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In Keedysville

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It's raining the first time Alana takes him to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Will presses his forehead against the chilled glass of the passenger seat window, watching the asphalt of the I-170 constantly shifting beneath his gaze. He's never had a problem with motion sickness before -- but today, he feels acidic bile slushing against the walls of his stomach. He keeps one fist tightly clenched around the door handle, just in case.

"Are you alright?" Alana asks, watching the road ahead but gently resting her hand on Will's shoulder.

"Yeah . . . Is it warm in here? Can we turn on the air conditioner?"

Alana hesitates but turns on the air conditioner. Will mumbles his thanks, squeezing his eyes tightly shut -- as if that could get rid of the nausea.

"Do you want to talk about anything before . . .?"

"No."

They drive the rest of the way in silence. The front seat of the car feels uncomfortably warm to Will. The leather of the car's interior sticks against the layer of perspiration coating his skin; he has to literally peel his forearm away from where it's resting against the door. The car lurches over a speed bump and Will pounds his fist repeatedly against the windowpane before demanding through gritted teeth: "Pull over."

Alana pulls the car quickly onto the side of the road. Will pushes the door open and vomits all over the asphalt. He dry heaves a few more times before he feels well enough to sit up again. He exhales, tasting the sour-burn of regurgitation in his mouth, before closing the car door. Will hears the click-click-click of the turn signal and feels the car sputter back onto the road.

They reach the hospital without any more incidents, although when Will looks up and sees the looming institutional brick building in the distance, he feels like opening the door again. He would unbuckle his seatbelt this time and run through the woods that stretch out along the highway. He would stagger down into a pile of leaves, damp and cold, and would stay there until it was all over.

He would stay there until it was all over.

It will all be over.

The car comes to an abrupt stop. Will unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs out of the car, holding his face up towards the rain. Alana lets him stand out there for a few minutes, getting soaked through to his skin, before she exits the car herself, umbrella held aloft, and tells Will that it's time to go inside. Will thinks about refusing -- but he feels the warmth that's beginning to pool down in his pelvis, coursing through his hips and his inner thighs, and decides to follow her inside.

"Would you like to dry off, Special Agent Graham?" Dr. Chilton asks when they're sitting in his office. Will is dripping all over the upholstery; he does not feel sorry in the slightest.

"No, thank you."

"This is . . . an unusual circumstance for us," Dr. Chilton says, flipping through what must be Hannibal's medical file. "The criminals that end up here generally aren't the type that establish permanent relationships. Of course, the entire staff is concerned for your safety; we would like to monitor your session on the --"

"No," Will says firmly. "That won't be necessary."

Dr. Chilton puts the file down on his desk, stares directly at Will.

"He wouldn't be the first criminal to murder his partner."

"I'll be fine."

Will glances out the window. The branches of the maple trees bend and shudder under the weight of the rainstorm. He reaches across his stomach to scratch at the bandages underneath his shirt.

"It might also be good to have someone standing by in case there are any complications with your injury," Dr. Chilton comments. "You were only recently discharged from the hospital, correct?"

"I'll be fine."

"As you wish." Dr. Chilton rises from his seat, tucks the file folder back inside the steel cabinet next to his desk. "I'll take you both downstairs then."

The strong stench of bleach stings the inside of Will's nostrils. The white and olive green tiles covering the walls have been chipped away in places and he can clearly see mold creeping up along the grout. His temples are throbbing and, at one point, he has to stop and ask for an aspirin, which Alana dutifully turns over to him. As they descend the final flight of stairs down to the maximum security ward, Will begins to feel the bile churning inside his stomach once again. They pause at a restroom outside of the guards' station. Dr. Chilton opens a closet and takes a navy blue jumpsuit off of a shelf. He passes the garment to Will.

"If you don't mind changing, we would like to regulate what goes in and out of his cell."

"Of course," Will nods. The bathroom isn't any better than the corridors outside. One of the stalls has been locked and a foul odor emanates from inside. Will occupies the other one, slipping out of his clothes and into the jumpsuit. He glances down at the bandages that are wrapped around his stomach, remembers the bright sting that accompanied being stabbed -- right before the shock set in and he felt only numbness . . . but he can't afford to think about that right now. The outline of his erection can be seen clearly through the loose fabric of the jumpsuit. Despite the fact that everyone knows the reason for Will being at the hospital today, he still feels ashamed and clasps his hands over his crotch as he exits the bathroom.

"The orderlies will debrief you on procedures," Dr. Chilton informs them. "Dr. Bloom, you do know that this process might take a while?"

"Yes."

"I'm having the facilities staff make up a guest room on the third floor."

"Thank you."

"Well. Feel free to call for me if you need anything." With a cursory nod, Dr. Chilton trudges back up the stairs to his office. Will wouldn't be surprised if he watches them on the video monitors anyway. There's something unpleasantly smarmy about the hospital administrator, like he's a used car salesman with an MD.

"Special Agent Graham?" An orderly -- large, black, friendly-looking -- stands in front of them. "You ready?"

"I think so," Will swallows, looking over the orderly's shoulder and down the dank hallway.

"If you ever feel like you're in danger, there's a panic button on the front wall of his cell. Are you on medication?"

"What kind of . . . Oh. Yes. I'm on medication."

The orderly opens up a desk drawer and pulls out a handful of condoms anyway. He passes them to Will who stuffs them inside the pocket of his jumpsuit. Alana looks away during this exchange. "Just in case," the orderly smiles. It's meant to be good-natured and helpful; Will still feels humiliated. "Is there anything else that you'll need?"

"No, I think I'm good."

"The guards will take you down to his cell. You want us to turn off the video monitors?"

"Yes, please."

"You know he's dangerous, right?" the orderly asks.

Will restrains himself from making some snide comment about how he lived with the man for over a year. Instead, he just says: "Yes, I know." He's not surprised when the orderly passes him a waiver and a ballpoint pen.

"This just says that I've warned you about the risks involved with your visit. That you've declined supervision."

Will scribbles his name on the line.

"I'll be right here if you need me," Alana assures him. "I'm not going anywhere." As if to prove her point, she sits down in one of the metal folding chairs that have been positioned haphazardly around the guards' station. She takes out a book of crossword puzzles and uncaps a ballpoint pen with her teeth. Will is struck by an almost-impossible fondness for Alana Bloom. He wishes for a moment that he had just waited out his biological urges and married her.

But he hadn't.

Two guards, tranquilizer guns at the ready, approach him as the sharp buzz of the gate unlocking sounds throughout station.

Will tentatively steps into the hallway. He swallows the bile that jerks up into his throat as he passes the first set of cells: unwashed inmates with their noses pressed against the plexiglass windows, watching him walk the length of the hall. He quickly passes the subsequent cells, trying to avoid the leers and taunts that echo against the walls. The inmates start up a rousing chant of "bitch in heat" as he tries to hold his head high and maintain some semblance of dignity. But when he finally reaches the last cell on the left, he's visibly trembling.

"Do you want to go back?" one of the guards asks, clasping Will on the shoulder. Will flinches away from the contact.

"I'm fine. Really."

Will hasn't turned to look inside the cell yet. He doesn't want to think about what's inside. "We're going to open up the cell," the guard says. "We'll keep a tranquilizer gun on him at all times. You can enter and we'll lock the door behind you. They told you about the panic button?"

"On the front wall."

"If anything happens, you just press that button and we'll be there in three seconds or less. If you can't reach the panic button, just shout for help. We're right at the end of the hall."

"Thank you."

"Are you sure you don't want us to stay here? We could wait right outside the cell, face the other direction until you're done."

"No, I'll be fine." Will wraps his arms around himself, despite the fact that he's burning up with heat fever.

"If you're sure." The clang of the lock being unlatched on the cell. The door pushed to the side. Will keeps his eyes locked on the floor as he enters the cell, watching his socked feet as they cross the threshold. His face glistens with sweat under the fluorescent hospital lights. He jumps when the door slams shut behind him but he resists the urge to turn around and press that panic button, slam his fist against that panic button until someone gets him out of this space that seems to be closing in around him. He squeezes his eyes shut.

"They seem to think that you're going to hurt me," he finally says, not wanting to let the other man speak first.

"What do you think?"

That voice. Will presses his fists against his forehead, tries to block that voice out of his mind.

"I don't think you're going to hurt me."

"Will?"

He drops his fists and opens his eyes. Hannibal is standing in front of him, dressed in the same navy blue jumpsuit that he's wearing. Unlike the unwashed inmates down the hall, Hannibal looks immaculately groomed. His hair swept to the side, his skin pink and freshly-scrubbed. If Will tries, he can almost imagine that they're back in their bedroom. That they're getting ready for their commutes to work. Hannibal has laid out a three-piece suit with a corresponding tie and pocket square. The dogs are scratching at the door, trying to get them to come downstairs for breakfast . . .

Breakfast.

Will rushes over to the toilet, sinks to his knees, and vomits. There's not much to throw up after his incident on the highway; he hasn't been eating especially well since Hannibal's arrest. He rests his cheek against the frigid metal of the toilet seat. He senses when Hannibal takes a step towards him and Will holds his hand out, effectively stopping him in his tracks: "Don't. It will pass. The chemicals will kick in soon."

"We have forty-eight hours, Will. We can take our time."

He says as if he hadn't been arrested two weeks ago for being the Chesapeake Ripper. He says as if Will hadn't been discharged from the hospital a few days ago for the evisceration that Hannibal performed on him with a linoleum knife. Then again, he supposes that, as a card-carrying psychopath, Hannibal probably doesn't concern himself much with those matters.

"No, let's just get it over and done with." Will uses the toilet to push himself up and walks over to the metal cot by the wall. He pulls his socks off, tossing them on the floor.

"You don't want to talk about anything?"

"Nothing to talk about," Will sniffs, unzipping the jumpsuit. He pushes it off of his shoulders. He looks directly over Hannibal's right shoulder, refusing to even acknowledge the other man's presence in the cell. Hannibal hesitates for a moment before unzipping his jumpsuit as well, folding it into a neat pile that he lays on the floor. He gently sits down next to Will on the cot.

"Will, I think that there are some things we need to discuss --"

"Look," Will says, effectively interrupting him. "I don't want to talk right now. I need some time before I can even bring myself to look at you again. I'm here out of necessity only."

Hannibal looks down at the cement floor. "You might want to be on your hands and knees then."

"Yes, I think that would probably be best."

It's a position that neither one of them finds particularly enjoyable. Despite Will's aversion to eye contact, he usually insists on being on his back. The two of them have always shared an easy intimacy, one that Will found difficult to achieve with others. His previous partners looked at him as something in desperate need of fixing. Hannibal had always been accepting, even of the parts of Will that others had determined were broken: the hallucinations, the depression, the paranoia. Then again, in retrospect, Will supposes that those flaws were what made him the ideal companion for a mass murderer.

Will's limbs feel unsteady as he gets up onto his hands and knees; he keeps his eyes locked on a spiderweb of cracks that interrupts the white-washed sterility of the front wall. He feels Hannibal's palm press gently against the small of his back. He closes his eyes, drops his head, and tries to be anywhere other than inside this cell. By the time Hannibal pushes inside of him, he's already far away -- staring into the flashes of colors that ignite behind his eyelids. These are hallucinations as well. Closed-eye hallucinations. But he doesn't mind these much at all.

A knock on the door. Will opens his eyes and finds himself alone on the cot. The thin wool blanket has been pulled up around his shoulders. The door opens and the guard enters, his tranquilizer gun trained on the opposite side of the cell. Will glances over and finds Hannibal sitting in the corner. His legs are neatly crossed and he's reading a hardcover textbook, probably from his own medical collection. He doesn't look up as Will drags himself to his feet and pulls on his navy blue jumpsuit. "What's wrong?" Will asks the guard, leaning on the frame of the doorway.

"Your forty-eight hours are over, Special Agent Graham."

"What?"

Will doesn't remember anything. Two days of lost time.

Without further thought, he stumbles down the hallway, straight past the guards' station, and into the bathroom. He crumples to his knees in front of the urinal and retches repeatedly. His stomach's empty but his throat constricts and retracts all the same, trying to bring up fluid. When he feels his esophagus begin to relax, he leans back on his heels and wipes one of the jumpsuit's sleeves across his mouth. "I don't think that I can do this again," he says to no one in particular. But, even as the words reverberate against the walls, he knows that he'll be back here in another three months. He picks himself up off the of tiled floor and dresses himself in his own clothing, leaving the jumpsuit in a wrinkled pile next to one of the toilets.

"Do you need anything?" Alana asks as he leaves the bathroom but he waves her off.

They drive back to the Hampton Inn in silence.

-----

Will stands at the lectern in the Academy lecture hall, twisting his gold wedding band around his finger. An image of the Minnesota Shrike copycat crime scene projected behind him: a young woman mounted on antlers, abandoned in the middle of a barren field. He remembers her nakedness more than anything else. Exposed to every passer-by who wanted to look -- and then, after they'd had their fill, posted online as an object of public consumption.

His dogs used to bring back small dead rodents for him. Drop them on the back steps and look up at him as if they'd done him a service. As if he owed them something for the death that they'd brought to his door. As if he should be proud of them.

Will steps forward, the granulated image of the dead girl painted across his face; he presses the power button on the projector twice and watches while the light bulb flickers off. "Class dismissed," he says curtly, shuffling his papers while students file out of the lecture hall.

"They want to hear you talk about the Chesapeake Ripper."

Will pauses but doesn't bother looking up.

"Well, we don't always get what we want."

Jack Crawford steps up to the lectern. "It's going to be the trial of the century, Will."

"Yes. One at which I'm going to be conspicuously absent."

"You're not going to testify?" Jack looks surprised -- and more than a little bit displeased.

"Spousal testimonial privilege."

"You're the one that caught him."

"You can convict him without putting me on the stand."

"Yes but to have a surviving victim --"

"I'm not a victim," Will says firmly.

Jack glances down at Will's stomach. The bandages have long since been removed but both of them know, if Will was to unbutton his shirt, what they would find there.

"Dr. Bloom is waiting outside for you."

Will slings his briefcase over his shoulder and walks out of the lecture hall. He doesn't wear a coat even though there's a light smattering of snow covering the ground outside. He pulls a handkerchief out of the pocket of his blazer and dabs the sweat off of his forehead. He never used to carry a handkerchief but it's become a habit to tuck one inside of his pocket every morning. Lots of things have become habits, he thinks.

Dr. Bloom is standing next to her car.

"Jack wants me to testify," Will says, sliding into the passenger seat and slamming the door.

"Are you going to?"

"No."

She turns the key in the ignition: a sputtering noise followed by the steady hum of the engine. She shifts into reverse and backs up out of the parking lot.

"You don't owe him anything."

"I know."

"Is it because of these trips?" Alana asks, turning onto the I-170.

"Maybe. I don't know."

They continue on in silence. Will starts shuddering with heat fever halfway to the hospital. Alana stops at a McDonalds, buys him a large soft drink that will leave sticky residue in her cup holder. "How are you holding up?" she asks as they pass a road sign: KEEDYSVILLE, 3 MI.

"I'm itching for it," Will grimaces, slumping down further in his seat.

"It's just biology."

Will nods.

It's not just biology.

They drive through the small town of Keedysville -- streets lined with utility poles, ramshackle little houses desperately in need of pressure washing. He watches while a little girl sprints out of an ice cream parlor. Her dirty shoelaces are untied, the hard plastic ends skipping over the cement. The remains of a chocolate ice cream cone have dried on her chin. Her parents come out soon after, holding hands even though they've both long since outgrown public displays of affection. He whispers something in her ear; she laughs and swats him on the arm.

It's not just biology, Will thinks, closing his eyes against the small town.

The moment he walks in the front door of the hospital, he's smothered by the stench of sterility. Even the hardwood reception desk has been worked to a spit-and-polish sheen by the facilities staff. They manage to bypass Dr. Chilton this time and proceed straight down to the maximum security ward. Will changes into one of the navy blue jumpsuits and momentarily considers sewing a name-tag inside the collar so that he won't have to share with god knows how many homicidal maniacs. He pads down the hallway in his socked feet, flanked by the two guards standing ready with their tranquilizer guns. He notices that the taunts and jeers that echoed through the hallway last time have disappeared; the wire-mesh cell windows reveal that all of the inmates are sitting with their backs toward him.

"What happened to them?" Will asks.

"We had one hang himself a few days ago. Tied a noose using his bed sheets, hooked it onto the sink. You know the drill."

"What does that have to do with me?"

"Nothing, probably. Suicides just shake up the whole population."

When they reach the end of the hallway, the guard unlocks the door and pushes it to the side. He keeps his tranquilizer gun at the ready the entire time. "You good?"

"Yeah."

"Panic button's on the front wall. Call us if you need anything."

"Sure."

The door slams shut. Will keeps his gaze locked on the window looking out onto the hallway. He thinks back on his FBI training: check all your corners, behind the door, underneath the stairs. If only his instructors could see him now . . . In a cell with the Chesapeake Ripper and not even looking in his direction.

"They want me to testify against you."

"Are you going to?"

"No."

Will glances back over his shoulder at Hannibal. His dusty-blonde hair hangs limply over his forehead; the ends are a little bit ragged, the work of a barbershop inmate unaccustomed to working with scissors. Even with the amateur haircut, he still looks more put-together than Will does on the best of days. He's watching Will with an intensity that anyone else might find intimidating, even frightening. However, Will has become so accustomed to this type of sharp focus that he doesn't even notice anymore.

"Why not?" Hannibal asks. He's not trying to be glib; it's an honest question.

"I don't know."

"I allowed you to commit the rest of your life to me without telling you the truth."

"Yes."

"I almost killed you."

They stand in silence for a moment. Will feels a shiver begin back in his heels and build through every inch of him.

"How do you want to do this?" Will asks suddenly, grabbing the zipper of his jumpsuit and pulling down hard. He stumbles, his feet getting caught in the fabric, before he's finally able to kick the garment into a corner of the cell. He feels Hannibal's eyes tracing the ridge of scar tissue that runs across his abdomen. "Admiring your handiwork?" he asks.

The left corner of Hannibal's lips twitches downwards. It's the closest to an apology that Will's probably going to get.

Will approaches the cot and crawls onto his hands and knees. He hears the metallic crunch of another zipper, worn-down and used, before he feels the dip of the mattress behind him. Will feels the tip of Hannibal's finger gently rubbing against his entrance. "You're wet," he says -- and Will feels his erection throb with an odd kind of warmth, like a brush-burn on your knee after you've fallen.

Will bites back the urge to give a glib retort and simply says: "Yes."

He closes his eyes as Hannibal pushes inside of him. But it's not like last time. Days spent alone in a hotel room have made him desperate for familiarity. His home has long since stopped being considered a crime scene (although the Baltimore PD drives by on a daily basis as a courtesy, making sure that no one spray-paints abuse on the exterior) but he cannot bring himself to walk through their front door again. On the morning he signed the paperwork turning his dogs over to the ASPCA, the FBI started fully subsidizing his stay at the Hampton Inn.

So when Hannibal begins rolling his hips, as if he's attempting to deep massage Will's prostate, Will cannot help the way that he arches his back and keens high in his throat. He feels a paper-thin kiss being pressed onto his shoulder blade and unthinkingly allows his head to lull to the side, giving his partner greater access. Hannibal accepts the invitation, appliquéing a pattern of kisses across his throat. He nudges against Will's jawline, trying to prompt him to turn around so that they can kiss properly. But Will simply shakes his head -- no -- and tilts his head resolutely down towards the mattress. When Will feels the swelling begin, he allows Hannibal to guide him down onto the mattress so that they're locked together -- his back pressed firmly against Hannibal's chest. Will closes his eyes and pretends they're back at home, lying in their bed, and that none of this ever happened.

Will feels disgusted with himself the whole way home.

-----

Will opens his front door that morning to find a newspaper laying on his front step, the word CANNIBAL splashed across the front page in bright red paint. The paint has obfuscated most of the article but Will can make out the headline above the fold: FBI AGENT STANDS BY HIS MAN. Underneath is a grainy black-and-white photograph of the two of them at some FBI dinner event. Will's tie hangs loosely around his neck; Hannibal has unbuttoned his suit coat. It's the end of the evening and both of them are smiling.

Will picks up the newspaper and goes back inside. He tugs on the knob of the oscillating fan, trying to get any kind of a breeze going in the living room. He grabs a washcloth out of the basin of ice water that sits next to the couch, squeezing out the liquid onto his sweat-soaked hair and letting it trickle down his face. The summer months are always the worst. Even the steady vibrating hum of the air conditioner can't provide any relief from heat doubled back on heat. His cell phone rings.

"Hello?"

"Will? It's Alana."

"Are you coming over soon?"

"That's what I wanted to call you about. There's an emergency faculty meeting at Georgetown. I have to be there."

"Oh." Will slumps down onto the couch.

"But we're still going to get you to your appointment today," Alana confirms. "Jack's going to be there to pick you up any minute."

". . . I can drive myself."

"No, you can't."

Will glances over at the newspaper that he tossed down on the coffee table. "I just . . . think that this might be awkward."

"Then maybe it's time for you two to talk it out."

The two of them don't talk at all until they reach Keedysville. That's when Jack pulls over to the side of the road and opens the car door. Will glances up at him through his thick-rimmed glasses. "What?"

"We're grabbing lunch."

Will knows better than to argue. He opens up the passenger door, the gravel of the parking lot crunching underneath his sneakers. Inside the diner, there's a rotating tray of desserts that looks like it hasn't been changed for over a decade. Will can even see a dead fly trapped in the whipped cream on the key lime pie, its wings bent at a grotesque angle. They slide into a vinyl booth and open up their menus.

"I want to know why you're not testifying."

The waitress comes over and sets down two tumblers of water, ice clinking against the plastic.

Will says nothing.

"You're making the entire department looks ridiculous. You're making me look ridiculous." Jack opens up his suit coat and removes a newspaper clipping from the inside pocket. "Have you seen this?"

"Yes."

"They're saying that you're still in love with him."

Will says nothing.

"Are you?"

Will picks up the tumbler of water, even though he's not thirsty. After a few seconds: "It's not like we can get a divorce, Jack."

"I'm not asking you to get a divorce. But you don't testify against him in court. You still live in his house. You still wear your wedding ring everywhere." Jack leans forward on his elbows slightly, getting into Will's space. "I need you to give me something here. Something that I can use to show my superiors -- our superiors, Will -- that your loyalty is to the FBI, not the Chesapeake Ripper."

The waitress comes over to their table. Jack orders for both of them; he doesn't ask Will what he wants.

"It's . . . difficult," Will says. "With these sessions every three months. I'd cut him off entirely if I could."

"Would you?"

"He tried to kill me, Jack."

"I just wonder," Jack says, "if you two weren't married, if you wouldn't be coming back here anyway."

"Why would I? Even I'm not damaged enough to go running back to the Chesapeake Ripper."

"Maybe it's time for you to start looking for someone new . . ."

"It doesn't work like that."

"I know. But you only have to come back here every three months. For the rest of the time, it might be good if you were seen . . . out and about."

"You want me to date for the good of the FBI?" Will laughs.

Jack isn't smiling.

Their waitress comes back over with their lunch, plated on ceramic dishes, everything served with a side order of french fries -- even the salads. The grilled-cheese sandwich that Jack ordered for him feels thick and greasy in his mouth.

"No one's going to blame you for cheating on him," Jack says. "What they'll blame you for is staying with him."

Jack pulls up to the hospital about half an hour later, doesn't so much as look at Will as he unlocks the passenger door and slides out of the car.

Will enters the hospital alone this time. Shuffles down the stairs to the maximum security ward. Changes into the navy blue jumpsuit. Allows the guards to escort him down the hallway.

The buzz of the gate. The clang of the lock. The slam of the door.

"They want me to start dating other people."

"How do you feel about that?"

Will crosses the cell and sits down on the cot next to Hannibal. "Are we having therapy here, Doctor?"

"A little therapy might be good for you."

Will glances over at Hannibal who's observing him with a completely nonjudgmental stare. As if Will hadn't just informed him of the FBI's calculated plan to cuckold him.

"I'm not ready to start dating again," he says curtly.

"When do you think you will be?"

"I don't know." Will takes off his glasses, leans down to rest them on the floor. "This was supposed to be a one-shot deal."

"Indeed."

The two of them fall silent after that. Despite the fact that Will's beginning to feel slightly nauseous from the increase in his body temperature, he stays at his end of the cot. Will thinks about the day they'd gotten married -- a blustery March afternoon. They'd gone to the courthouse after work, neither of them bothering to change their clothes, and had signed all of their licenses in the judge's office. They'd been able to hear her secretary typing on her keyboard in the next room. There hadn't been any articulate vows or public displays of affection. Just some signatures scrawled in ballpoint pen and a stack of paperwork left in their joint safety deposit box.

Will isn't expecting the hand that clasps his shoulder and he startles at the contact. He turns to look at Hannibal and, before he can protest, he feels the insistent press of dry, chapped lips against his own. There's a moment of stillness; both of their eyes are open, leaving them to stare unapologetically at one another. Close enough to observe, in minute detail, all of the ripples and creases that spray outwards from around Hannibal's eyes, Will becomes painfully aware of his husband's age. Hannibal is a good decade older than him, of the age when his children should be grown and his retirement should be planned.

Will pulls away, fixing his eyes on the mattress.

"I guess I'll do what I have to to keep my job," Will mumbles, unzipping the jumpsuit, shifting his hips so that he can tug it off and toss it on the floor near his glasses.

"Is your job worth that much?"

It's the first time that Hannibal has given any voice to his displeasure. Will had been expecting nonnegotiable commands, possibly even an attempt against his life. (The panic button is too far away for him to easily press. Why did he choose to sit over here?) He doesn't expect the question that sounds almost like a supplication.

"It's what I have left." Will lays back, his eyes affixed on the ceiling of the cell. He doesn't look at Hannibal until he comes to rest between his thighs.

"You'll always have me, Will."

Will waits until Hannibal pushes inside of him before responding: "Have you? I don't even know you anymore."

-----

"Is this supposed to be a first date?"

Will sits in the passenger seat with his knees resting up against the dashboard. There's an air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror -- one of those miniature pine trees that they sell inside of car washes, right between the carnauba wax and the leather spray. The entire car smells like a chemical Christmas.

"I guess. Although I don't think that taking you to your . . ." Brian Zeller gestures vaguely, searching for the politically-correct terminology.

"Session?"

"Your session is the greatest first date activity."

"Little bit of a mood killer," Will smiles, looking out the window at the highway that's rushing past them. It's been almost a year since his first visit to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and the route has become familiar. He rolls down the window and leans out into the muggy mid-August air.

"The air conditioner's on," Zeller informs him. "Aren't you warm?"

"Yes." But Will doesn't make any move to roll the window back up.

Zeller fiddles with some knobs on the radio and a Simon and Garfunkle tune erupts from the speakers, crackling with static. The lyrics are barely audible -- but when Zeller goes to turn off the radio, Will grabs ahold of his wrist. Zeller looks at him for a moment before dropping his hand back down to the stick shift. Will knows what his skin must feel like to Zeller: the ragged burn of his temperature combined with the slick of perspiration. He turns his eyes back to the highway. No one wants to be in the grips of heat fever on a first date.

If this even is a first date.

Will hums along with the song on the radio, occasionally mumbling out fragments of a lyric. After a few minutes of his off-key vocals, Zeller joins in -- faring slightly better in terms of musicality. They skim down the highway, singing along to the melody, purposefully ignoring what awaits them at the end of this drive.

They stop at the ice cream parlor in Keedysville. Will scuffs his sneakers across the black and rose-pink tiled floor as they wait at the counter. The soda jerk scoops handmade ice cream into two parfait glasses, topping each one off with a milk chocolate wafer, pressed deep into the top scoop, and a long-handled dessert spoon.

"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want," Zeller says, prodding at his ice cream with the tip of his spoon. "But how are you dealing with all of this?"

"With what?" Will asks. "With these trips?"

"Yeah."

Will sighs and leans back against the metalwork of his chair. "They used to be harder."

"What changed?"

"When he was arrested, everything clicked for me. It was like I was seeing him for the first time . . . I didn't like what I saw."

"I'd be concerned if you had," Zeller says, accidentally brushing his knee up against Will's.

Maybe not accidentally.

"But I'm getting used to it now," Will shrugs. "As much as you can get used to something like that."

Zeller pauses for a moment, before he asks: "Are you still in love with him?"

"Everyone asks that," Will laughs. He pushes a final spoonful of ice cream into his mouth, lets the spoon clatter down onto the saucer. "Let's get back on the road."

When they pull into the hospital parking lot, Will leans in and kisses Zeller. He doesn't know exactly why. Zeller's beard scratches against his skin and his breath tastes stale -- but that doesn't stop Will from allowing himself to be tugged halfway into Zeller's lap. The stick shift jabs painfully into his upper thigh. "Christ, Graham," Zeller sighs, pressing his hips forward to rub his erection against Will's. Will can tell that Zeller, whose idea of foreplay consisted of arguing with him for years at work, doesn't have much sexual experience, especially with men. So Will takes the lead, grabbing the edges of his jaw and kissing him again, memorizing the warmth and softness of this mouth that he won't have to give up in forty-eight hours. He feels Zeller's fingers start fumbling with his belt and pulls away, looking towards the hospital.

"I have to go." Zeller looks disappointed. "I want to," Will confirms quickly, grabbing Zeller's palm and pressing it against the outline of his erection (as if that means anything). "But I can't right now."

Zeller runs his fingertips up and down the length of Will's erection a few times, watching the way that Will struggles to maintain his self-control. Zeller eventually drops his hands though, letting them slap against the leather of the car seat. "Maybe later?"

"You're driving me home," Will reminds him, opening up the passenger door and getting out of the car. Zeller follows behind him.

Zeller offers to accompany Will down to the maximum security ward but Will refuses, insisting that he go straight up to the guest room on the third floor. He's done this before. He'll be fine. Zeller looks like he might argue -- but then he nods and trudges up the stairs.

The moment that Will enters the cell, he can tell that Hannibal knows. That he can smell someone else on him.

"Who?" he asks. It's not an accusation, just a question. Will can tell that Hannibal has long since resigned himself to the fact that this would happen, has probably spent the past three months preparing for this moment.

"Brian Zeller."

Hannibal tries to match the name with a face.

"You don't know him," Will interjects, unzipping his jumpsuit and pushing the fabric off of his shoulders. "He works with me."

"Are you two close?"

"Not at all," Will smirks. "He's a pain in my ass."

Hannibal smiles, the gentleness of his lips belying the quarts of blood that he's spilled.

He steps closer to Will, splays both of his palms against the naked sharpness of Will's hipbones. A rough layer of stubble has sprouted up on Hannibal's cheeks and along his jawline. Will unthinkingly reaches out to touch the short, bristled hairs. "An inmate swallowed a razor blade about a week ago," Hannibal explains, pressing his cheek into the curve of Will's palm. "They're reassessing their safety standards."

"You look . . ." Will cuts himself off, shakes his head.

Hannibal leans forward and kisses Will.

Will kisses back.

They stumble over the fabric lying in heaps on the cement floor, until Will falls backward onto the mattress, the springs noticeably recoiling under his weight. He rests his head back against the starched pillowcase, with its acrid stinging scent, and spreads his thighs open. Hannibal settles in between them, the glans of his cock prodding out from underneath the foreskin. Will closes his eyes, remembering the feel of Hannibal's cock wrapped tightly in his fist, the thin layer of flesh that creased and wrinkled under his administrations, how the glans was always slick and glistening wet. He locks his ankles together around Hannibal's upper back, opening himself up and allowing Hannibal to penetrate him. His sharp intake of breath as Hannibal rolls his hips for the first time, as Hannibal sucks roughly on the inside of his neck. "My Will," Hannibal whispers against the damp crevices of Will's collarbone.

When Will feels Hannibal swelling inside of him, the pressure pushing outwards against his inner walls, he grasps the bedsheets in his fists and comes.

They lay on the cot, their foreheads pressed together and their breath warm and damp against one another's mouths. "I love you," Hannibal tells him.

"God," Will groans, tilting his face away from Hannibal's. "Don't say that."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't. You're a sociopath; you don't understand what love means."

Hannibal nips gently at Will's shoulder, leaving behind the imperfect imprint of his teeth. "Don't tell me what I feel, Will."

Will grasps Hannibal's hand, presses his palm to the ragged edges of the scar tissue on his stomach.

"You love me?"

Hannibal has nothing to say.

-----

The next time they pull into the parking lot, there's an ambulance out front -- the lights pulsing red onto their faces. Will gets out of the car and jogs towards the EMTs, taking his identification out of his pocket. "What's happening here?"

"Nurse. Severe facial trauma."

"How'd it happen?"

"One of the inmates got her," he says. The EMT's stare remains fixed on the hospital door, barely even acknowledging Will's presence. The hospital doors slam open and a gurney comes crashing down the brick steps, two EMTs holding firmly onto the railings. The EMT at the front of the gurney shouts out directions to his teammates, as they all work together to haul the gurney into the back of the ambulance. Will unobtrusively shifts closer to get a look at the nurse. If he wasn't a trained FBI agent, accustomed to looking at the most graphically violent of crime scenes, he might have been nauseated by what he saw. Blood bubbles up from her mouth around a thin plastic intubation tube, coating her swelling dislocated jaw. One of her optic nerve dangles loosely out of her eye socket; there's no eyeball attached to the end. The intubation effectively stops her from talking but her throat muscles contract rapidly around the plastic.

"Well, that's disgusting," Zeller says, looking over Will's shoulder.

"Yeah."

Will glances over at the hospital door and sees Dr. Chilton jogging down the front steps. While the EMTs have blood splatter all over their uniforms, Will notices that Dr. Chilton's suit remains pressed and spotlessly clean. He quickly approaches the two of them.

"Did you see that?" Dr. Chilton asks, gesturing towards the ambulance which, at that moment, turns on the siren and pulls out of the parking lot. Will nods.

"Your husband did that."

Will remains silent, staring over Dr. Chilton's left shoulder. There's a dribbled pathway of blood leading from the front steps of the hospital down to the parking lot. Will traces the spatter with his eyes; it ends in a syrupy puddle directly next to Will's sneakers. He's momentarily tempted to jump in the puddle, to watch the blood splash up onto the cuffs of his jeans, but that would be an inappropriate response to the situation.

"Oh," he says instead.

"Come into the office."

Will and Zeller follow Dr. Chilton into the hospital. The orderlies have already unloaded the cleaning supplies and are attempting to scrub the blood off of the tiled floor and the whitewashed walls. Zeller takes great care to step around the carnage; Will doesn't.

Once in the office, Dr. Chilton sits down at his desk. Will remains standing by the window. He refuses to look at either of them, preferring instead to keep his gaze locked on the few dried leaves clinging to the branches of a windswept maple tree.

"I'm sorry that you had to see that," Dr. Chilton says, as a formality. "I know that it must be difficult to reconcile the man that you married with . . ." He gestures vaguely, not knowing how to describe what Hannibal has become.

What Hannibal always was.

"What happened to her?" Will asks.

"Her tongue was severed, eyeball ripped out, jaw dislocated."

"How did he get a knife?"

"He didn't. He used his teeth."

Will has nothing to say.

The branches of the maple tree scratch against the windowpane, as if they were trying to get inside.

"Did he . . . ?" Zeller asks.

"He ate her tongue."

"Christ."

A knock on the door. The orderly responsible for the maximum security ward shuffles into the office, a videotape clutched in his fist.

"I have the security footage, Dr. Chilton."

"Thank you."

The orderly leaves the videotape on the desk and, with a quick glance at Will, leaves the office. "I understand if you don't want to watch this," Dr. Chilton says -- but that doesn't stop him from pushing the videotape into the VCR installed below a large flat-screen television set. The grainy black-and-white footage flickers on the screen, the timestamp in the right corner indicating that this happened less than fifteen minutes ago. Although Will doesn't want to watch, he finds his gaze drawn to the television set. He watches while the orderly leads Hannibal into the medical center, his wrists firmly locked into handcuffs. Hannibal eases himself up onto the exam table and waits there. Will feels as if the blood pooling in his groin has become substantially warmer.

The nurse enters the medical center with her clipboard tucked under her arm. She's in her early-twenties and attractive in a Middle American kind of way. She lays the clipboard down on the counter and turns to Hannibal. Even though Will knows what's going to happen, even though Will watched them load the nurse into the ambulance, he still startles when Hannibal lunges forward. Hannibal manages to dig his teeth into her eye socket, biting down and ripping forcefully. He watches while her optic nerve drops from in between his lips, bouncing against the flesh of her cheek. As she opens her mouth to scream for help, he grabs onto her tongue and --

"Turn it off."

Dr. Chilton pauses the videotape but doesn't turn off the television set. Will stares at the frozen image on the screen: Hannibal, his chin covered in gore, her tongue gripped firmly in between his teeth.

Without another word, Will briskly walks out of the office. The hallways smell like disinfectant and he's desperate to be out in the frigid November wind. He slams the hospital doors open and strides down the front steps and out into the parking lot. Zeller follows close behind.

"Will, you can't just leave!" he insists -- but he pulls his keyring out of his pocket anyway. As soon as Will hears the click of the car door unlocking, he slides into the passenger seat.

"I know that . . ." Zeller stammers. "I can't imagine what it must be like to see . . ."

"I thought he'd look different," Will says suddenly. "I thought that when he attacked someone, he'd look different. That he'd become something else and I'd suddenly understand what had been hiding itself underneath that facade . . ." Will chokes back an insistent sob, not wanting to show weakness in front of Zeller. "But he didn't look different at all. His eyes were just as rational and calm as they'd been when we talked in his office. Just as gentle." Will spits out the last word because, yes, Hannibal had looked gentle when he'd bitten off her tongue.

And because Will is still hard.

"Let's go. There's a hotel in Keedysville."

"We can't just leave, Will."

"Yes, we can. We're going to go to that hotel and you're going to fuck this out of me."

"What?"

"You're going to fuck him out of me."

"You know that's not possible --"

"Well, you're going to try."

Zeller turns the key in the ignition and the motor sputters and hums. Will leans back against the seat, looking out the windshield but not seeing much of anything. They travel the few miles to Keedysville in silence. The Keedysville Inn, a ramshackle Victorian house with a buckling front porch, sits in the middle of Main Street. The white paint coating the front door has started crackling and peeling, revealing the weathered wood underneath. Zeller parallel parks in front of the hotel and turns off the car.

"Are you sure that you want to do this?" he asks. "It's not going to help."

Will ignores him and gets out of the car. The front porch creaks and the wooden slats bend slightly underneath his weight. He opens the front door and a tinny little bell rings above him. The lobby reeks of cigarette smoke and mothballs.

"G'afternoon!" An elderly man greets him from behind the reception desk. "Can I get you a room?"

"Yes. Please."

"How many nights?"

"Just one, thanks."

The bell rings a second time. "You need a room too?"

"I'm with him," Zeller says, awkwardly refusing to make eye contact with the innkeeper.

"Oh."

For a moment, Will thinks that the innkeeper might turn them away. But instead, he grabs a key off of the wall and plunks it down onto the counter. "You gentlemen enjoy," he says with a smile that's not entirely pleasant. The keychain has 3C written in permanent marker on the tag.

Will quickly bounds up the stairs to the third floor. He fumbles with the key in the lock but eventually jostles the door open. Will grabs a handful of Zeller's jacket in his fist and physically pulls him into the bedroom, slamming the door behind them. "Fuck me," Will demands, his fingertips dropping to his belt buckle and tugging at the leather. Will's fingers are trembling and Zeller has to help him unbutton his jeans. Zeller dips his fingers underneath the waistband of Will's boxer-briefs, rubs them against the oily slickness coating the outside of Will's entrance.

"Fuck, Graham," he sighs.

He presses his thumb inside of Will, the blunt tip breaching his entrance. Will's breath hitches and he rubs his erection up against Zeller's thigh. They quickly remove the rest of their clothing, making their way over to the four-poster bed against the wall. Will stumbles onto the mattress and crawls back towards the headboard. Zeller climbs in between his thighs, grabs his cock in his fist, and pushes himself inside of Will.

Will holds his breath, waits for the heat fever to break.

It doesn't.

He lays there on the mattress, staring at the water damage on the ceiling. Zeller pounds into him, grunting and moaning, feeling dense and bloated on top of him. Will's suddenly desperate to get up, to get out of here, to get . . .

No.

Will wraps his thighs tighter around Zeller, fabricates some little moans in the back of his throat, and grasps short strands of hair in his fists. Zeller speeds up his pace -- the squelching sounds of their fucking becoming obscene. And god, Will tries so hard to be satisfied. When Zeller repositions himself and thrusts hard up against Will's prostate, he tries to convince himself that it's what he needs. He arches off the mattress and demands: "Harder." And Zeller keeps relentlessly fucking that bundle of nerves inside of him. Will's cock slaps against his belly in time with Zeller's thrusts, the glans red and irritated and weeping fluids.

Zeller pulls out.

"What's the problem?" Will asks.

" . . . I came."

Will lets out an aborted sob, squeezing his eyes shut. He grabs himself in his fist and starts tugging at a frenzied pace.

"Will, you're going to hurt yourself."

Will ignores him, keeps abusing his cock.

"Will."

Zeller grabs ahold of Will's hands and pins them back to the mattress.

They lay there for a moment, both of them panting hard. Will feels a dribble of semen trickling down his thigh.

"Let's get going," Zeller says. "If we start now, we can get back to the hospital before dark."

Will pushes Zeller off of him and starts grabbing his clothes from off of the carpeted floor. "I don't believe this," he grits out between clenched teeth. "I don't believe that this is what I ended up with."

Zeller doesn't say anything.

There's nothing left to say.

When they pull back into the parking lot, Will tells Zeller to go home.

"I have to wait for you," Zeller insists.

"No, you don't."

Will jogs down to the maximum security ward. "Let's go," he says to the guards who are slouched in their metal folding chairs, reading their magazines. He's already changed into a navy blue jumpsuit from the supply closet. His palms are cupped over the erection that's pressing insistently against the fabric.

"We didn't think that you were coming today," one of the guards says, quickly tossing his magazine into a desk drawer.

"I wasn't. But I'm here now. So let's go."

He notices that the guards double-check their weapons today. They must have seen the security footage.

When he enters the cell, Hannibal immediately stands. He looks like he's recently showered. His skin is steamed and his hair has been slicked back. "Will."

"Hannibal."

The door clangs shut behind him.

Hannibal's nostrils flare out slightly as he inhales.

"I was expecting you this afternoon."

"You seemed . . . preoccupied."

"They told you?"

"Yes."

Hannibal lowers his gaze. "Did Chilton show you the surveillance footage?"

"Yes."

Hannibal inhales again.

"You were with him before you came here?"

"Yes."

Hannibal unzips his jumpsuit and pushes the fabric off of his shoulders. The first time Will ever saw Hannibal naked, he was taken aback by the brute muscularity of his body -- a bruiser, a brawler, a scrapper, someone better suited for a construction site than a medical practice. The disparity between his lifestyle and his physique makes more sense now; in fact, Will finds himself unpleasantly conscious of Hannibal's crimes whenever he looks at the corded muscles of his forearms, the broad expanse of his shoulders, the tightness of his pectorals. There are thick knots and loops of scar tissue covering the surface of his body.

Hannibal is fully erect. His cock juts out in front of him, unapologetic in its arousal.

"But he's not what you need."

Hannibal knows better than to taunt him. It's simply a declaration of fact.

"No. He's not what I need."

Hannibal cups Will's face in between his palms, rubbing his thumbs against the scruff along his jawline, before pressing a kiss to his forehead. "I love you," Hannibal insists -- and when Will makes an attempt to deny the statement, Hannibal shifts his palm, firmly covering Will's mouth. Hannibal's palm smells like soap, the generic brand found in public restroom dispensers. "Let me give you what you need."

Hannibal pushes Will down onto the mattress and climbs on top of him. When Will spreads his thighs, he knows that Hannibal can see the residue of his time at the Keedysville Inn dried, milky-white, against his flesh. Hannibal pauses for a second before climbing off the cot and grabbing a washcloth from the back of the toilet. He turns on the sink faucet and lets the water run for a few seconds. He holds the washcloth under the faucet and then returns to Will, washing the semen off of him. Gently, he pushes the terrycloth inside of Will, rubbing against the edges of his entrance.

Then Hannibal pushes himself inside of Will.

And the heat fever breaks.