It all started with that letter. Will knew who had sent it the moment he saw the simple white envelope on the kitchen table, right where Molly always left his mail. It was the handwriting that made it unmistakable. It was that of either an eighteenth century nobleman, the Queen of England herself, or Hannibal. He snatched it off the table with one hand, creasing the paper under tightly clenched fingers and hid it in the most discrete brown envelope he could find, as if to quell the thick, silken voice he heard inside his head every time he saw his name written in that hand, as real as whispering lips against his ear. He then shoved it into the drawer of the dresser in his bedroom. Their bedroom. Molly and his. It was out of sight, away from Molly's eyes and away from his. Never, however, away from his mind.
He opened it on a quiet Sunday morning, almost three sleepless nights after it first arrived. Molly and Wally had gone to visit Molly's mother and with the house all to himself, he'd decided that the heavy weight of Hannibal's grip on him, even now, was something only he, himself could end. And he would end it. He would read the letter so he would never have an excuse to wonder what it might have said. He would then burn it, both the message and the memories. And he would keep trying, like these past couple of years, to forget who he had been when he was with Hannibal. And how it had made him feel.
He took the envelope, sat down on the edge of his bed and felt the cheap, prison paper under his fingers. His joints faltering momentarily, crackling when he turned the envelope in his hand, and his skin prickling at the touch. Nerves, he thought, not without shame. He cut along the seam with his sterling silver letter opener, shaped like a miniature sword, and touched the paper inside. Thicker, this, more his usual style. He pulled it up between his thumb and index finger, out of the surrounding envelope, and almost dropped it when he felt an unfamiliar singe burning under his skin. Like a restless army of ants, painless, but odd. His hands shook when he folded the paper and read his name. Dear Will, it said. Dear Will.
An imaginary fist tightened in his chest and his damp fingers pressed into the thick, ivory paper, undoubtedly marking it with his prints. He swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat and closed his eyes. Dear Will. He could still see the words, written in the curly elegance of Hannibal's hand, burning behind his eyelids. He breathed deeply through his nose to try and calm the unsteady flutter of his heart. A deep breath. One that penetrated his nostrils like a liquid, a smothering sting he felt intruding behind his eyes.
One. Deep. Breath.
And then it took him.
There was rush of something deep and dark, spreading from his chest to the tip of every branching vein. He smelled the smell of campfire in a winter night sky, streaming up his dusty nostrils. He felt the touch of dark, icy water – just below the surface of a stream, untouched by the sun– and it woke his numb, clammy skin. He saw a chapel made of ancient bones, chandeliers made out of human skulls, and he heard a choir of the sweetest, most fragile voices that echoed against the rooftop dome. And then he felt the pain.
Will doubled over when he felt a violent, wrenching fist yanking at his insides, like a fishhook had embedded itself right behind his pelvis. He cried out in shock, as he rolled to the side of the bed, trembling violently on the unmade sheets and folding his arms tightly around his middle like a wounded animal protecting its vitals. He whimpered quietly, as he felt lashing flames licking viciously on his insides and kept himself still, soaked with cold sweat within minutes. He was shaking and panting like a dying fish, caught, as he clenched his teeth at the ripping sensation behind his abdomen. His loins were on fire, screaming and burning and yearning, gagging and binding him with intensity. He couldn't move. He couldn't speak. He could only let the cruel burn of hell spread through his body limb by limb, bone by bone, hair by hair. Will lay there, unmoving, wondering if he was waiting for death.
Molly found him like that when she came home hours later, and helped him out of his wet clothes and under the covers. The scorching torment had numbed itself to a whiny ache that seeped deep into his marrow. “Should I call a doctor?” she asked. Will didn't like doctors. Not anymore. “No,” he said, feeling his damp skin shivering against the cold air, while inside he was still burning hot, hot, hot. “It's probably just the flu.”
She saw the letter on the floor, abandoned, but not forgotten. “Is this yours?” she asked, and he clenched his teeth to stop the sudden flash of helpless anger that boiled, instantly and unprepared, from underneath his lungs and threatened to spill. She had no right to see it. No right. “Put it on the nightstand,” he said from between his locked jaw, short and curt. It was the best he could do. She did, and then she left the room, and for reasons unexplained he felt she had taken a thick, strangling smoke away with her.
He touched the letter again when he felt like he could properly breathe. He smelled it, felt the thick paper on his skin, carefully this time. There was no sense to why he would, why this was a risk he was willing to take, but the option not to do it had simply vanished from his scourged and scattered brain. Something savage lashed out from within and drew claws against his pink insides as he smelled the fire, felt the water, leaving no more than an ache this time. And he read the letter. Again. Again. Again. The feel, the smell, the words, they hurt. They hurt more and more every time he read it. But there was something else this time. That edge, small, but present, that filled a place inside him that he never knew existed, with a marble of delirious, concentrated pleasure amongst all that pain. And when he put away the letter, folded it and hid it in the drawer, the song died out, and there was nothing but an intense yearning. A longing so maddening he wished to dig it out of himself with his bare fingernails. A need for something he didn't even understand.
That night, he didn't sleep. There was a swelling in his throat, beneath his jaw, that kept him awake. Swollen glands, nothing odd for a flu, but they itched and ached and pressed against his skin so hard that he couldn't stop touching them. His ears caught the sound of traffic down the far away road. His nose smelled the lingering odor of the fish Molly had cleaned for dinner and the stench of his bottle of aftershave, hidden in the dresser. He had never noticed such things before.
The oddest thing, perhaps, was the amount of sweat that seemed to steadily pour inside his boxers. A thick fluid of which he could not explain the consistency. A slick, clear sort of secretion that clung to his fingers and had the smell of pine cones in early fall mixed with the musky scent of a male body. The whole room was starting to smell like it, and it made that tormenting ache pulse harder and louder in that empty, empty spot inside of him. He clenched his ass once, around nothing, wondering why it suddenly felt like that was unwanted. He squirmed unhappily against the mattress and rolled onto his belly. Oh, and there was that. He now seemed to be in an almost permanent state of semi-arousal, with his dick half-hard against his belly and asking for attention that he instinctively knew wouldn't satisfy him. Molly had noticed when she came to bed and had simply rubbed her hand over his upper leg without any other intentions. But the touch alone had made him roll away as his stomach only clenched harder. No. He didn't know why, but his body seemed to scream it. No.
When the sun rose early morning, none of the aches had eased within him, but he got up anyway and distracted himself with everyday life. “Don't you want your glasses?” Molly asked him when he was reading the morning paper. No. No, he didn't. His eyes seemed to be... they seemed to be fine, really. It was odd, very odd, but not odd enough for him to search for answers when he had so many other things to occupy his mind. The slick, thick sweat that forced him to change his underwear about four times a day, for example. The persistent fiery heat in his lower region. Everything around him seemed so sharp, so loud, yet very, very far away. Words had never flown that easily, but grunting was most of what he did now. And the aversion when Molly, his lovely Molly, touched his arm or kissed his cheek... He didn't talk to her about it. He silently hoped it would simply pass if he just ignored it, but the only thing his mind could focus on was the fire that burned and squirmed in the pit of his belly, and Hannibal's letter in the drawer.
Jack came, like the letter had predicted, and Will wanted to tell him to go away, never come back. He wanted to punch him right between his smug eyes, threaten him and warn him to never, ever come near his family again. But he didn't, because apart from his mysterious, physical predicament, there was one persistent thought that poked him, stabbed him, gorged him every breathing second since he had opened that letter.
Hannibal's letter. The Tooth Fairy's case. Jack wanted him to go. Molly wanted him to go. Hannibal had asked him not to. And Will, he didn't want to go. He didn't want to. He couldn't go.
He had to go. He had to go. He had to. Had to. Had to. HAD. TO. GO.
Will shot up from his pillow that night and quickly padded to the bathroom wihtout making a light. He ran icy water over his burning face for the fifth time that night and stared at the red rims around his bloodshot eyes. He had to go. Why didn't matter. He had to go back to Baltimore.