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All Those Dead People

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The alarm buzzed with a piercing screech, and Will Graham rolled onto his side, his hands blindly reaching over the warm body beside his to slam the button with the heel of his palm and turn off its rude intrusion into a cold winter morning. He buried his face in Hannibal's pillow, who pretended to sleep through it, stubbornly clinging on to whatever semblance of sleep he could. Will nudged his shoulder with his chin, his longer whiskers scraping along Hannibal's skin. "Come on, get up, I'm not the only one with a busy day."

Hannibal frowned and groaned in near sleep, rolling onto his side, putting his back to Will. It was a cruel thing to be awoken this early, to be forced out of the comfort of one's bed and the pleasurable heat of its company. Still, he couldn't stop the small smile that erupted at the quick peck Will placed on his cheek, the rough contours of Will's face bristling against his own. "I'll put the coffee on," Will promised. He kissed Hannibal again as he half turned to face him, this time on the lips. The velvet softness of them was sigh worthy. "Unless Abigail got to the coffee maker first."

Hannibal inwardly cursed. "Stop letting her make the coffee, she makes it too strong."

"But I like drinking paint thinner."

He could feel Will leave the bed, the sudden chill of his absence making the effort to get out of it even less appealing. Hannibal pulled the warmed comforter around him as he blearily opened his eyes to the red hue of 8:30 staring back at him from the alarm clock. Beyond it was the wardrobe closet door, wide open, his expensive suits roughly pushed to the left and right, leaving a wide gap in the middle. He sat up in bed at this, his brow furrowed in displeasure. This was becoming an increasingly cruel morning, especially to wake up to something like that, to see the freshly painted beige wall of the closet, his clothes thoughtlessly tossed aside to expose that which he was doing all he could to forget. A flash of something red hit the back of his eyes and he closed them tight before opening them again, the trapped light putting colourful purple spots on the beige surface instead.

"Really, Will, how many times do I have to tell you to make sure that closet door is closed?"

Will shrugged and yawned as he padded across the large room, his hands lazily hunting through the drawers of his battered antique dresser for his own clothes. Nothing he owned needed a hanger, and frankly the more rumpled and wrinkled everything was, the better. He pulled out a pair of dark khakis and a blue cotton shirt that sported a tiny dotted black grid pattern. It was missing two buttons from the bottom, which was not so neatly hidden by the green pullover Will tugged his arms through and over his shoulders, the shirt peeking out from beneath the ribbed hem. "I didn't touch your closet," Will said.

"Well someone opened it."

"Talk to Abigail, she was probably hunting for socks again."

"I told her to stay out of it."

"She's seventeen, Hannibal, everything that is yours is hers."

Hannibal watched as Will slid on his pants, slightly envying the way he could put himself together in five minutes or less, his handsome, rumpled countenance a perfect blend with the wrinkled fabrics and muted colours that hung on him in drab finesse and yet did nothing to halt the feelings of desire that simply looking at him awoke within Hannibal. Theirs was a study in contrasts, with his routine meticulous and exacting, every hair in place, closely shaved and perfectly pressed suits immaculately ready to hang upon his frame with tailored pomp. Will had often accused him of being a peacock, for who else would deign to wear matching vests beneath designer suits and overly colourful cravats in expensive silk. He didn't complain, however, those nights when he delighted in peeling the many layers off in tortuous, slow movements, his mouth open upon every small exposure of flesh.

Hannibal swung his legs over the bed, hands roughly forcing wakefulness into his senses as he rubbed his palms over his face. "She needs to understand that this *our* room, and she can't just walk in here and start digging around for whatever item strikes her fancy. There's a certain boundary that must be set, especially since the items in this room are very precious to me..."

"Is she going to find a sex toy I don't know about?"

"Will, be serious, I can't have her grubby, unwashed teenaged hands stealing my ties and wrecking them with cheap perfume and lipstick. How would you like it if she started stealing your ratty sweaters?"

"She already did. My favourite black one, the one you hate that has the holes in the elbows. She wore it all last week, I didn't hear you complain." Will grimaced, hunting through his top drawer. "Have you seen my watch? It's usually right here in the corner."

"I believe it's holding up the sleeve of a moth eaten sweater currently hanging on a seventeen year old girl. "

Will closed the top drawer with a heaving sigh and glanced over his shoulder at Hannibal, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed, the exhaustion of starting his day almost too much to bear. His open closet seemed to mock him the effort, the wide space an eerie injection into an otherwise pleasant morning. Hannibal fought the urge to leap out of his bed and shut the doors, to keep the shadow of all that it held in its strict prison. But he had promised himself he would forbear this, he would not dwell in a place of memory that held nothing but pain within it. The room was larger, the closet was bigger, it made sense for them to move into it when Will's presence at his home had become far more permanent with every day, and in truth he loathed the thought of them spending any time in separate beds.

The small hints of his late sister's presence were simply going to have to be endured until time put the stamp of his own and Will's influence upon the space, and hers was effectively muted.

He rose from the bed and headed for the en suite bathroom, his body still humming with the feel of Will's skin against his own and how intensely his scent had wound its way into his pores. He hated the thought of washing him off, but one had to remain a prisoner to one's own fashions, and there was a measure of urgency now rising within him at the thought that if he didn't get started Will would gulp his coffee and be out the door before Hannibal even had a chance to make them all breakfast, and that was a crime definitely not worth courting.

By the time he was dressed and ready for his own day to start, Will was on his second cup of coffee and nearly finished his reading of the latest article on Tattle Crime. He showed Hannibal the garish colours of the web site on the iPad, shoving the tablet toward him as he poured a cup of black coffee. Will and Abigail sat side by side on the stools perched at the kitchen island, Will's cup of coffee held aloft and Abigail slightly scowling into a glass of orange juice. Hannibal remained on the other side of the kitchen island standing opposite them, his matching coffee cup brought to his pursed lips in delicate sips.

"I don't know why you guys don't just get a laptop, they're so much more useful. I hate that stupid tablet, it's always running out of batteries every time I want to watch a movie and I think the touch screen is getting worn out, it doesn't work half the time."

"I have a laptop," Will asserted and downed a glug of coffee. "It's at my work, where you can't borrow it to waste our bandwidth downloading anime." He ignored her pointed scowl and nodded at Hannibal who was engrossed in the article in question. "Do you think she got my good side?"

Hannibal was unimpressed. Reporter Freddie Lounds had been a thorn in their side since the beginning of the Minnesota Shrike case and Will was brought in to profile the serial killer who would be revealed as Garrett Jacob Hobbs, Abigail's father. When Will had pursued Hobbs at his home and the ensuing altercation resulted in Hobbs murdering his wife and slicing the throat of his daughter, Will had shot him five times, an overkill Lounds was eager to pounce on. She'd been overtly critical of their resulting relationship as well, and this unfortunate celebrity sat ill with Hannibal, especially since Will had become her favourite target.

"You gotta love that headline--*Will Graham, KILLER and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, ACCOMPLICE*--Freddie's lawyer must be having a field day with that one. Having a meeting with Jack later this morning about these crazy articles, she's skimming libel there."

Hannibal was deeply disturbed as he read the article, and was careful to keep the details of it out of Abigail's view. She would no doubt discover it later anyway, but until then he'd protect her while he could, even with a bit of fair warning. "Abigail, this article outlines the details of your father's death and it isn't wise to read it. It may trigger some very unwelcome feelings I know, however, that my saying this will result in you absolutely reading it at some point--please understand that Ms. Lounds is in the business of selling ad space on her web site and earns her pennies with clicks. You must know this, Abigail, Will and I did not maliciously seek out your father to kill him, nor to harm you. He had committed terrible crimes, as you are aware, crimes of which you are blameless."

Abigail sipped at her orange juice and gave both Will and Hannibal's concerned looks a cheerful shrug. "I already read it before you guys got up. She's an idiot, what's the big deal?" She downed the rest of her orange juice and slid off the stool, placing her glass in the clean, empty sink behind Hannibal. "Funny the things you find out, though. What I want to know is what's the deal with your sister? I didn't even know you had one." Large blue eyes and sweetly freckled cheeks stared up at his stricken expression with what seemed to Hannibal a mock innocence. "This article says she killed herself less than a year ago, is that true?"

Will coughed over his coffee and gave Abigail a furious glare. "Really, Abigail, it's not the time..."

But of course it was the time, the morning had already sealed it with the open closet door, the hit of red behind his closed eyes, the constant, daily reminders that hit him on the hour. No phone calls on his cell phone throughout the day demanding his pick up some treat or other on the way home. No jangling keys at zero in the morning from when she'd decided to stagger home from some art house party. No bulimic attempts to lose weight, the echo of her retching an unpleasant morning alarm. And yet, despite all of this, he loved Mischa, he'd gone through hell with her and she had been his guide, his measurement of what innocence could be, even when it was inevitably corrupted. She was often funny, she had the greatest stories. She was artistic, obsessively so, had art galleries in Baltimore and New York clamouring for her paintings, dark industrial swatches that gleamed with insertions of rusted gears from World War II car parts. 'Accurate history', she'd called it, smears of red over tiny engine scraps and bits of hair painted into the margins. He was a classicist and didn't understand her post modern expressionism, but no matter, he was proud of her efforts and her success.

"Do you miss her?"

"Abigail, stop."

Hannibal sipped at his coffee and didn't look at her. "I miss her as much as you miss your father."

Abigail's cheeks reddened at this and she bowed her head slightly, the chastisement heard loud and clear. "I'm sorry," she muttered.

"Don't be sorry. It's better to talk of these things than to allow them to fester, and though Will was doing his best to be kind, there are some subjects that can never be addressed as such. I lost my sister and you lost your father, Abigail, and both of them were guilty for what they had done." He watched as she hung her head further, her bottom lip chewed, a pang of fatherly patience curling within him. "If you want to talk about it..."

"No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been such a bitch about it."

"There's no great crime committed here." Hannibal stared down at her with grave fondness. "We can leave it at that for today, if that's all right with you?"

"Sure," Abigail said, but it was clear she was still feeling guilty for the small goading. In many ways she was like his sister, eager to pick the bones of him that smarted the most and yet also quick to defend. There was a lot of his sister's youth in Abigail, the impetuous tongue, the need to invade others' space, the quick and near violent perception that spilled from sweetness. The one large difference was Mischa's utter lack of remorse when one of her barbs hit too closely. Abigail's guilt was a welcome balm against this, and Hannibal gave her a warm, fatherly hug, kissing her on the top of her head with genuine affection. She wiped a tear on his silk tie and he didn't bother caring if she was wearing mascara.

Hannibal checked his watch and was about to start breakfast only for Will to hold up his hand. "I don't have time, I have to get to Quantico for that meeting with Jack before my lectures start. I'll pick up your dry cleaning on the way home, and I need you to pick up dog food. It's on sale at that place near your office."

Will leaned over and gave Hannibal a quick goodbye kiss before he could protest. He smiled into Hannibal's mouth, his body leaning over the kitchen island. His eyes danced with brimming mischief.

"You look pretty."

Hannibal smiled and rolled his eyes at the jibe. A ridiculous thing to say to a man and there was his neck, burning red. "Shut up and go to work."

~*~
Abigail stayed back at the house, insisting she was going to study up on colleges she could attend in the winter semester, which was starting in just two months. The drive into Baltimore was uneventful, his Bentley pulling into the driveway of the Victorian building that housed his office a strangely congruent fixture beside it. It was the stubbornly antique look of it, he supposed. His office took up the entire upper floor, while a couple of legal offices were tucked away beneath it, on the ground floor. He took great pride in his office, the location carefully chosen, the architecture within a draw that pulled on both his vanity and his artistic sensibilities. His office in many ways was like a vast library of psychological texts and surgical leftovers from his days when he practised medicine at John Hopkins. The open space was two floors, the upper level a narrow balcony that housed rows upon rows of carefully placed books.

As was his usual habit, Hannibal locked his Bentley as he made his way up the steps, keys jangling in hand in stoic anticipation. He enjoyed his practise and looked upon the enclave he had found for it with no small sense of pride. Mischa had often accused him of making his office an extension of his overdone wardrobe, but this didn't stop her from insisting he hang a couple of her signature works on his office walls. He had once employed her as his secretary, which proved disastrous. Missed appointments, angry, insulted patients, lost files...He hadn't fired her so much as encouraged her to run off with a cellist from the Petersburg symphony and when that love affair fizzled out (as they all did), she returned and Hannibal had sadly informed her he had no need of a secretary after all. This was a lie, he desperately did need someone to manage his more insistent patients and inform him of cancellations, and the billing system was a nightmare, but it was simply easier to pretend he didn't need one than to suffer Mischa's angry retribution over being replaced by someone far more competent.

He fleetingly wondered if Abigail would enjoy such a role, and contemplated getting her enrolled in a local college for some basic secretarial training. He didn't like the idea of her wandering around his house, isolating herself from the world in ways that reminded him, quite unpleasantly, of Mischa's final weeks and her depressed, relentless pacing.

He was thinking of Abigail, her long black hair tied back, her cheerful face being a balm of sunshine for his morose patients, as he gracefully made his way up the stairs to his office and was quite surprised to see there was someone already waiting for him. He had several chairs situated in what was a mostly closeted space, the door to his office barring entry for those who didn't have an appointment. The young man, who looked to be in his late twenties, stood up from one of the grey upholstered seats and held out his hand in greeting. He had small eyes and a bedraggled beard that would put Will Graham's to shame, and was a rather large man though not overly imposing.

"Hi, I'm Cole Sear." he said, warmly pumping Hannibal's hand.

Hannibal frowned slightly over the friendly greeting. "I don't believe you have an appointment..."

"No, no I don't. I'm actually here on impulse if you can believe that. I was reading an article about you this morning, and I don't usually care about the crap they post on Tattle Crime but..."

Hannibal draped his coat primly over his arm and brushed past Mr. Sear to unlock his office door. "I have no interest in discussing that repugnant article. Please, see yourself out."

He shut the office door behind him with cold finality and was infuriated when a gentle knock beseeched him to open it again. His mouth a grim line, Hannibal wrenched the door open and barred Mr. Sear's nervous entrance. "I have no interest in talking about my work with Will Graham, nor do I have a rebuttal to that vile article, nor do I wish to discuss anything to do with the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case, nor my relationship with Will Graham. Is that clear?"

"Look, Dr. Lecter, I'm not here because of any of that, I'm just..." Mr. Sear let out a tired sigh. "I'm a bereavement counsellor. Mrs. Hobbs was one of my clients."

Hannibal was instantly confused by this, especially since Abigail had never mentioned her mother was suffering any kind of recent loss. Then, the more he thought on it, Abigail hadn't mentioned her mother at all, as though the woman was a wisp of smoke in her life that once was dissipated was easy to dismiss. Against his better judgement, he stood to one side, allowing Mr. Sear in to his office.

"Wow, this place never changes." Sear caught Hannibal's confused look at this and shrugged his large shoulders. "I had a childhood psychologist who practised here. He had nearly the exact same set up, but he wasn't so big on the artwork and the curtains are new. His style was a bit darker, more shadows. I like the blue paint."

"It's slate grey," Hannibal corrected him. He bid Mr. Sear to have a seat across from him, as he did with so many of his patients. He clasped his hands neatly over his stomach. "How can I help you, Mr. Sear?"

There was a quiet moment after this question, as Mr. Sear's eyes roved around the office, taking in all the differences and similarities affixed in his memory. Hannibal wondered what childhood trauma required him to need a psychiatrist in his youth, but as he himself was demanding privacy, he knew better than to wrench that from his guest. "You knew Mrs. Hobbs?"

"Yes, she was coming to see me to cope with the death of her mother. Judith was having a very hard time, she didn't feel her husband was listening to her and she felt a very real disconnect from her daughter. It troubled her a great deal."

"Considering what Garrett Jacob Hobbs was, I don't doubt that she did feel cut off from the rest of her small family. Hobbs had isolated both himself and Abigail from her, had taken the reins as a parent to levels that were, to put it mildly, unhealthy. I had no idea she had lost her mother, and thus, Abigail her grandmother. Strange that she has never mentioned this to me."

Mr. Sear raised a brow at this. "Mentioned it?"

"Abigail Hobbs is currently living with both myself and Mr. Graham. I feel as a licensed psychiatrist I have the ability to help her and we are doing all we can to offer her a stable place from which to be reborn. As you can imagine, it is no easy thing to simply walk out of the grip of a monster. Clearly, it had gone so far as to come between her relationship with her mother, a bond that is usually very strong."

"You think so?"

"Mothers and daughters? Oh, yes. Even competitive, if you believe the Freudians."

"Abigail is living with you," Mr. Sear repeated, and slowly nodded his head. "That's really...interesting. Her mother used to tell me she couldn't wait for Abigail to leave the nest and try to find her own way in the world. She often complained about how her husband would dismiss her feelings and made the universe about himself and his daughter, shutting all other's needs out. It's a cruel thing to do to someone who is grieving, and Judith cared a lot about her mother. She couldn't understand what had happened between herself and Abigail, why that gulf couldn't be crossed."

"Grieving is a lonely process no matter how much support one has."

"I imagine you know that yourself quite well, Dr. Lecter." Sear nodded at the two signature works on his wall, the modernist style in stark contrast to the more classical theme of his other objects d'art. "Your sister's work, I'm guessing. She was very talented."

"She was also very troubled."

"Yes, I suppose she was." Sear leaned forward, an intensity about him that put Hannibal on edge. He couldn't stop himself from putting up his usual cold wall, one that he often used when people were too eager to press into his mental space, a shield that had often come in handy when dealing with manipulative patients and passive-aggressive colleagues. He'd cultivated the skill early in his life, as a protection against Mischa's high strung histrionics designed to pummel his psyche. How he remembered her empty accusations, how she'd scream at him over imagined slights, throw cutlery and dishes at him when he dared to suggest she was wrong in this or that decision. Then the tantrum would ease and she would be kind again, apologetic on occasion, but always there was that layer of threat underneath her care, that she could erupt into that fury anew at any moment, and he wisely kept his shark cage closed.

"Are we ever truly free of them?"

Hannibal's thoughts faltered. "I beg your pardon?"

"The dead. They never stop nagging us, do they?" Sear shook his head. "I keep seeing Judith, she's...She was so worried about her daughter. I'm glad to know that Abigail is in a good place, at least for now." Sear bowed his head and reached into his pocket. He handed Hannibal a battered business card, very plain with white lettering on black. "I hope you don't think I'm interfering or being presumptuous or anything like that--I just figured since I was helping her mom maybe I could have a unique perspective for Abigail. She no doubt has a lot of complexities over her grief concerning her father's death. While I'm perfectly aware you are able to take care of her needs, I am a specialist in bereavement. If you ever need a bit of pressure taken off, I'm the guy to call."

Hannibal gave the man a small smile and pocketed the business card in his suit jacket, thinking he did not need nor would do such a thing. He'd toss it in the trash later, out of politeness. "I will consider it," he said, smiling and lying.

"Yeah." Cole Sear stood up and held out his hand again. "It was good to meet you, Dr. Lecter. Like I said, don't hesitate to call. The dead are patient, but grief, not so much."

The lights above Hannibal's desk flickered and sizzled, giving both men pause. "I guess someone's got an opinion about that," Sear said, and Hannibal found his words chillingly cryptic.

~*~

The strange flickering continued throughout the morning, a distraction that irked Hannibal, his fingers impatiently tapping on the armrest of his chair while Franklyn Froideveaux wept and whined his way through another session, tissue after tissue discarded on the side table when there was a perfectly clean wastebasket for it underneath it. As he loudly blew his nose, Hannibal thought about his strange visit with Cole Sear and the many thoughts and feelings it had evoked within him. He intellectually understood that Abigail would greatly benefit from the man's expertise, but he was reluctant to give up the control of her well being, a latent neediness in himself that he found disturbing. Will himself had not been dealing with the death of Hobbs all that well, and had been transferring his feelings of guilt and horror into unhealthy obsessions, namely his job where the case of the Minnesota Shrike had become the sole focus of his lectures. He'd placed himself in the role of Abigail's father out of guilt, and through his empathy he had emulated much of her father's more benign behaviours, such as talking about hunting and fishing and agreeing that nature's law of all things having a use a religion that was still worthwhile to cling to. It was an ethos Hannibal did not agree with, for there was much in life that had no use whatsoever, that was nothing more than waste upon the crowded space of Earth. Franklyn's whining was one of them. Will's misplaced guilt and Abigail's manipulative use of it. His sister's wrong choice.

"Dr. Lecter?"

Hannibal glanced up at Franklyn, who was stuffed in his patient's chair at an uncomfortable angle, his teary eyes suddenly dry. He sighed and sat back, his meaty hands opened wide in supplication. "This is what I'm talking about."

Hannibal frowned. "What do you mean, Franklyn?"

"You're not exactly very *attentive*, Dr. Lecter." Franklyn stared at the carpet, taking in the pattern in long lengths, anything but to look directly at his psychiatrist. "I've noticed lately you've been really distracted, and while I understand why, I mean how can I not, I read Tattle Crime just like everyone else...And, it's come to my attention that you have a lot of problems of your own. And while I really want to be someone you could befriend, I'm not sure in my own fragile emotional state that I could do that."

Hannibal's cold facade slipped slightly, his face twisting in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about, Franklyn?"

"I can't be your friend, Dr. Lecter."

"Well, that's certainly some progress, I've been telling you this for quite some time. I'm glad you've finally taken my advice."

"I need a psychiatrist who isn't so..." Franklyn rolled his hands as though he could work out the right words the same way one kneaded bread dough. "Involved in his own issues."

Hannibal's mouth was a cut line. "Everyone has problems, Franklyn."

"Ye-ess..." Franklyn bowed his head and grimaced slightly, his shoulders shrugging in forced helplessness. "Look, this is how I see it. You are supposed to be my rock, the guy who has it all together, at least on the surface. I absolutely get it, you're a person whose job is very demanding and now you have certain demands in your personal life...Frankly, with my complex neuroses..."

"Are you firing me, Franklyn?"

Franklyn let out a long, suffering sigh that was more practised than honest. "I just think we both need to see other people."

Hannibal stared at him blankly. He stared at the bundle of tissue still sitting damp on the surface of his glass side table. He stared at the slightly sweaty, unpleasant man who had taken pints of emotional blood from him for months, his hour long session an endurance test Hannibal had come to detest. So he'd read an article on Tattle Crime, had he? Had come to know his psychiatrist as intimately as could be allowed without serving up nude Internet photos and had decided he wasn't quite the shining beacon of limitless care he wanted. Hannibal stared at the way Franklyn kept casting guilty glances towards his late sister's artwork and then averting his eyes, the unspoken words ringing in Hannibal's ears as if Franklyn had shouted into them: "If you couldn't save her, how in the hell are you going to save me?"

"Get out of my office."

"I'm sorry, I...What?" Franklyn shook his head, confused. "Look, I've never had to do this before, and I'm really sorry. I've been dumped by nine psychiatrists before you. Nine! I thought maybe we had a good rapport, but obviously that's not the case and, you can't blame me, not with everything that's out there like that. I mean there's Hobbs and you're living with that freaky FBI guy and there's your sister, I mean that wasn't even a year ago and...You've been really distracted during my sessions and now I finally know why. I feel a little hurt you didn't confide in me and I had to find out that way, it was quite a blow, believe me."

"I am sorry to have disappointed you so, Franklyn. Get the hell out."

"Dr. Lecter, come on, I don't think this is an unreasonable decision. The least you can do is give me a referral."

Hannibal stormed out of his seat to the door of his office, tearing it open. He bid Franklyn to leave with a wide swipe of his hand towards the tiny waiting room, which was currently empty. The lights were flickering here too, and he could hear the old filaments within them sizzling and popping on ancient dust. He would have to have that looked at. "I will send a referral to you later in the week. Please do not communicate with me in future."

Franklyn, inexplicably, looked hurt. He slid out of his chair and onto his feet, his steps heavy and weary. "I...I'm sorry it had to come to this. I've always considered you my friend."

"You have a rather selfish definition of friendship, Franklyn." And with that he closed the door on the gobsmacked man and shut him out of his sights forever. Infuriating worm of a man!

The silence of his office afterwards helped ease the rage welling within him at the audacity of this cretin, and as his emotions were forced into calm he had to concede that this was simply Franklyn's flippant, neurotic nature, that he was sensing danger when it was really nothing more than an unchecked sadness. He *had* been distracted during Franklyn's sessions, and as he picked up the wadded clumps of tissue in disgust and tossed them into the wastebasket, he had to wonder why he had endured Franklyn this long. He had tried to help him and yet there had been no progress. Other than being fired for being a supposed mess, of course, and perhaps he could take some pride in that. The first one to be free of Franklyn's chains by Franklyn himself. He imagined getting calls from other psychiatrists and therapists begging him for the methodology, his advice causing mass Franklyn firings across the Baltimore region. It was a comforting fantasy.

He cell phone rang and he picked up without looking at it, his voice more clipped and professional than it needed to be. "Dr. Hannibal Lecter, how may I help you?"

"It's me. How is your morning going?"

"Wonderful, I was just fired by a patient." Hannibal smiled over Will's quiet, cursing outburst at this. "You do remember Franklyn?"

"The sweaty guy with the balled up Kleenex? How can I forget, he practically slobbered all over you when I met him at that opera event last week. That friend of his was damn creepy, what was his name? Some kind of bird. Budgie, something like that." Will let out a frustrated sigh, and Hannibal could picture him, bent over folders, his glasses askew, his soft a curls a mess and begging for Hannibal's long fingers to comb through them and get trapped. "Ever since we caught Hobbs it's been slow going around here, like there's a shortage of serial killers. Jack has me going over old cold case files from the 1970's, to 'keep me busy'. You and I both know it's because he's trying to disentangle me from the Hobbs case, and he thinks all it takes is a nudge and a flick of the switch. He doesn't get it, that I'm still in there, I'm still in Hobbs's head, and it's damned hard to pull myself out."

"So Jack thinks putting you in a pile of polyester and blood soaked bell bottoms is the cure. Tell me, Will, are you bringing home Pink Floyd albums for research purposes? If so, I shall have no recourse but to soundproof the study."

"I'm shocked you even know who that is."

"I didn't grow up in a complete cultural vacuum, Will. Mischa always did have a penchant for the rock and roll lifestyle."

"I tell you, that decade was serial killer paradise, it's a wonder any of us are still alive." He could hear the rustle of papers as Will organized them on the desk in his lecture hall, the humming buzz of an overhead projector silenced as he clicked it off. "It's not just Hobbs, either, I'm getting tired of all the tiptoeing around me, everyone staring at me like I'm their latest lab project. Dr. Alana Bloom called me into her office today to talk about how I'm coping and it was the most awkward, awful feeling being there with her and with Jack hovering behind me. She calls me a friend, but she won't be alone with me, all because she's scared of analyzing me. Now she can't even do it when it's expected of her. I'm an emotional infection to these people."

Hannibal pursed his lips at this. "That's a tad harsh, Will. Are you still having issues with your students?"

"I can't concentrate on anything but Hobbs, and yes, they are starting to complain again. They want me to branch out into other killings, so they can sink their teeth into relevant information, not this old retread of a solved case. They don't get it, that this is what the field work is. Constant abstract reverb of the same thing until it finally morphs into something you can actually see."

The sadness emanating through him was enough to give Hannibal pause, and he wished he was there, offering a supportive hand on Will's shoulder, his pain magnified and tender to the touch. "You know what the weird thing about all of this is? I think I'm in mourning. I think I'm mourning the death of Garrett Jacob Hobbs and his sick vision. I was the instrument of his death, his murderer. And it's the weirdest thing, but there are times I can still feel a piece of him within me, squeezing parts of me aside to make room for himself, the parts of me that are logical and reasonable."

"Garrett Jacob Hobbs is dead, Will. You are only making room for your guilt." Hannibal reached into his suit jacket pocket and pulled out the small business card Cole Sear had given him. In small white letters on a black background, it displayed his name, 'bereavement counsellor' beneath it and a cell phone number. Nothing else. He found he rather liked the bland simplicity of it, for what could be simpler than death. It was all that came after that was the most painful.

"I had a strange meeting this morning with an interesting young man by the name of Cole Sear. Has he tried to get in contact with you, by any chance?"

"Not that I'm aware of. Why, who is he?"

"He's a bereavement counsellor. He was treating Abigail's mother, Judith Hobbs, after the death of Abigail's grandmother. He has an interesting insight into Abigail's family life, I think you and I should have a formal talk with him. He may give us a better perspective on how to best deal with her trauma."

"She's been giving me a hell of a time," Will admitted. "She puts on the happy act for us, and plays innocent, but I'm not so sure. I forgot my ID this morning and had to go back to the house after you left. We had a huge argument, you should have seen her, she was dressed like she was going to a subway rave, remember those?" Hannibal didn't. "She stormed off out of the house not telling me where she was going. All I did was ask what she was planning on doing all day. She disappears like this all the time, and when I press her to tell me, she refuses to answer. I'm thinking she's got a boyfriend, I'm just hoping she's not getting involved in drugs..."

It was a valid concern, especially with a young woman as vulnerable as Abigail clearly was. Having her in their home was not without its great challenges, her headstrong determination being one of them. She had been sheltered by Hobbs, but was strangely hardened by him too, and this odd juxtaposition of innocence and blood was a difficult combination to mentor.

She had come to them unexpectedly, a couple of weeks after the altercation at her house, where Will shot her father five times and Abigail lay bleeding to death on the kitchen floor, the huge gash in her neck pouring blood in a thick lake beneath her. They had accompanied her to the hospital, where she was stabilized, and they spent rotating shifts at her bedside, hopeful she would wake from her coma.

It would be a great omission not to admit that this bonding over her had also cemented his relationship with Will, the realization of the depth of their affections for each other culminated in a fleeting, innocent kiss goodbye at Wolf Trap. They had both spent the evening at the hospital when Abigail's condition worsened, the doctors whispering amongst themselves that she had suffered a stroke. Hannibal drove Will home to Wolf Trap in miserable silence, and through exhaustion and pathos he had leaned down and given Will's tortured lips a soft goodbye, his thumbs wiping away tears that kept threatening to spill.

Will didn't let him leave. Will's wiry passion pulled him close, then up to the tangled sheets of his bed, where even now Hannibal's body hummed in happy memory of the pleasures he found there.

Just twenty-fours hours after this Abigail suddenly showed up on their doorstep, small suitcase in hand. Obviously, the worries she had suffered a stroke were ill founded, as was the severity of her condition. This was just one of many of her long game manipulations, Hannibal was sure, for Abigail was still her biological father's daughter and she had a predator's instincts for survival.

"I'll talk to her when I get home," Hannibal promised.

The lights in his waiting room flickered and then finally sputtered out. He bid goodbye to Will and hung up his cell phone, his attention riveted on the dark maw just beyond the open door of his office. He could have sworn he'd closed it. No matter. Freddie Lounds and her abhorrent article had chased all of his patients away for the day. He would have to do the same for her.

~*~

He could hear them arguing as he made his way up the front steps of his stately home, and Hannibal braced himself for the war he was about to walk into. Will's deeper voice was riding above Abigail's far more high pitched screaming, none of it stopping for the man who walked casually into his home and hung up his coat with care in the coat closet near the front entrance. Hannibal slid off his shoes and neatly placed them beneath its hem. He was likewise careful with his argyle scarf and his leather gloves, which he peeled off and folded neatly, placing them in the pocket of his coat, the scarf draped around the neck of the coat hanger. Abigail's screaming reached a fever pitch and she let out a slew of curse words at Will, who was now slamming plates against the counter.

"Goddammit, Abigail, you need to go to school!"

"I'm not going there! You can't make me!"

"If you don't go to school, where the hell are you going to go? Right now you're either sulking around this house all day, doing nothing at all, or you're off doing God knows what and it's some big secret--Well, if it has to be a secret, it's obviously not good for you!"

"You don't understand anything!"

She stormed away from him, ready to go up the stairs and it was at this point that she saw Hannibal closing the coat closet near the front of the door, his expression one of unreadable calm. With tears flowing freely she ran up to him and collapsed into a sobbing hug that fiercely trapped him. "He never listens to me!"

Hannibal caught Will's ire and softly sighed. "Will..."

"Don't you dare!" Will marched up to him, a pointing finger held out in warning. "You always do this, she comes up to wailing and crying, accusing me of being the bad guy and you give her a hug and tell her everything is okay, and nothing gets resolved! She has you wrapped around her finger, you let her get away with everything!"

Hannibal could feel the girl's body shuddering in sobs beneath his embrace and he gently kissed the top of her head before sliding his palms across her cheeks to dry her tears. "My dear girl, it seems you know how to press a certain hotheaded man's buttons. Go on upstairs, I'll talk to Will. I'll call you when dinner's ready."

She sniffled and broke free of him reluctantly, her brilliant blue eyes melting every bit of parenting advice he'd ever given any of his patients. With her freckled cheeks now stained red from crying and glassily sad baby blues staring up at him she could have asked for a pony in that very second and Hannibal would have headed straight for the nearest stable he could find so he could gift her the perfect one.

"I don't want any dinner, I'm too upset." She sniffled with theatrical aplomb and dove up the stairs to her room, the door slamming behind her.

Hannibal let out a long breath as Will instantly railed on him. "You let her get away with talking to me like that!"

"She's have a teen tantrum, nothing to get so upset about."

Will frowned, shaking his head, his own eyes brimming with tears of frustration. "Look, I know I don't have the first clue of being a parent. I'm arguing with her when I should be talking to her, and I tried, I really did, but she's so damned stubborn..."

Hannibal placed a warm hand on Will's shoulder and delighted as the slighter man melted into his touch. "I just don't know if we're doing the right thing." Will leaned into Hannibal's chest, burying his face in his neck. "Why is this so hard?"

"Being a good parent is," Hannibal assured him. He kept his arm around his shoulders as he steered Will towards the kitchen. "You can help me make dinner. I have most of the vegetables prepped already. We're having coeur du beouf with fiddlehead greens and potates parisienne. What do you think of that?"

"Another night of awful offal."

"You have never complained before."

"There's a raw beef heart on a plate in the fridge, Hannibal. Abigail kept poking it with a fork, it's kind of grossed me out."

Hannibal was not amused. "So you are going to childishly sulk as well."

"No..." Will groaned and opened the refrigerator door, taking out the offerings Hannibal had already prepared, spreading them out on the kitchen counter. He picked up a couple of pans that he knew were Hannibal's favourites and stood aside to let the man work his passions. "I'm a dick. I know this is your version of stress relief, and you've had a hell of a day. I got your text earlier. No patients? That many people read Tattle Crime?"

"I'm sure they will eventually return, but our gossiping popularity is preceding us. Judgement comes swifter than common sense. Hand me a plate, I will make a portion for Abigail for her to have later."

Will handed him the plate, and Hannibal put it to one side, ready to load it up with more food than Hannibal and Will would eat combined. Abigail had a ferocious appetite, Hannibal had noticed, one that never seemed to be satisfied.

"I think I may have to call an electrician for the office, the lights are acting strange and they went out completely in the waiting room. It is an old house, I imagine it could use some rewiring." He unwrapped the beef heart and began removing fat and arteries with the tip of his chef's knife, then sliced it in half. He dredged it in a small amount of flour, salt and pepper before bringing it to the pan, where a pat of butter swirled and melted along the bottom. The pieces sizzled in the pan, and when they were well browned, he added a portion of red wine along with peppercorns, cloves and a couple of bay leaves. He then lowered the heat to allow it to braise. The smells were tantalizing, a rich dark beef that spoke of blood.

Will's arms wrapped around his waist, his chin resting comfortably on the back of Hannibal's neck. "You look so tired."

"It hasn't exactly been a pleasant day, for either of us."

Will's lips found the pulse point in his neck and Hannibal felt his breath catch as a soft kiss pressed against it. "You still having nightmares?"

Hannibal stiffened slightly at this, and he thought about lying, saying he was sleeping just fine and this was not an additional worry for Will to cultivate. But he knew Will would only resent him for it, for he was near impossible to deceive, his empathic perception cutting into every carefully placed facade with the ease of a sharp knife through butter. "Yes."

"We really don't need to sleep in that bedroom. I know you got some weird fixation on forcing yourself to deal with the loss in this way, but I can't help but think this is a very misguided move on your part. Your sister hung herself in that closet, Hannibal, every time you look at it you see her, you can't tell me otherwise. I don't understand why you are torturing yourself like this."

"There is no point in not facing one's demons. I aim to placate them with normalcy."

"Your wounds from Mischa's death are too raw. We shouldn't be in that room."

Hannibal hesitated over the fiddleheads, which he was going to sautee in butter and lightly season, their bitterness a sharp contrast to the rich meat they were set to accompany. Will had never had a sister, especially not one as creative and brilliant and infuriating as Mischa, whose star shone so brightly the world's cynicism had to slightly turn its head and take small notice of her. She had believed that attention to be permanent, and not fleeting. When her art began to lose favour amongst her usual patrons, their complaints of her subject matter being too dark for the hallways of corporate office buildings, she had taken the criticism as a blow to her person. She, like Will, was a perpetual emotion machine, though it was far more outwardly expressed.

Taking care of her had influenced Hannibal's life a great deal. In ways he couldn't quite articulate, he knew that if she hadn't been in his life, all of the trials they had gone through together would have twisted him in ways he couldn't fathom. As a child, she had been his conscience, an unspoiled innocence that he could place into long corridors of his memory palace and allow her free reign to touch every aspect of it.

"I need to respect her memory, Will, and shutting her bedroom door, pretending that what she did had no consequence, that is not something I can do. Mischa is not banished from this house, there are no dark rooms with cobwebs full of her ghost inside of them." He stirred the beef hearts, the reduced wine thickening into a rich gravy. "She made a terrible choice, I am unable to change that. But she was a person who was very close to me, and as such she had a great influence on who I became. I want to believe I thrived beneath her spark."

"You endured her spark." Will said, and Hannibal felt a lump in his throat at the truth of it.

"Perhaps. But I loathe to think of the kind of man I would have become without her."