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One Way Out Of Many

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"When you choose one way out of many, all the ways you don’t take are snuffed out like candles, as if they’d never existed.” - Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass.


Hannibal Lecter's daemon was a stoat, neat and lithe, no longer than the length of his forearm. Her name was Daiva and her pelt was sleek as silk, reddish-brown on top and creamy white at her breast. She had a petite teddy bear face that might have been cartoon-cute if not for the intelligence behind it, unflinching and inscrutable. Her eyes were tiny glass jewels, black as pitch, and they never missed a thing.

When Hannibal had a patient in his office, Daiva remained out of sight. For most people that was probably a relief, but Will Graham wasn’t most people. He and his crow daemon, Poppy, felt a lot more comfortable knowing exactly where that intelligence was, and what it was up to.

During Will’s first appointment, Poppy spent the entire time “casually” exploring the office, searching for Daiva with an embarrassing lack of subtlety. Hannibal didn't say anything, but on their second visit Poppy was able to locate Daiva within moments. She was squeezed between two leather-bound volumes up on the mezzanine, listening to every word spoken below. At Will's next visit, Daiva only permitted Poppy a glimpse of her fluffy black tail poking out from a row of archives, but after that first session she always found her, and found her easily. Poppy would huff in acknowledgement and then return to Will for the rest of the hour, roosting on the back of his chair with her beak pulled tight to her chest, her untidy black feathers puffed up around her like a stole.

Today, it hadn't gone that way at all.

Daiva was perched on Hannibal’s shoulder when Will burst into the office without an appointment, Poppy flapping furiously overhead. As he told Hannibal what had happened in Delaware, Daiva dropped down to the desk and watched him from a safe distance. She was a live-wire, standing to attention on four tiny paws, and Will wondered if she could smell Beth LeBeau’s blood on him. He’d scrubbed his hands raw at the crime scene, but he half expected to look down and see himself red to the elbows.

'I know I didn’t kill her,’ he told Hannibal. ‘I couldn’t have.'

'You didn't,' Poppy insisted.

Will knew it rationally, but his mind kept rebelling. It wasn’t just the nightmares and the sleepwalking anymore. He’d been losing patches of time. He had looked down at Beth LeBeau’s body and seen his victim, his kill. 'I remember cutting into her,’ he told Hannibal. ‘I remember watching her die.’

'It seems Poppy did not share your reality of the crime scene,' Hannibal said. 'Could she not help you detach from your delusion?'

Will shook his head, scrubbing his hands over his face. 'The places I go when I’m looking at a crime scene, I’m not… Poppy doesn’t always come with me.’ He’d never told anyone that before. He knew how bad it sounded. ‘I lose track of her when I lose myself.’ 

Poppy keened. She hated it even more than he did.

'Usually I can follow the breadcrumbs back through the woods but lately… Lately there’s been nothing but more woods.' He risked a quick glance up at Hannibal. He was standing much closer than usual, watching carefully, but he didn’t seem shocked. He must have already guessed how Will did what he did for Jack, as appalling as it was.

‘Will,’ he said. ‘I think it’s time to confront your limitations with what you do, and how it affects you.' His voice was firm and Will felt uncomfortably hot. He didn’t want to confront a damn thing. Hannibal took a step closer and Will cringed away, his back hitting the rungs of the ladder.

'Will?' Poppy swooped to the ground, claws skittering on the floorboards.

'It’s fine, I’m okay.' He took a long, steady breath to calm her, and raised his eyes to Hannibal again. 'If by limitations you mean the difference between sanity and insanity, then I don’t accept that.'

'What do you accept?'

'That I know what kind of crazy I am, and it isn’t this kind of crazy.’ He caught a flash of movement behind Hannibal. Daiva slipped down over the edge of the desk and dropped silently to the rug, whiskers catching the light, black tail twitching. ‘It could be seizures,' he said, his voice breaking with how much he wanted it. 'It could be a tumor,  or a - a blood clot.' God, how he longed for a tumor. A tumor could be cut out of him.

'I can recommend a neurologist. But,' Hannibal chose his words carefully, 'if this isn’t physiological, then you have to accept that what you’re struggling with is mental illness'.

Will’s chest tightened. He looked down to reassure Poppy, and gasped. Daiva was darting across the floor, low on her belly. Poppy sensed Will’s fear and swung around, rearing back, but she wasn't fast enough. Daiva’s mouth opened wide as she leapt, revealing dangerous fangs punctuated by rows of teeth like tiny white needles. She knocked Poppy over and coiled around her in a flash, burying her fangs deep in her gullet.

Will couldn’t move as Poppy scrambled for purchase, wings beating hard. She jostled Daiva but failed to throw her, eyes rolling back as she cried out. Blood pulsed over black feathers, splashing to the floor. It was savagely intimate: his daemon and Hannibal’s locked together, thrashing. Will should have felt sick. Instead, the sight sent a bolt of heat straight for his groin.

'Will.' He heard Hannibal’s voice as if from another room. 'Will.' Will ignored him and lunged for Poppy, grabbing Daiva with his –

 

Darkness. Steady fingers at the pulse in his throat. Will opened his eyes. It took him a moment to understand that he was laid out on Hannibal’s couch. Hannibal was in a chair alongside him.

'The time is 10.17pm. Your name is Will Graham and you're in Baltimore, Maryland. You lost consciousness for less than a minute. Poppy is right here.'

Poppy made a soft, pained sound at the foot of the couch and Will scooped her up, bringing her to the bare skin of his neck. She was whole and unharmed. It hadn't been real.

'You grabbed her,' she whispered, horrified, and Will froze. No. ‘Will.’ Her voice was firmer now. ‘Listen to me. It really happened.’

He scrambled off the couch, scanning the room. Daiva was up on the desk again, tense and wary, her black button eyes unblinking.

'I —’ He wanted to apologize, but the words caught in his throat.

‘Breathe, Will. Slowly. In and out.’ There was no trace of tension in Hannibal's voice and Will couldn't fathom it. ‘Can you tell me what happened? What you saw?'

‘She attacked Poppy, she was...' He shook his head. 'I know it wasn’t real.'

'It was real for you.' 

Will risked another look at Daiva. 'Did I hurt you?'

Daiva inclined her head, as if surprised to be addressed directly. Her tail twitched. 'No,' she said at last. 'It didn’t hurt.' Will had never heard her voice before; it was deep and subdued, her accent a soft echo of Hannibal's.

‘I'm more concerned about you, Will,’ Hannibal said. ‘An hallucination that vivid...'

That wasn’t even the the worst of it. Will screwed his eyes shut at the memory of how good it felt. The intoxicating intimacy of it, even as Poppy fought for her life. 'How can you be so calm?' he asked Hannibal. 'Aren’t you furious?’

'Should I be?'

'I touched your daemon. I held her.' Even the words were shocking.

‘No harm was done, as you can see.' Hannibal got to his feet. 'Now. Allow me to prepare some supper. Something simple, I think. I can’t allow you to drive home like this.’ He made for the door, as if the matter was settled.

Will gaped after him. Hannibal was an enigma at the best of times, but tonight, with his mind on fire, Will had no chance of reading him at all. Will had violated one of humankind’s greatest taboos, and all Hannibal wanted to do was feed him.

 

The candles were already lit when he reached the dining room. Their warm glow fuelled Will’s exhaustion as the adrenaline drained from his system. He gulped down a glass of water so fast he felt the chill travel down through his chest.

‘It can’t be unheard of for doctors,’ Poppy said, flapping over to the table. ‘Psychiatrists especially.’

Will winced, clenching his hands in his lap to keep from shaking. Of course, only a crazy person would deliberately touch someone else’s daemon.

Poppy guessed what he was thinking and shot him a frustrated look. ‘That’s not what I meant.’ She wanted to believe this was a physical problem just as much as he did. ‘I meant maybe that’s how he can be so reasonable about it. He’s had training.’ Poppy clearly wanted to say more, but her beak snapped shut at the sound of Hannibal’s approaching footsteps. Daiva slipped into the room first.

As Hannibal laid down two steaming dishes, Daiva leapt up into the wall garden and disappeared into the shadows. In the flickering candlelight, the plant-boxes seemed to recede beyond the bounds of the room. Will felt as though he was peering into deep undergrowth as a pair of glittering black eyes flashed at him through the leaves, then vanished again just as quickly. Will assumed Daiva was avoiding him, until he remembered that she’d retreated into the shelves the last time he dined here as well.

Unlike Poppy, who showed no compunction at joining them for dinner and stood with her claws digging into the tablecloth.

‘Sorry,’ Will said, shooting Hannibal a quick look as he gestured her down. ‘Poppy.’

‘We need not stand on ceremony,’ Hannibal said, taking his seat opposite Will.

‘Thank you, I won’t,’ Poppy replied. Hannibal smiled fondly as she pointedly picked her way further up the table.

As a child, Will had been taught basic table manners: don’t talk with your mouth full, say grace before a sit-down meal ('Come lord Jesus be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed’) and keep your daemon off the table. But those rituals fell away the older Will got and the less his father cared about anything much at all. These days, Will didn’t often eat in company. At home, Poppy would perch on his shoulder, or on a dog, or wherever the hell she pleased, and there was no one around to frown at feathers shedding near the good dishes. Not that Will owned any dishes that might qualify as good.

He ducked his head over the steam rising from his bowl. Meat, vegetables, beef stock and... something else. Something smoky. His stomach rumbled as he tried to remember if he’d eaten dinner. Worryingly, he couldn’t recall lunch either. ‘What’s tonight’s offering, then?’ To his shame, his voice still sounded shaky.

‘Lamb and aubergine stew. Simple and quick to reheat, perfect for when a friend arrives unexpectedly at one’s door.’

‘Sorry.’

‘I cannot regret an unexpected visit from you, Will.’

‘Well, I do,’ he said. Then he realized how ungrateful he sounded. ‘The necessity of it, anyway.’ The stew was spicy, with a backbone of garlic. It was delicious.

‘I’ve never held with prohibiting daemons from the table,’ said Hannibal. ‘A puritanical relic of the Victorian era, like putting skirts on the legs of tables. Positing our souls as something unclean or disorderly.’

‘To be fair, in my case...’ Will eyed Poppy’s scruffy wings, and she glared back at him. She snatched a morsel of lamb from his bowl and walked off with it.

‘You say that, but I have actually noticed an improvement in her appearance of late,’ Hannibal said. ‘There is certainly more lustre to her plumage.’

Poppy went very still.

‘It’s a good thing you’re not a fan of Victorian puritanism,’ Will said. ‘Because that was very forward.’

‘I hope it’s not presumptuous to seek proof that our sessions are productive?’

‘I doubt many psychiatrists measure their results by lustrousness of plumage. And you can’t have it both ways - either your therapy is working and Poppy is thriving, or I need to steel myself for an unpleasant diagnosis tomorrow.’

Poppy snatched another piece of lamb, making her displeasure known at being the subject of discussion. As she gobbled it down, drops of stew hit the tablecloth and Will heard the beating of wings and the rustle of leaves in the wind. Cold air bit at his face. He was in Hibbing, Minnesota, watching Zeller shoo crows from the corpse of Cassie Boyle. Will had lost track of Poppy shortly after climbing out of Jack’s car, and for a moment he couldn’t be sure that she wasn’t among flurry of birds now fleeing the body, beaks sticky with blood. Panic constricted his chest. Most daemons were larger than their animal counterparts, and most people knew the location of their daemon without thinking, but Poppy had always been small, and Will had always been different. If she got too close to real crows, she blended in.

Will’s hand tightened around the FBI consultant badge in his pocket, and at once he found himself back in Hannibal’s dining room. No crows, no Zeller, and no Cassie Boyle. The smell of his half-eaten dinner turned his stomach.

‘Will? What did you see?’

Will shook his head. He had no desire to discuss the symbolism of losing Poppy in a flock of carrion birds. He got enough of that from local LEOs whispering to each other at crime scenes. ‘I’m just tired,’ he said. ‘I zoned out.’

Hannibal looked unconvinced. ‘You were non-responsive for at least twenty seconds.’ He pushed his chair out from the table and stood up. ‘I would like you to stay in one of my guest rooms tonight. The drive is far too long for you to attempt in this state.’

Will knew he ought to protest, but Hannibal was already clearing away the bowls and all he could feel was relief.

 

As familiar as he was with Hannibal’s office, Will had never explored his house beyond the dining room and kitchen. The journey to the guest room felt longer than it should have, the air shimmering like heat haze as he followed Hannibal up staircases and down long corridors, quickly losing all sense of direction. In the amber light from the sconces dotted along the walls, Daiva was a streak of gold racing ahead.

'I trust you’ll be comfortable in here.' Hannibal opened a door with an ornate brass handle. 'Let me fetch you something to sleep in.'

The guest room was decorated in forest greens and browns, with a painting of a stately middle-aged woman over the fireplace. She and her peacock daemon looked intently off to one side, clearly focusing on the same object just outside of the frame. Was she a relative of Hannibal’s? Will didn't even know what country Hannibal was from, never mind if he had any living family. Somehow it seemed unlikely. The accomplished Doctor Lecter might as well have appeared in the world at the age of forty, sprung straight from the split skull of Zeus.

Will’s jacket was somewhere downstairs, so he stripped off one of the pillowcases and made a nest on the nightstand for Poppy. She flopped down and closed her eyes immediately. A moment later, Hannibal appeared in the doorway with a neatly folded set of pajamas.

'Are you scheduled to teach in the morning?’ he asked. Will shook his head. 'In that case we can visit the clinic sooner rather than later. A former colleague of mine can fit you in at noon.'

'I think even Jack would have to accept it if I called in sick with a brain tumor.' Hannibal gave him a disapproving look. 'Yeah, I know. Don't count my tumors before they're hatched.'

'No need for gallows humor just yet,' Hannibal replied warmly. Will glanced down to where Daiva was peering at him from around the edge of the door, unmoving and expressionless. He looked up again quickly but Hannibal had already clocked his gaze. He made no comment. 'Goodnight, Will. Sleep well.'

The door clicked shut behind him, muffling the sound of his retreating footsteps. Will realized his phone was downstairs in his jacket. He should probably go and get it, but even if Jack wanted to pull him out on the LeBeau case overnight it simply wasn’t going to happen. He was exhausted, and besides, Hannibal wouldn’t approve of him going out again. There was comfort in that. Will chose not to examine it too closely.

He changed into the pajamas. There was only an inch or so between him and Hannibal in height but Hannibal was considerably broader across the shoulders and the shirt drooped forlornly on him, hanging down over his knuckles. Used to sleeping in multipack boxer-briefs and t-shirts, he felt overdressed and overwhelmed. He pulled the shirt off again and climbed into bed, the sheets cool against his bare chest.

Once he switched off the lamp and plunged the room into darkness it was impossible to think of anything other than Daiva, and what he'd done. At home he'd be able to hear the house settling around him and the dogs snuffling in their sleep, but now Will had nothing but the sound of his own breathing and he could feel the horror closing in again, the bone-deep shock of having done something so transgressive. He was was going to sweat through Hannibal’s sheets. Hannibal, who seemed as though he was carved from stone.

‘What did she feel like?’ Poppy asked.

Will forced himself to confront the memory. Daiva had felt fragile and frightening at the same time, like he might have all too easily crushed her tiny body in his hand, but if he had it would have detonated them both. It would have taken out the whole block. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I barely remember. Anyway, you’ve touched her more than I have.’

‘That’s different and you know it.’

Images from Garret Jacob Hobbs’ kitchen flooded Will’s mind. Poppy had panicked when Will fired his gun. As Hannibal labored to save Abigail and Will looked on, useless with shock, Poppy had flapped wildly around his feet and straight through the blood pooling on the linoleum, spreading it everywhere. Daiva got ahold of Poppy and dragged her out of the way, holding her down and keeping her relatively calm until the ambulance arrived. Daiva’s pelt and claws had been stained red for the rest of the day – Hannibal couldn’t risk rinsing her off and further disrupting the crime scene – but the blood on Poppy’s black feathers had barely shown at all.

Poppy hopped from the nightstand onto the bedspread. After a moment she settled down against him and nudged his hand with her beak. ‘Will. Tell me.’ 

‘I don't know, it’s all a mess in my head. I thought she was killing you. But I… I remember my hand around her, and she wasn’t struggling. It didn’t feel like just holding an animal. There was something else, like there always is.’

This wasn’t the first time Will had touched another daemon, of course; it was impossible to avoid entirely. The last time had been just a few months ago, brushing past a woman’s Afghan Hound daemon in the narrow aisle of a drugstore. That tiny static shock of contact had made both Will and the woman full-body cringe. She’d had to visibly force herself to stick around long enough to accept his mumbled apologies. These things happened. Grabbing someone’s daemon without consent, however... that didn’t just happen. It was definitely illegal, but it was the sort of law you only heard about during horrifying abuse cases or war crimes tribunals.

‘I think I saw Hannibal react before I passed out,’ Will said. He cupped an unsteady hand around Poppy and drew her closer. ‘But I... I don’t trust myself to remember it right.’

‘What did he do?’

‘I’m pretty sure he stepped back, up against the chair behind him.'

‘Like he was going to pass out too?’

‘No, it was a conscious move. Like... Like he wasn’t going to intervene.’ Poppy absorbed that, and Will shook his head. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. 'It could have been part of the hallucination'.

‘What do we do if they don’t find anything tomorrow?’ Her voice was a whisper, barely louder than her feathers shifting against him.

‘Tell Jack, I guess. We can’t keep going to crime scenes. The minute someone like Freddie Lounds finds out I’m seeing things, nothing I say will be admissible in court.’ He was deliberately dodging her real question: What if you go where I can’t follow you? He had no good answer for that except to smooth his hand down over her shaggy, uneven wings, firm, the way she liked.

‘Jack will bring you in anyway,’ she said. ‘He’ll just make it unofficial. He’ll probably get Hannibal there too, to keep an eye on us.’

‘I don’t think Hannibal’s on Jack’s side any more, if he ever was. He won’t let them put me in the field if I’m actively going off the deep end.’

‘I don’t think Hannibal’s on anyone’s side,’ Poppy said. ‘That’s the problem.’

But Will couldn’t agree with that. He was wearing Hannibal’s pajamas, lying under Hannibal’s expensive sheets, his belly full of Hannibal’s food. He might not understand Hannibal’s motivations, but it sure felt like the man had picked a side.

 




Hannibal was in the shower. Out on the bathroom counter, Daiva was restless. She stretched her spine to its full length and shook out her legs but it wasn’t nearly enough to appease the strange new feeling in her chest. She swung her hips back, belly hugging the countertop, drawing herself in like a coiled spring. Then she leapt high and wide, out into the billowing steam in the middle of the room. It was a whiteout and she couldn’t see a thing. 

Somewhere over the vicinity of the bath, gravity caught her. She dropped into a roll, hit the empty basin on its curve and shot to the other end of the tub on her back. For a brief moment her feet and her heart were over her head and she thought she might keep going and flip right over, but she didn’t, she slid back the other way instead, slower now, and finally came to a stop, belly up, legs lolling, tail lazy. She watched the steam dancing above her.

It wasn't usually like this after they saw him. Not that there was ever anything usual about Will Graham. Tonight the feeling was bright and tight and golden like always, which meant Hannibal was excited, but Daiva felt something else too, something new that was just her own. It was a bit uncomfortable, like looking into the sun after coming up out of the dark basement on Hannibal’s shoulder.

There was a sharp intake of breath and a groan of release from the shower stall. Hannibal’s head knocked against the glass and rested there. Daiva shivered, overwhelmed by the sudden rush of good feeling.

'You like having him up on this floor,' she said.

A hum of assent over the sound of water. 'You don’t?'

'No, I do. It’s just… different. I’m not used to the smell yet. Not up here.'

Even when Hannibal entertained he never brought guests to the top floor. This place was theirs, and theirs alone. The housekeeper came up once a week but Hannibal had selected her for her mild personal scent, and it never lingered beyond the smell of the cleaning products she used. Everything up here was Daiva and Hannibal, Hannibal and Daiva. Coming upstairs at the end of the day pleased her nose and settled the growling thing in her belly that got louder whenever Hannibal had to see a patient, or talk to the stallholders at the market, or attend the opera with all those other bodies everywhere.

Daiva had been the first to scent the sickness in Will. She’d thought the new smell familiar, but didn’t know why, and she couldn’t describe it to Hannibal, not really. Smell worked differently for her. It filled up her head and fizzed down her spine and sometimes she even felt it in the tip of her tail. It was hard to put that into words for a human. Even a human like Hannibal.

Then, a week later, the smell got stronger and Hannibal picked up on it too. It was especially potent at the back of Will’s neck and the base of his skull. Hannibal recognised it as encephalitis, and was delighted. Because Will Graham was always going to be interesting, Hannibal had seen that right away. But now? Now, he was going to be spectacular. The encephalitis was going to burn up Will’s exquisite mind, which was a shame, but on the way out that mind would know him. Truly know him. Will would feel what Hannibal felt when he took a life. They would know it together.

But then today, Will had touched Daiva. He’d held her for three whole seconds and turned her to brilliant white light. Then he’d gone weak and sunk to the floor. She scampered quickly off him, but not before her feet felt the warmth of his belly through his shirt and her tail brushed his bare wrist as she leapt down onto the rug and away.

The smell of Will wasn’t just down the hall, it was right here in the bathtub. It was in Daiva’s fur and on her whiskers. She put her nose to her pelt and let it rattle through her. No human but Hannibal had ever touched Daiva before. Not like that. Not since she’d settled in this form, anyway. She ought to ask Hannibal to wash her properly - maybe tomorrow, once she’d figured all this out.

Hannibal stepped out of the shower and towelled off. He peered down at Daiva in the bathtub. She had rolled onto her side and was playing idly with the metal chain hanging down from the plug. 'You're quiet,' he said.

'Mmm.'

'He didn’t hurt you, did he?'

'You know he didn’t. You felt it too.'

'Not in the same way you did, I’m sure.'

'He didn’t hurt me.'

Hannibal nodded. He believed her, but he was puzzled. It was unusual for her to hold back like this, Daiva knew that. She’d tell him if she could, but she didn’t know how to describe what had changed tonight. It was hard to put it into words for a human. Even a human like Hannibal.

'Are you ready for sleep?' he asked, as he secured the towel around his hips.

Daiva leapt up onto the side of the tub and took a run up. Hannibal must have heard her claws tink tink tink on the enamel because when she leapt into the air, he turned and caught her on his outstretched arm. She scampered up his bicep and draped herself over his shoulder, carefully rubbing Will’s scent into the still-damp skin of Hannibal’s neck. He wouldn't be able to smell it, but it felt right.

Daiva yawned. Now she would be able to sleep.

 

The Noble Hills Health Care Center smelled like a regular hospital, only more expensive. Better coffee, fewer unwashed bodies. It was still awful. Daiva tucked her nose into the folds of Hannibal’s coat and let the familiar smells of kitchen-office-car reverberate through her. Will’s scent was in the mix too; Hannibal’s hand had gone to his back when his steps faltered in the car park on the way in. Their coats had pressed together as Will swallowed hard, eyes closed.

'Do you need me to tell you where you are?' Hannibal had asked.

'I know exactly where I am. That’s the problem.'

'You’re having second thoughts.'

'Oh, I’m well beyond those. Third, fourth, fifth, I’ve lost count.' That’s when Will realized how close he must be to Daiva. He flinched away. 'Sorry,' he mumbled. 'We should… No point putting it off.'

Now, Will was on the other side of the glass in a hospital gown, climbing up onto the MRI table. He had no inkling that Hannibal was in the process of making sure he never got the treatment he needed. Or at least, not until after it was too late. Daiva could see Poppy waiting on the small gurney set aside for patients’ daemons, shuffling her wings and shifting from foot to foot. She was obviously desperate to comfort Will, but the technician’s fox daemon guarded the end of the scanner with a bland, seen-it-all expression. He wouldn’t let her try anything funny.

'So your sense of smell has gone from calling out a nurse’s perfume to diagnosing autoimmune disease?' Sutcliffe hadn’t changed. Daiva could hear the self-satisfied smirk without looking at him, same as always.

'He started sleepwalking and I noticed a very specific scent,' Hannibal replied.

Sutcliffe’s slender snake daemon perked up her head at that, exchanging a meaningful glance with her human. Daiva played back Hannibal’s words and realized how intimate a picture they painted. Years ago at Johns Hopkins, Sutcliffe had a pool going with the other residents, speculating on Hannibal’s sexual preference. Daiva wondered if Hannibal was deliberately winding him up. Probably.

Daiva let Hannibal get on with reeling Sutcliffe in and allowed her thoughts return to last night - to Will’s hands on her. The thrill she felt in the aftermath had cooled while she slept, and this morning it had settled like a stone in her belly, low and heavy. It was a new feeling, and Daiva didn’t like it. She liked it even less when she realized what it was: uncertainty. Daiva wasn’t used to doubting Hannibal’s judgment.

She turned back to the MRI room, and started in shock. Poppy was up on the windowsill, beak against the glass, one beady eye staring in at them.

Daiva hadn’t liked Poppy at first. She was gauche and ill tempered, not to mention badly groomed. Daiva assumed she was touched in the head – she’d witnessed a lot of strange daemon behaviour since Hannibal got into psychiatry – but Hannibal pointed out that Will had kept largely to himself his entire adult life, and likely as a child too whenever he could get away with it. Poppy wasn’t stupid, she was just poorly socialized.

Daiva paid closer attention after that. She realized that Poppy was possessive of Will, and deeply mistrustful of anyone in his radius. Daiva had never seen that before: an insecure daemon. Even in the face of imminent death, there was rarely a disconnect between two halves of the same identity, daemon and human each certain in the knowledge that whatever befell one would claim both. Dementia leached at the mind of a daemon and her human at the same rate, and the daemons of mad men went mad along with them. But Poppy behaved as if she knew something different. She looked at Will Graham like he was a hot air balloon that might break anchor and drift away from her at any moment. She was frustrated with him, and scared for him. She bossed him around, and she sulked when he didn’t listen. Poppy was a mess, but only because she was fighting like hell to keep her human tethered.

As Daiva watched Poppy now, the stone in her belly got a little heavier.

Hannibal and Sutcliffe were admiring Will’s MRI results as they came through on the monitor. 'The right side is completely inflamed,' Sutcliffe said. He was practically salivating at the thought of letting Will’s brain disintegrate and getting to watch. 'It’s Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The symptoms are only going to get worse.'

'I know,’ Hannibal agreed placidly. 'It’s unfortunate for Will'.

Daiva made up her mind and slipped down from Hannibal’s arm onto the counter below. She waited until Poppy’s beady eye found her again, then dropped down over the edge of the counter and out into the hallway. As she rounded the corner, Daiva could feel the tug of her mooring to Hannibal, but it was no more uncomfortable than when she went up into the mezzanine during office appointments.

She waited outside the door of the MRI suite. For a moment, she feared Poppy hadn’t got the message, or wasn’t prepared to stray from Will, but then the handle turned and the technician opened the door just wide enough for Poppy to hop through. She eyed Daiva warily, ready for a trap.

'Will has encephalitis,' Daiva said. Poppy blinked, her eyelids slightly out of sync. Daiva had never noticed that before. 'Do you understand?'

'Of course I understand, but -'

'It’s the autoimmune kind. It’s what’s causing the hallucinations, the lost time.'

'Is it - is he going to -' Poppy faltered.

'It’s treatable.’ Daiva said. ‘He’ll probably recover.'

Poppy visibly shuddered with relief. Her eyes dropped closed, once again slightly out of sync.

'One of your eyes blinks faster than the other, did you know that?'

Poppy looked up at her, thrown. ‘What?’

'Get back in there,' Daiva said. 'Tell him.' And with that, she slipped away.

 

Poppy