Will grasps the knife in his bloody hand and says, "This is what you did to Abigail, isn't it?"
"Abigail," he says. "We are going hunting."
Her eyes are open in the darkness and she's frozen, her arm gone tense under his reassuring hand. The hand over her mouth is, perhaps, less reassuring. He lifts one finger -- yes? -- and his eyebrows as well -- do we understand? -- and waits.
Abigail looks at him. Her face is very white and her pyjama shirt is the very pale grey of Turner's bleakly lovely skies. She's motionless and laid out like prey but she could take the skin of his fingers between her teeth and bite him, little wolf, or she could erupt and strike out. She gazes at him and he waits for the transference to settle.
He peels away another of the questioning fingers on her lips and she answers by nodding, so he removes that hand entirely. The other he keeps on her arm, where tendons flicker and shift.
"Hunting what?" Abigail asks. Her voice rough with wariness. She doesn't ask how he got in, or point out the time of night. She's clever, clever, just clever enough to be kept.
"There are those out there who have begun to take quite an interest in Special Agent Will Graham," he says, "and I'm afraid not all of them wish him well."
She doesn't ask him how he knows. She says, "Will," like a question, cradling the name in her mouth.
"What are we going to do about that?"
We, we. Death is the thin cord that binds their hands, each to the other's.
"You weren't calling for an interview, were you?"
Bit by bit, she relaxes beneath his touch.
"Give me a few minutes to get dressed," she says.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Will asks.
They've been driving for ten minutes, away from a crime scene where Will has been standing with someone else's sins pouring through him. Will, eyes closed in the passenger seat, is now nursing a set of bruised and sluggishly bleeding knuckles from where he's done the decent thing and punched a tree instead of the latest local cop to make nasty insinuations just within hearing range. It takes a lot for Will to direct his anger outwards instead of letting it pulse uneasily, visibly, within him.
He curls his hands around the steering wheel and smiles. "What would you like me to say?"
"I don't know. You're the one who signed off on my field suitability, unwisely or otherwise, I thought -- you might have some opinions about why others won't play nicely with me."
A disingenuous question. Nevertheless.
"I think you are a plague doctor among the living, Will."
In a silence long enough to draw his gaze briefly from the road, a small, self-deprecating smile forms on Will's lips. "Hm."
"Do you understand?"
"I think so," Will says, settling further back in his seat, not opening his eyes. "But tell me anyway."
"Plague doctors were paid very well, because nobody else wanted to do what they did. They were essential, but socially excluded. Other physicians resented them, and were glad of them. Desperate cities threw gold into their hands, and in exchange they walked into the darkest places, filthy with disease." He keeps his voice quiet, soothing. "They kept records of the dead and listened to the testaments of the dying."
"Sounds like a dangerous job," Will says.
"The death rate was -- extreme."
"Yeah, I imagine."
Will is still smiling.
Abigail's hair is damp from showering and she is turning the pages of a book with puckered fingertips. The air around her smells antiseptic. The book is Puppa's History of Italian Theatre, which he had bookmarked at the section on commedia dell'arte after discussing plague doctors with Will. She reads with distraction; every so often she glances at her fingernails, frowns, and then makes a purposeful effort to return her gaze to the page.
He needs to keep her close, manage her reactions, in these early days. Especially in the immediate aftermath.
"Are you finding it interesting?" He hands her a cup of coffee and sits down opposite her, opening his body language. An invitation to talk.
"I think the zanni probably had the most fun," she offers.
"Zanni," she echoes, accepting his correction of her pronunciation. She sets the book aside and wraps both hands around the cup.
Once again he senses the memories swimming within her and he waits, delicately, for her to entertain and then set aside the image of her own father. A necessary process, if she is to convince herself that she is here less by choice and more by inevitability, nature and nurture conspiring. She needs the memory like she needs, for the moment, to believe in the use of what they have done tonight, the higher purpose, the lack of waste. Shared secrets like knots in the cord.
"Why not -- Freddy Lounds?" she says, halting; eliding the verb.
He smiles. "Is that what you want?"
Abigail looks into her cup.
"No?" she says, a student unsure of the penalty for wrong answers. Pleased, nonetheless, to think that her own desires might be considered. Or, we can hide the body.
Then, more firmly: "No."
No. Freddy Lounds is a particular chemical irritant, currently serving a particular purpose -- worth watching, but not worth immediate intervention. He enjoys reading her website. The words hound one another across the screen in a way that fits with Miss Lounds's perfectly chosen outfits, her slippery voice and quick, tenacious eyes. Beneath all of that is appetite: a hunger for something, a steady ruthlessness, all other considerations and morals subsumed into that need. A strange kind of integrity.
Appetite is something he understands.
For example: that wing of the memory palace dedicated to memorable meals. One section for those prepared by himself, and one -- smaller, but no less valued -- for those prepared by others.
For example: this room. This table with its green cloth and that distinctive curlicue on the heavy silver handles of the cutlery. Eight years ago in London he ate lamb's breast prepared in the Sainte-Menehould style, the meat cooked in a confit of duck fat before being crumbed. The plate smeared with a silken pumpkin puree, scattered with baby parsnips, and dotted with delicate mounds of a mint and garlic aioli.
He seats Will Graham opposite himself at the table; the interior of the palace itself requires no great effort to maintain, so he can afford to furnish himself with a dinner partner as a thought experiment. This feels deliberate. But things can slip, in the fugue states between closing one's eyes and true sleep. Snow can shiver in the wallpaper.
They are drinking a good Rioja Reserva blend, deeply purple with tempranillo, and Will is grating a piece of fresh nutmeg over the pumpkin puree on his plate. They discuss, light-heartedly, how a cut section of the spice imitates the sulci and gyri of a human brain.
"But lacking in symmetry," he points out.
Will shrugs. "It's been awhile since my behavioural neuroanatomy courses. But as I recall, symmetry only extends so far when it comes to function."
Bright specks of red have begun to appear against the rich orange of the pumpkin. He sips his wine and watches as Will keeps rubbing his pinched fingertips against the fine, sharp metal, back and forth, scraping away. There's no nutmeg left.
The puree will be oversalted, he thinks.
"William," he says.
Snow can shiver. Trees can erupt from the carpet.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Will extends his hands, grater and all. "Did you want some?"
There aren't many places in Baltimore beyond the impressive reach of Jack Crawford; it turns out that the office of Dr Hannibal Lecter is one of them. The walls are reinforced with professionalism rather than steel, but it suffices. Jack will make it to the waiting room and no further, so long as the door remains closed.
Will is reticent to admit that what he's doing is hiding, but it's satisfying to think that this office has become, in his mind, a safe place.
"In this metaphor," Will is saying, "what are you supposed to be?"
"You've been thinking about this."
"It's, um. A compelling image." Will gives one of his rueful, not-really-amused laughs. "It puts things in perspective."
"In terms of the number of deaths, yes. But one could argue that a plague has the virtue of being impersonal."
"Does that make it less horrific?" Will asks. He runs his fingers over the spines of the nearest books.
"You cannot empathise with a bacterium, Will."
Will turns to look at him. His eyes unfocused, wary, behind his glasses. "Or a rat?"
He inclines his head. "If you wish to extend the metaphor...I suppose I would be the mask."
"What, the --" Will makes a gesture to indicate a long, stork-like beak. "They filled it with perfume, didn't they?"
"Yes, and not just for the smell," he says. "It was the best they could do for protection against the disease itself, for a people who believed that contagion was through bad air. Miasma."
"Protection." Will glances away. "As dedicated to my mental well-being as you are, Doctor, you can't filter my senses for me."
He thinks of how simple, how enlightening it would be to deprive Will of all his senses but one. To control the man's sensory input completely and exactly; to watch him exist unbattered by either his usual fraught overload or the effort it takes to keep it at bay.
"No," he says.
They would begin with taste.
Will is looking over at where Abigail is lying on the couch, her knees bent up so that she can rest a book against them. She has half a pomegranate wrapped in foil and is picking the crimson seeds out, taking them one by one between her teeth as she reads.
He wondered when she would begin to push.
Will Graham is far too clever to miss a symbol when it's licking its blood-coloured fingers in front of his face, and that turns this offhand boundary-testing into a flirtation with danger. Bold. But premature.
"Abigail," he says, a reproof.
She looks over at him -- "Yes, Dr Lecter?" -- with her eyes wide. A seed poised in her wet, pink-tinted hand.
He directs a pointed glance at the fabric of the couch.
"That could stain."
"I’ll be careful," she says.
As even the most stolidly inept agent in the FBI is aware, killing is about motive. Everything beyond that is logistics.
A good profiler learns motives via pattern recognition, using variables to extrapolate to reasonable predictions; Will Graham is not a good profiler. He is superb, because for him motive is organic -- visceral -- and he dreams himself into wretched guilt every night because he fears that tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. He is holding his condemnation of murder in hands that are slippery with sweat. If he blinks he will lose his grip.
Will could reach out and pluck any of a hundred justifications for killing from the violent stories etching themselves on his bones. He requires no motive of his own beyond the universal: the power, the pleasure. All the ingredients for murder are there within him and all that is needed is someone to perfect the recipe.
Abigail is different. Abigail requires -- deftness. Personalisation. For now, she kills because he has placed Will Graham's life on one side of a scale and only requires her to press her finger down on the other. An easy choice.
This is something he did not expect: that everyone in Will Graham's life is a little bit in love with him, and it's the nature of that love to make them want -- more than a little bit -- to control him, even as they preserve him.
"I see what you meant about being Will's mask," Abigail says. "Though it's more like a muzzle, really." She smiles at this image. "You're meant to be, what, keeping him from racing off and biting things? Keeping him safe?"
"Will is safe." He points to the dead man in front of them: exhibit A.
Frederica Lounds's lurid website is certainly good for drawing the scared and the fervently unbalanced out of their holes. This man understands you, it says, and he is chasing you. Perfectly calculated to enthrall and enrage people on both sides of the law.
Abigail nods and picks up a gutting knife.
After a while she says, "You're sharpening his teeth for him," and looks pleased.
"What did you want to talk about?"
Will sits down at the table and laces his hands together. He mirrors body language more exactly when he's stressed, as though he needs all his energy just to maintain the boundaries of his identity where his thoughts begin.
"You said -- you said we were friends, was that --"
"Of course we are friends," he says, allowing a delicate vanilla warmth to infuse his voice.
"We're all friends here," says Abigail, sitting down at Will's side.
This creates a confusion in Will-Graham-as-mirror, which he overcomes by shuddering a little and then becoming still. "Sometimes it's hard to know if I should be bringing my problems to my friends or my shrink. Tricky when most of my friends are shrinks, right?"
He holds both the silence and his own gaze simply for the reaction of Will's all-seeing, fast-falling eyes, which will always leap away from sustained contact as though burned by it.
"Friends do not have to talk," he says. "They can simply enjoy one another's company. And forgive one another a little tardiness with the food."
"No, of course, it smells amazing," says Will. "Soup?"
"Minestrone." He nods towards the pot, which is simmering towards completion. "My own recipe. Closely guarded."
"I helped," Abigail says, pressing her shoulder against Will's with a smile. "We even made the stock, from bones. You'll never guess what sort."
Abigail looks up at him with a solid, fierce expression that reminds him of Alana Bloom. She is chafing, his wolf cub, rushing headlong with eyes shut against insecurity. She needs occupation; but right now, she needs slapping down.
"Abigail forgets herself," he says. "She knows I have sworn her to secrecy."
Will glances between them, thoughtful.
"I can respect a secret recipe," Will says.
It's not long after that when he opens his bag, searching for a new plastic barrel of ink for one of his pens, and finds something trapped at the bottom of the bag within the pages of a notebook. He pulls it out. Nestled in the palm of his hand is an almond-shaped rim of metal bisected by linen tape that's then been wound many times around the two curved metal pieces, to hold the whole together. It's a small thing -- small enough to swallow, if you weren't paying attention.
He allows himself a smile as he tucks it into the pocket of his trousers.
Abigail has nominated a cafe for them to meet in during daylight hours, when they are no more than troubled teenager Abigail Hobbs and one of her indulgently overinvolved saviours. It's a tolerable choice. The food is flavourful and fresh compared to that of many similar places, even if it is presented in a way that the proprietors would probably deem rustic but which betrays a dismal lack of attention to mise en place.
She looks up as he enters, and pushes aside a bright glass of juice. Orange, apple and beetroot, by the smell. Perhaps a hint of ginger.
"I see you have reached the chapter on Pulchinella."
He drops the swazzle onto the table between them. Abigail picks it up at once and turns it in her fingers; if he didn't already know that she made it herself, he would now. She handles it like any artisan handles a useful or lovely thing they've crafted from scraps: all delicacy, all nostalgia and pride.
"Well," she says. "If you're going to insist on doing my voice for me."
The anatomy wing of the memory palace is familiar, well-used; like home. He visits it often, either in search of a quick answer that can be applied to the task at hand, or in a way that is less practical and more leisurely and appreciative. Occasionally he can add a new jar to the shelf and label it as a congenital variant. An unimaginative or unobservant killer might say that people are all the same, once you open them up and glimpse the guts, but no: people will surprise you even with their nerves and the oozing course of their veins.
Half-asleep he wanders, the ghost in his own machine, and invites his mental construct of Will Graham into this chamber. Less appropriate than the memory of a dining room, but more intimate. Somewhere a fuse is running down. Soon he will collapse them into one, the imaginary Will and the real, and then -- perhaps -- neither of them will need to dream.
This hypnagogic version of Will is holding a plague doctor's mask in his hands. His skin is crowded with text in red-black ink; peeking out from the collar of his shirt it says clavicle and also sternocleidomastoid. Dancing up Will's neck are the rings of cartilage that protect his airway and the names of the blood vessels which, punctured, would spill out his life. Somewhere under the dark curls of his hair are the words for all those bony sutures -- coronal, lambdoid -- those meaningless divisions of the skull encasing a mind that can barely divide the self from the other.
He thinks of Abigail's creation and of being the Professor in the box with a harsh-voiced puppet erupting from his hands. Someone else's speech. Someone else's vocal cords. Making haunting, intimate music like the Inuit women with their throat-singing; would you let me do your voice for you, Will? Use your mouth as a resonance chamber? Would you lie paralysed, right down to the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, and let me push the air past your larynx?
He's not saying this aloud.
But this annotated version of Will Graham steps close enough that the name of every bone in his face is visible, every muscle named as it moves beneath the skin.
"God forbid," Will says, "we become friendly."
Abigail looks uncertain and he reaches out and lifts her chin with two fingers. The scar is yet to pale entirely. It lies across her neck like a single clarion note, unmasked, today's scarf discarded in a limp tangle on the bedspread.
"Do not apologise," he says.
She smiles at him, and when he removes his hand her chin remains erect.
This is their fourth hunt.
Abigail carries a large wooden stick and laughs to herself when she swings it, inhabiting her Punch persona with an enthusiasm that means she is trying new selves, new mindsets, on for size. He doesn't mind. This is a type of growth. This is inevitability giving way to personal choice, which is more sustainable in the long term.
Besides, he doesn't often get to play the sedate good-cop role when he's hunting. The one standing back from the violence. The sanest man in the room.
Abigail considers the angle carefully and adjusts her grip before landing the next blow. There's a hard, dull thwack of wood against flesh and then a grunt from their quarry. She aimed for the man's left side; it's good to see that she's retained this much at least of his crude anatomy lessons. There are no good recipes for spleen. If it ruptures, no matter.
He has always preferred blades, himself, but he's willing to indulge her.
"What are you doing?" whines the man, when he has recovered enough breath to whine. "I never -- I've got nothing --"
"You've been reading the wrong websites," says Abigail. In the dim light of this room her scar is livid, and the man's eyes track it with a rodent twitch. "You're after Will Graham."
A neurochemical wrongness flares and contorts the unremarkable face into something close to hate.
"Will Graham is a monster. A government magician," the man says. "He ruins harvests. I know. He wants to see me locked away so he can have it all to himself."
"Will Graham killed my father," Abigail says.
"I owe him a lot," she adds, and brings the stick down with a solid crunch on the man's fingers.
He arranges his dénouement as though reconstructing the death throes of a chess game. There is room for some uncertainty, of course; not everything can be predicted down to the inch and second. But he knows his pieces well, and in the end it is almost laughably easy to nudge one of this country's mundane and fretful killers into the path of Will Graham in such a way that Will -- dear, dangerous, distracted Will -- is forced to defend himself with lethal force.
It happens in Will's kitchen.
By design, no guns are at hand.
Oh, there's no real risk. He enters the house himself a few seconds after his chosen tool, and when it appears as though the killer might be rallying his strength -- Will's knife sank deeply, but was clumsily aimed -- he simply steps into the room and snaps the man's neck, twisting his head between his gloved hands and then letting him fall to the floor.
There could be something in his face for Will to see, or maybe it's his gloves. Or maybe Will himself is porous with the act of violence, eideteker, soaking up every drop of information until the double-edged sword of his perception slices through the last flimsy barrier in his own mind, and he knows. Will knows.
He closes his eyes for a count of two, in order to enjoy the sensation that runs down his nerves like the final chord of an impeccably executed concerto.
"It's you," Will says. "I mean --" and he passes his thumb over his own tongue to demonstrate, as an illustration, Will Graham taking blood willingly into his mouth, a moment that should be pressed between glass plates or submerged in formaldehyde "-- it's you. Jesus, Jesus Christ."
"You're wondering why you aren't more surprised," he says. "Ask yourself when you knew, Will."
Ask yourself why you're not running, Will.
"No." Will's face could be underwater: pale and drowning, afraid. "Yes. I've -- I've been dreaming about you, haven't I? Well, not you. But."
"Did you think I planned for you never to know?"
Will looks down at the knife as though he's grown it himself from the skin of his freshly murdering hands. Then looks up. "I have to assume so," says Will, unconvincingly. Unconvinced.
"Perhaps I should show you some of my notes from our sessions, the clinical records that they will subpoena. Or shall I simply tell you what they say? Shall I tell you that my notes reflect how afraid you've been of the pleasure you take in imagining these violent killings, recreating them with your own hands, day after day and night after night? Shall I give you my analysis of your dreams? How close you are to the edge, Will. How monstrous the inner workings of your soul."
That's when Will makes another of his beautiful empathic leaps, standing there with the knife still in his hand and his heart breaking all over his face, and says, "This is what you did to Abigail, isn't it? Made it so that you were the only escape route."
He nods. "Yes."
Will gives a bark of broken but genuine laughter. "The pomegranate seeds, my God."
"She has a penchant for the dramatic," he says calmly.
"Which pales, frankly," Will says, still with that manic edge, "next to yours." He looks wracked with exhaustion, all of a sudden; scrubs at his forehead with his free hand and realises too late that he's smearing the blood further.
"You have a choice now, Will. You can believe that Jack Crawford trusts you enough, that any of them trust you enough, to think that you wouldn't snap your chain. That this isn't where you were heading all along."
That flies true, and strikes hard. Will's eyes widen and then he winces, and it looks almost like a sneer, around the mouth. "So much for Crawford's delicate crockery," he says.
"Not a cup," he agrees. "Just a dog. One that they were waiting to shoot, once the virus reached its brain."
Incredibly, Will's shoulders hunch in further, and shake. He's laughing again.
"And what's my other choice, Doctor?"
"You can believe me. Understand me, as you are so close to doing." He moves closer. "Stop running, and let go."
Will's eyes skitter, side to side and edge to edge, like a frantic creature throwing itself against the bars of a cage. All seeing. Fast falling.
He aligns his index fingers with Will's zygomatic arches as though underlining inked text -- "Let go, Will." -- and with his thumbs he pins Will's eyelids closed until the flutter beneath them subsides.
"You're later than you said you'd be," Abigail tells him as she lets them in. Her face goes young with delight, her fingertips skimming her scar. "Hi, Will."
It took some time to dispose of the corpse and clean Will's kitchen adequately, and Will's hands were shaking too badly for him to help. Even now his legs look to be on the verge of betraying him and collapsing at the knees.
"I was telling our dear Will about another practice of plague doctors which set them apart," he says. "In times of plague, of all the medical professionals, they alone were permitted to draw blood."
"And I said, I hoped he wasn't expecting me to accept that as some kind of absolution," says Will, displaying a heartening spark of petulance, "given that medical practice has moved on somewhat from the seventeenth century."
He smiles and steers them into a room where Will can sit down and the light can find golden glints in Will's hair and glasses. He considers offering alcohol and then decides against it.
"How do you feel?"
Will laughs through his bared teeth. "Yes. Sure. Let's talk about it, Doctor Lecter, let's unpack. Do you really think I know how I feel right now?" He looks up: wrecked and remade, trusting and lost. "Tell me about the mirrors in my mind. Go on."
"You should stop asking yourself which is the real me, Will. I am still your friend, and your colleague. I'm the same person I was yesterday."
Will's anger deflates. "How do you do it? How do you keep it all in -- in boxes, God. I can't do that. You know I've tried."
"I know. Everything runs together," he says. "And that is why you can do the things that you do. You wouldn't be Will Graham if you could build forts around the pieces of your mind."
"No. I guess I wouldn't," and Will gives one more ragged laugh before suddenly he's crying: loud, heaving sobs into his hands.
He sits down at Will's side and places his hand neatly between Will's scapulae.
Abigail has been sitting opposite them, chin resting on hands laced as though for prayer, watching Will with a keenly enchanted expression. Now she stands up.
"I guess we'll need to do something about the blood," she says, underneath the sound of Will's crying, and goes into the kitchen.
Yes. Both of them will wash, thoroughly and soon, but in the meantime Will is endangering his home furnishings with biological evidence. He will replace this couch within two weeks, four if the body of Will's victim is slow to be found. Will's and his. The communal nature of the act felt good enough that he took a self-indulgent risk and didn't wash Will's hands before they left. Now clear wet tear-trails have appeared in the dried blood.
He has a sudden and vivid vision of himself taking each of Will's fingers into his mouth one by one, and he could, and he will -- but not today. Gently gently with our new acquisition, our work of art, our sharp-toothed thing.
When Abigail emerges again she's balancing a large glass bowl carefully between her hands, full almost to the brim with water warm enough to steam. A cloth draped over her arm.
"Here," she says, kneeling down on the rug.
Will's quiet, now, his harsh eruption of fear and relief having drained him of turmoil for the moment. He looks tired. He watches Abigail with a curve of almost amusement to his mouth, as though he is measuring her symbolism again, on the verge of asking her if she plans to wash his feet.
"It's all right, Will," she says quietly. "Really."
She sets the bowl in his lap, picks up one of his hands, and directs it to the water. Flecks of dark brown drift off in slow downward eddies as she wipes between his fingers and keeps talking. She tells him that they have been waiting for him, guarding him, wanting him. She tells him that change is not the end. She tells him how scared she was, in the beginning, and how she learned to transmute her fear until she had reclaimed her life. A rare crack in the shell of her adolescent bravado. It's exactly what Will needs and he didn't have to direct her in any of it.
When she's done the water is clouded with blood and Will's wrists are turned up to the light, wet and pale, the blue map of his veins exposed. A suicide written in mirror-script. A rebirth.
He aches with the precise desire to consume. He will need to keep his balance; he will need to be careful with this appetite for the myriad impossible ways in which he wants to possess Will Graham. He wants to run the man's heartblood over his tongue and then pour it back in.
"You must be hungry," Abigail says to Will, in exactly the same voice she used to say: and you be the man on the phone. "Do you want something to eat?"
Will's face is exquisite, in the moment that food and memory collide with the identity of the Chesapeake Ripper. He wavers visibly between nausea and laughter.
"Do I, um," he says.
Abigail gives a giggle. "There's a box of florentines, I think. And some apples."
"No, I'm fine. Well. I'm something, at least," says Will, and relaxes a little into the palm that still rests on his back.
"You worry too much, Will," he says. "I think you'll find this much more comfortable."
"Yes." Abigail reaches for Will's hand. "It'll be better now that you're with us, Will, you'll enjoy it, I promise."
Will sighs and closes his clean fingers around hers. "I know I will," he says.