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 “When the moment comes,” Jack says to Will, his voice echoing Hannibal’s words from the previous night, “will you do what needs to be done?”

Will gives Jack the same answer he’d given Hannibal, “Oh yes.” Will neglects to mention that the two sides of him, pulled in opposite directions, haven’t come to a consensus yet on What Needs To Be Done. 

Jack’s expression remains stony, but he gives Will a tense nod. “Good.”

Will expects to be excused now, but Jack’s phone rings. Jack answers it, without giving Will either a dismissal or an apology for answering. 

Rude, Will muses. His inner voice still sounds like Hannibal’s.

“It’s full of what?” Jack says after a moment, then he sighs and shakes his head. “Yeah. He’s already here. Text me the address. We’ll be there soon.” Jack hangs up, pockets his phone, and turns to Will. “We’ve got a case. Fresh body posed on a dock not too far from Baltimore. Zeller said he thinks it’s a Ripper murder. Price was loudly disagreeing in the background.”

Will blinks. His session with Hannibal had run late the night before, so unless Hannibal had already had a body stored away somewhere or did a rush job early this morning, it wasn’t likely to be the Ripper’s.

 “Should I bring Hannibal?” Will both wants to and doesn’t want to. He thinks, irrationally, that if he has to be around Hannibal and Jack at the same time, they might each grab an arm and engage in a literal game of tug-of-war over Will to match the ongoing psychological one.

Jack stands, heads for the door. “That’s up to you. Just hurry up and meet me at the crime scene. It’s already a circus over there.” Jack’s phone beeps in his pocket, and he pulls it out to forward the address to Will before leaving the room.

Will deliberates, then finally texts the address to Hannibal, along with got a case, want to come along?

In under a minute, Hannibal texts back, Of course. I’ll meet you there.

 


 

The crime scene is on the outskirts of a relatively quiet residential area 20 miles south of Baltimore, on the banks of Marley Creek. Will parks behind one of the dozen police cars lining the street and gets out of his car, glancing toward the scene from a distance. The body appears to be propped in a chair at the end of a pier, facing the creek, but Will can’t see much more than that through the sea of police officers and yellow tape…and… ducks. 

Ducks are everywhere. On the cordoned-off gravel road leading down to the creek, on the grassy slopes of the creek banks, floating in the creek itself. A swarm of them waddles haphazardly along the pier, sending officers off-balance as the cops try not to trip over the avian fiends. One man almost falls into the creek. Ducks flap their wings and repeatedly try to perch on the body, and an officer standing guard at the end of the pier repeatedly shoos them away.

Will blinks, shakes his head, and wonders what kind of nightmare is waiting for him on the pier, and why the ducks are so interested.

The purr of a familiar engine approaches, and Will looks over his shoulder as Hannibal’s Bentley rolls to a stop behind Will’s car.

Hannibal steps out of his car with a warm look at Will, still perhaps basking in the decision he’d made—to show the Chesapeake Ripper to Jack, to cast this life away and start a new one with Will. 

“Good morning, Will,” Hannibal says, coming to stand next to Will. Hannibal looks him over—subtly, but Will notices—then smiles. 

“Morning,” Will says, glancing at him and then down at the ground with a small, almost-shy smile of his own before meeting Hannibal’s eyes again. Will couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the mild flirting had stopped being just part of his cover.

“So,” Hannibal starts, sounding politely but genuinely curious as he glances toward the crime scene, “what kind of—?” 

Hannibal stops mid-sentence, his face draining of both warmth and color and going instantly blank.

“What?” Will asks, chilled by the look in Hannibal’s eyes that was peeking out from the edges of his admittedly well-constructed mask of calmness. A look, almost, of fear.

Hannibal swallows. “Will, we should go. Now.”

Will blinks, decides there’s no way this is one of the Ripper’s kills, not with Hannibal reacting like that. Hannibal wouldn’t be afraid of one of his victims…unless… maybe he screwed up somehow? Maybe he left evidence he didn’t mean to leave, or maybe he killed someone who could be connected to him and only just now realized it? The Ripper was too meticulous for that, though. An amateur mistake would be completely unlike him… but then again, Hannibal’s current behavior was also completely unlike him.

“Hannibal,” Will murmurs, somewhat relieved when Hannibal abandons the thousand-yard-stare at the crime scene and meets Will’s eyes instead, “is this…one of yo—“

“Shh!” Hannibal hisses, pressing his finger against Will’s lips to quiet him.

Will’s eyebrows shoot up, but he doesn’t break eye contact or lip-to-finger contact, despite the blush now warming his cheeks. He manages to convey, using his eyebrows alone, Hannibal, what the fuck?

Hannibal blinks, removes his finger, murmurs, “Apologies. But we mustn’t draw their attention.”

Will glances at the officers and crime scene techs milling around the body, who are all trying to collect evidence and trying not to trip over ducks. Price and Zeller are among them, and so is Jack, who seems to be intimidating some poor forensic technician. “I think they’re all a little busy right now.”

Hannibal makes a small, dubious noise. “Never assume. They’re treacherous creatures. We really should leave.”

Will’s brow creases—that was a surprisingly rude thing for Hannibal to say about BAU employees. “I can’t just leave. Jack’s expecting me, and—” out of the corner of his eye, Will sees Jack catch sight of him and motion irritably for Will to head down before returning his attention to the nervous-looking forensic tech. “Jack’s seen me.” Will waves. “If you want to sit this one out—” Will offers, but he’s interrupted by a loud quack from behind Hannibal.

Hannibal jumps, then spins around to face the duck, putting himself between it and Will. He closes his eyes and reaches back blindly at Will, fingers brushing Will’s thigh before finding and grasping his hand.

“Will,” Hannibal says, clipped tone, deadly serious, “don’t look into their eyes. Go into your memory palace and bar the doors. Think nothing incriminating.”

Will looks at Hannibal, then at the harmless duck waddling across the road and ignoring them both, then back at Hannibal. He’s at a loss for anything else to say, so he says, “I don’t have a memory palace. I have a stream.”

“Go there, then,” Hannibal says. “Allow no ducks to follow you.”

“The duck is already gone.”

“Yes, that’s the spirit,” he encourages.

“No, Hannibal,” Will says, squeezing the hand gripping his own, “the duck is gone. It walked away while you were…panicking.”

Hannibal scoffs, opens his eyes with a wary glance at the retreating duck, and says, “I was not panicking. I was employing a mental defense technique.”

Will blinks. “Against the duck.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Hannibal sighs, squeezes Will’s hand, gives him the most tragic look Will has ever seen, and says, “Because ducks can read my mind, Will.”

Will laughs; Hannibal does not, and Will quickly turns his laugh into an unconvincing cough.

“You’re—you’re serious?”

“I would never joke about this.”

Will doesn’t break eye contact, but he doesn’t say anything either—because, honestly, what can he say to something like that? A calm, collected Hannibal is scary enough—a delusional Hannibal is fucking terrifying.

Repressing a shiver and trying to play along, Will says, “How can the ducks read your mind?”

Hannibal’s eyes narrow slightly, but he inclines his head and answers politely enough, “If I knew how they were doing it, I would’ve put a stop to it long ago.”

“Right. But, how do you know that they’re doing it?” Will asks, trying to keep his tone neutral, unconcerned. It doesn’t work.

Hannibal blinks, and something in his expression hardens. “You think I’m delusional.”

“No, I just—”

“Their quacks don’t echo, Will. It’s unnatural.”

“Actually, I think that’s a myth,” Will says, but Hannibal’s eyes narrow.

Unnatural.” Hannibal repeats in something near a growl.

“Okay,” Will concedes. His hand is still gripped in Hannibal’s, so Will strokes his thumb across Hannibal’s hand and hopes the gesture is soothing rather than awkward. He also hopes the Chesapeake Ripper isn’t about to have a psychotic break at a crime scene swarming with law enforcement. “This is just—surprising. You never mentioned it before.”

Hannibal’s expression softens, warmth returns to his eyes. “There are many things I haven’t told you, Will. But I hope that soon, in another life, there will be no secrets between us.”

Will’s smile is genuine when he says, “I look forward to it.”

Jack loudly clears his throat, somehow suddenly standing twenty feet away with neither of them having noticed his approach. “If you two lovebirds are finished, there’s still a crime scene here,” he calls.

Will’s face reddens, but he doesn’t apologize and he doesn’t pull his hand away. Instead he raises his voice enough to carry across the distance and says, “Get rid of the ducks first.”

Jack blinks. “What?”

“They’ll distract me. Get rid of them.”

“Do you think,” Jack says, every syllable heavy and sardonic, “that we haven’t tried to get rid of them? They keep coming back. If you ever go look at the body, you’ll see why.”

Will shrugs. “Try harder. I can’t work with all these ducks around.” 

Jack gives Will a long, unamused look. Then he takes out his service pistol, aims it at the sky, and casually fires a shot, all without taking his eyes off of Will and Hannibal. The ducks take flight en masse, leaving the crime scene to the equally startled humans, some of whom ducked and drew their own guns before realizing there was no danger.

“Happy?” Jack growls.

Will smiles. “Ecstatic.” Will felt the slightest increase of pressure where Hannibal’s hand still holds Will’s own—a silent thank-you.

Will brushes past Jack’s seething annoyance and finally heads down the slope toward the crowd of officers, toward the body on the pier, still clasping Hannibal’s hand and pulling him along behind. 

The crime scene techs and assorted officers move out of the way when Will approaches the dock with Hannibal in tow. Price eyes their clasped hands as they pass, then elbows Zeller and mutters, “Told you. Pay up.”

Will ignores it. Halfway down the dock he pauses and slips his hand free of Hannibal’s, but not unkindly.

“Do you mind? It’s just easier to do this part alone,” he says, offering a small smile.

“Not at all,” Hannibal says. He stands in place and clasps his hands behind his back with that immaculate posture that Will has always admired and has started unconsciously emulating.

Will almost jokes you can guard me from the ducks, but he thinks better of it; Hannibal might take it way too seriously. Will chases away a brief mental image of Hannibal brandishing a butcher knife in each hand at a pack of ducks coming in for a landing, and he doesn’t quite manage to muffle his resulting laugh.

He clears his throat, pushes away all thoughts of Hannibal, of ducks, of the agents and officers milling around on the shore. He walks to the end of the dock, looks down at the body, and lets the world fall away.

The man’s body is propped in a lawn chair at the very end of the dock. Head severed at the neck, and placed in the victim’s lap, staring outward across the creek. The body is dressed, except for the torso, but it’s obvious in the way the clothes fit that the limbs have also been severed. Legs jammed separately into camouflage pants, arms laying shoulderless and limp in an orange hunting jacket that hangs open to display the main course. The torso alone has been split open and cooked, filled with the kind of stuffing people make for Thanksgiving, and that ducks apparently can’t get enough of. 

Will lets the pendulum swing, recreates the process in his mind. When he’s finished, he blinks, returns to the present, waves for Hannibal and Jack—who’d moved to stand beside Hannibal while Will was zoned out—to join him.

“The victim is a hunter, but he only goes for the easy prey, the defenseless. Slaughtered, cooked, dressed up and set out by the lake. Someone wanted to feed him to the ducks,” Will says. “This wasn’t the Ripper. There’s irony, yes, but there’s no artistry, no beauty here. It’s personal, and crude. Whoever did this hated this man, and had years to hone their fantasy into this exact presentation. This exact—humiliation.” Will pauses, glances at Jack. “You’re looking for someone with a longstanding grudge against the victim. The killer shouldn’t be hard to find. And—the ducks are important. Maybe someone who keeps them as pets—” Hannibal fails to entirely repress a shudder at the thought, and Will smiles, “—or someone who’s strongly against hunting. Look for any complaints against the victim, your killer’s probably filed several. And they know this area well—they might even be watching us from their back yard,” Will add, nodding towards the line of houses across the creek.

Jack nods, stalks back up the dock to pass Will’s profile on to the others.

Alone again, Will glances at Hannibal while Hannibal observes the body.

After a moment, Hannibal hums and says, “Shame to go to all that trouble just to waste a perfectly good meal on the ducks.”

Will nearly chokes, because that’s a dark and dangerous joke for the Ripper to make with so many cops and feds around. It’s also kind of hilarious.

“Do you—” Will says, clearing his throat to hold back laughter, “—want to taste the body?”

“Will, don’t be inappropriate,” Hannibal scolds, but he doesn’t hide the amusement in his eyes.

“You do, don’t you?” he says, letting a laugh slip free. “Oh, go on, the ducks have been nibbling at it, no one would notice a few bites missing,” Will gestures at the stuffing spilling out of the baked torso.

“If you continue to tease me, I might take a bite out of you,” Hannibal says, the tiniest of smiles in his tone turning his words into a flirtation rather than a threat.

And really that shouldn’t be hot at all, but Will’s breath catches, and—god help him—he flirts back. “If you want to taste my body, you should at least buy me a drink first.”

Hannibal smiles. “How about drinks and dinner? And beforehand, perhaps a bit of—shall we say—housekeeping, to work up our appetites?”

Will almost says something cheesy like it’s a date, or is that what the kids are calling it these days, but he catches himself and says instead, “Sounds delicious,” which was probably actually worse.

Hannibal nods, and opens his mouth to respond but a duck suddenly lands on the pier beside the body. Hannibal’s expression goes blank and he grabs Will’s hand again, practically dragging him back up the dock towards dry land. Will rolls his eyes but allows it. Hannibal doesn’t slow down once they’re back on solid ground; he continues up the hill towards their cars—passing Jack who gives Will a severely raised eyebrow for their behavior.

Once out of earshot of Jack and the other officers, Will says, “Hannibal, seriously, ducks are not telepathic.”

“Of course not. They can’t read every mind. Just mine—and, perhaps…” Hannibal trails off and gives Will a curious, worried glance as they approach their cars.

“What?”

Hannibal holds up a finger, says “Just a moment.” He looks over his shoulder, then walks around Will’s car and his own, checking for eavesdropping ducks. Will sighs and crosses his arms when Hannibal kneels to make sure no ducks are hiding under the cars.

“We’re safe,” Hannibal says, standing and moving back to Will’s side.

Will bites back a sarcastic, thank god, I was terrified, and prompts, “You were saying?”

“You have a very unique mind, Will. Your ability to empathize completely, to absorb and become someone else.”

“Yeah, and?”

Hannibal gives him a look that is at once scolding and admiring. “What I mean to say is that you’ve empathized with my mind, harmonized with its frequencies, and if the ducks can read my mind, it’s entirely possible they can read yours as well.”

Will closes his eyes. My name is Will Graham. I’m in Glen Burnie, Maryland. It’s, I don’t know, noon-ish, and Hannibal Lecter has gone completely insane.

“Will?” Hannibal prompts, concerned. “Promise me you’ll be careful, and avoid ducks whenever possible.”

Will opens his eyes, gives Hannibal a smile he hopes isn’t too pained-looking, and says, “Fine. I promise.”

Hannibal smiles. “Good. I have an appointment to keep with Bella Crawford, so I really must go, but I’ll see you soon, Will.” He pats Will’s shoulder, letting his hand linger just a little, before heading for the Bentley.

As Hannibal drives away, Will lets out a breath he must’ve been holding and mutters, “What the fuck?” 

He wants to believe that Hannibal is messing with him, that this is all just an elaborate and inscrutable joke—but it’s just too ridiculous for anyone to fall for, and Hannibal has to know that. Unless, maybe that’s the point—to prove how persuasive he is by making someone who already knows his tricks believe something completely absurd. 

The whole thing is giving Will a headache, and making him actually look forward to the meeting with Freddie Lounds that he’d agreed to.

He runs a hand through his curls, and turns towards his own car, but stops. A line of ducks has waddled up from the creek and is crossing the road right in front of Will’s parked car. One of them stops in the street and looks directly at Will while the others waddle past.

Will stares at the duck. The duck stares back. The seconds tick by and an echo of Hannibal’s distress creeps up on Will.

“What?” he finally snaps at the duck.

The duck does not reply.

Will scoffs at himself, and it turns into a rueful chuckle. “This is crazy,” he mutters, forcing himself to look away from the duck and unlock his car. “Completely crazy.” He reaches for the door handle and throws one last look over his shoulder, still shaking his head.

The duck is standing motionless, but now it’s three feet closer to Will.

“Nope,” Will says, creeped out enough to wrench the car door open, jump in, and lock all the doors. 

When he looks back at the street, the duck has gone, has fallen back in line with the others, indistinguishable now.

Will forces a laugh at himself, shakes his head, and starts the car.

 


 

Later that afternoon, after Hannibal and Bella discussed forgiveness and after Will and Freddie negotiated which secrets would be kept or shared, the two men met at Hannibal’s office to play a few rounds of Destroy The Patient Records interspersed with heady impromptu games of How Insanely Intimate Can We Make A Moment Without Even Touching Each Other. 

And if Hannibal seemed to grow slightly colder and more distant after sneakily leaning in to smell Will, Will assumed it was only something to do with the ridiculous duck phobia that they’ve both been so careful to avoid talking about since they left the crime scene. Maybe Hannibal was embarrassed. Maybe Will smelled like ducks or something—there had been a whole flock of them outside after his talk with Freddie.

Dinner that night was a verbal minefield. Ducks were not mentioned, nor was the fact that two supposedly dead women were alive and well.

 


 

Will spends the day leading up to the preordained dinner with Jack in a state of perpetual unease. Something—his empathy, or maybe just his conscience—constantly nags at him that something isn’t right, that he’s already slipped up somewhere and ruined the entire thing. He tries to push the feeling away, because honestly, nothing is right about this situation, and to make it all worse, he still hasn’t definitively chosen a side. He doesn’t want to murder Jack and he doesn’t want to lose Hannibal, but he doesn’t see any other endings than those.

He goes to talk with Alana, who wastes no time pointing out the mess that his life is at the moment. Who is leading whom into a trap? His mind spins away into the even bigger question—whose side is he really on? His mind tells him the Chesapeake Ripper has to be stopped. His heart tells him Hannibal is the only one who will ever see and accept all of him. Will sees blood in Alana’s tears.

Will walks out of the BAU building so distracted with everything that he trips over something on the sidewalk… something that protests with a piercing quack.

Will manages to catch his balance before he falls completely, muttering curses and trying not to step on the damned duck a second time. It keeps waddling into his path as he tries to edge away from it.

“Get away!” Will snaps, flapping his hands at it in a shooing motion.

The duck stops, goes still, looks into Will’s soul with its beady dead eyes.

“Stop that,” Will says, breaking eye contact. 

But that doesn’t stop the duck. It keeps staring at him, into him as he backs away toward his car. He imagines that the duck is sifting through his plans, his secrets, the tangled mess of his desires. He hears an echo of Hannibal’s voice, saying you and I are just alike, saying ducks can read my mind, Will.

Will keeps backing across the parking lot towards his car, not daring to take his eyes off the duck, but the blare of a horn stops him. He freezes, but the car brakes in time, and a wide-eyed Price throws his hands up behind the wheel and mouths what are you doing? Will waves, tries to seem casual and uncrazy, and throws only a brief glance at the duck before hurrying out of Price’s way and into his own car.

Will glances into the rearview mirror as he pulls away. The duck hasn’t moved off the sidewalk, but it’s still watching him. He shivers and looks away.

 


 

 

There are ducks outside his windows that evening, perched on the railing of the front porch and staring into the house. The dogs are either intrigued (Winston, pacing back and forth by the repaired picture window, wagging his tail), incensed (Buster, scratching at the door and growling at the intruders), or indifferent (three of them glanced up briefly before going back to sleep in a pile on the sofa). 

Will scolds Buster, but the small dog ignores him. Will tries standing by the window and flapping his arms while yelling “Shoo!” at the ducks, but to no effect; if anything, they seem to silently laugh at him.

“This is ridiculous,” Will mutters. “Completely fucking ridiculous.” Winston glances up at Will, seeming concerned, and Will tells him, “Ducks can not read Hannibal’s mind, and they sure as hell can’t read mine.” Winston wags his tail harder but otherwise doesn’t respond. Outside the window, a single duck quacks as if to contradict him. Will spins around to face the duck and points at it, snapping, “You can shut it.”

The duck just stares at him for a long moment, then hops down off the railing, and starts waddling away. A few others follow it, and Will watches with a dawning sense of horror as they make a beeline for the barn… the barn where Freddie Lounds had stumbled upon something she was never meant to see, and where he had decidedly not killed her, despite what he had led Hannibal to believe.  Had the ducks been here that day, watching? Did they know about his deception, and, more importantly, was it possible they had somehow told Hannibal about it? If Hannibal knew that Freddie was alive—if he thought Will was planning to betray him—that would explain the sudden frostiness towards Will after their dinner last night, and all of those subtle offers to abandon the plan and leave together right away.

“Oh god,” Will mutters, turning away from the window as the ducks by the barn turn to simply stare at him across the yard while their fellows continue to stare at him from the porch railings.

He has to fix this—if it isn’t already too late.

Will rubs his hands over his face and up through his hair, making his way over to the counter where he’d left his cell phone. He picks it up, only for it to ring in his hand. He startles and almost drops it, then takes a steadying breath and answers.

“Hello?” he says, halfway expecting a quack in response. 

“It’s Alana,” she says, and Will sighs in relief as she continues, “is Jack with you?”

“No, why?”

“They’ve issued a warrant for your arrest, Will. For acting as an accessory to entrapment, and for the murder of Randall Tier.”

Will closes his eyes momentarily, but opens them when the dogs begin barking at something new and very much not duck-related. Headlights in the distance, maybe five minutes out; the main road was winding, and his driveway was long, gravel, and uneven enough to slow most people down or deter them altogether.

“They’re going to arrest Jack as well,” Alana continues, and Will feels a cool sense of detachment slip over him as his world narrows down to a limited time and a limited set of choices that would determine his life going forward. “Will?” Alana says, after too much silence on his end.

“Goodbye, Alana,” he says, and ends the call. 

Will takes a steadying breath and makes the call he’d intended to make before Alana’s intervention. He only has minutes before the authorities would make it to the house—those headlights are getting closer—and he still has no idea what he's going to say.

The phone only rings once, and then Hannibal’s smooth voice says, “Hello?”

Will closes his eyes, and says, “They know.”

There is silence on the other end, then Will hears a quack from outside his window and quickly blurts out, “The FBI, they know, and—Jesus—I think the ducks know something too, something I lied about and I need to tell you the truth but not over the phone—there’s no time, I can see the headlights up the driveway.”

“Will, get out of there,” Hannibal says, sounding perfectly calm despite the world being suddenly turned upside down.

“You too,” Will whispers. “Jack’s going to come after you, you have to get out—”

A doorbell rings in the background on Hannibal’s end of the line.

“It seems that he might be here already,” Hannibal says, his tone still infuriatingly placid.

“Don’t.” Will is flooded with cold horror at the thought of Hannibal being arrested or worse, killed.

“It would be rude not to answer,” Hannibal says, still with that professional, impersonal tone.

“Hannibal, please,” Will says, and he senses rather than hears Hannibal’s pause on his way to the door. “Jack—he thinks I’m his man in all of this,” Will says, glossing over all of the uncertainty that he’d only just now resolved when he’d heard Hannibal’s voice. “But I’m not. I’m yours,” Will says.

“Will,” Hannibal breathes, and the warmth has returned to his voice.

The doorbell rings again on Hannibal’s end.

“Freddie Lounds is alive,” Will blurts out, because he might never have another chance to come clean about it.

There is a brief pause, then Hannibal replies, “I know… Will, I—I have something to confess as well, but I don’t think you’ll believe me if I tell you over the phone. It was intended to be a surprise.”

“Tell me when you see me,” Will says, slipping on his jacket and heading towards the back door; the convoy of headlights are now uncomfortably close—he’s almost left it too long to get away safely. “Get out of there and,” Will pauses, considers the likelihood of Hannibal’s or his own phone being tapped, and says carefully, “meet me where you told me about the ducks.” Will passes a small flock of said ducks as he heads out into the darkness, and he represses the urge to kick them.

There is another pause, then Hannibal murmurs, “Jack came alone, as far as I can tell. I’ll need to deal with him first.”

Hannibal’s doorbell rings again, sending a chill through Will, and after a few seconds he manages to say, “I’ll come to you, then. Stay safe.”

“You as well,” Hannibal says.

Hannibal hangs up first. With a last reluctant look at his home—and at Winston standing on his hind legs to watch him from a window—Will ditches his phone and disappears into the darkness.

 


 

 

Will arrives at Hannibal’s mansion just in time to watch Alana plummet from the window in a rain of broken glass. He spares her a moment as he passes—she’ll live, and the cell phone in her hand is already connected to 911, so he doesn’t have long. 

There is a fluttering of wings, and a duck lands on the lawn next to Alana as she loses consciousness. “Are you kidding me?” Will mutters.

Will ignores the duck and strides into the house, gun drawn, checking rooms as he goes, wary of calling out in case he distracts Hannibal at a crucial moment. The house looks as pristine as ever, until he gets to the kitchen—there are broken dishes, knives, blood on the floor, but no one in sight. Will takes a moment, listens hard for any sound of movement. 

His eye catches on a tendril of red seeping from beneath the pantry door.

All sense of caution flees Will as he calls, “Hannibal?” and heads for that door. If he was too late—if Hannibal was dead—

He reaches for the doorknob but freezes when a voice behind him says, “Don’t.”

Will nearly melts in relief as he turns around. “Hannibal,” he breathes. “I thought,” he trails off but glances back down at the pool of blood spreading from under the door.

Hannibal is covered in blood, his clothes utterly ruined and his hair disheveled. Something about seeing him so undone makes Will cross the distance between them and forget all of their past boundaries, reaching up to brush Hannibal’s hair out of his face and check him over for injuries.

Hannibal inhales sharply, surprised, but he doesn’t back away or stop Will’s hands as they roam over his face, his shoulders, arms, and down his chest in search of injuries.

“Will?”

“You’re okay,” Will says, letting out a relieved sigh.

“Of course,” Hannibal says, lifting one hand to cup Will’s cheek in a startlingly intimate gesture. “Are you?”

Will nods slightly, unwilling to dislodge Hannibal’s hand, or to remove his own hands from where they’ve settled on Hannibal’s waist. “We have to go—Alana is unconscious outside but she already called 911.”

“Aren’t you curious about Jack?”

“I assumed that’s him in the pantry.”

“Quite right,” Hannibal says, studying Will’s eyes. “Nothing more to say about that?”

Will swallows, leans his face into Hannibal’s touch and says, “I made my choice.”

Something softens in Hannibal’s expression, and he murmurs, “If you don’t want this, then tell me.”

Will’s brow furrows, because he just told him that he’d made his choice so what is he—oh.

Hannibal leans in, slowly enough for Will to say no or to move away, but Will does neither. Instead he closes his eyes and leans forward to meet him, and when their lips connect Will feels like this is what they’ve been heading towards all along. Hannibal’s hand slides from Will’s cheek into his hair, and one of Will’s hands comes up to grasp at Hannibal’s shoulder. The kiss is heated, passionate, but more than that, it’s a promise. 

It’s beautiful.

It’s over entirely too soon, when Hannibal pulls away slightly, rests his forehead against Will’s, and says, “I still have a surprise for you.”

Will quirks a smile and says, “That wasn’t it?”

Hannibal mirrors his smile, shakes his head, and presses another brief kiss to Will’s lips before gently stepping back to a respectable distance while keeping his arms on Will’s shoulders, guiding him to face the opposite direction.

Will turns, seeing nothing but the empty doorway leading into the darkened hall beyond. Behind him, Hannibal calls out, “You can come out now.”

For a moment, nothing happens. Then, someone steps into view, and Will’s heart stops.

“A—Abigail?”

Abigail smiles. “Hi, Will.”

Will’s hand shoots up to cover his mouth, and he holds in a few shuddery breaths that want to be sobs. Hannibal’s hands smooth over his shoulders, and he leans closer to Will’s ear, murmurs, “Time did reverse. The teacup that I’ve shattered has come together… a place was made for all of us, together.”

Abigail looks at Hannibal over Will’s shoulder, as if for permission, then she steps forward. Will opens his arms and she steps into the embrace, burying her face into the crook of his shoulder. Neither of them are able to find the right words. After a moment, Hannibal steps closer, wrapping his arms around them both, pressed close to Will’s back and resting his head on Will’s other shoulder.

“We can’t linger here much longer,” Hannibal says, pressing a chaste kiss to Will’s neck before stepping away and leaving the room. Will nods, and straightens up, wiping his eyes.

Abigail steps back and gives Will a forced, guilty half-smile and says, “Um, I pushed Alana Bloom out of a window. I didn’t have much choice at the time, but,” she trails off, glancing at Will as if expecting rejection. 

“She’ll live,” Will says, “and I’ve forgiven worse.”

Hannibal reappears behind them, pulling on a leather jacket Will has never seen before to cover the worst of his bloodstained shirt.

“Come along,” he says, with a small, genuine smile. “We have a plane to catch.”

Abigail and Will follow him to the front door, and then out into the rain, past where Alana still lies unconscious on the ground.

Will glances back, just once, and sees at least thirty ducks just standing on the roof of Hannibal’s house, watching them. He looks away quickly, and decidedly doesn’t bring them to Hannibal’s attention.

In this moment, Will wouldn’t care if the ducks did read his mind—he doesn’t know where he’s going or precisely how he’ll get there, so he has no information that the ducks could turn against him. All he knows is that he has Abigail back, and he’s with Hannibal.

The teacup has unshattered, and his family is together now, heading somewhere new and free, and Will is happier than he’s been in years.