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we will become silhouettes

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The smell, of course, is entirely wrong.

In life Will Graham smelled of firesmoke and dogs, fear and aftershave, hickory wood and sugar and the night air that he never washed off because he never knew that he'd been swimming in it.

In his death, the fear predominated. Hannibal Lecter remembers the way Will's head fell forward onto his shoulder as he twisted the knife in Will's abdomen, the low sound like an engine sputtering. Will's hair tickling the side of his jaw. Will's blood on his hands like warm water from a surgical tap, rinsing him from fingertips to wrist, stinking the air up with copper.

The Will Graham that walks into the room now has an entirely different smell. It will take him some time to separate it into its component parts.

"Silicon, Will? Or are you a newer model?"

Will doesn't reply right away. He avoids eye contact -- authentic, that -- and takes some time fussing his stool into position. Then he sits down, hooks one ankle behind the stool's leg, and grips more tightly the slim manila folder in his right hand.

"Why don't you tell me?" Will says.

"I apologise," Lecter says, "if you were hoping to surprise me."

Will shrugs. "It was in the papers. Someone wrote an article, too."

"For TIME," Lecter agrees. "No quotes, I noticed."

"The journalist came to my house. I didn't answer the door."

Now that Will's made his eyes focus, their scrutiny is intent. Lecter watches with interest until the eyelids flicker.

"I wonder," he says, "if your eyes need to be lubricated. I don't think so. I think that's something that they threw in for the comfort of the human beings who have to interact with you. An unblinking stare can be very disturbing."

Will smiles less like a real boy and more like a robot that is still learning the muscle groups. A grimace that reaches the skin around the eyes.

Which is to say: exactly as he smiled before.

"I don't think human beings ever found me comfortable to interact with," he says. "Even when I fitted the standard definition of one."

One of the things he smells of is a more expensive aftershave, layered over oil and laundry powder and something vaguely reminiscent of hospitals. That, too, is probably for the sake of other people.

Lecter finds his mouth slitted open, his tongue resting on his bottom lip. He waits for Will to lift the folder and explain whatever tedious problem has brought him here, more than a year since they parted ways in such a suitably mythological manner: with betrayal, and sacrifice, and resurrection.

Will's spilled guts like a sacred augury. His blood like solstice, iron-hot in Lecter's mouth.

Sure enough: "I have some things I'd like you to look at," Will says, starting to slide some photographs out of the folder.

"What do you taste like now, Will?"

This smile isn't one he's seen before. It's like an expensive razor balanced between the man's teeth. Perhaps it's a quirk of design; or perhaps Will Graham would always have learned to smile like that, given deaths enough and time.

"Help me," Will says, "and I'll let you find out."

"Oh, come now." He's disappointed. "Haggle a little. Offer me all the false enticements, all the rancid carrots that Chilton has suggested you dangle in front of my face."

Will quirks a brief, wryly amused look that speaks volumes about his opinion of Chilton. Lecter laughs to see it, a soft rasp of noise that surprises its way out of his mouth. He hasn't laughed aloud in many months. He hasn't felt good fabric next to his skin and he hasn't eaten anything that wasn't an affront to the palate; he hasn't had anyone's pulse under his hands except his own, which he cannot persuade to race in pale imitation of a death.

Symphonies, at least, he can play inside his own head.

"Chilton did try to warn me not to reach through the bars," Will says. "He tried to send a guard in with me, as well. I persuaded him it wasn't necessary."

He wonders if Will has a pulse. Probably not. Nothing flutters beneath the false skin, between the false tendons that frame his neck.

Will drops the folder carefully to the floor and stands up, wanders closer. Lecter doesn't move.

"I set off all of the prison's metal detectors," says Will. "I could have stripped naked and walked under there a hundred times and I still would have set them off. Chilton made me turn out my pockets like a schoolboy." The first, old, familiar smile reappears. "He would have liked to turn me inside out."

An invitation to black humour; to intimacy.

"I know the feeling," Lecter says, obliging him.

The air has changed. The taste of it is sharper, newer; expect the unexpected. It startles him to realise that this new Will can be read as easily as the old, that the path down which they are talking themselves can be glimpsed.

Help me, Will said.

"Should he have turned you inside out?"

I did that to you, Will. Me. I showed you the colour of your blood and you gasped your life into my ear and it was almost perfect. From your guts I would never have divined this future for the two of us.

Will's shoe is crushing one corner of the folder, from which coloured scenes of some banal atrocity are peeking out.

"Yes," Will says.

Will is folding back one soft flannel sleeve, revealing by inches a forearm lined with a formal pattern of what might be called scars in a living man. What to call them now? Seams?

"The government spent a lot of money in order to preserve me," Will says. "They think they deserve a return on their investment."

Easy to hide anything inside a nerveless mass of tissue that sings the song of metal even when stripped bare of all else. A blade. A rasp. A piece of wire.

His mouth is full of command and suggestion. An old hunger, a bright feeling like a major chord, opens up inside him.

"And what do you think, Will?"

Will Graham looks right into Hannibal Lecter's eyes and says, "I think perhaps they should have asked more questions about what, exactly, they were preserving."