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This Rare Intimacy

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Afternoon sunlight pours like melted butter over the Vendee – crisp and cold, like the tart apples Hannibal buys from the local market. The trees - their branches bare now, their summer tresses dusting the grass orange and brown - rustle in the brisk breeze. An ant, black as tar, crawls sluggishly over Will’s knee. Will lets it. He admires its guts. Gallantry, he decides, is so difficult to come by nowadays that this ant’s endeavours ought to be encouraged.

Will is perched, cross-legged, on an old millstone that lies beside the remaining three windmills up on the ridge. Hannibal has told him, before, that there used to be fourteen. Why there aren’t now is a mystery to Will; he knows could look it up or ask Hannibal, but he finds he rather likes the clandestine nature of it all.

He muses on the endless possibilities. Perhaps they were destroyed by vindictive villagers in a manner vaguely reminiscent of “Les Misérables” (Hannibal, it turns out, is a closet musical theatre fan. Will now knows all the words to “Music of the Night” and has regrets. Hannibal does not). Perhaps they perished in a fire; perhaps they simply crumbled with age. Still, Will enjoys amusing himself coming up with increasingly ridiculous theories on how fourteen windmills became three, so much so that he doesn’t notice a coat-muffled figure coming up behind him, until –

“Will.”

“Jesus!” Will clutches at his chest, feeling the slightly raised scars on his skin even through his thin flannel shirt. Turning around, he makes a sound that is half chuckle, half wheeze. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Why aren’t you wearing a coat?” Hannibal, his scarf sensibly and elegantly knotted at his throat, looks disapproving. “Haven’t you noticed that it’s nearly winter?”

Will rolls his eyes, but it’s good-natured. “This is barely Autumn. It’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit back in Virginia – I checked the weather for Mouilleron today and it’s only 15 Celsius. Yes, I’ve been learning Celsius,” he adds, before Hannibal can say anything. “I do know how to use google, you know.”

“Of course,” Hannibal acquiesces. His eyes, normally a colour Will would call maroon, have swum like ink to a dark mauve in the cool light.

Something Will hasn’t quite gotten over is the fact that it doesn’t often snow in Mouilleron. Despite being further north than Virginia, it hasn’t – according to the English ex-pat down the road – snowed here in years. Climate change, he supposes. The gulf stream from Mexico (something else he learned from google). Still, it doesn’t feel quite right for it to be nearly December and for the temperature – although wintery – to be higher than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

He doesn’t notice he’s been drifting until there’s a rustle beside him, as Hannibal takes a seat on the 300-year-old millstone. He comes back to himself with a start. “I’m fine,” he says automatically, which is ridiculous. There’s nothing to prove.

“Losing time again, Will?” Hannibal teases, softly. A half-smile quirks Will’s lips.

“Just thinking,” he says. “Just…breathing.”

They sit there for a moment in companionable silence, listening, ears straining, for the faint sound of the creaking arms of the windmill on the breeze, drifting down through the centuries. Although they now stand static, and in a state of ill-repair, Will thinks they still look regal, peering down at their tiny village from the ridge they perch so proudly on. They look like imperious old courtesans in faded finery.

“Come,” Hannibal says, getting to his feet. He offers an arm to Will, who takes it, hesitantly. “I trust you will assist me with dinner, tonight?”

They begin to stroll along the path back to the village, the ground before them interspersed with chunks of dirty white quartz, a rock found frequently in this area. “What are you cooking?” Will asks.

He loses his footing for a moment on the uneven ground and stumbles slightly. Hannibal, his arm still linked with Will’s, helps him recover his balance. “A kind of shellfish stew,” he tells Will. “If you recall, I have cooked it before, maybe a fortnight ago...”

“Bowl-a-base?” Will hazards.

Hannibal winces slightly at his terrible pronunciation. “Bouillabaisse,” he corrects, “but close. Your French is improving.”

It’s a nice compliment, but Will isn’t too inclined to believe him. Only last week, he had travelled down to the local lake with the intention of renting a sailboat for an hour or two. After spending a full five minutes trying to explain to the proprietor what he wanted to hire, she gave him a blank look and managed to say - very slowly, and in English almost as bad as Will’s French - “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t sell bicycles.”

In the end, Will had resorted to simply pointing at the boat and handing over the cash.

“Thanks,” he mutters, and tries to disguise the light flush he knows his spreading up his neck. The wind, although softened by the trees, whips at his shirt and Will begins to appreciate Hannibal’s advice on appropriate clothing.

He’s about to say something that he’ll probably find incredibly embarrassing later, but before he can open his mouth, he hears a pitiful whine from the direction of a nearby clump of bushes.

In a heartbeat, Will is off, listening carefully for the sound again, already planning his next move.

“Will?” Hannibal calls from the path. “What is it?”

Will shushes him, straining his ears again until – there. He creeps forward, hunkering down as blackberry thorns scrape at his scarred cheek, until he finds what he’s looking for.

Caught in the brambles by her long, shaggy fur is a scrawny mutt, part collie, part who-the-hell-knows. She whines again and Will, wondering if he’s hit the canine jackpot, hushes her softly. He takes in the matted fur, the thin red gash on her muzzle, the wide, pleading brown eyes, and makes a decision right there and then.

“It’s ok, girl,” he whispers, inching forward enough to begin gently untangling her from the bushes. She whimpers and he quiets her, wishing he had some sort of incentive to calm her down. She looks frightened, and thin, and Will wonders just how long she’s been stuck here.

He hears careful footsteps behind him. “Will, I -” Hannibal’s voice says, before he concludes with, “Ah. Somehow, I confess that I am unsurprised.”

Will turns his head, frozen in the act of helping the dog, up to look at Hannibal. Belatedly, he realises that he’s pulling the same pleading face as the collie. “Help me,” he says.

Hannibal sighs and approaches, crouching next to Will. “What can I do?” he asks.

Will can’t help it – the sight makes him grin. “Could you reach over there? That bit, by her tail…”

Hannibal’s deft surgeon’s fingers make short work of the knotted fur, and within minutes, their combined efforts pay off – the branches loosen, and the dog is eased out of their embrace by Will. She pants into his ear trustfully, making no attempt to get away. Will looks up at Hannibal.

“You know what I’m going to say,” he says.

Hannibal sighs, but there’s no real heat to it. “You know,” he says, stripping off his greatcoat, “this is one of the many reasons why you should be wearing your own coat.”

“Isn’t it lucky you brought yours along, then?” Will asks, innocently. He wraps the dog securely in the coat, until only her head is sticking out and she’s no longer shivering. He picks her up – she’s all fragile bones and mangy fur that Hannibal will be complaining about for ages, and barely weighs more than a feather. Once safely in his arms, she licks his ear.

Hannibal tuts, but makes no other comment as they continue down the lane, Will lagging slightly behind. It’s only once they near their house at the top of the hill that Will adds, “Well, I did say I wanted a dog.”

Hannibal only grunts in affirmation, but Will can tell he’s smiling.

 

 

***

 

 

See, the thing that gets Will the most – even more than learning French, or understanding Celsius, or even adjusting to a different climate – is just how fucking domestic he and Hannibal have become. They work together instinctively, without a second’s thought; they function side by side, in tandem, in perfect harmony with each other, and on some days Will’s not entirely certain quite where he ends and Hannibal Lecter begins.

Now he comes to think of it, this isn’t entirely a new thing.

Will pushes this thought out of his head the way he sweeps leaves of the lawn, and goes to tend to this new addition to the family. Although shaky and bedraggled and soaked in mud, her eyes still light up when Will returns to the bathroom, where she languishes in the gaping, claw-footed bathtub, and her long tail begins to wag. He smiles at her – a warm, genuine smile that he feels in every bone, every tendon. God, it’s such a relief. He hadn’t even realised how much he missed his dogs until now.

The dog noses interestedly in his ear and along his hairline as Will carefully trims her fur and cleans her cuts with antiseptic. There’s no collar; either it got lost or she never had one to begin with. Either way, the way Will can easily feel her ribs through her coat and the way her fur is matted tell him that whoever her owners were, they’re long gone.

When Will’s finished, the bathroom is spattered in mud and Will is forced to spend another half hour cleaning it, since he knows that if he doesn’t, Hannibal will almost certainly throw a fit. And since he is the one cooking, it would be more than unwise for Will to upset him. He might as well feed himself dry cereal straight out of the box and cut out the middle man.

Hannibal is washing his hands when Will brings the dog back downstairs, her nails clicking softly against the tile floor.

“Did you clean the bathroom?” he asks Will, without turning around. It’s slightly eerie how he does that. He looks like a tall monument of alabaster.

“Of course,” Will replies. “I’d rather that than risk your mighty wrath.”

Hannibal’s eyes gleam with amusement and his mouth curls, like a delicate sapling, into a smile.

“Mighty indeed,” he agrees, not without sincerity. “Come and assist me with the table.”

Something that Hannibal insists upon (that Will could honestly do without) is setting the table carefully each night with a tablecloth, silverware, crockery. It’s ridiculous. But somehow, Will can’t refuse him, and every night he finds himself setting the table without complaint. Hannibal shoots him an approving look, and places a bowl of scraps on the floor for the dog, who happily pads over and gets stuck in.

Dinner is quiet – not because there is nothing to say, but because so much goes without saying. The food is good, and Will shows this by eating it in rapturous silence. If it weren’t for the work he does around the house, garden and village, he’d worry about putting on weight. There’s a soft, golden glow humming around the air tonight, and Will feels more relaxed than he has in a long time. There is a current of understanding, a single thread of silver, running between them like a wire.

After the meal is over they move – as they do every night – to the spacious area by the fire in the front room, where Will feeds the hearth logs and kindling, coaxing it out of hibernation until it’s a great flaming beast, roaring and crackling behind the grate. The collie curls up in front of it on the rug, clearly with no intention of moving any time soon. Hannibal sits in his usual place, at one end of the couch, but instead of sitting in his usual place in the chair opposite, Will surprises himself by sitting himself down next to Hannibal.

Hannibal stiffens for a moment in shock, but relaxes almost immediately, his left arm draping itself along the back of the couch, his right hand resting comfortably in his lap with a book. It’s in French, naturally, and so Will knows it’ll be a nigh on impossible task for him to translate it, and he doesn’t even attempt to try. Instead, as the flickering shadows of the fire begin to lull him into a light doze, he finds himself leaning closer and closer to Hannibal’s warmth.

Maybe it’s the wine. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s because Will has spent the last five months sleeping in a guest bedroom and doesn’t even remember the last time he had sex, but none of that matters. All that matters in this moment is Will’s head drooping into the juncture between Hannibal’s neck and shoulder as if it was made to fit there, and Hannibal’s hand slowly creeping up to card through Will’s hair, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Will feels rather like the windmills up on the ridge: finally still, after so many years of endlessly spinning in circles and never going anywhere. He finds that he doesn’t actually mind. It feels…pleasant. As if, finally, something fits.

“What are you calling her?” Hannibal’s voice infiltrates Will’s brain sluggishly. He finds that he can barely keep his eyes open.

Will’s been thinking about this, actually, and so it doesn’t take too much effort to move his mouth a little and say, “Beverly.”

Hannibal’s hand pauses, just for a moment, from its repetitive motion of combing through Will’s hair. “Will, I -”

“Don’t,” Will interrupts, drowsily. “You don’t have to worry. Not now. I just wanted to name something after her, you know. She was one of my best friends.”

“Nevertheless,” Hannibal says, his words warm and fragrant next to Will’s ear, “I am sorry for all the hurt I caused you, Will.”

The fire crackles. Bev, in front of the fire, yawns and stretches. The winds blow endlessly onwards outside. Will feels, suddenly, completely at peace.

“That’s ok,” he manages to mutter. “I forgive you, Hannibal. I forgive you.”

Perhaps that was all either of them had ever needed to hear.

 

 

***

 

 

“Oh God,” she gasps, as hands clutch at her shoulders, nails, digging into her skin. There are bruises littering her neck and torso, but she can’t stop now. She twists, and groans, and there’s an answering groan from on top.

“I’m -” she manages to say, with the last semblance of rationality she has left. “I can’t -”

“Shhhh,” the other voice whispers. It sounds like silk. “It’s ok.”

That’s all she needs. There’s a rush of white, a final gulp of air…and silence.

 

 

Afterwards – once her brain has come back online and she and Margot have recovered – Alana turns to her wife and says, “How is it possible that I was the first woman you ever had sex with?”

Margot grins, sultry, even beneath the thick blankets. She blinks, lazily. “Is it so hard to believe that you were the first who ever asked?”

“Definitely,” Alana tells her. “If I’d met you in college, I would have had you in the bedroom before you even got to ‘nice to meet you’.”

They laugh, and Margot tucks herself closer to Alana’s side. “Did you do that a lot at college, then? Seduce innocent young heiresses into your boudoir?”

Alana shrugs at that. It’s not something they’ve really talked about – previous partners – but as a psychiatrist, she believes in honest relationships, and as a wife, she believes in not lying to Margot. “I always knew I was bisexual,” she says at last, “but I didn’t bandy it around. It was tough enough back then, going into my field as a woman, and I knew it would be even worse if people thought I was a lesbian on top of it.”

Small, soft hands smooth the skin on her thigh. Alana finds it comforting. “The practice paid off,” Margot assures her. “You could bring about world peace with that tongue of yours.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. Any woman would be lucky to have you.” At Alana’s tiny intake of breath, Margot adds, “Looks like I’m the luckiest woman in the world.”

Alana’s about to say something equally sappy and romantic back – or maybe even suggest round three – but the mood is rudely interrupted by the sharp trill of her cellphone.

“For fuck’s sake!” she exclaims, before slapping a hand over her mouth and hoping that Morgan, down the hall, wasn’t awake to hear that. The last thing they need is a four-year-old with a pottymouth. Margot snorts undignifiedly, looking amused.

“Maybe you should get that?”

Alana seizes the phone and – without checking the caller ID – answers. “What is it?”

“It’s Jack,” says the phone, and Alana groans.

“It’s midnight,” she tells him.

“Yes, and I’m sorry to interrupt, Alana, I really am,” he says. “It’s just I wanted to talk to you about -”

“Is your office on fire?”

Pause. “No, but -”

“Is the president about to get blown sky high?”

“No, but -”

“Has Will Graham returned from France with an unquenchable desire to eat your brains?”

“No, but -”

“Not that I would blame him for that one, actually, I think at this point you’d deserve it -”

“Alana, please.”

“Jack, if it’s none of the above, then I don’t want to hear about until after nine AM tomorrow.”

A resigned sigh. “Fine, I’ll call then.”

“Excellent. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go down on my wife so hard that she forgets her own name. Goodnight, Jack.”

Alana hangs up with a decisive click. Margot is watching her with shrewd, sharp eyes, alight with humour. “What is it?” Alana asks.

“Age has mellowed you,” Margot says, mischievously. Alana gives her an impish smile.

“Who are you calling old?” she challenges.

Margot’s breath catches as Alana’s hand slides lower, but she manages to say, “Bet you can’t keep up with me.”

She whines as Alana moves her fingers, and, looking up at her through her lashes, Alana says, “Challenge accepted.”

Alana swears she never gets any sleep anymore. But, she decides, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

 

 

***

 

 

He doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything like it. Jack has no idea how she got in here, or how she did what she did without being seen… but that’s not a question to answer now. First things first, he needs to get his team together.

Alana is… reluctant to help. When she very empathetically denies her assistance until a more appropriate hour, he reluctantly puts his phone away and goes back to look at the crime scene again.

It’s impossible to think the girl did this on her own, but at the same time, there’s no evidence to show otherwise. Still, Jack can’t help but feel a little ill as he gazes at the meticulously constructed scene, and it’s not just because of the blood. He feels like a windmill: constantly turning in circles and going nowhere.

He shakes his head. He needs to focus.

“Price,” he says to the man at his shoulder, “start taking pictures. I need everything documented. Sight, sound, smell…even what the air tastes like, if necessary. The most concise report you can make. Got it?”

If Price is confused, he doesn’t show it. “On it,” he says, with a little salute that Jack doesn’t even bother to complain about.

Jack pulls out his phone again. He needs another agent on this case, and he knows just who to pull in.

 

 

***

 

 

Sleep is for the weak, Ardelia Mapp tells herself firmly, as she necks down yet another coffee. Every time she gets a chance to rest, another lead comes up, and she’s pretty certain that the last time she slept was over 24 hours ago.

“Who needs sleep, right?” she mutters to herself as she strides down the hall to Director Crawford’s office. She can feel the caffeine hitting her system with a jolt, but she’s drunk so much already that the wakefulness it would normally bring is already a low, background throb.

What could Crawford possibly want? Ardelia can hardly guess, though if pressed she’d say that perhaps he has a new lead on the case she’d currently working on. She doesn’t really want to admit it to herself, but she’s so exhausted that she can barely see straight, and she hopes that he’ll be quick. Maybe after this she’ll be able to grab forty minutes on the couch in the break room…

Agent Jack Crawford is sat at his desk with his head in his hands, looking nearly as rough as Ardelia feels. Sleep deprivation has robbed her of her ability to empathize with anything except a cup of coffee, so she wastes no time in feeling pity and instead clears her throat.

“Sir? You asked to see me?”

Crawford starts, then blinks. “Take a seat, Agent Mapp,” he says, indicating, and Ardelia wastes no time in taking the weight off her heels.

“What case are you currently working on?” he asks.

Ardelia presses her fingers to her temples, massaging across her forehead and over her closed eyelids, releasing a starburst of colour across her vision. “Serial killer,” she tells him. “All the vics are unconnected by age, race, gender or sexual orientation. The only thing that they all have in common is that they all seem to, at one time or another, have been part of an information cluster.”

Jack looks at her sharply. “An information cluster?”

“A gang, to put it simply, that trades in gossip. Information. We’re having trouble pinning down the location of other members or its leader, and while we know that the killer is most likely looking for a specific piece of information, we don’t know what it is yet. And if we don’t know what it is, then we won’t know when he finds it. Or who he’ll target next.”

Ardelia can’t help but feel a wave of exhaustion pass over her at the thought. She’s been running herself ragged the last few days, trying to pin down any new leads, any new trails to track, but the killer is moving faster than they can hunt. No sooner than they locate one body, the killer’s dumped another one, almost a state away.

“When did you last sleep, Agent Mapp?” Crawford asks.

Guiltily, she tells him the truth. “Over 24 hours ago, sir.”

He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. It’s not ideal, she knows that, but what does he expect her to do? Leave the killer to continue his murder spree? Not on her watch. Ardelia’ll be damned if she lets this guy get away.

“Ok,” Crawford says, abruptly, “I’m taking you off the case.”

Horror wells in Ardelia, followed closely by hurt. She’s a model agent, with a high success rate – cant he see how important this is to her? She hasn’t put a foot wrong, he can’t take her off, not now, not just for not getting enough sleep…

“Sir,” she says, imploringly. He catches her eye.

“You haven’t done anything wrong,” Crawford assures her, and a sigh of relief rushes from her lungs. “But I’m passing the case on. Agent Okoye can handle it. Right now, I want you working on something else.”

The sudden announcement still stings, but Ardelia’s a professional, and she hides it. “Working on what?”

Crawford stands. “Follow me.”

Ardelia’s not particularly tall, and she struggles to keep up with Agent Crawford’s strides. She hasn’t seen him this on-edge since the whole debacle with Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, and she wonders what on earth could have happened to have him so uptight.

After torturing Will Graham live onscreen, Hannibal Lecter had utterly vanished, leaving not a trace behind him. There had been no clues as to where he was hiding, no murders to lead the FBI right to his door. Some thought he’d vanished overseas. Others speculated that he’d been offed and buried in a shallow grave. Truth be told, the FBI’s enthusiasm for capturing the Chesapeake Ripper had waned somewhat, after six months of radio silence and not a trace of him left behind.

Will Graham, however, was easier to find; he’d finally left the FBI behind for good and had emigrated to France, where he was living a (presumably) more peaceful life in the Vendee. Ardelia couldn’t say she blamed him. These days, she wondered if she ought to follow his lead.

The door Crawford stops at is wreathed with bright yellow police tape, and she frowns. She’d assumed that they were going to the ops centre to discuss the new case, maybe pictures, evidence bags… hell, even a midnight jaunt out to some frozen field to see some poor bastard splattered over the ground. But this scene was inside the Quantico building… how could anything have happened in here without someone noticing?

Crawford saw her staring. “It’s a shock to everyone,” he says. “Look, Mapp, I know you’re burning out. So I’m going to show you the scene real quick, let you get your head around it, and then I want you to go back to bed and stay there until 9am tomorrow, ok?”

Bewildered, Ardelia can only reply, “Yes, sir.” Crawford nods, then opens the door.

It’s unlike anything she’s ever seen before. Blood everywhere, sliced arms, a noose around her neck… it’s a suicide, alright. The girl hangs above the desk, rotating slowly, the rope she hangs from tied to, of all things, the overhead digital projector. The chair she must have balanced on the desk lies on the floor on its side. Her arms are striped with shallow cuts, and the scars of old incisions line her forearms like ladders. Self-harm, Ardelia supposes. She takes a mechanical, numb step into the room, and gasps when she recognises it.

It’s Will Graham’s old lecture theatre. Ardelia should know, she took enough classes in here. She sees the seats at the back, where she and Clarice used to giggle and pass notes like schoolkids… the desk, now spotted with blood, where Mr. Graham used to perch, fiddling with his lanyard and adjusting his glasses… hell, even the spot where Ardelia had once tried to give him Valentine’s Day cupcakes to give to Dr. Lecter (back when she and the rest of Quantico had been convinced that they had been hopelessly in love. Her cheeks burn at the memory.)

She looks at the girl’s face. It’s swollen and nearly black from asphyxiation, but oddly, she looks rested. At peace.

What Ardelia can’t understand is why she chose an FBI lecture theatre to commit suicide in. Anyone could have walked in at any moment – surely, she would have chosen a more private place to live her last moments.

That’s when Ardelia notices that the first two fingers on the girl’s right hand are coated in reddish-black blood. And, looking up, she can’t believe that she didn’t see it before.

Written large and bold in red, the bloody letters on the whiteboard behind the desk read:

WILL GRAHAM.

Chapter Text

Dr. Alana Bloom’s seen plenty in her time, but there’s something particularly disturbing about seeing Jack Crawford at ten in the morning without his tie on.

“My God,” she exclaims, in mock horror. “Are you ill? Am I staring at your reanimated corpse?”

“Very funny,” Jack says dourly. “Maybe I’d be less stressed if you’d come in like I’d asked you to last night.”

They stride down the hall together. Alana’s cane clicks in perfect time to her heels, a staccato beat she’s absolutely nailed after five long years of practice. “I can’t just be summoned at your beck and call, Jack. I have a wife and a four-year-old to contend with.”

Jack’s face doesn’t change. “It’s important,” he insists.

Alana tamps down the very childish urge to roll her eyes. “I’m sure.” Suddenly, it occurs to her that this is not the route to Jack’s office; it’s an entirely different direction, one she hasn’t been down in over a year. “Jack,” she asks, hesitantly, “where are you taking us?”

He stops at a door she knows only too well, strangled in noxious yellow police tape. “Here,” he says.

Cautiously, scared of what she might find inside, Alana pushes open the door.

The scene is like a blow to the gut. This is Will’s old classroom, and it might as well be Will Graham himself hanging from that noose, blood dripping from his fingertips. How many times has she worried that this would be his fate? How many times has the image of his body slid into her nightmares? It seems as if her fears have half come true.

“Now do you see?” Jack says.

WILL GRAHAM. The words prick her cornea in a way that feels distinctly accusatory.

Alana feels faintly ill.

“Why is it always Will?” she almost groans. “The man seems to attract trouble like a magnet. I don’t know how he manages it.”

Jack’s hand is on her shoulder, and before she can even think about pulling away, he’s steering Alana out of the room, placing a hot coffee in her hand. “Let’s talk out in the hall. I need to ask your opinion on something.”

Alana feels like a sailboat, guided from the lecture theatre as if by a strong breeze. They gust into the hall, but before Jack can shut the door he is waylaid by Jimmy Price, resident forensics expert and pain in the ass. He hands Jack a folder, hurriedly paperclipped together.

“Here’s the report you asked for,” he says. “Really thorough – most accurate report I’ve written in twenty years, I’d say. Hope it does the job.”

Jack takes it, thumbs through the photographs, admires the descriptions. “This is perfect, Jimmy. Go take a nap or something, you deserve it.”

Price snorts. “Nap,” he snorts. “Sleep is for the weak, director. I’ve got three autopsies and a hell of a lot of paperwork to do, and it’s all due before three pm.”

Crawford frowns. “I thought you only had two autopsies due.”

“Oh, no, you misunderstand. The third will be Zeller if he doesn’t get his useless, lily-white ass in gear sometime soon.” The last part is delivered in a shout through the door, where a grinning Brian Zeller shakes his head, busy dusting for prints.

Price stalks back into the lecture hall, and the door swings shut behind him.

Alana looks up at Jack, and wishes she was wearing higher heels. It might make it easier to look him in the eyes. “So? What do you want to ask?”

What little eye contact she’d been able to make shatters like a teacup as Jack turns away, looking guilty. It’s almost like talking to a certain empath she knows. Jack Crawford hardly ever breaks eye contact, and Alana knows that when he does, it almost always means that bad news is winging its way through the air. “Oh, no,” she says. “I know that look.”

“Alana, I swear, I’ve done nothing but think this case through since I first walked in that room,” Jack tells her, speaking too quickly. It’s unlike him. “Under any other circumstances I would never suggest it as a viable solution, but -”

“Oh, I cannot believe this.”

“He has a right to know.”

“And a right to be your guineapig?”

“It’s not an experiment if he just gives it a shot.”

“That’s bullshit, Jack, and you know it.”

“You want to know what I think? I think that Will has been sequestered away in the French countryside for nearly half a year now, with nothing to do but feed chickens and learn how to say, ‘Deux baguettes, s’il vous plaît’, and he’s probably bored as hell. I think he hasn’t used his talents once in that time, and that he’s so goddamned bored that he’ll say yes, just for something to do. How am I doing so far?”

Alana laughs derisively. “I call horseshit on that.”

“So you’ll have no objections if I ask him, then.”

There’s a fly buzzing drunkenly around both their heads. Alana, in that moment, feels rather like that fly, aimlessly spinning in circles with no clear direction. “Fine,” she says, eventually. “Go ahead – call him. But if he turns around and tells you to fuck off, I am going to laugh in your face.”

Jack studies her carefully. “Fair enough,” he says, and turns in the direction of his office.

Alana, already anticipating Will’s reaction, follows. This ought to be good.

 

***

 

Far be it for Hannibal to complain about his new life – it would be an appalling waste of gratitude, and Hannibal abhors wastefulness – but he cannot help but wish for something a little more… intimate.

At Will’s request, he has refrained from any attempt at imposing some sort of therapy, and Hannibal supposes he cannot really blame Will for that. Despite this, however, old habits die hard, and he has found himself analysing Will’s behaviour at every turn.

He notices that although Will eats his food and has even, on occasion, assisted with the preparation, he still tends to avoid red meat. He notices that sometimes, when he thinks that Hannibal isn’t looking, Will’s fingers will trace the scar on his abdomen, again and again, as if he were sliding his hands along a rosary. He notices that despite lingering touches – hands, shoulders, feet, jaw – Will still sleeps in the spare bedroom.

Hannibal’s conclusion: Will struggles with intimacy.

This is not a particularly new observation. In his earlier notes of Will’s sessions, Hannibal once wrote, “Will appears to struggle with all forms of intimacy, including eye contact and physical connections, such as shaking hands. I would assume that this extends to both sexual and emotional intimacy.”

Without wishing to cast aspersions on Will’s character, Hannibal cannot help but wonder how the poor man managed to even shake Margot Verger’s hand, let alone go to bed with her.

He shakes this thought off quickly. It is, after all, rather bad form to judge another’s sexual exploits through the green-tinted lenses of envy.

Still, it is exactly that: envy. Hannibal, without quite meaning to, has become impatient. He has nearly crossed the border into recklessness, which is inexcusable. Will Graham will come to Hannibal in his own time, and until then, Hannibal has to wait – until he drives himself mad, or at least until a bolt of circumstance alleviates him. Whichever is the sooner.

The front door opens. Hannibal can hear Will wiping his boots on the doormat, unclipping the dog’s leash. The dog had been a moment of weakness on Hannibal’s part, but he cannot deny that he agreed to Will’s terms, and besides – he has to admit to himself that there is not a thing he wouldn’t do for Will Graham.

Will enters the library, where Hannibal is trying his best to choose a book. Will’s hair is tousled and slightly damp, his face flushed from the cold. “Hey,” he says in greeting, something close to a smile hovering around his mouth. France’s long walks and good food have done him good – he looks less like the ghost that turned up on the doorstep five months ago, and more like an actual human being.

“Hello, Will,” Hannibal says, turning away from the bookshelf. Choosing a book will simply have to wait. “Where did you go on your walk?”

“In the direction of Cholet, past the farm up by the river. It’s pretty frosty out there today, Bev nearly took a tumble on the hillside, but we got back alright.” Will’s perceptive blue eyes narrow, and he looks at Hannibal sharply. “Why? Is everything ok?”

“Everything is fine,” Hannibal reassures him. And then, without quite meaning to, but with no particular objection, he finds himself pulling Will into an embrace.

Will stiffens in his arms, shoulders tightening, but he soon relaxes, his hands coming up to rest tentatively on Hannibal’s back. His body is still warm from his excursion, and Hannibal can feel Will’s heartbeat, rabbit-fast, against his own chest.

When they finally pull apart, Hannibal brushes Will’s cheek with his thumb, his fingers sinking into Will’s dark curls. “You need a haircut,” he murmurs.

Will looks as if he can barely form coherent thoughts, let alone sentences, but he manages to nod. “You could do it,” he manages to say.

Hannibal considers this, deliberating, even as something swells in his chest like hot steam. “I could,” he acknowledges.

Will’s hair is brushing his worn collar. Hannibal feels a sudden urge both to burn all of Will’s old clothes and to take him to bed immediately. Instead, he does neither, and holds out his hand.

It’s a moment of weakness.

“Come along, then,” he says. “I need to get my scissors."

 

 

***

 

 

When Ardelia Mapp had asked to be Clarice Starling’s roommate, it had been less of a request and more of a statement of fact.

“We’re moving in together,” Ardelia had said, handing Clarice a bagel. Salmon and cream cheese – just the way she liked it. “Is that ok?”

Clarice blinked. “We’re… what?”

“Moving in together,” Ardelia repeated. “You agreed last week.”

“When?”

“That night at George’s. I mean, you seemed a bit tipsy, and you’d had about three shots of vodka, but still, I kinda assumed you’d remember…”

“Delia, I was practically unconscious. You had to scrape me off the bar if memory serves.”

“Oh.” Pause. “Is that a no?”

“What? No, I just – never mind. When are we moving? Where are we moving?”

“Next week. I found a brownstone real close to Quantico – plenty more room that that godawful apartment of yours, and prettier than my ugly old dump is. Not that it’s hard, mind you. Still. You in?”

Not quite knowing what to say, Clarice had shrugged. “Delia, you are completely mad. Sure, I’m in.”

Now, Clarice knows that she does not regret it in the slightest.

“Ardelia?” she calls, as the front door swings shut. “Hey, Delia – you home?”

No response. Not that she’d been expecting one.

Ardelia has been running herself ragged recently over a rash of murders, cropping up all along the East Coast. All she’d been able to find out so far was that each of the victims – at some point or another – had been a member of a highly secretive information cluster, which means that the murderer has to be searching for a very specific piece of intel. Clarice understands the obsession – a year or so back she’d had a case involving Buffalo Bill, who’d been skinning girls to make himself a “person suit”, and she’d barely slept until she’d solved it – but Ardelia is beginning to run dry and truth be told, Clarice is worried about her friend.

She hangs up her coat and drops her bag at the door, noticing that Ardelia’s work badge is lying in its usual place on the coffee table. Her friend must be home. Trying not to make too much noise, Clarice creeps upstairs to Ardelia’s room (decorated with police caution tape – it had seemed like a good idea at the time) and pushes open the door.

Ardelia is wiped out, sprawled over her bed with her shoes still on and her watch halfway off her wrist. A fond smile creeps over Clarice’s face. How many times had she come back to their dorm and seen this sight? It’s like being back in the Academy all over again. Despite the dark smudges of tiredness under her eyes, Ardelia really does look peaceful when she’s sleeping.

Carefully, so as not to wake her, Clarice pulls off Ardelia’s shoes and set them at the end of the bed. Tucking the covers around her friend, she pus a hand to Ardelia’s face to brush away her hair, and hesitates. Maybe not.

She goes downstairs to hide in her study and tries to convince herself that nothing happened.

The next morning, Clarice gets up early and cooks breakfast, and by the time Ardelia emerges downstairs, yawning and sleep-rumpled, there are already plates of food on the table.

“Sit and eat,” Clarice orders, waving a spatula in the air threateningly. “I know full-well that you’ve been up for over 24 hours – the least you can do is eat a proper breakfast before you storm off to fight crime or whatever. Go on, it’s vegetarian – just the way you like it. I even made grits especially for you, so I hope you’re in the mood to grovel with gratitude.”

“Reece, you’re a lifesaver,” Ardelia groans, tucking in. Her mouth full, she says, “How I survived before I met you and your cooking, I’ll never know.”

“As far as I’m aware, you survived off canned soup for three years straight as a teenager.” Clarice watches Ardelia fall on the food with amusement. “You’re probably 70% soup as it is.”

“Nothing better to be 70% of,” says Ardelia thickly, through a mouthful of grits.

They eat in silence for a minute, pouring each other coffee, before Clarice asks, “How’s your case going?”

Ardelia looks confused. “My case?”

“Yes. Your case. The case you’ve been obsessing over for the past two weeks. THE CASE, all-caps. Come on, Delia, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about it – it’s all you’ve been able to talk about. You’ve practically been reciting it in your sleep. How’s THE CASE going?”

“Oh.” A strange emotion, somewhere between embarrassment and something else entirely, flickers across Ardelia’s face. “I’ve been taken off the case.”

Sympathy threatens to make itself obvious in Clarice’s voice, so she smothers it in a healthy layer of Mother Hen. “Well, maybe if you actually slept every once in a while, instead of working for thirty hours straight…”

“What? Oh, no, it’s not that. I’ve been reassigned. Top-priority mission.”

“I’m sorry?”

Ardelia explains the whole thing, and Clarice is sure that her own eyes are ready to fall out of her head. A mystery suicide in the heart of an FBI training facility… their teacher’s old lecture theatre… a message written in blood…

“And it says ‘WILL GRAHAM’?” Clarice repeats. “Do you – do you think he’s come back? To finish the job?”

“Hannibal Lecter? No. I doubt it. I doesn’t seem his style, and besides, even if this were anything but a suicide, Will Graham is in France, last I heard. Why would the Chesapeake Ripper come all the way back into the country just to write a message on the wall?”

“You think he left the country, then?”

“Call it a gut feeling.”

Clarice shakes her head. “You and your gut feelings. Still, you’re usually right. I’ve learned the hard way not to ignore them.”

“Correction.” Ardelia grins, her old pep back. “I’m always right.”

She leaves in a flurry, and Clarice clears up and goes to spend an hour doing some good old-fashioned paperwork-bashing to clear Ardelia’s smile out of her head.

It’s a moment of weakness, and that’s all it is. Just like the way her hand had twitched towards Ardelia’s curly hair, just like the way Clarice sometimes catches herself staring across the table, unable to look away from Ardelia as she talks.

It’s just a moment of weakness. And it doesn’t mean anything.

 

 

***

 

 

Despite the heat of the bathroom, Will feels his skin prickle as Hannibal fills the sink with warm water, and he wonders if this was such a good idea after all. The feeling doubles when Hannibal lays out a comb, soap, scissors, and a straight-razor.

“Could you take off your shirt for me, Will?” Hannibal asks, not looking away from his tools. Will feels something tighten in his stomach, and remembers a little too late that he is supposed to respond.

“Uh, yeah – yes, I mean,” he says, stumbling over the words and feeling a flush work its way across his neck. With suddenly clumsy hands, he unbuttons his shirt and pulls it off, goosebumps rising on his flesh.

Oh God, what is he doing?

Hannibal gestures for him to sit, and Will perches on the closed toilet seat. It’s close enough to the sink for him to lean his neck over the porcelain edge, wetting his dark curls.

“Your hair desperately needs cutting,” Hannibal admonishes him, beginning to work shampoo into Will’s roots. “And you ought to shave. What type of razor do you use?”

Will, caught in some kind of otherworldly limbo, takes a second to reply. “Um, disposable ones,” he says, guiltily. He can’t see Hannibal’s face, but he knows it’s disapproving. Of course Hannibal is a shaving snob – he has a damn straight-razor, after all. Will didn’t even know those still existed.

“Hm.” Hannibal does not sound pleased. “Well, no matter – I will take care of you today. You may sit up.”

Will does as he’s bid, pulling a blindingly white towel around his shoulder to catch the water that threatens to drip from the ends of his hair. Somehow, the laundry always seems to turn our better when Hannibal does it. It’s infuriating.

Hannibal picks up the scissors, and Will catches sight of his own reflection in the blades. He looks a little like a cornered rabbit. He clenches his fists and closes his eyes, determined not to panic. It’s just a haircut. It’s a normal thing that normal people do. Scissors are just a means to an end, after all. If Hannibal were planning to kill him, he’d had plenty of opportunities before now to do it.

“Will, are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Will hears himself reply.

“Good. I’m going to start clipping now.”

Will hears the scissors by his ear, carefully pruning back the dark tangle of curls that have been allowed to grow, unchecked, for over half a year. Eventually, as more of his hair flutters down around his shoulders and the rhythm of the scissors evens out, Will begins to relax, letting his mind space out. Eventually, Hannibal stops snipping, and Will hears the clatter as the scissors are put down.

“Hold this against your face,” Hannibal says, and suddenly Will has a hot towel in his hands.

“How exactly does this help?” he asks, his voice muffled slightly by the towel.

Hannibal picks up a pot of soap and a coarse brush, and begins to work up a lather. “It helps to soften the hair,” he explains.

“How the hell do you know all this?”

There’s a pause. “My father taught me, when I was a child,” Hannibal replies, after a moment. “This used to be his razor.”

Will’s eyes light upon the gleaming edge.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly.

“Don’t be. It was a long time ago. You can take the towel off, now.”

Will does so, and Hannibal begins brushing the lather across the skin of his face. It’s such a novel experience that Will can’t help but feel a little intrigued. His dad taught him to shave with crappy plastic razors, and he hasn’t deviated from the habit in over twenty years. Eventually, Hannibal sets down the brush, and picks up the straight-razor.

“Do your best to stay still, Will,” he says, his hand shifting across the handle. “I would hate to cut you.”

He holds the blade to Will’s cheekbone, and, slowly and meticulously, begins to shave off Will’s beard.

Perhaps, if there was any semblance of sanity left in Will’s brain right now, he would close his eyes. As it is, he cannot tear them away from Hannibal, whose sharp maroon gaze is focused with utmost concentration on the razor. Will is barely breathing, for fear of dislodging the blade. They are so close – only inches away – that they seem to be sharing breaths. The bathroom seems suddenly very small.

The razor glides faultlessly down Will’s cheek and jaw, slides across the skin above his jugular vein, and repeats the action on the other side. Will feels as though he is being carved from marble, shaped by Michelangelo himself, feels the power at the other end of the razor. Hannibal uses small, delicate strokes across Will’s upper lip, his eyes never leaving the blade, and fastidiously goes over Will’s chin.

He stops when he reaches Will’s neck. Hannibal’s eyes meet Will’s as he places two fingers under Will’s chin, gently tipping his head back, exposing his neck like a sacrificial lamb. Will feels his breath stutter.

“Careful,” Hannibal murmurs, so close that it seems to echo in Will’s ears. “This is the most delicate part.”

Without losing eye contact, he brings the blade to Will’s neck and precisely, perfectly, he draws it down, trimming off the last few hairs. The intimacy is so absolute that you could cut it with a knife. Not daring even to swallow, Will doesn’t blink until Hannibal moves away to wash the blade, and wipes away the last of the lather still clinging to Will’s jaw.

Somehow, Will manages to get to his feet, although his legs are trembling. He turns to look into the mirror.

It’s not like looking at a stranger – rather, it’s more like looking at his twenty-year-old self. With his hair cropped a little shorter and his face so weirdly devoid of stubble, Will feels the way he did fresh out of high school. He runs his fingers disbelievingly across his cheek, his muscle-memory feeling faint surprise when it encounters smooth skin.

“Good God,” he mutters to himself, gazing at his own reflection. “I look like a teenager again.”

“It suits you,” Hannibal tells him softly, at his shoulder. Will turns to look at him, and Hannibal – gently, tenderly – brushes a hand across Will’s cheek. His breath catches.

They are so close, not even inches apart. Will can feel Hannibal’s warmth bleeding into the air like ink onto paper. Hannibal’s breath tickles his newly-shaved cheeks.

They lean in. Closer, closer… almost melding together…

Will’s phone chooses this precise moment to ring loudly, rudely interrupting their… whatever this is. Flustered and more than a little annoyed, Will extracts it from his pocket and puts it to his ear.

“Hello?” he says, trying to convey his irritation purely through acidic tones alone. Unfortunately, all he sounds is a little out of breath.

“Will?” the voice at the end of the phone crackles slightly, but he knows all too well who it is. He fights the urge to groan. “Did I catch you at… ah, an inconvenient time?”

Hannibal’s expression is unreadable, although Will could swear that there’s a hint of amusement glimmering in his eyes. Will scowls. “Er, yeah, actually. This better be fucking important, Jack.”

“It is, I promise,” Jack Crawford placates down the phone line. “I wouldn’t dream of calling you otherwise.”

“Good, because if it isn’t, I’m blocking your number.” Will perches on the edge of the bathtub, suddenly feeling uncomfortably aware that he’s still shirtless.

“It’s important.”

Will sighs. “Well, have at it then. What is it this time: is the president about to be assassinated? Is the world about to end? Is there an apocalypse on its way?”

“Er, no.” Jack never did appreciate sarcasm. “I was hoping you’d do a profile for me.”

It takes a moment for it to actually sink in. Incredulously, Will begins to laugh. “Really, Jack? Really? Five months you leave me alone, and now you call up and ask for a profile? Wow. Just... wow. This is low, Jack, even for you. I’m done. Now if you could kindly fuck off, and leave me alone…”

He goes to hang up, but before he can press the button, Jack shouts, “Wait!”

Will pauses, puts the phone back against his ear. “Well?”

He locks eyes with Hannibal, whose expression is bordering on predatory the longer this conversation continues.

“There’s something I didn’t mention,” Jack says hurriedly, as if he’s afraid that Will’s going to hang up. “It’s a suicide, committed in your lecture theatre.”

“Jack, you know I do killers, not victims.”

“I know, but I was hoping you’d make an exception for this one.”

“And why is that?”

A breath. “There were words, scrawled onto the whiteboard. They were written in her blood.”

Will has his suspicions, but he asks anyway. “What did they say?”

Jack speaks. “They said your name. WILL GRAHAM.”

That wasn’t it.