"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.’
‘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.
'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.
Daiva could still hear the ambulance siren fading into the distance when she scampered across the driver’s seat of the Bentley. There was a small black feather on the dashboard, trembling in the cold air from outside. She stretched out a paw and snatched it up, settling into the spot Will had vacated not two hours before. Tucking Poppy’s feather under her belly, she waited primly for Hannibal to remove his coat and scarf and join her.
Just two hours. And now Will was en route to Johns Hopkins, and Hannibal’s plan was in the wind. Hannibal got inside and shut the door.
'I’m not angry,' he said.
Maybe not, but he was something. Whatever it was, she could feel it in her chest, green and tight and buzzing. Hannibal reached over and ran a thumb between her ears and down her spine. She knew then: he wasn’t angry, he was enthralled. She had taken him by surprise for only the second time in his life.
'Tell me why,' he went on. 'I’ll try to understand.'
'If things had carried on, what would have happened?'
'To Will?’ Hannibal considered. ‘He would have fallen further and further out of step with reality. I would have chosen his new path and he would have seen me. He would have known me, and I him. He would have realised his full potential.'
'He would have taken another life. More readily this time.’
‘He'd have joined the ranks of the killers inside his head.’
‘He would not be like them. Will’s becoming would be something else entirely.'
‘Hannibal. If his brain didn’t eat itself first, he’d have been caught. He’s too sick, he would have slipped up.'
‘A mind like his… Chilton would have got him. We would have had to share him.'
Hannibal’s hand tightened around the back of Daiva’s neck. 'Not for long. I would not have allowed it.'
Of course not. As long as Will drew breath, Hannibal wanted the gears of that magnificent brain interlocked with his. Daiva pushed up into Hannibal’s hand. He took the hint and began to stroke her again.
'I’m not sure this was wise. He has already seen me - that night in the back of the ambulance, the Devon Silvestri case. You saw his face. He has the pieces and when his mind is his own again he’ll put them together.’ Hannibal frowned out the window. ‘Will thinks himself a righteous man. Even if it pained him, he’d have me behind bars. I’d have to kill him.’
'Maybe. Maybe not.’
'You see another possibility?'
'What if you didn’t have to take his mind from him? What if he gave it to you freely?'
Hannibal went still all over. Then he scooped her up and searched her face, surprise and naked hunger in his eyes. 'This is because he touched you, isn’t it? What changed? What did you see?'
Daiva still couldn’t explain it. It had felt like a circle completing. Like being at the height of a jump, before gravity caught her. Like being clean and clear and empty, so all the light could get in.
'He belongs to us,’ she said. Hannibal blinked, absorbing that. 'You want him.'
'Of course. But that's -'
'Me too,' she cut him off. 'I want him too. But I want to keep him.’
Hannibal frowned again. He didn’t believe it possible. Daiva dug her claws into the flesh of his hand until she smelled blood. His breath caught and he chuckled, low and fond. 'I’m listening, Daiva. I am.'
'Will Graham has surprised you before,' she insisted.
Hannibal thought about that. Finally, he looked at her again. 'This could prove most inconvenient, Daiva. But I submit. We'll try it your way.'
She hummed with satisfaction. Then she leant down and began to lick at the tiny beads of blood blooming from his hand.
The intensive care ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital had wound down for the night and Will’s room was finally his own, quiet but for the reassuring tick tick tick of his IV drip. No more doctors explaining the long road of treatment ahead, no more nurses fussing.
He was being pumped full of steroids and painkillers, and they’d already replaced 6% of his blood. Every day for the next week, half a pint of his plasma would be removed, and half a pint of “clean” plasma would replace it. Will thought it strange that his madness, which had so often felt like a loss of identity, might be cured by the literal absorption of other people. Stranger still that he found the thought so reassuring.
The moment Will and Poppy were left alone she’d wasted no time in telling him about Hannibal and Sutcliffe’s odd behaviour in the anteroom. 'It was like they were… I don’t know. I just didn’t like the way they looked when they talked about you, that's all.'
'You didn’t hear anything though.' Will yawned and closed his eyes. For the first time in weeks, he felt like he might sleep through the night. He might sleep till next Christmas.
'I didn’t need to hear them. I don’t trust them.'
Will smirked. 'Bigot.'
'You’re judging Sutcliffe by his daemon, which makes you a bigot. Don’t scoff. You turned on him the second you saw her.' Will heard Poppy’s feathers rustling in umbrage. 'Besides, I’m pretty sure she’s a rosy boa. Even if she was a real snake, she’d be harmless.'
'Yeah, harmless. Like a stoat.'
Will opened his eyes at that. 'You’re serious.' Poppy blinked up at him, grave. 'You’ve got it in for Hannibal now too?'
'You didn’t see them. They were looking at your results but they weren’t relieved, they weren’t worried, they weren’t… anything. It was weird.'
'They’re doctors. Doctors can be cold about stuff like that.' But Will frowned. Hannibal knew how scared he’d been. He could have been a little glad about news of a treatable diagnosis. Will reached out for Poppy, uncertain. 'You like Hannibal.'
'We barely know him.' Poppy hopped over Will’s cannula and nestled in against his ribs.
That was true. Will didn’t know much about Hannibal, not really. But when Will was rushed into an ambulance from Sutcliffe’s clinic earlier that day, Hannibal had told him not to worry about anything other than getting better. He would contact the BAU and let them know Will wouldn't be coming into work. He’d talk to Alana about taking the dogs, and visit Abigail at Port Haven to make sure she knew why Will wouldn’t in touch. He was even going to take Will’s car back to Wolf Trap and make the house safe for the weeks he might be away. It was… a lot. Will felt embarrassed at how much Hannibal was doing for him, so maybe it made sense that Poppy was resentful.
‘Crows aren’t much better than stoats, you know,’ he told her. ‘Or snakes. Remember the chickens at that place in St Mary’s?’ When Will was seven, years before Poppy settled into her final form, he and his father had briefly stayed on a property with an open chicken run. Will and Poppy had looked on helplessly as crows swooped down into the yard and carried off whole baby chicks in their beaks.
'That’s not the point.’ Poppy said. ‘You’re not listening to me.'
'I am.' But Will’s eyes were closing again, the painkillers finally claiming him.
'M’not a bigot,' Poppy grumbled, her voice slurred by sleep.
Will smiled. 'Yeah, you are.'
The morning after Will’s admission into the ICU, Hannibal knocked on Jack’s open office door. Daiva saw Harlow lift her head from her enormous paws but Jack had his phone to his ear and didn’t look up from his paperwork.
'Come in, Doctor Lecter,' said Harlow. 'He won’t be long.' She unfolded herself from the floor, clearing a path to Jack’s desk.
Harlow was a Great Dane, fawn-colored, scorched black around her eyes and muzzle. Her coloring gave the impression of two dark eyebrows drawn permanently together in concern, lending her an earnest air that belied her intimidating size.
Hannibal smiled his thanks and took a seat. A moment later, Jack wrapped up his call. He let out a weary sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose.
'Made considerably more difficult today. I’ve got a young woman who drowned in her own blood and now my secret weapon is out of commission. Did he tell you he contaminated the crime scene?'
Daiva felt Hannibal tense beneath her but he nodded calmly, his face betraying nothing. They had never cared for the way Jack talked about Will, but today his presumptuous tone seemed particularly galling.
'What’s the word from the hospital?' Jack asked.
'Physically, Will is in much the same condition. Mentally, he is already improved.'
'The treatment’s working that quickly?'
'No, it could be months before his symptoms fully resolve. I refer to his frame of mind. Will’s diagnosis is a considerable relief to him, particularly after the events in Delaware.'
'I have to ask, Doctor. Will’s ability. Could it have been a result of the encephalitis?'
This was usually when Hannibal smiled placidly and told Jack what he wanted to hear. But Hannibal’s priorities had changed and he didn’t need this man anymore. Daiva felt the precise moment Hannibal shed his person suit, and shivered in anticipation. 'And if it was?'
'If Will Graham’s ability to get inside the minds of killers was the result of his encephalitis, what then? Would you have him back on the Beth LeBeau case now, while he’s still useful?'
Jack’s face hardened and there was low rumble of warning from Harlow. 'I’m just as concerned for Will as you are, Doctor Lecter. I put safeguards in place for him. I charged you with looking after his well-being.'
'You charged me with assessing him. A task I completed nearly three months ago, to your satisfaction, and which concluded any official dealings between us in regards to Will's health. I believe that arrangement has suited us both.'
Movement from below. Harlow launched to her feet and was suddenly eye-to-eye with Daiva on Hannibal's shoulder. Hannibal didn’t flinch away, and neither did she.
'Don’t mistake me, Jack. I don’t blame you. Will’s unique mind has been of interest to a great many people, myself included. But now he ought to have it to himself for while, don’t you agree?'
Jack got up from the desk. A pretence of calm, to match Hannibal's. 'I’m not sure why you’re here, Doctor Lecter.'
'You asked me for an update on Will.' Hannibal stood too. 'And I wanted to make sure you were aware of the conditions at the hospital.'
'Will is in the ICU, which means the visitor list is pre-approved. He has a landline in his room, but only for outgoing calls. If you wish to reach him, you’ll need to contact the front desk.' Hannibal’s voice remained mild but his message was loud and clear.
Daiva fancied she could hear Jack’s teeth grinding, and she peered down at Harlow, amused. Harlow saw her, and growled.
'Good day, Agent Crawford.' Hannibal made for the door.
As they left, Daiva looked back over Hannibal's shoulder. Jack hadn't moved. He had been given a tiny glimpse of the real Hannibal Lecter, and his shock was writ plain.
Will woke to weak afternoon sun filtering through the blinds. He was dressed in a blue hospital gown but he was sure he’d gone to sleep in a white one. ‘Did I…?’ His voice caught in his throat and he fumbled on the bedside table for a cup of water. ‘When did I get changed? I’ve only been here overnight, right?’
‘You don’t remember?’ Poppy’s claws scratched grooves into the soft plastic covering the head of the bed. 'The nurse gave you a new gown after you threw up.’
‘Damn it.’ The room swam. Will pressed the heels of his hands against his eyelids, sticky with sweat. ‘I can’t remember much of anything after they turned the lights out.’ He’d felt good last night. Optimistic. So much for that. He was about to ask Poppy where they'd put his phone when a nurse knocked gently at the door. ‘Morning, Mr Graham. Are you feeling up to a visitor?’
He struggled up to his elbows and reached for his glasses. ‘Who is it?’
‘A Doctor Lecter? He called ahead, but you were asleep and Doctor Chapman asked us not to wake you.’
Will nodded muzzily and the nurse vanished again. He hadn’t thought about what he might look like until Hannibal appeared in the doorway, perfectly put together as always, Daiva perched on a sedate grey coat folded over one arm. Will was struck with the maidenly desire to tug the bedsheets up, suddenly very aware of the perspiration stains on his hospital gown.
‘I am glad to see you awake,’ Hannibal said, coming in. Daiva leapt over to the table by Will’s bed. To his great astonishment she walked right up to Poppy and nudged her hello with her neat little nose. Poppy took a moment to recover before replying with a soft peck to Daiva’s ears. Will swallowed, unable to look away.
‘When I phoned this morning the nurses said you had a difficult night.’
Will turned back to Hannibal in surprise. ‘They told you that?’
A frown of concern. ‘You gave them permission to update me on your status. You don’t remember?’
‘I… I guess not.’ That meant he’d had at least one other blackout since he’d been admitted. Great.
‘You may rescind that permission at any time. I would not wish for trust you have no memory of granting.’
‘It’s fine. It’s not like I have much faith in myself right now. May as well hand the keys to someone reliable.’
Hannibal draped his coat over the back of the visitor’s chair and moved to examine the cluster of machines tracking the inner workings of Will’s body. ‘Would you like to sit up?’ he asked.
For a moment Will was confused, but then Hannibal retrieved a controller on a wire attached to the bed. ‘Sure,’ he said, and Hannibal pressed something that brought Will to a more upright position. He was close enough that Will could smell the faint scent of his cologne over his own sour nightmare sweat.
‘You are more concerned by the lost time than your hallucinations,’ Hannibal observed.
‘Wouldn’t you be?’
‘In some circumstances, memory loss might be welcomed.’
‘You mean if I’d done something horrible in the lost time?’
‘Or experienced something too painful or disturbing to bear. In the nineteenth century, women were so desperate for an effective anaesthetic during childbirth that doctors began offering a service known as twilight sleep. Women were dosed with a cocktail of opiates and awoke hours later to a new baby, but no memory of its arrival. It seemed there was finally an escape from the pain of childbirth.’
‘I’m going to go ahead and assume this story doesn’t end well.’
‘Accounts began to emerge of pregnant women tied to beds while giving birth, in extraordinary pain but completely insensible. Awaking later with no memory of the experience, they assumed the birth had been painless as promised.’
‘Yet even after the truth came to light, some still requested twilight sleep. They felt if there was no memory of the pain, then it had never happened.'
‘If a tree falls in the forest...’ Will muttered. ‘No. I’ll take the pain. I’d rather not have to piece together my own life like a crime scene.’
‘Better the devil you know.’
‘I take it I’m the devil in this scenario?’
Hannibal’s lip quirked. ‘I meant only that I concur with your preference. It is better to know and understand ourselves completely, no matter the discomfort we might encounter in the process.’
‘"Know thyself" might be a more appropriate cliché then. If you want to avoid comparing me to Satan.’
Hannibal’s eyes were alight with amusement. ‘It occurs that in all the time I have known you, you have never been in full cognitive health. Perhaps I should fear your powers at capacity.’
Will felt a rush of warmth and had to fight the urge to duck his head. It was strange that by speaking to Will’s greatest fears Hannibal always managed to lift the burden of them. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a ways to go yet.’
His second visitor was Alana. She brought him fresh juice and an MP3 player loaded with audiobooks. ‘You might feel worse before you feel better,’ she warned.
‘So I'm told. But hey, at least now I’ll know why I’m hallucinating.’
Alana’s face fell, guilt-ridden. ‘Will...’
‘Don’t. Seriously. I don’t blame you for not noticing.’
‘At the very least my professional pride’s taken a hit.’
‘I was going out of my way to hide my symptoms. No one likes to admit they’re going crazy.’
‘You’re not crazy. You’re sick.’
‘I’ve had at least one conversation with someone who wasn’t there and I’ve been sleepwalking down country roads. I’m sick and crazy.’ There was a shimmer of green and blue at Alana’s shoulder - her daemon twitching and settling his little hummingbird wings. ‘On the bright side, I get a vacation from crime scenes.’
‘If Jack tries to drag you out of bed before you’re ready...’ Alana shook her head, eyes flashing with anger. ‘I warned him you shouldn’t be out there.’
‘Jack didn’t give me encephalitis. Besides, he’s a pragmatist. A broken tool’s no use to anyone. He’ll wait until I’m back from the menders before taking me for another drive.’
She smiled at him, fond. ‘I think you’re mixing your metaphors.’
‘I can go on, if you’d like. If I’m any inanimate object at the moment, I’m a wrung-out dishrag.’
On his third day in hospital, Will was transferred out of the ICU and into a room on the neurology ward with two other patients. He texted Hannibal the good news. Later that day he was transferred again, into a small, private room with a window that looked out onto the gardens. Interesting. Was it possible Hannibal still pulled strings at Johns Hopkins? Will wasn't about to complain. The privacy was a huge relief.
But Alana was right; he did get worse before he got better.
Not long after lights-out, Will felt the temperature drop and turned to check if the door had been left open. There was someone in the chair by his bed. A dark-haired woman, her head listing to one side. At first he thought it was Abigail, but that couldn’t be possible, could it? If they’d let her out to visit him, she certainly wouldn’t have come unaccompanied.
Dark wet patches sprung up across her abdomen and quickly snaked out over her floral dress. Will scrambled out of bed. It wasn’t Abigail, it was Alana. As he pressed his hands against her wounds she stared at him, mouth open in agony. A croak bubbled up from her throat and Will felt a new pressure under his hands, something pushing up from under her skin. There was a loud crack and glistening black points burst up through Alana’s chest, splattering him with gore. Antlers. Alana went slack, head lolling forward.
Will scrambled back, horrified, but froze when he felt a huff of breath behind him, stirring the hair on his neck. It was the stag, he knew it, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn around.
The stag nudged him, hot damp breath on his skin. It had never come this close before. The rustle of its feathers filled his ears.
‘Your name is Will Graham. It is three o’clock in the afternoon. You are in your room at Johns Hopkins Hospital and you are safe.’ Hannibal’s face swam into view, inches from his own. Will gasped, jerking back so hard he hit his head on the bed behind him. Daylight. He was on the floor of his room, and – oh god – there was blood. It covered his hand and ran down his forearm like a red glove, wet and slick.
‘The blood is yours, Will. You ripped out your IV and made a mess of the wound.’ Hannibal was holding tight to Will’s other wrist. He couldn’t feel any pain, only the pressure of Hannibal’s fingers where the IV used to be.
‘You wouldn’t wake up,’ said Poppy, her voice breaking, desperate.
Hannibal tilted Will’s face to the light to check his eyes, his fingers a soft, steady pressure beneath Will’s jaw. He badly wanted to press into Hannibal’s touch. Instead, he pulled away and fumbled for Poppy, bringing her up to his chest.
That was when he finally clocked Daiva. She was down on the blood-splattered floor, her front paws resting on Hannibal’s thigh. She regarded Will intently, black eyes shining. Will had to look away. ‘God, Hannibal. Your clothes. The blood.’
‘My clothes can easily be replaced. What did you see, Will?’
‘Alana. Impaled on antlers, like Marissa Schuur. They burst out of her.’
A laugh burst out of Will. ‘Are you critiquing my hallucination?’
‘I expected more from you.’ His voice was utterly dry. Will laughed again.
‘Sorry my subconscious isn’t up to scratch today.’ He made a move to get up, but Hannibal’s grip was firm.
‘Slowly,’ he said. He kept the pressure on Will’s arm as he helped him back into bed. ‘If you’re feeling up to it, I’ll call someone in. Have them clean and dress your wound.’ There was a set to his jaw that suggested whichever nurse he found first wasn’t going to get off lightly.
‘Don’t get too mad at them,’ Will said. ‘I could be here a while yet.’
‘They should be checking on you more regularly,’ Daiva said. Will looked down in surprise as she leapt up into the visitor’s chair. He still wasn’t used to her voice. ‘You shouldn’t even be out of the ICU.’ She turned her fierce gaze on Poppy next. ‘How often is this still happening?’
‘The nightmares? Maybe once a day. This is the worst one since he was admitted.’
‘You should always call us after it happens.’
‘Why? So you can study him?’
Daiva was unfazed by Poppy’s combative tone. ‘Call us,’ she insisted. ‘I mean it’.
The next time Hannibal came, he brought food. Beef broth, some kind of savoury rice cake, and a flask of ginger tea. Daiva leapt up onto the windowsill and greeted Poppy with a playful bump. Taken by surprise, Poppy shook out her wings and snapped at her. Daiva ignored that and curled up in a shaft of sunshine at her feet. Eventually Poppy settled down too, embarrassed.
‘I neglected to mention previously,’ said Hannibal. ‘Agent Crawford sends his regards’.
‘When did you speak to Jack? He didn’t try to get you on the Beth LeBeau case, did he?’
‘I doubt I would have made a suitable replacement.’
‘No, you’d just tell him where to go.’
‘He wouldn’t ask me. I don’t have the necessary skills.’
‘Lucky you,’ said Will, setting his tea aside. ‘The side-effects aren’t much fun.’
Will shook his head. ‘Nothing specific. I’ve just been thinking about my… skills. In general.’
Hannibal’s face twitched infinitesimally, and Will knew he was resisting the urge to ask more questions. In a way, Hannibal’s professional curiosity was comforting. It was certainly less confusing than whatever inspired him to deliver homemade broth to Will’s bedside.
‘A few years ago I consulted at a crime scene in South Carolina,’ Will said. ‘It was a murder-suicide, but we didn’t know that yet. They fished two bodies out of the Edisto, a few weeks into decomp. And I... exercised my talents. Saw the whole thing in my head. By my standards, a pretty mundane murder. But then I just followed the killer down.’
‘You experienced his death?’
Will nodded. ‘And the rest. Floating along with the current, bloating, losing skin. My body slowly rotted around me, scraping along the riverbank, nibbled on by fish. It was... detailed.’
‘Was it enlightening?’
‘I confirmed I don’t believe in an afterlife.’
‘I assume you also identified the killer.’
‘Yeah. And now I’ve got him in here.’ Will tapped his head. ‘Forever.’
‘What made you think of him? Has he recently made a reappearance?’
‘No, thank God. He’s near the top of the list of things I don’t want to revisit in 3D encephalitis smell-o-vision.’
Daiva made a noise that might have been a laugh. ‘Understandable,’ said Hannibal mildly.
‘Doctor Chambers keeps encouraging me to focus on positive memories in the hour before sleep.’ Hannibal raised his eyebrows, dubious. ‘Yeah,’ said Will. ‘That was pretty much my reaction as well.’ Good luck finding a positive memory when your mind was full to bursting with the exploits of the FBI’s Most Wanted. Rotting in the Edisto River wasn’t exactly cheery, but at least it had been peaceful.
Will’s fifth day in hospital brought good news: he was responding to the first-line immunotherapy. His doctors started talking about recovery in terms of weeks, not months, and Will’s relief was immense. Unfortunately, the easing of his constant low-level panic meant he had nothing to distract him from being trapped in a small white room with a window that wouldn’t open and a hospital orderly with a TattleCrime obsession who came by regularly to pepper him with inane questions about serial killers. No one would give Will a clear answer on when he might get discharged. Given that they still wouldn’t let him walk around the hospital without supervision, Will felt like he might never see his dogs again.
He was quiet as Hannibal laid out their lunch and told of his recent visit to Abigail. Immaculately dressed as always, Hannibal hadn’t said a word about Will’s five-day growth, nor did he wrinkle his nose at what Will was sure must be his unpleasant odour. The nurses hadn’t cleared Will to shower yet that morning and he had never felt more pathetic and useless.
Will watched Poppy hop around after Daiva in a totally unsubtle bid for attention, and suddenly he couldn’t take it any more. 'Why are you here?'
Hannibal was arranging the cutlery and pressed linen napkins he’d brought from home. He stopped and looked at Will, his face utterly, unnaturally blank.
'I’m sorry, but I don’t get why you keep coming in. Is it guilt? Obligation? Because I’ll tell you what I told Alana – this isn’t anyone’s fault. I don’t blame you for missing the diagnosis.'
'Then what is it? Because I don’t see what you get from this exchange. I’m not a good candidate for friendship, Doctor Lecter, in here or anywhere else.'
Daiva and Poppy looked from Hannibal to Will and back again, eyes wide. Hannibal remained inscrutable.
'Even if the encephalitis never recurs, you know very little about me is actually going to change, right? My brain may not be a ticking timebomb anymore but I’m still largely incapable of - of this.' He gestured between them. 'Pumping nice clean plasma into my veins isn’t going to make the inside of my head any less dark or unpleasant.'
The silence stretched. Finally, Hannibal placed the napkins and cutlery down on the table. 'I don’t feel any guilt at all over your delayed diagnosis, Will. I likely should, but since we’re being so candid with each other today, there you have it.' Will blinked. This was not what he’d expected. 'I find it difficult to resent your illness given that it is likely what kept you coming to see me. Without it, I might never have had the chance to know you as I do now.’ He hadn't raised his voice but it filled the room and sent goosebumps down Will’s arms. ‘Of course, that’s not to say I am not relieved at the signs of your recovery. A friendship can only be built on even foundations, and I wish to see you healthy and independent.'
Daiva peeled away from Poppy and slipped across the table to Hannibal. Will couldn’t blame her; Hannibal was somehow even more magnetic than usual, radiating the calm conviction of a preacher delivering a sermon.
'If my visits are unwelcome,’ he went on, ‘I won’t come again. If you like, we can simply resume our weekly appointments upon your release.’ The faintest trace of a smile ticked up at the corner of Hannibal’s mouth. ‘Unless, that is, your treatment does somehow alter the workings of your singular mind. Then, my position might change. The inside of your head may be dark, Will, but it is not unpleasant. On the contrary. It makes you quite the most interesting person of my acquaintance.’
Will’s mouth hung open. Poppy was still as a statue, eyes locked on Hannibal.
'I’ve shocked you,' Hannibal said.
'No, I…' Will had nowhere to go. He knew his face had given him away. 'Yeah. Maybe.' Hannibal smiled openly then, pleased. Will was at a total loss and the bastard was pleased. 'Don’t stop coming in,' he mumbled.
'All right. I won’t.'
'And I’m sorry for... for being such an ungrateful shit.'
Hannibal looked ever so slightly aggrieved at the phrasing. 'The conditions of your convalescence are not ideal. Perhaps next time I should bring more than just food. Something to keep you occupied.'
'Yeah, I’ve been meaning to service my old sailboat for months.'
'I was thinking more along the lines of a book.'
Will grinned and ducked his head, suddenly worried he might burst out laughing. 'A book would be good too.' He hadn’t been able to get into any of Alana’s audio books; somehow he always got distracted by the voice of whoever was reading the work and fell down the rabbit hole into their lives.
Hannibal finished laying out the cutlery as if nothing had happened. 'There’s more of the quail salad you liked. I’ve adjusted the dressing, so I believe it will have travelled better this afternoon.'
He returned to the subject of Abigail as he plated their meals. Will watched him and tried to remember if he'd ever had a real friend before. If he had, they paled into insignificance now.
On the drive home from the hospital, Daiva curled tight around Hannibal’s neck, digging her paws into his lapels. She had that feeling again, the bright sharp golden Will Graham feeling. But this time it wasn’t just Hannibal’s excitement lighting up her skin, it was something new: the realization that that during their visit, Hannibal hadn’t told Will a single untruth.
Hannibal was letting Will see him, and Will wasn’t looking away.
By the end of the week, Will was permitted to walk around the hospital grounds unsupervised. Hannibal joined him, and when the gardens emptied out a little they found a picnic table and sat down to eat. The seating arrangement was even more of a relief to Will than the fresh air and exercise. Compared to the symmetry of the two chairs in Hannibal's office, the hospital room felt punishing: him in bed, his legs bound by sheets, while Hannibal sat poised at his side.
Hannibal was dressed more casually than usual, in a sand-coloured sweater and a pale shirt with the top button undone. Daiva perched beside him, peering up over the edge of the table as he unpacked food containers from what looked like an upmarket gym bag. Did Hannibal go to the gym? It seemed unlikely. He probably had ludicrously expensive exercise machines secreted away somewhere in his house.
‘Beef-wrapped persimmons and a mandarin salad with braised duck leg and sweet pea shoots,’ he announced. Next, he took the lid off a smaller container and set it apart from the others. It contained what looked like scraps of raw meat.
‘Poppy sometimes takes bites from your plate. I thought it polite to bring something for her.’
Will looked at Poppy and saw his own surprise reflected back at him. ‘Daemons don’t need to eat,’ she said.
‘We all do things that are unnecessary for survival,’ Hannibal replied. ‘You do not need to eat and I do not need to bring in any food at all. Yet it pleases us both to do so.’
‘He cooks for me all the time,’ Daiva told Poppy.
Will felt obscurely guilty, as if he’d been neglecting his daemon without realizing it. As he watched, Poppy selected a morsel of raw meat and tossed her head back to scarf it down.
‘I suppose one could see it as nourishment for the soul,’ Hannibal said. ‘In truth, I simply enjoy experimentation.’
‘Is Daiva a food snob as well?’
Daiva shot him an unimpressed look and leapt up onto the table to join Poppy. ‘Daemons do not experience food the same way we do,’ said Hannibal. ‘For most animals, eating is purely for survival, stripped of the ritual and emotion we associate with the preparation and sharing of meals.’
‘Except that animals eat because they get hungry. Daemons don’t.’
‘The instinct carries over. Just as Poppy knew how to fly without being taught, and Daiva to hunt.’
Will tried to imagine Hannibal’s daemon hunting like the stoats he’d seen in nature documentaries. He’d heard of cat daemons chasing real mice, but Daiva seemed far too dignified to go after Baltimore vermin.
‘That said, some daemons never eat at all.’ Hannibal watched Poppy and Daiva polishing off the meat. ‘There are no hard and fast rules. Daemons are a matter of the spirit, not science.'
‘It’s hard to imagine anyone granting approval for a study on daemon food preferences.’
‘Quite. Most people do not share your permissive attitude.’
Most people wouldn’t even discuss such a thing, let alone prepare a meal for someone else’s daemon. ‘I like everything you make for me,’ Will said. ‘It shouldn't be a surprise she does too.’ He immediately wished he hadn't said it. Too presumptuous. But a glance up at Hannibal showed the satisfaction of praise received.
‘You are singularly easy to cook for,’ he replied. ‘Your palate is unrefined, yet unusually receptive to new dishes.’
Will smirked. ‘You mean I’ll eat anything.’
‘You have a better instinct for flavor than your background would suggest.’
Will laughed. ‘That’s a backhanded compliment if ever I heard one. What was your childhood comfort food? Foie gras?’ Will had the sudden desire to see Hannibal’s face if Will served him the boiled crawfish of his youth, or red beans and rice topped with a gallon of ketchup.
‘I suppose I should say my mother’s cooking,’ said Hannibal. ‘But in truth, I barely remember it. Then for a time my childhood was such that any food at all was a comfort, though traditional Lithuanian fare generally leaves much to be desired.’
Hannibal was from Lithuania. Will held his breath, desperate to know what he'd meant about his childhood, but Hannibal didn’t go on. Instead, he blinked and adjusted his gaze somewhere behind Will’s shoulder. His face shut down entirely at the same moment Will heard someone approaching.
‘Hey Agent Graham.’
Will stiffened. It was the orderly. He attempted a polite smile as he turned. The guy had his iPad with him, no doubt eager to share some gruesome new TattleCrime exclusive. ‘I told you, I’m not an Agent. Will’s fine.’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ The orderly grinned, failing utterly to pick up on Will’s unease. He inspected Hannibal with undisguised curiosity. ‘Who’s your friend?’
‘This is Hannibal. Hannibal, this is…’ Will hesitated a beat to glance down at the guy’s name tag.
‘Cameron,’ he said. His smile had vanished. At his feet, his groundhog daemon grumbled something under her breath.
‘Cameron, of course. Sorry.’ Will wished he had his glasses so he could avoid the orderly’s disappointed gaze. He rarely bothered wearing them around Hannibal.
‘Is Will needed back in his room?’ Hannibal’s tone was perfectly polite but Will turned to look at him in surprise; despite a benign expression, his hostility was like an arctic breeze.
‘No.’ Cameron tucked the iPad under his arm, oblivious. ‘Just had something to show him, that’s all.’
‘Perhaps later.’ Hannibal smiled equably. ‘We’ve just started our lunch.’
‘Whatever.’ Cameron looked to Will, feigning indifference. ‘Enjoy. I guess.’ Will forced another smile and Cameron retreated, his daemon shuffling after him.
‘Rude,’ hissed Daiva, once he was safely out of hearing distance. Will huffed a surprised laugh.
Hannibal didn’t look amused. ‘Does he bother you often?’
‘He’s harmless,’ Will said. ‘Just a little fixated on TattleCrime.’ Hannibal’s eyes snapped up from his meal. ‘Oh yeah, big fan of Ms Lounds. He recognised me my second day here.’
Hannibal and Daiva exchanged a quick glance.
‘What?’ said Poppy, looking between them. Hannibal hesitated.
‘Hannibal?’ Will was concerned now. ‘What is it? Has something happened?’
‘Perhaps it was foolish of me to hope such things wouldn’t reach you in here.’
‘Abel Gideon,’ Hannibal said. ‘He was killed yesterday trying to escape an armored prison van.’
‘Jesus. What happened?’
‘He was the only prisoner in the transport. They’re not sure how, but he took down two guards before the van came to a stop. He went for the driver next and likely would have killed her too if his daemon hadn’t been caught.’
‘They caught his daemon? How?’
‘One of the guards was still clinging to life. His daemon grabbed her. Gideon was distracted and the driver got three shots in. He died on the scene.’
Will tried to imagine how Abel Gideon might have launched such an attack while handcuffed and chained in a moving prison van but his stomach turned over. In Hannibal’s company his mind was his own, and he wanted to keep it that way. ‘Tell me about Lithuanian food.’
‘You were right to keep it from me. I’m not ready yet. Tell me about Lithuanian food. You don’t like it.’
Hannibal blinked and considered him, as expressionless as Daiva. Will knew it was more than just surprise at his odd request, so what reaction did Hannibal feel the need to conceal from him? Was it reluctance to return to the subject of his youth? Or had he expected a very different reaction to the news of Abel Gideon’s death?
Hannibal glanced over at Poppy and Daiva, and a spark returned to his eyes. Will followed his gaze and very nearly gasped. Daiva was intently grooming Poppy’s unruly feathers, plucking out the lost causes and nudging stubborn candidates back into place. Poppy seemed not to mind in the slightest. ‘It’s so strange,’ he said without meaning to.
‘Seeing her like this. At ease with another daemon. At ease anywhere other than home, to be honest.’
Hannibal regarded him, thoughtful. Then he seemed to come to some decision. ‘I have not eaten traditional Lithuanian food in many years. It’s pancakes and dumplings, mostly. Potatoes and black bread. A great deal of sour cream.’
‘Sounds like we both rose above our culinary upbringings then.’
Hannibal’s mouth ticked up. ‘Indeed.’
Will felt obscurely proud at having drawn Hannibal back from wherever he’d gone in his head. Embarrassed, he tore his eyes away and finally started his own lunch. ‘This is good. Thank you.’
Hannibal’s eyes hadn’t left him. ‘You’re welcome, Will.’
In this AU, Abigail Hobbs suffers a different fate to that in canon. She is still in the Port Haven Psychiatric Facility but now she is under much tighter security, as she was discovered killing Nicholas Boyle before Hannibal could intervene and cover things up.
The nurses on Will’s floor knew Hannibal by sight. When he arrived at the clinic the following day, one of them looked up from her desk and gave him a fond smile, her daemon barely stirring as Hannibal nodded his greeting and made a beeline for the office of Will’s neurologist.
Doctor Chambers had news: barring unforeseen complications, Will should be well enough to be discharged the following morning. He would need to return to the outpatient clinic for regular check-ups and dosage adjustments, but could continue to recover at home. Daiva held her breath as Hannibal calmly expressed his concern at such a move, impressing upon Chambers how very isolated Will was in Wolf Trap and reminding her that he had form for concealing symptoms from friends and colleagues. With any other patient, Chambers might trust that they would avoid strenuous work and return regularly to the clinic as instructed, but not Will Graham; his supervisor at the BAU would have him back in the field before the week was out, jetting across the country to gruesome and mentally taxing crime scenes. Will would put his own needs last, as always.
To her credit, Chambers decided to err on the side of caution; Will would be kept on the ward until she felt certain he wouldn’t relapse outside of her care. Daiva’s body hummed with pleasure. The hospital might be an all-out assault on her delicate nose but it was worth it; here, they had Will to themselves.
At least, they usually did. But when Hannibal left Chambers’ office and made his way to Will’s room, Daiva heard the sound of a woman’s laughter coming from inside. Hannibal stopped where he was. It wasn’t Alana, and surely none of the nurses would be so familiar…
‘Agent Katz,’ Daiva whispered, placing the perfume. Hannibal nodded. They moved closer. Beverly was recounting some inane story about Zeller’s daemon and Will chuckled, low and easy. The growling thing in Daiva’s belly rumbled awake and Hannibal felt it instantly, putting his hand up to cup around her head. Calm.
Calm was asking for too much but Daiva settled over his shoulder and veiled herself with indifference. Satisfied, Hannibal entered the room, reacting with pleasant surprise at the sight of Will’s guest. ‘Agent Katz, good afternoon. Will.’
Daiva fought hard not to bare her fangs as the humans exchanged pleasantries. Beverly was sitting on Will’s bed despite a perfectly good chair in close proximity, while her permanently relaxed ring-tailed lemur daemon lounged on the windowsill, head back and legs splayed, soaking up the sun like the room was his. Poppy was perched alongside him. She blinked her uneven blink at Daiva, bemused, clearly wondering why she hadn’t come over to nuzzle hello like usual. Idiot bird.
The lemur opened his eyes and greeted Daiva with a sleepy, amiable nod. What was his name? Something fatuous. Chet? Chip? Duke? Daiva could leap over and scratch out his eyes before Beverly even blinked. Hannibal must have sensed the bloodlust because he swiftly pried Daiva’s claws from his jacket and brought her down to his side. He held her there, tight.
‘What do you think of the lumberjack look, Doctor Lecter? Suits him, right?’
‘Enough,’ said Will good-naturedly. ‘I have a beard. We get it.’
‘It’s even cuter when he blushes.’ Beverly grinned.
‘Alright, you can go now.’
Beverly laughed, leaning across Will to pour herself a glass of water. Hannibal watched her hip pressing into Will’s thigh and his grip tightened dangerously around Daiva’s ribs.
Beverly offered a glass to Hannibal. ‘You want?’
‘No. Thank you.’ Hannibal seemed to realize that standing stock still in the middle of the room might be a little unusual. He took a seat, bringing Daiva firmly into his lap.
‘I’m surprised they haven’t come to kick me out yet,’ Beverly told Will. ‘I had to tell them we were cousins to even get past the door.’
‘Brenda out there found it a little hard to believe too. Made me go into detail about the family tree. Your aunt Jenny is my mom, by the way.’
‘My aunt Jenny?’
‘She and Pop sell used cars in Annapolis. In case Brenda mentions it.’
Will huffed a laugh. ‘You don’t need to be family. Alana and Hannibal get in okay.’
‘Nope, my kind is verboten. No FBI. Says so right next to your name in the book.’
Will looked to Hannibal, surprised.
‘I thought it best,’ Hannibal said. ‘But perhaps I overstepped.’ He conjured a rueful smile for Beverly. ‘At the very least I should have made it clear that social visits don’t apply.’
‘Nah, I’m just glad someone’s looking after our boy.’ Beverly’s gaze lingered on Hannibal, eyes twinkling. Whatever she saw in his face, he obviously passed some kind of test. She drained her water and grabbed her jacket. ‘Anyway, better get back to it. You take care, kiddo.’
‘Thanks for coming by.’ Will gave her a small, lopsided smile. A genuine smile, Daiva noted.
Once Beverly was gone, her daemon ambling out behind her, Hannibal got to his feet and deposited his food carrier on the table. ‘Confit belly of pork with a celeriac remoulade and baked apple purée. Best to eat it within the hour.’
‘You’re leaving?’ Will looked disappointed. Outrage flared up Daiva’s spine; Hannibal wasn’t bluffing.
‘You must be worn out. I’ll let you get some rest’.
Daiva bit down hard on Hannibal’s finger. He flinched and she wriggled free, leaping for the bed and landing neatly on the blanket over Will’s legs. Will gasped and whipped his hands back, though he’d been in no danger of touching her.
He gaped up at Hannibal, stunned.
‘Will? Would you like me to retrieve her?’ Despite Hannibal’s measured tone, Daiva could feel the buzz of his excitement at her rebellion.
‘No. No, I just…’ Will swallowed. ‘If she’s okay then it’s – it’s fine with me.’
Daiva settled down on Will’s thigh and glanced over to check on Poppy. She was flustered and alert, eyes narrowed, wings in disarray. Trying to figure out Daiva’s game.
‘I've no wish to fatigue you if you've had enough company,’ Hannibal said. ‘But I did bring enough for two.’
‘Of course, Hannibal. I mean it. Stay.’
Daiva let her eyes drift closed and relished Hannibal’s satisfaction as he unpacked their lunch, telling Will a little more about the dish. Will began to relax beneath her, eventually laying his hands back down by his sides. She could feel the warmth of him through the blanket.
Daiva heard a flap of wings and felt a tug on the sheets as Poppy landed at Will’s feet. Pleased, she cracked an eye and watched Poppy move towards her slowly, obliquely, as if she didn’t have a destination in mind. Daiva resisted the urge to simply pounce and pin her to the mattress. Poppy was proud, and Daiva supposed she ought to pay for not greeting her earlier in their usual way.
Eventually Poppy rustled her feathers and settled down against Will’s hip. She kept her eyes averted but she was close enough that when Daiva let her tail dangle it rested snugly over her wing. Poppy didn’t realise it yet, but the growling thing in Daiva's belly always got what it wanted.
That night, Will couldn’t sleep. Walking circuits of the room, he imagined he could still feel the barely-there pressure of Daiva’s little paws on his thighs. She weighed no more than a paperback, but beneath her body his every nerve had felt electrified.
‘Do you think they’re attracted to us?’ Poppy asked. She was fussing around in his abandoned sheets, trying to get comfortable.
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ Will felt sure Alana had previously mentioned at least one woman in Hannibal’s past, but that didn’t rule anything out. He didn’t dress like any straight man Will had ever met, but then, Hannibal didn’t do anything like any man Will had ever met. His wardrobe didn’t code him as gay; it marked him as superior. It as good as boasted that he was another species entirely.
‘He’s here all the time,’ Poppy reasoned.
‘I know.’ The force of Hannibal’s attention was as warm and confounding as smoke. Then there was Daiva. Daiva, who didn’t resent him for grabbing her in Hannibal’s office. Daiva, who had dozed on his leg for over an hour while Hannibal spoke of his last trip to Vienna, of Egon Schiele, of… God knows. Will had lost track. With Daiva so close, he could think of little else but the three thin layers of fabric pressed tight between her pelt and his bare skin.
Daiva trusted him. And Hannibal had sat there musing about art while his very soul nestled in Will’s lap.
So, no. This wasn’t an ordinary friendship. Will pressed his forehead to the cool glass of the window. ‘Attraction is probably the simplest explanation,’ he said eventually.
‘Please. You can’t apply Occam’s Razor to Hannibal,’ said Poppy. ‘I don’t think he’s been simple a day in his life.’ She flapped over to the window to join him. Will looked up at the night sky and pined for the stars he could usually see at home. Poppy huffed. ‘As long as you don’t expect me to go cozying up to him like that.’
The absurd image of Poppy perched on Hannibal’s lap startled a laugh out of Will. ‘I won’t. Don’t worry.’
‘I haven’t forgotten how he was with Sutcliffe, you know.’
‘And we still don’t know that much about him. His obsession with food doesn’t count. He knows everything about us.’
‘You like Daiva just fine.’
‘So, Hannibal is Daiva. Daiva is Hannibal.’
Poppy dismissed that with a sniff. Will smirked and scooped her up, suddenly overwhelming fond of her grumpy, overprotective ways. It made sense that she didn’t trust Hannibal; Will had never relied on anyone like this before, not ever. The closest relationships of his adult life had been with a handful of women who’d stuck around for two or three months at the most, and Poppy had never once felt the need to pass judgement on them. Somehow this was different, and not just because Hannibal was a man.
‘It must feel good,’ she said.
‘That night in his office, you said he stepped away and let you hold Daiva. And today, he didn’t move to take her back. It must feel good.’
‘Maybe. I don’t know what I saw in his office.’
‘What I don’t get is, how come you can’t you tell? She was almost touching you. She was right there on you that whole time. But if you watched his face, you’d never know it.’
‘Hannibal’s careful. Controlled. Not as obvious as us.’
‘Yeah, well. I don’t like it.’
‘You’ll get used to him.’ Will padded back to bed, bringing Poppy with him. He lay down on his side this time, so as not to feel phantom paws on his thigh. ‘You and me are as weird as they come, and he got used to us.’
‘Hmm...’ Poppy nuzzled back into his belly, her breathing slowing down to pair with his. ‘Maybe’.
Two weeks later, on the morning Will was finally due to be discharged, he properly considered himself in the mirror. A dark beard covered his face and he was pale from lack of sunlight, but his eyes were shockingly clear and bright. Will realised he looked more than just healthy. He looked happy.
'You need a haircut,' Poppy sniffed. 'And a proper shave. That beard is disgusting.'
Will smiled and tickled her under her wing, which she hated. 'I’ll think about it.'
When they left the hospital with Hannibal an hour later, Poppy immediately took to the sky and soared high above them, sweeping and tumbling on the wind.
Hannibal held a hand up to shield his eyes against the sun, tracking Poppy’s flight. Will felt a rush of pride as she tugged at the limits of their connection and didn’t glance back. For once, his daemon looked powerful.
Will felt free of more than just his tiny, airless hospital room. His mind would always be broken and full of monsters, but for the first time in a long time he no longer felt trapped by it. This was a fresh start, perhaps the first true fresh start he'd ever been afforded.
'Will? Are you coming?' Hannibal was holding open the door of the car. He wore a warm, indulgent expression and Will realised he must have been staring up at Poppy for some time.
'Sorry, yeah.' Will climbed inside and felt Poppy winging her way back down to him. He didn't know how long this peculiar optimism would last, but he was going to ride it as long as he could.
Hannibal’s Bentley looked as plausible as a spaceship among the balding shrubs of Will’s front yard.
Daiva leapt inside as soon as Will unlocked the door, bounding away out of sight. Poppy took off from Will’s shoulder to follow her but very quickly reared back and fluttered down to the floor. Her rush of anxiety matched Will’s own; the house smelled stale and was far too quiet. No dogs. Alana wanted to make sure he was settled in and back to full energy before she brought them around, but he should have put his foot down. They would have soothed Poppy and given him something to do.
‘I’m going to be bored as hell,’ he told Hannibal. ‘I give it a week before Jack drags me back out to a crime scene.’
‘Is that a subtle request for entertainment?’ Hannibal followed Will through to the kitchen with a glass canister of food he’d brought from the car.
‘You’ve done plenty already. I would’ve gone mad in there without you. Well. Madder.’
‘It was no trouble, Will.’ Hannibal placed the food on the counter. ‘There are two servings in here. It should see you through your evening meal as well.’
Will didn’t know where to look. How was he ever going to repay Hannibal for all this? ‘Can I get you a drink or something?’ He cursed inwardly before the words were out of his mouth. He probably couldn’t offer anything but black instant coffee or water.
‘Thank you, but I should make my way home. And you should rest.’ Daiva slipped into the room, her urgent business elsewhere in the house apparently complete.
Will opened the fridge and made a noise of surprise. There was milk and juice inside, as well as butter, bacon, eggs and cheese. He checked, and there was bread and fresh fruit in the larder. ‘Was this you?’
‘Alana. She told me she was going to change the bed linen and tidy up a little too.’
Will felt doubly grateful to her. He would have lost the last shreds of his dignity if Hannibal had cleaned the house.
Hannibal made his way to the door. Daiva scampered up the side of a chair and leapt to his outstretched hand, winding her way up his arm. ‘I’ll leave you to it,’ he said. ‘But do call me if the boredom becomes too much to bear.’
Will stood at the window as the Bentley rumbled back towards the main road. Looking out over an ocean of grey winter grass, he listened until the car was gone and all he could hear was the house around him, ticking and creaking. Truly alone for the first time in weeks, he tried to call up some of the optimism he’d felt in the hospital parking lot. It had already slipped away.
When Will laid his head down that night, he fancied he could smell Hannibal on his pillow. No, not Hannibal. Daiva. He wasn’t sure how he knew the difference. He turned his lamp back on and put his nose down to the pillow again, but it was gone. Had he imagined it?
‘What’s wrong?’ Poppy mumbled, sleep in her voice.
‘Nothing.’ Will switched the lamp off and plunged the room back into darkness. He’d get used to being home again. It was just going to take a while.
Will was tinkering with his boat in the shed when he heard the slam of Alana’s car door. There was a cacophony of barking and Poppy took to the air excitedly. A second later she remembered to play it cool about the dogs like usual, and returned to her perch as if she'd merely been startled.
'You love them,' said Will, amused.
'You love them. I tolerate them.'
Will headed outside, wiping his hands on his jeans. At the sight of the dogs he dropped to a kneel. They bounded over and hemmed him in, licking and whining and head-butting. His grin turned to laughter as Buster rushed at Poppy, launching her into the air in a burst of irritated feathers.
'As you can see, they didn’t miss you at all.' Alana joined him with a fond look. Leo, her daemon, was tucked into the collar of her coat. Hummingbirds didn’t deal well with the cold.
'I’ve never gone this long without them before.' Will had been home three nights now, and things still didn’t feel right. He’d spent his days cleaning the shed, fishing and doing maintenance on the boat. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was like he’d forgotten how to be healthy. More than once he’d had to remind himself to be grateful for the new quiet in his mind.
Alana followed him inside. Will washed his hands and made coffee, grateful to be doing something for another person after so long being waited on hand and foot. While the dogs padded around the house, having a good smell of everything, Alana updated him on Abigail’s upcoming hearing, and outlined a recent case she’d consulted on for Jack. She was deliberately vague on the details of the crime and Will found he didn’t mind being treated with kid gloves. It was a relief to know it wasn’t the murderers he was missing. That wasn’t what felt wrong.
Will caught Alana eyeing his beard, a smirk on her lips. He cupped his jaw self-consciously. 'I know, I know. I’ll do something about it before class, I promise.'
'No, I like it. It suits you,' she said. Poppy made a disparaging noise and Alana laughed. 'You look good.'
'Yeah, well. It’s good to be home.' A banality, but only half a lie. He certainly didn’t miss being cooped up in hospital.
Alana considered him, taking a moment to choose her next words. 'So, Hannibal’s not too popular with Jack at the moment.'
'Oh? Why not?'
‘He paid a visit to the BAU right after you were admitted. I assume to chew Jack out for pushing you too hard.'
Will absorbed that. Hannibal had never let on, but of course there must have been words exchanged to keep Jack away. 'What did he say to him?'
'Exactly? No idea. But when I suggested Hannibal replace you on the Beth LeBeau case, Jack shut me down right away. I thought you might know what happened.'
She shook her head in wonder. 'I spent months trying to get Jack off your back, and nothing.'
'Hannibal has a way of getting what he wants.'
There was a flash of green on the mantelpiece: Leo cocking his tiny head, iridescent feathers catching the light from the window. 'Yes,' said Alana carefully. 'He certainly does.' Fuck. Alana had been fishing. He could feel her eyes on him, openly inquisitive. 'Did he visit you often?'
'Alana. I really hope you’re more subtle than this with your patients.'
'Who says I’m aiming for subtle? I’ve never seen Hannibal take such an interest in anyone before. I’ve never seen you let someone take such an interest.'
'Hannibal thinks I have a “singular mind”.' Will kept his tone light. He wanted very badly for this conversation to be over.
'You do have a singular mind. As does he. How often did he visit?'
'I don’t know. A few times.' A lie. Hannibal had come by every day but one. Sometimes it had just been to drop off a meal, but more often than not he stayed for hours, goading Will into conversation about his nightmares or quietly sketching while Will dozed. He’d lent Will a couple of his favourite books: one about Judith and Holofernes, which Will assumed would be pretentious, and another about the Cappella Palatina, a Norman chapel in Palermo, which he assumed would be dull. He was proven wrong on both counts. They had spent a whole afternoon talking about the chapel, Hannibal describing the colors and luminance missing from the grainy old black and white photos in the book, Will prodding him for stories about the prophets and warrior saints imbued in the ceiling's grand mosaics, all of them looking down upon the human skeleton graven in marble on the floor: the only figure in the chapel without a daemon.
Will still didn’t know how Hannibal had got around the hospital’s visiting hours. It was true: he had a way of getting what he wanted. And as much as it baffled Will, it seemed possible that Hannibal might want him.
At the very least, he wanted his company.
Will tried to imagine Hannibal in bed with someone. It wasn’t a stretch. Hannibal was eminently physical, and when he enjoyed something he gave it his undivided attention. He devoured it. Will could see Hannibal’s hands possessive over a lover's skin, his mouth on their neck, his cock hard as he buried his face between their legs. Will could picture Hannibal desiring someone, even fucking someone, but he couldn’t attach the images to a person with a specific face or gender. And while it was easy to see Hannibal touching another person, the reverse didn’t work; try to see someone's hands on Hannibal, someone touching Hannibal, and Will's imagination ground to a halt. It almost seemed a transgression. What kind of person would Hannibal permit that close?
Of course, he could just ask Alana. She’d given him an opening, curious but non-judgmental. The problem was, Will didn’t want to talk about it, not even with her; he felt protective of the time he’d spent with Hannibal in the hospital. He didn’t want to share it.
Alana knew he was holding back of course, so he felt deeply grateful when she broke the silence with a smile. ‘Well. I’m just glad he got you the MRI when he did.'
'Yeah, no kidding.' Will stood and collected their empty cups.
Alana got the message, pushing back her chair. She walked over and held out a finger to the mantel. Leo hopped on, and she passed him up to her shoulder. 'I’ll miss your dogs,’ she said. ‘Even the little one with the underbite. She snores.'
'Bessie. She has a deviated septum.'
'Of course she does.’ Alana pulled on her coat and made for the door. ‘Oh, and Will? If you do decide to keep the beard, let me know. I want to be there in the classroom when you cause a stir.' Will heard a quiet chuckle from Leo as the door swung closed behind them.
That night, Will lay awake for hours. The dogs were asleep and Bessie was snuffling as usual. Poppy dozed in her nest of old t-shirts on the bedside table. Everything was back the way it used to be, but Will still didn’t feel right.
It wasn’t the dogs, after all. It was Hannibal.
Three and a half days had gone by. Hannibal had texted twice, checking that Will was okay, asking if he’d experienced any more symptoms, but that was the extent of it. They hadn’t talked. They hadn’t shared food, or watched their daemons tease each other, or sat side-by-side while -
Oh God. Will’s stomach turned over. He leapt out of bed and raced to the kitchen.
Poppy shrieked awake. She swooped after him and found him scrabbling around in the cabinets in the moonlight. 'What is it? What’s wrong?'
Will was on his knees, half the contents of the kitchen pulled out onto the floor. The dogs were awake but kept their distance, wary. 'Hannibal. He was there, wasn’t he? In the hospital? And he brought us home?'
'What do you mean? Of course he did. What are you looking for?'
'Every day though? Was he really there every day?'
'Will, stop. Look at me.'
Will looked up. He’d never heard her so resolute. She stepped out to the edge of the counter, her dark brown eyes glinting black in the moonlight. 'Hannibal came to the hospital. He was there every day except when he had that conference in Philadelphia. I saw him and the nurses saw him. Even Beverly saw him. You weren't hallucinating. Now, would you please tell me what on earth you’re looking for?'
'The food container. He - he left lunch for me on the last day and I washed it and –'
'It’s in the car!'
'You put it in the car, for when you see him. So you wouldn’t forget.'
Shit. She was right. Will’s back hit the cupboard and he slumped the rest of the way to the floor. Poppy dropped down to join him with a worried little grumble. He held her tight and tried to get his breath back, the sweat already cooling on his skin. 'I’m sorry,' he said. 'I gave you a fright.'
She nuzzled her beak into his ribs until he felt its sharp, hooked little end through his t-shirt, pinching into his skin. He was forgiven. Will frowned as he looked at the situation again. If all the hospital visits were real, then what had changed since Will got out? Why the silence? Why had Hannibal pulled away?
'Did I do something?'
'To make him think I didn’t want it to be the same now? Now that I’m out.'
'You’re an idiot. He told you to call him.'
Will blinked. What?
'He told you to call him if the boredom got too much to bear, and you didn’t call.'
Will’s relief was like a punch to the guts. Hannibal had said something like that. Poppy was right - he was an idiot. With a rush of understanding, he realised he’d been an idiot about a lot of things. It wasn’t the stale air that had unnerved him when he returned home, nor the lack of dogs around his feet. It was the overwhelming sameness of the place that hadn’t felt right. Very little had changed in Wolf Trap, yet Will himself was unutterably different.
All that time Will had spent wondering what kind of people Hannibal preferred to sleep with, he hadn’t only been trying to puzzle out Hannibal’s interest in him; without realizing it, he’d also been trying to assess his own interest in Hannibal. He screwed his eyes shut. Christ. This was why he hadn’t been able see anyone else in Hannibal’s arms: his failure of imagination was an unwitting act of jealousy. With a shaky breath, he tried to put himself in the picture. He saw himself lying back as Hannibal took to the bed on his hands and knees, prowling up over him, caging him in with strong arms and broad shoulders. Hannibal’s eyes were dark with want as they dragged up Will’s body.
Fuck. Will was flush with heat and abruptly, painfully hard in his boxers. Of course he was having the most intense sexual awakening of his life alone on his kitchen floor in the middle of the night.
Poppy made a soft humming sound, sympathetic. He brought up under his ear like he used to as a child when they’d both needed comfort, holding her to the pulse in his neck until he felt a magnetic pull at the base of his skull and in through his back teeth. Poppy felt it too, and radiated pleasure.
‘Don’t call him right now,’ she said, her voice barely above a whisper. ‘It’s late. You’ll look crazy.'
Will laughed, and the last of the panic leached out of him. 'Okay. I’ll wait.'
The next morning, not too early, Will took a deep breath and sat down with his phone. Poppy alighted on the back of the armchair and peered over his shoulder as he typed out and deleted three different versions of a message.
‘That one,’ said Poppy, impatient. ‘Just send it.’
He did what he was told and waited, his feet tapping a rapid tattoo on the rug.
I still have your glass container. Should I drop it back some time?
After a few minutes, a reply.
Perhaps you’ll allow me to cook for you tomorrow evening, at my house. You could bring it then.
Will felt a rush of blood to his cock and had to screw his eyes shut. Jesus. That confirmed that then. He still wasn't sure exactly how Hannibal wanted him, but he knew how he wanted Hannibal. Without meaning to, he recalled the vivid hallucination of Daiva’s fangs buried in Poppy’s neck and how intensely sexual it had felt, despite his fear.
After a moment's repose he regained his fine motor skills.
Okay. Sounds good.
His phone buzzed again.
I look forward to it. See you at seven.
Poppy preened her wings, each rustle of feathers an I-told-you-so behind Will's head. He let her have her moment.
Will was in trouble. Whichever way Hannibal wanted him, he was in trouble.
Will was chatting to a handful of students after his last lecture of the day when he felt a thrill go through Poppy and looked up to see Hannibal at the door. Will gaped in surprise and saw something similar flash across Hannibal’s face. A rare instance of him caught unawares. It took Will a moment to realise why: Hannibal had never seen him clean-shaven before. Will had given in to Poppy’s increasingly withering asides and gone for a haircut before class. He’d let the barber take care of his beard with a straight razor even though he knew smooth skin made him look ten years younger. If not for the bags under his eyes, he’d be a ringer for his old police I.D. photo.
Hannibal hadn’t moved from the doorway. Nor had he looked away. Will felt his face heat, but it wasn’t the usual discomfort he felt under physical scrutiny. This was something new. Nervous pleasure. The thrilling possibility that Hannibal might appreciate the way he looked.
Someone cleared their throat and Will realized with a jolt that one of his students had asked a new question. ‘Sorry,’ he said, then called out to Hannibal that he’d only be a few minutes. Hannibal gave him a nod and came forward to take a seat in the front row.
Will tried to concentrate on his students’ queries, keeping his focus squarely on the safe middle ground of the desk in front of him, but it wasn’t easy. He desperately wanted to look up. Why was Hannibal here? It must have been a consultation for the BAU. Will wasn’t expected in Baltimore for hours yet.
He was down to just two students when he felt a rush of delight from his bond with Poppy. He glanced up to see her take to the air, flapping lazily a few inches off the ground. Daiva leapt after her. A playful swipe caught the end of her tail feathers and Poppy let herself be brought down. Daiva pounced, knocking Poppy over and landing on her breast.
Poppy played dead, head back and wings spread, before launching up and knocking Daiva off her with a laugh. Will fought desperately not to blush. This kind of behaviour might have been acceptable in the privacy of Will’s hospital room but in public it seemed positively indecent. Poppy got the upper hand and pinned Daiva to the floor, sinking her claws into her back, wings flapping. Daiva didn’t fight, her tail curling lazily on the floor.
Will’s heart raced. Unable to withstand his curiosity a moment longer, his eyes flashed up to the front row.
Hannibal was perfectly at ease, focused on the final slide from the lecture on the screen above Will’s head.
‘Thanks, Mr Graham.’
‘See you next week, Mr Graham.’
God. How long had he been distracted? The girls were already making for the door. They eyed Hannibal with open curiosity on their way out, their daemons exchanging a knowing glance behind them. Great.
Hannibal rose. Will turned away as he tugged his tie loose and pulled it off, shoving it into his briefcase. ‘Did I miss a text or something? We weren’t meeting here, were we?’
‘I hope you don’t mind the interruption - I had a report to drop off. I thought if you were finished for the day you might wish to accompany me while I pick up some final items for our dinner.’
‘You want to me to come grocery shopping?’ His incredulity had the ring of impoliteness, so he hurriedly went on. ‘Sure. I mean, I was just going to do some marking to kill the time, so… Sure. Now?’
‘If you’re ready,’ Hannibal replied. Will gathered up his paperwork, very aware of Hannibal’s gaze. ‘You look better, Will’.
‘Is that a professional opinion, or did you really hate my beard that much?’
‘The beard suited you. This suits you in a different way.’
Will swallowed. The light from the projector threw Hannibal’s cheekbones into sharp relief. He looked almost alien, and more inscrutable than ever. ‘Well. I can always grow it back.’
‘If you wish.’ He smiled, and Will looked away. He wasn’t going to unlock the puzzle-box of Hannibal Lecter while standing awkwardly in his classroom, palms sweaty and heart pounding, expecting an interruption any moment.
He turned off the projector and made for the door without looking for Poppy. ‘Let’s go.’
They drove separately to Baltimore and Will was grateful for the chance to collect himself. He parked up outside Hannibal’s house and transferred to the waiting Bentley. ‘Where to?’ he asked Hannibal. ‘I hope you’re only expecting me to carry stuff, because I won’t be much help otherwise.’
‘I need to pick up some fruit and vegetables from the market and you are here merely to keep me company. That shouldn’t be so very arduous.’
They travelled in comfortable silence until they reached a neighborhood Will could only describe as hipster. He noticed three brightly colored murals within two blocks, everyone in sight dressed in vintage jackets or trucker hats. If Will had kept his beard, he and his plaid shirt would have fit right in.
Arriving at the market, they immediately attracted attention. As Hannibal climbed out of the Bentley and pulled on his woollen coat in one smooth flourish, Will noticed a wide-eyed twenty-something almost drop her squirrel daemon. The squirrel yelped out a curse and the girl blushed furiously as she hurried onwards, tucking him into a fanny-pack slung low around her hips. Will bit back a smile. Newly aware of Hannibal’s appeal, it was oddly reassuring to witness it from a stranger’s perspective.
Will shadowed Hannibal as he strode along the rows of stalls, assessing each display as though it were arranged purely for his benefit. In contrast to other market-goers bundled up against the cold in big scarves and scruffy layers, Hannibal looked like he’d walked straight off a photo-shoot. He was wearing one of his louder suits under his coat, pale brown with a reddish paisley tie. His soft leather gloves likely cost more than Will’s entire winter wardrobe.
Several of the vendors knew Hannibal by name. Will hung back as he discussed the virtues of various types of pear at one stall, and shared obscure factoids with a rapt audience at another (‘In 16th century Venice, carchofas were a luxury, much smaller than the present day artichoke. They were preserved in sugar syrup and thought to be a mild aphrodisiac.’). Will realized with a smirk that Hannibal was something of a local celebrity. Of course he was. He was rich, easily recognizable, and indulgent of detailed conversation about artisanal food. The king of the hipsters.
‘Do you think he has all his recipes memorized?’ He asked Poppy, perched on his shoulder. ‘I can’t imagine him Googling like a normal person.’
‘He has a kind of rolodex thing,’ said Poppy. ‘I saw it in the kitchen.’
She nodded. ‘On little cards.’
Will huffed a laugh. That seemed entirely perfect. He wandered on ahead of Hannibal and let the ambient noise wash over him: the hum of nearby traffic and the chatter of the crowd. Sweet smells of cooking meat and fresh bread blended in the crisp air. A few minutes went by before he registered that he wasn’t uncomfortable. His surprise made him stop in his tracks. He was surrounded by strangers, yet he felt perfectly calm. Was it possible Hannibal had engineered the trip for this exact purpose? An example to show Will that he could survive the great outdoors again, social interaction and all? If so, Will couldn’t bring himself to be annoyed.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he retrieved it to see a text from Alana.
A couple of your students v intrigued by your visitor today. Something about Poppy and a stoat daemon?
Will squirmed. Alana’s teasing came from a place of concern, which only made him more inclined to keep her at arm’s length. He was still wondering how best to reply when Poppy pecked at his ear.
‘He’s looking for you’.
Will found Hannibal at a fruit stall nearby, perusing grapes. He had every intention of calling him out on the real reason he’d been brought along to the market, but then Hannibal turned and Will saw that the tip of his nose was pink from the cold. It was such an unexpected and oddly vulnerable sight that every other thought suddenly blinked out of his head.
‘Will. There you are. Tell me which of these you prefer.’ He picked a grape and held it out to Will. For a brief unhinged moment, Will couldn’t tell whether or not Hannibal intended to feed him by hand. He quickly took the grape and popped it into his own mouth. The fruit burst on his tongue, tart and sweet. Hannibal watched him. Being the subject of Hannibal’s undivided attention was always intense, but today his gaze had the impact of a physical touch, a change in air pressure that ghosted across Will’s skin.
But what did it mean? The uncertainty was maddening. Will was used to knowing where he stood with people he was attracted to. He read them, and he knew just how far things would go and how it would end. With Alana, there had definitely been a window when she’d wanted to take him to bed. He knew it would have been be good between them, maybe even great.
He also knew it was never going to get that far. Alana had too many misgivings about him and was too sensible and self-preserving to overlook them. So, he’d kissed her. He’d pushed things because he knew she was safe. But with Hannibal… Will had no idea where this was going, but he felt certain that nothing about it was safe.
All he could do was close his eyes and concentrate on the taste of each type of grape in turn. To his surprise, he found he could actually discern a difference between them. He voiced his preference, and Hannibal smiled and nodded, approving. As he turned away to pay the store-holder, tipping her generously, Will let out a shaky breath.
That’s when he noticed Daiva sitting atop Hannibal’s crate, looking up at Will with shining black eyes. She’d seen everything. Even if Hannibal didn’t know the effect his attention had on him, Will felt sure that his daemon did.
Back at the house, Hannibal put on classical music – something with strings that Will only vaguely recognised. He watched as Hannibal laid out all the ingredients for dinner: a rainbow of vegetables, fresh herbs from the wall garden, and a vacuum-sealed pack of red meat from the fridge. When Hannibal returned from the larder he had a crisp white apron knotted neatly around his waist, his shirtsleeves rolled above the elbow and his top two buttons open. Will stared. He’d never seen Hannibal’s forearms before, nor his collarbones.
He looked away quickly, clearing his throat. 'Can I do anything to help?' Poppy and Daiva snorted in unison from opposite sides of the kitchen and Will shot his daemon a dark look. Traitor.
Hannibal took the artichokes to the sink. 'You could open the wine?'
'Thank you, Will.'
Will startled as Daiva darted over his boots and scampered across the kitchen, leaping up onto the counter. Poppy was nesting by the coffee machine. As Will watched, Daiva padded over, yawned and stretched, then squeezed into the small space between Poppy and the machine. Poppy turned her head towards Daiva like a flower to the sun, and closed her eyes.
'They're very fond of each other,’ Hannibal said. He was washing artichokes, stripping off the loose lower leaves.
'I’m not sure fond really covers it.'
Hannibal glanced up, surprised. Will focused on opening the wine and tried not to squirm; there wasn't much point in denying the obvious. Finally Hannibal returned to his work, moving the artichokes to the chopping board, and for a moment Will thought he was going to let the subject drop. But then -
'Yesterday I found a collection of small black feathers on a shelf in my office'.
'Crap. Sorry. For what it’s worth, she’s pretty much stopped shedding since I got my treatment.'
'No need to apologize. I suspect Daiva has been hoarding them for some time. She wouldn’t let me discard them, so we came to a compromise. I gave her a small jewellery box for her treasures.'
Treasures. Fuck. Will tried to imagine Hannibal and Daiva discussing Poppy – discussing him – and he felt unmoored. This was ridiculous. He had to say something now, before dinner. He had to know for sure.
'There was gossip about them today’, he said. ‘After we left. Alana texted.'
'Oh? Gossip about Poppy and Daiva?' His tone was neutral.
‘You must have seen them. My students certainly did.’
‘You refer to their interaction in the classroom. They were playing.'
'Hannibal, they were practically necking. They were shameless.'
'And you believe shame was in order?'
'I believe my classes are going to be speculating about you for weeks.'
Hannibal studied him. 'We experience shame when we feel we have dishonored God.'
‘That’s not what I...’ Will sighed. How did conversations with Hannibal always get away from him? ‘I don’t think shame was in order. But for the record, we experience shame whether we believe in God or not. Shame is learned from other people. God is… God is a by-product. It’s other people’s reactions that teach us right from wrong.'
'And you believe Poppy and Daiva’s display was wrong.'
'No, I said I - ' Will stopped short as he realized. Fuck. 'You’re making fun of me.'
Hannibal’s lip quirked, his eyes igniting with affection. Will felt a rush of heat to his face. 'I apologize, Will. I'll admit to some enjoyment at your discomfort in the classroom.'
'I wasn’t even certain you’d noticed them. Let alone what I was doing.'
'To be in your presence is to be aware of you, Will. To the detriment of all else.'
The room closed in. Will waited for another smile, another qualifier, but Hannibal simply regarded him evenly. One hand motionless on the paring knife, the other on the counter. Will’s eyes flicked down to the new patch of skin at Hannibal’s neck, to the unfamiliar terrain of his collarbones and a hint of silver chest hair.
'I’ve made you uncomfortable,' Hannibal said.
'You say my name a lot,' Will blurted. Hannibal blinked at the non sequitur. ‘I assumed it was a power thing at first, but you’re always subtly putting Jack and Alana in their place and you don’t do it nearly as much with them. And it can’t be a doctor-patient thing because -'
'Because you’re not my patient. You haven’t been for some time.'
‘No. I haven’t.’ Will swallowed and waited for Hannibal to move. Why wasn’t he moving? Surely if Hannibal wanted him he’d do something. He’d step forward and touch him. He’d do something.
'I say your name because it makes you look at me.'
Will looked at him then, really looked at him, and caught an unfamiliar expression in Hannibal’s eyes. With a sharp intake of breath, Will realized what it was. Hannibal was waiting for a sign. He was uncertain.
‘Hannibal...’ Will could hear the disbelief in his own voice. He thought he’d been a neon sign in class today, and again at the market. ‘You must know I want this.’
It was like a switch had been flipped. The knife clattered and Hannibal closed the distance between them in three long strides. Will caught a glimpse of his eyes – black with hunger – before he took Will’s face in his hands and kissed him, hard and urgent. Will’s knees went weak with relief. There was the certainty. He surged up into the kiss, opening his mouth to taste Hannibal’s lips and chase the heat of his tongue. He pulled Hannibal closer, his body broad and powerful beneath Will’s hands.
Hannibal stalked forward and took Will with him, pinning him against the fridge. Will gasped at the delicious shock of cold down his spine as the whole front of him was enveloped in the heat of Hannibal’s body. He was hard already. They both were. Will deepened the kiss and they moved against each other, length to length, pleasure building. It was simultaneously everything and not nearly enough.
Hannibal pulled back and Will heard himself make a small, desperate noise. He opened his eyes. Hannibal was undone. His hair hung over his face and his apron was askew, his once immaculate shirt crushed and untucked by Will’s demanding hands. Hannibal the aesthete had been replaced by something altogether less polite. His gaze roamed over Will’s face, dark with intent, drinking him in. Will shook with how much he wanted him.
'My dear Will,’ said Hannibal, voice broken. ‘The way you - '
Will shook his head and screwed his eyes shut, overwhelmed. Hannibal stopped short. Will tried to concentrate on the sound of his own ragged breathing and the steady warmth of Hannibal's hands around his face. It was too much. Too much feeling. Too much want. Want that for the first time in Will’s life was all his own and no one else’s.
Somehow Hannibal must have understood, because after a moment one of his hands moved down over Will’s neck, slowly and carefully, and came to circle his throat. Will’s breath caught with the rightness of it. Hannibal increased the pressure ever so slightly and held him there. Grounding him.
It was perfect.
Will drew in a long, shaky breath and came back to himself. His breathing must have evened out because Hannibal kissed him again, slower this time, soft and deliberate. Finally, Will was able to re-open his eyes.
And suddenly Hannibal’s face was accessible to him like never before. There was desire there of course, and fondness. But there was something else too. Something fierce and vast.
Like a key turning in a lock, Will saw it: Hannibal might not have been certain of Will’s mind until tonight, but his own feelings ran deep, and had done for some time. The way he’d always looked at Will… How had he ever seen it as mere curiosity? He’d primed Will with weeks of light physical contact – fleeting, friendly gestures, just on the right side of propriety. He’d waited patiently and gained Will’s trust and given nothing away, lest Will frighten and bolt. Because if Will had known how much Hannibal wanted him before he realised the depth of his own feelings, he would have bolted, make no mistake. Even in the hospital, Will hadn’t –
The hospital. Will experienced another rush of understanding, and looked up at Hannibal, astonished.
‘You kept Jack away.’
Hannibal’s face went serenely blank, and for the first time Will understood what that expression meant; Hannibal was sorting through potential reactions to select the most appropriate one. He saw now just how often and how carefully Hannibal constructed his own image; he wasn’t merely cautious in his interactions, he was downright calculating.
‘At the hospital,’ said Will. ‘You kept Jack away.’
‘You knew that already. You needed time to recuperate.’
‘No, it wasn’t just a note at the nurses’ desk - you went to Jack and told him not to come. You kept everyone away. You wrangled me the private room and you scared off that orderly. I never saw him again, not after our lunch that day.’
Hannibal smiled. He wasn’t going to deny it. More than that, Will saw that he wanted him to know. He was proud of what he’d done and he was glad that Will had figured it out on his own. A fresh jolt of heat ran through Will as another realisation clicked into place.
‘You stopped Doctor Chambers from discharging me,’ he said. Pleasure flashed across Hannibal’s face. ‘You probably convinced her Jack would take advantage if I was at home. But you knew I’d be fine. You just wanted me to yourself.’
‘Does that trouble you? That I lied and manipulated to get you here?’
Will searched himself for apprehension or anger, but all he found was desire. He hadn’t wanted anyone but Hannibal in that hospital room. Even now, when he saw how much of Hannibal he still didn’t understand, he couldn’t look away. He wanted everything he could get.
‘I think you know it doesn’t,’ he said, and pushed up into the solid thigh between his legs. He was still hard, and Hannibal’s face split into a wolfish grin. His teeth reminded Will powerfully of Daiva’s fangs buried in Poppy’s neck, and he reached up to touch without thinking. His thumb caught on an eyetooth and Hannibal’s breath came out short. He grabbed Will’s wrist in warning, a dangerous heat in his eyes.
Will surged up to capture his mouth. Hannibal moaned and bit into the kiss. Urgent, Will grabbed for the cords of Hannibal’s apron and wrenched the fabric out of the way. They were suddenly a layer closer, Hannibal’s cock pressed hard against his own. It wasn’t enough. Will shoved his hand down between them and a low sound emerged from the back of Hannibal’s throat. Will palmed him slowly and deliberately, watching with pleasure as Hannibal’s eyes glazed over.
Will pushed him back, making room to fumble Hannibal’s fly open and drag his pants down. He wrapped a hand around Hannibal and brought him out, skin on skin. Hannibal gasped and gripped Will’s shoulders tight. Will watched his every micro-expression, determined not to miss a thing.
‘Do you ordinarily have such - ’ Hannibal groaned as Will changed angles, increasingly the pressure. ‘- such singular focus, at times like this?’
‘I’ve been told it’s unnerving. People want you to pay attention in bed but not, uh, not this much.’
‘I would not - I would not have you change your nature.’
Will huffed a laugh and sped up the movement of his hand, enjoying the way it wiped the smile from Hannibal’s face. Finally, he saw the moment Hannibal gave himself over to sensation. He dropped his head to Will’s shoulder with a shudder.
When Hannibal came, it was on a sharp inhale, fingers digging into the flesh of Will’s arms. Will felt the pleasure rush through Hannibal’s body like a bell resounding and it was as if the release was his own, so closely had he bound himself to Hannibal’s reactions.
When Hannibal drew back, his expression was dreamlike, his lips parted. He was flushed across his cheekbones, his dishevelled hair a halo beneath the overhead lights. He ran his hands down Will’s chest, then up again, under his shirt, hot palms over bare skin. Will came back to himself with a jolt, surprised to find he was still hard, his body twitching with need.
He looked for Poppy. She was on the countertop, quivering with untapped energy. Daiva was prone at her feet, eyes half closed. From where Will stood she almost looked drunk.
‘Look at me,’ Hannibal said.
Will dragged his gaze back. It was hard to believe this was Hannibal post-coital. The moment of lassitude was over; now that he had Will’s attention again he was all focus and determination. His hands went to Will’s pants and made quick work of the buttons. He took him out without breaking eye contact then went neatly down to his knees on the tiles.
Will gasped as Hannibal buried his face in his crotch and inhaled. He looked almost beatific. Then he pulled back and licked Will from root to tip.
‘Fuck. Hannibal. Fuck.’
He took Will into his mouth. Will screwed his eyes shut, palms slamming into the fridge behind him as Hannibal gripped his hips hard and sucked him down.
‘I can’t – I’m going to - ’
Hannibal hummed low, no intention of giving quarter. Will was nothing but shallow breaths and pounding blood and the heat of Hannibal’s mouth. All that power he’d seen banked behind Hannibal’s eyes only moments earlier, and now this… it drove every other thought from his mind.
All too quickly he was shuddering through his orgasm, hands gripping Hannibal’s head as he swallowed. It was the only thing holding him upright.
Once Will’s breathing slowed a little, Hannibal tucked him away and got to his feet. Broad hands roamed up Will’s sides, and he shivered. Hannibal kissed him, and he tasted himself in Hannibal’s mouth.
After a few moments, Hannibal spoke. ‘I want you to come with me to an event on Friday.’ His accent was more pronounced than usual, a slight slur on some of the consonants. ‘An acquaintance has an exhibition opening here in Baltimore.’
It took Will a moment to parse the words, then he pulled back to look at Hannibal properly. He was being asked on a date. They were dating now. ‘Do I have to dress up?’
‘I would like that very much, yes.’
‘I don't need a tux or something, do I? Because I don’t have anything like that.’
‘Not a tux, no. But I’ll make you an appointment with my tailor.’
Will barked out a laugh. Hannibal stilled. ‘Okay, that’s… No, Hannibal. We literally just – I don’t know how these things normally go for you, but I’m not letting you buy me a suit.’
Hannibal’s face was blank again, emotions shuttered. But Will knew something of what was behind that mask now, and he wasn’t concerned. He moved in close again and pressed their lips together. When Hannibal didn’t immediately respond, Will put a hand up to his face and smiled into the kiss. Finally, he felt some of Hannibal’s tension leech away.
‘I want to come with you. But if I need new clothes, I’ll buy them myself.’ Hannibal was almost pouting and Will fought the urge to laugh again. ‘You can help in an advisory capacity, okay? Believe me when I say I don’t actually want to stick out like the new kid at one of your fancy events.’
Hannibal seemed mollified by the promise of creative input. He nodded, and bent to press a kiss to Will’s neck. He lingered there, tasting him, and Will lost himself to the sensation.
‘I should clean up,’ he murmured at last. Hannibal had come all over his hands and shirt.
‘Are you still hungry?’ Hannibal reached out to brush a curl from Will’s forehead, and Will’s chest went tight. That simple gesture felt more intimate and shocking than the sight of Hannibal’s mouth around his cock.
He gave a shaky nod. ‘Yeah. I’m starved.’
‘Then use the bathroom just down the hall. I’ll carry on here.’
It was only once Hannibal moved away to wash his hands in the sink that Will fully realized what he’d just agreed to. He was going to an event of Hannibal’s peers. Starched collars and cufflinks, judgemental looks and rooms full of strangers. He’d accepted it wholesale and promised to buy new clothes. Had Hannibal just manipulated him again?
‘Will? Are you alright?’
As Will considered his answer, he noticed Daiva, still lazing on the counter. Her black button eyes were open again. They blinked up at him with unadulterated affection, and Will knew that if he was being manipulated then he didn’t give a damn. This was exactly what he wanted, and nothing else. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I’m good.’
In the bathroom, Will gulped down a mouthful of icy water from the faucet. When he straightened up he caught his reflection in the mirror: smooth skin, flushed cheeks and blown pupils, droplets of water caught on swollen lips. He saw himself through Hannibal’s eyes and was struck with a new flash of heat. He didn't know he could look like this.
‘He almost makes sense now,’ said Poppy, sounding a little dazed.
‘Only “almost” makes sense?’
Poppy fixed her feathers in the mirror. ‘We’ll stay with them tonight, won’t we? I want to stay.’
Will thought about it. He imagined what Hannibal’s bedroom might look like - grand and beautifully lit. He saw himself settling under the covers, Poppy on the bedside table. He saw the room later, in darkness, Hannibal pressed up close behind him, a possessive arm around Will’s chest as they slept. Later still, in the early hours, Will saw himself blink awake to find Daiva in a strip of moonlight from the window. She watched him, her gaze severe and careful. Then, ever so slowly, she picked her way across the quilt towards him, giving him every a chance to pull away. When Will didn’t move, Daiva bowed her head and gently nudged the back of his hand with her soft little nose.
Back in the bathroom, Will gasped at the strength of the vision. He knew there was truth in it: Daiva would seek that connection with him again, but this time on her own terms. Will also knew with absolute certainty that if Hannibal’s daemon tried to touch him tonight, he’d shake apart at the seams. He needed to retreat, to clear his head, to sit with his dogs and nurse a whisky and look at this from every angle. He needed to beat off before sleep as he thought of Hannibal between his legs, the swooning expression on his face as Will came in his mouth.
When Will touched Daiva again, he wanted to be ready.
‘Not tonight,’ he told Poppy. ‘We’ll go home tonight.’
By Friday, Will was regretting his decision not to see Hannibal again before their date. The goal had been to achieve something approaching emotional equilibrium so he didn’t embarrass himself at the gallery. Instead, all he’d managed to do was replay that hour in Hannibal’s kitchen on a perpetual loop and jerk off more often than he had as teenager. As always, it seemed emotional equilibrium was for other people.
‘You look fine,’ Poppy grumbled. Hannibal was due to pick him up any minute, and Will was wearing his new suit. He’d laid down a frankly shocking amount of money for it but he knew the best he could hope for tonight was to fade into the background, a drab shadow in Hannibal’s sophisticated world. The only mirror in the house was the small toothpaste-speckled one on the door of the medicine cabinet, so he contented himself with shaving carefully and straightening his tie. It was more than he did most days.
When Hannibal arrived he didn’t greet Will with a kiss. Instead, he rested a hand on his arm and took in the suit with approving eyes while Daiva snapped at Poppy’s ankles. He had insisted on making the round trip from Baltimore to collect Will from his door.
‘I feel like a debutante,’ said Will with a self-conscious grimace.
Hannibal smiled, unfazed by Will’s tone. ‘In that case I think you’re overestimating the formality of this evening’s event.’
Will scoffed. Hannibal was wearing a sleek dark blue suit and a peacock necktie fastened with a silver spike. Will wanted to point out that they had very different ideas of what qualified as formal, but the heat in Hannibal’s gaze reminded him of another very good reason why he might have insisted on driving: this way, he could sure that Will would come home with him afterwards.
Damn it. Will should have kissed him when he first came to the door. He wanted to kiss him now, but Hannibal was already crossing the porch and making his way down to the Bentley.
Dusk had fallen by the time they arrived in Baltimore, late enough to avoid rush hour. The Bentley slid into the inner-city traffic like a shark through minnows.
‘This evening is a commemoration of sorts for the Czech sculptor Gertruda Buranek,’ said Hannibal. ‘She passed away last year. One of her disciples settled here and is sponsoring the event in her honor. Seven artists displaying works inspired by the seven heavenly virtues.’
Yeah, that sounded like Hannibal all right. European and heavy on the religious overtones.
The gallery was obviously a temporary one, housed inside an old municipal building, grey and looming. Will climbed out of the car at the valet stand and took in a deep breath, steeling himself for hours of oppressive small talk with socialites. Poppy stretched her wings in the cool evening air before landing on Will’s shoulder, claws digging into his jacket.
‘You seem prepared to have a thoroughly unpleasant evening,’ said Hannibal, moving Will forward with a light touch.
Will saw the smile in his eyes and returned the look. ‘Thank you. I am.’
An impressively varied group of patrons were crowded into the lobby. Rather than the tuxedo-clad army Will had imagined, he found there were plenty of people in jeans and t-shirts – though likely the kind of jeans that cost more than Will’s new suit.
Hannibal stood out even next to the most ostentatious guests. But then, he always did. Will recalled their first meeting at the BAU and it seemed obvious now that Hannibal had gone out of his way to look as normal as possible. Even then, he hadn’t quite succeeded.
Tonight, people were staring at Hannibal with outright admiration and Will realized he’d miscalculated. There was no earthly chance of fading into the background while in the orbit of Hannibal Lecter; he attracted far too much attention. A number of the better-dressed guests raised their glasses or nodded in greeting as Hannibal cut through the crowd, eyes passing over Will with open curiosity. Hannibal returned the gestures with a nod or a smile and an air of remote charm.
Will snagged a wine from a waiter’s tray. ‘How many of these people do you actually like?’
‘Some of them make for quite diverting company,’ Hannibal replied, and Will huffed a laugh. Translation: he didn’t give a shit about any of them.
As they moved further into the crowd, Will was treated to a flurry of introductions to artists and patrons, academics and socialites. They came in two varieties: those with morbid interest in Will’s work for the FBI, and those who barely acknowledged him at all. With amusement, Will realized that the latter group assumed he was there for decorative purposes only. In Hannibal’s rarefied world he apparently qualified as a trophy.
‘Debutante,’ he muttered under his breath. Daiva made a discreet noise that Will now recognised as a laugh, and Hannibal smiled, showing teeth. Damn him, he was enjoying this.
His hand ghosted at the small of Will’s back as they entered the first room of the exhibit, the word Chastity emblazoned across the entrance in looping neon script.
Inside, ornate gold frames hung from coral pink threads. The frames contained white bed sheets, each more crumpled and wrinkled than the last, until the final frame in which the sheet was ragged around the edges and stained with blue liquid, like in a TV commercial for sanitary pads. Hannibal strolled through the room with a benign expression.
‘Not what you were expecting?’
‘Seven virtues, seven artists,’ Hannibal replied. ‘I’d be astonished if all of them were good.’ Their eyes met briefly in shared amusement.
In the next room, Temperance , finely detailed abstract glass sculptures were mounted on stone plinths. Will could immediately see that the work was at least skillfully made. Hannibal took time to appreciate each piece but Will found it difficult to concentrate: there were patrons who continued to glance over at him with interest.
As they passed by one woman she leant in to whisper in her partner’s ear, ‘– didn’t know if he was gay or just European.’
Hannibal showed no sign of having heard her but Will knocked back the last of his wine and swapped it for a full glass from a passing tray. God. Five more rooms of this.
The narrow doorway into the next gallery created a claustrophobic bottleneck. Once they made their way through the crowd, Will found himself in a chamber housing a large boxy metal object that stretched almost to the ceiling. People shuffled around it to get to the next room, craning their necks upwards as they went. Will stopped for a closer look. The installation was a working machine, dark metal cogs and levers carrying little chunks of metal to and fro. It gave the illusion of usefulness but ultimately the metal went nowhere and the machine did nothing except continue to function efficiently. There was something soothing about it.
‘You like this one.’ Hannibal stepped in close to Will to allow the crowd to spill around them. A few weeks ago Will would barely have thought twice about their proximity, but tonight he was highly aware of the space between them, expanding and contracting like the tide. Right now, the water threatened to engulf him.
‘It reminds me of the junkyard where I learned to fix boat motors.’ He glanced around at Hannibal, who was watching him intently. ‘Probably not the deep analysis you were looking for.’
‘On the contrary. There is no correct way to appreciate art.’
‘Everything I know about art I learned from killers at crime scenes. One time a guy tried to to recreate a Dali with human flesh. And then there’s all the martyred saints. You’d be amazed how popular those are.’
‘People gravitate to familiar imagery.’
‘People have no imagination, you mean.’
‘And you have a surfeit. I have often wondered what would you see if you turned your eye toward creative work that didn’t come with a case file.’
‘Is that why you brought me here? To watch me read art like a crime scene?’
‘Perhaps it was one of my motives, yes.’ Hannibal’s gaze slid down Will’s body. Will swallowed and looked away quickly, suddenly very aware of how his snug new suit skimmed his body in unfamiliar ways. He wished furiously that they could be alone, that he could once again feel the anchor of Hannibal’s hand around his throat.
But then Daiva was between them, her voice cutting through the noise of the crowd: ‘Donald Sutcliffe is here.’
It took a moment for Will to place the name but once it hit home, he froze. The sterile chemical scent of the MRI chamber filled his nostrils.
‘He hasn’t seen us,’ she said. ‘If you want to go, go now. We’ll come find you.’
Hannibal searched Will’s face. ‘Unless you want to speak to him?’
‘I, uh... I really don’t. You don’t mind?’
‘Go,’ Hannibal said, and Will moved off quickly, making his way around the machine. The crowd sealed behind him as he slipped through the next doorway and into a long corridor lined with black and white photos.
‘The rooms are getting smaller,’ he muttered to Poppy. ‘Feels like we’re in a lobster trap.’ The photographs on the whitewashed walls showed children at play. In many of them, the artist had captured daemons in the process of changing shape: a universal symbol of youth and innocence. Will could remember that kind of freedom. The joy of experimentation and surprise. ‘Which virtue is this?’
‘Mercy,’ replied Poppy.
Someone he’d met in the lobby gave him a wave across the crowd and Will shrunk back, managing to reply with a reasonable facsimile of a smile. ‘Just look at the art,’ Poppy said in his ear, her claws needling his shoulder. ‘You don’t have to talk to anyone.’
Will shoved his hands in his pockets as he turned to the nearest photo and it occurred to him that somewhere along the way he’d lost his second glass of wine. Right now he could use something a lot heavier. In the photo, two boys kicked a soccer ball in the ruins of an air strike. Remnants of buildings stuck out of the ground like broken teeth. One damaged wall was cast at such a dramatic angle that Will could picture the blast that had destroyed it, flames scorching concrete.
The children seemed unconcerned by the chaos around them. One boy’s daemon was a butterfly, her wings a blur above his head. Will had to search the image to find the second daemon. Then he saw her: she was a bird. Something small. A seedeater, perhaps. She was perched high on the remains of a rooftop, looking to the sky.
With a whoosh like the changing pressure on an airplane, the gallery fell away and Will was among the ruins, warm dry air on his skin. He could hear adult voices murmuring just out of view. They were searching the rubble for valuables, debating the likelihood of more violence that day. The boys were laughing and yelling, their sneakers slapping the concrete. One of them wore odd shoes: one black, one dirty green. Then Will blinked and realised they were a pair after all; the seemingly black shoe merely stained that way with blood and dust.
His seedeater daemon had no interest in the game and Will realized with a jolt that she had already settled. Her human was no more than nine years old, but she would stay in that form forever now. Her eyes were on the sky because that’s where death had come from last time.
Will startled as she cried out in alarm and took to the air. The sound of her wings filled his ears, almost drowning out her voice as she called Hannibal’s name. It was Poppy crying out, not the little seedeater, and Will couldn’t breathe. His throat was closing and the room went dark. Someone shouted for a doctor.
He must have sunk to the floor because the clash of voices came from far above him as Hannibal loomed into view. Calm, certain hands checked the pulse at his neck, then gently helped him sit up.
Someone offered assistance, but Hannibal shook his head. ‘My friend has a medical condition,’ Hannibal was saying. ‘Please excuse us.’ He leant in close, his voice just for Will. ‘Can you walk with me?’
Will nodded. Poppy flapped somewhere above them as Hannibal led him deftly through the crowd and through a door into a darkened corridor.
Hannibal tried a few more doors until he found one unlocked and flicked a switch to illuminate a small, dusty office, broken furniture piled haphazardly against the walls. The air was clammy. Will found a seat in a desk chair and Poppy fluttered down to land on his knee.
‘An hallucination?’ Hannibal asked.
‘No. Not exactly.’
‘You’re not feverish,’ said Hannibal. ‘I don’t believe this is a relapse.’
‘Just my regular brain, then.’ Will pulled off his glasses and dragged his hands over his face, shame rising like bile in his throat.
‘Wait here,’ said Hannibal. ‘I’ll only be a moment.’ He vanished out into the corridor.
‘Well, I fucked that up,’ said Will, once Hannibal was out of earshot. Poppy tucked her head down between her shoulders, the bodily equivalent of a frown. ‘Couldn’t make it half way though a date without becoming his damn patient again.’
Poppy pecked at his hand, half scolding, half comforting. They sat in miserable silence until Daiva bounded back into the room. ‘They’re bringing the car around the back,’ she said, leaping up onto the desk in front of Will as Hannibal entered with a glass of water.
‘We can go out the staff exit as soon as you’re ready,’ he said. He handed over the water and Will gulped some down.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Sorry.’
Hannibal dismissed the apology with a shake of his head. ‘What happened? Was there a particular catalyst?’
‘I looked too closely.’
‘At whom?’ Hannibal asked. Will glanced up at him, half expecting to see pity or concern. Instead, Hannibal looked at Will like he always did - with unabashed inquisitiveness. Somehow, that helped.
‘Not whom, what. A photo of kids in a war zone.’ Will’s mouth twisted. ‘I guess my brain has an affinity for horror of any stripe.’
‘The mind seeks to tread familiar paths, and in your case that makes for a perilous journey.’ Hannibal came to sit against the desk and Daiva leapt into his lap. ‘Do you want to tell me what you saw?’
Will stared down at the point where Hannibal’s knee grazed against his thigh. He shook his head. The catalyst for his shame seemed irrelevant now. ‘What will your friends say?’
‘I believe we established these people are not my friends.’
‘But they are your peers, and they’ll talk. If tonight was a test, I failed.’
‘Will. Tonight was not a test, but suppose it was... Do you imagine I would turn you away over such a thing?’ Will was quiet, and Hannibal took that as his answer. ‘I thought I’d made my feelings plain, but perhaps this is a good opportunity for clarity.’ There was the trace of threat in Hannibal’s voice and Will looked up in surprise. Hannibal loomed over him, eyes hooded.
‘I brought you here tonight to be in your company and – just as you intuited – to observe you in a new environment. I brought you here to be close to you, and as a pretext for taking you home with me afterwards. My dear Will, I would burn this building to the ground and leave every last creature inside it for dead before I turned you from my side.’
Will heard his own sharp intake of breath. Hannibal’s eyes looked black in the dimly lit room and they burnt all trace of shame and uncertainty from Will’s chest. Poppy’s claws pierced the fabric of his pants and threatened to break the skin of his knee, and Will felt deeply, absurdly grateful for the pain. He was awake. This was real.
He placed his water glass down on the desk. ‘I’m ready to go now.’
Daiva stretched out in the dark well behind the driver’s seat. A storm had swept in and heavy rain pelted the Bentley, muting the outside world as Hannibal maneuvered through the late night traffic. Will was quiet, Poppy nesting in his lap. His skin and hair were damp from their dash to the car and his scent tasted like burnt sugar on the back of Daiva’s tongue.
She tried to push some of her good feeling into Hannibal, to no avail. Will’s silence had him worried that he’d revealed too much with his violent declaration. Daiva was surprised he couldn’t smell Will’s mood himself, but ever since that night in the kitchen he had lost a good deal of clarity on the subject of Will Graham. His thinking, always so particular and precise, had turned lyrical and longing.
He signaled to take a left. Will had been staring blankly out the window but now he seemed to register where they were. He looked over at Hannibal. ‘Why are you – Are you taking me back to Wolf Trap?’
‘Should I not?’ Hannibal’s voice was even.
Will didn’t reply. Daiva raised her head and saw him studying Hannibal carefully. Was Hannibal more easily decipherable to Will now that he had been granted glimpses behind the veil?
Finally, Will seemed to come to some decision. He reached out and placed a hand on Hannibal’s thigh. Hannibal tensed. People didn’t take him by surprise. People didn’t touch him without invitation, implicit or otherwise. Will must surely sense that for himself, yet he didn’t pull away.
‘You've seen me at my weakest,’ he said. ‘But I know you don't think I'm weak.’
Hannibal shot him a glance, taken aback. ‘You're not weak. You're very much the opposite of that.’
‘I had a panic attack but I’m okay now. You made it okay.’
‘I’m glad. But you’ll be badly fatigued when the adrenalin wears off and you'll be grateful for your own bed.’
After a moment, Will gave a small nod and withdrew his hand. He went back to watching the windshield wipers mark time like a metronome, and Hannibal drove on.
Finally Will spoke again, softer this time. ‘Going by what you said back there, I know you still want… this. Me.’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Okay. Good. But if it’s not that, and you know you’re not going to break me, then what is it? You wanted to take me home with you. What changed?’
Hannibal hesitated, and Daiva felt a painful tug behind her ribs. ‘What is between us… I would not have it be a fleeting thing.’
For a moment the car was utterly silent. The rain and the darkness wrapped them in a cocoon, time suspended.
Will was quiet too long. Daiva felt Hannibal’s impulse to reach for the pen he kept in the driver’s side door. With enough force, he could stab it clean through Will’s temple without taking his left hand off the wheel.
Instead, Hannibal glanced over again just in time to see Will’s look turn dark and deliberate.
‘Fuck fleeting, Hannibal. Fuck. Yes, I'm scared. You scare me. This scares me. But absolutely nothing – nothing – about it feels fleeting.’
There was a rushing in Daiva’s ears. If Hannibal replied to Will she didn't hear it, because her awareness snapped closed around Poppy in Will’s lap. Daiva wanted to consume her. She wanted to tear into her feathered breast with her teeth and crack open her straw-thin ribs to get at the soft organs beneath. She wanted to gorge on her blood and lick her bones clean and keep going until not a single particle of Poppy existed outside Daiva’s body. Was this what human hunger felt like? Or was it desire?
Daiva came back to herself as the Bentley lurched to the left and Hannibal cut across two lanes of traffic. Horns sounded behind them and Poppy squawked in alarm. Will laughed low and happy as Hannibal swung a sharp U-turn. Water sluiced off the windows. He merged seamlessly into the traffic streaming back towards the city. Towards home.
Only then did Daiva notice that Will’s hand was back on Hannibal’s thigh. Hannibal had it covered it with his own, firm and possessive.
Daiva could have told Hannibal he needn’t have regretted his words at the gallery; the heady scent of want had been rolling off Will ever since Hannibal spoke of killing for him. But it was better Hannibal found out this way. Better too that Will knew of the power he wielded.
Daiva saw that Poppy was watching her, her dark brown eyes flashing silver with every passing streetlight. Saliva pooled around Daiva’s fangs.
It was still raining hard when they pulled up at the house. Will had his seatbelt undone before the Bentley came to a stop.
‘Let me get my umbrella from -’ But Will flung open his door before Hannibal could finish, bolting for the house. Hannibal’s amusement thrilled through Daiva as she flowed around the seat and into his arms.
Poppy hesitated too long. Will’s door swung shut, trapping her in the car, and she grumbled under her breath as she contemplated the wall of water outside. Will was cleaning off his glasses on the front step, impatient, wreathed in golden light from the porch.
‘The umbrella is a large one,’ Hannibal said. It was the first time he had ever addressed Poppy directly. ‘If I hold it high enough I’ll be able to shelter you with a safe distance between us.’
‘No, thank you,’ Poppy replied. ‘If you could just let me out.’ She sounded ever so slightly embarrassed. Who besides Will Graham would leave their daemon behind so casually?
‘Of course.’ Hannibal leaned over to help her, telegraphing his movements.
When they finally got inside, Will threw his glasses on the side table and lunged at Hannibal before the door had fully closed behind them. They kissed, open mouthed and demanding. Will hauled Hannibal towards the stairs. They grappled with each other, tugging at wet clothes, dropping outer layers to the floor. Will was zealous in his quest for skin. He made a choked off noise as he struggled with the buttons of Hannibal’s waistcoat.
‘How are they – God, how do you even – ’
Hannibal growled and grabbed Will’s wrists. Hard. Will sucked in a breath. His eyes flew up to Hannibal’s, mouth open, pupils blown.
Hannibal smiled. He was fascinated by Will’s reactions, which he could never quite predict. Testing further, he jerked Will’s hands behind his back and held them there, wrists pressed tight together. Will bit back a moan, caged in by Hannibal’s body. Light pulsed through Daiva from nose to trembling tail.
‘Tell me, Will.’ His voice was low and dangerous. ‘Is there any particular need to rush?’
Will shook his head. Daiva could see him trembling with the effort to keep still. He wanted to surge up and take Hannibal’s mouth again, and Hannibal knew it. He let the moment extend.
Daiva scanned for Poppy. She was up on the bannister, eyes half-closed with pleasure, her feathers sleek and gleaming with rainwater in the lamplight. Daiva recalled the feeling of Poppy above her, those sharp black claws pressing eight distinct points into her pelt.
‘Do you know where my bedroom is?’ Hannibal asked. Will shook his head. ‘Do you know what floor it’s on?’
‘I’m not – that night, I was -’
‘Yes or no, Will?’
‘I want you to find it and I want you to take the rest of these wet clothes off.’ Will’s breath stuttered on an inhale, his body tight as a bow in Hannibal’s arms. ‘Get on the bed and wait for me. Do you understand?’
Will nodded. Hannibal released him and took a step back. Will swayed. A hand went out and he steadied himself against the wall.
Will turned and raced up the stairs.
Will’s heart was beating out of his chest as he hurried along the darkened corridor. He knew Hannibal’s bedroom couldn’t be on the first floor; his memory of the night after the Beth LeBeau crime scene was hazy, but it definitely involved more than one staircase and he felt certain Hannibal would have put him in a bed on the same floor as his own.
Will was painfully hard in his new fitted pants and for a fleeting moment he considered stopping to wrest them off. He didn’t. It was irrational, but he could almost feel Hannibal’s breath on the back of his neck. The house was silent behind him but for the flap of Poppy’s wings, yet Will felt pursued. It was delicious. He palmed himself once, biting back another moan as he came out onto the top level.
The first door was locked. The next opened to a familiar sight: a forest green quilt and an oil painting of a stately woman and her peacock daemon. It felt like years since he’d seen her last.
He shivered upon opening the next door. It was noticeably cooler inside, and when he turned on the light he saw why. The room was a museum. The windows were shuttered and there was a complicated temperature gauge by the light switch. Floor to ceiling bookshelves were filled with ancient, fragile-looking tomes, glass cabinets displayed papers, fabrics and other delicate curios, and every wall not covered in shelving was decorated with beautifully mounted insects.
‘Cozy,’ snarked Poppy, coming to land on a large reading table in the centre of the room. It was scattered with loose papers, pencils and charcoal. Will assumed the papers were Hannibal’s drawings but as he took a curious step forward for a closer look the door swung shut with a click behind him. He gasped, adrenalin pumping, before his brain caught up. Of course: the room was temperature-controlled so the door was on a spring. Reminded powerfully of Hannibal’s instructions, he turned to leave again.
Then he froze. Daiva was above the door. How on earth had Hannibal had followed him without making a sound?
‘It’s not her,’ said Poppy.
Will blinked, and suddenly it was obvious. The figure above the doorframe was a taxidermied stoat captured mid-stride, peering down at the room. It was startlingly lifelike and perfectly preserved, but a tawdry simulacrum of a daemon. Will shivered again. He’d have a stern word with Hannibal about how creepy it was in the morning. But now… Fuck. Now, he had to hurry.
He slipped back out into the corridor and peeled off his shirt as he crossed to the last room on the floor. There was no door this time. Instead, a Japanese screen and a suit of Samurai armour marked the entrance to a grand doorway of pale stone. Will smirked. Of course entering Hannibal’s bedroom would feel like crossing the threshold of a medieval castle.
Inside was a little more like he’d imagined: the room was opulent without being showy, neat and functional in its beauty. Dark turquoise ceilings arched over an oaken floor, with walls upholstered in a light brown fabric that wouldn’t look out of place in of Hannibal’s suits. The bed was enormous, framed with Japanese woodblock prints depicting scenes of people watching their daemons interact: fighting, caressing, exchanging gifts. But the most eye-catching object in the room was something far more bizarre.
From the floor in the far corner there sprouted the dark, knotted bough of a tree. It angled sharply upwards and branched out high over the room, skimming the ceiling at its highest point. It was a maple. Likely a Japanese maple, given the room’s motif.
Poppy was busy inspecting a hollow at waist-height on the bough, where Will could see that a little nest had been made. He eyed her, sheepish. ‘A few steps up from old t-shirts on the nightstand, huh?’
Poppy scoffed. ‘At least he hasn’t got her one of those special little beds rich people usually buy. So patronising.’
The tree looked as if it had sprung straight from the house itself, like something out of a fairy tale, but when Will stepped in for a closer look he saw that the wood had been delicately polished and sealed, the craftsmanship so exquisite that he couldn’t tell if it had once been a real tree, or if the whole thing was a piece of art. He ran his hand up the bough and leaned in to smell the wood.
‘It's real,’ came Hannibal’s voice from the doorway. ‘Or it once was.’
‘I kind of want to say it’s ridiculous.’ Will watched Daiva scamper up the bough and out into the dark branches above his head. ‘But it’s not. It’s beautiful.’
Will could picture Hannibal’s closed-mouth smile in response, even before he turned to look. When he did turn, he saw Hannibal had removed his tie and cufflinks and was barefoot - a startlingly intimate sight.
Hannibal stopped unbuttoning his shirt as his gaze dropped, roaming over Will’s bare chest and down to his trousers hanging low on his hips, belt and top button undone. He sucked ever so slightly on his bottom lip and heat flared in Will’s groin.
His hands went to his belt. ‘Sorry, I – I got distracted.’
‘No need to apologise. I wanted you to look your fill.’ He stepped in, covering Will’s hands with his own. ‘It was no hardship to imagine you up here without me, clothed or not.’
And just like that, Will was fully hard again. He turned his hands over and raked his fingers down Hannibal’s palms and along his wrists, under the open sleeves of his shirt. Hannibal’s breath caught. God. Will would never get enough of wanting him, certain in the knowledge that Hannibal saw him, all of him, and wanted him too.
Will withdrew his hands. ‘Take this off.’
Hannibal complied without breaking eye contact. His chest was broad and powerful and it made Will’s mouth dry. He reached out and catalogued the skin of Hannibal’s shoulders, then ran his fingers through the dark, silvery hair around his nipples, down along his ribs and around his waist, where he was softer.
‘I've never wanted to touch anyone like I want to touch you.’ Will stepped closer and a fresh shot of pleasure went through him as their bare chests came together, skin on skin. ‘I can't look at you without thinking about it.’
‘You've had lovers before. You must have wanted them.’
‘More or less. But I touched them because I knew they wanted me to. Because I knew it would comfort them or get them off. Get us both off.’ Will moved a hand down between them and over the hard bulge in Hannibal’s pants.
Hannibal sucked in a breath. ‘And now?’
‘Now, I... With you, it’s like we're magnetized.’
Hannibal absorbed that, eyes glowing. He leaned in. Will assumed he was about to be soundly kissed but instead Hannibal buried his face under Will’s jaw, leaning into the crook of his neck. Will held him there a moment before he realized Hannibal was smelling him, taking long, considered breaths. Will grinned into his hair. ‘God. You really are like the dogs.’
Hannibal stilled. ‘Excuse me?’
Will smirked at the glacial tone. ‘Both of you - you and Daiva. You have a thing about scent.’
Hannibal pulled back to look at him. ‘You noticed Daiva?’
‘I’m fairly sure she rolled around on my pillows the day you dropped me home from hospital.’ Hannibal cocked an eyebrow, which wasn’t exactly a denial. ‘It was because Alana changed the sheets, wasn’t it?’
‘You might ask her yourself.’ Hannibal raised his eyes to Daiva in the branches above them. ‘But I imagine she’ll be rather put out by your dog remark.’
Will glanced up, and burst out laughing. Daiva was peering down her nose at him with a look of supreme unconcern. Overwhelmed with affection for her, he pulled Hannibal down to meet his lips, smiling into the kiss.
Hannibal let Will set the pace, so he took his time, palming the length of Hannibal’s cock between them, losing himself in the unhurried press of their lips. He groaned as the back of his hand rubbed against his own hardness. Hannibal's lips parted and his tongue slipped into Will's mouth. It was a single caress, an invitation. Will felt a sudden rush of vulnerability and pulled away, breathing hard.
Will shook his head. Suddenly it was very important that they were fully naked. He stepped back and took down his pants and shorts. His cock sprung out, hard and flushed, already wet at the head. Hannibal made quick work of his own trousers. Will only got a glimpse of him before they came back together, bodies pressed hard in a delicious shock of skin. They kissed, more urgent now, moving towards the bed.
When the back of Will’s legs hit the mattress he found his voice again. ‘Hannibal?’ Hannibal hummed acknowledgment, mouth busy at Will’s neck. ‘I’m not - I don’t know what I’m -’ He shook his head. This wasn’t coming out right.
‘Anything you want. Tell me what you want.’
Will’s hand went helplessly to Hannibal’s mouth. He ran his thumb over the bottom lip, dragging it down to see the edges of those sharp eyeteeth again. He wanted to run his tongue over them. He wanted Hannibal above him and under him. He wanted to get his mouth around Hannibal’s cock. He wanted to lick sweat off his collarbones and get fistfuls of his hair. He wanted to see Hannibal’s face transformed by this, by what was between them.
‘What you did just now,’ he managed. ‘Downstairs.’
Hannibal watched him closely, giving nothing away. ‘I held you.’
Will huffed a laugh. It was a lot more than that. Hannibal didn’t laugh. He was hard against Will and his hands hadn’t moved from Will’s neck. ‘Did you like it?’
‘You know I did.’
‘Tell me what you liked about it.’ Hannibal waited for an answer like they were in one one of their damn sessions. Like Will’s bare cock hadn’t just jolted against his with the realisation that Hannibal wanted him to spell it out.
Fine. If that’s what he wanted. ‘You dominated me. Like you’re doing now.’
Hannibal looked pleased but he didn’t move. He wanted more.
Will took himself back to the moment when Hannibal had grabbed his wrists and caged him in. He swallowed. He could have tried to pull free. He’d thought about it, his heart hammering. He’d wanted to fight Hannibal. To bite him. To run. To be chased. To be caught and held tighter the next time.
‘I liked that you wanted to… direct me.’ He was flooded with the same feeling now, as Hannibal watched him squirm. Embarrassment and desire warring in his gut, each feeding the other, making him hot and tight all over. ‘But you didn’t want me passive. You wanted to me to push back.’
Hannibal’s eyes flashed. ‘Is that what you want, Will? Do you want to push back?’
Now was not the time for subtlety. Will brushed his lips over Hannibal’s jaw as he moved to his ear. ‘I want you to fuck me.’
There was a growl and then Will was flat on his back on the bed, Hannibal over him. His hands went to Hannibal’s thighs but Hannibal grabbed his wrists and pinned them above his head.
‘Stay.’ Hannibal sat back, straddling him.
Will pressed up into the headboard but he couldn’t help arching his hips, rubbing up against Hannibal’s ass. Hannibal allowed him to rut there a moment, eyes locked on his, before he planted his broad hands around Will’s hips and pushed down, holding him firm to the mattress.
Will tried to buck him off. He put all he had into it and couldn’t even jolt him. A fresh burst of arousal surged through him. Hannibal was even stronger than he looked.
Hannibal saw the effect it had on him. ‘Stay,’ he repeated.
Will nodded. Hannibal released him, and was obeyed. He went over Will on all fours and began to kiss down his chest. His ribs. The sensitive skin of his sides. Will had to squeeze his eyes shut. If anyone had ever touched him like this before, it was never with such focus, such… reverence. That was the only word for it.
Hannibal took his time, running his fingertips over every patch of skin, exploring with lips and tongue. Scraping at Will’s nipples, taking them in his teeth. Will writhed and Hannibal took hold of him again, pressing his shoulders into the mattress. When Hannibal reached Will’s cock, curved taut against his stomach, Will’s eyes flashed open.
But Hannibal simply kissed around it, moving down to Will’s thighs.
‘You bastard,’ Will panted.
Will felt Hannibal smile into his skin. Felt his teeth. Then, without warning, his weight shifted lower in the bed. He spread Will’s legs, crooked his knees, and went down between them. Will bit hard into his lip as Hannibal looked at him there. Will should have felt exposed, it should have been unbearable, but in the low light of the room Hannibal’s extraordinary face was soft and open like Will had never seen it before.
‘Can I – I need to touch you,’ Will said. ‘Please.’
Hannibal hummed assent as he wrapped a hand around Will’s cock and put his mouth to his balls. Will reached helplessly for Hannibal with one hand while the other clung to the bed for dear life.
‘God. Hannibal. Fuck.’ Will was quickly reduced to whimpers as Hannibal licked and kissed his way down to his hole. He circled him with wet, open-mouthed kisses that curled Will’s toes, laving over his entrance again and again. When Hannibal finally speared into him with his tongue it was like lightning striking the ground. Will near jackknifed off the mattress. A pleased moan came from deep in Hannibal’s chest as he continued to lick and stab and suck, slick and filthy.
Will lost himself to sensation, gasping for breath. ‘Please. Hannibal. Please.’
Hannibal stopped and looked up from under Will’s cock, his jaw wet and lips swollen, hair mussed from Will’s desperate hands. ‘What can I do for you, Will?’ His voice was infuriatingly calm but his eyes told the real story, heavy lidded and hungry.
It was only then that Will noticed Hannibal’s other hand was down between his own thighs, holding tight to the base of his erection. One glimpse of that and Will was almost ready to come on the spot. ‘God damn it. I told you what I want.’
Hannibal smiled, wolfish, no doubt amused by the petulant tone Will could hear in his own voice. Will didn’t give a shit.
‘Tell me again,’ Hannibal said. He pumped Will’s cock, leisurely licking under the head. His eyes drifted closed like he’d be content to linger there all night.
Will groaned, head thrown back as he considered how best to bait the hook. He looked down at Hannibal again, and wet his lips. ‘I want… I want the same thing I wanted in the storeroom at the gallery tonight. When you told me those things and you looked at me the way you did.’
He took Hannibal’s hand from his cock and very deliberately drew it up his body and into his mouth, pulling Hannibal up the bed. Hannibal stared, intrigued. He knew he was being manipulated, that was obvious, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t working. ‘I didn’t care where we were’. He took two of Hannibal’s fingers between his lips and sucked them down, laving between them with his tongue. ‘I wanted you inside me.’
Hannibal was moving before Will could draw another breath, launching over him to reach into the nightstand. Will chuckled as a condom dropped to the bed and Hannibal wrenched the lid off a sleek, black jar of lube. Of course Hannibal had pretentious lube.
The smirk died on Will’s lips when he saw Hannibal slicking up his long fingers. He found it difficult not to stare at Hannibal’s hands at the best of times but now it was a lost cause.
Hannibal looked into Will’s face as he put his weight on one hand and reached down between them. Will hitched his knees up and Hannibal pressed a single finger against him, slick and sure, circling hard around his hole before finally sinking in. Will was overwhelmed. Not just by the sensation but because this was Hannibal. Hannibal was inside him.
He watched Will carefully as he crooked his finger and rubbed slowly in and out, reading Will’s every twitch, his every noise, hair falling over his brow, damp with sweat. Eventually Will became aware that Hannibal was murmuring to him in between kisses to his jaw. It was nothing in English, but it was soft and reassuring and full of love.
Will clung to Hannibal’s neck and shoulders, and Hannibal added a second finger. It was a stretch but God, it was good. He crooked his fingers again and Will keened. ‘Hannibal.’
‘Shhh. I’ve got you.’ Finally he added a third finger. Will was caught between pulling away and asking for more, moaning into Hannibal's mouth.
Hannibal carried on fucking into him, unhurried, rubbing over the spot inside him that liquefied Will's spine. His hands scrabbled in Hannibal’s hair and pulled hard.
‘Now, Hannibal. Don’t make me ask again.’
Hannibal kissed him a final time, and withdrew his fingers. Will gasped, mourning the pressure, but then Hannibal got up to his knees and tugged at his own cock and everything was okay again. Will heard the condom packet being torn open. It vaguely occurred to him that he could be helping but he didn’t want to take his eyes off Hannibal’s length, hard and uncut and sticky with pre-come.
Hannibal rolled the condom on and slicked himself up with more lube. Will reached out and Hannibal came down into his arms. He lined himself up. Will brought his lips to Hannibal’s, not to kiss him but just to keep their mouths together, to breath the same air. Hannibal pushed inside and they moaned in unison. Fuck.
Hannibal sounded wrecked but Will couldn’t open his eyes to see. Not yet. There was too much of everything already. Hannibal nudged inside by degrees, slow and careful. It hurt, but Will could already tell how incredible that insane pressure was going to feel very soon. Hannibal was huge.
When Will finally opened his eyes he was startled by the rapture on Hannibal’s face. He was tense all over, holding back, muscles wound tight, as if it was taking enormous control not to just push home and take his pleasure.
Will kissed him, putting all his feeling into each press of their lips. He drew his knees up further and wrapped his legs around Hannibal’s waist. Hannibal grunted and either something relaxed in Will or the angle got better, because the pain started to feel good, really good, and Will needed more.
He got hold of Hannibal’s ass and jerked him in tight. There was a groan that could have come from either of them and suddenly Hannibal was fully seated within him. They both held their breath.
Hannibal’s eyes looked black above him, a furrow at his brow that could have been anguish or wonder. Will reached up and gently ran his finger over it, claiming the furrow, claiming Hannibal. Will nodded. He felt it too. ‘Move,’ he told him then, and Hannibal did.
He pulled back and thrust into him again. A slick, hard, delicious slide. Will moaned and bucked up into him, urging him on, touching him everywhere he could, muttering filth in his ear.
Will had never been a talker in bed but now he couldn’t shut up. He told Hannibal he wanted it harder, he told him to stop holding back. Hannibal's teeth were bared and he fucked relentlessly, shoving Will up into the headboard just as hard as he asked for, but Will knew he was still holding back.
Will now knew with absolute certainty that what Hannibal was holding back was legion.
It wouldn’t happen in this moment, it wouldn’t happen tonight or in the morning, but Will knew that eventually he would make Hannibal relinquish that tremendous control. Will would see him, he would know him. One day, he would understand.
Will’s cock was trapped between their bodies, slick with sweat. He was close, his breath short, but he wanted Hannibal to tip over the edge with him. Hannibal had to be close. He looked savage, his beauty transformed into something strange and animal.
Will reached up for him, searching for something familiar in his expression, and that was when he saw two powerful stag’s horns stretching out from Hannibal’s head, black and twisted. Will tried to blink the image away but nothing changed: the antlers were as real as the sweat on Hannibal’s brow and the smear of blood on his lip where Will had bit clean through the skin.
Will’s body seized with desire and fear and a terrible confusion between the two. He tried to fight the orgasm he felt racing up through him. This was wrong.
‘Let go, Will.’ Hannibal’s voice seemed to come from very far away. ‘Let go. Let me see.’
But he couldn’t come like this. He shouldn’t.
Will grunted and shoved Hannibal off him with all his strength. Hannibal went easily this time, worried.
Will was shaking, panting with desire. He manhandled Hannibal onto his back and clambered on top of him, taking his cock and sinking down on it in a single perfect breath. Will was swollen and sensitive and the burn was almost enough to scorch the image of the antlers out of his head. He held tight to Hannibal’s shoulders and rocked back onto him again and again, chasing that same intense pleasure he’d felt moments earlier.
Hannibal ran his hands down Will’s arms and palmed his thighs and looked up at him like he’d seen the face of God.
Will grimaced and threw his head back, reaching behind him to sink his nails into the muscle of Hannibal’s thighs. He bore down hard on his cock, making the most of the new angle, pleasure arcing through him, licking hot up his spine.
‘Touch me,’ he bit out.
Hannibal took Will in hand and stripped him, fast and firm. Fucking yes. Will’s vision went white and he cried out as he came, eyes screwed shut, back arched.
He returned to himself with a huge, helpless breath. Hannibal was fucking up into him, hands clamped tight around the flesh of Will’s thighs, lifting him off the mattress with every ruthless jerk of his hips. Will’s ass felt tender, aftershocks of pleasure running through him as his spent cock jostled against Hannibal’s stomach.
‘Hannibal,’ he said, voice unsteady.
Hannibal’s focus on him was complete and profound. Will knew if he hadn’t come yet it could only be because he was thinking too hard: he was watching Will instead of being lost to him.
Will swiped his fingers though the come he’d striped across Hannibal’s chest and fed them into Hannibal’s mouth. Hannibal’s eyes flared as the taste hit his tongue. Burying himself deep, he came with a ragged groan.
‘You went somewhere else there for a moment.’
Shit. He’d noticed. Of course he’d noticed, he was Hannibal. He had given them both a cursory clean-up with wipes from the nightstand, and now Will lay in his arms, content and pliant, sweat cooling on his skin. He didn’t know how to respond. The antlers hadn’t been antlers at all. Of course they hadn't: they were the branches of the Japanese maple.
‘Will? What did you see?’
Will shook his head. If he wasn’t so blissed out, he’d be more frustrated with himself. As it was, he just wanted to let the matter drop and enjoy the endorphins from the best sex he’d ever had. ‘I got confused. I got… inside my head.’
Hannibal hummed, and kissed his brow. He wasn’t going to push, and Will was grateful.
Will looked down past the foot of the bed, where Poppy and Daiva shared the tight space in the hollow of the tree, curled tight around each other like the interlocking pieces of a burr puzzle. Both daemons were watching him, curious. Poor Poppy. She was so patient.
Will knew she often felt his fear without understanding what had set him off; to experience it wrapped up with the full force of his arousal must have been confusing in the extreme. ‘Are you okay?’ He asked her.
‘Of course,’ she replied, too sleepy to sound properly indignant.
Daiva whispered something to Poppy and she sat up a little straighter, eyes flashing to Will again. She was quiet a moment, and then she nodded.
Will’s breath caught as Daiva slipped out from under Poppy and disappeared from view, dropping to the floor. He knew what was coming.
Hannibal did too. He held Will tighter a moment, then released him. Will pushed up to sitting as Daiva’s tiny teddy-bear face appeared above the ottoman at the end of the bed. She scampered up onto the mattress.
Will felt the barely-there tug on the covers as she made her way up the bed, following the line of his legs. He remembered the pressure of her tiny feet through the blanket at the hospital. So much had changed since then. Hannibal was warm and naked at his back, and Will knew his own feelings now, as well as Hannibal’s. Something had wound itself between them, something neither one of them could unravel alone.
Will felt Poppy’s excitement. She launched herself out of Daiva’s nest and fluttered up to into the branches for a better view.
Daiva approached Will’s hand, palm down on the bed beside him. He kept utterly still, but Daiva didn’t hesitate. Keen eyes watching him, she stepped up and pressed her nose into the soft flesh between his thumb and index finger. There was no sickening jolt of panic like in the office the first time. Will had goosebumps up his arms and his eyes burned bright with unshed tears at her touch. Her nose felt velvety and warm. Her whiskers tickled his skin.
‘Hello,’ he said, delighted. Poppy snorted above them, and he heard a fond noise from Hannibal behind him. ‘Shut up, both of you,’ he said, not taking his eyes off Daiva.
She looked amused. ‘Are you going to hold me or not?’
Will turned his hand over and she flowed neatly into it and halfway up his arm. He gasped at the weight of her – at the pinch of her claws in his skin – and it startled a laugh out of him. He brought her to his chest and she turned a graceful somersault, nose over tail, bringing her face up closer to his. Her pelt wasn’t nearly as soft as it looked; she felt robust; she felt dangerous. Will loved her fiercely.
He turned around to Hannibal to say – what? He had no idea. Because when he saw Hannibal’s expression every other thought left his head. He didn’t look unaffected this time. Was it because Will knew his face so much better now? Or was Hannibal letting him see? Either way, Will could read the curious mix of fear and pleasure in his eyes as Will held Daiva to his heart.
‘That day in your office. It looked like it didn’t bother you at all. You weren’t even startled.’
Hannibal knew what he was asking. He reached over and rubbed between Daiva’s ears, considering his response. ‘Many years ago, before Daiva settled, there was a time when she was handled without my permission. I learned very quickly that it was better to show no reaction. To give no satisfaction. So I didn’t.’
Will swallowed hard. He could see the deep well of trauma behind Hannibal’s carefully chosen words. He wanted to know more. He wanted to know every single last thing about that little boy and who he was before the crime had occurred. What was he made of that he could withstand such an incursion – possibly repeated incursions – and give no quarter? No adult Will had ever met could manage such a thing, yet Hannibal had done it even before his daemon had settled.
Will wanted to know, but he wouldn’t ask about it for the world. Instead, he looked at the Hannibal before him today and let himself feel the profound significance of what he was being allowed. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
‘There is no one left alive to apologise for that time. Certainly you are not responsible.’
‘I meant I’m sorry for for grabbing her. It was even worse of me than I thought.’
Hannibal’s gaze softened. ‘It was not painful for me when you grabbed Daiva. But it was a shock, and so were its repercussions.’
Will didn’t understand.
‘You see, I was eager from our first meeting to carve myself an intimate place in your life. What I was not prepared for was how quickly and unreservedly you would claim a place in mine. The day you held Daiva was the day she decided that she would have you. And you would have me.’
Will stared at him, floored.
‘Does that frighten you?’
Will searched himself for an answer, and it came quickly. ‘No.’ Without realising it, he had brought Daiva up to the pulse in his neck. She wrapped around him eagerly and he felt her life force thrumming against his own.
Hannibal glanced up into the branches above them, to where Poppy was still watching everything. She peered back at him, unmoving. Will knew what Hannibal wanted and he called out to his daemon with every cell in his body, wordlessly bidding her to fly down to the bed and into Hannibal’s arms. In his mind’s eye he saw the precise movements it would take. He tapped into Poppy’s love for him and let it flow through their bond: let me give Hannibal what he has given me.
But Poppy just blinked her uneven blink, and remained precisely where she was.
Will felt a familiar rush of shame. His imperfect connection to his daemon was the very nucleus of his pathology; it had been naïve in the extreme to hope that falling for someone might change that.
He could feel Hannibal’s gaze on him. He feared he’d see sympathy in his eyes but when he looked over there was only warmth and fathomless affection.
‘Your empathy makes you vulnerable, Will. Especially when someone seeks a close connection. You are an electric wire stripped raw and sparking above deep waters, and Poppy is your last and only defence. It is only right that she hold back. Even from this.’
Will reeled. How many times could Hannibal knock the breath out of him in one night? He leaned in and kissed him deeply. Daiva wriggled down in between them and Will broke the kiss, unable to fight his grin.
Hannibal drew him down, back under the covers. ‘You must be tired. Are you?’
‘Do you know the story of the Princess and the Salamander?’
‘Are you going to tell me a bedtime story?’
‘If you do not object.’
Will didn’t object. Hannibal brought Will’s head back to rest against his chest and smoothed his unruly hair.
‘This is the story of a young princess who lived in a vast bamboo forest.’
Will yawned happily as Daiva settled down along the line of his arm under the covers, a warm weight against his stomach.
‘The young girl was quite extraordinarily beautiful and everyone who knew her, loved her. The people called her their Golden Princess because her daemon always took the most appealing of forms. A yellow nightingale, a golden koi, a butterfly the colour of sunlight. And when she was at her happiest, he shone like gold.’
Will could feel Hannibal’s chest reverberating as he spoke. He watched his daemon perched in branches above them, listening intently, and considered the possibility that her endless contrariness was not a symptom of his disorder, but rather a reaction to it. Perhaps Hannibal was right.
‘But then, on the eve of her thirteenth year, the girl’s daemon settled into his true form, and the people were dismayed, for he was a fire salamander. A lizard made of golden flame, who burned anyone who dared to get close to her.’
Will burst out laughing, and Hannibal went still beneath him.
‘Is there a problem?’
Will twisted around. ‘Oh come on, you don’t think that’s maybe a little heavy handed? I mean, I assume you’re making this up.’
Daiva bit down into the soft skin of Will’s wrist and he yelped, dropping her into his lap.
Hannibal looked amused, and rather proud.
‘She bit me!’
‘Did she draw blood?’
‘No,’ Daiva replied seriously. ‘I was careful.’
‘See?’ Hannibal smirked. ‘She didn’t draw blood.’
Daiva propped her front paws up on Will’s arm and began earnestly licking the indentations she’d left in his wrist. Will gasped at the feeling of her steely, whip-thin tongue.
‘What happened to the princess?’ It was Poppy, above them.
Hannibal twinkled up at her, pleased. ‘If Will lies down quietly again, I’ll tell you.’
Will glared. ‘Let me guess. There’s a prince involved.’
‘Three princes, actually. Do you want to hear the story or not?’
Poppy shot daggers down at Will, and he knew he was beaten. He sighed, and settled back against Hannibal’s chest.
Hannibal carded a hand through Will’s hair, and picked up where he left off.
The heavy curtains meant that Will didn’t wake with the dawn like at home. Instead, he opened his eyes to a pleasant soreness and the sight of Hannibal, still sleeping. A knife-edge strip of daylight cut across the bed, picking out bronze and silver strands in his hair. Will breathed him in and knew with the certainty of a pendulum swing that of all the lovers Hannibal had taken to bed, none of them had been permitted to see him like this, limbs heavy and face softened by sleep.
Will eased out from under Hannibal’s arm but Hannibal frowned and held on tighter. Will kissed him gently, amused, promising to return, and was released with a reluctant hum. Hannibal drifted off again.
The bathroom was stocked with unlabeled, expensive-looking bottles like some kind of 18th century apothecary. Will grinned when he found an incongruous tube of branded toothpaste in the cabinet under the sink. Apparently designer dental care was a step too far, even for Hannibal Lecter.
He took his time under the water, using Hannibal’s unscented body wash and letting his skin go pink and soft with the heat. When he returned to the bedroom wrapped in a towel, his breath caught in his throat. The daemons had migrated from the hollow of the maple tree and were nestled together on Will’s abandoned pillow. As Will watched, Hannibal turned over in his sleep. One of his arms landed perilously close to Poppy’s tail feathers, then stilled. If he moved again, even slightly, he would brush against her.
Will swallowed. He didn’t want it to happen like this.
Poppy startled awake, Will’s anxiety filtering through their faulty connection.
‘It’s okay,’ he whispered quickly. ‘We’re okay. Don’t panic.’
Poppy clocked Hannibal’s proximity and her eyes went wide, but she absorbed Will’s words and didn’t startle. Finally, she nodded and started breathing again, but she remained tense, prepared to take flight.
Daiva had cracked an eye at the sound of Will’s voice and now Hannibal blinked awake too. Seeing Poppy, he quickly withdrew his arm, an apology in his eyes. He began to sit up.
‘No,’ said Will. ‘Stay there.’ The panic was leaching from him, replaced with a new urgency.
He crossed to the bed, pulling off his towel. As he climbed up over the mattress, he tugged the sheet off Hannibal, exposing his chest, his waist, his cock resting against his thigh.
Hannibal reached for him but Will resisted the attempt to pull him further up the bed. Instead, he took Hannibal’s hands and moved them into his hair.
He enjoyed the flash of heat in Hannibal’s eyes as his meaning became clear, then he leaned down and took Hannibal’s soft length into his mouth.
When they finally made it downstairs, Hannibal cooked them breakfast. He brought Will off again in the dining room to prevent him clearing away their empty dishes. Later, he drove him home. They struggled to keep their eyes off each other in the car but when they pulled up outside the house in Wolf Trap, Hannibal knew better than to come inside; Poppy hadn’t said a word all morning. The moment Will opened the door of the Bentley she gave Daiva an affectionate peck then took to the sky.
‘She’ll be fine,’ Will said, reasonably sure he was right. ‘She’s not great with change.’
Hannibal didn’t seem to mind. He watched fondly as Poppy swooped in circles around the barking dogs. ‘I hope you’ll call me when I can see you again.’
In answer, Will drew him in and kissed him, and carried on kissing him until the dogs surrounded the car and Buster started jumping up, scratching at the windows.
Hannibal tensed. The Bentley was clearly a step too far. Will laughed as he threw his door open again and got out, shooing the dogs towards the house. ‘I’ll call you. Soon.’
When Will glanced back from the porch, still grinning, Hannibal’s gaze was soft and amused.
Poppy made excuses to stay close to home the next few days, and while Will didn’t like it, he gave her what she needed. He went back to what he now privately thought of as his old life
He checked the loft for water damage. He ordered groceries and tried reading a couple of new journals before losing interest. He fielded a phone call from a grad student in Montana and took the dogs out for a long run through the forest. Winston and Bear rolled in so much mud that he had to hose them off on the front porch. Even weeks after his release from hospital, Will was still glad of dirt and tired muscles and fresh sweat, infinitely preferable to the sour stench of fever.
Then on the evening of the third day, he received a courier delivery from Hannibal.
Inside the box was a fresh sprig of something that smelled strongly of citrus and a wooden case containing a vintage fishing fly on a small brass display stand. A minute of googling identified the plant as verbena, traditionally associated with messages sent between lovers. Poppy snorted as she read over Will’s shoulder, but the sound was more indulgent than derisive. That left the matter of the gift itself. It seemed oddly straightforward by Hannibal’s standards, which left Will worried he was missing something.
The fly was more skillfully made than any of Will’s own efforts. Tarnish on the head and faint oxidation around the lead wire suggested it was a well cared-for antique, but it seemed strange for Hannibal to gift something that he knew Will enjoyed crafting for himself. It was almost... catty. Like if Will showed up at Hannibal’s house with a CD of amateur harpsichord recordings.
He shot off a text of thanks and continued to ponder the present as he cooked dinner, but then he got distracted by the sight of Bessie limping. It turned out she’d cut her paw open on their walk, which resulted in a twenty minute battle of growling and disinfectant. Will forgot all about the fly until his gaze snagged on the case on his way to bed. He took it through to his desk and arranged the display stand near his fly-tying vise and works-in-progress. He frowned. He was definitely missing something.
‘Just ask him,’ said Poppy. ‘What’s the worst that could happen? He lectures you on some florid metaphor.’
‘I’m pretty sure the worst that could happen is him deciding I’m an ungrateful shit.’
Poppy rolled her eyes. ‘It’s going to keep bugging you. Call him.’
Hannibal picked up his phone after the fourth ring, just as Will was beginning to feel awkward about calling him so late at night. ‘Is this a bad time?’ he asked, putting the phone on speaker for Poppy.
‘Not at all.’ Hannibal’s breath came a little heavy. ‘I was just running.’
There was no background noise to suggest he was outdoors, confirming Will’s suspicion that there was a room full of gym equipment somewhere in the bowels of Hannibal’s house. ‘It’s not important,’ he said. Hannibal waited for him to continue. ‘Only, I was just thinking about your gift. It’s beautiful, but -’
‘But you have questions.’
‘Yeah.’ Hannibal didn’t sound offended.
‘I bought it some time ago now, shortly after first seeing the fly-tying equipment in your home. The tradition piqued my interest.’
Will recalled what Hannibal had told him about wanting an intimate place in his life right from the beginning. ‘Did you get it for yourself? Or for me?’
‘I hadn’t yet decided. It struck me as a worthy purchase either way. As an object, the fly is often overlooked. Something beautiful, with a deadly barb at its core.’
‘You’ve got the soul of a Hallmark card, Hannibal.’
‘You asked. At any rate, it seemed a fitting intersection of our interests.’
‘How so?’ He assumed it had something to do with fishing and art, but he wanted to hear how Hannibal would put it.
‘In medieval Europe - ’ Hannibal began.
‘Oh for the love of God,’ muttered Poppy.
‘I could never do such a thing.’ Hannibal had a smile in his voice. ‘But if Poppy will permit me... Do you know what a trencher is?’
‘Uh.’ Will cast around within the context of Medieval Europe. ‘Is it like a plate made from bread? A pizza base kind of thing?’
‘Originally, yes. Later they were made from wood or metal, sometimes with a psalm or poem carved into the base. When the meal was finished, people would read aloud from the text.’
‘Like a fortune cookie.’
Hannibal was silent a beat and Will could picture his twitch of irritation. He smirked to himself.
‘Sorry. Go on.’
‘Over the years the works became more detailed, often evolving into decorative pieces too delicate for practical use. My father had one hanging on the wall of his study. As a child I was frustrated by his unwillingness to use it for its original purpose. Your craftsmanship reminded me of that: an artform grown from function.’
‘You know the whole concept of specialized flies is basically a myth, right? Fish just want to grab at something shiny.’
‘Yet you spend hours perfecting your own unique flies, which suggests their practical purpose is not absolute.’
‘As long as you know I’m going to use this one to catch fish, work of art or no.’
‘I’d expect nothing less. Would you like to know a little about its creator?’
‘Sure.’ Will took a seat and switched off the lamp on his desk, plunging the house into darkness. There was no moon in the sky and only the faintest glow came through the windows: light pollution from a nearby town reflecting off the clouds. When he looked out across the fields, the treeline bled into the sky.
‘Your fly was made by a woman named Megan Boyd, likely some time in the early fifties.’ Hannibal’s voice was low and rhythmic. A voice for bedtime stories, which Will supposed this was. ‘Boyd spent her career tying flies in a small cottage in the highlands of Scotland. She never married or traveled very far, but as her reputation grew she began to receive visitors from rich and respected hobbyists, British royalty among them. Her lifestyle was ascetic but seldom lonely, as she preferred the satisfaction of work to any other calling.’
‘Doctor Lecter, this is even more on-the-nose than the Princess and her fire daemon.’
‘There are similarities between you and Megan Boyd, it’s true. Are you picturing her at work?’
Will took a deep breath and tried to do just that. He took himself sitting at his desk and transposed the picture into a smaller cottage in a wilder landscape. Then his surroundings coalesced into something more solid and he was watching a middle-aged woman at work, hands moving swiftly over an old wooden fly-tying vise.
‘What did Boyd look like?’
‘I believe she habitually dressed in men’s suits. At the time it would have been considered very unusual, but I imagine a little leeway is afforded to the village eccentric, especially when they bring so much business into the area.’
Will closed his eyes and breathed in the fresh air of a country he’d only seen in pictures. ‘What made her so special?’
‘Her work was thought to be some of the finest in the world. She was known for her precision as well as her flare for color. And her flies were far more durable than any of those commercially available at the time.’
Will could see her now, her brow furrowed in concentration, her fingertips hardened from handling fly line, reels and wires for hours each day. Tag, tail, hackle and wing. Imitators and attractors. Obscure terminology lovingly passed down in neat little books with plain covers. She never rushed an order, and she made what each fisherman needed, not what he asked for. Will felt her satisfaction as she tested each new lure in the stream down below her cottage. Pride in a job well done, and relief at her independence. Boyd’s outlook was so close to his own that it took little effort to slip from her mind back to his own quiet house in Wolf Trap.
He shivered. This, he realized, was the real gift; the object was just the packaging. He ran his fingers over the fly with a new level of appreciation. ‘Thank you,’ he said finally.
‘It is my pleasure, Will. Your empathy is not merely a tool for catching criminals. You should exercise it more regularly.’
‘You could try not sounding so smug about it.’ His brief vision of Megan Boyd had left him warm and content, nothing like the aftermath of a crime scene. Whether the mood was hers or his own, Will couldn’t tell. In this case, he didn’t think it mattered.
He and Hannibal said their goodnights and Will looked around for Poppy. He expected to find her dozing on the floor with the dogs.
Instead, she was perched on the back of the armchair, electrified, her wings folded taut behind her. Her eyes glittered as she stared at the phone in Will’s hands, head cocked as if straining to catch the remnants of Hannibal’s voice in the air.
They didn’t talk about it that night, but the following afternoon Will was chopping firewood when Poppy fluttered down and pecked around his feet almost bashfully.
‘Spit it out,’ he said.
‘You should be getting ready. We’ll be late.’
‘Late? Late for - ?’ The penny dropped. ‘You mean for my appointment. With my psychiatrist.’
She huffed indignantly. ‘Former psychiatrist’.
‘You know we can just go and see them whenever we want, right? We don’t need an excuse.’
Poppy simply glowered at him and Will acquiesced without further comment. It didn’t pay to push back when she got like this but Will was wary; he hadn’t visited Hannibal on their “appointment” day since well before his hospital admission, and any lingering sense of a doctor/patient relationship between them was probably best left unexamined. On the other hand, Will couldn’t avoid Hannibal’s office forever.
He pulled off his work gloves and went to take a shower. Three hours later he was in Baltimore, pacing awkwardly in the waiting room and regretting his decision.
It was like he was seeing the place for the first time. The cool, calming colors. The dimpled leather couch. The distinctly un-calming painting of a bunch of semi-naked people and their frantic daemons in the throes of a shipwreck. There wasn’t much of a departure between Hannibal's pillow-talk and the sprawling, intimate conversations they'd shared in this office, but now everything felt different.
‘Chicken,’ muttered Poppy.
‘Bully,’ Will replied. He ran a hand through his hair and knocked on the door.
The seconds elongated as he waited for an answer. It was the end of the day, but it was possible Hannibal was still with a patient. Will was just about to take a seat when the door opened and Hannibal was there, neat and professional as ever.
‘I should have called ahead.’
‘Not at all.’ Hannibal looked pleased. ‘It never felt right to give your appointment time to someone else.’
Will followed him inside. Hannibal had been writing notes in longhand at his desk. A fire crackled in the grate. Poppy immediately flew to Daiva and they tumbled over each other, nuzzling and nipping in turn. Hannibal watched them with a smile but Will was suddenly oppressively aware of the last time he’d been in this room. Of Daiva, of his meltdown. He tried to concentrate instead on the careful placement of Hannibal’s desk in the centre of the rug, on the walls of leather-bound books, on the small stack of journals next to Hannibal’s notes.
‘Is it so uncomfortable to be reminded of the discussions that took place here?’
‘Among other things.’ Will shook his head and came forward to take Hannibal’s hand. ‘But I can make new associations.’
They were close enough that Will barely had to step into the kiss. It lost its tentativeness at once. There was a fierce immediacy to the way Will’s body – not always trustworthy – knew exactly what it wanted in Hannibal’s vicinity. Hannibal slipped his free hand in under Will’s jacket, pulling him flush. His mouth was demanding, his grip sure against Will’s back.
Something buffeted past Will’s ear and he recoiled with a gasp. It was Poppy, landing awkwardly on Hannibal’s shoulder.
Hannibal had frozen, astonished. Poppy took a moment to steady herself, talons catching in the fabric of his suit. Will couldn’t breathe. It must have been the phone call that got to her, something Hannibal said about his empathy, or about Megan Boyd, but right now Will couldn’t think clearly at all. His heart was beating rabbit-fast. Someone else was about to hold Poppy.
Hannibal was about to hold Poppy.
His eyes were locked on Will’s as he carefully reached up and held out his hand at a safe distance from his shoulder. An invitation. Poppy inspected it, head to one side, then glanced up at Will. Will didn’t nod. He didn’t need to. Poppy knew what he wanted. She summoned her courage, blinked her uneven blink, and hopped neatly down onto Hannibal’s palm.
Even if he hadn’t been looking, Will would have known the instant they touched. It was the snap of an electrical circuit completing. A nerve-jangling reminder that he was and always had been a they, a being in two bodies, and half of him was small and feathered and breathtakingly breakable.
Slowly, carefully, Hannibal moved Poppy to his chest and when she didn’t flinch away he brought up his other hand and ran his fingertips down her back. Will felt it in his throat and his lungs and his tear ducts, his body trying in vain to process something almost entirely metaphysical. He’d expected a kind of raw-nerve intimacy but nothing could have prepared him for this all out assault. He felt desperately, painfully vulnerable yet he wouldn’t separate Poppy from Hannibal for the world.
The only thing preventing him from flying apart, molecule by molecule, was Hannibal’s look of wonder as he traced Poppy’s wings. Eventually, Will found his voice again. ‘Was it like this for you?’
It was an unanswerable question, but Hannibal searched Will’s face. Whatever he saw there, it made something like melancholy pass over his eyes. He nodded. ‘I believe so.’
Poppy pressed further into Hannibal’s chest. Will was so entirely fixed on the two of them that he started in surprise when Daiva ran over his boot and settled between his feet. Even just looking down at her made his chest hurt. Could he possibly touch her right now? Would he survive it?
A cell phone rang. Will barely recognized the sound; the idea of other people existing in the world seemed utterly absurd.
But then Poppy stood up on Hannibal’s palm. She shook out her feathers and launched herself at Will. He caught her and it was such a shock to feel the weight of her sturdy little body again that his head cleared. The cell phone was his. It vibrated in his pocket.
He drew it out as Daiva ran swiftly up Hannibal’s body and nosed into his neck. Hannibal held her there, gaze averted. Something about the gesture struck Will as odd, and he realised what it was with a jolt: this was the first time he had ever seen Hannibal’s daemon offering him comfort.
Stunned, he accepted the call without looking.
‘How fast can you get to DC?’ Jack Crawford demanded. ‘We think it’s the Ripper.’
Daiva continued to cleave to Hannibal’s neck in an effort to soothe him, even as he wrapped his scarf over her on his way out the door. He’d suggested accompanying Will to the crime scene and Will had nodded, distracted, already preparing himself for all that might await him in DC.
Since the moment Poppy had landed on his shoulder, Hannibal had been stripped raw. Poppy trusted him. Which meant Will trusted him, completely. It should have been the culmination of Hannibal’s desires, but this wasn’t how it was meant to happen. The order was wrong. On some level Will must already know what Hannibal was, but he didn’t yet know it consciously. He didn’t yet understand all that drew them together. The fact that Poppy had already laid down her defences made Hannibal uneasy in a way Daiva couldn’t name.
They were stepping out into the cold night air when Will stopped in his tracks. ‘We should take separate cars.’
‘I see. Alright.’
‘It’s not - I don’t care about gossip,’ Will said quickly. ‘I’m not ashamed.’
‘No, I believe I understand. It’s distracting, the way their eyes follow you when you’re working. Speculation about your private life would only increase the attention you receive.’
Some of the shadows cleared from Will’s face. He always looked so surprised that someone might understand him. ‘It’s not that either. Or, not only that. Whatever Jack shows me tonight – whether it’s the Ripper or not – it’s going to come home with me. I’d rather take it to Wolf Trap than bring it back here.’
Hannibal’s pulse thumped against Daiva’s breast and she felt his urge to draw Will back into the house and tell him the truth. To have it out immediately, whatever the consequences. But Daiva was afraid, and Hannibal hesitated. ‘My dear Will. The part of you that comes alive at a crime scene is no more nor less you than the part that is repelled by such feelings.'
Will frowned. He still didn’t like to hear the truth about himself. Hannibal had been right to hesitate: he wasn’t ready. Daiva twisted around to get a better view of Poppy, just a few inches away on Will’s shoulder. Unlike Will, she didn’t shy away. She hung on his words, eyes sharp.
‘I would have you leave nothing at the door when you join me here,' Hannibal went on. 'Not the part that comes alive, nor the part that is repelled. I would have all of you.’
Daiva watched as Poppy shivered from head to tail. When Will looked up again, much of his uncertainty was gone. He reached for Hannibal and drew him down into a grateful, unhurried press of lips. Daiva could open Poppy's gullet with a swipe of her claws if she wanted to. She could splatter all four of them in blood before her beloved Poppy was extinguished and Will collapsed to the floor.
‘You still want to take your own car,’ Hannibal said.
‘I believe you, I just… I might want to come back here, or I might want to take the dogs out and walk it off. I don’t know how I’ll be.’
Daiva sunk her claws into Hannibal’s neck, urging him with all her power to demur - to force Will’s hand.
Instead, he pressed a final kiss to Will’s lips, and nodded.
The crowded suburban street was lit up with flashing blue lights, gawking neighbours held back by police tape. Beverly was waiting outside the house for them, her daemon lounging sleepily against the windscreen of a patrol car.
‘Looking good, Graham. Looking very good. You too, Doctor Lecter. As always.’
Hannibal nodded graciously. ‘Agent Katz.’
‘How’s Jack?’ Will asked. ‘He sounded… More intense than usual.’
‘Yeah well, first possible sign of the Ripper since the… You know. The arm. He’s actually on the phone with Miriam Lass’s family now.’
Will startled. ‘The body - it’s not…?’
‘No, no, it’s not her. But TattleCrime helpfully decided this was a Ripper kill about twenty minutes ago, so of course Freddie Lounds phoned Mrs Lass for her reaction.’
‘Jesus.’ Will looked murderous. ‘Is she right? Is it him?’
‘I almost hope it is. Wouldn't want Jack calling you in for anything else.’
Inside, the house was a zoo. Too many cops. Too many big daemons posturing for real estate. There was no immediate sign of Jack, so Daiva shut her eyes and blocked out everything but Will’s scent. It helped until they got closer to the back of the house, until she picked up the coppery tang of blood. Will and blood. Blood and Will. Daiva didn’t realise she was wriggling until Hannibal put up a hand to still her.
‘Hey you. Yeah, you with the hair.’ Beverly’s voice cut through the din. ‘Let’s get some space in here, yeah? Clear everyone out.’
Things got quieter after that. Price and Zeller came over to welcome Will back, launching into an enthusiastic play-by-play of the more interesting murders he’d missed while he was gone. Will listened patiently but Beverly cut them off to brief him on the case at hand. Their victim was Caleb Weeks. White male, late sixties, not long widowed. A retired high school principal. His time of death: some time late last night. His sister found him just after 4pm when she came by for a pre-arranged visit. There was no answer at the bell so she went to the back door and found it wide open.
‘Will. You’re here.’
It was Jack. Daiva opened one eye and saw him enter from the back of the house. From the room with the blood. He looked haggard, easily five years older than the day of the standoff in his office. Harlow had changed too: there were streaks of grey around her muzzle as she eyed Hannibal warily. Daiva wondered how so much could have changed for Jack in a little over six weeks, but then she remembered what had happened to Hannibal in that time.
‘Jack,’ said Will.
‘Agent Crawford,’ Hannibal intoned respectfully.
Jack gave Hannibal a cool nod and turned his attention back to Will. ‘Are you ready for this?’
‘Guess we're about find out,’ Will drawled. Jack’s gaze flicked to Hannibal, as if he were somehow to blame for Will’s pissy tone. Jack had a short memory.
At the door, Will adjusted his glasses and turned back to Hannibal. ‘Would you... Do you mind?’
All eyes turned to Hannibal. Beverly looked away again, discreet, but Price and Zeller were baldly curious, even more so at Jack’s obvious displeasure.
‘Of course. As long as Agent Crawford doesn’t object?’
Jack hesitated, but seemed mollified by Hannibal’s placid expression. ‘Fine. We’ll be here when you’re ready.’
And then they went through to the blood.
Hannibal kept out of the way as Will slipped into his usual routine. He walked the room and examined the body from every angle, then went eerily still. Daiva was more interested in Poppy.
She usually hopped and flapped from perch to perch at crime scenes, her untidy wings working like bellows even when her feet were on the ground. But now she was a different creature altogether. Her appearance had improved immeasurably since Will’s recovery – her feathers iridescent, her eyes bright – but the transformation didn’t end there. As Will approached the splayed-open corpse like a disciple approaching an altar, Poppy alighted on the side table by Hannibal. She folded her wings back and settled down into a neat little parcel. From then on, she barely moved at all. If not for the way she watched Will, she could easily have been mistaken for Hannibal’s daemon instead.
It took Daiva a minute to understand it. Will wasn't doing anything different to usual; he had cut off his already fragile connection to his daemon in order to enter another man’s mind. No, the change was in Poppy. Perhaps this time, for the first time, she had faith that Will would return to her.
‘It’s not him,’ Will said, breaking the silence. Daiva felt a thrill race through Hannibal, up through her paws and into her belly. Will turned his head to the door, louder this time: ‘It’s not the Ripper.’
Jack swept in first. ‘Look again. This ticks every one of your boxes - the brutality, the organ removal, the theatrical display.’ He turned to Price and Zeller for back-up. ‘Every cut made with surgical precision, am I right?’
‘The post-mortem incisions, yes,’ Price replied.
‘Not the throat though,’ Zeller added. ‘That’s different. Swift, deep and messy. He would’ve bled out quick.’
Caleb Weeks was propped up in an armchair, his torso opened up from throat to belly. His ribs were spread wide like the covers of a book, his internal organs arranged in a smorgasbord across his lap and in the chair around him. Jack glared at Will. ‘You want to tell us what we're missing?’
Will swallowed, jaw tight. ‘I know it looks like the Ripper superficially, but it’s not him. It's not elegant.’
Jack didn't like that. ‘Elegant?’
‘It's theatrical but it’s not meaningful. The Ripper elevates his victims twice over - once in death, and again in the pageantry he leaves behind. The Ripper's scenes have resonance. They’re replete with meaning, with allusion. This?’ He gestured at the crude arrangement in the blood-soaked armchair. ‘This is a high school art project. There’s no panache. No poetry.’
Daiva was surprised no one else could hear Hannibal’s heart beating. When she nuzzled into him, soaking up his delight, everything behind her eyelids turned bright and golden.
‘So the Ripper’s having an off day,’ Jack said. ‘There’s too much of him here for it to be a coincidence.’
‘The butchery is familiar and the dissection is accomplished, yes. But surgical know-how isn’t peculiar to the Ripper. Garret Jacob Hobbs had knife skills and a solid grasp of human anatomy and he was a full time construction worker with a side in deer hunting.’
‘Another copycat isn’t out of the question,’ mused Beverly. ‘The media’s been obsessed with the Ripper all over again since Abel Gideon was killed.’
‘Gideon thought he was the Ripper,’ Jack turned to Will. ‘You’re saying this is that again?’
‘What then? This guy admires the Ripper? Wants his attention?’
‘Maybe he got excited by the gory details in the press,’ Zeller suggested. ‘It set him off.’
Will was shaking his head. ‘I don’t think so. If the killer had been excited by disfiguring the body, the scene wouldn’t be this neat, this… measured. He might have enjoyed taking Caleb Weeks' life, but he didn’t get off on butchering the corpse. He had a specific goal in mind.’
‘And what was that?’
‘He was trying to frame the Ripper,’ Hannibal said. All eyes turned to him. Daiva didn't dare move a muscle.
‘Exactly,’ Will said. ‘After we caught the organ harvester – Devon Silvestri – Freddie got hold of the fact that what set Silvestri and the Ripper apart was the Ripper’s superior skills in cutting and organ removal. I think Caleb Weeks’ killer read that comparison and filed it away. He knew that if it came to it he could cut like the Ripper. And last night his moment arrived. I think Caleb Weeks knew the man who took his life. The wound at the throat is deep. Vigorous. Heartfelt. But once Caleb Weeks breathed his last, the killer’s passion dissipated. From then on, every action was calculated and considered. Blood would have been flowing freely from the neck wound but he didn’t panic. He went on to cut the body up and arrange it with near perfect calm. That’s what helps it look the Ripper – there’s no fumbling.’
‘You think he’s killed before?’
‘Possibly. But I don’t think it's habit for him, or a compulsion. He knew Caleb Weeks personally and he wanted him dead for very personal reasons. He’s clever and he's cold, but I don’t think he’s a serial killer.’
‘Small mercies,’ grumbled Jack.
‘A lack of panic at the blood would make sense if he has surgical experience,’ said Price.
Jack nodded. ‘See if Caleb Weeks was close to any doctors.’
Beverly joined Will in front of the body. ‘I wonder what the Ripper thinks of all his imitators.'
‘I imagine he'd like to string them up like pigs.’
A wave of bittersweet pleasure rolled off Hannibal at that. The feeling had thorns. Will was close to seeing him, and getting closer.
‘Sounders of three,’ said Jack, his voice faraway with memory. Will turned, surprised. ‘You’ve used that language before,’ Jack went on, more certain now. ‘Referring to the Ripper’s victims as pigs.’
‘His victims are less than human to him. They’re animals, fit only for slaughter, for...’ Will trailed off and looked back at the body, deep in thought.
Hannibal’s body hummed with tension. Was it going to happen here? In front of everyone? He put his hand to Daiva, but she didn’t need to be told. She had already coiled herself under the breast of his coat, ready for anything.
‘Will?’ Jack took a step towards him. ‘What is it?’
‘The lungs are missing.’
‘The liver too,’ said Price. ‘It’s possible he took more than that. Hard to tell until we can get in there and have a poke around.’
Will crouched down by a dark stain on the carpet, a few feet from the armchair.
‘It's blood,’ said Beverly. 'Fresh.'
‘But not arterial spray,’ said Will. ‘Not from the neck wound.’
‘No, it’s a contact stain. You think maybe he put the lungs and liver down while he worked on the rest of the body?’
Will nodded, mind still working away furiously.
‘That’s not surprising, is it?’ Jack asked. ‘If Caleb Weeks’ killer wanted to mimic the Ripper, it’d make sense to take trophies with him.’
‘They’re not trophies…’
‘When the Ripper takes organs… They’re not trophies. Not exactly.’ Will stood and faced the room again, but he was somewhere else entirely. He was inside the Ripper’s head. ‘When the Ripper takes a piece of a victim, he does it with precision and care. But Caleb Weeks’ killer had no thought to that. He didn’t understand - he just did what Freddie Lounds told him to. He put the lungs and liver aside until he was done.’
‘And the Ripper wouldn’t do that?’
Will shook his head. ‘Not like this he wouldn't. The organs are the only part of these people with any value. The organs are the point. You wouldn't just drop them behind you on the carpet. That's careless. It’s unsanitary.’ Will swallowed as he realised. His head came up, eyes wide as he returned to himself and looked around the room in shock. ‘It spoils the meat.’
There was a moment of silence as everyone absorbed that.
‘Oh goodie,' said Zeller at last. ‘Another cannibal.’
‘You’re sure about this?’ Jack hadn’t taken his eyes off Will.
Will nodded. ‘They’re pigs, Jack. What are they good for except eating?’
‘Jesus.’ Jack looked sick. Daiva felt sure he was thinking about Miriam Lass.
The same thing must have occurred to Will because his face went soft with sympathy. ‘He kept her alive, Jack. She wasn’t meat. She was better than that because she was clever. She found him when no one else could.’
‘And now?’ Jack's voice was tight. ‘What about now?’
‘If he wanted her dead, he’d have displayed her for you. All of her. She’s worth more to him alive. This way he can hold her over you any time he likes.’
Some of the tension went out of Jack’s shoulders. He nodded once, then turned and strode from the room.
Price glared at Zeller. ‘Oh goodie? Really?’
Beverly shot Hannibal an apologetic look and herded Price and Zeller out the door. Daiva turned to make sure their daemons were gone too, and saw Beverly’s lemur in the doorway, looking right at her. Daiva bared her fangs before she knew what she was doing but the lemur simply inclined his head, curious. There was nothing sleepy about him now.
‘Chip?’ It was Beverly’s voice, from another room. The lemur turned and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Hannibal and Will were alone again. Alone with the smell of blood and the muffled sound of police chatter from the street outside. Hannibal hadn't moved. There was a hurricane beneath his skin. He waited for Will to give a sign, any sign, but Will’s back was turned again. He was staring at the contact stain on the carpet.
‘Will,’ said Poppy. ‘I'm tired. Let’s go home.’
Daiva wriggled out of Hannibal’s coat. He made a grab for her but she twisted out of his reach. Landing on the side table, she swiftly wrapped herself around Poppy. ‘We’ll come too,’ she said, pressing into the soft feathers at her breast.
Daiva felt Hannibal's fury at her disobedience. He wanted to take her in hand, but he couldn’t do it without touching Poppy as well. And if he touched Will’s daemon again now, here, everything would come spilling out.
‘I’m alright, Daiva,’ Will said. Daiva searched his gaze, but she couldn't find anything there but exhaustion. He didn’t know yet.
‘You’re sure?’ Hannibal asked.
Will nodded. He stepped over to Hannibal and reached out to tug gently at the scarf around his neck, a gesture so tender that Daiva tasted it like metal on her tongue. ‘Thanks though.’
Hannibal wasn't happy. Will was standing at the precipice, his feet on uncertain ground. Hannibal wanted to be there when he tipped over the edge. He had to be there, even if it meant Will tried to pull him over too. Even if he succeeded.
Instead, Hannibal simply nodded. ‘I only ask that phone when you get in. Let me know you got home safely.’
Daiva screamed inside her head and saw the tendons tighten in Hannibal's neck. Will would do something stupid. He wasn't ready. Daiva wasn't ready to lose him.
‘Daiva,’ Hannibal said, voice pitched low. ‘Come now.’
Daiva swallowed a cry. As she withdrew from Poppy’s warmth, she grabbed hold of a tiny blue-black feather and yanked. Poppy gasped. Daiva stuffed it into her mouth, quick as a flash, and leapt into Hannibal’s arms.
The rain began as soon as Will left the city. Sheets of water pummelled the car from what felt like every angle. It was a shorter journey than the one back to Hannibal’s, but the winding country roads were already starting to flood.
‘We should have just gone with them,’ said Poppy. Usually after a crime scene she was attentive to the point of smothering, but tonight she had settled into the passenger seat on her own, surprisingly unruffled.
‘I can’t keep using him for support all the time.’
‘Yeah. You can. That’s literally the definition of a relationship.’
Will yanked his glasses off and rubbed at the bridge of his nose.
‘It wasn’t even a Ripper kill. They’ll probably have a suspect in custody by tomorrow. What’s bugging you?’
‘Aside from the brutal murder?’ Will heard Poppy snap her beak, scolding him. ‘I don’t know, okay. I’ll tell you when I do.’
Poppy inspected him a moment, then huffed, tucking her head down into her feathers and closing her eyes.
Will turned onto an empty, half-familiar back road. He’d missed something. Something at the scene, or something about the Ripper. It hovered just outside his consciousness, slipping away whenever he got close. Probably the Ripper then. Everything about him was one degree removed, shrouded in metaphor.
Sounders. It was almost shameful he hadn’t made the connection to cannibalism before. But as Zeller implied, what were the odds of two such killers, unrelated, operating at the same time? One day, someone was going to write a fascinating thesis on how the fuck that happened. Worse: Freddie Lounds would probably write a book about it.
The Ripper’s pattern had to be in the meat. Trying to shake something loose, Will cast his mind back to each of his kills, cataloguing what had been excised from the bodies. Lungs, liver, heart, flanks. He thought about preparing the meat and the ritual of cooking itself: transforming an animal into something beautiful and worthy. Will lingered on the pleasure of serving the dish, of eating his victim and watching it be eaten.
Watching it be eaten.
Perhaps it was only right that when the moment arrived, it came first as a physical sensation. The knowledge shuddered through him. Since the moment he met Hannibal he’d been a frog in a pot of water over a flame, failing to notice the temperature rising by degrees. Now he was getting boiled alive. Hannibal would probably appreciate the metaphor. Frog’s legs and escargot and offal and goddamn bone marrow. He’d said something once about keeping snails when he was younger, hadn’t he? Something about feeding them to change their flavour.
Will recalled, unbidden, the knowledge that fear gave meat a bitter taste. It was adrenalin, flooding the bloodstream in the moments before death. How did he know that? Had Hannibal told him? The Ripper often cut open his victims while they were still alive to feel it, yet the meat served at Hannibal’s table had been consistently delicious, at least to Will’s palate. How often did Hannibal surrender his sadistic tendencies to kill quickly and prioritise the flavor?
Will could only think clinically now. It was far too late to jump out of the pot.
He saw a slideshow of Hannibal’s prey. Minneapolis, Essex, Baltimore. A medical examiner, a rare book dealer, a bank teller. The man he’d arranged in a church with his detached tongue as a pagemarker in a bible. How did he choose them? These weren’t crimes of passion, nor were they restricted to any one demographic. The only commonality: Hannibal had deemed each individual fit for eating and nothing more.
Who inspired that level of disdain? Who got singled out by the most in-control, put-together person Will had ever encountered?
It was Daiva’s voice, in the hospital gardens. The orderly had interrupted their lunch, reacting to Hannibal’s polite social cues with petulance. Will had felt Hannibal’s hostility like a physical drop in temperature, yet to all outward appearances he had remained perfectly gracious, charming as ever.
Victims from all walks of life. Young, old, rich, poor, male, female. Had all all of them been guilty merely of pettiness? Of rudeness?
Will’s hands rested at ten and two on the steering wheel. The car was stopped, the engine still running. Without any conscious thought, he had steered off the road and onto the muddy verge.
‘What is it?’ Poppy opened her eyes, muzzy. ‘Another stray dog?’
Will reached for his cell and googled a number. As the phone rang, he thought of all the homemade meals Hannibal had brought to him at the hospital. He thought of the raw meat scraps for Poppy. Poppy, whose unruly feathers had grown glossy and sleek during his recovery.
The call connected. ‘Johns Hopkins, Neurology.’
‘This is Will Graham with the FBI. I was a patient in your ward until a couple of weeks ago, maybe you remember me?’
‘Mr. Graham, of course! How can I help you?’
‘It’s about a hospital employee, actually. There was an orderly I met on my second day there, in the ICU. Cameron something? Sandy hair, groundhog daemon. He also covered my room in the Neurology ward once I was moved over. Is he working today?’
The woman hesitated. ‘Are you… Is this part of an investigation?’
‘I can’t comment on that at the moment.’ Will was surprised by the professional clip to his own voice.
‘Mr. Graham, it sounds like you’re describing Cameron Isaac but I’m afraid he’s not here. He went missing about three or so weeks ago now.’
‘I’m not... I think you should speak with the police, sir. I’m not sure how much more I can say about an employee over the phone.’
That day in the garden had been almost a month ago, and he hadn't seen Cameron again afterwards. Perhaps no one had.
‘Mr. Graham? Sir?’
The warmth of the car was suddenly stifling. He threw open his door, stumbling out into the dark and the wet.
‘Will?’ Poppy’s voice sounded very far away. ‘Will! What the hell?’
Will barely felt the chill of the rain on his skin. Had Hannibal been waiting for him to figure it out? The Ripper loved an audience. Everything Hannibal did was performative. His dinner parties. His wardrobe. The mask he wore. In Will, Hannibal had found the one person who might glimpse behind it, but instead of hiding away Hannibal had prodded at him. Befriended him. Lured him in.
I don’t find you that interesting.
Will was rude. He’d been rude to Hannibal that morning in Minnesota and easily a dozen other times, but Hannibal hadn’t wanted him dead. Will had “a singular mind” and that elevated him above meat. It made him a diversion instead. It made him a challenge.
So the snake had charmed the mongoose and the mongoose had lain down with the snake. More than that, the mongoose had been patently grateful for it.
When Will came back to himself he was down on his hands and knees in the wet, dry-retching into the grass. Poppy flapped furiously above him, crying his name over the wind. Poppy. Fuck. Hannibal had held her. She’d been so brave and she’d trusted him and he’d held her in his hands.
Will swiped a wet sleeve over his streaming eyes and reached for her. She came to him instantly but flapped wildly in his grasp, panicked, knocking him back on his ass on the sodden ground. He hushed her until she was still, his stomach still roiling.
He wasn’t even sick for the right reasons. It wasn’t for the meat Hannibal had served him over and over again, prepared and enjoyed a dozen different ways. It wasn’t for Hannibal’s victims.
It was self pity.
Numb with cold, he looked round to get his bearings. He was in an empty field, his car a hundred yards away, the door open, the engine still rumbling, headlights cutting two bright beams through the rain.
Poppy wriggled up to his neck and burrowed in under his scarf and collar until she met skin. ‘What happened? What did you see?’
‘Bullshit that was nothing. Where’s your phone? Call Hannibal.’
Will felt his face stretch into a rictus of silent laughter. ‘He’s the Ripper.'
‘Hannibal. It’s why we never came close to catching him. It’s not a compulsion. He’s in control, he’s always in control. He’s just amusing himself.’ Poppy had gone still in his arms but Will was the one shivering now, gasping for every breath.
She was silent a moment, then Will felt her clear her throat. ‘Okay. You need to get back to the car now.’
When he got there he found rain pooling on the driver’s seat. He used a dog blanket to mop up the worst of it while Poppy took up a perch in front of a heater vent. He didn’t like how calm she was.
He climbed in and pulled the door shut behind him, encasing them in darkness. ‘You’re quiet.’
‘I knew he was keeping something from us. I just didn't know what.’
‘Not knowing didn’t stop you this afternoon.’
‘You’re saying I shouldn’t have done it.’
‘No.’ Will’s jaw was clenched so tight he could barely get the word out.
‘I wanted to understand him. And after he touched me, I knew I was right to do it. So did you.’
‘So this information is what? Nothing to you? You don’t care he’s killed... a dozen people. At least. Jesus. He still has Miriam Lass locked up somewhere!’
‘Of course I care’. Her voice was soft and steady. ‘But I’m not Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder, Will. You’ve killed too.’
‘You can’t compare -’
‘Obviously not. But it’s not as if you ever thought he was navigating with a normal moral compass. You liked that about him.’
Will screwed his eyes shut and cringed away from her, pressing back into his seat as if the car might subsume him. When he opened his eyes again Poppy was on the steering wheel in front of him, silhouetted against the glow of the headlights. Their link was a disjointed mess of clashing emotions but under it all he could detect her urgent, unwavering love for him, just like when he woke from a nightmare.
‘You think he wanted you to figure it out.’
‘Where would the fun be if I didn’t?’
She hummed, unconvinced. ‘Tonight, at the crime scene... I think Daiva realized you were nearly there. She didn’t want us to go.’
‘Oh? You think she wanted to play with her food?’
Poppy let out a raucous, frustrated noise, more bird than daemon. ‘Stop sulking and use your brain! She was scared. She didn’t want us to go because she didn’t want to lose us. You can’t possibly think he faked everything these past few months just to... what? To prove something? To entertain himself?’
Will stared out into the dark. He didn’t know what he thought. The rain was finally letting up and as he listened the roar of the storm calmed to a gentle, persistent tapping on the roof. Finally, Poppy gave a deep sigh and hopped down into his lap.
‘Will.’ Her voice was gentle again. ‘If this was part of some horrible sadistic plan, why did he let you walk away tonight? Wouldn’t he want to be here, watching you realise what he is?’
Will didn’t have an answer and she didn’t expect one. He scooped her in against his belly and they sat like that for a long time, Poppy’s feathers drying under his hands. Finally, Will put the car into gear and reversed out of the mud and back onto the deserted road to Wolf Trap.
By the time he got home, he had the full-body ache of an impending fever. Just before he passed out, Poppy within reach, he realized that it hadn’t once occurred to him to call Jack.
Will’s fever hadn’t eased by morning. If not for the dogs he’d have stayed in bed, still wearing the muddy clothes he fell asleep in.
Poppy was quiet as he followed his automatic routine of coffee, dog food and breakfast, shivering as he went. He didn’t check his email, or the news, and through it all he kept his mind a persistent blank. It was a technique he hadn’t used in years: visualizing the bleached-white bedsheets in the boarding house where he stayed when he first moved to New Orleans. Shaking them out, smoothing them over the bumpy mattress, finishing with hospital corners.
He gulped down his coffee and shoved some bread into the toaster, but the moment the bacon hit the frying pan his body rebelled. He wheeled around just in time to retch into the kitchen sink, hacking up hot coffee and stomach acid.
He still couldn’t say it was for the Ripper’s victims. The smell had simply sent him hurtling back to the dining room the morning after the gallery: eating breakfast with his thigh resting against Hannibal’s, listening to Daiva tease Poppy about her table manners. Afterwards, Hannibal had spread him out over the table and made him see stars.
Will rinsed his mouth out, propped the door open for the dogs, and crawled back into bed. Poppy followed him like a shadow.
He might have slept all day if his phone hadn’t rung.
He was tempted to ignore the call, but if it was Jack he’d likely send someone around to knock on the door. Head still under his pillow, he fumbled the phone off the bedside table. ‘Graham.’
‘You didn’t call. I was worried.’ Hannibal’s voice curled around him, warm and intimate. Pitched low, like he could tell just from Will’s voice that he’d woken him.
‘Sorry,’ he forced out, knocking the pillow away. ‘Felt pretty rough when I got home. I just passed out.’ He felt Poppy hop down onto the bed by his head and shuffle close to listen in.
‘You’re unwell. Are you running a fever?’
‘Maybe a little. I’m fine though.’
‘What did Doctor Chambers say?’
Will was under strict instructions to contact the clinic if his temperature spiked, but he hadn’t phoned them because this wasn’t a relapse; either he was sick from exposure in the field last night or it was psychosomatic and his body had simply shut down. Maybe it was both.
‘She wants me to monitor it. Made me promise to call back if it got any worse.’ Was this how Hannibal lied? Like breathing? Like a role already learned by heart?
Hannibal hummed, concerned. ‘My next appointment isn’t until tomorrow, should you want some company.’ Will heard Daiva’s voice in the background but couldn’t make out the words. ‘Daiva’s worried about you.’
‘Oh? Is that a medical opinion?’ Will flinched at his own flirtatious tone. He’d smiled as he pictured Daiva and it had simply poured out of him.
‘Daiva is not the one with a doctorate. And I’d have to see you in person to make any meaningful judgement.’
‘Company would be nice, but unfortunately I’m expecting to hear from Jack any minute.’
‘Oh? They have a suspect already?’
‘Not that I know of. But if they’ve come up blank this morning, odds are he’ll pull my string again.’
‘Is Jack concerned about retribution?’
‘From the Chesapeake Ripper.’
Will fingers clenched around the phone but he managed not to miss a beat. ‘It’s worth considering. The Ripper won’t be happy about another second-rate copycat.’
‘No. I imagine not.’
Will stared a hole into the ceiling. How many times had he spoken of the Ripper in front of Hannibal? How many times had Hannibal encouraged it?
Will realized that he’d stopped talking, and so had Hannibal. He could hear him breathing on the other end of the line, easy and calm. It felt as though Will’s own heartbeat had slowed to match. Some part of him still longed for Hannibal to visit his sickbed with chicken soup like he had in the hospital. He longed for Daiva, radiating life and warmth.
‘I should probably go. Bessie cut her paw open and I haven’t checked on her yet today.’
‘Of course,’ Hannibal replied. They exchanged farewells, Hannibal expressing concern that Will get more rest and not go rushing off anywhere with Jack.
Will put the phone down. ‘He knows.’
Will nodded. Hannibal’s every word had been as calculated as his own. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered to Poppy, nestled in close to his head.
‘Sorry? What for?’
‘You didn’t trust him and I… I ignored it. I looked the other way.’
‘I trusted Daiva. Mostly. And I trust him now.’
Will pulled back and craned to look at her, appalled. ‘You actually mean that.’
‘Do I have a habit of saying things I don’t mean? I trust him. It doesn’t matter that he knows. He’s not going to hurt you.’
Will laughed an ugly laugh that pulled tight across his chest. Too fucking late for that. He felt like an open wound.
Poppy gave his hair a gentle peck. ‘I mean he’s not going to come for you. He won’t kill you.’
Will brushed her away and sat up, disgusted with her and with himself. He really did have to check on Bessie; he’d forgotten all about her until he needed an excuse to get off the phone.
Poppy called after him as he padded out of the room. ‘I was right about him before, wasn’t I? And I’m right now.’
Will glanced over at the drawer where he kept his gun. He considered taking it out and tucking it into the band of his jeans, just in case, but after a moment he simply shuffled over to the screen door and called for the dogs.
Daiva eyed Hannibal as he placed the phone down. His lunch sat untouched on the table, another meal gone cold while he waited for Will's call. ‘We should have stayed with him last night,’ she said.
‘I rather think the point is moot now, don’t you?’ Hannibal’s voice, so carefully controlled while talking to Will, had calcified into a bitten-off growl. He stood and shrugged on his jacket, dislodging Daiva from her resting place. ‘It’s over. He wasn’t ready.’
‘Nothing’s over.’ The idea was ludicrous, but Hannibal strode from the room without acknowledging her and a wall slammed down between them, severing their connection. Daiva fell back as if she’d been struck. Hannibal had only ever cut her off once before, and today it was a punishment she didn’t deserve. She leapt from the table and tore after him.
But then she realized where he was going: the basement, to fetch the necessary tools. Heart beating wildly, she turned tail and raced back into the dining room. The second the distance between them made itself known with a sharp tug at her gut, she plunged her claws into the wood of the floor and grit her teeth. Pain lanced up her spine as Hannibal resisted her, but she gave no quarter.
After a moment, he stalked back into the room with the wrath of a god and seized her from the ground, holding her at arm’s length to avoid her scrabbling feet. ‘Enough. I will lock you in a box and carry you if I must.’
She sunk her fangs deep into the flesh of his hand and he released her with a snarl. She leapt for the wall garden, his blood hot in her mouth.
‘What would you have me do, Daiva? Await his judgement and spend the rest of my life as one of Chilton’s pets?'
‘You’re not worried about being caught. You just want to cut him off at the pass before he can leave us. You might as well be one of your patients! How tedious. How pedestrian.’
All at once, the barrier between them lifted and Hannibal’s rage came crashing through, buffeting her backwards. The phantom scent of burnt rubber filled her nostrils.
‘Don’t be a fool,’ she hissed. ‘Killing him is a waste. We’ve barely begun.’
‘The waste was weeks spent coaxing him from his hospital bed when he was already on a path to meet us. If you had left me to my plan with Sutcliffe —’
‘Plan? If I’d left you to what could only very charitably be called a plan, Will would’ve been dead or behind bars within months. Even if you were capable of going back, you wouldn’t change what I did. You wouldn’t give up the taste of him. The sound of his voice in your bed.’ They stared each other down, neither willing to blink first.
When Hannibal told Daiva the stars were out at night, she trusted him; her own eyes were too weak to see more than the blurry shape of the moon. Today she saw something that Hannibal could not. She just had to make him believe it.
'Don’t assume to predict him,’ she said, gentler now. ‘Of course he hesitates. Of course he demurs. He’s a creature at war with his own nature. Did you imagine he wouldn’t do battle with yours?’
Hannibal turned away from her. Daiva felt a deep pang of sympathy for Poppy, who must have to plead with Will like this all the time. It was exhausting to feel something Hannibal didn’t.
She leapt over onto the back of one of the dining chairs. The scent of cold food wafted up from the table, mixing with the dirt between her claws and the blood congealing around Hannibal’s wound. After a moment, Hannibal sighed and extended his hand to her. She ran up his arm, all the way to his neck, and summoned the feeling of bright, expanding light that filled her whenever Will held her in his grasp. She pressed it into Hannibal’s skin, into the fast-beating vein at his throat.
‘If you want him gone, I can’t stop you,’ she whispered. ‘But I know you don’t. You don’t.’
Hannibal was silent, and she knew she’d won. He would have blood, but Will was safe. For now.
Will’s phone didn’t ring again until the following afternoon, stirring him from a fitful doze on the couch. He saw the caller ID and picked up immediately. ‘Jack?’
‘It's the son.’
It wasn’t Jack’s voice. ‘Price? It that you?’ Will scrubbed his hand over his face, still in the fog of sleep.
‘It is indeed. Apologies - Agent Crawford is driving. Our suspect is Scott Weeks, Caleb Weeks’ son. Mortician by trade, runs a funeral home in Bethesda with the highest Yelp score in Maryland. Which begs the question, who writes a Yelp review for a funeral home? Let alone gives it five stars?’
‘Price.’ Jack’s voice sounded a warning in the background.
‘Point is,’ Price went on. ‘He fits your profile. Anatomical knowledge, scalpel skills -’
‘Personal relationship with the victim,’ Will cut in.
‘Exactly. Apparently Scott and his father have been estranged since his mother’s death in May. Given the familial relationship, any DNA or prints in the house won’t be enough for a warrant, but we caught Weeks-the-younger on a traffic camera in his father’s neighbourhood last night, so we’re en route to Bethesda now.’
‘You want me to meet you there?’
‘Put him on speaker,’ Jack said. There was a beep, and the car noise got louder. ‘Will. I’m about to bring Scott Weeks in for questioning, but I wanted to ask...’
‘No, no way. Absolutely not.’ Will knew that tone. He knew what was coming.
‘You’re reading minds now?’
‘I’m making an educated guess. You want to give Freddie Lounds another scoop and let Scott Weeks walk free. You want to bait the Ripper again.’
‘We’ll be ready this time. He wouldn’t get anywhere near Weeks.’
‘Jack. At what point do you stop underestimating him? If he doesn’t come for Weeks directly, he’ll make his point some other way. This is hubris. It won’t go unpunished.’
There was a glacial silence on Jack’s end of the line, then a call-waiting tone.
‘Take it,’ Jack barked.
‘Will? I’ll call you back.’ Price sounded apologetic, then the call went dead.
Christ. If this had happened a week ago, Hannibal would almost certainly have used Miriam Lass to punish Jack again. But not anymore. Hannibal knew Will had seen him. Now, any move Jack made against the Ripper would be seen as sanctioned by Will, if not driven by him. How far would Hannibal go to retaliate then?
Will pulled on clean clothes, bypassing a shower as he grabbed his keys and tried calling Jack again on his way out the door. It went straight to voicemail.
Poppy swooped at him en route to the car. ‘You haven’t eaten since yesterday and you reek of fever sweat.’
He ignored her. He had to make Jack see sense before he could contact Freddie. Will was almost at the highway when he gave up redialling Jack and tried Beverly instead. She answered immediately.
He pulled over. ‘Are you with Jack? I don’t have Price’s number.’
‘You heard about Scott Weeks then?’
‘Yeah, they were about to pick him up.’
‘Not anymore they’re not. Scott Weeks stepped out of work to take a phone call just after midday and never came back. He’s done a runner. His car’s still outside the funeral home but his phone’s switched off. His wife’s a nervous wreck. Jack’s bringing her in now.’
Will thought back to the copycat crime scene. Hannibal had heard him lay out a full profile of Caleb Weeks’ killer. Was it possible he’d looked into the victim’s life and found Scott Weeks before the FBI did? Fuck. Of course it was.
‘Will? Still with me?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I… Can you just make sure Jack calls me?’ He didn’t know what he’d tell him. It wasn’t like Jack would be laying any traps for the Ripper now; Hannibal already had the bait.
‘You okay? You sound weird.’
‘I’m fine. I just… It’s been a weird couple of days’.
‘Maybe you came back too soon. You sure you want Jack calling you?’ She was deliberately dialling down the concern in her voice but Will heard it loud and clear. Her uncomplicated warmth brought a lump to his throat, so he closed his eyes and imagined telling her everything. He imagined her shock. Her sympathy. Her absolute clarity about what to do next.
‘Yeah, thanks. But there’s no rush. Just whenever he’s got a second.’
Will sat in the car until the engine stopped ticking and he could see his breath in front of his face. The windows fogged and the traffic got louder as peak hour approached. Finally, he became aware of Poppy scratching at the back of his wrist with her beak. ‘Don’t fall asleep. Someone will call the cops.’
He started the car. He needed to eat and get some proper rest before Jack inevitably called him with the news that they’d found Scott Weeks’ body. Hannibal would display him quickly. Tired of waiting for Will to make a choice, he would try to provoke one.
That night, TattleCrime declared that Scott Weeks was in the frame for his father’s murder, and therefore must be the Chesapeake Ripper. Jack didn’t have to lift a finger. Problem was, Freddie’s hyperbole wasn’t any use to the FBI anymore: Scott Weeks was still missing. Bait is less than pointless if it’s not on your hook.
Sure enough, two nights after Scott Weeks’ disappearance, Will got another call. He made his way to the address in downtown D.C. and found Jack waiting outside the headquarters of a private investment firm, looking grim. ‘No Doctor Lecter this evening?’
Will shook his head. ‘Not this time.’ It was lucky Will had form for being cagey; Jack didn’t seem to notice anything odd about his non-answer. Will peered up at the handsome Art Deco office building, illuminated by flashing police lights. ‘Why’d the Ripper bring him here?’
‘I’m hoping you’ll tell me.’ Jack lead the way inside. ‘You wanted pageantry? You got it.'
Will held his breath as they pushed through brass turnstile doors into a vast, high-ceilinged lobby of gleaming black tile, empty but for a discreet front desk, a row of lifts and a huge aquarium in the centre of the room.
The sleek, contemporary-looking fish tank dominated the space. It was flush to the floor and taller than Jack, reflecting the lobby’s gold detailing like a funhouse mirror. There were half a dozen agents gathered around the other side of it.
Will couldn’t see the body yet, but he stayed where he was and let Jack round up his people. Beverly, Price and Zeller were among them. Will was vaguely aware of their murmured greetings as they filed past him and out the door.
He felt sick with dread and clung to the feeling as a proper and appropriate response to the situation. Unfortunately there was also a kind of feral excitement building in his chest; any moment now, he’d be alone with whatever Hannibal had left for him.
Why had he chosen this place? It screamed extravagance, from the intricate gold leaf on the lift doors to the sheer amount of empty, non-functional space. But this wasn’t simply a case of Hannibal asserting his superiority over the copycat. That would be crass, as well as wholly unnecessary. No, there had to be another reason for the location.
That’s when he noticed what was inside the tank. Jack heard his intake of breath, and turned. ‘Will?’
The aquarium was teeming with golden koi. ‘Did he… Were the koi here already? Before he got here?’
‘Far as I know.’ Jack frowned, coming over to join him at the door. ‘Are they important?’
The Chesapeake Ripper told me a bedtime story about a golden koi, Jack. I was lying in his arms and holding his daemon. Will swallowed and shook his head. ‘No. Maybe. I don’t know.’
Jack’s look of concern didn’t budge. ‘Okay. Well. When you're ready.’ He gestured towards the tank.
Will left Jack at the door and stepped out into the lobby, suddenly self-conscious as his shoes squeaked on the shining black tiles. How did he usually appear to Jack at crime scenes? Dour. Resentful. Defeated. Certainly not thrilling with nerves like this. He hunched his shoulders and carefully slowed his breathing as he rounded the tank.
When he saw Hannibal’s display, any thought of performing for Jack left his head.
It was beautiful.
There were two near-naked bodies, not one. Scott Weeks was laid out on the tiles like a messenger of God in a Renaissance painting, reaching out towards a second body that was submerged inside the tank. Weeks’ skin was unblemished, his modesty preserved by a deep red cloth that seemed to start inside the aquarium, giving the illusion of flowing out from the glass and across the black floor. It wound up between his legs and swept over his hip, fanning behind him like an ancient Roman tunic.
His eyes were open, staring unblinking into the face of his watery counterpart. The man in the tank gazed back, extending his own hand, seeking contact. In an instant, Will saw the twin figures of Gemini: Castor and Pollux, the sons of Leda, divided by a thick pane of glass. He saw the Lovers on a tarot card, reaching for one another but forever frustrated by the heavens stretched out between them. And he saw Hannibal carefully arranging the blood-red cloth so that it would draw the eye up and around to Weeks’ left arm, flung out behind him. He held not an arrow, as Castor might, but a knife. A knife stained dark with what Will felt sure was Caleb Weeks’ blood.
Hannibal hadn’t just presented the copycat, he’d delivered him with his own murder weapon in hand. The hunter had become the hunted, only to become a hunter again. Because that’s what Castor and Pollux were: they were hunters. They were both killers, united in love and divided by death.
Will stepped forward to get a closer look at the body in the tank: Pollux in the underworld. But then one of the fish coasted past the glass and Will’s focus shifted. The whole image dissolved before his eyes. Of course. There was only one body. The man inside the tank was a reflection.
Will screwed his eyes shut. Castor and Pollux weren’t divided at all; they were as one, and always would be. Pollux had made sure of that.
‘Will? You alright?’
Will realised he was leaning into the tank, forehead against the cold glass. He righted himself and managed a nod.
Jack joined him. ‘You want to tell me what the hell this is fabout?’
It’s a love letter.
‘It’s… it’s ridicule.’ Will heard himself lying before he even put his mind to it. ‘The murder weapon, the reflection in the glass - it’s a parody of Scott Weeks’ attempt to mirror the Ripper. Weeks thought he was being clever. Instead, he sealed his own fate. The copycat didn’t see the Ripper at all. Just his own reflection.’
‘Why not take any organs?’
Will was wondering the same thing himself. ‘Perhaps he didn’t consider Weeks worthy of his dinner table... Or more likely, he simply wanted the body looking perfect for his tableau. Optics first, sustenance second.’
Jack looked askance at that. Will realised he was channelling some of Hannibal’s enjoyment and it must've shown on his face. He cleared his throat. Better to stick to lies. Lies were safer. ‘What I mean is, the drapery, the angelic pose... He's turned his victim into a Renaissance painting. Weeks thought he could get close to God. Instead, he’s spread out on the floor of someone's lobby. It might even be a pun. The gold tiles around the perimeter? They’re framing him.’
Jack cringed. ‘Because Weeks tried to frame the Ripper?’
‘He’s been playful like this before. I wouldn’t put it past him.’
Jack seemed more disgusted by the prospect of a pun than the dead body at his feet. ‘What’s with the fish?’
Will swallowed. ‘If they were in situ, I’m not sure they’re relevant.’
‘Then why bring him here? Why bother taking out security guards, disabling cameras? The Ripper could’ve used any reflective surface to make his point.’
Will blinked down at Poppy. His lies had run dry. All he could think of was the princess and her golden koi daemon, reborn as a fire dragon. Poppy inclined her head at him, eyes full of sympathy. Finally, she turned to Jack. ‘He’s showing off,’ she said.
Jack stared in surprise. Poppy never spoke at crime scenes. Come to think of it, Will couldn’t remember her ever acknowledging Jack at all. ‘This place is flashy,’ she went on. ‘Over the top. And what’s more, anyone could’ve come past here tonight and glanced through the doors and seen him at work. Compare that to Weeks, who killed his father in a drab little living room in the suburbs. This is the Ripper flexing his muscles. That’s all.’
Will had to bite back a smile. Poppy sounded so much like him that he suspected he was being mocked. ‘She’s right,’ he told Jack. ‘Choosing this place over somewhere less public... It’s just the Ripper preening.’
‘And there’s nothing new here? Nothing to tell us anything more about him?’
‘How did he display the security guards?’
‘Didn’t I say? They’re recovering at George Washington. The paramedics think he injected them with something. We’ll know more when the bloods come back.’ Jack clocked the surprise on Will’s face. ‘You think that’s meaningful? Him sparing them?’
Yes. Hannibal had deliberately shown restraint. He was telling Will that he need not kill indiscriminately. That everything he did, he did by choice.
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ Will pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. He couldn’t look at Hannibal’s work anymore, not with Jack and Harlow watching him so closely.
‘Alright. Go. Get out of here. I’ll have the others do a final sweep before we take Weeks back to the lab. You’ll come by in the morning?’ Will nodded as he crouched down to scoop up Poppy. ‘You don’t look so hot. Sure you’re okay to drive?’
‘Just a headache. I’ll be home in an hour if the roads are clear.’
Jack didn’t look convinced, but he let Will slip away all the same. Will pushed out through the turnstile and into the shock of cold night air.
He wasn’t going home.
Hannibal’s front door was on the latch and swung open at Will’s push. The hallway was empty. Steeling himself, he made his way towards the kitchen: to the dark beating heart of the house.
His instinct was right. Hannibal was waiting there. He had his shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows, lit by the glow of the night through the glass doors behind him. The uninitiated might think he stood at ease but Will read the tension in his shoulders and in the placement of his feet. He was unarmed but ready, a block of knives within reach. Daiva looked down on the room from atop the doorframe, unblinking, as still as her taxidermy replica upstairs.
‘You came alone,’ Hannibal said.
‘You knew I would.’
‘No. You remain the one thing I cannot predict.’
The devotion in those words curled around Will like smoke and he was grateful for Poppy swooping down to land on the gleaming countertop between them, breaking the spell with the sound of claws skittering on stainless steel. ‘I got your message,’ he said, thinking helplessly of the koi, of the security guards alive and unharmed in the hospital, of Castor and Pollux. ‘It was come alone or not at all.’
Hannibal took a helpless step forward. ‘Will…’
‘Don’t,’ he snapped, and Hannibal stopped where he was. Will drew a shaky breath. If they touched now, he would close his eyes and press into Hannibal’s warmth and it would all be over. ‘You have to go,’ he said, and Hannibal blinked, his face a sudden blank. ‘Leave Baltimore. Leave North America. I don’t care where, I don’t want to know. Just make some excuse so they question it, and don’t come back.’
Will saw the tic in Hannibal’s jaw, his eyes sharp. ‘Or what?’
‘Or I tell them.’ They were the only words Will had practiced on the drive over. From now on, he was out of script.
Hannibal considered him, the air thick between them. ‘But if I do as you ask, you’ll keep my secrets. Is that right?’
Will noticed for the first time that Hannibal had something concealed in his palm, down by his side. His fingers clenched around it. A weapon? Whatever it was, he wanted Will to know it was there.
‘This bargain you’ve struck with your conscience seems most unorthodox.’ He stepped forward again. ‘You must realize I will be no less deadly for being out of your sight.’
Will backed up. ‘Hannibal —’ His voice was a warning and a plea, but this time it failed to stop Hannibal in his tracks. He was right of course; Will’s conscience had no part in this. If he were a righteous man he would have called Jack days ago, or he’d have tried to kill Hannibal himself before anyone else got hurt. Will was not righteous. He was a lover betrayed.
‘You wish to punish me,’ Hannibal said. ‘I understand.’
Will’s back hit the fridge behind him. ‘I didn’t come here to hurt you.’
‘Yes. You did.’ He closed the distance between them and Will heard Poppy cry out in alarm as Hannibal took hold of his face. ‘But there are quicker ways.’ His other hand was between them in a flash. Will grabbed it and felt steel under his fingers – but not the knife-edge he was expecting. He looked down. Hannibal was pushing the handle of a switchblade into his grasp, the vicious point of the blade held fast against his own gut, already biting into the fabric of his shirt.
Will fought his grip but Hannibal’s eyes were razor dark and the weight of his body held him firm against the fridge. ‘Go on, Will. Take your pound of flesh.’
Will shook his head, desperate. He could hear Poppy keening but she was outside his narrow field of vision. Instead, he saw Daiva leap down from the doorframe, a blur of white, and he felt a powerful pang of hunger for her - for the belonging he’d felt with her warm little body nestled against his chest. ‘When did it change?’
‘When did it change? I was a game to you at first. A curiosity. I know I was. But then you…’ Will swallowed. Somewhere along the line, Hannibal had fallen in love with him. He didn’t doubt that anymore. ‘Tell me when.’
Hannibal hesitated, whether casting his mind back or preparing to lie, Will couldn’t tell. But then he seemed to come to some decision and his grip tightened around Will’s hands on the switchblade. ‘I knew you had encephalitis.’
Will blinked. ‘You... knew? Before the MRI?’
‘You were more than a mere curiosity, even then. I told you once before - from the day we met I intended to carve an intimate place in your life. Not long after that I resolved that you would one day see yourself as I did. You would know yourself and cease to be afraid.’
‘I don’t…’ Will shook his head, not following. ‘How exactly did you see me?’
‘You were not afraid when you killed Garret Jacob Hobbs,’ Hannibal went on, and Will’s stomach turned as the penny began to drop. ‘You came alive in that moment, and in each moment you recounted it thereafter. It was my belief that as your infection took hold, you moved ever closer to embracing that state permanently. You moved closer to truly knowing yourself.’
‘My brain was boiling inside my skull! Fuck, Hannibal. What if I hadn’t begged you for help? Would you ever have taken me to Sutcliffe? If he hadn’t told me what was wrong, I would’ve - ’
‘He didn’t tell you.’
‘He – what?’
‘Sutcliffe didn’t tell you about the encephalitis. Poppy did.’
Time slowed to a crawl. Hannibal was still talking, but Will couldn’t hear him. It was Daiva. Daiva had told Poppy at the door, and then Poppy had returned to the MRI suite and relayed it him. He’d been so relieved he hadn’t questioned the sequence of events for a moment, not even after Poppy told him Hannibal had been acting strangely beforehand. ‘How? How did you get Sutcliffe on side?’
‘Doctor Sutcliffe is not a moral man. He was excited at the prospect of observing your condition as it advanced.’
Will moved quickly, yanking the switchblade back and to the side while ramming his opposite shoulder hard into Hannibal’s chest. It barely jolted him but the surprise was enough – the blade came free and Will flung it aside. He heard it skitter across the tiles and rebound off the wall.
Hannibal didn’t turn to track its course. He kept Will pinned to the fridge, eyes locked on his. Could he tell that the very thought of him and Sutcliffe conspiring had Will picturing the knife plunging into his belly, hot blood spilling over their joined hands? Could he tell how close Will had come?
‘Why tell me that?’ Will spat. ‘Why now? You can’t possibly imagine it’ll help you.’
‘You asked me when it changed. It was that moment, though I didn’t realize how profoundly until I saw you in your hospital bed the following day. Daiva acted without my consent, but I do not consider what she did a betrayal.’ Hannibal paused on a shaky breath. ‘If she hadn’t stopped me, my course of action could have killed you. I might have lost you.’
‘You have lost me.' Will watched with grim satisfaction as his words gut Hannibal as keenly as any blade. ‘You let me think I knew you.’
‘You do know me. As surely as I know you.’
Will choked back a bitter, broken sound. ‘And what good is that? Get off me, Hannibal.’ He gave another hard shove and this time Hannibal went with it, stepping away. ‘If I asked you to turn yourself in, would you do it?’
‘Is that what you want?’
Will considered it and tasted bile in his throat. ‘No. If you were in jail, I’d never be free of you. I’d be interrogated endlessly. People would write books. I’d have to talk about you for the rest of my life.’
‘Will. Come with me.’
‘And what? You’ll stop killing people?’
‘I’m not the one making ultimatums. Come with me because you wish to do so.’
But how could Will know what he wished or truly wanted? Hannibal had moulded and manipulated him as surely as if he’d let the encephalitis take its course, and the change in him was no less profound for the lack of violence involved. Will had been pulled apart and remade by his love for Hannibal. He only knew himself now in relation to that love, but the object of his passion – the orchestrator of his change – had been merely a shadow on the wall. Now Will looked upon the beast itself and he didn't know what he felt beyond pure, roiling anger.
Poppy knew what his answer would be and let out a pitiful whimper. Will turned to plead for her cooperation but there was another flash of movement and he gasped as a soft weight hit his thigh. Daiva had leapt off the counter and now she was climbing him, sharp claws pricking through his jeans.
He tried to choke out an objection but she ran up over his arm and onto his shoulder. Before he could flinch away he felt the weight of her feet and the sweep of her fur against his skin, as shocking as a slap. Will balled his fists, eyes screwed shut. She wrapped herself tight around his neck and he thought of the footage he’d seen of a stoat bringing down a fleeing rabbit in the wild, opening up its throat with its teeth and clinging on until the larger animal keeled over from blood loss. Daiva was nuzzling into him now, a warm pressure that sent tendrils of pleasure rushing over his skin. ‘Don’t,’ she whispered into his neck. ‘Don’t. Don’t.’
Don't do this. Don’t make Hannibal leave. Don't cleave them apart. Will didn’t know how he could deny her, but he had to. He couldn’t live with this anger. He wouldn’t.
Will heard a gasp and his awareness returned to the room. Hannibal had backed up against the counter, hands braced, white-knuckled. Will had no doubt that he could fake the appearance of any emotion, but he couldn’t fake this; Daiva was his weathervane and she was trembling, claws pricking sharp into Will’s skin. Before he knew it, he was cupping her body with both hands, pressing her tight against his pulse to calm her.
There was a cry from Poppy as she flew to the counter behind Hannibal. Will prepared himself as best he could but there was no time; Hannibal was already turning and reaching for her.
Poppy held still as he laid a heavy hand on her back, and Will was inundated.
Desire and anguish and a fierce possessiveness flooded through him. It seemed impossible that Hannibal had only touched Poppy once before. It seemed impossible that he would never touch her again.
He brought Poppy up to his chest. He and Hannibal were a mirror of each other now, and the expression on Hannibal’s face was unbearable. Will saw Pollux reaching for Castor in supplication, yearning for his twin in the dark. He swallowed hard. If he didn’t go now he wouldn’t go at all.
He prised Daiva’s claws from his skin and felt absurdly grateful for the hot pinpricks of pain she left behind. When he placed her down on the counter there were smears of blood on his fingers. ‘Poppy,’ he called. He tried to sound firm but his voice broke on her name.
She flapped hard in Hannibal’s grasp and he let her go, but instead of flying to Will she made a wobbly landing next to Daiva and stumbled heavily into her, burying her beak in the fur of her neck. Daiva curled around her and Will felt Poppy’s distress like ice through his veins. He had to look away.
When he looked back they had finally detached and were shuffling around each other like trade-offs in a hostage exchange. Will tapped his shoulder and for once Poppy was obedient. She took to the air and landed on him with barely a sound.
He risked a final look across the room. Hannibal’s gaze roamed over them with such intensity that Will knew he was being memorized. That meant Hannibal would do what he had asked. He would leave. Eventually Will wouldn't feel this way anymore. Perhaps he wouldn’t feel anything at all.
Hannibal’s expression shuttered, hard and cold. He said nothing. But when Will turned and took a step towards the door, his quiet voice filled the room.
‘You want me gone so you can maintain the illusion of the Ripper as a separate entity. So you can pretend your lover simply deceived you, betrayed you, and left. But you must know that the illusion was never complete. In the dark of your mind you recognized him, and you turned your face to mine. Once I’m gone your anger will only protect you for so long, Will. You will ache for me and for the Ripper both, and we will be gone.’
Without turning, Will strode from the room and out of Hannibal's house forever.
Will slipped into a pattern of sleepless nights and long mornings spent dozing until whatever time Poppy and the dogs could no longer be ignored. He knew from Alana that Hannibal had left. He’d paid her a farewell visit, having shuttered his practice indefinitely “to care for an ailing relative in Paris”. She knew it wasn’t the full story – she intuited there’d been a painful break-up – but she was kind enough not to press Will for details.
He told Jack he didn't want to be called out on cases unless the Ripper reappeared, but on the days he had to teach, he’d show up and teach, even if he regularly found himself in the car park at the Academy with little to no memory of the journey, or even of getting dressed. At home, he’d follow the dogs through the woods until hunger made them whine and turn back, or he’d lose hours to his old sailboat in the shed. Refitting the Contessa was the only thing that cleared the fog of sleep from his mind. What’s more, it was the only time in Will’s day when Poppy would settle.
Her plumage thinned in weeks following Hannibal’s departure, feathers fading to brown and poking out at odd angles, at its worst since the days of Garret Jacob Hobbs. But worse than that was the new habit of carding her beak through the feathers at her breast. The nervous tic was so relentless that on one side she rubbed bare a patch of grey, speckled skin that curved down and around under her wing. It hurt Will to see it, but she seemed helpless to stop.
When he was about thirteen he’d had the habit of tugging on the curls hanging over his forehead. It began as a means of avoiding eye contact in class but then it took hold outside of school too, going unremarked upon until the day an old man on the bus laughed at him and said if he didn’t cut it out he’d go bald. At home in front of the mirror that night Will realised the man was right: his hair was visibly thinner on one side, and when he lifted his curls he saw the hairline was higher. Will wasn’t vain but he did prefer to go unnoticed – at the age of thirteen, his looks attracted far too much attention already – so with grim determination he stopped touching his hair. When the patch grew in again he shaved his whole head military-short and never looked back.
Reminding Poppy of the story had little effect. If people stared at her bald patch, she stared back. If other daemons remarked on her appearance, she took great pleasure in telling them just where they could stick it. Will wasn’t going to push her. To do so would mean acknowledging the likely cause of the tic, and neither of them wanted that.
When Will remembered his dreams in those first couple of weeks, there were none of the usual vestiges of horror. Instead, he was left with impressions of intimacy that cut far deeper: the soft warmth of Hannibal’s body in his sleep; the scrape of his teeth against Will’s skin; Daiva’s eyes shining black in the night, blacker than the dark of Hannibal’s bedroom. And there was more - impossible memories of things that Will had never actually experienced. One morning he opened Hannibal up with trembling fingers and pushed inside of him to shocking heat and tightness, Hannibal’s eyes dark with wonder as he watched Will move above him. Upon waking, it took Will a few moments to understand why his face was wet with tears.
Alana checked in on him with calls and texts but he didn’t hear from anyone else until nearly three weeks had gone by, when Beverly knocked on his door one morning with a box of pastries. She was uncharacteristically subdued, while Chip was more alert than usual. Instead of finding a patch of sun to relax in, he settled under Beverly’s chair and wrapped his enormous tail around her feet, blinking over at Will with bright amber eyes.
Finally, after Beverly had learned the names of all his dogs and remarked upon the lengthening of the days as they headed into spring, she cringed at her own awkwardness and put her untouched pastry down to one side. ‘Sorry. I suck at small talk.’
Will attempted a smile. ‘It’s wasted on me anyway.’
Beverly’s eyes flicked over to Poppy – her beak carding furiously through her feathers. ‘He’s somewhere in Europe, right?’
‘France. A sick relative, apparently.’
‘Alana said. He didn’t tell you any more than that?’
Will searched her face. Usually when people asked uncomfortable personal questions they averted their eyes and kept their hands busy, sounding vaguely apologetic, but Beverly was watching him closely. There was concern there, but something else too. Something careful. ‘We weren’t exactly talking much, the week he left.’
‘Do you think it’s true? Is there really a relative?’
‘Could be. He said something about an aunt once.’
‘I don’t get it. You guys were… I don’t know. You just really seemed happy.’
Will shrugged. Beverly still didn’t look away. ‘Beverly, what’s this about? I don’t want to talk about Hannibal. I assume Alana told you that, which is why you pulled my address from my file instead of asking her for it.’
‘How did - ’
‘If you’d asked her, she would’ve checked with me first, or at least called to warn me. She’s over-protective at the best of times.’
Beverly’s lip quirked, rueful. ‘I did ask her, actually. She said if you wanted visitors you’d give out your own address.’ Chip climbed up into Beverly’s lap. She sunk her fingers into his pelt before she found her voice again. ‘Look. Jack’s going to call you both in today anyway. I just… I wanted to talk to you first. Tell you myself.’
Fuck. ‘Tell me what exactly?’
Jack waved Will and Alana to the couch and pulled a chair around to face them, which told Will all he needed to know. Jack minus his desk meant bad news. He was taking Beverly seriously.
‘I gather you know why I’ve asked you here today.’
‘I know Agent Katz has a theory.’ Alana refused to even glance at Beverly, still hovering by the door. ‘What I fail to understand is how you could be entertaining it.’
Jack shot Beverly a look and nodded to the other chair. She reluctantly took a seat and Chip clambered into her lap. ‘Agent Katz does have a theory. And that’s all it is – a theory.’ Will felt Jack’s gaze on him, but he kept his eyes on the carpet. ‘I want to make it very clear that there’s no evidence of any kind at this stage, only inference and instinct.’
‘Whose instinct?’ Alana asked. ‘Not yours, surely?’
Jack hesitated, and Will remembered what Alana said about Jack and Hannibal having words when he was first admitted to hospital. He wondered how much of Hannibal’s carefully constructed persona he had let slip during that confrontation, and whether he’d regret it now if he knew how easily Jack had turned on him.
‘When it comes to the Ripper, I have to keep an open mind. This is a highly unusual situation, but given Doctor Lecter’s hasty departure from the country -’
‘Hasty? He spent a week saying his goodbyes! He even came in here to see you – I know he did.’
Jack ignored her. ‘Will? You’re very quiet.’
‘I’m quiet because I’ve heard this much already. I’m waiting for the…’ He yanked off his glasses and scrubbed a hand over his face. ‘For whatever else there is. Beverly wouldn’t tell me.’
‘No. I asked her not to.’
‘You wanted to see my face when you laid it all out.’ Will finally looked up at Jack. There was genuine sympathy in his eyes, but no trace of an apology.
‘Wouldn’t you do the same in my position?’
Yeah. He probably would.
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to take this into the interrogation room, Jack? Get it all on camera?’
‘Alana.’ Jack’s voice was a tone of warning.
‘It’s okay,’ Will told her. ‘I’m okay.’ Alana sighed but settled back into her seat. She would hold her tongue, for now.
‘Agent Katz,’ Jack said. ‘Why don’t you walk us through it?’
Beverly hesitated. Will took pity and gave her a small nod. Grateful, she began.
She first noticed something odd about Hannibal’s behaviour at the Caleb Weeks crime scene. Or rather, Chip did. He’d never seen Hannibal’s daemon move around much before – as Chip put it, she’d always looked like a creepy little toy on Hannibal’s arm – but when Will stood over Caleb Weeks’ body and described the Ripper’s MO it was like she’d been electrified. She shivered and shifted around so much that Hannibal put a hand to her, forcibly holding her against his body. When Daiva caught Chip watching her she bared her fangs at him, vicious.
At the time, Beverly hadn't put much stock in Chip’s intuition. While it was true she’d never seen Daiva agitated before either, she put the odd behaviour down to Hannibal and Will’s new relationship; Hannibal’s daemon was displaying his protective feelings towards Will during a vulnerable moment.
But then Steve Weeks was killed, and Beverly found it strange that Hannibal didn't accompany Will to DC given how important the Ripper was to Will, and how much his crime scenes usually unsettled him. And sure enough, Will had been badly rattled by the Ripper’s rather unusual display - even more than usual. They’d all noticed the state he was in that night, even Price and Zeller. About a week after that, Beverly heard Hannibal was preparing to shut up shop and leave the country.
It was a leap. Beverly knew it was a leap, and she felt incredibly guilty for making it. She liked Hannibal. She liked the effect he had on Will. So instead of saying anything to Jack, she pored over the Ripper files in secret. Unfortunately, everything she read only served to back up Chip’s hunch. Hannibal fit the profile. He was an unmarried male in his 40s, highly intelligent, surgical experience, a preoccupation with aesthetics and…
She turned to Jack. ‘What was the word Miriam used?’
‘Exotic,’ Jack replied. ‘She said the Ripper would be an outsider in some way. That he’d stand out, and take pride in his differences.’
‘That’s it?’ Alana fumed. ‘Really? You dragged us in here over a spat between two daemons and because Hannibal is exotic. Tell me Jack, what precisely does that word mean in this context? That he’s not American? That he’s not straight? What?’
‘It’s more than that,’ Beverly cut in. ‘There’s a link to him via Johns Hopkins Hospital.’
Will forced himself to keep breathing evenly, looking over at Beverly with cautious surprise. He was playing the role of shocked Will Graham, hurt Will Graham, confused Will Graham. That Will Graham would be curious what Beverly meant. He wouldn’t panic that maybe she really did have proof after all.
‘Going over the Ripper files, I spent a lot of time with the Miriam Lass evidence – everything she was working on just before she disappeared. Phone logs, archived emails, printouts, all of it. A few days before her disappearance she made a call to the main switchboard at Johns Hopkins that we never managed to pin down.’
‘Her aunt was a patient in the oncology ward,’ said Will.
‘Right. So eventually everyone assumed she just made a personal call, and her aunt - heavily medicated at the time - simply forgot about it. But then I remembered -’
‘Hannibal trained there,’ Will said. ‘His surgical rotation. But the timing’s not right. He left John Hopkins - what? Six or seven years ago? Long before Miriam was working the Ripper case.’
‘I know,’ Beverly said, and Will’s stomach dropped at the quiet sympathy in her tone. ‘But I played devil’s advocate and scrapped the idea that she called for her aunt. Instead, I trawled back through the medical records of the victims to see if something else might have made Miriam call the hospital that day... Turns out Jeremy Olmstead came into the ER there in 2008. Hunting accident. He was admitted for emergency surgery.’
‘Jeremy Olmstead...?’ Alana asked.
‘The Wound Man,’ replied Will. Jesus. This was it. This was what took Miriam Lass to Hannibal’s door.
Alana remained incredulous. ‘You can’t be claiming Hannibal was this man’s surgeon - that would’ve pinged long before now. Jack, you know those files back to front. You would’ve recognized Hannibal’s name the second I mentioned him.’
Jack just looked to Beverly. Go on.
‘You’re right,’ Beverly told Alana. ‘Hannibal wasn’t the resident surgeon that day. But I pulled the admissions log to double check, and he was on duty in the ER.’
Will blinked at her. Shocked Will, hurt Will, confused Will. ‘You’re sure Hannibal had contact with him?’
‘We don’t know anything for sure,’ Jack said. ‘And we can’t ask Doctor Lecter because the forwarding address he supplied in Paris belongs to a private post office box and his US cell is going straight to voicemail. But I can’t help but wonder if Miriam Lass made the same connection that Agent Katz did. I can’t help but wonder if she paid Lecter a visit to ask him about Jeremy Olmstead.'
They were all watching Will for his reaction. Even Alana. ‘Will. Tell me you’re not considering this.’
It was the moment Will could see, if he chose to. He could slip back into that feeling of awakening in the car: the spider-web cracks of realisation. All three of them would clock the knowledge rattling through him, and they would believe it was happening for the first time. If Jack truly suspected Will, he wouldn’t have confronted him like this; Will would be in an interrogation room, just like Alana said. As it was, Will could fool them. Poppy would catch on quickly. She’d hop into his arms and he'd hold her close for comfort, his eyes full of the horrors he only just now understood Hannibal was capable of...
Or, he could tell them what really happened.
The truth would come out in the end anyway, it always did, and this way Will would be on the right side of it; he might even be able to preserve what remained of his sanity. Beverly and Alana would understand why he’d let Hannibal go. Even Jack might, eventually. Will was a victim. He had loved Hannibal and it had made him blind and stupid, but now he was doing the right thing. Now he would help them catch the Ripper.
Jack sat forward in his chair. ‘Will. Tell me what happened between the two of you. Why did Hannibal leave so abruptly?’
Will swallowed, and the words came to him unbidden. ‘The night we found Scott Weeks in front of the fish tank I didn’t go home. I went to Hannibal’s and I… I wasn’t myself. I couldn’t get out of the Ripper’s head.’
Jack’s jaw went tight. A pang of guilt, perhaps, at letting him drive off on his own that night. ‘Go on.’
‘Hannibal had... concerns about me. About my nightmares. About my inability to disconnect from work but particularly from the Ripper. It wasn’t the first time we’d talked about it but that night he wouldn’t let it go. He insisted I start seeing a psychiatrist again. Someone other than him. I refused and… We fought. He said he had business to attend to in Europe, a family thing. He hadn’t been planning to go but now he thought he should. He said…’ Will hesitated, letting some very real shame play across his face. ‘He said we were the paying a price for starting a relationship the way we did. With me as his patient. He didn’t end it, he just… He thought it would be advisable if he took himself out of the equation for a while. That maybe then I’d get the help I needed.’ Will looked up at Beverly and let her see the victim she wanted to see. ‘You really think he was playing me? Even then?’
‘If I’m right – and I hope I’m not – but if I am, then I believe he knew you were close to figuring it out. He knew he didn’t have much time.’ She swallowed, eyes bright with unshed tears. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think…’ Will stared down at his hands. He couldn’t send these people after Hannibal. If he did, it wouldn't achieve anything except more blood. ‘I think I don’t know what to think anymore.’
Will returned to his shed and his dogs and his sleepless nights while the investigation into Hannibal began in earnest. Beverly tried to keep in touch, guilt-ridden and concerned for him, but Will was aware that she feared him now, just a little. Her gut told her she was right about Hannibal, and that meant Will had fallen in love with the Chesapeake Ripper. Will being fooled by him wasn’t like Jack being fooled, or Alana being fooled. Will was porous – he subsumed people’s secrets without even trying – and that meant a part of him, deep down somewhere, had always known what Hannibal was, and was drawn to him in spite of it. Or worse, because of it.
Will could tell Beverly felt monstrous for even thinking such a thing, so Will withdrew, letting her believe he resented her for accusing Hannibal. He did it because he liked her too much and lied to her too easily, and because her fears were founded. Of course they were. Her fears matched his own.
When Will managed to sleep over the following days, he dreamt not of Hannibal but around him. He dreamt of the Norman Chapel in Palermo, from Hannibal’s book. He dreamt of walking over the mosaics in bare feet, of bleeding out under the altar and giving up all hope, and then hearing the heavy chapel doors creak open behind him. He dreamt of racing up and down the ladder in Hannibal’s office, trying to salvage the books from driving rain that lashed in through huge, gaping holes in the roof. He dreamt that a Japanese maple sprouted from a crack in his bedroom floor. It grew and grew, the trunk expanding as branches spread out over his bed. The tree got too big for the room, filling the furthest corners and breaking out through the windows, shattering glass. The branches grew downwards too, reaching for him, moving over his skin like fingers. He didn’t struggle, so the tree embraced him, turning him over and over, wrapping him up in smooth dark branches until he couldn’t move, until he opened his mouth for air. The maple moved across his tongue and down into his throat.
He woke from that particular dream sweating and short of breath, like in the worst days of his infection, but after patting the dogs for a few minutes and changing his sheets he managed to sleep through the rest of the night.
When he dreamt of a stranger’s hands locking around Daiva, he woke with a strangled cry and didn’t even try to sleep again until he passed out on the couch the following afternoon.
Will knew Jack wouldn’t find any physical evidence; Hannibal was too careful for that. But he did worry that if Jack looked hard enough he might find more links to other victims, however tenuous. Hannibal would be able elude the authorities, wherever he was, but what about Will? People higher-up than Jack would look at their relationship and ask the questions Jack couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Not yet, anyway. Because unlike Beverly, Jack wasn’t convinced Will was being entirely honest with them.
Another week passed. When Will flicked on the overhead lights at the end of his lecture, he saw Jack and Harlow in the doorway at the back of the classroom. Was this it? Could there have been a development so soon? He felt a note of panic as his students filed out of the room but it was distant to him, like a sound heard under water. Harlow stared down the stragglers while Will gathered up his things.
‘Don’t panic,’ Jack said, coming towards him. ‘It’s not Lecter.’
Will didn’t believe for a second that Jack was there to reassure him. ‘Something I can help you with?’
‘Could be. We tracked down another surgeon who was on call in the ER when Jeremy Olmstead was at Johns Hopkins in 2008. When I asked him if he remembered Doctor Lecter, he spooked.’
‘He got tense, careful with his words. So I asked him in for a longer chat. When I finally sat him down in an interview room do you know who he mentioned right away? You.’
‘Me? In what context?’
‘Turns out he’s no longer a surgeon either. He’s a neurologist.’
‘Sutcliffe,’ Will said. Of course he spooked. Sutcliffe knew Will worked for the FBI. He thought he’d been busted for his attempt to conceal the encephalitis.
‘I understand he’s the one who diagnosed you.’
Poppy scoffed. Jack and Harlow turned to her in unison. ‘What?’ Poppy glared at them, annoyed, as close to looking innocent as she was likely to get. ‘I don’t like him. He’s smug.’
‘Doctor Sutcliffe doesn’t exactly have the best beside manner,’ Will explained.
‘Any idea why a mention of Hannibal might’ve rattled him?’
‘No. They seem to get along, but to be honest I only met him the once and I was pretty out of it.’
‘Will you come and tell me what you make of him?’
‘What, now? He’s still here?’
‘I’d say we’ve got another five minutes before he drops the polite act and insists on a lawyer.’ Jack regarded Will carefully. This was clearly as much a test of him as it was of Sutcliffe. ‘Can you spare a second?’
‘Sure,’ Will said. ‘Of course.’
Will stood in the darkened anteroom with Jack. On the other side of the glass, a young female agent ran Sutcliffe through all the same questions he’d already answered. Her tone was casual but her daemon – a ginger Carolina dog with a pale muzzle and dark, intelligent eyes – watched Sutcliffe as if he might bolt for the door at any moment.
‘He’s hiding something, isn’t he?' Jack asked. 'I’m not imagining it.’
‘You’re not imagining it.’ Sutcliffe was a twitchy mess, his daemon coiling and uncoiling in his lap as he gave a sanitised account of Will’s neurology consultation, which also just happened to be the last time he'd seen Hannibal. His eyes cut to the mirror and Will felt the overwhelming urge to squash him like a bug. This man had been prepared to watch him die. He'd thought Hannibal his equal and booked a front row seat to the bonfire of Will's brain.
When the agent’s questions returned to the residency at Johns Hopkins, Sutcliffe relaxed a little, his daemon settling. Yes, he had often worked alongside Hannibal. Sure, they’d been friendly enough, as colleagues went. No, he didn’t remember treating a Jeremy Olmstead but it was years ago now and hunting injuries weren’t exactly uncommon.
Just as Sutcliffe was starting to lose patience, the agent opened her folder and took out a photo. It showed Olmstead posing outside a hunting lodge with his rifle and a brace of turkeys. ‘Do you recognise this man?’ She slid the photo across the table.
‘This is him? Olmstead?’ The agent nodded, and Sutcliffe took a closer look at the photo. ‘He does look kind of familiar but… I don't know. Even if I did see him in the ER, it was years ago now.’
The agent drew a second photo from her folder and set it down beside the first. Sutcliffe went utterly still.
‘Crime scene photo,’ Jack explained. Will immediately had the picture in his mind’s eye. It was Olmstead as the Wound Man, spread out like an art installation, run through with blades and tools right up and down his body.
Back in the interview room, Sutcliffe’s startled gaze flicked from one photo to the other, then up to the two-way mirror again. Will watched it dawn on him that this wasn’t about the encephalitis diagnosis at all.
‘Is this image familiar to you, Doctor Sutcliffe?’
‘I… It looks like the Wound Man. Like the illustration.’
Will felt Jack tense beside him. ‘He recognises 16th century torture art on sight?’
‘Medical art, not torture,’ said Will. ‘He is a doctor.’ And a pretentious one at that. No wonder he and Hannibal had got along back in the day.
‘That’s why he looked familiar...’ Sutcliffe prodded at the hunting photo again. ‘It’s not his face - it’s the photo. It was on the news. Jesus… This was the Ripper, wasn’t it?’
‘We have reason to believe so, yes.’
‘They said the body had been mutilated, they didn’t say... Jesus. They didn't say this.’
‘Do you have any idea why the FBI might be interested in talking to you about Jeremy Olmstead’s murder?’
‘I… You said he came into the ER - that I might have treated him.’
The agent let that hang in the air, and for a moment Sutcliffe continued to look genuinely confused. Then, a sharp intake of breath as the penny dropped. ‘Lecter.’
Will could feel Jack’s eyes on him but he didn’t turn around.
‘Hannibal Lecter,’ Sutcliffe breathed. ‘That’s why I’m here, you think… You think he has something to do with this.’ Will felt Sutcliffe’s shock as his eyes swept back to the crime scene photo. But there was something more than shock in his reaction, something Will couldn’t place.
‘That’s quite a leap,’ the agent observed. 'What makes you say that?'
‘You’ve got something on him. You must have. Lecter was the first thing the other agent – Crawford – it was the first thing he asked me about.’
‘With respect, Doctor Sutcliffe, you don’t seem particularly disturbed by the possibility. This is a man you claim is a friend.'
Sutcliffe shook his head, the hint of a smile in the curl of his lips, and Will realised what it was Sutcliffe was feeling: fascination. Sutcliffe was intrigued by the idea of Hannibal as a killer. ‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘I’ve known Lecter almost a decade and I’ve been trying to figure out what he was hiding that whole time.’
‘You thought he was hiding something?’
‘There was always something off about him. I don’t mean the clothes and the rest of it - if you were at the top of the surgical rotation then more likely than not you were an eccentric. It came with the territory. But Hannibal - it was more than that. Anyone who’s ever seen him cut into a patient could tell you what I mean. It’s not just coldness, or the usual arrogance. There was a… how would you describe it? A disconnect.’
Jack was practically vibrating beside Will. Sutcliffe could be reading directly from the Ripper’s profile.
The agent picked up the Wound Man photo again. ‘You really think him capable of something like this?’
Sutcliffe seemed to give the question serious thought. ‘I’ll be honest with you,’ he said at last. ‘I think this is the first time Hannibal Lecter has ever made sense to me.’
As he lay awake that night he felt the floodwater rising around him. Sutcliffe hadn’t given Jack anything concrete, but the investigation would ramp up regardless. Will saw his house swept away, not borne aloft but battered into pieces and swallowed up by the watery depths. There didn’t seem much point in swimming.
He must have fallen asleep at some point because he woke to Winston letting out a long, low growl. The smaller dogs raced to the door. Will heard the crunch of tires and had a vision of the Bentley pulling into the yard. His heart leapt. But the second his feet met the cold floorboards, reality hit: Hannibal was long gone. Weeks gone. Someone else was approaching his house at – shit – at quarter past two in the morning.
‘Don’t panic,’ Poppy said. ‘They wouldn’t be making an arrest with only one car.’
Will hushed the dogs as headlights swept across the windows, blinding him. He blinked to get his vision back. Whoever it was, they drove a silver BMW.
‘Sutcliffe,’ Poppy hissed. She was peering out the window, puffed up to full size, ready for battle.
Will crossed swiftly to his desk and palmed his fishing knife before throwing on the porch light and opening the door. Sutcliffe was in the same pale suit he’d worn that morning, but he’d abandoned the jacket. Visibly sweating despite the frigid air, his tie was loose, his collar open. He held a gun. ‘Where is he?’
‘Hannibal. Your boyfriend. Where is he? ’ Sutcliffe adjusted his grip on the weapon. His daemon was coiled tight around his upper arm, head reared back, eyes darting around the darkened house.
‘Hannibal’s gone. He’s in Europe.’
‘Bullshit. He set me up.’
‘She’s in my beach house – the FBI agent. The one who - fuck! The one whose arm they found.’
‘Miriam Lass? You found Miriam Lass? Alive?’
Sutcliffe shoved past him into the house, scattering the dogs. Winston started growling again, setting the others barking.
‘Where’s the house?’ Will moved for his cell phone on the counter. ‘We have to get her to a -’
‘No!’ Sutcliffe turned the gun on him again and Will stopped short. ‘No hospitals. No police.’ He snatched Will’s phone away, pocketing it. ‘First, you’re getting me out of this. Stay there.’ He backed off into the house, searching as he went.
There was no point telling him the house was empty. Will hustled the dogs outside, feeling more awake and present than he had in weeks. Miriam Lass was alive and Hannibal had at least one more plan for them all. It was unfolding right now. The last of the murky floodwater drained from Will’s mind as lights came on in the upstairs rooms, doors slamming.
Will forced himself to take a few slow, steady breaths and threw a ball out past the arc of the porch light. The dogs chased after it, disappearing into the black. He felt Poppy’s presence behind him, their connection crackling with excitement. ‘Keep a close eye on his daemon, okay?’
At any other time she would have scoffed at something so obvious, but when he turned back to face her she simply nodded, calm and alert. He held the door open for her and they moved back inside.
There were footsteps on the stairs and then Sutcliffe emerged. Even with the assurance they were alone, his panic screamed in Will’s head like a fire alarm.
‘I told you. He’s in Europe.’ Will kept his voice gentle, as if calming the dogs. ‘Talk me through exactly what happened.’
‘I got a call tonight from someone down near my place on the coast. Neighborhood Watch. He’d seen lights on in the house but no car in the drive. I haven’t been there in weeks so I - I drove down to check. I could tell right way someone had been there. Just small stuff - things moved around. But then I checked upstairs and there was…’ Sutcliffe looked like he might sick. ‘The door to the attic – it was new.’
‘Not new, old. Replaced. It looked like - like it’s always been there but it hasn’t, I swear to God it hasn’t. It’s heavier than the old door and it has a lock - the old one didn’t.’
‘A lock. But you got inside?’
‘Not a lock, a bolt. It was bolted shut.’
‘So you opened it. I’m guessing with your bare hands.’
Sutcliffe blinked. Horror dawned across his face as he realised. Will shook his head. The idiot hadn’t even wiped his prints afterwards.
‘And what the hell would you have done?’ Sutcliffe demanded, angry now. ‘I had no idea! Of course I opened it!’
‘Is she alright? You didn’t hurt her, did you?’
‘Me? Of course not!’
If Hannibal wanted Miriam Lass dead, he would have done it himself. Far better that Jack swooped in and rescued her; it would throw him off his game, help him overlook any discrepancies between Sutcliffe and the Ripper. Sutcliffe, on the other hand… He might have panicked when he found her, especially if she tried to defend herself when he opened the door.
‘Graham, I didn’t touch her. Are you listening to me? Hannibal did this, Hannibal put her there. He’s the Chesapeake Ripper! Ask your friends at the FBI if you don’t believe me – they know. They know he’s the Ripper and he knows they’re onto him. He’s setting me up to take the fall.’ Sutcliffe took Will’s silence for shock. ‘Just listen, alright? It’s not just the girl. I’ve been thinking about it - there was some weird stuff, about a month ago. The alarm kept going off at the clinic overnight, and twice I got called out to the hospital for an emergency consult, but when I got there, nothing. No record of anyone making the call. It was him, it must have been. He could have been planting evidence in my house, in my office, God knows where. Graham. Are you listening to me?’
‘I am. I just don’t know what you expect me to do about it.’
‘You work with the FBI, you can - ’ Sutcliffe faltered. He’d finally registered Will’s words, his unnatural calm. ‘You knew they're investigating him... You - How long have you known?’
Will examined his feelings and found he didn’t care enough to lie. Sutcliffe didn’t deserve comforting. ‘Long enough.’
Sutcliffe took a swift step back and brought the gun up, pointing it straight at Will. His daemon unfurled and slipped down off his shoulder, hitting the rug with a soft thud. ‘My God, you…’ He laughed. An ugly, nervous bark of disbelief. ‘I heard the rumours. I heard he was visiting you at Johns Hopkins. The great untouchable Hannibal Lecter, fucking one of his patients. And now look at you. What did he do to you?’
Will felt the weight of the fishing knife concealed in palm. If it came to it, he’d need a moment to unfold it. A distraction. But now Sutcliffe had a new look on his face, something smug and craven, and Will guessed what was coming next. The encephalitis.
‘He knew about your encephalitis, you know. Long before he brought you to me. And that’s not all - he wanted me to give you a clean bill of health. He wanted you to think you were going crazy so he could sit back and watch your mind disintegrate.’
Will glanced over at Poppy, half expecting to see her pained or defensive. Instead, she was staring down Sutcliffe’s daemon with murder in her eyes. Will felt a rush of pride. ‘I believe you,’ he said, and he caught Sutcliffe’s surprised inhale, his glimpse of hope. ‘Only, you left out the part where you agreed to help him’. Sutcliffe blanched. ‘See, I know just what kind of man you are, Doctor Sutcliffe. So did Hannibal. He recognised something in you. That’s how he knew you’d lie for him.’
‘You can’t seriously be comparing us. He’s a fucking serial killer! ’
‘You have quite a lot in common, actually. There’s the lack of empathy. The sense of superiority. A propensity for sadism. Of course, in other ways you’re so unlike you might as well be a different species. But the FBI won’t see that. I wonder what they’ll find when they dig back through your patient history... Nothing good, I’m sure.’
Sutcliffe snarled, desperate. ‘I don't know what idea you've got in your head about him but he doesn’t give a shit about you. You should have heard him going on about your strange, broken little brain. He wanted to study you. He wanted to pin you into a case like a butterfly. You were the entertainment - a parlor trick he wanted share with me.’
A few weeks ago, Will had almost believed that himself. It sounded laughable now. What was Hannibal's original plan for Sutcliffe, before Daiva set them all on a new path? How long would he have waited before killing him? Would Sutcliffe have disappeared entirely, or would Hannibal have crafted the murder to look like someone else’s work? Likely the latter. Hannibal wouldn’t have been able to resist having fun. Displaying Sutcliffe. Humiliating him.
No, Hannibal had never intended to share Will, not even for even a moment.
‘Say something! What the fuck is wrong with you?’ Sutcliffe took the safety off the gun with shaking hands. ‘Jesus. You’re insane, aren’t you?’ He kept the gun up as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out Will’s phone. He started dialling. ‘This is what’s going to happen. I’ll tell them you were in the dark about Hannibal until I got here and you’ll tell them it wasn’t me - that I couldn’t possibly be the Ripper. Alright? It was all him. Neither of us have to go down for this.’
‘There’s only one thing I don’t understand,’ Will said. Sutcliffe hesitated, thumb over the call button. ‘Why is this happening now? Today?’
Will's confusion was genuine. Hannibal laid this trap for Sutcliffe weeks ago. It was designed to spring shut without any particular schedule: whenever Sutcliffe next had a weekend at the beach, or perhaps when Miriam Lass ran out of drugged food and water and started raising hell in the attic. But what were the odds of someone in the Neighbourhood Watch noticing a light on in Sutcliffe’s beach house on the very day Sutcliffe was questioned about Jeremy Olmstead?
Logically, Hannibal must have known that at some point in the future someone other than Miriam Lass might discover the link between him and Jeremy Olmstead. And by extension, that Sutcliffe could be connected to Olmstead in the same way. But there was no way Hannibal could have predicted that the FBI would discover the link now, let alone be so certain of it the timing. Unless…
Will grabbed the desk chair, swung it hard and let fly. Sutcliffe flinched back and fired but Will was already launching himself towards Poppy. He heard the deafening shot and felt a crack of pain before he hit the floor. When he opened his eyes, Sutcliffe was scrabbling around in the shadows by the fireplace. Will couldn’t see the gun.
‘Quick! Quick!’ Poppy cried.
The chair had collected Sutcliffe in the face: his brow was split, blood pouring into one eye and down the side of his face. The dogs were going crazy at the windows, jumping up, scratching and barking. Will hauled himself to his knees. His left hand wasn’t working so he put the fishing knife between his teeth and pried it open with his right. Sutcliffe was straining under the couch, reaching for the gun.
Will lunged. Sutcliffe cried out as he turned, firing twice, but Will was too quick. The shots went wide and the knife punched deep into Sutcliffe’s gut. Will hauled it up under his ribs. Sutcliffe’s breath left his body in an empty, choking shout and there was a cry from somewhere nearby, high-pitched and awful. His daemon.
Hot blood pulsed over Will’s hand. He looked down. Sutcliffe’s shirt was slick black, his belly shuddering around the knife. Will yanked the blade free again and Sutcliffe gasped, grabbing at the wound. Blood pumped out around his fingers. Eyes unfocused, he tried to bring the gun up again but Will knocked it easily from his stuttering grip and slumped back on the rug, panting.
Sutcliffe’s daemon suddenly had a clear path to her human and she was on him like a magnet, gliding swiftly through the blood and up over his chest. She coiled around his neck and murmured to him, sweet and low. Sutcliffe’s mouth opened like he might reply, but no sound emerged.
‘Will?’ It was Poppy.
‘I’m okay,’ he said. He dropped the knife and grabbed hold of his wounded upper arm. The pain was making itself known now, bright and deep and sharp. He watched Sutcliffe struggling for breath, eyes closed, and searched himself for remorse or pity. He found none. This man had witnessed Hannibal’s betrayal and looked inside Will’s head, and he had the gall to presume he understood both.
Hannibal had chosen his mark well.
‘Will,’ Poppy said, quieter now. ‘He’s dead.’
Will looked up. Sutcliffe’s daemon was gone, and the dogs were quiet. He registered the silence a split second before he heard footsteps on the porch. The screen door opened.
‘Don’t come in,’ he said. He didn’t need to turn around.
The footsteps stopped at the threshold. ‘You’re hurt.’ Hannibal said, voice low and full of want.
‘Get out. Now. There’s too much blood.’ Poppy whimpered beside him. She wanted to fly to Daiva but she stayed where she was. Will still didn’t turn. If he saw Daiva, his nerve wouldn’t be as strong as Poppy's. ‘Do you want them finding your footprints in here? Go.’
A long beat of hesitation. Then Hannibal’s steps retreated and the screen door swung shut again. Will scanned the floor. His phone was within reach, where Sutcliffe dropped it. The emergency screen was still up, so he pressed call. He told the operator he'd killed an armed intruder on his property but had been shot in the process. He asked her to call Jack Crawford at the BAU and tell him they had the Ripper. She wanted him to repeat the last part but Will hung up and wiped the phone off on his t-shirt. Sutcliffe’s fingerprints wouldn’t fit with the narrative he was rapidly constructing in his head.
Will heaved himself up and out the door.
Hannibal stood at the bottom of the steps, visibly holding himself back. Daiva clung to him. She looked smaller than Will remembered, and Hannibal’s face was pinched and sallow under a grey beard, short and ungroomed. He’d lost weight, and he wasn’t dressed like himself - the short black coat was unfamiliar, and the boots muddy. Will wanted to crawl into his arms.
‘Get back,’ Will ordered. ‘Out onto the grass.’
Instead, Hannibal took a helpless step towards the porch.
‘Goddamnit,’ Will cursed. ‘Do you want to get out of this mess? Do you?’
‘I want to stop your bleeding.’
‘Then get back. The blood splatter on the dirt will be too obvious. It’ll be clear I wasn’t alone.’
Hannibal looked furious but he stepped back onto the grass, still within the arc of the porch light. The dogs stayed at the foot of the steps, obedient. As Will struggled down off the porch, he wondered when they’d come to trust Hannibal so completely.
He stumbled forwards the last few paces and firm hands found him, pulling him in.
‘Show me,’ Hannibal said, peeling Will’s hand from his arm.
The pain was worse now, throbbing throughout his upper body. Will closed his eyes to it, leaning his head into Hannibal’s chest. God, he smelled good. ‘You planned this.’ he said. ‘You meant for me to kill him.’
‘No. I did not.’ Hannibal finished inspecting the wound and wrapped his hand tight around it to staunch the bleeding. ‘I would very much like to clean that, but you’ll be fine if they arrive in good time.’
‘You knew he’d come here. You wanted to prove it to me - prove that I’d enjoy it. Taking another life.’
‘And did you?’
Will could hear Daiva up on Hannibal’s shoulder, the scrape of her claws digging into the fabric of his coat. ‘Yes.’
Hannibal absorbed that in silence. The answer didn’t surprise him, but the easy admission did. ‘I didn’t know he’d come to you. It's possible he heard you were my guest at the exhibition last month but... it's something of a leap for him to come looking for me here.’
‘No, he knew about us. Someone at the hospital told him about your visits.’
A huff of annoyance. ‘He wasn’t well liked there. I’m sorry I didn’t take the possibility into account.’
Will pulled back and looked into Hannibal’s face. He did seem sorry. He seemed worried and doting and almost wary as he took Will in. Will wondered how he’d ever found Hannibal difficult to read.
‘I’m sorry you were hurt,’ he went on. ‘I am not sorry Sutcliffe is dead.’
‘Neither am I.’
Hannibal blinked, failing utterly to hide his interest. ‘Will…’
‘Don’t. What are you doing here? I told you to leave. You left.’
‘I came back.’
Another hesitation. ‘You didn’t you tell them about me, even when they came asking. Why not?’
‘Because they can’t have you.’
Hannibal’s grip tightened around Will’s wound. ‘Then you understand why I could not stay away.’
‘It wasn’t just to manipulate me? To see me like this - covered in someone else’s blood?’
Hannibal shook his head. ‘While I cannot deny it is invigorating, I - ’
‘Fuck you.’ Will crushed his mouth into Hannibal’s. Hannibal made a broken sound of relief and kissed him back, hard and desperate. When Will finally pulled away he was fighting for breath; he’d been suffocating for weeks and now he couldn’t fill his lungs fast enough. ‘You idiot. Coming back. Watching me. They could’ve caught you.’
‘If they had then I might still have seen you, on occasion. You said it yourself - if I was behind bars, you would always know where to find me.’
Idiot. Idiot. Will kissed him again, relishing the burn of the beard against his skin, the heat of Hannibal’s arms, their bodies pressed together in the cold night air. A bolt of electricity surged up from the ground and Will pulled back with a gasp. Daiva and Poppy were intertwined below them, clinging mindlessly. Poppy’s tail must have brushed over his bare feet. ‘God,’ Will panted, fighting the urge the scoop her up and bury himself in Hannibal’s neck and forget everything and everyone else. ‘Fuck. You should go. They’ll be here soon.’
‘This won’t be neat, Will. The Ripper would not have come for you with a gun.’
‘Listen to you. The Ripper would not have come for me with a gun. I know that. I know what I’m doing.’ Hannibal’s eyes flared with more than just amusement, and Will filed that away. He enjoyed Will like this - taking charge, a bite in his voice. ‘I assume they’ll find more evidence than just Miriam Lass?’
Hannibal nodded. ‘Nothing too obvious. Just enough.’
‘Because the Ripper would never be obvious,’ Will replied. Hannibal made a show of scowling but there was an unfamiliar snort from below. Will grinned; he might have lost two pints of blood and killed a man but he’d also made Daiva laugh.
‘I’ll say I went to see him in the afternoon. You know they brought him in for questioning, right? That’s why you made the Neighbourhood Watch call.’
‘It seemed worth the risk for such good timing. I imagine he turned on me immediately?’
‘He did. I’ll say it rattled me, so I tracked him down to make sense of it – to find out more about your past, about what you were like as surgeon. I had to know if it might actually be true. But when I found him, something felt wrong. Sutcliffe seemed spooked, so I made my excuses and left. I couldn’t tell Jack - I knew he wouldn’t believe me without proof. But in my gut, I knew then that Sutcliffe was the Ripper.’
‘And in turn, he knew he had to silence you. But if he killed and displayed you while I was out of the country…’
‘Exactly. He couldn’t have it look like a Ripper kill. He intended to remove me quickly and quietly – to make it seem like I’d skipped town because I’d finally accepted the truth about you.’
Will fell silent, thoughtful. The problem remained: the Ripper would never have driven right up to the house and abducted Will with a gun. He’d have come silently and sedated him, secreting him away. Will would need come up with some other explanation for Sutcliffe’s motives. Luckily, in the short term he could just play shocked and – more convincingly – too weak from his gunshot wound to surmise much of anything about the Ripper’s strange behaviour. Sutcliffe’s properties would be searched and Miriam Lass found. For now, Will need only “confess” to Jack that he’d made the mistake of confronting Sutcliffe in person after the BAU interview, and later woke to the sound of his dogs barking at an intruder.
Will glanced up and saw Hannibal watching him, eyes shining. ‘What?’
‘I have missed watching your mind work.’
Will shivered, and Hannibal pulled him closer, cocooning him inside his coat. Then Will thought of something. A possible hitch. ‘Has Jack had someone watching me?’
‘You were being followed two weeks ago, but only for a few days. I was mostly concerned you didn’t notice them yourself.’
‘I was a little preoccupied.’
‘I assume it was Agent Katz who figured it out. About me.’ There was a clip to his voice. ‘She has always watched you and your dealings very closely.’
Will fought a smirk. Jealousy suited Hannibal. Everything suited Hannibal. He had to force himself to pull away. ‘You have to go. Now.’
Hannibal didn’t go anywhere. He looked fraught, the unspoken question hanging between them: what next? Will thought he heard sirens in the distance; real or imagined, he wasn’t sure.
‘Hannibal, I.... I can’t promise I’ll ever do this again’.
Hannibal seemed troubled, then his face cleared as he realized. ‘You mean take a life.’ Will nodded, and Hannibal looked deeply relieved. What had he thought Will meant? Did he really imagine Will was capable of rejecting him a second time? He was quiet for a moment, watching Poppy and Daiva at their feet. ‘I can’t promise that I’ll stop,’ he said at last.
Will knew that already. Still, there was only one way for this to end. Of all the paths he and Hannibal could have taken, he wondered how many of them led to this.
‘I’ll come when it’s safe,’ he said. ‘The chapel in Palermo. I’ll find you.’
Hannibal blinked at him, dazed. Awed. ‘Will.’ He surged forward for another kiss. Will inhaled deeply, savoring him, but the sirens were real, and they were getting louder. Hannibal pulled back reluctantly, resting his forehead against Will’s. ‘Only once it’s safe.’
‘I’ll wait till it’s safe, and then I’ll wait another week.’
‘A week. No longer.’ Hannibal took Will’s hand, kissed his palm, and then placed it over the hot, bloody mess of his upper arm, pressing down until he was satisfied with the pressure. Then they simply looked at one another, drinking in what they could.
Hannibal gave a final nod, and pulled away. Daiva whimpered below them, but she released Poppy just the same.
Hannibal strode off without further hesitation, away from the road, towards the forest. Dressed all in black, he quickly vanished. But not Daiva. Her underbelly glowed white in the moonlight and Will charted her progress as she bounded away from them and into the dark. Just before she disappeared entirely, Will fancied he saw her stop and look back.
‘Soon,’ Poppy said, and Will felt it in his chest.
He nodded. Soon.
His usual route took him beyond the lemon orchards and the outskirts of the nearby village until he reached a plateau overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Then it was around the cape and in through the forest on his way back home. He always emerged from the trees in the one spot where he could see the house on the hillside below him. The house Hannibal had chosen and he had approved.
It was much cooler now than when he first arrived. Here, fall wasn’t signalled by endless rain and browning leaves, but by the olive harvest and a cold dryness in the earth and in the air. The grass was turning scrubby and yellow, and it was finally cool enough for Will to bring Maera with him when he went for a run.
Back in Wolf Trap, running had been a necessary evil for a decent night’s sleep. Out here it was a pleasure: getting to know the ever-changing fragrances from the vineyards and citrus farms, counting his breaths as the water emerged on the horizon and, best of all, returning to a house with Hannibal in it. They had been separated twice now, and that was enough.
When Will had finally left the US for Palermo he hadn’t called ahead. He didn’t know how. After wrapping up his court appearances, selling the house and finding homes for the dogs, he’d taken a taxi to the airport with nothing more than a couple of changes of clothes and a cheap Sicilian phrasebook, dropping his phone in the trash like a spy as he boarded the plane.
He went straight to the Norman chapel from his red-eye, arriving just as the tourists were trickling in after breakfast. It might have been more practical to stake out the front entrance, but Will wanted to see first-hand the edifice that held such importance in Hannibal’s mind.
The skeleton in the floor was as arresting as expected, but the rest of the chapel was even more dazzling than the photos in Hannibal's book, the intricate gold mosaics of the walls and ceilings gaudy in a way that only avoided being tasteless because they were hundreds of years old.
An elderly priest tended to some business at the altar. He didn’t look up, but his capybara daemon was alert and watchful at his feet.
‘D’you think he’ll kick us out if we stay too long?’ Poppy whispered.
‘He’ll probably be relieved to have a visitor not taking selfies. Just try and look pious.’
They ended up sitting behind a pillar on the far side of the chapel, sandwiched between depictions of bearded saints and their devoted daemons. From there, he watched as tourists wandered in and out, haloed by sunlight.
The place got so busy as the morning wore on that he almost missed Hannibal’s silhouette in the doorway. He was dressed casually, for him, in a pale linen suit and a hat that he removed as he stepped inside, Daiva curled around his forearm. Poppy registered Will’s surge of feeling and turned to look, making a cut-off noise from her perch on his shoulder. Will felt as though they were made entirely of iron filings and Hannibal was a great magnet, pulling them in. But somehow, he resisted.
He still didn’t know why he stayed out of sight. He wasn’t usually one for delayed gratification but he found himself watching, hidden, as Hannibal lit a candle then took a seat in a pew. He drew a book from his pocket and began to read.
Occasionally Hannibal glanced up at his surroundings, his expression placid. Will drank him in – his hair, the familiar lines of his posture, the triangular shadows beneath the points of his cheekbones – and was almost offended when he got up and left after less than half an hour. It seemed an insulting lack of perseverance. That is, until the priest looked up and gave Hannibal a familiar nod goodbye, and Will twigged: this was a deliberate routine. The priest would be the first person Will would ask about Hannibal if he arrived at the chapel and couldn't find him; he would tell Will what time Hannibal came by every day; he might even know where his well-dressed visitor was staying in the city.
Will followed Hannibal out of the chapel, trailing at a safe distance as he made his way through narrowing streets of cream and ochre-colored buildings, centuries of dwellings crammed in on top of each other. When he finally stopped, it was at a door like any other on the street, overshadowed by a balcony with broad whitewashed windows, open wide. He disappeared inside.
Will second-guessed himself a dozen times in his brief walk to the door, even more so in the time between knocking and Hannibal answering, his polite smile freezing blank when he saw who it was.
Hannibal’s gaze travelled down Will’s body then back up to Poppy on his shoulder. His knuckles were white on the doorframe. ‘Has your arm healed well?’
‘That’s what you want to know?’
‘It wasn’t in the news reports.’ He reached out and took Will by the wrist, turning his arm and pulling up the sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal the furrowed bullet wound beneath. Will shivered under his touch.
‘It’s fine. Where’s Daiva?’
And there she was, racing up Hannibal’s trouser leg and out onto his arm. Will stepped in and she came up on her hind legs, her dear pale face almost level with his. He reached out slowly. She didn’t shy away, so he ran a finger under her jaw, grinning with the shock of it after all this time. Before he’d drawn breath, Poppy was launching off his shoulder and barrelling into her. They tumbled off Hannibal’s arm together and fell to the floor in a happy mess of wings and tail. Hannibal closed his eyes, and breathed. ‘Will.’
Will pushed him further into the shadows of the hallway and closed the door behind them. Up close, he catalogued the ways in which Hannibal had changed. His hair was shorter, struck through with more silver than before. He’d lost his winter pallor but he looked tired. A little older, maybe. And he still hadn’t masked his surprise.
The moment his gaze moved to Will’s mouth, Will closed the gap between them. Their lips met and a shudder ran through Hannibal, his hands rising helplessly to Will’s face.
It felt more like a first kiss than the one they’d shared in the kitchen all those months ago. There was something tender and almost shy about the way Hannibal held his body still under Will’s grasp. When he pulled back, his expression was one of lingering disbelief, and Will realized with a jolt that Hannibal hadn’t been sure. Some corner of his mind had doubted that Will would really come to him. Will clutched at his lapels and buried his face in the warmth of his neck. ‘I’m here,’ he said. ‘I’m here.’
Hannibal wrapped his arms around Will then, and Will held them together until finally Hannibal’s breathing slowed and his grip tightened, sure and familiar.
They only broke apart when Will heard claws on the tiles, too big and heavy to belong to Daiva. He stared in surprise. There, in the hallway behind Hannibal, was a dog. About Winston’s size, but skinner. Short-haired, black and white. Part whippet, maybe. Definitely some terrier.
‘Hey, buddy. How'd you get in here?’
Daiva snorted at their feet. ‘She lives here.’
‘She’s mine, I suppose,’ said Hannibal. ‘Ours. She doesn’t have a name yet. I thought you might give her one.’
Will stared in disbelief. Suddenly it felt as though the whole day might be a dream.
‘Seduta,’ instructed Hannibal, and the dog sat. She looked up at Hannibal, then back at Will, curious.
Will couldn’t help it - he laughed. He knelt and let the dog sniff his hand. The tiles were cold and her nose was warm, and after a moment she came forward to nuzzle into his chest, eager and happy. If this was a dream, it was a remarkably detailed one.
Hannibal had got them a dog.
They only stayed in Palermo a few days after that. Hannibal drove them out West along the coast to show Will the house he’d found on a quiet, sun-baked hillside: two simple floors with pale walls and brightly lit, half-empty rooms. One word from Will and it would be theirs. Their bedroom. Their kitchen. Their five acres of olive trees and bay laurel for the newly-named Maera to race around in.
Will gave the word quickly, while the engine was still ticking, and it was theirs.
Daiva was patient with Hannibal in those first few weeks alone in Palermo. He visited the Norman chapel every morning, even though they knew from Freddie Lounds’ feverish updates that Will was still entangled in the Sutcliffe investigation and couldn’t have left the country even if he wanted to. Daiva understood. Hannibal went there to anticipate Will’s arrival and to summon him, to imagine the steps he might take over the threshold and to picture Poppy weaving around the gilded domes overhead.
And as the weeks turned into months, he went to soothe the small but persistent voice inside him that told him Will might never arrive.
Hannibal did not doubt that Will loved him, but he did question Will’s capacity to act in his own best interests. Daiva couldn’t argue with that. It seemed entirely possible that as Will’s blood cooled he might settle back into his quiet, cautious life in Wolf Trap and never stir again. Not because it was easy for him to live without Hannibal, but because it was terrifically, painfully difficult, and Will might assume he deserved difficult. He loved a monster. He knew that he shouldn’t. And he had a lifetime’s practice at resisting impulses that told him to have and take and enjoy.
In the walk between the chapel and his rented apartment, Hannibal often passed by a homeless man flanked by two sleepy dogs. One was obviously his daemon, a frail and faded Pomeranian; the other was a short-haired mongrel, young and rangy, all bones under its filthy black and white coat. Daiva sometimes saw the man sharing food with it, breaking a stale dinner roll in half, or passing scraps down from the trash. His daemon always looked on lovingly.
One day, about a month into Hannibal’s stay, they spotted the mongrel out on its own, tail between its legs, whining piteously. Hannibal spared a look for the homeless man but he was nowhere to be seen, his grotty plastic bags and blankets abandoned in their usual spot. Hannibal walked on and Daiva assumed the matter was forgotten, but later that day he twice turned his head to the window, asking Daiva if she heard the dog mewling. Daiva did not. She prepared herself for the inevitable.
Sure enough, the next day Hannibal went looking for the mongrel with meat offcuts in a small tin. At first it seemed the dog must have run off or been taken in by the pound, but then they heard a sharp yelp and Hannibal turned down an alley to investigate. A bin of food scraps had been overturned at the back of a restaurant, and a kitchen-hand was laying into the mongrel with heavy boots. There was a burst of laughter from inside the kitchen and the man turned his head - enough of a chance for the dog to scramble up and limp away.
Hannibal took the dog home and set her broken leg and washed her repeatedly until the water ran clean and Daiva stopped scowling. He waited a full week before returning to the restaurant and gutting the kitchen-hand after closing-time, leaving the body where it fell. Daiva regretted the lack of panache but had to agree it wouldn’t do to attract undue attention to Sicily at this point, not when they couldn’t move on.
The homeless man didn't reappear, and after a few days Daiva stopped turning up her nose at the mongrel. At the very least she was quiet and well behaved, proving herself capable of following simple commands in Italian. Hannibal fed her up and let her sleep on the floor at the foot of his bed. If he kept her clean she didn’t offend Daiva’s nose any more than the rest of the city, sticky and dusty as it was.
Hannibal named her in his head right away, but didn’t admit as much until Will arrived seven weeks later and extracted the truth from him. In Greek mythology, Maera was the hound of Erigone, daughter of Icarius, a disciple of the wine god Dionysus. When Icarius was murdered, faithful Maera lead Erigone to her father’s grave. Grief-stricken, Erigone hung herself, and the hound leapt from a cliff. When Dionysus heard the story he placed the three of them in the sky as constellations.
When Will heard the story, he rolled his eyes. ‘Of course that’s what you named your dog. Of course it is.’
But from then on, Maera was Maera, and she was theirs.
While Hannibal prepared lunch, Daiva sat in the windowsill and watched for Will’s return. He always arrived home from his run via the hills above the house, slowing his pace and whistling for the dog to heel as the property came into view. Hannibal would pause at the distant sound, pleasure sparking through their bond.
He always laid his hands on Will as soon as he came through the door, and that morning was no different. ‘I’d like to run you a bath if you’ll allow me.’
Will smiled, and Daiva heard Poppy’s huff of amusement. ‘I think I could allow that.’ He glanced around the kitchen. ‘You’re not needed down here?’
Hannibal took Will by the hand and led him up the stairs. ‘Lunch is taken care of. It will be ready when we are.’
As the bath filled, Poppy flew circles around the bedroom, swooping down to peck at Daiva before soaring up out of reach. Daiva darted up a column of the four-poster bed, electricity singing through her veins as she leapt out and made a grab for Poppy in the air. Poppy banked a hard left and Daiva plummeted, landing on the bed with an ungainly thump, nothing in her claws but a single black feather. Poppy cackled, taking up a perch atop the open bathroom door.
‘Poppy,’ Will’s voice came from the bathroom, gently chiding. Daiva saw Poppy’s head twitch towards him and took her chance, diving in under the covers and up to the head of the bed in a flash.
The bed linen was freshly washed, made up only that morning, but after two months in the house the new pillows already retained the smell of Will and Hannibal, Hannibal and Will. It was above her and around her, and she was lost to it for a moment, satisfied to her bones. Hannibal must have felt it too because a thrill of approval mingled with the heady pleasure and possessiveness already rushing through their bond.
The faucets shut off in the bathroom and she heard Will settle down into the water. Poppy was quiet; either she hadn’t seen where Daiva went, or she was planning a sneak attack. Finally there came a gentle tremor as she landed on the bed.
Daiva felt her hopping around, no doubt feigning a casual air as she pecked at uneven spots in the covers. She came closer. Daiva’s mouth watered but she remained utterly still as Poppy stopped and nudged at each of the pillows in turn. Finally, when that failed to elicit a response, she moved on, picking her way over to the side of the mattress.
The moment Daiva heard the flap of wings, she sprung from under the pillows and launched into the air, claws out. She collected Poppy on the way down, flinging them both to the floor. Poppy yelped. They hit the boards and rolled. Daiva leaned into the momentum and they came to a stop with Poppy pinned to the floor, panting hard. Daiva pressed down until she stopped beating her wings, then nuzzled into her breast, purring her victory.
‘Do it,’ Poppy whispered.
Daiva pulled back and stared. They’d spoken about it in hushed tones, but until that moment Daiva hadn’t been convinced Poppy would really allow it. But sure enough, she went utterly still and tilted back her head. Daiva felt a tremor run from her ears to her tail at the sight. This was nothing like talking about it.
She opened her jaws and then slowly, carefully, placed her teeth around Poppy’s throat. Her fangs pressed tight against Poppy’s rapid-fire pulse, skin stretched taught, the air hot between them.
Poppy trembled once and then went boneless, and there was a shocked gasp and a loud splash from the bathroom.
‘Fuck! What are they doing out there?’ If Hannibal’s grip hadn’t tightened around the base of him, Will might have come from the sudden rush of raw emotion.
‘They’re fine,’ Hannibal hushed him. ‘Lie back. Unless you’d like to get out and check?’
Will glared his answer, and Hannibal smirked. He was knelt on the floor, sleeves rolled up, shirt newly drenched and trousers sodden. ‘Sorry,’ Will managed, nerves still jangling.
‘It’s no matter. I’ll be out of them shortly anyway.’
‘You’d better be.’ Will settled back into position and Hannibal looked pleased. He started jerking him again, setting a leisurely pace. God, it was good. This was why they hadn’t left the house at the same time in weeks. When they were together, they couldn’t keep from touching.
‘I believe Daiva is testing the limits of your bond with Poppy.’
Will blinked and tried to parse that, but Hannibal’s hand was everything. ‘Testing us? How?’
‘When I submit to an intense sensation or emotion related to you, Daiva feels it just as intensely, albeit in a very different way. Likewise, when Poppy prompts a reaction in Daiva, I experience it too. Daiva knows it’s not as easy for you and Poppy. She enjoys a challenge.’
Will had his eyes open now, watching the thoughts track across Hannibal’s face. ‘She wanted me to feel that? Whatever she did out there?’
Hannibal nodded. ‘I believe they’ve been conspiring.’
Will shuddered at the image and put his hand over Hannibal’s. ‘Stop. I don’t want to come like this.’
‘No? What would you like?’
Will swallowed. He’d been meaning to broach the topic for a while. Somehow, Daiva scheming to connect with him in every way possible made it simple to finally find the words. ‘When I got here. That first afternoon...’
Hannibal’s face went blank. He knew exactly what Will meant. ‘Yes?’
‘You haven’t offered again. Are you… Is that not something you enjoy?’
Hannibal looked down to where Will’s hand was still wrapped around his in the water. Will wished he could see Daiva. If he couldn’t read one of them he could usually get something off the other.
‘With you,’ Hannibal said at last, ‘I believe I would like it very much.’
Will’s cock jolted in their hands. ‘Then… fuck. Why haven’t we?’
He looked up again. A blink. ‘You didn’t want to.’
‘Hannibal, no. It wasn't that I -’ Shit. They talked about everything and had fucked on almost every surface in the house, why the hell hadn’t they talked about this? ‘Get up. Let me up. Fuck’s sake.’ Will grabbed Hannibal’s shoulder and hauled himself to his feet, drenching the floor for a second time. Hannibal looked up, a little startled. ‘I’m not mad, I’m - God. Just, get up. Get out of your clothes.’
Hannibal’s eyes sparked warm, amused. ‘Yes, Will.’ He stood and grabbed a towel, wrapping him up in it. ‘Just as you say.’
Back in the bedroom, Poppy and Daiva were entwined in the sun on the windowsill, the quiet valley spread out behind them. Only Poppy looked up when they entered, a little wary. Will gave her a nod and she visibly relaxed. Hannibal was right, they had been conspiring.
Hannibal shed his wet clothes and Will dried off. They watched each other, taking their time, and the air between them turned thick and sweet and slow. They knew how to do this now. How to wait for it. How to wind each other up. Hannibal’s eyes were dark with want and lingering amusement, but there was something else going on too, something Will was determined to draw out of him before they were done. There had to be a reason they hadn’t talked about this.
Will went to him. Hannibal cupped his jaw for a chaste kiss and Will deepened it, biting into Hannibal’s lip and pressing them skin to skin. He trailed fingers down Hannibal’s back and felt him shiver, anticipation rolling off him in waves. ‘Do you, uh, have some kind of creative vision here?’
‘I want to see you,’ Hannibal said without hesitation.
Will pushed him to the bed and straddled him, kissing him until his mouth was red and his hair was mussed and they were gasping with every delicious grind against each other. Hannibal moved back against the pillows and allowed Will to arrange him, knees bent, breath short.
Will fumbled with the lube and slicked his fingers, wild-eyed at the sight of Hannibal laid out before him in the sunlight. ‘I did want to,’ he said. ‘That first day.’
Will watched Hannibal’s face as he circled him with careful fingers. He was taking in every detail with keen eyes and a solemn expression, gaze flicking from Will’s face to the movements of his shoulder, to his hand down between them. Will couldn’t resist a fond smile, aware that the event was being memorised in minute detail. He gently pressed a finger inside. A small strangled sound escaped the back of Hannibal’s throat and Will helplessly echoed it, surging in for another kiss. God, they were really doing this.
‘Can you tell me?’ Hannibal asked.
‘You wanted to, but you held you back. Why?’
Will worked into the close, tight heat of Hannibal’s body and searched himself for the most truthful answer. He’d imagined fucking Hannibal almost every day in the months they were apart. He’d come in his hand countless times - in bed, in the shower, once in the shed when he was meant to be finishing up the boat but could think of little else. He’d seen Hannibal spread out like this, eyes on him, mouth open. He’d seen him bent in two, breath punched from his lungs as Will pressed inside, or on his knees, panting, head down, his powerful back tensing with every thrust. Sometimes Hannibal was above him, his dangerous hands heavy on Will’s chest, or around his neck, or over his mouth, holding him still as he fucked himself down on Will, taking his pleasure.
But then Will arrived in Palermo and actually saw Hannibal again and…
He added more lube and began stretching Hannibal open with a second finger. ‘I was… in a strange place in my head that first day. I didn’t trust myself not to hurt you.’
‘Not just the first day.’
‘No. For a while, I guess. You could tell?’
‘You were still angry.’ Hannibal’s breath stuttered as Will crooked his fingers. ‘I betrayed you. Understandable that you would – ah! That you would want to exact some form of retribution. Yet you didn’t.’
‘Betrayal isn’t the word. You lied to me, but I don’t think you ever betrayed me. Daiva made sure of that.’
‘Yes. She did.’ Hannibal’s eyes shone.
Will scissored his fingers and leant down to press a kiss to Hannibal’s thigh, tasting the salt of his skin. ‘But yeah… I was angry. That you hid from me. That you knew me before I knew you. Or knew myself. It was irrational anger too. I was furious that you’d been living here for months without me. That your hair was different. That I didn’t… Fuck. That I didn’t know what you’d been doing every day. Who you’d spoken to, what you’d seen.’
Hannibal’s gaze burned through him. Of course the possessive bastard got off on Will’s jealousy. ‘You were afraid to exact your anger upon me. Afraid take what you wanted. In case you went too far.’
Will pressed another kiss to Hannibal’s thigh. He nodded.
‘I would have let you. I would have – ah! I would have let you hurt me.’
‘I know.’ It was clear in those first few hours together in the Palermo house that Hannibal would have allowed him anything.
‘Do you still want to?’
‘Hurt you? No. Yes. Not like that. Not because I’m angry.’
‘But you would like to cause me pain.’ It wasn’t a question. ‘You can, you know. I would like that very much.’
Will’s eyes screwed shut helplessly at the image. ‘Not today’, he ground out.
‘No. Not today.’
Will added a third finger and the sight was so beautifully obscene that he had to palm himself heavily, just once, his hand coming back slick.
It was a while before he realised that Hannibal had gone quiet. His eyes were closed. ‘Hannibal?’
‘Will. Come here now, I think. Please.’
Will took his time kissing his way up Hannibal’s body, relishing the sight of flushed skin and the delicious tension of Hannibal’s hands in his hair, clinging tight.
Will captured his mouth again, kissing him slow and hot and wet, only breaking off when Hannibal made an impatient noise and bucked up into him, grinding them together.
‘Okay!’ Will gasped. ‘Alright alright. Sure you don’t want to do this yourself?’ He pulled back with a smile, teasing, only to see that Hannibal was utterly beyond it. His eyes were dark, his jaw set, his gaze almost... frantic. Like something small but vital had broken open inside him. The feeling reverberated through Will like a struck bell and from then on it was all instinct. ‘Okay,’ he said again, gentler now. ‘Okay.’
Will quickly slicked himself with lube, so hard he had to bite his lip to the point of pain to keep from losing it. Then he lined himself up and pushed inside Hannibal’s body. Fuck. He wanted to watch Hannibal’s face but it was too much, too tight, too intense, too much feeling. Hannibal. Hannibal. Hannibal.
He was saying it out loud and he didn’t stop until he was seated fully inside, tight up against him. Everything was heat.
Eventually, he was able to open his eyes. Hannibal was silent below him, his face like a benediction, and there weren’t any other words after that, just Hannibal’s name, over and over again, as Will began to move, slow at first because it was all he could do just to hold himself up, and then faster and harder, because he couldn’t help that either. Hannibal moved with him, gripping him tight enough to hurt, and Will wanted it, wanted his nails in his skin, wanted marks, wanted permanence.
Then the angle changed, and Hannibal began to make helpless sounds every time Will thrust home. Will lost it. He grabbed Hannibal around the thighs and hauled him to the side of the bed. With one foot on the ground he had more leverage and he held Hannibal’s thighs tight and fucked into him until Hannibal bared his teeth and threw back his head, exposing his throat, his chest, his cock, red and slick. All of his caged strength and potential was Will’s in that moment, all of it, and Will needed his eyes on him again. He surged forward and grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him, messy and savage, swallowing up every desperate sound.
Curled in on each other, their thrusts slowed, deep and sure, rocking together with every breath. Will would kill to protect this. He hadn’t taken Sutcliffe’s life because he thought that’s what Hannibal wanted, he’d done it for himself: because he rejected a life without Hannibal in it. Now that Hannibal was his life, he knew he'd spill more blood in a heartbeat if it kept them together. Looking down at Hannibal, Will tried to pour that certainty into his every movement. He felt it singing through him like a drug.
Hannibal’s face was wet, his arms hooked around Will’s shoulders, his legs like a vice. He mouthed something. Will’s name. A plea. Will kissed it from his lips and reached down between them to take hold of Hannibal as best he could. He shifted back, withdrawing just enough so that when he drove back into him they both cried out. Will slammed home again once, twice, three times and then Hannibal was coming between them and Will felt it like a punch to his plexus, like an electric surge up his spine, like Poppy was shuddering against Hannibal’s bare skin. Will tipped over the edge, burying himself deep and whiting out, breath caught between their open mouths.
His awareness returned to the room with Hannibal gently kissing his forehead, smoothing back damp hair. Will was utterly spent, grateful for the feeling of Hannibal all around him, holding him close, their legs entwined. He looked up. There was still a flush across Hannibal's cheeks, but the predator was back in his eyes, sharp and certain. ‘Would you like to be clean?’
Will shook his head. Hannibal seemed pleased and didn’t press him to speak. He simply brushed his lips across Will’s brow and brought him down to settle against him. Will closed his eyes and saw Daiva against the red of his eyelids. Her claws in his skin. Her teeth safe around Poppy’s throat.
When Hannibal brought him to this hillside and showed him the house for the first time, it had triggered in Will the same intense emotions that must have led people long ago to conceive of the Gods of the hearth and worship them. He’d looked around him and known with bone-deep certainty that this was where he was meant to be.
Hannibal had soon voiced his own inimitable take on the matter: with every day they spent under this roof, their dead skin cells would mingle in the air, accumulating in the cracks of the floorboards and in the seams of stone in the walls. The place would become more them with every passing day. At the time Will had laughed and told Hannibal he was uniquely disgusting, but now he saw the cracks in the floorboards and thought of it again.
He smiled into Hannibal’s chest and wanted for nothing.