He recognizes the wizened, middle-aged man hovering at the edge of his classroom. He's there no doubt waiting to speak to Will the moment class is dismissed. Will is not wrong, but then he isn't often wrong.
Will quickly pulls on his glasses, positioning the top rim so that he blocks Jack's gaze. He doesn't want to invite the distraction that looking into Jack's eyes will bring, especially when Jack so obviously wants something from him.
"I'm Special Agent Jack Crawford. I lead the Behavioral Science Unit."
He knows Jack Crawford not just as the current head of the Behavioral Science Unit, though that reputation alone is enough to pull Will's recognition, but also from a disagreement they had not long ago. Jack apparently remembers it too.
"Yes, we had a disagreement about the museum when we opened it," Jack says, confirming Will's suspicion.
It had been a pretty heated argument, or at least as heated as arguments with Will get, which is to say not very. "I disagreed with what you named it."
"The Evil Minds Research Museum?"
Will nearly shudders at the name. He glances over with a raised eyebrow, his gaze briefly settling on Jack's shoulder. "It's a little hammy, Jack."
Jack pauses. He smiles and changes the subject, wisely choosing not to be drawn into the same old argument. "You've hitched your horse to a teaching post. I understand it's not easy for you to be sociable."
What an understatement that is. He's had this same conversation with Alana and Dr. Du Maurier. He's no less comfortable with the conversation now than he was then. "I'm just talking to them. I'm not listening to them. It's not social." His students have long given up on trying to be social and he's very glad for that, though there's always one or two – usually female – who try every semester to break through his icy exterior. It only makes him feel even more awkward.
Jack pushes Will's glasses up, forcing him to make fleeting eye contact. Will looks away before he can catch more than Jack's obvious curiosity and interest. Jack wants something from him, but he's taking a damn long time getting to it.
"Where do you fall on the spectrum?"
He matches the rhythm and syntax of his voice to Jack's. "My horse is hitched to a post closer to Asperger's and Autistics than narcissists and sociopaths." He hates labelling himself but other people live by those labels. It makes them feel more comfortable once they know which box to put him in.
"But you can empathize with narcissists and sociopaths."
Will isn't entirely comfortable with the line of questioning. He's never been fond of talking about himself, something his therapist has been working with him on, slightly more successfully now than when they first started two years ago. "I can empathize with anybody. Less to do with personality disorders than an active imagination."
"Can I borrow your imagination?" Jack says with a smile.
It's a trap.
He should say no, but he can't. He wants to help, he truly does. He's consulted on cases before. This should be no different, but he knows it is. If it was a mere consultation, Jack would have come right out with it. No, Jack's playing for something bigger and Will's curiosity gets the better of him.
He follows Jack out of the room as Jack explains the case. "Eight girls from eight different Minnesota campuses abducted in the last eight months."
Will's aware of the case. He's caught bits and pieces of it on the news. It's all the national news stations are talking about. "I thought there were seven."
"There were." Were, meaning there aren't now.
"When did you tag the eighth?"
"About three minutes before I walked into your lecture hall."
Something in Jack's phrasing hits him. "You're calling them 'abductions' because you have no bodies?"
"We have nothing. No bodies. No parts of bodies. Nothing that comes out of a body. We have lonely swabs in used evidence kits."
It's remarkably simple to put it together. "Then those girls weren't taken from where you think they were taken." If they were, there would be trace evidence. There would be something.
"Where were they taken from?"
He doesn't know why Jack thinks he has the answer. He doesn't. He could speculate, but he doesn't want to dig himself in too deep. "I don't know. Someplace else."
Jack thinks out loud. "All abducted on a Friday so they're not reported missing until Monday. However he's covering his tracks, he needs the weekend to do it."
Jack has a map in his office. Seven pictures. Seven strings. Seven last known whereabouts and a timeline of events. It's very thorough, very organized. Will appreciates the care taken in presenting the data. Jack pins an eighth blue square to the map and hands Will a picture of a pretty girl.
"Elise Nichols. St. Cloud State on the Mississippi. Disappeared Friday. Supposed to house sit for her parents over the weekend. Feed the cat. Never made it home."
He stares at the pictures on the wall. "One through seven are dead, don't you think? He's not keeping them around. Got himself a new one." There would be no reason to abduct another girl if he's already holding seven. No, he's not holding them. He wouldn't. Not that many. He's using them, then discarding them. That's why he needed another one. He'd used up the last.
Jack nods. "We're focusing on Elise Nichols."
Will looks at Elise's picture and then back at the wall. There's a similarity to all of the girls. They're familiar, like something out of a magazine. "They all look like Mall of America. That's a lot of wind-chaffed skin."
Jack agrees. "Same hair color. Same eye color. Roughly same age, height, weight. What is it about all these girls?"
"It's not about all of these girls. It's about one of them." He pins Elise Nichols' photo next to the map. "He's like Willy Wonka. Every girl he takes is a candy bar. Hidden amongst all those candy bars is the one, true intended victim, which if we follow through on the metaphor, would be your Golden Ticket."
It's not hard to put it all together. When it's just photographs, it's easy. There's nothing to empathize with. It's just data - cold, unfeeling data. The leaps that his brain makes can be viewed as simple intuition, nothing more. He knows there are rumors about him, that people think him special for the way he thinks but there's nothing special about it. He just has a very unique brain that's good at remembering details and a very active imagination that lets him put them together.
"Warming up for his Golding Ticket or reliving whatever he did to her?"
Will stares at the girls. "Golden Ticket wouldn't be the first taken and she wouldn't be the last. He would hide how special she is. I mean, I would. Wouldn't you?" He realizes the mistake as soon as the words are out of his mouth. He knows what Jack's going to say next. He's not wrong.
"I want you to get closer to this."
"No." He finally finds the word he was looking for earlier, just in time. He knew it would end like this. It always does. "You have Heimlich at Harvard and Bloom at Georgetown. They do the same thing I do." He's ready to walk out of Jack's office, ready to make his escape when Jack's words stop him.
"That's not really true, is it? You have a very specific way of thinking."
He turns, ready to defend himself, to defend his mind from the rumors that are constantly circulating about him. They say he's almost as bad as the criminals he catches. They say he's insane. He opens his mouth, prepared to engage and stops. What would Dr. Du Maurier say? They've talked about this before, about letting go, about not rising to the bait.
"I'm sorry," he says instead. "I only do consultations, not field work."
He's not ready for field work. He knows that, and there's no point in letting Jack try to bait him into it. Neither of them would benefit from it, and while Will might be able to make it through this case unscathed, there will always be more.
The world is full of killers waiting to be caught but Will is not the man to catch them, not today.
"We need your expertise." Jack says it with conviction. He believes it. Will can see in his eyes how much Jack thinks he needs Will. But Jack's belief is misdirected. There are others who can help him without destroying themselves in the process, and Will knows he will be destroyed if he goes in the field again.
"I can't help you. Bring me case files, I can talk you through your problems, but that's it." Jack frowns, and Will knows he needs more than that. He needs to throw Jack a bone or he's not going to let it go. "I recommend Bloom. She's good. We're friends. We sometimes use each other as sounding boards. If she gets stumped she'll call me." Will offers a small smile. It sits poorly on his face, an ill fit with his features. His face is unused to smiles. "It's as close as you're going to get."
Jack stares at him for a long moment before nodding. "Alright. Thank you for your consultation."
Will can't help the small tinge of regret as he turns away. There's part of him that will always want to be in the thick of things, solving cases, catching killers. That's the irresponsible part of him. Dr. Du Maurier has taught him not to listen to that part, at least not as much as he used to. "Any time."
"I'll hold you to that," Jack promises.
Will's smile gets a little wider, a little more genuine. He nods. "You know where to find me."
He walks out of Jack's office feeling lighter than he had when he walked in. As much as he wants to help catch the killer, there's part of him – a large part – that is relieved to be able to walk away and let someone else handle it. He has no doubt that Bloom is more than capable of handling the job and if she needs help, Will is only a phone call away.
Alana calls him while he's feeding the dogs. He balances the cordless phone on his shoulder while he sets down the bowls one at a time, laughing as the dogs jostle each other to get to the food first.
"Did I catch you at a bad time?" Alana asks, her voice laced with too much concern, like it always is when she talks to Will. She's one of the few people who knows how fragile he really is. He couldn't hide anything from her if he tried, and he learned long ago not to try.
"No, no," he says, pausing as he sets down more bowls. "It's dinner time. I'm just feeding the starving masses."
She laughs. It's a good sound. One of his favorite sounds. "Say hello for me."
Will turns the phone into his shoulder and smiles down at the dogs, a real smile, reserved for them and Alana. "Alana says hello." Barkley yips at him, likely more concerned about the delay in the food delivery than in saying hello back. Alana is still laughing when he turns the phone back to his ear.
"I didn't expect you to actually do it."
"I was just passing the message along." It's so much easier to be social over the phone. There isn't the immediacy of contact to worry about, no confusing signals of body language to mix up the words. He's more comfortable in his own home than he is anywhere else and the only eyes that can judge him are currently fixed on their food bowls. They never judge him. "How's the case going?"
"Good. I think we caught a real break today. The techs found some piping and antler velvet on the last body."
Will falls backwards onto the couch, watching his dogs eat while he curls against the armrest with the phone at his ear. Alana's been keeping him up to date with the case, though not in intense detail. She's always found it helpful to talk about cases that bother her and Will is her go-to sounding board. He doesn't mind the job, since it feeds his need to be of some use in the case, even if his position is far, far removed from the actual scene of the crime. "You found the missing girl then?"
"In her bedroom. He returned her. You'll never guess why?"
He could make a lot of guesses but he'd rather not. He chews on the edge of his thumbnail instead and forces the mystery out of his mind. Better not to reason why. That road of questions would lead down a very dark, very deep rabbit hole. "Oh?"
"Huh." She was returned because of the cancer, obviously. But why? The answer came to him startlingly fast. "He's eating them." He should feel revolted by that thought, but he isn't. Cannibalism is as much a foreign concept as the case is, less real by description alone without the accompanying visuals. He's very glad not to have visuals.
"Sick, right? I still can't figure out the connection though. If it's about the meat, then their appearance shouldn't matter. I can see why he wants them young and healthy, but why brunettes? Why that look?"
Will lets his head fall back on the couch and stares up at the ceiling. He should paint. There's a watermark from years ago, when his tub leaked, that never got patched over. It mars his ceiling with a discordant ring of brown. "How old are the girls?"
"Pretty young. Just out of high school, maybe seventeen or eighteen."
Just like that it clicks. He sits up, uncurling to sit properly on the couch, his elbow resting on his knee. "He has a daughter. She's about to leave him for college and he can't stand that. He can't stand losing her. He's eating them so they become a part of him, like he wants for his daughter. So that they'll never leave him."
"You're the best, Will. I owe you."
Her words startle a laugh out of him. His newest acquisition, Winston, comes over and flops at his feet. Will stretches down to scratch Winston behind the ears. The action provides comfort for both of them. "You've already done me a favor by getting Jack off my back. He really wanted me out there instead of you."
"You're better with your students," Alana says. She means it kindly, but the sting of reality can't be taken away. He wishes that it were different, but it's not and he has to deal with the reality he lives in.
It's not that he's better with his students. He's horrible dealing with people, especially students, but he's safer with them. He's safer dealing only in academics and not facing down new nightmares in the field. They both know that. To pretend otherwise would be a discredit to both of their intelligences.
"I owe you."
"Let's call it even," Alana says. "Thank you, Will. Good night."
He holds the phone against his chest long after Alana has hung up. The dogs seem to sense his mood and crowd around him on the couch, providing comfort in their silent, reassuring presence. They weigh him down with furry bodies, providing an anchor to keep his thoughts from drifting to darker places.
He made the right choice. He doesn't belong in the field. He's just not very good at letting go.
"I'm stealing you tonight," Alana says as she steps into Will's office.
He looks up at her over the edge of his glasses. Damn things keep sliding down his nose. "Pardon?"
She moves forward with a bright smile and a sway in her step, like she wants to twirl in place. Successfully solved cases do that. Alana and Jack had caught the killer – one Garret Jacob Hobbs, who indeed had a daughter about to leave for college. They'd managed to catch him without any more casualties, getting to him in his home before another girl could be taken. He briefly wonders what Hobbs's daughter must think, whether she knew the girls her father had killed were replacements for her? There are some things better left unknown, and he hopes for her sake she never learns the horrible truth.
"You and me," Alana says. "We've got a date. In Baltimore."
He puts down his red pen and sits back in his chair, one eyebrow raised. Everything he needs to say is in his expression and she's a good enough psychiatrist to read it.
She waves a hand at him and stops on the other side of his desk. "It's a dinner party. My old mentor, Hannibal Lecter – you've heard of him?" Will shakes his head. "He's a psychiatrist, absolutely brilliant. He's throwing a dinner party. He's an amazing chef. You'll love it."
"I take it I'm your plus one?" She no doubt hears the reluctance in his tone.
"Come on, Will. You need to get out more. He invited a few other local mental health professionals and academics. All big brains and smart talk." Her face mutates into something likely meant to mimic serious and high-brow but comes off too smashed and comical. "Plus, seriously, you need to try Hannibal's cooking. It's life-changing."
He shakes his head, already regretting his next words. She's so excited for it, Will knows he can't refuse. "Well, if it truly is life-changing, how can I say no?"
"Excellent." She slaps his desk for emphasis. "Pick me up at six and wear something nice. No tweed."
He can deal with a few hours of forced socialization. Besides, there will be food, so he can just conveniently stuff his face and use manners as an excuse not to talk with his mouth full. What's the worst that could happen?
When Alana spoke of her mentor, Will had pictured a gray-haired old man, kindly but reserved, soft around the middle like all academics tended to be at that age. He's entirely unprepared to meet the real Hannibal Lecter, a chiseled, handsome man of middling age who seems as solid as a mountain and ridiculously refined. Dr. Lecter smiles at Will as they're introduced and takes Will's hand in a quick, firm handshake.
Will can feel the heat of Dr. Lecter's hand on his long after they've parted. He follows Alana in a bit of a daze, mumbling the appropriate niceties to the other guests. He meets Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier's gaze from across the room, nodding once in recognition, and then looking away. There is another couple there, the Drs. Lauren – a husband and wife team that own their own practice just south of D.C.
Alana jumps instantly into conversation with the Laurens but Will finds himself distracted by the elegance of Dr. Lecter's home. He drifts past the small bubble of conversation into the quiet living room. Every piece of furniture, every decoration, seems perfectly placed. It's so different from the near-squalor he lives in that he finds it fascinating. If he had hours to contemplate it, he could probably determine the psychological meaning behind it all, but for now he's content to merely take it all in. Dr. Lecter has an eye for interior design. His house is the picture of neat lines and open spaces and supreme elegance. Will wonders what it would be like to live in such perfection. He'd be too afraid of knocking a lamp off-center to touch anything.
Over the din of conversation, he can hear Dr. Lecter finish setting out the last touches for their meal. The sounds of the house fade away as Will finds himself staring up at a framed painting hanging from the living room wall.
"Are you acquainted with Dr. Lecter?" Bedelia asks as she pauses next to him, also admiring the painting.
He's not familiar with the artist, but there is something about the painting that resonates with him. The painting had to have been sketched out first. The lines of the building on display are far too precise. Even the brushstrokes have a surgical feel to them. Despite that, or maybe because of the perfect sterility to the lines, the colors are vibrant, almost popping off of the canvas. He wants to touch it, to feel the roughness of the paint under his fingers, but he doesn't dare.
"He does beautiful work, don't you think?"
Will glances at Bedelia, then follows her gaze back to the painting. "He painted this?"
"Indeed, I did."
Will jumps and then immediately blushes. Bedelia tries to hide her smile, wisely sipping from her wine glass to cover the distinct curve of her lips. Will turns, his face heating even more with Dr. Lecter's proximity. "It's amazing work, Dr. Lecter. I've never seen anything like it."
"Thank you. Please, call me Hannibal." His eyes trace over Will's face, as if memorizing Will's features. Perhaps he's merely basking in Will's admiration. Whatever Hannibal sees on Will's face, it pleases him, and he smiles slightly, the barest curve of his lips but still more genuine than most of the smiles that appear on Will's face, before gesturing behind him. "Dinner is ready."
He lets Hannibal lead them to the table. Alana is already seated, still deep in conversation with the Laurens. There's an open space for Will between Alana and Hannibal, who sits at the head of the table as fitting their host. He hesitates, thinking Bedelia will take it, but she settles into a chair on the opposite side, near the male Dr. Lauren. The smile on her face is hard to read, part pleased, part something else. Will has no choice but to take the chair at Hannibal's right hand.
The seating arrangement, once it is settled, only seems to please Hannibal more. He pulls out Will's chair for him, an act that forces the blush on Will's face to deepen. Does Hannibal know of Will's predilections and, more importantly, does he share them? Will shoots a suspicious glance at Alana who smiles in a way designed to paint herself the picture of innocence. The look alone is enough to prove that she is the very opposite of innocence in arranging for Will and Hannibal to sit next to each other.
They will have words later. Will hates Alana's attempts to set him up, but she is nothing if not persistent in dragging Will out of his self-imposed loneliness. He's not sure which he's more fearful of – the eventual escalation of her efforts or the possibility that she might one day be successful.
"Tell me, Will, what do you do for a living?" Hannibal asks as he shakes out his napkin – an actual cloth napkin, far fancier than the plain paper fare Will's accustomed to – and sets it in his lap. Will hastily follows suit. He knows proper manners, even if he never exercises them.
He picks up his fork and pokes at the caprese salad in front of him. It isn't much of a salad really, not in the traditional sense, containing thick slices of mozzarella and tomato with just a few carefully placed leaves of basil and a drizzling of balsamic. "I'm a lecturer." He shoves a forkful of food in his mouth to avoid blurting anything further. His mouth has a dangerous way of disappointing him.
"A colleague of Alana's, I presume?"
Will shakes his head. His fork rests against the plate, ready to come to his aid should his words desert him. "No. I teach at Quantico. At the FBI Academy."
Hannibal arches one eyebrow. "Impressive. I would not have guessed you for a government man." His movements as he cuts into his food are precise. Alana had mentioned he'd once been a medical doctor and it shows.
"I'm not much of one. Not really. I'm just a teacher."
"It's a very important job. You have the chance to shape young minds, teach them how to think of the world around them and shape them into the agents they will become."
"Don't let him fool you," Alana cuts in, placing a familiar hand on Will's arm and leaning forward as if imparting some great wisdom to Hannibal. "Will's really good. The head of the Behavioral Sciences Unit tried to recruit him. They ended up with me instead."
Hannibal gives Will another considering look. "Their loss, I suppose."
Will's fingers tighten on his fork momentarily before he forces himself to relax. "It's no one's loss. I didn't want the job. I'm happy where I am."
"That's a good thing," Hannibal says just before sipping his wine. It leaves a red stain on his lips. Will idly wonders how those lips would taste pressed against his own. "So few people find themselves in a position that meets their needs, both monetarily and emotionally. I'm glad you could."
Will shoves another fork full of salad in his mouth to avoid having to answer. It's a tactic he employs multiple times over the course of dinner. While he finds conversation with Dr. Lecter fascinating, Alana's obvious attempts to set them up fray at his nerves, leaving him feeling like the mouse caught between two lions.
He's both relieved and disappointed when the evening comes to a close and Dr. Lecter is seeing them to the door. Hannibal stops Will before he can follow Alana out the door with a gentle hand on his arm. Will turns, feeling too much like a sunflower turning towards Hannibal's tight smile.
"I very much enjoyed our conversation, William. Perhaps you would like to continue it some time? Maybe over coffee and a dessert."
Will's mouth hangs open for a moment. He stutters before finding the right words. "Yes. I mean, yeah, that'd be great. I'd like that."
"Excellent." He gives Will's arm a light squeeze and then lets go. "I look forward to it."
Will nods dumbly and follows Alana out into the chill night. It's not until he's buckling his seatbelt that it hits him – Hannibal just asked him on a date.
To say that Will is out of practice at dating is an understatement. His last relationship, if you could call it that, had ended on the third date after he'd psychoanalyzed his partner's sister based on the constant stream of information she'd been feeding him all night. He'd thought he was being helpful. She'd seen it as insulting.
He expects his date with Dr. Lecter to end just as poorly, and is surprised instead to find himself inviting Hannibal back to his home after Hannibal had expressed interest in meeting Will's motley crew of canine companions. He's somewhat ashamed of the disarray of his house. His home has a certain rustic aesthetic that comes off as slobbish more times than not. It's nowhere near as impressive as Hannibal's home, yet Hannibal somehow finds it 'charming'.
Thoughts of home décor fly from his head as Hannibal presses against him, the bulk of his body trapping Will against the wall while their tongues slip from one mouth to the other in a dance for dominance. Will gives in easily. He's never been one for dominance, preferring instead to be the submissive partner and he lets Hannibal take the lead. Hannibal seems quite suited to the role.
There is no hesitance in the way Hannibal touches him, no uncertainty. Where Will's touches are tentative and exploratory, Hannibal is bold and certain. He knows what he wants and he takes it with gentle force. He doesn't physically pin Will to the wall but his presence has much the same effect. Will knows then that he'd do anything for Hannibal. He'd let Hannibal take him in any way that Hannibal wanted.
He knows it will be good, no matter what, and he isn't disappointed.
One of Hannibal's hands grips Will's ass possessively. He holds their bodies together, hips against hips, and Will can't help but grind into the touch. He can feel Hannibal's hardness through their pants.
He wants more.
"Hannibal." The name comes out like a prayer, full of desperation and hope.
"William." Hannibal says his name like a promise, sending a shiver of desire straight through Will.
He has the momentary thought that Hannibal is going to take him right there against the wall. The picture that idea paints is incredibly hot, but so unlike the restrained, gentile man he's known so far. Instead Hannibal pulls them away and guides Will by the hand towards the bed. Will makes it his goal to wind Hannibal up enough that the restraint falls away. Not today, not when they're so new, but one day he wants to make Hannibal desperate enough to fuck him against that wall. He wants Hannibal to crave him, to want him so much that his gentle care falls away. He wants to see what Hannibal is like when he's raw and savage.
For now that gentleness suits them. It's been so long for Will. He hardly even touches himself anymore. The urge had waned over the years, but Hannibal's presence rekindles it. His hands grip at Hannibal's naked shoulders and he spreads his bare legs, inviting Hannibal in. The slick fingers that press inside of him are so careful. Hannibal's touch is almost reverent, but it's his mouth that does most of the worship as Hannibal kisses and nips a path from Will's neck to his stomach.
He almost comes apart when Hannibal swallows him down. Will can't stop looking. His eyes are locked on Hannibal's mouth, his wide lips parted to engulf Will's hardness, to eat him up and pull him apart as fingers and mouth work in sync. His hands twist in the sheets. He makes a loud noise, half groan, half plea, and despite the lack of intelligible syllables, Hannibal understands him.
Hannibal pulls away with a wet pop. His fingers leave a void inside of Will in their absence, but Will isn't empty for long. He watches with half-lidded eyes as Hannibal straightens, his broad, muscular chest on full display. His arms hook under Will's knees, pulling his legs open wider as Hannibal's hands slide down to grip Will's ass. He's lifted, pulled towards Hannibal just enough for their bodies to meet.
Hannibal's dick kisses Will's entrance, rubbing against the surface for a moment before Hannibal shifts forward on the mattress, pressing closer, pressing in. He slides into Will like they were meant for each other, meant to be joined hip to hip, so close that Will almost feels himself bleeding into Hannibal and vice versa.
What would he pick up from Hannibal if they were to blend? Would some of his certainty rub off, chasing away the doubts and fears that constantly plague his mind? Would he take some of Hannibal's detachment, so that he could look at the world around himself without pulling it into himself and making it a part of him? He wants Hannibal to blend into him. He wants them to merge because there's no part of Hannibal that he doesn't like, no darkness hiding there like what coils inside of Will.
He wants Hannibal to fix him, though that seems like asking for a miracle, but it's the kind of miracle he's starting to believe Hannibal capable of.
He thinks they're right for each other. He thinks Hannibal is perfect.
"You're beautiful, dear William," Hannibal says, his voice as reverent as Will feels.
He flushes and moans. Hannibal thrusts deep inside of him and it feels so perfect. He doesn't even need Hannibal to touch him to make him come. All he needs is the way Hannibal looks at him, his eyes fixed on Will like Will is the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. Maybe he is. Maybe, to Hannibal, he's just as perfect as Hannibal seems to him.
He's not perfect and neither is Hannibal, but as Hannibal comes inside of him, as they lay entwined and sticky on Will's unmade bed, he thinks that maybe he could be perfect for Hannibal.
He thinks that they can fill in the gaps and cracks between them and make something worth keeping.
He thinks he's in love.
"So you and Hannibal are quite the thing."
Will doesn't bother to hide the pleased smile that spreads across his lips or the faint blush that covers his cheeks. "We're doing alright."
Alana leans backwards against the edge of Will's desk and stares out the window. It's a bright, sunny day out. Will has the window open for a change, letting in the breeze and the happy noises from students out enjoying the sunlight. "Better than alright, I think." She glances over at him with a smile. "Your students think you've been replaced by a pod person."
He tries to frown and glare at her over the edge of his glasses, but he can't quite get enough of the smile off of his face for the expression to work. "They do not."
Alana pushes herself off the desk and turns, crossing her arms over her chest. She's trying to look stern, but it's a look she's never been able to pull off well. "It's true. You should hear the rumors that are going around." She laughs then. The sound reminds him of crystal bells. "You really should hear them. They're hilarious. Jack's been emailing some of them to me."
Will raises an eyebrow. His eyebrows are nowhere near as expressive as Hannibal's but Alana gets the point.
"I'm guessing the rumor about you finally getting laid is true, though the rumor mill seems to think you've got a thing for Megan in the tactical course."
Will snorts. "Megan has a girlfriend. Either of them could wipe the floor with me. It wouldn't even be a contest."
Alana's grin widens a fraction. "Now that would be a sight to see."
"I'll pass, thank you." He twists the red pen in his fingers and stares down at the tests he's grading. "Hannibal and I are doing quite well. I don't plan on going looking for trouble."
"I'm glad." Her hand settles over his, stilling the motion of the pen. She squeezes once and then lets go. "You deserve to be happy. Both of you."
"So do you."
She waves a hand at him. "I've got that under control. There's an agent under Jack's command that I've got my eye on." Her grin turns positively vicious. "I'm just waiting until things die down a bit. Nothing throws a damper on romance like murder."
Will frowns. He tries to recall the last tidbit Alana had mentioned of her work with Jack. "I thought you'd solved that case."
The smile dissolves from Alana's face. "The Hobbs case, yes. There's another one thought. They're calling him the Chesapeake Ripper. Another cannibal."
Will's eyebrows shoot up at that. "Another one? Really?" What are the odds that two cannibals show up at the same time? "Is it a copycat, do you think?"
She shakes her head and sinks down into the chair opposite his desk, her good mood deflated. "No. It's been going for a while, we think. Jack lost a deputy to the Ripper a few years ago."
If Will's eyebrow could rise higher, it would, but it's already pushing the maximum height of his face. "That long? I'm surprised I've never heard anything. And they still haven't caught him?"
Alana shakes her head. "It's weird. The Ripper just pops up now and then, never killing quite the same. There's no real pattern, nor motive. Hard to catch a killer like that."
He nods. His hands twitch on the table and he wants to offer his help. He wants to, but he doesn't. There's no need to start down that rabbit hole.
"Enough about that though," Alana says as she waves a hand through the air, as if all it took was that simple gesture to dissipate the tension in the room. "I get enough dour talk with Jack. I didn't come here to bore you with case files, I can to talk about Hannibal so spill."
He doesn't laugh, though the urge is there. He leans back in his chair and studies her from across his desk. Those tests aren't getting done today, he can already tell. "What do you want to know?"
He doesn't know everything about Hannibal. As much as their relationship has been going quite well, he feels like he's only scratched the surface of Hannibal's personality. It's not like Hannibal isn't being forthcoming. He easily answers every question Will has, but he feels like Hannibal is an onion, with layers to his personality that Will has yet to glimpse.
He'll get there, eventually. They have time.
"I can't give you everything, but I can tell you about the art gallery Hannibal took me to last week."
Alana smiles and Will feels like he's finally settled into the place that is right for him.
Hannibal's apartment is dark and quiet. The lack of noise is strange for Will. He's so used to having his dogs around, snoring or whimpering in their sleep. His house is never truly quiet, not like this.
Hannibal is asleep beside Will in the giant bed. Hannibal's sheets are soft and luxuriously silken. It feels like a sin to be sleeping on them, like they're too good to be true. The sheet – the only cover they'd needed in the warm night – was pooled low on Hannibal's back, exposing a large swath of muscled skin to the moonlight.
It's an effort to lever himself out of bed. Will wants nothing more than to curl back into Hannibal's side, but certain biological imperatives take precedence. He gropes along the carpeted floor until he finds his boxers, half hidden under the bedside table. He pulls them on before padding barefoot out of the room.
He's mostly familiar with the setup of Hannibal's apartment, but he's used to trying to navigate it during the day. The first door on the right is the spare bedroom. The kitchen is at the end of the hall. He tries what he thinks is the bathroom and frowns as the knob doesn't turn. It remains resistant towards his efforts. For a moment he wonders if there's someone else in the house, because he knows he left Hannibal in bed, so who's in the bathroom?
A hand settles over his and he startles. Will bites back a scream. Light fills the hallway and he blinks up at Hannibal. The bathroom is illuminated behind him.
Hannibal arches an eyebrow as Will blushes and steps away from the door. "Sorry," he says. "I thought..." He points between the two doors as his blush gets worse.
Hannibal's expression softens into amusement and he lets go of Will's hand on the handle. "I used to make the same mistake when I first moved in." His voice sounds strangely intimate then, soft from sleep and a bit rough. "I started the habit of keeping the basement locked after the second time I took an unfortunate tumble while trying to find the bathroom in the dark."
"I find myself very grateful that you kept that habit up." Will pauses with his hand on the bathroom doorframe – the actual bathroom, not the basement he'd apparently been trying to get into – and leans up to kiss Hannibal softly on the lips. "I'll just be a moment."
"I'll be waiting."
Will closes the door and stifles a laugh at his own foolishness. He's still embarrassed that he thought the basement was the bathroom, but at least he hadn't taken an unfortunate tumble down the stairs. He'd like to avoid having any of their evenings together end up in the emergency room.
When he crawls back in bed, Hannibal is waiting, like he'd promised. His strong arms wrap around Will, pulling him tight against Hannibal's chest. Will falls back asleep easier than he ever remembers doing before he'd met Hannibal.
He doesn't dream.
The basement door taunts him after that, tempting him with the mystery of the unknown every time he walks past. He doesn't touch the door again, or mistake it for the bathroom anymore, but he can't go near it without his eyes being drawn to the innocuous wooden door.
He thinks of his own basement and what might be found there. Nothing particularly interesting. His has a workbench with his fly-tackle equipment, boxes, and boat parts, and all the odds and ends that never found a place in the upper rooms of his house.
What does Hannibal keep in his basement?
Hannibal is a savant at any hobby he puts his mind to, and yet the trappings of those hobbies, if they can be counted as such any more, are absent from the open rooms of his home. Does he keep paintings and portraits stored away there, the color of the canvases faded by the dim basement light? Are there boxes of his old school work, of architectural drawings and medical notes and images of dissections and broken bodies?
He starts to picture Hannibal's basement like Bluebeard's attic. It's haunting in the unknowability of it, in the mystery of what is down there, but Will knows that seeking that knowledge would be a breach of trust. If Hannibal wanted Will to see his basement, he would have shown it to him or left the door unlocked.
There isn't anything of import down there. Will knows that. He knows Hannibal knows he knows that. Hannibal probably hasn't even thought of it. The contents of the basement are likely so inconsequential that Hannibal hasn't even considered that Will might be curious.
Will shouldn't be curious, but he is.
"I'll be back shortly," Hannibal says, pecking Will on the cheek on his way out the door.
Will turns his face up, catching Hannibal in a proper kiss, smiling as a similar smile blooms on Hannibal's face. Then Will turns back to his book. He hears the door shut and Hannibal's car start, but he's lost in the pages.
Eventually he gets up to use the bathroom, but as he reaches the open doorway, he stops, turns. The basement door is still closed. Will's not sure what impulse drives him but he reaches out and turns the knob. The door opens for him. Will flicks the switch at the top of the stairs and descends slowly.
It's an invasion of privacy, and he knows that's what he's doing, invading Hannibal's privacy, but he can't stop himself.
The basement is exactly like he pictured it would be. There are shelves of boxes along one wall, all neatly labeled with semester and course numbers. There's a chest freezer near the food of the stairs and a covered easel next to a stack of blank canvases.
It's entirely boring and unworthy of Will's curiosity.
He turns off the light as he leaves. He never even left the stairs, but he didn't need to. He closes the door behind him and doesn't look back, leaving thoughts of Hannibal's basement out of his head.
He turns back to his book, losing himself into it until Hannibal returns and kisses him with a smile.
He's not afraid of Doctor Lecter's secrets because there's nothing left to find.
"Do you mind taking a look at a few files?" Jack asks. Alana stands next to him, hovering in the doorway to his office, her hands twisting the edge of her scarf in a sign of nervousness.
Will sits back and suppresses a sigh. Alana wouldn't have let Jack come to him unless it was important. "It's fine," he says, the words meant as a reassurance, though he isn't sure if they are meant to reassure him or Alana.
Jack takes it as permission and steps forward, setting a dozen manila folders on Will's desk before taking a seat. He leans forward in his chair, elbows on his knees, eager. In this moment he thinks of Will as a bloodhound, one that Jack hopes will be able to scent out the trail of the killer they're after. Will really hopes Jack isn't putting too much stock in Will's abilities. He's good, but he's not that good.
He flips open the first file and flinches at the detached arm he sees there. He pushes the photo to the side and then skims over the written reports. "This is from that cannibal case? The Chesapeake Ripper?"
"It is," Jack answers. "Are you familiar?"
He shakes his head. "Only what Alana's mentioned." He stares between the photo, which according to the paperwork shows the detached arm of FBI trainee Miriam Lass, and the paperwork. There had been an incident at an observatory. "He's taunting you?"
"It seems that way." Jack reaches across the table and pulls one of the folders free. "We had a suspect, Dr. Abel Gideon, but he was incarcerated when Miriam's arm was found."
Will takes Gideon's file and flips through it. There's a signed confession that Gideon was the Chesapeake Ripper, and correlations between Gideon's whereabouts and the previous Ripper murders. But, security footage clearly shows him in his cell when the arm was found.
He opens another folder, this time detailing the murder of a nurse at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There's no doubt Gideon committed that murder. He flips to another folder of a previous murder of the Ripper's, the murder of Jeremy Olmstead, supposedly the last victim of the Ripper before a two year hiatus. The two murders share a surprising amount of similarities.
"If Gideon isn't your man, and that's a large if as he certainly seems to think he is the Ripper and act as such, then he would have to have had access to files like these. I mean," Will gestures between the two folders and the diagrams of the injuries both victims suffered, "there's far too many similarities to be coincidence."
"And if he isn't the Ripper? What would it take to make him think he was?" Jack asks.
Will leans back in his chair with a sigh. "I don't know. The kind of belief you're talking about... I mean, Gideon thinks he's the Ripper. He signed a confession to that effect. He killed someone like the Ripper would kill him. If he's not the Ripper, then someone's been manipulating him to make him think he is. Someone's setting him up."
"Who would do that?" Alana asks.
Will stares up at the ceiling. He needs a minute to think. Whether Gideon committed those first few murders or not, there's still the matter of who killed Miriam Lass. Gideon couldn't have called Jack, nor placed the arm at the observatory, so someone else had to have done that. "An accomplice," he says, thinking aloud. "Someone who worked with Gideon to commit the murders." He thinks about what Jack had said, about the doubts that Gideon was really the Ripper. "Or the real Ripper. But it would have to have been someone who had great control over the psyche, someone who could make Gideon think he was someone he wasn't."
"You're saying it's a psychiatrist."
Will leans forward in his chair. He has a suspicion forming, puzzle pieces slotting into place in his mind as the fragmented parts he's seen slot into place, forming the whole of an idea. "I'm saying it's his psychiatrist. No one else has the kind of access to Gideon as he would. If anyone was able to change Gideon's perception of self, it would have been him. Or if Gideon's telling the truth, he would have had to have help placing Miriam's arm, and his psychiatrist would be a good place to start there too."
Jack gathers the folders back into his arms. He smiles, victorious. "Thank you, Will. You have no idea how much this helps."
"Glad to help." He waves them off. "Go. Catch your bad guy."
Jack doesn't need to be told twice. He's already out the door before Will can finish speaking. Alana hesitates, her hand on the door. "That means a lot to him, Will. It will be good if he can put this case behind him."
He knows exactly what that feeling is like. There's a lot of things he wished he'd put behind him sooner than he had. "Good luck," he says instead, because he doesn't need to bare his soul to Alana for her to understand. She already does.
"I consulted on another case today," Will says as he walks into the kitchen. Hannibal is frying meat in a pan with some kind of brown sauce and it smells delicious.
"Congratulations," Hannibal says. He pauses to greet Will with a proper kiss. "How did that go?"
Will hop up onto the counter next to Hannibal. He knows Hannibal likes having him close while they cook, though more than once Will's indulgence has led to dinner going cold while Hannibal pulls Will half off the counter and takes him right there in the kitchen. Will has been growing to like cold dinners after vigorous sex.
"It's a really weird case," he says. "They're calling it the Chesapeake Ripper."
"Really?" Hannibal raises an eyebrow. He pulls a spoon out and ladles a bit of the sauce out, blowing on it to cool it before holding it up to Will's lips. Will obediently leans forward to taste. He moans in pleasure. It's divine, like all of Hannibal's cooking.
"You're going to turn me into a pudgy professor."
Hannibal smiles and pinches at Will's side. He's definitely gained some weight since he'd started dating Hannibal, the downside to eating regular meals again. "You could use some more skin on your bones."
Will laughs and shakes his head. "Speaking of, you'll never guess what's so odd about this case."
Hannibal hums in response, urging Will on.
"He's another cannibal. Two in one year. Can you believe that? He hasn't been active for years and suddenly he takes another victim right in the middle of the Minnesota Shrike case. It's weird."
Will shrugs. "The timing, I guess. There's this man, Gideon, complete nutjob, and he's confessed to the murders but he doesn't fit. Well, he does and he doesn't. Gideon is absolutely convinced that he's the murderer. Like, positive. He'll swear it up and down, but he was incarcerated when the last murder took place and when one of the other victims, Miriam Lass, one of Jack's students, was killed."
Hannibal tosses the meat in the pan. "You think he wasn't working alone?"
"He can't have been."
Hannibal turns off the burner and opens the oven to pull out a tray of roasted asparagus. The asparagus forms a layer on two plates, which Hannibal places the meat – chicken from the looks of it – on top and then drizzles with the remaining sauce. Will can't wait to try it. He hops off the counter and follows Hannibal to the dinner table. He takes his usual place at Hannibal's right.
"Do you have any suspects?"
"His psychiatrist, Chilton. Jack's looking into him. There's the possibility that it was Chilton all along and he manipulated Gideon into thinking he was the Ripper."
"That certainly would be an unexpected twist."
Will smiles. "It would be. But that's Jack's problem to solve, not mine." It feels good saying that. He likes being able to leave cases behind. "How was your day?"
Hannibal smiles back at him and they fall into the easy camaraderie that has become so familiar to them. A thought twists in his head and he wonders what it would be like to have this closeness all the time.
That's a thought to broach later. For now he has excellent food and Hannibal's warm, comforting presence, and that's enough.
Will wakes in the middle of the night to a cold bed. He stretches his hand to the opposite side but Hannibal is gone. Will hesitates for a moment, debates going back to sleep. He can't.
The bathroom door is open, the basement locked. There's a light on in the kitchen and Will finds a note next to the stove. A patient had called and Hannibal had gone out to meet him. Will smiles in fondness as he replaces the note and turns off the light before padding back to bed. It's amazing how far Hannibal will go to help his patients. It's one of the things Will admires most about Hannibal, even if it does lead to an empty bed every so often.
He wakes briefly again when Hannibal slips under the covers, his skin cold. Will presses against him, sharing his warmth. He falls back asleep almost immediately.
Jack catches Chilton the next day with evidence of the previous murders hidden in his home. There's hair from the girl in Minnesota and parts of Miriam Lass in his freezer. It's seems sloppy to Will, but it all fits too perfectly to be coincidence. Chilton is their man. He's sure of it, despite the way Chilton has been screaming his innocence since he'd been caught.
The case never makes it to trial. Gideon escapes his cell and finds Chilton locked away in his own. Neither of them survive the night.
It seems almost fitting how neatly the case wraps up, almost like it was handed to them with a bow. It's good, Will thinks. Jack has closure now. Another serial killer is gone and while they may never truly know the extent that Chilton manipulated Gideon, at least neither of them can hurt anyone again.
It makes Will think of his own unsolved case, one of Hannibal Lecter and their two households, and he thinks about how to bring it to its own neat end.
"Do you want to move in together?" Will asks, the words shooting out of his mouth before he can really think about them. Hannibal marks his place in his book with his thumb and sets it aside, resting it and his hand on the edge of the couch while he looks down at Will's head in his lap.
Will shrugs. It's an awkward maneuver from where he's lying, but the sunlight coming in from his big bay window is warm on his skin and the couch is comfortable with Hannibal sharing it with him. He's a little sleepy and feeling very lazy, disinclined to move more than an inch unless he has to. "It was just a thought."
"Is it something you want?" Will's well aware that Hannibal hasn't answered the question and is instead deflecting to Will but he allows it for now.
"Maybe," Will says, his own minor deflection. "It would make things easier. No more debates about whose house we sleep at. No more having to run home to feed the dogs and pack a bag before a late dinner and sleepover at your place." He pauses, thinking. "Unless you don't like the dogs."
Hannibal chuckles, the movement shaking Will's head. Hannibal's broad hand – the one not still holding his place in his book – lands on Will's chest and splays out, not holding him down but offering comfort. "I like your dogs. They're quite charming in their own ways, much like you."
Will blushes and looks away slightly. The dogs are also enjoying the mid-afternoon sun. It's a lazy Sunday for all of them, and the dogs are making the most of it by sprawling out on the rug. Will can only manage a fraction of their boneless grace but it's far more comfortable on the couch than he would be on the floor. He knows from experience.
Hannibal turns his contemplative gaze from Will to stare out over the dogs. He's not looking at the dogs, but past them, at the shape of the house. Will can almost see the gears turning in Hannibal's head, though he doesn't know what master plan Hannibal is hatching.
"The consolidation of two households is a large step," Hannibal says after a long, quiet moment.
"It is," Will agrees. He knows Hannibal isn't telling him 'no', not yet. He's giving Will an out, and at the same time, making sure they both understand the immensity of the suggestion.
"Given the distances between your classroom and my office, it would be unfair of me to suggest my own home. Were you thinking of sharing yours or starting new?"
Will looks out at the walls of his home. It's never been much of a home to him, not really, more of just a place to stay but he likes the area. He can almost picture what Hannibal's influence would turn it into. Instead of a hodgepodge of assorted junk, the house would have form and shape. The rooms would have function once more.
"The kitchen would need remodeling and updating," Hannibal says, as if he were privy to Will's thoughts. Perhaps he is. It isn't hard to read Will's thoughts from his face. He practically gives the knowledge away. "Would you be alright with moving the bedroom upstairs?"
Will has never really used the upstairs of his house. He hasn't had a need to, not when it's just him and his dogs. He hadn't felt safe up there, all alone, with the big empty house like a cocoon around him, suffocating him with open spaces. It's different now though, and he can see how Hannibal would fill those spaces.
He reaches up and twists his hand with Hannibal's on top of his chest. "I wouldn't mind that." He leaves a lot unsaid, but he knows Hannibal hears it just as well. He wants Hannibal to chase away the darkness in the corners of his house. He wants Hannibal to fill the empty spaces with fine cutlery and the tools of a master chef and a once-architect and a former doctor and all the other things Hannibal once was and will be. He wants Hannibal in his life, in a more permanent fashion.
He wants Hannibal.
Hannibal leans down and places a kiss on Will's forehead. "I suppose I should buy some boxes then." The way Hannibal says it is so easy, like he's not uprooting his entire life and bringing it here.
"I suppose I should call a contractor," Will offers back.
He can just imagine what Alana will say when she sees it. She's been teasing him about the outdated kitchen since he moved in. She'll be the first, he thinks, the first they invite to their housewarming dinner. Will's never had people over to his house for dinner, at least not formally but with Hannibal that would change.
He closes his eyes and pictures it. The room they're in now would be the dining room. They'd light an actual fire in the fireplace. There would be wine on the table and at least a dozen dishes, because Hannibal can't cook anything formal without at least a dozen things ending up on the table, if not more. For an occasion like this, Hannibal would probably do four or five courses, with enough food that Will will practically have to roll himself up the stairs to get to bed. There will be laughter and smiling faces. His dark home will be lit up, and he'll never be alone again.
Hannibal squeezes Will's hand and Will knows Hannibal sees it too. Maybe not in the same clarity. Maybe not in quite the same terms, but Hannibal sees them together and knows that they fit.
Will thinks it's perfect.
"Move in with me," Will says, because he needs to voice the words out loud before he bursts.
"I would love to."
That's all the promise Will will ever need. He smiles and lets the sunshine lull him back to sleep.