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come around again (only want to say goodbye)

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The first time Hannibal Lecter breaks out of the Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Jack initiates a statewide manhunt.

"How the hell did he get out?" he snarls at Katz. "That is a maximum security facility! Did he kill somebody?"

"No," she says tersely. "I'm checking the bank accounts of all employees for suspicious activity, but there are no red flags yet. Nobody quit or called in sick. We don't know."

"Find out," Jack growls, and turns his attention to locating the fugitive.

Hannibal escaped in Dr. Chilton's vehicle, but a patrol car turns it up in the parking lot of a bar ten miles away, and the security cameras in the area don't offer any indication as to where he might have gone or how he might have gotten there. But Hannibal doesn't have any identification, so he won't have been able to board a flight; he must still be traveling by car. Jack glances over the description Katz sent out for the APB, calls Chilton to demand answers he doesn't have, and pulls more bodies into the hunt, agent shortages be damned.

"We need to speak to anybody he's had any contact with," Jack tells Katz, aware that she knows but needing to give the order anyway. "Anybody who has visited or written letters, even if he hasn't written back." She's nodding obligingly, absent eyes trained further down this road than Jack's. His words are just getting in the way. "And anybody he might have a grudge against, or people he considered friends before his incarceration--Chilton, Freddie Lounds, Alana Bloom, Will Graham--"

"Bad timing," Beverly offers. "He would have been useful."

"If appendixes have no function there is no purpose to having them removed," Jack states for the nth time, knowing he will still be shouting into the wind.

"It could have ruptured--" Beverly objects.

"And no reason to authorize leave for their removal," he finishes wrathfully. "And in a hospital that is far too close to that asylum."

"Ruptured," Katz repeats, but she speaks quietly and she's already dialing Chilton to demand Hannibal's correspondence, so Jack doesn't reprimand her.

He calls Will instead, to bring him up to speed. Will sounds groggy when he answers the phone.

"'Lo?"

"Will," Jack says, "I know you've just come out of surgery, but I need you to listen to me. Hannibal Lecter has escaped custody."

"Yeah," Will says.

"We don't know his present location, but I'm concerned for your safety. I'm going to station an officer outside your door, but in the meantime--"

"He's here," Will interrupts.

"He's there?" Jack asks frantically.

Katz's head swings around, and the hand holding her phone drops away; the echo of Chilton's tinny voice reaches Jack's ears even as Katz turns and sprints for the doors. Jack follows her.

"Yeah," Will drawls. "I don't think this is chicken, though."

"What?"

"I mean, I'm pretty sure it's not people, but I don't think it's chicken either. Where did you get this? It's terrible."

Jack hears the murmur of Hannibal's voice on the other end of the line, offering a soft apology for the quality of the food, and then Will says, "Well I could have picked something up from the hospital cafeteria. I mean, what's the point of having a visitor if they're not going to bring you something decent?"

"Will," Jack says urgently, "Will!"

But Hannibal is speaking again, and Will doesn't respond to Jack, saying instead, "No. Do you have to?"

"Will, talk to me!"

"Jack, I have to go," Will says. He's slurring his words. Jack barely recognizes his own name. "Hannibal is--"

He hangs up.

When they reach the hospital Katz pulls up in front and they both jump out, ignoring the outraged yells of the security guard. It takes too long to get a location from the reception desk and navigate the indistinguishable corridors, and Jack's heart pounds as he runs, harder than can be explained by the exertion.

He's afraid before he reaches Will's room. When he sees Will lying still on the bed his heart drops. He hesitates, knowing he has to move forward and touch Will, find out whether he is alive, but not wanting to know if he isn't.

Will makes a startled noise, and wakes from his doze.

"Will!" Beverly exclaims, and rushes past Jack to touch Will's shoulder.

"Hi," Will says sleepily. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for Hannibal," Jack says harshly. "Where is he?"

"He had to go," Will says. He sounds sad, but it's the drugs, Jack knows. "He didn't want to see you. He thought it would be awkward."

"Did he say where he was going?" Jack demands.

"He said he'd call me later," Will tells him. "But I might be asleep."

"Do you spend a lot of time on the phone with Hannibal?" Beverly asks, worried.

"No," Will says crossly, and, "He brought me a dog, though. Makes up for the soup."

Jack glances around automatically, expecting to see one of Will's mangy strays sitting in a corner, but when he looks back at Will he's holding out a stuffed sausage dog with a heart for a collar.

"But not the eating people," Beverly says firmly, and though it takes her a moment, Jack is still speechless. She leans over to peer at the remains of Will's soup. "Should we get this tested?"

"He didn't have time," Jack manages.

"Hmm. Where did Hannibal get money to hit up the giftshop?"

"Did he tell you where he was going," Jack grinds out, at the end of his tether.

When Will blinks his eyes stay shut for longer than they should, but he says, "Yeah. He gets a phone call a day now, right?"

Jack's phone rings. He jumps, but he takes some satisfaction when Beverly's mouth drops open.

It's Chilton.

"What is he doing back?" Chilton hisses.

"He's--"

"Back!" Chilton tells him. "Yes!"

He's speaking quietly; Jack suspects that Hannibal is in the room and he wants the illusion that he won't be overheard.

"Are you concerned for your safety?" Jack asks.

"Not--as such," Chilton admits reluctantly. "He wanted to use the telephone in my office."

Will's phone rings, and Jack closes his eyes as he listens to Will greet Hannibal happily.

"How did he get back in?" Jack asks.

"How did he get into my office?" Chilton demands. "Patients are not supposed to be able to access my office without my approval!"

"No, I don't think Winston will mind not being the newest," Will is saying happily. "Though he might try to eat Brat if I leave them alone together. No, I'm not calling him Blut--no, that's worse than Kindziuk--he's called Brat because he's a brat. I know he's a toy, but he feels like a cloud."

"Have you figured out how he got away?" Jack asks pointedly.

"I can't think when he's looking at me," Chilton whispers.

"I feel like a cloud," Will says dreamily. "Like a cotton-puff, like a cream-puff, like you could just eat me and--"

He giggles. Jack shudders, though he knows it's the drugs. He knows.

"Tell him to stop smiling!" Chilton instructs furiously.

"I have bigger problems," Jack says, though it might not be true, "and so do you. Check your wallet." Chilton is spluttering when Jack hangs up, Will is asleep when Jack looks over. His stuffed dog is tucked under his chin and he's clutching at it like he thinks it's going to try and escape like the man who had gifted it to him.

By the time Jack gets to Will's phone there's nobody on the other end of the line.

"Aw," Beverly says. "I am sincerely and deeply disturbed by everything that is happening right now."

She takes a picture anyway.

*

When forced, Jack is willing to acknowledge that Will is someone about whom he harbors serious concerns.

It's been almost two years since Will was exonerated, and since he'd fought his way back to health and respect and status with Jack by his side, but it's impossible to forget the instability that caused Jack to doubt him and believe him capable of such monstrous crimes in the first place. Jack's lack of faith in Will's protestations of innocence had changed their relationship, much as Will's experiences changed him. But while Jack regrets the change, he would not have done anything differently, because even now, knowing what he knows about Will and Hannibal and the sway that Hannibal had held over Will in his desperation and dependence--even now, Jack doubts.

He doesn't question Will's loyalty or his desire to do the right thing, and when Will is standing beside him he doesn't question Will's ability to do it either. But Will has not always been only Jack's to influence, and Jack can't forget.

He doesn't put in a request for Will's phone records because he doesn't want his suspicions in writing, but it's easy enough to put a little pressure on Chilton and get him to hand over Hannibal's.

At first, Will doesn't take Hannibal's calls all that often; there are a lot of connections of short duration, forty or fifty seconds, long enough for Hannibal to lecture Will for not picking up and leave some kind of friendly sign off on his voicemail. But Will does speak to him sometimes, and that's enough for Hannibal to wedge open the door. It's a matter of weeks before Will answers every time Hannibal calls, before the conversations stretch from five minutes to ten to thirty.

"Why do you let him use your personal line?" Jack snaps at Chilton one particularly trying day, when Will has returned from a twenty minute bathroom break prompted by the buzzing of his phone to study crime scene photographs with bright interest and upbeat speculations on the psychopathy of their serial killer. "The length of an inmate's calls is supposed to be restricted!"

"I can't say no to him!" Chilton says crazily. "He will eat my face right off my skull!"

"You only say that because you know he's done it before!" Jack says, and hangs up so that he can glare at Will without Chilton's stupidity distracting him.

"--and that's why he's going to return to abduct his cousin's wife's cat," Will says, cheerful because he doesn't much care for cats, and Jack heaves himself up and heads out to make the arrest.

Will's good humor is leading to a significant increase in productivity, which results in a lot of attention, both from inside the agency and out. Most of it Jack can deal with: it's easy enough to drop a casual mention of the unpredictability of Will's continued good mental health in the ear of any superior who looks at Jack's closure rate and then at Will with a little too much interest, and Jack can actually have Freddie Lounds' girlfriend arrested for what goes on at that club of hers any time he chooses, because there are way more seventeenth century laws still on the books than most people suspect, but Freddie is a decent journalist with an interest in the area, and she knows these things.

The admiring letters Will has begun receiving from a fan of Hannibal's work are more worrying, but Jack takes care of that too: he sets Katz to opening all mail addressed to Will that arrives at the office, and readdressing and forwarding anything he actually needs to see, like invitations to speak or reminders to get his eyes tested every six months or his dogs inoculated against whatever it is that's about to decimate the weimaraner population of the South Atlantic, if you believe Will's veterinarian's excitable assistant, which Katz doesn't.

Jack doesn't think Will even has any weimaraners, so he's tempted to shred that one, but he's pretty sure that if Will actually knew Jack was doing any of this he would move to Alaska and neglect to leave a forwarding address, so he restrains himself with some difficulty.

They stumble along like this until one day Jack picks up his phone expecting to hear Will apologizing for being late and instead hears Hannibal ask, "Where is Will?"

"I don't know," Jack says. "He's late. Why don't you know? Don't you text each other updates every time you eat a bagel or step on gum?"

"So you understand the problem," Hannibal says, and hangs up.

Jack scowls at the handset in baffled annoyance, but despite his irritation he calls Will's phone just in case. The third time he calls, Will's phone has been powered off and he goes directly to voicemail, so he disconnects and calls Hannibal back.

"Hello?" Chilton says, because it is, of course, Chilton's line.

"Put Hannibal on," Jack says impatiently.

"Give me a second," Chilton says, and Jack raps his knuckles quickly against the wood of his desk while he waits.

"Can I shred this thing about how many more cats there are in need of homes than dogs?" Beverly asks, holding the offending circular up for inspection. "You know it's just going to put him in a bad mood."

"Ah--" Chilton says when he returns to the phone.

"What?" Jack roars. "What!"

"...Dr. Lecter may have stepped out for a moment," Chilton says delicately, and, muffled, "How much do you think a cab home would cost from here?"

And that's how Hannibal Lecter escapes from the Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane for the second time.

"Do we have an ID on the letter-writer yet?" Jack asks Katz.

"No," she says, bored. "But he sure does mention Hannibal a lot. Maybe if we got Chilton to turn over all his correspondence again something would turn up."

"You should do that," Jack says irritably, "since I'm pretty sure Will has just been abducted by him."

She scrambles out of her seat and out of the door, and Jack gloomily starts the process of tracking Will's last known location and setting up patrols and roadblocks, and he has a lot of nothing by the time she gets back.

"I think I have something," she says after a few minutes. She's familiar with the handwriting and illustrations of their letter-writer, so she's been saving time by flipping through letters instead of reading them, waiting for something to catch her eye. The pile of letters Hannibal has received in the past month sits terrifyingly high on her desk, and Jack would despair for the future of humanity if he let himself think about it. "Timothy Menton."

"Let me see," Jack says.

He's reading the latest letter while Katz digs through the stack for more, frowning over the carefully concealed implications of the text, and when his phone rings he picks it up automatically.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Jack," Will says. "Sorry I'm late."

"Will!" Jack says, rising to his feet. Katz rushes over and grabs his wrist so she can shove her ear up to the headset and listen in. "Where are you?"

"I'm getting dropped off," Will says, sounding mildly offended despite his apology, like he thinks Jack is demanding his immediate presence rather than reassurance of his safety. "I'll be up in five."

He hangs up.

"He sounds peeved about your lack of concern over his recent kidnapping," Katz says. "You should probably do something about that."

Jack glares at her until she goes on lunch, hugging Will briefly as she passes him on her way into the elevator.

"Will!" Jack bellows across the room.

"Do you have to shout?" Will asks, shuffling over. "I've had a tiring morning."

"How did you escape?"

"I didn't," Will says. "Timmy dropped me off with Hannibal."

"Timmy--"

Jack sits down hard.

"Yeah," Will says. "He was just trying to do something nice. Not for me, obviously. For Hannibal. But he wouldn't have hurt me."

"He wouldn't have hurt you," Jack repeats dazedly.

"Not before Hannibal," Will clarifies. "Not without permission. And Hannibal dropped me off here."

"Hannibal dropped--" Jack starts, and then bites out, "Did you let him go?"

"No," Will says, looking at him like he's grown a second head. "He did kidnap me, Jack. He's downstairs in holding."

Jack subsides with some dissatisfaction. "I suppose you got something done while you were off being late," he allows grumpily.

"Are those Hannibal's?" Will asks, casting a curious eye over the stationery spilling all over Katz's desk. "He's going to want them back."

"He can want," Jack grits, and then his phone rings.

It's Chilton.

"--cancel the cab," he's saying to whatever poor soul looks after that kind of thing for him. "Jack."

"Yes," Jack says wearily.

"Hannibal is back."

"I thought as much."

"And he says he wants his letters."

"I don't care what Hannibal Lecter wants," Jack tells him.

"That's nice," Chilton says.

"If you don't need me I'm just going to--" Will says, jerks a thumb over his shoulder, and walks towards the elevator. He looks at Katz's desk as he passes it, but he doesn't spot anything involving weimaraners, thank God. Jack keeps a beady eye out, just in case.

"But he mentioned something about illegal seizure and filing an ethics charge."

"Doesn't that involve a board of your peers?" Jack asks. "I don't think they'll take away your license based on Hannibal's testimony."

"I'm concerned about his charisma and popularity," Chilton admits, "and also that my peers are as afraid of having their faces eaten as I am."

"I would know it was him if he did!" Jack tells Chilton angrily.

"He won't file a complaint if you bring all his stuff back," Chilton says. "Against me, anyway. I didn't ask about you."

"He can complain all he wants!" Jack roars.

"Bring it back now," Chilton tells him. "Or I'll stop taking your calls."

He hangs up.

Jack stares at Will as the elevator doors slide shut, weighing the negative consequences of sending him out to the asylum to drop off Hannibal's crap.

"Damn it," he mutters, and calls Katz instead.

She doesn't answer, but he gets a text a minute later.

Not kidnapped, she tells him, on lunch.

"Damn it," he mutters again, and fantasizes about outlawing all breaks as he drives out to the asylum.

*

For the good of his own health, Jack attempts to ignore the increasing incursion of Hannibal Lecter into Will's life. He continues to work with Chilton in an attempt to keep Hannibal's little excursions to a minimum, but Chilton isn't as helpful as Jack might have hoped.

"You should do something about my car," Chilton suggests. "I feel like that would help put an end to things. You should get it a better lock, or lojack it or something."

"I should get you a bicycle," Jack suggests instead. That would do more to hinder Hannibal; Jack had already tried LoJack without consulting Chilton, but Hannibal had known how to locate and disable the device, and once the glove box had been ripped out it had been easier just to switch in a brand new car. He isn't explaining that in an expense report again.

"Or a fingerprint lock or a retinal scanner," Chilton continues. "Do they do retinal scanners for cars?"

"Probably," Jack says. "But then Hannibal would have to rip out your eyes every time he wanted to take a constitutional."

Chilton hangs up before Jack can.

Hannibal isn't calling as frequently as he once had, but the impact of his presence in Will's life is growing. Will relaxes when his phone buzzes, and Jack suspects he doesn't always check the display immediately in case it isn't Hannibal, not wanting to lose the feeling of comfort that promise brings. He keeps coming out with pointers Hannibal has given him like he's forgotten that they no longer speak the man's name, throwing out nuggets of information like, "Hannibal says Butler's aunt taught him all he knows, and she lives out near Wolf Trap and blames me for his incarceration, so I should really install an alarm already," like it's nothing. Will does install the alarm, so Jack keeps his grumbling under his breath.

And sometimes Jack calls Chilton just to check in, because his shoulders have locked up and his eye has started twitching for no discernable reason, and Chilton says, vaguely, "He's around here somewhere, let me just--" and puts the handset down on his desk and plays three games of Minesweeper and curses loudly every time he loses, and then comes back to the phone to say, "He's in the shower," and hang up, and by the time Jack makes it out to the asylum Hannibal is reading in the library while an armed guard stands by watching over him as he licks the tip of his finger to turn a page and drinks his caramel macchiato from a takeaway cup printed with the name of Will's favorite coffee place.

Jack really needs to start having lunch with Will more often; if he had less free time these things wouldn't happen.

But though Will may be accepting Hannibal's attempts at maintaining some kind of relationship, he hasn't initiated contact himself, so this shitstorm hasn't yet reached the point where Jack needs to address it.

And then one day Will brings a plush sheepdog to a crime scene, tucked into the crook of his elbow.

Katz starts laughing, but Jack's reaction isn't as good-humored.

"Are you serious?" he asks. "Seriously?"

It takes Will a moment to register the source of the objection, even with Katz sniggering in the background.

"I forgot I had it," he says, blushing horribly, and holding the stuffed toy out in front of him, like that will somehow make him less conspicuous and ridiculous. "I just--"

"Go home," Jack says, and ignores the hurt that sweeps over Will's face as he turns his back on his consultant.

"Fair," Katz says as she joins him in staring down at the corpse. "But we--"

"No," Jack says.

"--really could have--"

"Nope," Jack says.

"--used--"

"No!" Jack bellows. "Neither him nor his dog!"

"Okay," she says. "But we do need the help."

It's true enough.

"Will would have wanted to know if Donnie was willing to share his teddy bears first," Jack snaps cruelly.

"Maybe we should speak to Hannibal," Katz suggests.

Jack has considered it, but he's convinced that any attempt on his part to persuade Hannibal away from Will would result in a perverse escalation, and things are bad enough as it is.

"He might know something," Katz continues. It's the first time anyone has suggested such a thing to Jack, and the idea of it winds him. "We could ask--"

She catches sight of Jack's expression and cuts herself off.

They don't ask.

Will doesn't hold a grudge over Jack's display of temper, but he doesn't forget himself again, and Jack sees much less evidence of Hannibal's presence in Will's life. He almost manages to convince himself that it's because Hannibal is no longer there.

And then one day Will storms into Jack's office and says, "Donald Adamson told Hannibal he's been sending me letters, Jack. Where are they?"

The fallout is ugly, but once Will sees the material Adamson has been sending him he has a compelling reason to keep working on the case with Jack, and Jack is confident he'll come around before long.

As if to make up for Will's sullen silence, Hannibal keeps calling Jack, but Jack has caller ID and he knows how to use it.

Hannibal's voicemail messages are deeply annoying; Jack has no idea how he ever lured Will into speaking to him that way.

"Jack," Hannibal's recorded voice croons, "I cannot assist in this unfortunate matter if you persist in your refusal to discuss the details of this case with me, and your alienation of Will is doing nothing to help. I am quite confident that I can corral this monster and cut him down, and I am offended by and resentful of your refusal to allow me to do so. Do not make me come down there."

The message ends.

"Whatever," Jack mutters. "Will's gonna come around."

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen before Adamson steals Zeller's keycard and identification and makes his way into the heart of Quantico, where he leaves Will for dead on the podium of his lecture hall.

One of the trainees circles back around with a question for teacher, so Will gets medical attention almost immediately, but Adamson escapes, and Jack has no idea where he might have gone. He doesn't believe that Adamson had enough cunning to calculate the reverberations of his attack, but it wouldn't have been a bad plan if it had been one, risking everything to remove the person most capable of chasing him to earth. He wonders if that had prompted Hannibal's actions, back when he had passed as one of them and gone entirely unsuspected, wonders if Hannibal had felt that same threat in Will.

He picks up the phone and calls Hannibal, hoping that the man will have something to offer, some course of action to suggest, but he simply listens in silence as Jack relates the day's events and Will's injury.

When Jack's words run out, he listens to the other man breathe evenly for a moment before saying, "Hannibal."

It's all that he can say; he can't ask for help, can't ask this man what it is that he should do.

Hannibal hangs up.

Jack supposes he goes to visit Will in the hospital, and he would disapprove if he had a thought to spare for it, but Hannibal's insistence on forcing his way into Will's affections matters very little, now.

He doesn't call Chilton, or furnish the guards on Will's door with Hannibal's description, just focuses all his attention on catching the bastard that did this.

He isn't sure how long they've been working frantically to turn up anything at all when he discovers that the son of Adamson's first victim, the boy who had spoken in favor of the man he had viewed as a father, has relocated from Durham to Arlington since Adamson's release.

"He has to be there," Jack says as they rush down the stairs, unwilling to wait for the elevator. "We can be there in twenty minutes--"

As they spill out onto the front steps, Chilton's black Mercedes crawls past, and Hannibal glances indifferently over at them, raising his chin in bare acknowledgment.

Their heads turn as one to stare at the car until it turns a corner and vanishes; then they stare ahead blankly instead.

"We should get on that?" Price asks.

"We should fucking find Adamson," Katz says fiercely, and they shake it off and power towards the parking lot.

They find Adamson more quickly than expected: when they reach Jack's vehicle his body is splayed across the hood, gazing unseeingly up at the clear blue sky. Several easily detachable bits are very evidently missing, and both of Jack's windscreen wipers have been snapped off and plunged into Adamson's oesophagus.

"Well," Katz says after a minute. "I guess I can visit Will at the hospital instead?"

Jack waves her off.

He's still dealing with the red tape when Chilton calls him some time later.

"Why is he back," Chilton complains. "Why does he keep coming back. Can't you just keep him?"

"No," Jack says, scowling down at the three forms that it is apparently necessary to fill out in triplicate when an escaped cannibalistic serial killer murders a rival homicidal maniac on the hood of your agency-issued vehicle in what appears to be some kind of turf war over your pet empath. "I don't want him."

"And when did he have time to stop for food?"

Jack blinks.

"Just don't eat anything he offers you," he says practically. "Then you won't have anything to worry about."

The phone is barely back in the receiver before it rings again.

"This room is full of Furbies," Beverly says in a crazed voice. "I can't tell if they're a courting gift or an advancing army or a formal curse or what. Send help."

Jack is too busy to send help, but he figures Will must like the damned things, so he does make time to contribute another Furby to the cause.

*

Jack is not a stupid man, so he notices when the information with which Will provides them regarding cases begins to stretch beyond the insights provided by his gift, begins to incorporate concrete details and suggestions more specific than any Will has made before. He knows the knowledge doesn't come from Will's mind, and he knows from whose it does.

He worries about Will, the way he always has, but he has always been a practical man where Will's promise is concerned, and he can see the promise in this, too.

He doesn't ask where Will is gleaning his information.

"Are you going to do anything about this?" Katz asks, as they watch Will stand at the sidelines of a crime scene and text.

Will doesn't text. Will doesn't have anyone to text.

Jack wonders whose phone Hannibal has stolen, and whether he will be able to provide Will with any useful information on their current killer. He wonders what Beverly would think if he told her that he is doing something about this: he's letting it happen.

Will looks out at the woodland for a moment, and then back down at his phone as it vibrates in his hand, and although he turns away to hide his smile there are still traces of it left on his face when he walks over to join Jack and Beverly.

Will has already done his thing and given them the empathetic goods, so it's particularly obvious when he adds, "Also, I think it would be an error to focus on rural areas in the search for his center of operations. You should be looking for a basement apartment somewhere near the river. He finds locations to stage his scenes through traveling for work, either as a delivery driver or a pharmaceutical sales rep."

"Thank you," Jack says. "That will be helpful."

Will nods and turns away, trudging back to the car.

"How does Hannibal know all these people?" Beverly asks wonderingly. "Do you think he set up some kind of forum for evil or something?"

"ITB would have found that," Jack mutters.

"Not if it's on Usenet," Beverly counters darkly.

"You know they can find those things," Jack snaps. "They just can't do anything about them! And I bet the asylum doesn't even have Usenet!"

"Whatever," Beverly says, eyes narrowed. "Hannibal would find a way."

"How does he know this shit, though?" Jack asks in despair. "I feel like I've just sent a pot-smoking kid to the Supermax and he's come out dealing crack."

"Yeah," Beverly agrees. "I don't know why I ever thought Chilton might be a net positive in attempts to rehabilitate Hannibal. I regret everything."

"Me, too," Jack says gloomily, watching Will's blank face as he sits patiently in the passenger seat of Jack's new car.

"We need to find somebody who can actually keep a leash on him," Beverly says decisively.

The idea has been buzzing nebulously in Jack's head since the first time Beverly suggested they ask Hannibal for help, but it's only as he watches the empty mask covering Will's face shatter into a pleased smile as he raises his phone to his ear that it solidifies into a plan.

"I think I know somebody," Jack says.

*

When Jack goes out to the asylum to speak to Hannibal, he finds Hannibal lounging in an airy conservatory filled with plants, flicking idly through the latest edition of the National Geographic.

"Is this your break room?" Jack asks Chilton.

"I have no idea how he got in," Chilton says earnestly, though he'd led Jack straight here.

"Is that your magazine?"

"We have subscriptions to People and Vogue," Chilton says loftily. "I don't really care what other people like to read."

"So how'd he get that?" Jack asks snidely. "Make a 7-11 run?"

"He hasn't been out today," Chilton says, and then, alarmed, "Not since that time he killed somebody, I mean!" and then, "Somebody must have brought it to him."

And then, wide-eyed at Jack's fury: "Not that he gets any visitors!"

Jack takes a deep breath and turns away, misgivings fading, sure that he is doing the right thing now.

"Hannibal," he says, striding forward.

Hannibal lays the magazine aside and gracefully pulls himself upright.

"Jack," he says. "This is unexpected."

"I know I'm not the person you expected to see." Jack isn't willing to join Hannibal on the sofa, so he takes a seat on the bamboo Ottoman that faces him. He wishes it were higher. He wishes it had a back. He wishes it were not creaking like it's about to collapse under him. He doesn't let any of this show. "Or did you expect visiting hours to be over for the day?"

Hannibal lifts a delicate porcelain cup from the oval glass table that separates them and takes a sip. He doesn't answer, and when he returns his eyes to Jack's face he pretends to misunderstand Jack's frustration. "Would you like some?" he offers, gesturing to his tea.

"We have chamomile, peppermint, and peach-raspberry," Chilton pipes up.

"Get out," Jack grits, and waits until Chilton's hurrying footsteps have faded before he says, "I have no interest in making nice with you, so I'm going to get directly to the point. I know you've been feeding information to Will."

Hannibal raises an eyebrow at Jack over that damned cup. It's a turquoise-blue, printed with the head of a grey cat, and Jack wants to knock it out of Hannibal's hand. "Do you?"

"I can't deny that it's been helpful," Jack continues. "I'm here to formalize the arrangement."

"Is this a job offer?" Hannibal asks with polite incredulity.

Jack has to take a moment, but he manages to reply, "If you want to see it that way. I propose that I work directly with you, signing you out of this place so that I can escort you to crime scenes and have the benefit of your assistance without the need for an intermediary. You would have certain compensations--sanctioned release for a limited time, and payment for your work."

"Fifty cents an hour?" Hannibal asks dryly. "Or perhaps a dollar, taking into account my qualifications."

"I'm sorry that we can't match your usual rate," Jack tells him, "but given the nature and value of this work I believe we can outdo the contents of Chilton's wallet. I know he's stopped carrying cash."

Hannibal dips his head in amusement.

Jack considers, and then adds, "And if you're a very good boy and don't misbehave I'll speak on behalf of a reduction in your sentence."

He says this only because he doesn't believe that it will happen. Whether Jack is by his side or not, Hannibal will attempt to return to his old ways, and Jack will have to stop him.

"Hmm," Hannibal says, head bent over his cup, inhaling the scent that drifts up. Jack wonders if Hannibal drinks orange or green or pink lemonade, or if Will supplies him with tea as well as magazines. "What does Will think of this?"

"Will doesn't know I'm here," Jack says. "He won't be working with you."

Hannibal's head lifts in surprise. "He brings you a massive advantage in the field."

"As will you," Jack tells him. "And Will suffers incalculable harm to bring me that advantage. When I'm working with you, he won't need to. You'll spare him that, though I don't suppose you care. Either way, this has gone on long enough. I intend to make Will's continued employment contingent on ending his association with you."

Hannibal's face is washed startlingly clean for a moment, but then his lips curl as he carefully places his cup on the table and laces his fingers together in his lap.

"It seems you leave me no choice," he says with mild annoyance.

"I didn't intend to," Jack says, and sweeps the cup from the table on his way out the door.

It would have given him more satisfaction if the cup had been Hannibal's, but Jack knows it was Chilton's even before he hears the outraged yelp. He had recognized the cat.

*

The last time Hannibal escapes from the Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane is Will's birthday.

Jack knows this because Hannibal texts him a reminder from Will's phone.

I cannot remain in Will's home much longer, the text begins, and Jack can feel his blood pressure spike, but I do not believe he should be alone on his birthday. Bring Katz and a gift, and pretend that you did not forget.

Jack makes his plans to kill Hannibal while he rounds up Katz, because whatever, it's not like he feels guilty or anything, but it also isn't like anybody else is likely to help Will celebrate, and Jack isn't dumb enough to leave Will thinking Hannibal is his only friend, even if it might be terrifyingly true.

They argue over many things in the car.

"I can't believe Hannibal nags you like a maiden aunt," Beverly says, and then breaks out the squeaky voice. "'Don't forget it's your parents' anniversary!' 'Thank you for the pink head-cosy for Mister Whiskers!' 'I know you've been leaving wet towels on the floor, Jack Quentin Crawford!'"

"That was one time!" Jack objects. "Those were all one time! And it doesn't count if you're reading private Facebook messages from my Aunt May! I'm going to report you to ITB! I'm going to tell Aunt May what you did!"

Katz makes a noise like a wounded cockatoo.

And then:

"I'm not getting a Furby," Katz says staunchly. "They are the devil."

"But he likes them," Jack objects.

He doesn't win, but the argument lasts all the way there, and Katz is still fuming when Will opens the front door, so she says, "The guy in the store said this was decent," and thrusts her gift at him. It's giftwrapped with blue paper and a flowing silver bow, but it's pretty hard to disguise a fishing rod, so Will's blinking bafflement quickly transforms into pleasure.

"Thanks," he says, slow smile appearing. "I didn't think--"

"We work all day," Jack says gruffly, shouldering his way inside and looking around suspiciously, first for Hannibal and then for some kind of oncoming avalanche of new stuffed toys. There's nothing: Hannibal is probably safely back at the asylum watching the Food Network by now, and Jack doesn't see any giftwrap or Furbies. "What do you expect from us?"

"I didn't expect anything," Will says, flustered. "Thank you."

"Here," Jack says roughly, and thrusts his bag at Will.

"Ah," Will says, once he's unwrapped the first Furby.

"Ah?"

"Are these--all Furbies?" Will asks, blinking at the two remaining packages and looking daunted.

"Yes," Jack says. "You like them! You have like two hundred!"

"That may have been an exaggeration," Beverly admits, and Jack glares.

Will winces apologetically. "I threw all those out? I would have donated them to the hospital, but they gave me nightmares, and I didn't think sick kids needed that."

"Gift receipt," Jack says, and hands it over. "Get yourself some Maltipoos or something."

"Thanks," Will says, stuffing the receipt into a drawer.

"Is that cake?" Beverly asks eagerly.

There's some kind of gateau sitting on the counter. It isn't whole; Jack assumes two slices have previously been cut.

"Yeah," Will says, "do you want some?"

"Don't ask dumb questions, Graham," Beverly says severely, and stands over him impatiently as he dishes it out.

It's Black Forest, and it's good, even if Jack doesn't much like rich cakes.

"So what did Hannibal get you for your birthday?" Beverly asks, throwing an eye on the stuffed toys that besmirch Will's living room. He appears to have installed a shelf just so the dogs won't get to them.

"Nothing," Will mutters, flushing. "Just made me the cake."

Jack and Beverly both freeze, and then spit their mouthfuls back onto their plates.

"Should we get this tested?" Beverly asks forlornly.

"Why bother," Jack says, and trashes the lot.

"Do you have any cake not made by a cannibalistic serial killer?" Beverly asks mournfully, but Will doesn't.

"We need to talk," Jack says, and fills Will in on the situation.

"Oh," Will says quietly, pushing his glasses more firmly into place. "I--"

"I know you have a connection with Hannibal," Jack says. "I allowed it to flourish because it benefited the Agency, but he will do nothing but damage to you. I'm sorry I allowed this to continue so long."

"And you don't want me consulting?"

"You don't want to consult," Jack reminds him. "You've told me so a dozen times."

"I was helping."

It's a mild protest, so Jack is sure of himself when he says, "And now Hannibal will help. We'll manage without you. Focus on your lectures, and look after yourself."

"It's not like we're going to ditch you," Beverly offers uncertainly. "We'll still see you around."

"You'll still be in close contact with us," Jack reassures him. "Just not Lecter, not if you want to continue working with the FBI."

"I understand," Will says.

"Good. Now are we ordering pizza or what?"

Will's smile is shaky when he says, "They don't deliver out here," but he pulls a pizza from the freezer and a half-empty bottle of whiskey from the kitchen cabinet, and both are good.

Jack is relaxed and at ease by the time he and Beverly get around to leaving, and he feels good about Will and his future, feels positive about both Will's reaction to the news of his pending change in circumstances and the potential of maintaining this friendship.

"I'm not taking those Furbies!" Beverly says on the front steps, poking at Will's chest and giggling.

"You have a flamethrower!" Will objects, and Jack blinks, because what. "You're safest with them!"

"No!" Beverly cries. "They will rise from the ashes and peck at my bedroom window to be let back in! Not happening!"

She sprints down to Jack's car, laughing as she goes. Will is still smiling when he turns back to Jack.

"This is the last time you'll see Hannibal," Jack says, and watches the smile fade and return, not quite as happily. "I only let him get away with this because it was your birthday. I'm putting a stop to it now."

"I understand."

"You'll be okay," Jack says, thumping Will on the shoulder. "We'll be here for you."

"I know," Will says.

He stays on the porch, waving at the car as it glides away; Jack can see him clearly in the harsh light from the lamps, though the reflection on his glasses obscures his eyes. He doesn't look happy, but there's not much Jack can do to help that. He goes back indoors, and the porch lights snap off, shrouding the house in darkness.

"That went well," Jack says.

"Better than I expected," Beverly agrees. "I thought he'd be more upset about losing his only friend."

"Hannibal isn't anyone's friend," Jack says grimly.

"I know."

"Will does too. He knows who Hannibal is."

"Hey," Beverly says, concerned. "Do you think we should call Chilton to make sure Hannibal made it safely home? Because they're performing an opera tonight, and I'm afraid he might break curfew."

She glances at Jack blandly before cracking up.

"You're not funny," Jack says. "You are a lightweight, and you are not funny."

But he can't quite suppress his own smile as they carry on down the road, and the hulking shadow of Will's house vanishes into the distance.

*

Jack and Beverly have only been gone a minute when there's a rap on the door.

"Hi," Will says, as Hannibal steps inside. "I didn't think you'd be back."

"I told you I would."

Will shrugs. "Jack told me--"

"Of his little plan to make use of me?" Hannibal asks. "I will always be back Will. I think I have proved this by now."

"Yeah." He has, Will supposes, though it's difficult to push away the thoughts of being abandoned, of being left alone in this house with nothing to do and nobody who will come and-- "Where were you?" he asks. "What did you do?"

"I got you a present," Hannibal tells him.

"More dogs?" Will asks, mouth twitching into a smile though Hannibal's arms are empty. He doesn't even like the stuffed toys, doesn't use them for comfort or sleep with them or whatever it is that Jack imagines. But he likes that Hannibal gives them to him. He's always liked getting gifts more for what the giving of them means than anything, and when he had been receiving them regularly as a child his gifts had been practical, socks and pajamas and pillowcases and the like, so he appreciates the frivolity.

"No," Hannibal says, taking a seat on the couch and gesturing for Will to join him.

It's still strange to share Hannibal's space, but Hannibal always moves closer when Will sits too far away, so he lets his knee glance against Hannibal's as he takes his seat. Hannibal looks disapproving, though he doesn't move; Will isn't conscious of the decision, but suddenly his arm is pressing against Hannibal's, warmth seeping into him through the fabric that separates them, and he relaxes even before Hannibal does.

"What, then?" Will asks shyly.

"A plane ticket," Hannibal tells him, pulling a sheaf of papers from an inner pocket and handing one over. It's a printed boarding pass for a flight the next morning, direct to Berlin. "Though that is not our final destination. I believe we will settle in Florence for the time being, though we will see where the wind takes us."

"Hannibal--" The name on the ticket isn't his, and he cuts himself off, frowning. "What--"

"And a passport," Hannibal says, producing two from the sheaf and handing one to Will. It carries his face but not his name; mostly Will just wonders where Hannibal got the picture. "We will change our names again once we arrive in Berlin, of course."

"Hannibal--" Will says again.

He doesn't know what else to say. He isn't sure whether he speaks in protest or gratitude.

"Yes?" Hannibal asks. He lets the silence stretch, the way he once had, when they had been in session and he had been paid to help Will.

"I don't know if I can do this," Will says eventually. Shame makes his eyes drop.

"You do not know if you wish to?" Hannibal questions.

"I do," Will says quickly, breathless. "I do."

Hannibal smiles slowly, and Will feels the approval burn through him. "Then you will. Ask yourself, what else is there for you to do?"

Will doesn't have an answer, and the relief of it leaves him boneless, swaying closer to Hannibal. He shudders when Hannibal's arm slides around his waist, riveting him without force or pressure, pinning him like a butterfly. It feels good.

"Nothing," he murmurs. Hannibal's eyes are dark and close, and the warmth in them makes his breath shiver as it leaves his body.

"I always intended for us to end up this way, Will," Hannibal says. "I was prepared to give you time, to wait until you felt you had completed your work as much as you were able, but I cannot say that I am sorry Jack has forced my hand."

"No," Will says, insensible in his agreement, and then, even as Hannibal leans in, "What about the dogs?"

"We will send Jack a message from Europe," Hannibal says. "They will not be neglected."

"No," Will says, "I mean--I'm not leaving Brat behind!"

Hannibal laughs, sudden and shocking, and Will closes the distance between them and brushes his lips over Hannibal's laughing mouth.

It's the first time they kiss.

Will is very glad it isn't the last.

*

Chilton throws a party, but Jack refuses to pop the streamers.

"We are not celebrating the permanent escape of a cannibalistic serial killer!" he protests furiously.

"I do miss Will," Beverly says, "but I'm pretty pleased I just don't have to deal with any of this anymore. It's been kind of stressful. Hey, is there cake? I really want cake that isn't people."

"And I'm pleased I no longer go in fear of my life!" Chilton announces. "And I got my replacement credit cards today!"

He blows a party horn to express his joy, and then pulls the string on his party popper.

The streamers hit Jack in the face.

And Jack shows Chilton fear.

end.