, not fight."

"Yeah." Will pushed his glasses further up his nose. He did not turn away from the shelves. There were not just books, up here: there were also replicas of famous Italian sculptures, their fleshy curves all the more remarkable for being cast out of bronze; prints of old medical manuals, now quaint curiosities; and patient files in gray folders, ordered according to some arcane system. Will was careful not to touch those. He didn't even look at them. "That's why Alphas usually don't get along with me. I disgust them."

"But you do not disgust Jack."

"Because Jack knows he can use me. I'm useful." Will let one half of his mouth crook up as he touched the elbow of one of the bronze replicas, a young woman with her arms thrown up as if to ward off some unseen attacker..

"It must be difficult for you, possessing the empathy that you do, and being an Alpha," Dr. Lecter said, quietly. "You can assume anyone's point of view: mine, or Jack's, or--"

"Or the Minnesota Shrike," Will mumbled.

"Or the Minnesota Shrike," Dr. Lecter agreed. "It is not a comfortable gift for anyone, much less an Alpha, who is expected to perform to certain societal standards. Betas will not object to it, but--"

"But Alphas do," said Will. "And Omegas." He turned around at last and peered over the railing at Dr. Lecter, who was leaning against his desk with his face upturned, not minding in the least that his ostensible patient had spent the first half of their session twenty feet above his head, putting his hands all over things that didn't belong to him. But what Omega would dare to tell an Alpha what to do? "But you don't mind."

"I am a psychiatrist," said Dr. Lecter. "And before that, a surgeon. I have seen a great deal of human nature, and if there is one thing I have learned in all that time, it is that standards are constructions, and ultimately meaningless. We are not ruled by instincts or hormones. We rise above them. That is what it means to be human."

"You're not a typical Omega, either," Will pointed out. "Surgeon...psychiatrist…" Tall. Broad. He had at least thirty pounds on Will. Any Beta who saw them would assume their position reversed; and any Alpha or Omega who passed by them on the street would do a double take, and walk away still craning their gazes over their shoulders.

"As I said," Dr. Lecter replied, mildly.

Will leaned against the rail. The floor seemed far away, and his stomach flipped. "Do you treat a lot of Alphas?"

"No. They generally dislike it."

"And you agreed to see me because Jack insisted on it?"

"I was curious," Dr. Lecter admitted. He clasped his hands in front of him. "I had heard a great deal about you."

Will winced, his lips flattening.

"I have no interest in papers, nor in trotting you out in front of my colleagues," Dr. Lecter said, quickly. "What you have is a gift, not a party trick to be taken lightly."

"It's not a gift at all." Will braced himself with both hands against the railing and looked straight ahead. "It's like...it's like, fuck, I don't know, it's like having a chair made of antlers. Grotesque, but useful."

"Your gift can reflect the best of you, and not the worst of someone else," said Dr. Lecter. "But Jack sends you to dark places. What you need is a light, to see you home."

Will's lips twitched. He looked down at Dr. Lecter. "Are you proposing yourself as my light?"

Dr. Lecter picked up a piece of paper from his desk. It was cream-colored and obviously very nice stock. Will could not make out much except a letterhead and a dark scrawl at the bottom that must have been Dr. Lecter's signature. "This is your psychological evaluation," said Dr. Lecter. "You're totally functional, and more or less sane. Well done."

Will blinked. "Did you just rubber-stamp me?"

Dr. Lecter smiled as he replaced the paper, nudging it to be sure its edges aligned with the edge of the desk. "Now Jack Crawford may lay his weary head to rest knowing he didn't break you, and our conversation can proceed unobstructed by paperwork."

The tight muscles in Will's back unwound like snowmelt. He stepped back from the railing, so that Dr. Lecter could no longer see him, but he no longer felt hunted. He thought he might sit down after all.

-----

He had one missed call from Alana Bloom, and another three from Dr. Lecter. And one voice mail, also from Dr. Lecter.

"Are you all right, Will? Please return this call at your earliest convenience."

"Shit." Will took a deep breath, held it for four, and let it out in seven, something Dr. Lecter had taught him. The tension in his back and stomach eased. He glanced at his clock. It was seven-thirty; surely that wasn't too early? Waiting another half hour would probably be polite, but he wasn't sure he could take this churning in his guts for thirty minutes. He made the call sitting on the edge of his bed, still in his t-shirt and boxers, his hair and face still greasy from sleep.

Dr. Lecter answered on the second ring. "Will?"

"Hi." Will grimaced and blew out his breath. "Sorry, I was on this case, and I forgot my charger, and--"

"It's all right, Will. I was afraid that something had happened, but Jack assured me that that was not the case."

Will scrubbed his damp palm against his shirt. "No, no, it was just--kind of an intense couple of days, and yeah, I forgot my charger and then when I got home I just went straight to bed without plugging in my phone or anything. Sorry. What was it that you called me about?"

"I wanted to invite you to dinner." A delicate pause. "With Abigail and myself."

"Abigail?" Will's eyebrows hitched up his forehead. "Is that why I have a missed call from Alana?"

"Yes. She objected strenuously, but ended up taking the setting that had been meant for you. It was...a little awkward, but nothing that could not be overcome."

Will grinned. It felt awkward and childish on his face, but no one was there to see it. "I'm sorry I missed it."

"As am I. I'm afraid there will not be another opportunity like it for quite some time."

"It didn't go well, huh?"

"I wouldn't say that it went poorly, but no, it did not go as well as I would have liked."

They lapsed into a silence that did not attack Will or belittle him for his shortcomings. His silences with Dr. Lecter were often like this. "Do you want me to come over tonight?" Will asked, suddenly. "For dinner. And you can, you can tell me about Abigail, and how it went."

"You're always welcome."

"Okay, I." Will thought for a moment, twisting the charger's cord around his finger and letting it spring loose again. He didn't have class today, but he needed to go to Quantico and fill out a mountain of paperwork about the Lost Boys. "Um, what time?"

"I usually serve dinner at eight. Does that agree with you? You may come earlier, if you wish; my schedule today is flexible."

"Eight is fine." Will scratched under his collar. "What should I bring?"

"Nothing but yourself. Adieu, Will."

Will stopped at BevMo on the way there and picked a $40 bottle of Pinot Noir with a high Wilfred Wong score. Dr. Lecter was surprised to see it, which prickled Will a little. Did he think he was some kind of cow who'd show up to someone's house for dinner empty handed? But Dr. Lecter thanked him graciously, once again reassured Will that there'd been no need to bring anything, and directed Will to the dining room. He was dressed down, or his version of it, which was no jacket and no tie or waistcoat, and his sleeves rolled up.

It was Will's first time at the Lecter house, and he was not surprised that it was just as overwrought and imposing as his office. The same kind of stone edifice and high ceilings, the same Gothic interior decor, all deep, saturated colors, taxidermied animal heads, and 19th century art. The dining room was cobalt blue, with French doors opening out onto a side yard, through which Will could glimpse spruce trees and a neatly manicured lawn. One side of the dining room was a veritable jungle of potted plants, some of which Will recognized as herbs: basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro.

Did he live in this huge place alone? Will thought he could feel the echoes of the place right down to the soles of his feet.

"Something smells good," Will remarked.

"Thank you," Dr. Lecter said with a smile. "How do you take your coffee?"

Will blinked. "Uh, two sugars. No milk."

"Please, make yourself at home, and I'll bring you your beverage."

He disappeared into what was presumably the kitchen, and Will took a moment to eye the table settings, which were adjacent to one another: Dr. Lecter at the head of the table, and Will at his right hand. Only one fork, he was relieved to see, and one spoon and one knife. Cloth napkins. Will fished his napkin out from under his cutlery and placed it in his lap. No wine glasses, but a pitcher of orange juice, and two juice glasses. And Dr. Lecter had just asked him how he took his coffee.

Dr. Lecter returned with two small glass mugs of dark, steaming liquid. "Coffee, two sugars," he said, placing one in front of Will. "Dinner is just about ready." He vanished again.

When he reappeared, it was bearing one white plate in each hand. He placed Will's first, then his own, and seated himself.

Will stared at his plate. It was dominated by a veritable small mountain of bread, in the center of which was a perfectly cooked egg, the yolk bright yellow and begging to be pierced by the tines of his fork. But what had him riveted was the fat, pale sausage, peppered with dark flecks. The familiar smell brought with it the musty, sweaty interior of his father's truck; gas station fumes; the whine of mosquitos in the hot, muggy air.

"Is this a boudin blanc?" he asked.

Dr. Lecter smiled. "Yes; in the Louisiana style, not the French. I thought you might like a taste of home."

"I haven't had one of these since I left," Will said, picking up his fork. He didn't dare take his eyes away from the food.

"I made it myself; you'll be able to tell me if the recipe was good." Dr. Lecter picked up his knife and fork. "Bon appétit."

"Bon appétit," Will said, automatically, and picked up his knife. He looked at himself, about to cut into a sausage with a fork and a steak knife, and laughed. "I don't think I've ever eaten one of these with a knife and fork."

Dr. Lecter paused in the act of cutting into his sausage. He gave Will a curious look. "How do you eat one, then?"

Will wished he hadn't brought it up. It'd been a foolish statement brought on by a sudden fever of nostalgia. "Never mind, I mean--"

"How one eats is as important for accessing the culture as what one eats," Dr. Lecter said. "Tell me, how does a Louisianan eat a boudin blanc?"

"Well, uh." Will cleared his throat. "I mean, bear in mind that this is, like, gas station food, and usually it's been sitting in a crockpot for hours. So the casing's all tough and rubbery, and so you pick it up and you...squeeze the filling out."

Dr. Lecter's eyebrows lifted. "You only eat the filling?"

"Yeah." Will cut his sausage in half. He could see grains of rice, flecks of herbs and spices, and pinkish bits of meat and offal. His mouth watered.

"Then you don't eat the casing at all?"

"Well, like I said, it's usually not very good after sitting in a crock pot for four hours. And usually they give it to you in, like, a napkin or a paper boat or something, so all you have to eat it with is your hands anyway."

Dr. Lecter looked at how Will had cut his sausage in half and, with precise and deliberate movements, did the same. Then he picked up half of the sausage and squeezed. Rice and offal bulged out, and Hannibal tipped it into his mouth with a flash of pink tongue. He chewed with a contemplative expression.

Will realized he was staring and jerked his eyes back to his plate. He picked up one of his half-sausages, gave it a squeeze, and caught the filling in his mouth. All his self-consciousness evaporated as soon as the sausage hit his tongue: pork and rice and pepper, overlaid with memories of his shirt sticking to his sweaty back; arguing with the other men about which place had the best boudin blanc; driving home after a long night on the beat, humming along to the radio with a greasy bag on his dashboard.

"How is it?" Dr. Lecter asked.

"It's amazing," Will said, not caring that he was talking with his mouth full. "Ohm'god." He used his teeth to scrape out another bite. He wanted to savor it, but he also wanted it all in his face, immediately.

"This is much the same meal that Abigail, Alana, and I had last night," said Dr. Lecter. "Though there were different sausages last night, ones I thought they were more likely to appreciate."

Will left the little clump of gray casing on his plate and went after the other half-sausage. "Why?"

"Sausage and eggs were the last meal she and her family were preparing together when her father attacked them," Dr. Lecter replied. "They were having breakfast."

Will's appetite drained out of him, but he forced himself to squeeze more filling out and eat it anyway. His mouth was dry and made it difficult to swallow. "So you wanted to, to…"

"I wished to replace bad memories with new," said Dr. Lecter. "Bad associations with good."

"Did it work?"

"She was very anxious. Alana arrived later in a towering rage, as you may well imagine. And you did not return my calls. So, no, it did not go as I had envisioned, but we made it through dinner, and Abigail remarked, at one point, that she saw family around the table." Dr. Lecter had finished his sausage. His fingers were shiny and greasy, as were his lips.

Will wiped his fingers on the napkin in his lap and picked up his knife and fork to attack the bread-object on his plate. The egg was cold and beginning to congeal, but he speared the yolk with his fork and watched it run. "And how does that make you feel?" he asked, wickedly gleeful to be able to turn the tables on his therapist for once.

"Glad," Dr. Lecter replied without resentment. "I feel a shocking amount of responsibility for her, as you know. If we cannot undo her past, we may at least provide for her a new future."

We, Will thought, sawing into his bread. It was crunchy and almost burned on the bottom, and it shattered in his mouth when he bit into it, flooding his mouth with olive oil. We, Dr. Lecter had said, but he didn't mean Alana. That third place had been for Will. As if Will was capable of being family.

-----

Hannibal's office stank of Alpha.

It was because of Tobias, borne past Will already in a body bag. Alpha blood on the rug, Alpha pheromones released as he and Hannibal fought. The office was still swarming with forensic technicians and photographers. Will walked past all of them straight to Hannibal, who was seated at his desk looking pale and drawn, blood still smeared across his face. Jack was there too, hands in his pockets, a respectful distance from Hannibal. Will wanted nothing more than to shove him aside and out of the room.

Hannibal's face relaxed when he saw Will. "I was afraid he'd killed you," he said, at the same time that Will blurted out, "Are you okay?"

They both stopped at once, tongues between their teeth: embarrassed, perhaps, by the display of emotion. Jack glanced between them, drew some kind of conclusion, and retreated to bark at the technicians. Will seated himself on Hannibal's desk.

"I'm as well as can be, given the circumstances," Hannibal said. "And you?"

"Still can't hear out of this ear so well." Will said waved his hand by his right ear. "That'll clear up on its own."

"You fired your gun? Ah; that explains the blood. He was bleeding when he got here."

Will nodded. He braced his elbows on his thighs and looked down at his hands. He spied the white of a bandage through the hole in Hannibal's trousers, hidden from him before by the shadow of the desk and Hannibal's posture. "Jesus, what happened to you there?"

"He stabbed me with a letter opener. It's superficial."

"Superfici--" Will's jaw worked as he slid off to the desk and onto his feet.

"They've already treated it," said Hannibal. "And I'm a doctor, as you'll recall. It will heal. And you should, how does that go? You should see the other guy."

Will's jaw dropped. A laugh burst out with no input from the rest of him whatsoever, shaking his chest and shoulders. Hannibal looked startled at first, and then his mouth crooked and he chuckled as well, showing surprisingly uneven teeth. Will liked those teeth; the rest of Hannibal was so restrained and well put together, but his teeth were in disarray. He put his hand on Hannibal's shoulder. Hannibal was hot, even through all his layers of clothing. Will swallowed. "You're in shock. That's shock. Come on. I'm taking you home."

Hannibal hesitated, glancing at Jack, at the police personnel swarming around his office.

"We'll leave your office keys with Jack," said Will. "They know how to lock up after themselves. You've given your statement already, right?"

Hannibal nodded.

"Then there's nothing left to do here. Come on. Do you want to take your car, or mine?" Will offered Hannibal his hand.

Hannibal took it, and let Will pull him to his feet. He listed to one side, like a boat with a hole in its hull. "Mine, if you'd please."

The Bentley had an all-leather interior, still smelled like new car, and drove like a dream. Will could barely feel it, and the car responded to him like it was something he was wearing, not driving. He'd never minded his old Volvo--it was a sight better than any car he'd driven growing up, and significantly better than his car in New Orleans--but he could see how some people got addicted to luxury cars. Hannibal sat stiff and silent in the passenger seat, drawn and exhausted; Will glanced at him every now and then, and each time Hannibal was staring out the window and looking as if he were upright by sheer force of will.

He pulled up to a stop in front of Hannibal's house and turned off the engine. "Wait," he said, touching Hannibal's arm, when Hannibal unbuckled his seatbelt. "I'll come around and help you out."

"There's no need," Hannibal began, and Will said, "Your leg probably hurts like fuck."

Hannibal pressed his lips together and nodded, and Will came around the front of the car and opened Hannibal's door. He gave him a hand up the front steps and into the foyer. Hannibal shrugged off his coat, and Will hung it up in the hall closet.

"Do you want to clean up a little?" Will asked. Hannibal still had blood on his face, crusted around the corner of his mouth.

"Yes. And then I imagine I should eat." Hannibal did not sound enthusiastic about the prospect as he made his way down the hall. His stride was firm, but just a little uneven. Will followed so closely that he could feel Hannibal's body heat. He leaned in the doorway and watched as Hannibal ran a cloth under the tap and dabbed at his face. His expression was pinched.

"Did they give you anything for the pain?" Will asked.

"A local anesthetic," Hannibal said, wearily. "It's begun wearing off. I'll take something before I sleep."

There was an armchair in the corner of Hannibal's kitchen where Will had sat before, watching Hannibal's dance of knives and fire and oil. Will directed Hannibal to it now, saying, "I'll make you something." At Hannibal's hesitation, Will said, "I can manage a sandwich. You can tell me what to do."

"A sandwich." Hannibal sounded thoughtful. Did he not eat sandwiches? Will supposed not; sandwiches were hardly haute cuisine, and Will had never seen him eat anything with his hands outside of the boudin blanc. "I suppose that will suffice. You'll find some bread in the freezer, left side."

The freezer was on the bottom, for some reason, in a pull-out drawer; it confused Will at first. But he found it, and he found the bread, in an anonymous plastic bag, already sliced. He took out two slices, but Hannibal said, "One slice, please. I don't wish anything too heavy," and Will put one slice back.

Hannibal did not own anything as plebeian as a toaster, so Will put the single slice of bread in the warm oven to toast and retrieved a package of bright orange salmon, sliced thinly, from the refrigerator, along with a small jar of honey mustard. He plucked a sprig of dill from a pot in the dining room and chopped it coarsely, its sharp perfume rising around him in a cloud and clinging to his hands. He spread the mustard on the bread, arranged the salmon on top, and sprinkled it with dill. He brought it to Hannibal on a salad plate. Hannibal smiled and thanked him.

"That's it?" Will asked, as he washed the knife and cutting board he'd used for the dill.

"That's all that's required," Hannibal said. "All good food requires is good ingredients." He held the plate under his chin as he ate.

Will dried his hands with a dishcloth. "Do you, um." He didn't know how to ask this. With Jack, he hadn't; he'd sat in a chair next to him and waited, two strong and silent Alphas until Jack swallowed the silence and spat it out with news about his wife. But Hannibal was the sort of person you asked, "Do you want to talk about it?" Will knew that, and yet his tongue lay useless and heavy in his mouth. "Will you be okay?" he asked, instead. "By yourself."

"I'll manage." Hannibal set his now-empty plate on the end table. Will retrieved it and stacked it in the dishwasher. "Tobias Budge is dead, after all, as is my patient. I hardly need to worry about him coming for me again."

"Yeah, but." Will shook his head. "Do you want me to help you upstairs or anything?"

"No, I believe I'll manage. You've done enough. Thank you." Hannibal braced his hands on the arms of the chair, and Will was at his side in an instant, giving him a hand up.

"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" Will asked.

"Do you want to stay?" Hannibal replied.

It was a sincere question, and Will realized that his sincere answer was yes, he did, very much, though his dogs had been alone for many hours now. They'd missed their dinners, and their evening walk.

"Would you like to talk about what happened tonight?" Hannibal asked.

Will looked away. "I feel like I should be asking you that question."

"I have my own therapist," Hannibal said. "Come, we can have this conversation in the study."

Hannibal pushed a button hidden on the mantel, and blue-orange flames licked up from the logs. Will sank into one of the chairs and let the warmth wash over his legs. It felt very much like Hannibal's office somehow, though their chairs didn't face each other. Will could look at the fire, or the bricks, instead of at Hannibal. The rest of the room was dim. It made the chairs seem closer. Hannibal poured them both glasses of scotch.

"You feel responsible," Hannibal said.

"I feel as if I've dragged you into my world," Will admitted.

"I got here on my own," Hannibal replied. "But I can't say I don't enjoy the company."

They were quiet. Will took a sip of his drink, ice shifting and clinking. The firelight reflected off the cut glass in golden starbursts.

"Will you tell me what happened?" Hannibal asked.

"There's not much to tell. I went to his store with two uniforms. Everything seemed fine at first, and then," Will swallowed, decided to skip a detail or two, "he killed the two officers and went after me. I got off a shot but missed, and he bolted. I called 911, called Jack, put out an APB; next thing I knew, I got a call from Jack saying that he'd come for you, and he was dead."

Hannibal nodded. "It happened so quickly. He came in, and then suddenly, Franklyn was dead. He said he'd killed two men. I was afraid he'd killed you. I felt responsible; after all, I was the one who told you to investigate him. Broke patient confidentiality, even."

Will shook his head. "We would have investigated him eventually. Men like him can't stay hidden long."

"He no longer wanted to. That serenade was for someone, after all."

Will stared into the fire. When he blinked, blue and green flames leapt and flickered behind his eyelids. "Do you think he was in love?"

"He may have believed himself to be."

"Do you think people like him aren't capable of loving?"

Hannibal took a deep, thoughtful breath and sipped his drink. "What matters isn't whether I, objectively, think a psychopath can love. What matters is his own perception. If he believes that it's love, then it is, and he'll behave the way a man like him behaves when he's in love."

Will rested his drink on the armrest of his chair. "He'll murder a man and turn him into an instrument. Then he'll murder the object of his affections. That's not what the rest of us would call love."

"It doesn't matter what the rest of us would call it," Hannibal replied.

-----

"Hello?" Hannibal sounded surprisingly awake, for the hour. "Will? What is it?"

Will heard the plastic casing of his phone crack, and he tried to relax his fingers. "I'm in Greenwood, Delaware." He had to pause to lick his lips. His mouth felt dry these days no matter how much water he drank. "I, I think."

"You think?" Hannibal sounded much more alert now. "What do you see?"

"Trees. I'm in the woods. I'm pretty sure it's the woods outside of Beth LeBeau's house but I'm not sure, it's, I lost a few hours, for all I know I got in my car and drove--"

"I'll be there as soon as I can. Get indoors, if you can; it must be very cold there. Keep your phone with you."

The connection went dead. His battery life was low. After a moment's contemplation, Will turned it off.

It was pitch black, but he had a flashlight, and the snow made it easy to retrace his tracks. His breath frosted in the air, but he had on a hat and gloves; at least his past self, wherever that self had gone, had dressed for the occasion. The flashlight beam bounced among the ghost-white birches and reflected off the snow; Will kept expecting it to reveal glowing eyes, or the dead young woman he thought he'd been following, or the feathered stag that had been stalking his dreams. But he saw nothing.

The door to the house was still hanging open. Will knocked the snow from his boots and went inside, shutting the door behind him. He felt numb, but not tired at all. He kept his coat on as he roamed from room to room, checking under the bed, inside closets, behind shower curtains. He wished he had even one of his dogs with him. He remembered the slick, awful sound her skin had made as it sloughed off in his hand, but he couldn't find it now. It could be out in the snow. It could be hidden in some dark, dusty corner of the house. It could have existed only in his fevered imagination.

Will turned his phone back on; the clock showed that it had been over an hour. He had three missed calls from Hannibal, one voice mail, and one text message. The text message was from Hannibal, asking if he had found shelter, and if so, where. The voice mail was also from Hannibal, asking much the same. Will texted him back Beth LeBeau's address and turned his phone off again.

It was almost six in the morning by the time Will saw a pair of headlights coming up the driveway. He was seized by the childish urge to run outside and fling himself into Hannibal's arms. But he was an adult and an Alpha, so he stepped out onto the porch and leaned against a beam. Hannibal got out of the car. He was dressed in his peacoat and gloves, but his hair was still loose and unstyled.

"Thanks for coming," Will said. He tried to smile, but he couldn't find his lips.

"I told you to call, if you lost time and didn't know where you were," said Hannibal. "I'm glad that you did."

Will tucked his chin into his collarbone. His own rental car was in the driveway just in front of Hannibal's. "I'm sorry, I should have called you and told you not to come, I mean, I found my way back to the house, I can get home on my own--"

"That's not the reason I asked you to call," Hannibal said. "I asked you to call so that you could be reassured that you were alive, and not alone."

Will closed his eyes. His fingers tightened on the wooden beam. He forced himself to let go and open his eyes again. "Come inside," he said. "It's cold."

He shut the door behind Hannibal and, somewhat belatedly, turned on the light. Hannibal kept his hands at his sides, but Will did not miss his eyes flicking from side to side, taking in the peeling wallpaper, the aged floorboards, the wooden furniture, the crime scene tape still tacked up haphazardly in bits and pieces.

"What did you see?" Hannibal asked.

Will swallowed. "I saw her," he said. "The one who killed Beth LeBeau. She was under the bed, and I grabbed her, and an entire layer of dead skin just...came off, like she was wearing a glove." He shivered and clutched at his own arm, nails digging into the nylon of his jacket.

"No circulation," Hannibal said. "She doesn't bleed."

Will nodded.

"What did you do with it?"

"I don't know."

Hannibal's awaited judgment didn't come. He seemed deep in thought. At last, he said, "What else do you remember?"

"And then she ran. I chased her, I guess. I don't remember much after that." Will tipped his head back. "Her eyes were discolored. She was malnourished. Jaundiced. Deranged." He blinked. "She can't see faces. She probably doesn't even know that she killed Beth LeBeau. She thought she was mutilating a mask."

"Cotard's syndrome," Hannibal suggested. "A rare delusional disorder in which a person believes he or she is dead, and that everyone around them is an imposter. A misfiring in the area of the brain which recognizes faces, and in the amygdala, which adds emotion to those recognitions."

Will's eyelids felt heavy; his eyelashes were daggers, stabbing into his corneas. He squeezed his eyes shut. "She reached out for help, to someone she loved, someone she trusted, and she became violent when she felt she was betrayed."

At last, at last, Hannibal's warm hand on Will's shoulder, Hannibal's warm arm across Will's back. Will let his forehead tip into Hannibal's shoulder.

"I don't know what's happening to me," Will whispered. He clutched at the front of Hannibal's coat. "I feel like I'm melting. Like I'm just going to melt away."

Hannibal brought a hand up to the back of Will's head and smoothed the hairs at his nape. "You can trust me," he said. "No matter what your mind spins into chaos, please, believe that you can trust me."

-----

The knock came at exactly 7:30 pm, and all the dogs burst into commotion. Will hissed at them and they fell silent in ones and twos. Only then did Will open the door.

It was Hannibal, dressed in suit and driving gloves and long brown coat. He was carrying the same bag he had brought to Will's motel room, that day they first shared breakfast together. Will was aware that he was dressed in nothing but a t-shirt and boxers, and had been all day.

"May I come in?" Hannibal said, just like he had on that day, too.

"I canceled," Will said. "I called. Twenty-four hours in advance, like I was supposed to."

Hannibal inclined his head. "I got your message. You said you weren't feeling well. I wanted to check on you."

"You could have called."

"I was afraid that if I called, you would tell me not to come." Hannibal paused. "I brought dinner."

Will stepped aside and held the door open so that Hannibal could come in. The dogs pressed in close, tails wagging. "Sorry," he said. "They think you're bringing them food."

"And indeed I did; it would be rude otherwise." Hannibal produced a brown paper sack from his pocket. The dogs went wild, tongues lolling; Buster even sat up on his back legs in a classic "begging" pose that Will was certain he hadn't taught him. "May I? It's just some dried meat."

Will waved a hand. "Yeah, go ahead."

Hannibal set his leather bag down on one of the chairs and handed around the treats most fairly. The dogs scarfed it down and nosed the floor for crumbs. Hannibal picked up his bag again. "Where shall we eat?"

"Here." Will shuffled into the kitchen. It was lighter there, and airier, with the back door open so that the dogs could roam in and out as they pleased. Will cleared the kitchen table of student papers and old mail while Hannibal opened cupboards until he found a saucepan. He left the soup to heat on the stove while he unpacked two bowls, two pairs of elegant black chopsticks, a carton of white rice noodles, and another carton of bean sprouts, whole basil leaves still on the stem, and curls of thinly sliced meat, still red and raw. He began to separate the ingredients into the two bowls.

"Vietnamese beef noodle soup," he said. "Beef broth cooked from marrow bones, flavored with star anise, coriander, cinnamon, and ginger. Nothing warms the body better."

Will pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, which felt like they were able to burst out of his head. They often felt like that, these days. "I'm not sure I need to be any warmer."

"Have you eaten at all today? Or drank?"

Will had to think about it, which was not a good sign.

"And yet I'm certain you fed and watered your dogs."

"Yeah."

Hannibal arranged the meat on top of the layered noodles and vegetables in an elegant fan shape. "This will be good for you. Nourishing broth, easy to digest noodles, vegetables, and protein."

The soup was boiling. Hannibal brought the pan over to the table and tipped it over the noodles. The meat went from red, to pink, and then to brown. Hannibal garnished each bowl with a sprig of basil and handed Will his chopsticks and a soup spoon. "Bon appétit."

The broth was surprisingly sweet, but with a deep complexity of flavor, alongside which the noodles were almost mere texture in Will's mouth. The bean sprouts were crunchy, clean, and refreshing; the meat was good, but Hannibal's meat was always good. Will started to feel a little better, more awake. Maybe he'd just been dehydrated and undernourished all day.

"That's better," Hannibal said, and Will looked up to see Hannibal smiling at him. Feeling suddenly vulnerable, he looked back down at his soup and kept his eyes on it until it was reduced to a few fragments of noodle at the bottom of the bowl. Hannibal gathered up the bowls and took them to the sink. Will heard the water run.

"Thanks," he said, without looking at Hannibal. There was no pause in the clink of bowls and spoons against each other. "For coming all this way. And bringing dinner."

"I'm sorry that you've been unwell," Hannibal replied. "I wish there were more that I could do."

Will tipped his head back to rest against the wall. "Well, there's not."

"I missed you, tonight," Hannibal said, after a long enough pause that Will knew it was a difficult admission. "I have come to treasure our conversations."

"I don't know why," Will said. He rubbed his hands over his face, scratching over his beard. "I'm, God, I'm a mess. I don't know who I am anymore. I don't feel like myself. I feel like I've been gradually becoming different for a while. I feel like somebody else."

"What do you feel like?"

"Crazy," Will admitted.

"That's what you fear most."

Will closed his eyes. "I'm afraid of not knowing who I am."

He heard the water shut off, but he didn't open his eyes until felt Hannibal's warm, damp hand on his face, cupping his jaw. "You have me as your gauge," he said. "I am your light, Will. Your paddle." He bent his face, and he was close, so close, and Will knew how this worked. He knew what he was supposed to do, and so he did it: he closed the distance between them and put his mouth on Hannibal's.

They did nothing but kiss for a minute, maybe two. Hannibal tasted like beef broth and basil; he smelled like soup and lingering traces of cologne, and underneath that, like a man, and like an Omega: sweat and temptation. Will nuzzled into Hannibal's neck without thinking and put out his tongue to taste Hannibal's pulse. Hannibal gasped, and Will jerked back, hitting his head against the wall. "Sorry, sorry," he gasped. "I wasn't, I don't--"

"Shhh, shhh." Hannibal felt the back of Will's head. Will hadn't hit it very hard, but Hannibal's fingers felt good on his scalp, so he didn't complain. At length, Hannibal's hand fell away. "I should go. You said you were feeling unwell, and I've kept you from resting."

"No." Will reached out to grasp at Hannibal's sleeve, but he still had his sleeves rolled, and Will caught his wrist instead. He didn't look at Hannibal's face, for fear of what he'd see there. "I. Will you stay? Please? I feel like I'm dissolving. I need something solid."

"Of course, if you want me to." Hannibal turned his wrist to catch Will's hand in his.

Will closed his eyes in sheer relief. "I do. Want you to."

Hannibal gave Will's hand a squeeze and released it. "Are you still having nightmares?"

Will nodded, eyes still closed.

"Have a hot shower," Hannibal advised. "And then we'll see you to bed."

A few minutes under the hot spray did help, and so did washing his hair. By the time Will stepped out of the shower, he felt almost human, and a little embarrassed that he'd been so needy. He put on a clean t-shirt and boxers and went to find Hannibal, to tell him that he could leave after all, he must be busy, he must have had plans--but the words evaporated in his mouth as soon as he stepped into the living room to find Hannibal making hospital corners on his bed. He had stripped down to just his shirt and trousers. A few of the dogs milled around him in confusion.

"You didn't have to do that," Will said, weakly.

"Clean sheets promote restfulness," Hannibal said. "Their effect cannot be overestimated. Come, get into bed."

Will got into bed. The clean sheets did feel wonderful against his clean skin. What was left of the tension in his body unspooled. He felt like he was melting, but in a wonderful way, like a caramel candy on the tongue.

His heart leapt when Hannibal got into bed with him, on top of the covers. He lay down a respectful distance away from Will, though the bed was not large, and said, "When you asked me to stay, was it to share your bed?"

"I don't know." Will curled his fingers into the bedclothes, under the covers. "I wasn't really thinking."

Hannibal put his hand on Will's arm, still above the covers. Will felt his heart rate speed up. "Would you like me to help you sleep?"

Will's mouth went dry.

"Or we can share a bed, nothing more," Hannibal said. "I only want to be clear."

Hannibal was his anchor. His paddle. His light in the dark. Will closed his eyes. "What're you suggesting?"

"I'm suggesting giving you an orgasm. It will relax you, and the release of serotonin will help your dreams."

Will sucked in a trembling breath. "Yes."

Hannibal started by smoothing his arm down Will's arm. Will's muscles jumped underneath it, his skin twitching. Hannibal did it again, this time pushing the sheets down, so that his skin was against Will's skin. Will didn't move except to breathe. He felt lit by fire in the wake of Hannibal's touch. Hannibal's hand was warm and dry, and he repeated the motion, stroking Will like a dog, until his touch was no longer surprising. Will relaxed underneath it, and Hannibal moved to stroke down Will's side, and then to his hip.

By the time Hannibal reached around to the front of Will's boxers, Will was fully relaxed and half hard. Hannibal pulled down the waistband just far enough that he could draw Will's penis out and stroke it to erection. Will was the typical size for an Alpha, but Hannibal's hand was large enough that he could close around it. He stroked it from root to tip, once, twice, three times, and then simply held still as Will began to thrust. Will turned his face into the pillow, humid from his breath, and squeezed his eyes shut as he bucked his hips forward. He whimpered.

"It's too dry, isn't it?" Hannibal murmured. "Do you have anything?"

"On the nightstand," Will gasped. He dug his fingers into the pillowcase as Hannibal withdrew his hand. He heard things being moved around, then a few pumps of a bottle and Hannibal's hand returned, this time coated with lotion. It was cold when he closed it around Will's dick; Will gasped, and this time the jerk of his hips was involuntary and not at all pleasant. But it warmed quickly, and it made everything so smooth and wonderful. He moaned and choked it off halfway through in embarrassment; when Hannibal didn't laugh, he let out another. It was sexy even as it made him feel foolish, and he did it again, and again.

Hannibal's other hand smoothed down the slope of Will's back and tugged his boxers down past the curve of his ass. His fingers pressed between Will's cheeks. Will stiffened, holding his breath as Hannibal found his hole.

"Has anyone ever touched you here?" Hannibal asked. It wasn't dirty talk; he was curious.

Will shook his head.

"May I?"

Will hesitated, then nodded.

Hannibal's hand vanished again; another pump sound, and his fingers reappeared coated with more cool lotion. His other hand resumed stroking Will's cock, but it was slow; most of his attention was focused on pressing just the tip of his finger into Will's ass.

"Some Alphas might object to this," Hannibal said in a low, absent voice. "It would be an affront to their status. They might call it unnatural; there's no dilation, no lubrication. But there's nothing natural about humanity, is there? We wear clothes; we drive cars; we live and work in buildings of steel and concrete. Compared to that, what is this? There's nothing more natural than this." He paused and added more lotion to his hand while Will tried to catch his breath. The hand around his cock was now of secondary interest to him. He was more interested in the sensations being generated by his ass. It felt strange and intrusive, but he liked the intrusion. It was intimate.

Hannibal was now able to push his finger in all the way. He wiggled it around a little, while Will panted and clutched the sheets. Hannibal pulled it out partway, and then pushed it in again, a little faster. Will gasped. "Do that again," he said. Hannibal did it again, and again, and again. He pulled out, added more lotion, and pushed in with two fingers. Will felt the stretch; it hurt, but not unbearably, and now Hannibal could reach just a little bit farther, with his middle finger. Far enough to light some flare inside Will that made his toes curl and his eyes fly open. It felt like an orgasm, but his cock was still hard. Will arched his back and whined, "Again, again." He heard one of the dogs barking, as if from far away.

Was this what it felt like for an Omega? To have this itch inside him that needed to be scratched, and to cry out for it, again and again. Will was drenched in pleasure and desire. Hannibal was no longer even attempting to stroke his cock; he simply held his hand in place while Will pushed back into Hannibal's fingers. Will sweated and moaned and fisted his hands in the sheets. He'd never known. He'd never known.

"Will you come?" Hannibal asked.

Will couldn't think enough to answer. He shook his head, nodded, shook his head again. Everything was too intense. Hannibal pushed his fingers all the way in and crooked them, at the same time that he started moving his hand on Will's cock again. Will bit the pillowcase and came, shaking, all over Hannibal's hand and his own stomach and the sheets. He'd never come so hard in his life, and afterward he could feel and hear nothing except the roaring in his ears and his heart thudding behind his breastbone. It was...novel. He couldn't remember the last time his mind had been so blank and quiet.

Hannibal was very close now, the fine cotton of his shirt pressed all along the length of Will's sweaty back. He drew his fingers out of Will's ass, slowly. Will felt slick and well-used, wrung dry. Hannibal stayed until Will's breathing slowed and his heartbeat grew regular again, before he slipped from the bed. Will wanted to call him back, but he couldn't quite sort the mush in his head into words.

The next thing Will knew, Hannibal was using a towel to wipe up the mess on Will's stomach. Afterward, Hannibal got back into bed, this time under the covers. Now Will could feel Hannibal's skin: his arm wrapped around Will's chest, his legs tangling with Will's legs. Will sighed and curled into Hannibal's heat.

-----

Will jerked awake in the middle of the night, his heart racing. The room was dark and the shadows seemed unfamiliar. For a moment he was afraid he'd lost time again, but then he heard Hannibal's rasping voice behind him: "Will?"

He rolled. Hannibal's eyes were open; Will could just make out the gleam of his sclera in the dark. He wriggled close and kissed him. Hannibal's mouth worked against his, his stubble scratching against Will's chin. He would have beard burn later, but who would care? Hannibal tasted like sleep and like himself, some indefinable flavor that Will wanted to write on the inside of his veins.

"Will you fuck me?" Will murmured.

"If that's what you want," Hannibal replied.

"I want it. I want to know what it feels like."

Hannibal pushed the sheets down so that he could reach Will's ass. He took his time preparing him, using so much lotion that his fingers made wet, obscene sounds as he pumped them in and out. Will whined and dug his forehead into the pillow, digging his nails into the cheap cotton. "Put it in, put it in," he begged, but Hannibal didn't listen. He just kept fingering Will, drawing more guttural noises from him until Will didn't know anything except how good he felt.

Finally, finally, Hannibal withdrew his fingers. Will let out a great exhale as his mind cleared, stark as the naked black woods after a snowfall. He heard Hannibal pump the lotion bottle and slick himself, and he closed his eyes. Hannibal felt blunt and enormous against him, compared to the fingers; it didn't feel like the tiny, vestigial organ that Will had read about in textbooks. It felt like it was pushing more noises out of Will, humiliating vowels of pleasure and vulnerability. One of the dogs whined.

Hannibal's hips pressed flush against Will's ass. Will's breath left him in a trembling sigh. He reached back and felt Hannibal's protruding hipbone. "Is this weird for you?" he wondered. "Being on top?"

"Is it strange for you, being on the bottom?"

Will shook his head. He hitched himself up onto his hands and knees. Hannibal began to thrust, and Will let his head drop between his shoulders. "It feels good. Maybe I should have been an Omega."

Hannibal curved himself against Will's back. He put his hands on Will's hands. Will felt covered in Hannibal, enveloped by every inch of him. But Hannibal could never cover Will in his scent; that wasn't the way it worked. Tomorrow Hannibal would smell like Will, like he'd been smeared all over by an Alpha, and Will would smell only like himself. The unfairness of it all clutched at his chest.

"We can none of us help how we were born," Hannibal said, and he sped up his thrusts. The mattress shrieked in rhythm with the slap of Hannibal's flesh against his. Will had to move his hands to the headboard. He wanted to put one hand on his dick, but he was afraid to move. Hannibal would make him come. Hannibal had to make him come.

Hannibal wrapped his arms around Will's torso, squeezing him so tightly that Will had trouble drawing breath, as he continued to buck his hips forward. And then, just as Will felt himself pulled under, he felt the prick of Hannibal's teeth against his neck. Hannibal, marking him, as an Alpha would an Omega. Will gasped. His eyes flew open, but he couldn't see, because he was coming, in a flash of coruscating light.

-----

"Get out of the car," Will said.

Hobbs moved slowly, as if Will were a wild animal that could be provoked. He kept his eyes on Will's gun. Will didn't know what he was so afraid of; it wasn't as if Will could kill him again. If he could, Will would no longer be having nightmares.

They shuffled up to the door. Hobbs rang the doorbell. After many, many long minutes, during which Will's arm trembled from holding the gun aloft, Hobbs said, "I don't think he's home."

"No." Will shook his head. "He has to be home. He. He has to be. He has to be." Hannibal was his paddle; Hannibal was his light out of dark places, and Will could not remember being in a darker place. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. The cold barrel of the gun scraped across his fevered skin.

Hobbs turned around slowly, slowly, his arms up and palms out. "Where would he be, if he's not at home?"

Will squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't think. He was burning cold: he was a blue star. Blank spots and memories tangled and turned together in his mind.

"Would he be with Alana Bloom, perchance?"

Will's head snapped up. How did Hobbs know about Alana? Then again, Will concluded, it made sense, if Hobbs was a figment of his imagination. But that was what he needed Hannibal to confirm.

"I hear that Abel Gideon fellow's after her," said Hobbs. "He might have gone to make sure she was safe."

It made as much sense as anything else. They went back to the car. Will told him Alana's address, and Hobbs programmed it into Will's GPS. They drove in silence, Will in the back, Hobbs with his eyes on the black, snow-streaked road. Will could prop his arm up against the seat back, so his arm wasn't as tired. He wanted nothing more than to sleep forever.

Alana's house wasn't far from Hannibal's. All the lights were on, casting a cozy, golden glow in the dark night. Will had to stop for a moment as something immense and tragic swelled within him at the sight, threatening to leak all over the snow. If his own house was a boat on the water, then Alana's was an island, offering refuge from the storm. He paused for a moment in the front yard. Alana was visible through the picture window in what was apparently her study, standing at her desk, head bent over a pile of papers. Hannibal was there too, leaning against the desk with his back to her, relaxed and casual without his jacket on. A lump formed in Will's throat.

"Look at us, looking at them," said Hobbs. "You wish you were in there with them, don't you? So do I. But you and I are already committed. Hard to be in a relationship when you can't even get out of your own head."

Will shook his head. "I want to get out."

"We all want things we can't have," said Hobbs.

Will gestured with the gun. "Go knock on the door."

Hobbs gave that ugly, blood-stained smile again. "My pleasure." And he marched up to the door and pounded it with his fist.

Hannibal opened the door. His face went slack with surprise just a moment before Hobbs bulled straight into him, knocking him backward into the wall. Will jerked the gun up, but Hannibal and Hobbs were grappling, their arms locked around each other, too close. But this meant that Hobbs was really there, right? Will wasn't seeing things: Hannibal was fighting with a dead man, or he was fighting with...with something else...someone...else…

A small table fell over, shattering a pale blue vase and scattering water and flowers everywhere. The air was thick with pheromones. Will blinked, and he saw Abel Gideon: short, stocky, and stronger than anyone would have believed, looking at him. He radiated aggression, and he had Hannibal pinned up against the wall, one hand on Hannibal's throat. Hannibal had his hands on Gideon's face, trying to get his thumbs into Gideon's eyes, but Gideon only turned his head and bit down hard on Hannibal's thumb. Hannibal cried out, and this was unacceptable. Hannibal was his, and there was no way another Alpha could touch him like that. Will threw the gun aside and charged.

He seized Gideon by the shoulders and hauled him away from Hannibal. Hannibal coughed and sucked in a rattling breath as he sagged against the wall. A ring of bloody teeth marks showed around his thumb, and red finger marks showed livid against the skin of his neck. Will slammed Gideon into the full-length mirror that hung before the door, where Alana checked her hair or makeup before leaving the house. The glass cracked, showing Will two dozen wild-eyed faces, and Will did it again, and again. He'd never known that he was this strong. He felt like he could split the world in half with his rage.

"Will, stop! Stop!" That was Alana, plucking at his collar and his sleeve. "Will, you're going to kill him!"

Gideon was no longer struggling. His eyes were closed and blood streamed from his nose and eyes and the cuts in his face. Will let go of him, and the man slumped to the ground. He was still breathing, but it was wet and clogged. Hannibal was already on the phone.

"Good," Will whispered, and passed out.

-----

Will opened his eyes in the hospital.

He had a nice room. A large room, all to himself. It smelled of disinfectant, in the way that all hospital rooms did, but also nicer, somehow.

Something clutched his hand. Will turned his head to the side and saw Hannibal, sitting by his bed. He looked very tired, but seemed otherwise fine. The bruises on his neck had darkened to the color of twilight.

"Hi," Will said.

Hannibal smiled at him. "I brought you soup, in the hopes that you'd wake. Do you think you could eat?"

Will nodded; he could always eat Hannibal's food.

Chicken this time, though he wouldn't have known that from looking at it: the skin was black, though the flesh beneath was pale and familiar. The soup was savory and herbaceous and slightly sweet. "Wolfberries, ginseng, ginger, red dates, and star anise," Hannibal explained. Will had never had soup with fruit in it before.

"I must thank you," Hannibal said. "You saved my life. Or, at the very least, my thumb." He showed Will his left hand. Partway down the second knuckle was a thick scab, bruised around the edges. "Fortunately, no lasting damage was done. Do you remember what happened?"

"A little." Will stirred his soup around, watching the bright red flecks--of wolfberry?--swirl in the wake of his spoon. Hannibal had brought ceramic Chinese soup spoons, with a blue pattern around the edges and a stylized fish curled in the bottom of the bowl. "I wasn't...well."

"You had a temperature of almost a hundred and four," Hannibal agreed. He set his spoon down. "I blame myself," he said. "I should have monitored your condition more closely."

"No." Will reached across the table and grasped Hannibal's hand. "It. I. I haven't been totally truthful with you, maybe. I didn't want you to." He sighed. "It was just. I didn't want to ruin it."

Hannibal smiled and stroked his thumb across Will's knuckles. "And I was, perhaps, distracted. Neither of us have been living up to our respective roles."

Will picked up his spoon and began eating his soup again, though he left his other hand where it was, tangled with Hannibal's fingers. "How's Gideon?"

"Alive, though probably disfigured. He'll never look in a mirror again without remembering what you did to him."

"God." Will did withdraw his hand, then. "I'm so--"

"No one has ever sprang to my defense like that before." Hannibal did not try to reclaim Will's hand, but he did make eye contact with Will until he flinched and look away. "It was...unexpectedly erotic."

Will swallowed. "You thought it was hot, huh?"

"Unbelievably so."

"I just, it, it was like there was someone else in my head, someone that thought you were mine and that another Alpha wasn't allowed to touch you like that." Will cleared his throat "I'm sorry."

"There's no need to apologize." Hannibal took a sip of his soup. "I'm aware that you don't view me as an object, or a delicate flower to be kept under a bell jar." He paused. "But I would be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that's pleased that you're so...invested."

Will closed his eyes, briefly. "Maybe I should ask Alana to be my therapist."

"That would probably be a wise choice," Hannibal agreed. "I think our professional relationship is compromised, to say the least."

They ate their soup in silence for a few moments.

"Do you know who else is in this hospital?" said Hannibal. When Will gave him a questioning look, he went on, "Georgia Madchen."

Will wiped the back of his hand across his lips. "The dead girl?" He shook his head. "The girl with Cotard's Syndrome?"

"Yes; she's undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a different part of this hospital." Hannibal dipped his spoon into the soup and took a delicate sip. "You should visit her. I think you could use the support."

-----

"She was copied," Will insisted. "Like whoever killed Marissa Schuur and Cassie Boyle wanted to copy how Garret Jacob Hobbs killed his victims. But not exactly how."

Why was he here? Alana was his therapist now. But he came to Hannibal first, as he came to Hannibal first in everything. Will had been sitting in the chair, their knees almost touching, leaning toward each other for intimacy, despite the high ceilings and wide open spaces of Hannibal's office. Then Will burst into motion, roaming the office much as he had when they'd just been getting to know each other, though he kept his hands in his pockets. His skin thrummed; his legs felt restless. His mind sparkled with clarity, like the night sky when the clouds have passed.

Hannibal tilted his head. "You're telling me Sutcliffe was killed by the Copy Cat? But what reason would he have to do that? Cassie Boyle and Marissa Schuur were related, however obliquely, but Dr. Sutcliffe had nothing to do with them at all, and occurred weeks--no, months later."

Will shook his head. He had to make Hannibal understand; Hannibal was his lover and companion and friend, his lighthouse and his paddle. But it was like trying to explain the logic of a dream. "It's me. I'm what all those murders have in common."

"You believe this is personal?"

"If it wasn't before, it is now." Will dropped back into his chairl. He drummed his fingers against the armrest. "He killed Cassie Boyle to, to show me the way. To show me a negative, so that I could see the positive. He killed Marissa Schuur because...I'm not sure why, because he needed to incriminate Nicholas Boyle, for some reason. And then he killed Dr. Sutcliffe because." He swallowed. "He was trying to incriminate me. I was supposed to wake up there, go down the hall, find him there. But Georgia got there first, so he framed her instead. And then he killed her, because he thought she saw his face." He banged his fist against the armrest. "It all fits! It all makes sense!"

Hannibal pressed his lips together.

Will stilled. "You don't believe me."

"You must admit, Will, it sounds very paranoid," Hannibal said, slowly.

Will got up and began to pace again. "No. You have to believe me. You've always believed me."

"Because you've always been correct. But you're still not well; you checked out of the hospital against medical advice--"

"No." Will shook his head. "I'm, I'm clearer than I've been in months. I feel like I can finally see. And this is what I see: that there's a Copy Cat Killer out there who's, who's obsessed with me, for some reason, who wants to see what I can do, who wants to push my buttons, and this is the way he's doing it." He paused by Hannibal's window. It gave a view of the street: dark and slick, dirty slush piled up in the gutters, and over that, his reflection, wild-haired and wild-eyed. He turned to Hannibal. "Tell me what to do. How do I lure him out?"

Hannibal blew out a breath. He crossed one leg over the other and laced his fingers together over his knee. "If this Copy Cat exists as you say he does," he said, words measured and precise, as if he weighed them on a pair of scales before letting them out into the world, "then you need to reconstruct his thinking. Go back to the beginning. When did this begin?"

Will let out his breath through his nose. "Minnesota," he said. "The Minnesota Shrike."

Hannibal nodded. "Then you need to return to Minnesota."

Minnesota. Will would need to ask someone to look in on his dogs. He'd need to find someone to sub for his classes, depending on how long he'd be gone. He'd need--

"Will you take Abigail?" Hannibal asked.

Will jerked his face up. Hannibal's gaze was as placid and imperturbable as it always was when he was in his therapist chair, no trace of irony in his gaze. "Abigail?"

"She was there," said Hannibal. "This began with you, with Hobbs, and Abigail is part of it. You will need her."

He looked back out the window. His own reflection looked back at him. "Abigail," he said. He hadn't thought about her in a long time, and he felt suddenly guilty. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I need her, too."

-----

"We're here."

Will opened his eyes, blinking away the cheerful sunny golds of the Hobbs kitchen. It was night, and they were in Bloomington, Minnesota. Hannibal must have driven through the night and the next day. Will didn't remember stopping for gas, but the clothes he was wearing felt stiff and smelled like the sterile inside of a Wal-Mart. He stretched his legs out as much as he could and bumped against an empty Arrowhead bottle.

Hannibal looked ragged, dark smudges beneath his eyes and stubble on his jaw, but seemed alert and composed. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"We came all this way," Will said. The words were lighthearted, but they felt heavy as lead in his mouth. He took a deep breath, and the stale air of the car filled him with dizziness and nausea. His knees cracked as he heaved himself out of the car and staggered the first few steps, legs stiff after the long drive. His head cleared a little. When he turned back, Hannibal was still in the car, his hands on the steering wheel.

"I think I had better not come," Hannibal said.

Will bent and stuck his head back into the passengers' seat. That stale, stupefying air sucked the breath out of his lungs. "Oh, Jesus. Jesus Christ, you can't--"

"I'm afraid I am." Hannibal sounded remarkably calm about it.

Will had been asleep in the passenger seat of Hannibal's Bentley for the last God knew how many hours, and that entire time Hannibal had been quietly going into heat. But that made no sense; Hannibal had said that he was past his childbearing years, he was almost fifty for Chrissake, he--

Hannibal licked his lips. "You know as well as I do that heats don't necessarily end with fertility," he said, slowly. "And with our recent intimacy, the shift in our relationship, it--"

The rising miasma of Hannibal's scent choked Will and made his guts churn. He stepped back from the car. His heartbeat thudded in his ears; he had to work not to bare his teeth. "Do you think it matters if you wait in the car?" His hands curled into fists. "I'll fuck you out here or inside or I'll fuck you in the car. If you don't want that, then you should just leave. Jack will find me here eventually."

For a moment, Hannibal looked as uncertain as Will had ever seen him. It made Will want to turn his back on the car, go in the house, and not look back to see if Hannibal followed. But Hannibal uncurled his hands from the steering wheel and opened the door.

It was amazing how much warmth that living bodies lent a house, and how quickly a house became cold without them. Will kept his hands in his pockets as they entered through the basement and mounted the stairs to the main floor. His legs felt thin and rubbery. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten, but his stomach hurt too much to contemplate food. His thoughts felt like they were made of mud, though Hannibal tried to keep a respectful distance.

The kitchen was covered in blood. Will felt pinned in the entryway by it, sprayed up the cabinets and all over the floor. He took his hands out of his pockets and curled them into fists so that they wouldn't shake.

"It's as if Abigail was supposed to die in this kitchen," Hannibal said in a tone of sadness and wonder. Will could feel his breath on his neck. "Nothing we did was able to change that."

"Her throat was cut." Will swallowed, but his voice still trembled. "She lost great gouts of blood, and, and there's an unmistakable arterial spray--" He jerked his arm up, trying to point, and let it fall again. "Oh God, I can't do this."

"We don't have to." Hannibal touched Will's elbow. "We can leave."

"No, I mean." Will turned, and they were so close, so close, that it was easy for Will to cover Hannibal's mouth with his. And then he bit down, savage enough that he tasted salt and copper, and Hannibal moaned, and that was the end of everything.

Will jerked his head back; his hands had somehow wandered to Hannibal's collar. Hannibal's lower lip was red and plump, and Will licked it with a sort of gleeful satisfaction that he had never felt before. "This is happening," he said, low and manic. "It can happen here, or in your car, or in the fucking basement for all I care, but it's happening, and you have ten seconds to decide where."

Hannibal swallowed, his adams apple bobbing. Will leaned in and bit it, gently but with force. "I suppose there must be a bed here somewhere."

They stumbled into what must have been the master bedroom, and Will could not even care that they were about to fuck in the bed of a serial murderer. He shoved Hannibal onto the bed, and their hands tangled together as they fumbled Hannibal's belt loose and shoved his pants and underwear down together. Will yanked off Hannibal's shoes and pulled his pants the rest of the way off so that he could get between Hannibal's legs. Hannibal was wet; not as wet as a younger Omega might have been, or one who was farther along into their heat, but wet enough that Will was able to press two fingers inside with ease. He groaned at the sensation and leaned his forehead against Hannibal's knee.

"No one's ever done this to you, have they," Will whispered as he thrust his fingers in and out, enjoying the slick feel around his fingers and the wet, vulgar sounds. "You're unbonded. That means nobody's ever been inside you while you were like this."

"The same as you," Hannibal replied. His head was thrown back. God, he was still wearing his jacket and his tie, the same clothes he'd been wearing in his office what felt like years ago now. Will wanted to rip them all off so that he could touch Hannibal everywhere, but he received a fierce rush of heat at the idea of defiling the good, respectable doctor, nowhere more respectable than in his buttoned-up appearance. "At a time when other men first see and fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique."

"I'm as alone as you are." Will pressed his teeth to the meat of Hannibal's calf. "But not anymore. Neither of us are alone now. After I've been inside you, you'll belong to me forever."

"Yes," Hannibal gasped, hissing out the sibilant, and arched his back. "Oh God, Will, put it in me, put it in me now."

Will pulled his fingers out; they came away with a long, thin strand of slick between them. "Take off your clothes," he breathed, but even as he said that he was yanking off Hannibal's jacket and tearing at the knot to Hannibal's tie. Hannibal, arching his back and keening at the loss of Will's fingers, was little help, though he did manage to sit up to facilitate removal of his jacket and waistcoat. Will popped a few buttons stripping Hannibal of his shirt and tore the cufflinks through the holes in his cuffs. Hannibal made a discontented noise, but it was quickly swallowed when Will turned him onto his front. Hannibal got up on his elbows and knees, legs spread, so that Will could see his wet hole. He'd just had his fingers in there. He had to get in there again. But first he had to stand, kick off his shoes, shove down his pants and underwear, peel off his shirt. Even being those inches away from Hannibal was unbearable, and he groaned with relief when he was naked at last and able to press himself against Hannibal's feverish skin.

"Will," Hannibal murmured, and that was it. Will began to thrust, his cock glancing off Hannibal's hole, slipping against his crack, his cheeks, and he almost wanted to cry. Hannibal had to reach back and grip Will by the base and direct him in, and once he was inside Will wanted to weep for different reasons.

It was better than anything. It was better than the first time Will had landed a trout, all by himself; better than being accepted to Georgetown; better than shooting Garret Jacob Hobbs. It felt like this was where was supposed to be, all this time, like his entire life had been leading up until this moment. Will groaned and let his head bow over Hannibal's back. He gripped Hannibal's hips so that he could pull them back even as he thrust forward, their flesh slapping together in an obscene rhythm, backed by Hannibal's breathy moans.

"God, there's so much room inside you," Will gasped. "You're just starving for it, aren't you? Starving for me, for my cock."

"Yes," Hannibal said, his voice ragged.

"You want me inside you forever," Will breathed. "God, how you want me. You want to consume me."

"Yes." Hannibal whimpered and clawed the sheets.

Will felt fire licking at the insides of his skin. He put one hand on Hannibal's shoulder and the other on the back of Hannibal's neck, pushing him down even as he slammed into Hannibal harder, pushing more and strident moans out of him, muffled in the sheets where Garret Jacob Hobbs had once lain with his wife. Will pressed his forehead against Hannibal's shoulderblade. He pulled his hand away from the back of Hannibal's neck. Hannibal sucked in a breath just before Will bit down, hard enough to draw blood, and Hannibal howled and came.

This was the part Will had never experienced before: his knot swelling, locking him inside, and Hannibal's inner walls rippling and fluttering around him. He was at the mercy of Hannibal's biology, milking him for every drop of seed he was worth. Will let out a helpless vowel, and then another one, as Hannibal shuddered underneath him, mewling and biting at his own knuckles.

Now that Will had knotted and Hannibal had come, some of the haze lifted. Not for long, of course; if the literature was to be believed, this would happen again in another half hour to an hour. Every joint in WIll's body felt punished, and Will's throat was dry. But he couldn't move, tied to Hannibal as he was, except to turn them both onto their sides so that they could lie down, spooned up against each other. Everything suddenly seemed very clear, just like it had after his fever first broke.

"You called here that morning," Will said in a soft, sleepy voice, like they were lovers.

"What reason would I have?"

Will reached a hand up to tangle in Hannibal's damp hair. His biology was filled with tenderness for the Omega covered in his scent, filled with his seed. The rest of him was filled with hate. "You were just curious. What would happen; what I'd do. Someone like me, someone who thinks how I think. Wind him up and watch him go." He wound one arm around Hannibal's middle. "Apparently, this is how I go."

He smelled Jack come into the room. That smell made him bare his teeth and tighten all his limbs around Hannibal, until he felt Hannibal struggle for breath. Some smaller, still rational part of him curled up and died.

"Dr. Lecter," Jack began.

"Never mind," Hannibal said. "It's all right."

-----

"No," Will said.

"You're my Alpha, Will," Hannibal said, as the door shut behind him. His hands shook, and his eyes were bright. Sweat beaded his forehead and his upper lip. "You must."

Will had been able to smell it from down the corridor, as Hannibal had been escorted to the euphemistically named "privacy room" by two armed guards. Those guards were standing outside the room now, their backs turned and shoulders stiff. Will had hoped it was someone else, even as he'd known that it could be nobody but Hannibal. Hannibal's scent was written inside his skin and under his brain stem, and why else would they need privacy? Now the stink of Hannibal's heat hammered at Will. He wanted to bury his nose in Hannibal's neck; he wanted to lick it out of Hannibal's armpit.

In fact, he was doing just that. Hannibal had been changed into one of the prison jumpsuits, such as the one Will now wore, easy enough to tear open, shove down Hannibal's shoulders, and just stick his face under Hannibal's arm. Will hated it; he wanted to see Hannibal in one of his godforsaken three piece suits, so that he could have the satisfaction of tearing it off. He settled for shoving the jumpsuit down Hannibal's body. Hannibal was panting, his hands moving unsteadily across Will's own clothes.

"God, I hate you," Will moaned. "I'm going to fuck you to death."

Hannibal's breath came out of him in a whine. Will grabbed Hannibal, one hand on his upper arm and the other on his hair, and flung him face down onto the bed. It was much better quality than the cot in his cell--a real bed, as a matter of fact--and queen sized. Will kicked over the bucket next to the bed in his haste to scramble onto the mattress himself, spilling condoms and lube and dental dams across the floor. He didn't need any of those things. What did any Alpha need with those things? Hannibal was already wet and slick and gaping for him; Will knew this even before he stuck his fingers in Hannibal's ass. He knew this because he was Will Graham, Alpha to Hannibal Lecter's Omega, and Hannibal was his, and he didn't need any fucking condoms for that.

Will pulled Hannibal's jumpsuit off the rest of the way and dropped it onto the floor, and then his own. He crawled on top of Hannibal on all fours and pressed their skin together. Hannibal burned, but he shivered as Will covered him and bucked his hips up. "Do it," he whispered. "Do it, do it."

Sinking into Hannibal was like coming home. It was like every door in the prison had been flung wide open, and Will stepped out of its doors to the fields behind his house, the lights on the little boat showing him the way. He pressed his face to Hannibal's back and worked his hips in and out, forcing a little grunt out of Hannibal with every thrust.

"I could call the guards," Will whispered. "They'd come in, drag you out before you felt my knot in you. You'd burn up from the inside out."

Hannibal turned his head. His eyes were unfocused, his pupils huge and blown, but a smile curled the edges of his mouth. "Is that what you want, Will? To be responsible for my death?"

Will ground his teeth together and fucked Hannibal harder, as if that would actually help, as if he could split Hannibal open with his cock and spill his blood and guts all over the bed. Hannibal just bucked up to meet him, fists clutching the sheets so hard that one corner came off the mattress, his grunts running together into one continuous groan. Will felt his orgasm clawing at his loins and slammed in one last time. The base of his cock swelled, trapping him inside. Hannibal gave some feeble, animal cry that tugged at some faint instinct in Will, and that instinct pushed Will's head down to sink his teeth into the back of Hannibal's neck as he came, and came, and came, Hannibal's body rippling around his length and milking another spurt out of him even as he thought he must be wrung dry.

He collapsed on top of Hannibal and nuzzled over the teeth marks that he'd left. He licked into the indentations. Hannibal made a sleepy, satisfied noise, shivering as Will's cock jerked and pumped another load of seed into him.

"You did this on purpose, didn't you," Will murmured. "You made damn well sure."

"Of course I did," Hannibal said, and there was such real and sincere tenderness in his voice that Will went cold.

---end---