Will Graham is meticulous in the masks he wears. The presentation he puts on for the outside world. He knew from a very young age that he was neither normal nor ordinary; that he had the power to look into eyes and see souls staring back, that he knew what people felt sometimes better than they did themselves. He won’t deny that it was hard, in those early years. Overwhelming, even, until he learned to get a better handle on it. To a certain extent he can’t be sure how much of his personality really comes from him, and how much is a parasitic patchwork stolen from others, scraped together over two decades. He doesn’t really mind. Although you would never know it by looking at him, he has come to terms with what he is.
The act, the fragile, damaged man that he pretends to be, allows him a surprising amount of leeway. People pity him, and pity means they don’t want to look too close. They avert their eyes as though his own instability will rub off on them, as though he could project unpleasant emotions rather than just pick them up. They treat him delicately, sometimes, give him space. Social exclusion isn’t questioned. If they don’t see or hear from him for days it’s just Will Graham being his autistic self, nothing to worry about too much.
Autism is... inaccurate, for what he is. He doesn’t like people; has seen too many dirty little secrets for that. He’d rather be with his pets, his loyal hounds, than subject himself to petty small talk, little insignificant minds, banal socialising. He has better things to do. Other... hobbies. Fitting in would be a pretense too far. But it isn’t because he doesn’t understand people, or finds himself unable to relate to them, or awkward around them. He just finds them unpleasant, mostly.
He’s not entirely sure why he let Jack Crawford convince him to come and work for him. Perhaps it’s just that it will give him an even better in at the FBI. Teaching for them is all very well, but he can always be closer to the investigative side of things, and to the Behavioural Analysis Unit most of all. Wouldn’t want them poking where they don’t belong, after all. He has to admit, there’s a certain lure in the chance to see crime scenes again. It was those first few murders that wormed their way into his brain and gave him the hunger, after all, and there’s a part of him that wants to taste some-one else’s psychology for a change. It’s been too long without new inspiration.
And oh, it’s good, it’s so very good. He steps into that room and sees the carefully arranged corpse of Elise Nichols, lets the emotions of the killer sink under his skin filling up his empty spaces. Sorrow and longing and hunger and the lust for something precious... Foreign feelings always seem to be stronger than any of his own. Sometimes he thinks he doesn’t even have emotions at all when he’s not picking them up from someone else. He stands there and revels in everything he can pick up from the scene.
He knows after that that he has made the right decision. Jack has promised him only the most difficult cases, the most obscure and eclectic, supposedly to spare him any unnecessary pain. Will could laugh. If Jack knew what he was inviting into his home...
The dreams come that night, when he’s back home in Wolf Trap, such beautiful dreams. He wakes up shivering and sweating and hard, and he jerks off with his back arching against the bed and the taste of the girl’s blood in his mouth. Once upon a time he might have felt guilty about what he has become, but that was when he had still been trying to fight it, to put up barriers between himself and the killers he takes on. Easier to just let them all the way in, make them a part of himself. A psychic cannibalisation.
Jack almost sours things the next morning when he pushes too hard for answers, but he entirely makes up for it when the day after that Will walks into his office and sees Hannibal Lecter for the first time. At first he does not think much of the man, bland in beige, seeming like just another consultant to delve futilely into a killer’s psychology. But then they start to talk, of the tastiness of thoughts and of what is seen in another’s eyes, and Will meets his gaze to prove a point and sees an empty well staring back at him.
There is murder behind Dr Lecter’s eyes. He is dripping with it, blood lapping around his mind like an ocean. Will’s breath catches. He is thrilled, there’s no other word for it. He doesn’t even mind that Jack brought him here to psychoanalyse him, although of course he pretends otherwise, to not seem suspicious. He sees Hannibal and he grasps the outlines of him, but there’s such depth there that he cannot so easily delve it. He wants more. Lecter claimed his thoughts were not tasty, but Will thinks they will be very tasty indeed.
If he needed proof, Hannibal is quick to give it to him. Crawford brings him to a new crime scene in the sun-warmed fields of Minnesota and Will is struck mute by the artistry of it. He calls it theatre, and that’s what it is, a show, a soliloquy. The light hits pale skin and slick blood and he can read intention in every angle. There’s no love in this, just pride, sadism, and it’s so perfect a negative of what it should be that it must have required exacting knowledge of all that has come before. It is a gift to him, and he knows just who sent it.
A murder all for him. He’s not sure he’s ever been so flattered. Being able to step into Hannibal’s mind, even if it’s just the quickest dip under the surface, is just the icing on the cake. He lets Crawford and the forensic crew think his lack of words down to disgust, but it is quite the opposite. Even better, seeing it all laid out like this lets him burrow deeper into the other killer’s mind, the one they’ve taken to calling the Shrike.
He preserves the memory of it all in a neat little box inside his head, like a treasured jewel. When he sleeps that night it comes out in his dreams as a stag with a crow’s feathers, watching him from the shadows. Will watches it right back. This is just the first steps in the dance. He knows it’s best to come at this slowly. He wants to see what Lecter is planning to do to him, what games he’s thought up in that unfathomable skull. He wonders if Hannibal will see him as he truly is, or whether he’ll have to show him.
The next morning the man himself is at his motel, and he has brought breakfast. Will doesn’t miss how closely he watches when he lifts the first fork-full of sausage to his lips. Knowledge blossoms like a flower turning its head to the sun. He has never eaten a person before, but he sees no reason not to start. He lets the flavour explode over his taste-buds in the full awareness of what it is and imagines what it is Hannibal must be feeling right now. It’s delicious, in every sense.
Will takes a certain joy in their conversation over the meal, and the subtleties half-hinted at from either side. Hannibal calls him a mongoose, and Will thinks it apt. He devours the thoughts of murderers, ignores the venom of these snakes. Their poison inside him is a slow creep. This man already has a sense of him, even if it doesn’t seem to go quite deep enough. There’s a part of him that wants to come right out with it now, but it’s too soon. He doesn’t know if Hannibal will see him as a threat. And Will does want to see what he wants to do with him.
Will doesn’t realise what Hannibal must have been doing back inside the office at the construction site until they reach the house and Garret Jacob Hobbs pushes his wife out of the door with her throat cut. For a moment everything is all wrong; he’s not in control of this, the victim’s emotions are getting all over him and into him and it hurts, but then the light is leaving her eyes and all there is is the blood, hot and sticky and sweet and all over his hands, and that is much more familiar. He can centre himself again. He goes for the gun at his waist that they gave him all so innocent and unsuspecting and he is the predator, the hunter. The door splinters under his heel and he stalks inside.
In the kitchen is his prey, holding more prey like a barrier as though that will stop anything. He knows the girl though, the daughter, seen through borrowed eyes. Golden ticket. Beloved. That makes him hesitate, because she is suddenly as precious to him as she is to Hobbs himself. But his blood is up and he has no intention of negotiating.
He shoots, to wound at first then again and again so that gore splatters out and paints the trace of exit patterns on the wall behind. He keeps his mouth pressed closed so as not to bare his teeth in delight. But... The daughter. His/Hobbs’ daughter. She’s bleeding.
He doesn’t know how to stop it though. He’s used to taking life, not giving it back. He fumbles, until Hannibal steps past him and takes over with sure and steady fingers clamped tight over the spurting artery. Will looks up at him gratefully. It hits him then, that this was another gift. An opportunity. A kill in the open that he doesn’t have to justify.
He has to pretend to be damaged for Jack and Alana, as though this latest murder is cutting him up inside. Clamps his mask down tight and almost exults when they send him along to see Dr Lecter. No doubt Hannibal foresaw this as part of his plan. Does he want to dig his way inside Will’s mind as Will does so easily to those around him? Will rather hopes he does.
It’s interesting, this dancing about they both do. Each concealing the truth from the other. Playing at normality. With each session as the latest case goes on (Stammets, the Mushroom Gardener) Will begins to see more clearly the outline Hannibal would press upon him. Control. Connection. To a certain extend Hannibal wants to push him to see how far he will go before he snaps, what beautiful destruction his meltdown would be. But there’s another part of him that would wake the monster inside of Will, unknowing that it has been awake, and hungry, and ever-learning for years now. Hannibal is not lonely; nothing so simple and vulgar. He merely... likes the thought of company. Will can hardly blame him. The same thought is heavy in his mind.
Of course, he may just be picking that up, another transference, but does it really matter so much if that’s the case? Will no longer believes in barriers. Transference is to be encouraged. Constantly changing kills and motivations makes him harder to catch.
He’s aware he’s already picked things up from Hobbs, both predator and prey. Hannibal was right to assign responsibility for Abigail to the both of them. He can hardly help the paternal feelings he has towards her now, even if he hadn’t killed her father, which in a way is like asking to take his place. In Jack Crawford’s opinion darkness already exists inside her. Will knows he is right, but is less sure that it has ever come out to play. Still. Still. There’s a kinship there. A kinship that has drawn him to her bedside again and again.
When it comes to the end, to Stammets beneath the barrel of his gun he is tempted, so very tempted, to kill him too. Just because he can, because maybe he can get away with it in broad daylight once again. But he discards the idea; it will look too suspicious. Still, he aches for it. For the sharp bark, for the jump in his hand, for the gasp of another’s pain. He’s been reliving his last kill over and over, imaging Hobbs jerking against impacts every time he’s in the firing range. There are too many murderers around him; his need is great. He will need to hunt again soon.
He talks to Hannibal about it. Flirts with confession, pretends that admitting to enjoying his kill is frightening, like it is some great sin. Hannibal drinks it up, luxuriates in it. Will can see his hunger; he is torn between the wish to devour Will and to keep him. It would be too easy to get caught up in it, to offer him his throat, his wrists, his flanks. A bad idea. A terrible idea. He is not generally self-destructive.
Hannibal tells him about God and power, and Will pretends he does not agree with every word.
Alana comes to his house. Uninvited. It is an unpleasant surprise, and he would be surprised at her rudeness except he is sure he has offered unspoken permission in the past. Or perhaps his mask of fragility allows her subconsciously to think it does not matter. That, like a child, he is unable to refuse. He doesn’t want her so close to where he has killed. Not that he has done so here often, but sometimes he likes to take his time, and it is very isolated out in the woods.
Still, he cannot prevent her from coming in, and the news she brings is good. Even if she insists it would be better if she saw Abigail first. Perhaps it genuinely would. He isn’t capable of being objective.
Later on, he is sure to time his lecture on Hannibal’s gift to him so that the good doctor himself walks in whilst Will is in the middle of complimenting him. Will does not bother to do more than gloss over his admiration for this ‘mysterious’ copy-cat. He speaks only truth, and the truth speaks for itself. Hannibal’s lips twitch into a subtle smile. Will feels like a fisherman, with a pike nibbling at the baited hook.
There is little time for more teasing. The pair of them have finally been given permission to visit Abigail, and her father’s memories are pushing at him. It’s insistent, this love. He’s not sure how long it will last. Similar things have happened before, but it is easy for the emotions to be overwritten by the next thing to come along. Yet it seems that Hannibal feels something, unfamiliar and indescribable, for her too that may yet bolster his own affections until they are truly incorporated into his psyche.
He tries to offer Abigail some measure of comfort, when they meet. As her father would have. Hannibal, he suspects, has different intentions, but those are long term. The both of them want her stable for just now. She is... precious, and Will would not see her fracture.
There is the problem of Freddie Lounds. Does she see through his masks and disguises, or does she merely guess and hit too close to home? Will is not sure it even matters. His false face can only do so much, and it is too close to his real self to avoid rumours entirely. It might be possible to hide as well as Hannibal does, but he’s not sure he could bear it. That level of control would be too restrictive, like a straightjacket.
So for now she is an irritating fly to be snapped at or ignored. A tick burrowing under skin. He tries to root her out and is stung for his troubles. He could kill her, but if he really meant to he ought not have threatened her so openly. He doesn’t mean to invite even more suspicion. If she went missing people would notice.
The visit to the Hobbs house is a shadow theatre of subtle digs and things not said. Abigail knows Hannibal called her father, Hannibal knows she knows, doesn’t know that Will knows. He enjoys spinning it out. “Did you recognise his voice?” he asks, knowing she could hardly fail to. Hannibal’s accent is... distinctive. And her eyes flick to him, right on cue. It’s wonderful.
“He may have been contact by another killer,” he continues, “a copy-cat.” Although that’s far from what Hannibal is or was trying to do. Rather the opposite. He could laugh when later she throws it in Hannibal’s face, suggesting it via re-enactment. Two murderers and one who might yet be, playing their games. A pity it can’t last longer.
He dreams sweetly, that he is standing in Hobbs’ place, that his knife is to Abigail’s throat. He does what he does out of love for her. Her whimpers and the hot spray of blood just make things better. It’s still too mixed up in her father’s feelings to be sexual. He’s not sure what it might become in future. He’s willing to see how it all plays out.